31 December, 2009

Looking back at 2009

It is somewhat traditional to look back over the year on New Year's Eve. Here are a few things that came to mind yesterday as I thought about 2009:
  • Lots of transition, mostly surrounding our move to Australia for home assignment. Change of country, house, schools, roles, and even time without children.
  • Our youngest began attending Pre-Prep or kindergarten 3 days a week. For the first time in 10 years, I've had regular child-free time.
  • Two new nephews born into our families.
  • Some answers about one of our sons.
  • First time in several years that we've been together with all our families.
  • Trip to Manila. As a result of dreaming about the future with our youngest heading off to school, I've been moving in the direction of writing and editing. The foreseeable future involves working with the editor of Japan Harvest, a magazine by and for missionaries in Japan. My trip to Manila was a definitive step towards that goal, attending a Christian magazine editing conference.
  • I began blogging this year. It has been an interesting foray into a different mode of communication with people who support us (and many who don't). My goal - to help people to see what a missionary's life is really like.
  • 40 is coming closer!
I guess my next post will have to be looking forward to 2010!

Food for Thought

The New Year is the greatest festival in Japan. People of all classes and occupations in the entire country celebrate it, but it is an intensely personal family affair. Members share the many firsts of the New Year like the first sunrise; the first shrine visit and the first food. No cooking is done for three days with the exception of the hearty New Years soup. Fish, black beans, rolled omelette and vegetables are prepared in advance and served from beautifully decorated multi-tiered trays. The dishes served to celebrate the New Year have special meanings, and with some variations, are enjoyed in every home in the nation. Datemaki, sweet rolled omelette, symbolises many auspicious days ahead. Kazunoku, herring roe eggs, symbolises fertility and are eaten to fulfil the desire for many children in the family. Kuromame, black soybeans, typifies good health, longevity and the ability to work willingly and skillfully. Tazukuri are small dried sardines cooked in soy sauce. The fish were used historically to fertilize rice paddies, and eating it symbolises a prayer for an abundant harvest. Renkon is lotus root and with its many holes it depicts the idea of ease in seeing through things and perceiving a bright future ahead. To let the overworked stomach rest, nanakusa-gayu, a seven-herb rice soup, is prepared on the 7th and 15th day of January! After three days of families doing everything together, slowly over the next two weeks, work and studies are commenced with new promises, intentions and ideals for the year ahead. Source: Neil Verwey jm@japanmission.org

27 December, 2009

Bits n pieces

We're at the end of a week in my in-law's territory. I choose 'territory' carefully. They all live close or in a small town in central Queensland. A long way from where we usually live. We've hovered between my batchelor (divorced) dad-in-law's place and my sister-in-law's - almost neighbours but about 17 km via a dirt road apart. My mother-in-law has been staying with my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law lives and works in town (40 km away). Lots of 'in-laws! It has been a little weird to try to manage a family around an elderly man who usually lives alone and has his own ways of doing things (and own standards of hygiene). A challenge to help him cook dinner while he's hovering over your shoulder! We haven't done too badly, but we're ready to leave tomorrow. In top of all this, I managed to bite the inside of my cheek a couple of days before Christmas and it became infected. My face has swollen on one side and eating and drinking is pretty painful. Sleep comes after Panedine is injested. Oh the joys. I did get fairly prompt medical attention at the small local hospital, though. Better medical treatment than I've experienced closer to home. The boys have had a great time in the Aussie bush. Tractor rides, introduction to REAL guns, riding 4 wheelers, mowing lawns (yes, they have them - bore water is amazing up here), dogs, cows, utes, water fights etc. We are glad they can connect with rural Australia. Neither of us were brought up in the country, but our parents did and we therefore spent parts of holidays in the country and feel some sort of connection with that part of our large country. It is a good experience for any kid growing up in the city, especially in a foreign country, but who lays claim to being Australian.

26 December, 2009

Aussie Jingle Bells

Wondering about Christmas in Australia? Here is a small slice:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz_KlcDXvqQ

24 December, 2009

Christmas contrasts

Last Christmas we were in cold Toyko. No snow, but still close to zero degrees outside. We ate a baked dinner with friends we'd known less than six months. The closest we got to family was on Skype. When we looked out the window we saw one or more houses very close by. This Christmas we are in rural Australia. Sweltering in heat hot enough to make running around outside under sprinklers a fun activity. We're spending it with family - most of whom have known most of us since birth. Cold ham, salad and pudding is on the menu. When we look out the windows of the house we're staying in, we cannot see any other house. No tarred road in sight, in fact. No internet access either. Lots of contrasts, in fact the two experiences are about as far apart as is possible. However, there is more than one similarity. Of course we are celebrating the same event, the birth of Jesus Christ our saviour. But there's another: a small degree of loneliness. That might be obvious for our life in Japan, but here in country Australia there is very little understanding of our life in Japan. Our passion for the Japanese just seems odd to most. We do our best to fit in with our family, but we really are the odd ones out. Nevertheless, we are really enjoying this Christmas in Australia. There is much more familiarity to it than we usually experience at Christmas time. We're relaxing and having a good time. I won't be back online for a while, so here's wishing you a happy and very special Christmas.

18 December, 2009

Adjusting to Christmas with family

We're on the road. Visiting our siblings and parents - all of whom live out of town. My side of the family this weekend. It is challenging to be physically with your relatives - even those you grew up with - when you haven't had that kind of relationship for some time. We've spent most of the last decade away from them and we've all changed and grown-up (and had six kids between me and my two sisters). I left home when my sisters were 10 and 13. Sometimes I feel like they are strangers. Now we have husbands and small children getting reacquainted seems like a large abyss that is hard to cross. Is it just me or once you have kids it gets even more difficult to be with relatives? Everyone has different ideas and standards and when you are closely related you feel less inhibited in imposing your ideas on others. Not to say that we've having a terrible time. Just that it is yet another adjustment we have to make. Another one that people often forget about. Tomorrow we're having my family's Christmas Day - present exchanges, big meal, etc. Next week on the actual day we'll be with David's family. More people to relate to and live with for a short time. At least I don't have to cook Christmas dinner this year. It was fun this morning to be in the kitchen again with Mum, like old times! And tomorrow won't be lonely - as our Christmases in Japan can tend towards.

15 December, 2009

Ninth anniversary

Yesterday we noted it was nine years since the day we landed in Japan as missionaries. Amazing. We've packed a lot into nine years. That day nine years ago involved four airports and three planes. All with a 20 month old. We began the day in steamy Singapore and ended it about 40 degrees cooler in Sapporo, with snow on the ground and below zero temperatures. Looking back it is actually amazing we survived our first winter in Japan. We were in a tiny, freezing apartment. We had no car, no TV or video player. Very few toys and limited personal space. To buy groceries, I had to trudge for about 15 minutes through snow on foot, carefully select our groceries (without much Japanese language), pack them in my backpack and plastic sled and carry/pull them all the way home. Since then we've lived nearly eight years in Japan. Most of them with a car! We've moved twice within Japan and moved back to Australia twice for home assignment. We've had two more children, one of them born in Japan. We spent more than two years in full-time (or nearly full-time in my case) language study, 15 months in a church planting team and four years with my husband teaching at the Christian Academy in Japan, a school for missionary kids. We've had our children hospitalised three times in total (in Japan), not counting the Japanese birth experience. The lessons we've learned in most/all areas of our lives would take more than this post to list. But here are a few that come to mind:
  • It is a privilege to serve our Lord in this way.
  • Dependency on God is a great way to live. Lots of surprises!
  • Life is less predictable that you think.
  • It is not necessary to own a house.
  • "No debt" is a great place to be.
  • International moves are tough.
  • Raising children away from your home culture is very difficult.
  • Missionary is not a synonym for evangelist.
  • We don't have to be like other people - God values us as the individuals he made us to be.
I think we are in a better place than we were nine years ago. I certainly feel more settled with who I am and why I'm here.

14 December, 2009

Aussie Christmas outside

Christmas time in Australia is hot. Did you non-Aussies realise? Therefore it is perfect for outdoor carols concerts. This is one we went to just down the road. It was put on by a church and slightly unusual. Actually not much carols singing, mostly a Christmas musical put on by the church. The musical included some popular songs that you wouldn't usually associate with Christmas like, Herod singing, "You make me want to shout"! Nevertheless it was a lovely evening. The evening finished off with the inevitable fireworks.

Stressed out Australians

At times in the last week, our house has been full of tension, more so than usual. Why?
  • It's hot (mid to high 30s C which is around 100 degrees F). This means not only the kids get frayed, but their parents do too.
  • School holidays. The boys have again needed to learn to live with each other all day, every day. Us too!
  • They are excited about Christmas coming. This is a usual problem. School finishing three weeks before Christmas is new for them.
  • Change is in the air - we're leaving soon to visit family in rural Queensland.
We're definitely not the only ones effected. When I've been out recently I've noticed a lot of tension and weariness, especially in parents. Actually I've been quite shocked at some of the things I've heard mums say to kids - in public. I can't imagine how abusive they are in private. Last week while grocery shopping I walked past a double pram - the sort where the kids sit behind one another - and it began to tip backwards with its young passenger and load of groceries. I caught it, held it and looked back up the aisle for the mum. She didn't even acknowledge me. She came back and abused her older child for getting out of the front of the pram. I walked away feeling ashamed at witnessing such a lack of gratitude and such hostility towards the child she is supposed to care for. It did make me think about some of the things that happen in our own house. While we love our children dearly, occasionally things come out of our mouths that just should never be uttered. I think we get scared at the lack of control over our kids and let our mouths loose with whatever we think will make the kids listen to us. I know we're not the only ones. It only happens sometimes in our house, I wonder about the precious souls of the kids to whom it happens constantly. Who are constantly put down, abused and ridiculed. There is a lot of stress in this season. Materialism and commercialism have a lot to answer for. They make us think that spending lots of money for expensive presents equals love and if we don't then we will be judged as unloving. Expectations of wonderful family Christmases almost always fall a little flat. Some don't have family. Many have family who don't get along most of the time and are suddenly thrown together for some "happy family" charade at Christmas. As parents we do our best to provide a fun Christmas for our children, but many times Christmas is full of fighting and over excited, over sugared kids. I AM trying to be a joyful presence wherever I go. After all we know that it is not actually about all the things we think it is about - presents, food, good family relationships or even pretending we're having a good time, when we're really just stressed out and exhausted. So why shouldn't Christians do our best to be happy and spread joy? We're celebrating our Saviour's birthday.

12 December, 2009

The week in review

First week of school holidays is finished. How'd it go? It was a much more social week than usual. With no school hour limits, we had people over most nights. Very pleasing to my extrovert's soul. We got to go to Movie World with my parents and nephew. There were no school lunches to make and no basketball practise or games to attend. On the down side, the boys hated the sight of each other at times. I still had gym, groceries and a doctor's visit - so I got out of the house, leaving my hubbie and three boys to their own devices. From the sounds of it, it hasn't always gone so peacefully for them. This morning hubbie has taken the last resort of exercise - he's grabbed his bike and taken off for some peace and head space. Not the nicest of options because we basically live on a hill in a hilly suburb - so wherever you go it is a challenge to his legs which haven't seen much bike riding in the last seven months. Also, the temperatures are in the 30s (Celsius). The last two days we've driven 45 minutes to get medicals as a part of getting clearance to go back to Japan. That equates to two afternoons sitting in a doctor's waiting room - with three boys. The upside of that was the blissful air conditioning. And that it was just down the road from a friend who was able to 'drop in' and help entertain boys yesterday. I had a blood test and Swine Flu immunisation yesterday too. The heat got to me on Wednesday and I developed a migraine, unfortunately on the night that our best friends came over (with their 4 boys and one girl). After they left I crashed, but not soon enough to avoid throwing up a couple of hours later. It hasn't been too bad, but I'm hoping that next week will be better (ever an optimist). This time next week we'll be having our first "Christmas Day" celebration with my side of the family. Let's hope adult-sized extended family-type tensions don't become too big an issue.

11 December, 2009

Another fact of life for missionaries

Yesterday and today our family have trooped over to the other side of Brisbane for medicals. We cannot go back to Japan unless we pass these. This morning I also had a lovely blood test before breakfast. At least this time we don't require x-rays.
We have frequent medicals - as in every two years. Talking with a friend in the armed forces the other day, we figured out that the medicals our mission requires are more detailed than the Australian armed forces require! OMF International really does value its human resources and does a good job of making sure its workers are physically up to the rigours of missionary life. Of course, work in Japan is quite different to work in rural Cambodia. In Cambodia a small medical issue can require airlifting out! So yesterday when I sat down with the doctor's practice nurse he was quite puzzled as to why we had these detailed medicals to do. Basically it comes down to a blanket policy across the board, no matter where you work. However, you might be surprised at some of the difficulties we have encountered with the Japanese medical system. Some areas of the system are very modern, but others are less so. After our second son was born in Japan, it was such a difficult experience that we did our very best to have our third child in Australia (I could write a whole series of posts on having a child in Japan!) So there are medications which we easily get across the counter here in Australia, but which require doctor's prescription in Japan. Then again in Thailand, I know, there are some very powerful drugs available without doctor's prescriptions! The other thing I was surprised by was the exclamation at my waist size and BMI. I haven't changed much in weight or size since these medicals began 12 years ago, but this is the first time someone exclaimed at how "not fat" I am! Amazing, particularly as I'm not actually terribly skinny. Scary, though, that the doctor rarely sees BMIs under 25!

10 December, 2009

More information please

Sometimes other people want more information that we know, like "How long will you remain in Japan?". Our missionary journey over the last nearly 12 years has taught us to cope with a fair bit of uncertainty, but often we also want more information than we know. Our current not-enough-information situation is how long our next term in Japan is likely to be. So it was an encouragement to read this in our quiet time this morning:
I know who holds the future, And I know who holds my hand; With God things don't just happen- Everything by Him is planned. Smith
Backed up by this from scripture:
"In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:6
Praise God that He knows and it is not all up to us!

09 December, 2009

Kid's Musings December 09

I recently put my two oldest to work road-testing my recent newsletter for kids - Kid's Musings. This is what they were working on: (This is page two. Page one is about different Japanese words and concepts that have made it into the English language) Let me know if you'd like it for your kids too.

08 December, 2009

Our day at Movie World*

We opened the wallet and went to Movie World yesterday. Yes, it hurt, but we did it as cheaply as we could. We didn't buy any food (except for cheap icy poles) or drink. We took grandparents who bought each of the boys a souvenir (to be fair, we didn't expect that they buy the boys anything - that was their call). But the boys weren't asking for us to buy stuff for them. Perhaps they didn't realise - we didn't take them into the shops? Or perhaps it is because we don't make a habit of buying stuff for them? Low point?
  • We lost a boy...and found him again. Even with four adults and a one-to-one ratio on boys (we had my sister's 5 y.o. too), we managed to lose a child. At one of the shows our 4 y.o. and his cousin were at the front playing with bubbles from the show when the show ended and adults streamed past the kids on their way out. Apparently our 4 y.o. got carried away in the flow and ended up somewhere completely different. Thankfully a kind couple took him to the lost child place and we eventually headed there too after ascertaining he wasn't in the immediate vicinity of the show. Always a heart stopping moment, when you lose a child!
High point?
  • Seeing our middle child, who is usually first-time-negative (meaning the first time he encounters something new, be it food or people or a place, he is tentative and usually not interested in saying "yes"), warm to the experience and go on most of the age appropriate rides. (That is a shocking sentence, sorry.)
  • The lack of enthusiasm of the park's staff. At such a place, when you've paid large bickies to get in, you expect the staff will embrace you into an exciting experience. Most of the employees, however, seemed like they were counting the time until the end of their shift and they could get away from these annoying patrons.
Take away value?
  1. Time spent with extended family is always valuable. Living in another country, we don't get to see them that often. We also never know when their (or our) time on earth will be over, so every moment together is valuable.
  2. Building memories for our kids. We don't live a lifestyle that enables us to accumulate heaps of stuff. But memories are totally portable and never need packing or storing.
*For non-Aussies - MovieWorld is a Warner Brothers theme park here in South East Queensland.

06 December, 2009

You're FROM Japan?

Yesterday we went to a birthday party for a pre-Prep (kindy) friend of our 4 y.o. The first Australian kids birthday party we've been free to attend. It was cute to see two of our children greeted by hugs from (female) classmates. Even more interesting was the opportunity to stand around and chat with parents we've only seen in passing over the last six months. Several had heard rumours that we had some association with Japan, but didn't know what to think. I wonder if that is why they never said much more than, "Hi", because such a rumour is hard to fathom! I found out that one child had gone home and said their new classmate (our 4 y.o.) was "from Japan". You can imagine his mother's face when she saw our son - blond and blue eyed. She thought it was just another 4 y.o. non-nonsensical conversation. Another child brought home the news that our 7 y.o. had been absent for a day because "he's gone back to Japan"...for a day? You can see how our family easily gets surrounded in a mystery that renders casual conversation before and after school (and even at a party) potentially awkward!

04 December, 2009

Early Christmas present

I received an early Christmas present this week. Our eldest son, who struggled to adjust to his new school these last six months asked, "Will we go back to the same school next time we come back to Australia?" Later the significance of that exchange hit me and I clarified it with him, "Do you mean that you like your school now?" "Yes" they all chorused. Ahh, thank you Lord.

03 December, 2009

Recipe for fudge

Sorry, it was a bit rude of me to not include the recipe earlier. Here it is: One Bowl Chocolate Fudge 450 g chocolate chips 395g can of sweetened condensed milk 2 teaspoons vanilla 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (optional) Microwave chocolate and milk on high for 1.5 minutes. Stir, then microwave 1 minute more till chocolate is melted (Don't overcook. It was warm enough this afternoon to only need the 1.5 minutes). Stir in vanilla and walnuts. Spread in foil-lined 20 cm square pan/tin. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and the cut, but leave in pan. Refrigerate for 1.5 hours more or until firm then remove from pan. Hint - cut into tiny pieces because it is very rich! r

Chocolate fudge

Mmmm...chocolate fudge. My 4 y.o. and I made the easiest chocolate fudge this afternoon and we got our rewards for afternoon tea - delicious!

Joke's on you

I'm laughing on the inside. My 10 y.o. has had a great teacher these last six months in Australia. I knew it but my son just proved it to us. Last night the upper primary school had their presentation evening - when they presented an item (music and drama combined) and they were presented with various awards. The Year Fives did an item about Queensland's history, set in the 1860s. Our son scored an interesting part - an old man of 105 who limped around on the stage and carked it (Aussie for "died") towards the end. He did a good job, better than I expected. I asked him how he'd gotten the role and he said, "When my teacher was allocating roles, he asked the class who wanted to be the old man. No one volunteered." I often read to them towards the end of dinner and our eldest frequently interrupts the story by making wisecracks or miming a particularly graphic part of the story. It turns out this is what he was doing while the teacher was looking for volunteers. The joke turned back on our son as he drew attention to himself and got volunteered for a job he didn't want. He lost sleep over it early on - certain an injustice had been done to him. But after a lot of practise he got over the performance anxiety and did a great job. You gotta laugh when the class clown gets what he is seeking, but in the end doesn't really want - people's attention!

01 December, 2009

Help to go around the world in 80 minutes

Next month we're helping lead a Scripture Union camp for grades six to eight. One of our responsibilities is to organise and run an International Night, otherwise called "80 minutes around the world". It's okay to volunteer for these things, now we need to get down to details and with only one day left until our youngest is home for the holidays and three days until the rest of the mob turn up, we'd better get cracking. What I'm looking for is some international feedback here. I know that some of you don't live in Australia. Can you help me? We particularly need: 1. Easy international snack ideas 2. Activity ideas for international stations - like the Japan 'station' might have some origami to do and the Chinese stall might have a chopsticks activity. As you can see, I'm a little Asian-biased. How about some European/South American/North American/African/Indian ideas - anyone?