31 May, 2010

A poor missionary who doesn't get all her clothes second hand.

The kids weren't all that cheered me at the church we visited yesterday. The other thing is something I've wondered about blogging about, but have held back till now. A missionary friend of mine touched on this issue some time back on her blog. The issue of what missionaries wear.

Now, I'm not too hung up on the "I must look like a poor missionary" idea. I like to look good, but without costing too much. Though I have to admit to being a somewhat of a conservative ignoramus when it comes to fashion - preferring comfort over style any day. But I felt yesterday that I didn't look too bad. I wore this new, current season no less, trench coat.

Japan has stretched us in the clothing department purely due to climate. Sunny Queensland does not prepare you for cold winters. Simply doesn't. We've had to learn about all the accessories associated with keeping warm outdoors - stuff you put on to leave the house. Gloves, scarves, warm hats and jackets. In Hokkaido we had snow gear too - boots and water proof pants. Snow suits for the children instead of jackets, for inevitably they fall down.

I've been wanting an "inbetween" coat for some time - the time in spring and autumn when it is too warm for your mid-winter coat but too cool to be coat-less. It occasionally gets this cool in Brisbane, but not enough (in my miserly opinion) to warrant a special coat for the purpose.

This trench coat I saw at Target (ah, now I've blown my cover) a couple of months ago and it was perfect for what I wanted! It felt like a splurge, but I know I'll get a lot of wear out of it. Bonus is that it looks pretty good too! I like the idea of wearing such a vibrant colour. Cooler weather can get pretty depressing with all the dark coloured clothing.

So, I yesterday I didn't look like a "poor missionary who gets all her clothes second-hand". And it felt good.

30 May, 2010

Fun in the midst of serious work

Mission work can be somewhat depressing. I mean this in a positive way - the need of the world for the gospel is a need that presses us into service. We're sad for those who don't know Jesus. Who suffer unnecessarily because they don't have faith in the One who can give them hope. Therefore mission is serious. On home assignment we go from church to church telling people week after week about the desperate social and spiritual needs of Japan and the slowness of evangelism there. It can get you down. So when opportunities to have fun with it are a wonderful bright spot and help to balance things out.

Today was one of those. I had the opportunity to do the children's talk. I did the same one I've done all HA. I get the kids to show me where Australia is on a blow-up globe and then where Japan is. Then I pull out our boys' old Japanese kindy bag and pull some things out and talk about them (asking the kids questions along the way) - Japanese indoor shoes, distinctive kindergarten hats and the lunch 'bag' with a tiny Japanese lunch box, chopsticks etc. I finish with an illustration using chopsticks saying that they are pretty useless with out two of them and a hand. And say this is like mission - one chopstick is the missionary, one is the supporters back home and the hand is God holding it all together.

It usually goes fairly well, depending on the children involved. Today I encountered a brilliant bunch of kids. They gave me some really funny answers (plus some totally accurate ones). Even one three year old who, in answer to my question as to whether this bag was like what Australian kids take to school, delivered to the whole church a wonderful lecture on how it wasn't the same. We were in stitches.

I invited them back afterwards for some origami fun. After they'd played in the red dirt on the work site out the back, two boys came and wanted to make paper aeroplanes (I made them wash their hands). I helped two girls make see-saws and glasses and the three-year-old came back and we made a dog for him. It was such fun compared to the serious, potentially depressing work that we usually do.

29 May, 2010

To befriend or not

We have an early start tomorrow, so I'm not planning to write much tonight.

However we've been reflecting on the weird trend that seems to be emerging of making connections with people this late in our year at home. We've finally connected with two of our neighbours in the last couple of weeks and our eldest (who was so stressed about making friends last year) has finally emerged with a 'best friend' at school.

I actually stand around at school and think, There's no point in making new friends, we're out of here soon. Add to that the distress that some people seem to be feeling at our going again "so soon" and I'd rather avoid any more pain than I have to inflict on myself and others. In this case, a small number of friends is better! Difficult for an extrovert to admit, but true. I wonder what other people will come into our lives 'accidentally' at this late stage?

28 May, 2010

Confusing "mission" with "travel"

Something I read recently annoyed me. Something in an Australian Women's magazine. Being on the 'inside' of the mission"business" it is not always easy to know what the general Christian population thinks about mission. Many of our conversations about mission are with people who "get it". Who are enthusiastic. Who pray for us. But they are a small minority, I'm sure. I was even more convinced of that after I read this magazine article.

The article described a short-term mission trip. The magazine filed it under "travel". The mission part of the trip amounted to six days - day one of which was travel. Days two to six consisted of helping out in an international Christian school in Vanuatu. This comment's sweeping generalisation shocked me:
"Being a mission school, most of the teachers were untrained."
Then the final seven days of their "mission trip" consisted of a holiday in a resort.

I know I come from a long-termer's perspective. But this seems to me to trivialise mission. They stated their goal was to "give something back to the community". I wonder just how much of themselves they actually gave. We in the West are so privileged. But many give so little of themselves.

A double page spread was devoted to this "travel experience". And it included a ad for the travel company who does this - "volunteer then relax holidays".

I feel Aussie Christians are holding back a little too much. Or am I totally corrupted by my own life experience?

PS Janet, you'll know it wasn't Footprints.

27 May, 2010

Getting rid of stuff

Getting rid of stuff is almost a hobby for missionaries. I say 'almost' because sometimes it is kind-of enjoyable but other times it is not. However it is certainly not something we have a choice about. Changing houses often will do that to you. Even more so, living in small Japanese houses forces the occupation upon us.

Giving or throwing away some things is easy. Things like this fridge we simply cannot take with us nor wish to store. We also have no emotional attachment to it.

We have a slight emotional attachment to this car which has taken us thousands of kilometres, but it was only ours for the year and...well...we cannot take it with us. So it is not hard to give back.

Can you guess what this is? It is the baby spacer (you put asthma inhalers in one end and breathe the medicine at the other) that almost certainly saved us some stays in hospital back in 2003/4. I've never seen another like it, especially with the rubber face mask on the end that enables you to administer medicine to the youngest child.

Actually it has a pretty good story that goes with it. Our middle son was quite ill as a toddler. He ended up in a Japanese hospital twice around his first birthday with pneumonia/asthma type symptoms. Our hospital experiences were pretty awful. The Japanese doctors were also not keen on giving us preventative medication or anything, really, that we could use at home to treat his breathing and keep him at home rather than in a hospital. Until, through Australian acquaintances, we found a paediatrician in a neighbouring city who was used to "foreigners with asthmatic kids". This paediatrician gave us this spacer for free, which was actually a sampler he'd received but couldn't use because it had English instructions. Our son has grown out of his "asthmatic tendencies" thankfully and we have no more use for this amazing apparatus. But it has many memories attached to it - of pain and gratefulness. Of helplessness and prayer. It travelled in our luggage many times. I can hardly bring myself to put it in the rubbish (trash), but I cannot see anything else for it.

So, as we sort through our good and chattels once again, there are emotions attached. Happiness, sadness and indifference. It is not so much about materialism as it is about remembering our lives.

26 May, 2010

I'm a multilingual writer (not)

There is something addictive seeing your writing in print or on someone else's website. See this. And did you realise I can write in Spanish? See here my devotional was translated into Spanish. Here it is in French! This devotion was translated into 39 languages and maybe up to 3 million people read or heard it today. That is amazing! I'm glad that I only had to write it in English and they did the rest.

I've had an email from a colleague who is a Japanese pastor's wife in Japan. She was excited to find my devotion in Japanese. Her early morning prayer meeting uses The Upper Room devotionals and this morning she was going to tell her ladies she knows the writer of today's devotion! It is exciting that my lack of ability to write in Japanese has been totally negated!

I'm praying it was a blessing to all those who read it, and that God will continue to use my words to encourage and challenge others.

25 May, 2010

Japanese excited about reaching Japan for Christ

I get so excited when I see Japanese Christians keen to reach Japan for Christ. May God bless this young man with many 'fish'.

Special friend

I want to celebrate a special friendship here. Melina I have known since I was six weeks old, when she was born. Our parents were friends before they were married and our mums pregnant together. We're very different - in talents, looks and interests. We've never gone to the same school or the same church (except as babies). We've really not spent much time together. Yet, we have a special friendship. One that allows us to just take up where we left off, whenever we get together.

I cannot mention here the specific difficulties that she has encountered in recent years, but the Lord has drawn us even closer in the last five years, even while we've been thousands of miles apart. I've prayed for her (and cried too) many times and sought to encourage her in very dark times. Somehow the Holy Spirit has guided me and often I've sent words of encouragement at the perfect time. Praise God!

Now she is in full-time ministry too. She's a primary school chaplain in Brisbane.

What a wonderful blessing long-term friendships are. Even more so for us when you consider how hard it is to keep friends when you are in another country.

So, even though I'm sad that we'll soon be thousands of miles apart again soon, I know that this is a "forever friendship" and gain much comfort from the fact.

24 May, 2010

Deciding how to feel

This morning I wrote this as my Facebook status:
"Wendy has seven weeks today until we fly. Five weeks until we move out of our wonderful house. About eight weeks until we move into our new house in Tokyo. And three boys who can't wait to get going. I don't know how to feel."
 People around us are having emotional reactions too, usually
"Oh wow, the time has flown" or
"Oh no, we haven't seen you (enough) - what are we going to do?" 
Then they ask,
"How do you feel?"
And I think, Oh dear, I have no idea. And then flounder around trying to say something that is remotely resembling my inner state.

If I mention that our boys are anxious to go back, people often respond, "That's great."

Well, yes and no. It is good that we are not dragging them kicking and screaming back to Japan. But their joy are returning has peaked quite early. "Why can't we go now?" is one of the cries we've heard one too many times. It is hard to maintain that level of excitement. We also have the experience to know that they'll miss Australia after they leave - so why not enjoy it while we're here rather than whinging about wanting to leave. A hard concept to get across, to be sure.

I myself am struggling as I say goodbye slowly and painfully to people and daily life here. A young couple who've spent time overseas on a short-term missions trip were very surprised to hear this - that I wander the library, shopping centre, grocery store and streets thinking, "This'll be all gone soon. I have to savour it and mourn it." Morbid, I know, but it is what is happening for me at the moment.

I will be okay once I get there, it is just the leaving that is painful. Dealing with change was never one of my finer points. Discerning my emotions and expressing them is one of my better abilities, but expressing what is going on now is challenging even me.

Image courtesy of www.aperfectworld.org

22 May, 2010

More house photos

It has been a busy day, but ending nicely with lunch-dinner (What do you call that - when you have a main meal in mid-afternoon?) with good friends.

Non-Aussies, beware that there are a number of nouns coming up that you might not know. Sorry, I'll try my best to explain.

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to share three more photos with you. Two of the kitchen. I cannot believe it will 'inherit' this amazing American sized stove (as we say in Australia - elsewhere?). Most Japanese houses don't come with cooking equipment at all and indeed many Japanese don't own an oven at all. This kitchen also has an amazing amount of storage space in it for a Japanese kitchen. I can see that I'm going to have to adjust to having a tiny kitchen bench (counter) again, though.

The third photo is looking out toward the front door. The amazing thing about this view is the toilet (sorry Americans, that is what Aussies call the room that has that pedestal in it!) - the second toilet in the house. Another bonus. We've never had two toilets in a Japanese house before. So, we lose our ensuite, but at least we have two "little boys rooms".

21 May, 2010

Our new house

Finally we can say we have a house to move into. Praise God for this wonderful answer to prayer.

Here are a couple of pics.

The house is fairly old, but its biggest bonus is its closeness to the Christian Academy in Japan (CAJ), the school where my husband will work and all three boys will attend. It is, according to my husband, only about 300m from the school. It is therefore also within easy walking distance of the railway station. Shops, our doctor and the church we might be attending again are all within bike riding distance.

Comparing it to our last home in Tokyo; there is one extra room downstairs, which makes the living area much more spacious. There are still only three rooms upstairs, which we'll use as bedrooms.

I'll post some more photos later. For now, I need to get to bed before an ultra busy Saturday.

MK grandparents

Being a grandparent of missionary kids (MKs) is not an easy role. Home assignment can be a great time to catch up, but all the time we're aware of the years that they've missed and will never be made up.

Yesterday my parents drove 100km to visit and stay overnight. They came because we've managed to combine an early birthday party (for our nearly 11 y.o.) with grandparents' day at school.

Last night after the kids were in bed we talked about logistics of getting packed up and back out of the country (we store our stuff at their place). It was all calm and calculated - but under it all you know that they're about to lose our family again. God has given them (and us) much grace to cope.

Thankfully they now have other grandchildren as well. One of the most painful experiences of my life was to leave for Japan the first time in 2000, and say goodbye for four years - taking their only grandchild away. For a long time I would burst into tears at the memory of that awful day. In many ways we've learned to live an ocean apart, so it is no longer so painful. But that day of parting at the airport is never pleasant.

Back to nicer things. Here is the birthday party:

And the cake. I'm pretty happy with how the cake turned out. Very simple decorating. Lower in fat, but tastes good. Looks realistic too!

20 May, 2010

I hate new shoes

This is counter-cultural, I know. But I seriously dislike buying and wearing new shoes.

I have one winter and one summer pair that I wear the majority of the time. This week, as the seasons change over, I've had to replace both those. A good time to buy summer shoes - they were on special. The winter ones were half price. But I'm not really happy with either. They are too new and I notice them too much. Not badly enough to take them back, but enough to want to go back to my old, falling-apart shoes.

Japan has, by necessity, made me lazy. Slip-on shoes are a necessity to slide smoothly in and out of houses. This is easy in summer - sandals are great. Winter is harder. I prefer good walking shoes for casual wear, usually a variety of sneaker (joggers - what to non-Aussies call them?). This is a challenge in Japan because sneakers don't just pull on and off. The one's that just gave up on me were Japanese bought and had elastic built into the design - just beside the laces and were easy to get on and off. Many Japanese just buy ordinary sneakers and leave them loosely laced, indeed my own husband does. But I cannot stand shoes which flop around on my foot. So, I've bought Australian sneakers that need lacing up. Their only plus is that they have green trimming, my favourite colour. Oh, they've also got the name of a famous Australian athlete written on them - one that I can say I've run against.

But I'm wondering if maybe I can find some elastic laces...

18 May, 2010

A different afternoon to yesterday

Something happened at school today, I'm sure of it. I've had quite different kids come home this afternoon. They look the same, though, so I'm not really sure. Their behaviour has been much better than the last few days. For example I heard my nearly 11 y.o. say to his brother, "Not now, I have to do my homework." Later I easily persuaded him to make dinner (with me as a consultant)!

My 7 y.o. did his whole week's homework in one go! Didn't do much violin, but I was reluctant to break the spell of niceness to insist on more.

I did something else that I'm betting not many Australian families do. I made onigiri or rice balls for our 7 y.o. to take for Show and Tell tomorrow. They have to talk about their favourite food. "Rice" was what he chose. Rice balls were the obvious choice to make as a sampler for his class. Even more interesting is that the operation of making them was like a honey to bees - I had all three boys 'buzzing' around me. They all wanted the left-over rice for their own lunches tomorrow. I wonder if any of their friends will be surprised? These kids may look Australian (they don't entirely sound Australian) but there is a good piece of Japan inside them.

Japan: another robot story, but with a twistj

Though this is yet another story about robots in Japan, it also talks about how difficult it can be to integrate into the culture as a foreigner. Of course, low birth rate and an aging population are growing problems there, like in most of the rest of the developed world.

17 May, 2010

Stubborn children

We have one child who is highly intelligent, but has fluctuating motivation. If he likes something he'll do it with a great deal of enthusiasm, but if he can't see the point or isn't interested, it is like pushing an elephant up a slippery hill - well nigh impossible. Both my husband and I were conscientious, self-motivated achievers at school. Neither of us are very good at dealing with this particular parenting challenge. External motivations don't help. Internal motivations are impossible to impart. If he doesn't want to, nothing will make him. I hate it.

We've just pushed him through the preparation of an oral presentation (we used to call these lecturettes - anyone else know this word?). It's been awful. Last night I tried everything I could think of to make this nearly 11 y.o. write more than two paragraphs of information down (not an inability, just a lack of motivation). In the end I did the one thing I didn't plan to do. I walked out (using sharp words) and shut the door very firmly. I didn't go back to do his bedtime routine. When he approached his dad to 'put him to bed', my beloved husband said, "Not until you say sorry to your mother." Our son contemplated that one for a while and then, sniffing suspiciously, did so. Today, with more firm input from his father, he's added sufficient information to his script to be adequate. But last night broke his impossible resistance.

Somehow we've produced two out of three very stubborn children. Our second child spent about half and hour this afternoon refusing, in tears, to read his reader. He usually reads enthusiastically but today decided to be difficult.

Some of this is their personalities. I wonder how much of it is an emotional reaction to the upcoming change? I wish I knew how to handle, particularly the older one, better.

Restraint and respect

An aspect of being a missionary on home assignment that you may not have thought about is the restraint we need to apply to our own opinions.

This applies particularly to the variety of denominations and different style churches we've visited.
We also have friends and supporters from almost every angle on the education front - from state schoolers and private schoolers to radical home schoolers. We cross paths with people who have different ideas (or no ideas at all) on mission and on Japan.

I guess you do too. Perhaps, though, you have a little more choice than we do. Most people can certainly choose what style of church you will be in most weeks. Who you choose to befriend.

On our 'rounds' we've had to sit through some interesting sermons or reluctantly become a sermon ourselves. We've had to speak about mission to people who don't in the least bit understand why mission exists at all and to others who embrace mission with all their hearts. Our work has taken us to children, young adults, young marrieds, single folk, young families and lonely elderly. We've been in thriving churches and struggling churches. Wealthy churches and poor churches. Urban churches and rural churches. We've spoken to churches where our faces adorn the wall and we're prayed for often; we've gone to places who've never heard of missionaries going to Japan.

It requires a good deal of restraint, love and respect. It challenges your prejudices, ideas and beliefs. It stretches you. I believe it is good for us. And for those who express their rigid ideas to us, it might be good for them too...or it might be their undoing.

16 May, 2010

Cross-stitch conundrum solved

Ten days ago I blogged about the problem I was having framing a cross-stitch that I'd completed. As a result of that post a friend of a friend gave me some good advice and yesterday I finished framing it.

A wonderful result from blogging, don't you think? Pity that "blogger" can't seem to get the dimensions right, though. It looks better in real life.

15 May, 2010

My body and stress

I guess I'm lucky. I have a body that tells me when it's stressed - usually, though, when it is too late. Over the years I've suffered headaches, urinary tract infections, stomach migraines (yes, that's what a doctor called them), thrush and mild (head) migraines. That list is fairly chronological. Yes, my stress symptoms have changed over the years. At least I haven't had the chance to get bored!

I say I'm "lucky" because I'm a fairly hyperactive person and if my body doesn't reel me in, then I can seriously overdo things. Truly, I can be stressed and not really know it, I guess we all can. This last week  came down with a migraine. It was only mild - it hasn't stopped me from doing too much, but it has made me lie down a few times. But by the end of the week it was getting pretty tiresome.

So, while I would have said at the beginning of the week that I was coping fairly well with the stress of our upcoming departure, perhaps I should revise that in the light of what my body's telling me. Now I also have a doctor who's told me to look after myself better! He also gave me some nice medication to get on top of this migraine. Nice doctor!

In the light of that I don't feel too guilty going to have another lie down (but that is soooo boring - you can see I need help).

14 May, 2010

Bad news on the pet front

She's gone. Jessica, one of our hermit crabs, has died. It is just a little bit sad.

13 May, 2010

Not sticking out.

We visited our 7 y.o.'s classroom today. His class have been talking about different jobs that people did. We were parent volunteers talking about what we did. I'm glad I had my husband as a prop-up. I don't really like talking to groups of kids, it is hard to get your level of language right. And it is not as if my job is a very easy one to explain - it has too many bits!

In the course of the exercise, I realised that our son strongly values fitting in with the crowd or "not sticking out". Frequently he gives as the reason as to why he does something or why he doesn't do something at school as, "That'd be too embarrassing."

On reflection we think this is probably one thing that he learned at the Japanese kindergarten he attended for three years (see the photo). It is a strong value in Japan and it all begins at kindergarten!

Being the middle child probably helps too - he's become good at "flying under the radar". Missionary kids learn to do this too - trying to fit in wherever they are, it just makes life easier.

I do wish our eldest had picked up a little of this same value...

Going is easier than coming

"Going back to Japan is easier than coming to Australia." Not emotionally, but physically. We haven't put our roots down too much here. Our main work and life is in Japan. But here is a trivial example:

We don't buy much for our life here in Australia. We have a 'get by' mentality. For example, if I were planning to remain here, I'd probably buy a sewing machine. However I've managed, up till now, with only the little home-made sewing kit on the left. It does for minor repairs. Anything major I've taken up to my parent's house and used Mum's sewing machine. This week, trying to solve this problem, I borrowed a friend's sewing machine. In the process realised I didn't have decent scissors or pins or measuring tape. When I went to buy pins, I figured it was just as good to pay a little bit extra and get a whole travelling sewing kit with all the good bits plus more.

I do own all these things, but they're in Japan. In fact in Japan we have a whole household of goods just waiting for us. In Australia we only have half a household and a whole lot of childhood and early adult-hood memorabilia. For the rest we borrow or get by. So in some ways we are more settled in Japan than we are in Australia. That helps us get back to Japan. I think that if we didn't have a 'get by' mentality it would be even harder to leave that it already is.

But now I have a very adequate travel sewing kit that I can take anywhere!

12 May, 2010

Hermit crab does naked run

One of our hermit crabs, Jessica, is naked at present.

Hermit crabs live in borrowed shells. When they grow too big for their current shell they find another and change. However, one of ours is sitting around naked at present - a bad sign! It can be a sign that they are unwell or dying. But there isn't much we can do. We've put Jessica in isolation (a yoghurt container) with a number of possible shells. Now it is up to her, but as you can see in the photo I've just taken, she's sulking in the (bottom right) corner.

09 May, 2010

Emotional rollercoaster warming up

It is getting emotionally rocky around here - not the adults, it's the kids. We've had more emotional melt-downs this weekend than we've had for a while. And it is not because they are tired, they've had a good week - only three days at school plus a quiet weekend. The high of "looking forward to Japan" is hard to sustain and the reality of the upheaval that is coming their way is bumping them around emotionally. Of course little boys can't articulate that. It comes out in their actions, though!

We worked late last night. The last of our Fun Japan Evenings. But the boys have done it with us four previous times and the novelty has worn off for them. So we found a sitter for them last night. However it didn't go as smoothly as we'd thought. Our nearly 11 y.o. behaved strangely. We think that some of it related to the changes in the air. Our sitter reflected that this must be one of the hardest things about the lifestyle we lead.

Yes, dragging your children in and out of countries. Working hard to settle them, then pulling them out of a settled state and taking them somewhere else, only to repeat the process. It stinks!

It does help to keep your eyes on the bigger purpose of it all. And that God called, not just us, but our whole family to be involved, even knowing how hard it would be. He loves them more than we love them. He can use this to make them the people he wants them to be. I'm reading a book comprising of comments by children and adults who are or have grown up in just this lifestyle (some, mind you, who've had much more upheaval than us). Most of them are thankful for the upbringing they have had. That kind of testimony is encouraging to us in the midst of it.

It's also helpful to realise that protecting our boys from change isn't a guarantee of a pain-free life either. There is no way any parent can protect their kids from pain. That's the world we live in. It is helpful to keep our eyes on the perfect one that is ahead.

Mother's Day

Because Mother's Day is the same day in Australia and Japan, I'd just assumed it was the same all across the world. A friend/colleague's Facebook status has just taught me that that is incorrect. He also pointed me to Wikipedia's table of various country's designated dates. Amazing!

Having just mentioned here that cross-stitch is my hobby, I'm considering branching out a little. My sister gave me a card-making magazine for my birthday. I've made cards (very inexpertly) for a long time, as long as I can remember. But perhaps it is time to produce something more professional looking? It is an especially attractive hobby as it is relatively inexpensive, practical and greeting cards are hard to find in Japan.
Back to the Mother's Day theme - I made this card for my mum. Unfortunately we won't see her. However it is impossible to both do our job and be with our family on every special occasion - even while we're living in Australia (but in different cities).

I've already received one of my own made-at-school cards. I also went with my 5 y.o. to his Prep mother and child Mother's Day night on Tuesday evening. We had fun making craft together (no worries about who'd clean up the mess), eating and the kids performed a couple of songs for us as well as gave us a present. Lovely evening. Pity it came on the end of a crammed day, so I didn't have much time to appreciate it.

07 May, 2010

Bizzare Japanese festival

Last night I turned the TV on to help pass the time while I ironed. I accidentally flipped it to SBS and found they were focusing on Japan for an hour. The reporter was trying to get underneath the Japanese fa├žade and find the 'real' Japan through looking at a couple of their festivals. The festivals were pretty weird, even to ones who'd lived there for a while.

We learned about the Baby Sumo contest - babies who are pitted against one another at a local shrine. They just sit on cushion and the priest tries to make them cry by waving a fan and saying things. The one who cries first is the winner. To win is supposed to bring good luck to the family.

The second one was even stranger - the Naked Man Festival. Read about it here. Basically it is a bunch of nearly naked men (in one case, up to 10 000 of them) trying to touch a naked man who's been chosen to be the 'holy one' of the festival. The 'holy one' makes his way about 800m through this enormous, drunk crowd. It is tremendously lucky to touch him. It is pretty dangerous too!

The common theme, of course, is getting good luck. These festivals are also key times where Japanese appear to 'let their hair down', especially the second one.

One interesting comment by the British reporter was that after participating in the Naked Man Festival, he felt like he'd made contact with the Japanese at a deeper level, perhaps been considered more of an insider in the culture. Missionaries would like to be accepted as insiders too - but cannot avail themselves of Shinto and Buddhist festivals in order to gain it.

Replacement Glasses Surprise

As you can see, my "new" glasses (less than 9 months old) are flaking. The paint is flaking off, not just near my ears, but at the hinge and a little bit on top of the lens too. I wasn't impressed when I discovered this. I'm not really into changing frames every 12 months, as you can imagine! Anyway, yesterday I had to take our 7 y.o. for an eye check and so I asked them about it. I was surprised when they said they'd totally replace my glasses at no charge! There is, of course, nothing stopping it happening again - although the hint they gave was to clean the frames every night before bed (her premise was that acid from the skin can cause this). I have to admit that I don't understand why frames (that are pretty expensive) which are designed to be worn next to the skin would be susceptible to deteriorate so fast? Or maybe I have extra scary skin?

06 May, 2010

Cross-stitch conundrum

Cross-stitch is one of my secret weapons for staying sane. It is like a litmus test - if I haven't had time to sit and cross-stitch in recent weeks I know that I've been way too busy. I know that this HA hasn't been all too bad as I've completed one cross-stitch (the first one pictured) and almost finished another large one (not pictured).

However, I do have a problem. I have a largish cross-stitch that I completed in 2006 (I only know this because I stitched the date on it at the time). It was a kit given to me by my parents to do for my sister. Complicated!

More complicated than that is that after I finished stitching it I posted it to my sister (we were in Japan that year and she lives in Australia). I organised for a friend to frame it for her. However that friend (who reads this blog - don't feel guilty friend!!!) found life got way too busy on her, and wasn't able to frame it. She returned it to me last year and I haven't managed to get it framed either. Actually, I took fright after I had two birth samplers framed last year by a professional (see the photos). They look fabulous, but were frightfully expensive to have framed. So, I thought - I'll do it myself.

Here is my problem. I've bought a suitable frame with a matt the perfect size (see third photo). However the Aida cloth isn't large enough to overlap the edges of the backing. What to do? I know that to do it properly I shouldn't use the cardboard backboard provided with the frame, I should use acid-free board. But again, I'm trying to do this on a budget...my only thought is to sew some cloth onto the sides of the Aida to make it suitably wider and longer and then lace the back. I'm missing my sewing machine more than ever (it's in Japan).

Any cross-stitch framing experts with advice out there? Remember, I have less than 10 weeks...

05 May, 2010

What does a missionary do?

Here a fellow missionary in Japan gives her take on the question!

Big steps forward

Heaps of stuff has happened. I'm bursting to tell you all, but struggling to find a way to make it comprehensible.

One biggie is that our plane tickets are booked for 8.45am on the 12th of July. The other biggie that came at the same time was the fact that OMF is not totally happy with our support level. It is approximately 88% and they'd prefer 100%. That makes me feel shaky. It actually highlights how passionate I am (we are) about what we're doing and planning to do - that the chance that we might be sent back to Australia in two years time if our support hasn't improved makes me feel sad. Aren't people hard to understand?

Another exciting piece of the puzzle was put into place yesterday. Another answer to prayer. I've mentioned a few times here and here and here that one of my goals for home assignment was to prepare myself to help out children at at CAJ (Cee-Aye-Jay - Christian Academy in Japan) who have handwriting difficulties, using my Occupational Therapy (OT) skills. It hasn't been an easy goal. I haven't gone about it in a mainstream fashion - i.e. regaining my registration, getting a job or studying at uni. I've mostly been reading recent literature on my own, but I've also sat in an observed a couple of assessment and treatment sessions of the children of a friend of mine. But up till now, I've not made much progress in actually laying my hands on resources or making up a clear strategy.

I am setting up something that no one has done before at CAJ, so I'm in virgin territory - not my favourite place to be. I'm not really certain of what I will be asked to do or how much. It may be as little as two referrals a year. I'm also not certain of the rules I will have to obey as a 'volunteer' OT. Both the Japanese OT Board of registration and my visa restrict me from gainful employment as an OT in Japan.

BUT yesterday I made a leap forward. Through a prayer partner who we met five years ago I've made contact with a Christian paediatric OT here in Brisbane. Not only that, but one who has her own business and sells resources designed for teacher's aides to use with children who have needs that they'd usually see an OT for. A resource that can be used in a school with little supervision from an OT. AND she's given the resource to me. I'm sure she'd hate me to name her, but if you'd like to visit her website, you can have a look. Add to that, the fact that she is a delightful lady who I got along with really well. I'm going back to observe her in action next week. And I'm really looking forward to our ongoing relationship. I think I've met the mentor I was looking for. Praise God!

03 May, 2010

Pacing ourselves

From today we've only got 10 weeks left in Australia!

Pacing ourselves these last 10 months has consisted mostly of spreading out our weekend deputation appointments. Then whatever else came along got either fitted in between those appointments or it didn't get on the calendar. Now we are faced with more people-to-catch-up-with than speaking appointments. People-to-catch-up-with are easier to over schedule. Last Monday you read what happens when we do!

I'm an extrovert, but one that not only craves social time with others, but also deep conversation. That is wearing - especially when you are catching up with people you haven't seen for five years and they ask "good questions" about what you've been doing while you've been out of the country. With the additional emotional burden of knowing that this is probably 'goodbye' for the next four or five years too. It is additionally wearing as I'm dragging a family of five around with me! Granted, this is David's job too, but I'm the more outgoing, so end up answering more questions than him.

So, I now am scheduling-challenged. How much can we manage and how often? This is a hard call when you are planning several weeks in advance. And now we have a deadline too.

02 May, 2010

Hermit crab photos

Here are some photos, as promised yesterday.

Overall view of the crabitat. Spikey is in the top left. Jaz is (we presume) in his new green shell under the back of the truck. Jessica (we presume) is hiding at the bottom of the picture somewhere under the shell grit. The rest of the shells are empty.

Here is Jaz in his new green shell. They love to dig themselves under things. The truck is usually used as their food tray.
It's just a different angle. Spikey is at the top on the right. Hiding from the camera. We're banking on him changing shells next because he actually cannot totally hide inside his any more - can't you hear it: "But I like it, this is where I've always lived..."

01 May, 2010

Hermit crab fun

Last weekend we did a bit of refurbishing in our crabitat (hermit crab's aquarium). We replaced the tiny pebble substrate with shell grit. And we bought three new shells (two of them brightly painted). We've had plenty of action since then.

The hermit crabs have really enjoyed digging in their new substrate. But the most fun is checking to see if they've changed shells. When a hermit crab grows too big for its shell, it merely moves into another larger one. So one of a hermit crab owner's responsibilities is to make sure there are a few choices lying around. We haven't' actually seen one move shells, but we have seen one of our hermies checking out a new shell - it grabbed onto the shell at the mouth and stuck its head inside. Usually we just find a previously unoccupied shell, occupied and its old shell vacant. Sometimes they move between the old and new shells a couple of times, as if they are checking it out. I'm sure it takes time to get used to a new one, like a new shoe!

The trick is that we identify them by their shells. So if only one changes shells, it is okay, but we're suspicious that there has been more shenanigans than that this last week. We're thinking that one of them (Jaz) moved into a new shell and another (Jessica) moved into the vacated shell of the first crab. The only way we can tell is because one (Jessica) has only one front claw.

The other reason we're suspicious is because the one wearing Jaz's shell seems to be withdrawing from society, which usually means it is moulting. Both Jaz and Spikey have moulted in recent months on it seems like it should be Jessica's turn. When they're moulting they're pretty fragile, so we cannot pick the one in Jaz's former shell up to check claws, but the one in the new shell seems to have two claws. However not being sure how fast claws grow though we're still a little uncertain.

Complicated? Yes, but fun! Hermie watching is definitely an enjoyable sport. I'll try and get a couple of photos to post in the next couple of days, to show you the new fancy shells.