30 April, 2011

Some funny stories from Thrift Shop

I've spent most of the last two days at CAJ's Thrift Shop on registers. Either working the calculator, or handling the items and feeding prices to the person on the calculator or bagging items. Here are some funny experiences:

I had someone pay for a 100 yen item (about AU$1.12) with a 5 000 yen note (about AU$56.21). I gave her 900 yen change! She rightly protested. I did something similar to another young girl who went to complain to her mum who I vaguely know. Her mum came back to me and claimed the rest of her change for her!

On Friday afternoon I spent most of the time bagging. At one point our cashier had to take a short break and I took over for her. The very next customer brought bags and bags of stuff to buy. His purchase alone turned out to be over 17 000 yen (more than AU$150). After my earlier adventures with change I was a little scared that I'd make a mistake that would require us to recalculate the whole thing.

We had a lady buying a Christmas wreath and she questioned us about the key which was attached to it. It looked like a house key. We pulled it out of there and someone in charge looked up the identification number on the item (many things are tagged with PTA numbers so that the prior owners can receive some of the proceeds). It turned out to be owned by missionary colleagues of ours! I bet they've been wondering for a while where that key went.

One couple on Friday bought a variety of things, including a metal table lamp. A couple of customers later I figured out we were working around the lamp sitting on the table in the middle of everything, they'd forgotten to take it with them. It gives you a feel for how crazy this event it that we would miss such a thing!

Well, there is just a sampling. This afternoon at 1pm the mad shopping ended and the clean-up began. I tag-teamed it with David who by that time had more energy than me. I came home and lay down (telling the boys to be quiet every now and then). And he went down to the school to help clean up and turn the "shop" back into the school gym. 

It truly is an amazing and very organised affair. A unique part of our experience in Japan. And only possible because of a few extremely dedicated women and a large number of volunteers. Awesome work everyone!

See Japanese Christians responding to the disaster

There are is a lot of footage out there related to Japan's disasters. Not much of it is from a Christian perspective. Here are two which are:

Here is an interview with a Japanese pastor who is helping out in the towns along the coast where the tsunami hit. The interview has subtitles for English speakers.

Here is another one which also features a Japanese pastor - one whose church has been totally destroyed. It was put together by an OMF missionary.

29 April, 2011

Some glimpses of Thursday

I'm exhausted. So here's a few photos from Thursday, instead of me writing much.
This is what I did most of yesterday - took piles of clothes and hung them up or folded them and put them on tables. These are winter coats, every time I went up to the sorting place there seemed to be another huge armful of them. The supply was endless.

Racks and racks of bags of all shapes an sizes. I worked on these a little too.

During the day we had PE classes generously spend their class-time with us in Thrift Shop set-up. Here my son and his friend helping with hanging up jackets (and snow suits).

It was my "baby"'s sixth birthday too. So we had to have a cake and a small family party. This is an ice-cream cake - an echidna (see here). I didn't do it, I worked at Thrift Shop until nearly 6pm. David did the cake - isn't he clever? But it was very easy - one of the easiest we've done.

Here is the birthday boy doing what we do on birthdays - taking to people on the Skype "phone". He's talking to his Nanna (my mum).

28 April, 2011

What's happening?

In a week entirely different from my last few weeks of editing, we are in the midst of CAJ's huge twice-yearly garage sale, Thrift Shop. I've written about it before here and here.

Yesterday and today we are setting up - sorting, pricing and arranging all the items for sale. Tomorrow and Saturday are sale days. Tomorrow for PTA members and Saturday is open to the general public. 

Yesterday I mostly spent my time sorting clothing into appropriate types and sex. I also carried a lot of large plastic boxes full of clothes around the gym to their correct location. It took about six hours for me start to feel pain in my wrist from this activity. I should know better, my wrists are prone to injury. I'm going to have to be more careful today!

Today is also my youngest's sixth birthday. Last night I decorated some plain chocolate patty cakes (mini cakes) to take for his class. My husband is working on his ice-cream cake and we wrapped presents last night.

In addition to that today is the Elementary's Spring Concert at last. It was postponed from late March when the school was shut due to the earthquake. In actual fact Thrift Shop is also a fortnight later than planned, also for the same reason. There is no getting around it, things are still a little different, even here in Tokyo, as a result of March 11.

On Friday we get to shop at Thrift shop as well as see the middle schooler's spaghetti bridges smashed (see an explanation here).

I'm still struggling with headaches and fatigue. Thrift Shop is a fun time, however, a time when extroverts like me get to enjoy one of their favourite activities - hanging out with friends! That is good for my stress levels and recent feelings of being a bit flat, despite the fact that it comes at a price - hard work. 

If you pray, pray I'll have the energy to make it through to 1pm on Saturday. After that I can relax a little, before I start working on the Summer edition of Japan Harvest next week.

27 April, 2011

A confession

In the course of wearing my Occupational Therapy hat the other day I had to review the official diagnostic manual's definition of hyperactive. I recognised someone as I read the following (and it wasn't my client):
  1. Often fidgets with hands or squirms in seat;
  2. Is often "on the go" or often acts as if "driven by a motor";
  3. Often blurts out answers before questions have been completed;
  4. Often interrupts or intrudes on others (eg butts into conversations or games)
  5. Often talks excessively; 
  6. Often has difficulty awaiting turn;
  7. Often has difficult playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly;
  8. Often runs about or climbs excessively in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents and adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness);
  9. Often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected.
I could argue that most of these are present in me at some time or other. I'm better at concealing it than I used to be! I've particularly noticing 3 and 4 recently, and annoyed at myself when I don't notice until too late! Number 5 comes out when I've not had enough people time. Number 9 is probably the least of my concerns, I'm pretty socially competent these days, but definitely have feelings of restlessness, especially when I'm uncomfortable.
Number 6 is interesting - I hate waiting. I'm always aiming to be exactly on time or just a minute or two late (except for trains and planes) so that I don't have to wait. I'm always bringing stuff with me to do or read if I anticipate I'll have to sit and wait. I hate sitting in the park or playground while the kids play. Dreadful confession, I know!

Good thing I was born in the 70s, a decade or two later and I'd probably have been on some kind of drug!

26 April, 2011

A bit down

Still feeling a bit down. Why is it when you're down that things seem to pile up? 

An international magazine published a report I wrote in the week following the earthquake and tsunami - an article I sweated over at a time it wasn't easy to work. The magazine arrived in on Saturday and my report didn't even have my name on it. So disappointed!

Today I was planning to go and have lunch at Starbucks on my own as some "time-out" before life gets busy again tomorrow with our school's Thrift Shop (two days of set-up and two days of selling), but I came down with a headache I couldn't budge this morning. Felt very fuzzy, so I decided to lie down and try to fend it off. It isn't really gone and I need to go to school now. Disappointed.

And a whole lot of other little things just catch in your craw...

25 April, 2011

4 year old orphan - one of many

Now here is a heartbreaking story.


Several hundred children have lost their parents in the March 11 Tohoku earthquake-tsunami disaster in North-East Japan.

Orphans are longingly looking at the sea, apparently hoping they will be reunited with their parents. Some smile more than usual, as if trying to drive away loneliness!

Manami is one of the many children whose parents have died or remain unaccounted for since the tsunami struck coastal towns in Japan. 

She was at her nursery school when the violent quake struck on March 11. Her mother picked her up soon afterward and they went to their home, located on high ground overlooking an inlet. Their house stood next to a local primary school, designated as a safe evacuation center, but the massive tsunami struck with dark mud waves reaching a height of over 30 meters.

Manami's parents and her 2-year-old sister were swept away by the receding waters. Only Manami has survived. She was saved because her nursery school bag on her back became entangled in fishing nets.

When her grandmother Shizue Neki finally found her one week after the tsunami in a center for survivors, she was worried by the change in her usually lively granddaughter's appearance.

"She looked so sad and said nothing. I thought she'd forgotten how to speak," said Shizue.

On the afternoon of March 22, Manami announced she would write a letter to her mother. She opened her notebook, took up a colored pencil and began writing in the hiragana characters she had just learned in school.

Over the course of nearly an hour, she wrote:

Dear Mommy,
I hope you are alive.
Are you well?

Soon afterward, she fell asleep.

This is the heartbreaking letter written by the 4-year-old Manami Kon.

Manami has begun to smile again, but she will not go near her destroyed house; a look of pain sometimes flashes across her face.

Shizue wants Manami to stay at her house, but the girl will not agree.

“I’ll wait here until Mom comes to fetch me,” she says.

“Will Papa call me?” Manami asks, holding tight to her father's silver cell phone, with the power turned on.

Source: Yomiuri News, N Tateishi 2011-24-01 

Via email from Neil Verwey, JAPAN MISSION

24 April, 2011

Road-side nature in Tokyo

I thought of Tokyo as a big concrete and asphalt jungle before I came here. And certainly there is enough of both of those to warrant the reputation. The first two times we visited the city was in winter and there was very little in the way of green or natural colour around. However, that wasn't a complete image of the city, especially during the warmer seasons of the year.

Driving around our little area of Tokyo on Friday, I saw some amazing colour. These photos aren't the best, they were taken with my mobile phone when I was stopped at lights, and there were enough of those. When driving in Tokyo you probably spend more time at lights than actually moving along the road. So come on a little tour:

A bit hard to see, but there were a lovely lot of tulips out the front of this property.

A nice manicured park.

This road is called the Suido Road. Suido being a pipe. A little stream, I don't know how man-made it is, but certainly it isn't in its natural state with a road on one side and often a foot/bike path on the other and fenced on both sides. It is nice, though, to not have properties crowding onto both sides of the road and rather have some green.

More of the same.

I think these are Azaleas. A splash of colour outside the local CocaCola Factory.
Still outside the CocaCola factory. The trees with pink flowers are dogwoods, I think. Not sure what the hedge is. The locals maintain this long garden, a pretty common sight on this main road in our local area.

Thanks for coming on a tour. Maybe you could come and see it with your own eyes one day.

23 April, 2011

Evidence of tiredness and stress

I've had accidents with heat this week. Like when you injure yourself time and again, in places where you normally get along just fine - this week I've had a number of little accidents in my kitchen (thankfully no big ones).

Firstly I left this large, magnificent plastic cookie jar on the top of the oven while it cooked dinner. Now the jar has a curious lopsided look.

Then today I did my usual Saturday afternoon baking effort, even though I didn't feel like it, there is a lot of need for baking goods this week (not just my family). I managed to burn my finger by touching a hot tray and worst of all put a hole in my favourite plastic cooking bowl (a wedding present). I use this bowl almost every day. Very sad.

But to put it in perspective, I don't have to look far to see people who've lost more than a plastic bowl. This article talks about the 20km no-go zone around the stricken Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. It seems it will be a long time before people are allowed to live and work in that area again. It is a farming area. Many of the farmers are leaving everything they've ever known and everything they own too. Difficult to imagine.

Back to tiredness, I'm dragging myself around a bit. Lacking in motivation. I know, because I've just edited an article for the magazine on "Burnout", that that is a warning sign I need to take note of. I'm planning to take it a bit easy the next few days. Especially because CAJ's Thrift Shop is coming up next week - a four day volunteering marathon! So, I give myself permission to kick back a little until Wednesday.

So tonight: I'm off to enjoy a left-over dinner, chuck the kids in bed and sit back with some cross-stitch (though I've been too mentally fragmented to even do that this week, so we'll see how it goes).

22 April, 2011

Celebrating by staying away from the computer

Today I've been busy outside the house, for a change. A prayer meeting, a Bible study with friends and then shopping for birthday presents for my nearly six-year-old! I came home in time to pick him up from school and then race home to prepare dinner for our mission's Japan director and his wife who spent the evening with us checking up on us (otherwise known as a two-year review). 

Oh, and I ran an orange light on my bike - but by the time I got to the other side of the intersection, it was red and nearly knocked over some pedestrians crossing the other way. I must have been living in Japan too long, what what I thinking?

All afternoon I was writing stuff in my head for a blog post or three, but I never got here! The main reason I could be out and about this afternoon was because I'm finished the majority of my responsibility for the Spring edition of Japan Harvest, having sent the last major piece to the layout editor last night.

I was feeling very tired just before dinner. I think that was a combination of post-deadline relief/let down and not eating enough for lunch! Unfortunately, now at 10.30pm I have my second wind. Not good as I was up late night too, after a significant aftershock hit us in bed last night and I had difficulties calming down enough to drop-off.

Nonetheless, sitting at the computer is not a good way to try to get to sleep, so I must say goodnight. But before I go, I just want to give you the opportunity to have a bird's eye view of how Tokyo is different tonight to how it was two months ago - just a little darker. This is a clever time-lapse video. The first two minutes are the best, though. Don't feel you need to watch it to the end.

21 April, 2011

Hard to focus on Easter

It is a little hard to focus on the fact that this weekend is Easter. In Japan there are no reminders. No eggs, no holidays. No Good Friday service (at our church) - and anyway, with it being a usual school day (we find this quite a strange American custom - to have school on Good Friday, always assuming that America is more "Christian" than Australia...), it is difficult to get to church anyway. In Australia this is a long weekend when people go away and do things like camp or visit family or have retreats. 

Here, nothing much will be different. However, it is good to take time, even small pieces of time to meditate on the significance of this weekend. I find music a great way to focus my mind. Recently we've been singing a lot of Easter hymns to our boys at bedtime - there are so many great ones. 

But here is a more contemporary song that speaks to my heart:

20 April, 2011

Price comparisons

I'm just wondering what prices are like in Australia now. When we first were preparing to leave for Japan in '99 and 2000, we did up a chart comparing prices in Japan with Australian prices. It was a frightening chart. I wish I could find that information now...because I've got a feeling things have changed. Not only have prices changed in both places (but possibly more in Australia than here), but the exchange rate has too.

However, let me tell you some of my recent groceries and their prices. Perhaps you can dig up your own comparisons.

Today I bought

bananas for AU$1.66 a kg
apples for AU$2.90 a kg
cucumbers for  AU$3.22 a kg
carrots AU$4.65 a kg
low fat milk 1 L for AU$1.13

How does this compare? (Note that I'm buying cheaply at a little local store.)

19 April, 2011

I've been doing a strange jigsaw puzzle

I've been trying to come up with a good word picture that describes what this magazine editing process has been like, because it has been a big and complex project, but one that is hard to describe to anyone who's never been involved in publishing. 

Here's a try:

I was given a mission - do a jigsaw puzzle that depicts hope in the midst of this disaster in Japan. I wasn't given the puzzle pieces. I wasn't told how many pieces I needed. I wasn't even given a picture.

So I went on something like a scavenger hunt. I found pieces, lots of pieces. Most of the pieces belonged to other people so I had to ask their permission to use their pieces to make up this puzzle. In the end I found too many pieces. As time went on I found some pieces didn't fit, they were the wrong shape or the wrong colour. They were good pieces, but didn't fit into this puzzle or they looked too much like another piece we already had. As I went along I had to discover the rules of the game. Other rules I had to make up for this special puzzle. 

A couple of the people who owned some of the pieces didn't like the way my team had used their pieces. I had to deal with that, try to make peace. This was an emotional puzzle, one that many people had a stake in.

I've written hundreds of emails to do this jigsaw puzzle. I've gathered a team (or God has placed a team) around me who've contributed in various ways, definitely a team puzzle.

In the end I found out that the puzzle has no edge pieces. Strangely enough it was mostly me who decided what will be included and what won't. And in the end I discovered that this jigsaw is only a small part of what is a much, much larger puzzle - one that we'll never see until after this earthly life is over.

I'm sure that when the jigsaw is finally completed it won't look exactly like anyone expects it to. I hope that people are surprised, not disappointed. I hope that I am satisfied with the end result.

What do you think? Have I pushed the analogy too far?

18 April, 2011

Trying not to sound like a CD on repeat

I don't pretend that I have perfect kids, nor that I find them a struggle at times. A few weeks ago I got so frustrated at sounding like a CD on repeat (update on the "broken record"), that I wrote done the rules that went with the most common and annoying habits we find at the dining table. Then I posted them on the wall and all I have to do is point to them. Wish I'd numbered them, but hey!

We've toyed with adding one or two more since then, but this is what we have at present...

A word of explanation the "when Mummy is reading" rule refers to when I am reading out aloud to the children (at the moment we are reading The Dawn Treader). No, I don't sit there reading my own book silently!

What rules do you have at your house (or do you remember from childhood)?

17 April, 2011

We're not really back to normal, whatever that is

I've spent time with a few different missionaries in the last couple of days and here are few things that are part of the "new normal", even for us here in Tokyo.

People don't know how to react to aftershocks. Do you count to ten then dive under the nearest table if it hasn't ended by then? Or do you just ride it out unless things start to fall off shelves? One of the reasons for this is that previously we though that you could quickly tell if this would be a biggie or not - because it would start with a big jolt or the like. But the one we experienced on March 11 started like any other 'little shake' that is not uncommon in Japan and it built and built and went on and on.

There is some difficulties about summer holidays (vacation). This might seem a little callous in the light of all the suffering that is around, but we know instinctively that we cannot keep going without a break and summer is the time when it is most convenient to do that if you have school-aged children. Here there are no long holidays (read longer than a week) four times a year, only summer and two weeks in the middle of winter (Christmas-New Year). The issue is particularly of concern for those who'd usually take a summer holiday at the beach near Sendai. A number of missions (including ours) have one or more cabins there. Some missionaries also own a small cabin (not very upmarket, by the way). These cabins have survived as they are perched on a rocky knoll. But they sit as islands in the midst of incredible destruction. Who'd be able to relax there? And of course, you'd wonder about the water quality too - maybe swimming at the beach wouldn't be so great. We were planning to go camping, so it is not an issue for us, thankfully, but the whole disaster has messed with people's image of (and plans for) a relaxing summer break.

As I mentioned yesterday, many wonder how we'll cope with the relentless heat and humidity of a Tokyo summer with potential rolling power outages. Others are thankful that their planned home assignments are coming up this summer and they can guiltlessly leave Japan for a bit.

A number of people have changed job descriptions. Many have taken time out of their previous ministries to do relief work or work at the CRASH command centre here in Tokyo. Some did it for a while, but had to return to their previous ministries. Some are hoping to hand over their responsibilities to others soon, others have able to put other things aside and continue to work full or part-time in this new ministry. Mission leaders are considering the long-term responses that their organisation will make to the disaster. What will come of this all? We wait and see.

And people are still telling their stories. What happened for them on THE day. What's happened for them since. How this has changed or not changed what they're doing. How they're feeling more stressed than usual. Wondering what the future holds.

Life looks pretty normal, but frequent shakes remind us that it is not. That there are many for whom life won't look normal for some time. But also that even those of us who have suffered little will bear scars, even if they are tiny, they are there.

16 April, 2011

Spring arrives in force

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I pulled on my winter coat, gloves and scarf every time I left the house. Today I only had one layer on even when I went out and the windows open during the middle of the day. It got quite warm upstairs - 27 degrees Celcius in our bedroom at 2pm. Heat coming on that fast makes me nervous. I don't like fast transition very much. My birthday, two weeks ago tomorrow, was 8 minimum and 10  maximum. Today was probably about 24 degrees and will only drop to about 12 overnight.

 Spring in Japan is usually known for the cherry blossoms, but many other flowers grace this season. As I've mentioned before, I didn't grow up with this sudden change from almost no green and colour to so much. 

My favourite flower of the season is the tulip because it reminds me of our very first spring in Japan ten years ago. We arrived in Sapporo in mid-December, after the snow-which-stays had arrived. We didn't even know that the streets around us had footpaths (sidewalks for the US folk and pavements for the UK folk). We also didn't imagine that soon after the snow melted we'd see amazing colour, such as a tulip forcefully, yet gracefully reveals.

These yellow tulips have come up in our backyard.
 Plus all these other flowers, whose names I don't know. These aren't large flowers, just close-ups.

What's more, I didn't plant them. They just came up spontaneously. I like spontaneous gardens, I've decided. Decidedly less work!

I've also been watching this tree in our yard (it is the window we look out of most - being next to the dining room and my "office" corner. Just look at how this tree has changed in the last week or two. Gorgeous.

So, I'm not going to think about the awful heat that is coming in only three months. And the fact that with reduced number of power plants, Tokyo will probably be facing rolling blackouts - i.e. no electric fans or air con.

Instead I'm going to enjoy the beauty bursting forth around me. And pray that God makes this a short, mild summer!

Big egg in Japan

This video is fun. Simone had it on her blog, but it was too fun (and too Japanese) to leave there.

Here's a scientific explanation (in English):

15 April, 2011

Bitter-sweet meal with friends

I did one of my favourite things today - went out for lunch with a bunch of women who happen to be missionaries with OMF here in Japan (in the greater Tokyo area). You can see by the photos here, that we like to get together, though, because we live spread apart over more than two hours, it isn't all that often.

It was, however, a bitter-sweet occasion this time. It was a farewell to one who warmly welcomed us to Tokyo six years ago and let us live in her house while we found one of our own. Who, with her husband, babysat our kids many times. Who is the only other OMF teacher on staff at CAJ. In short - one who we'll miss deeply.

Kathi and her husband have been like adopted aunt and uncle to our kids. But God has lead them back to the US to work in mobilisation there.

That wasn't the only sadness in my heart as I looked around at lunch. I realised that out of the 12 ladies there, besides Kathi, one other lady is going to prematurely retire later in the year due to ill health and two others will be leaving for home assignment in June and one of those for a two year home assignment. That means one-third of the friends I had lunch with today will simply not be there next time we have lunch. And maybe they'll never be there again.

Being a missionary is not just about frequent changes for oneself, it is about those around you frequently changing too. And not just us, our kids too. Most classes at CAJ have children leaving every year, sometimes for only a year and then they return, sometimes never to return. A higher rate of change than most national schools endure.

Yet I read an interesting short article in the magazine Just Between Us (Fall 2010) recently. A ministry wife wrote "It seems that God blesses me with friends for a season...The pain of loss does not diminish the joy of sharing your life with someone, no matter how long or short the season. I urge you to risk loving."

It is true. In the situation we find ourselves, it is easy to think - 'I'm not going to risk any more deep friendships, because I'll only lose any new friend sooner or later.' But this is harmful thinking and will deprive us of needed encouragement and help.

It also helps us to value those friendships which last the distance. Both figuratively and literally. Friendships in which it "just seems like we've never been apart" when we get back together. And I can think of several of those. I'm thankful!

14 April, 2011

Bird calls and the wearing of many hats.

In a recent reshuffle of cupboards (to store our new tent) we recently put all our CDs in our 11 y.o.'s room (we almost exclusively use our computer as the family music player - all our music is on it). This year he's become interested in more grown-up music and enjoyed playing a number of our CDs, many of which are "Gospel and Religious", like Michael Card, Steven Curtis Chapman, DC Talk etc. This week he found a different one. The Australian Bird Calls CD that my Dad gave us a number of years ago. Guess what the first bird is? Click the video here for the answer:
His brothers didn't know what what going on this morning when they started hearing that bird in our house. Of course we haven't heard it for nearly 10 months. We used to have a serenade on our way to school when we lived in Queensland last year. It was funny to watch them run into their room and slam the door! But it's also been nice to hear the birds echoing through our house. Our son claims it helps him to relax (which is a significant issue for him). I'm happy.

Most of the day I spent doing magazine editing jobs. I picked up the handbook I received at the Magazine Editing Workshop I attended in Manilla 18 months ago and found this in the first unit: "Editors work behind the scenes to put a magazine together. As they work, editors wear many "hats"."
Here are some "hats":

Director: I had to decide what theme and decide what articles to pursue.
Detective: I had to research to find articles and find photos to go with them. Discover new writers and seek other people to help me get this impossible mission done.
Teacher/coach: I had to help coach some writers along. I had to direct writers and editors towards the content and towards more excellent writing.
Janitor: I've had to "clean up" articles so that they shine.
Window designer: Haven't had much of this, but hopefully our cover designer will do a good job with the information I give him, so that people will want to "come in".
Traffic officer: I've had to keep the traffic moving smoothly so that everything gets where it needs to go. I've had to keep a careful watch on the progress of the magazine. This role has been challenging!
Business manager: Just a tiny bit of this, thankfully (I didn't even take Business Principles in Grade 9!) I've had to write a proposal the person with authority to give us permission to print more than double our usual print-run. And then I guess I'll take on more of a "marketing" hat as I try to find ways to get this out there and cover our costs. Anyone interested in placing an advance order?

And probably more. I've certainly had some sticky human-relations situations to deal with too!

What was fun was a meeting I had with my editorial boss today - we sat for longer than an hour under the Sakura Trees (Cherry Blossom Trees) at CAJ. Here is a tiny taste (but poor videoing, sorry).

Can you see how the ground is white (or a very pale pink) with the petals? They were falling down continually throughout our time out there. And the weather was perfect - no wind and balmy warm!

 So, I'm nearing the end of my part of pulling this Spring Edition off. Phew, that will be a relief!

13 April, 2011

Thankful for our adopted family, sad for the loss of one member.

Being a missionary is a strange experience. It is more like being a part of a big family, than being employed in a company. This comparison encapsulates the love and care, as well as the holistic nature of what we do. Our mission organisation wants to know and has a say in things that is none of the business of a usual employer. For example, which church we attend and what house we can rent. We do two-year reviews that includes questions about how much exercise we take, what we do to relax and whether we get enough time to spend with our children.

That might sound scary, but it is balanced out by a genuine concern for our well-being. And, as we found out last month, a commitment to supporting us in times of extreme challenge.

In practise that meant we were getting regular emails from the Crisis Management Team that OMF Japan put together to advise us as well as emails from our Field Director. It meant phone calls from our Regional Advisor, Field Nurse and Australian State Director. Wow! We felt cared for.

In addition to all that we have a large number of people (more than 300) who receive regular newsletters from us and many of those pray regularly for us. Amazing support! How many Christians living in their home country could boast of so much love and concern surrounding them? We are truly blessed.

When the earthquake news hit Australia we and our families and others who know us were inundated with emails and phone calls enquiring about our well-being and assuring us of their prayers. A wonderful outpouring of love and concern for us that truly sustained us in a difficult time.

Yesterday we heard that one of our special supporters lost her long battle with cancer. Mary with her husband are very special to us. They are one of the handful of supporters who've actually come and visited us in Japan.

Here are a couple of photos from their visit. Can you tell how long ago it was? Our eldest son is in the photo - when he was still an only child (for a couple more months anyway).

We have good memories of that visit. Of Bjorn trying to strip the seaweed off the sushi and of him fixing various things around the OMF holiday house where we stayed for a week with them.  Of them managing a two-carriage country train and wondering when to get off. They weren't rich, but they stepped outside their comfort zones and generously travelled out of their way to see us.

They visited us during one of the most challenging times we've ever experienced - language school, before we'd been in Japan for two years. Their visit was just the encouragement we needed.

So we grieve Mary's passing out of this life. Bjorn's loss of a partner, our loss of a faithful friend and pray-er and ever cheerful face. But we are also thankful that her pain is now over, that she can now be with the Saviour who she loved so dearly.

Back to where I started today. You may think that we suffer as missionaries or that we have lost a lot by following God's leading to another land. However, in losing some things, we have gained many more - one of which is a large family-like group who love us and support us. We've learned to rely on them (on you, perhaps) when times are tough. We are thankful. Our cup is overflowing with thanks at the people God has put around us.

12 April, 2011

Thunderstorms and earthquakes

Yesterday afternoon, not long after I wrote here an unexpected thunderstorm blew in. Unexpected, because we rarely have them here and in early April - almost never. 

Just as school got out we could hear the thunder and a downpour threatened. The two younger boys and I headed home quickly because they had swimming lessons at four (across the road - incredibly convenient). By the time we were ready to dash across the road the rain was pelting, despite my umbrella and short trip, I got quite damp.

One or two of the Japanese kids at swimming were screaming in terror. This might sound odd, but I couldn't but help feel like the storm was God expressing his sadness at what happened a month ago yesterday in Japan and what has happened since. It certainly felt like the sky was raging.

Then after swimming, while the boys were having a snack the house started to creak and then rock and roll again. We didn't feel particularly terrified, but the boys both jumped into action. Our nearly 6 y.o. who was snacking on nuts just dived under the table with his nuts in hand and kept nibbling. Our middle son merely stood firmly in a doorway. I stood in the middle of the room debating what I should do. Perhaps I should have sat down or held onto something, because I felt distinctly shaky afterwards. But it wasn't actually that big here, nor long. Again, nothing fell. 

But after that we had lots of aftershocks right through the evening. One began as I descended our steep stairs. Mostly you just noted that the house was creaking and waited, none of them were enough to make you move away from your position, only to make you pause and say, "There's another one." What a way to celebrate the one month anniversary.

And I'm feeling tired today. I didn't feel any tremors during the night, but a brisk wind whistled through the one metre gap between our house and the one next to us, right behind our heads, all night.

I'd be happy not to have any more anniversaries like that. 

Today dawned bright and beautiful, but with a distinct chill in the air. Only yesterday I rode home from the gym at lunch-time with only a t-shirt on. A very daring thing to do. My arms haven't seen the light of day outside for about six months. Today I walked the boys to school with my thick winter jacket on and was glad of it.

Today is also the deadline I gave all my writers for Japan Harvest. I have about nine items outstanding. Today I've mostly had my Occupational Therapy hat on. Tomorrow I'll pull out my editor's hat again.

11 April, 2011

One month later and the tears still flow

Today I've been very busy. Tomorrow is the deadline I gave my writers for articles for the special edition Japan Harvest. I have more than half the articles already and am working on editing them and asking others to edit for me.

I'm still working on less information than I need, especially in the financial side of things. I'd like to put some maps with some of the articles, but have come to the conclusion that that will cost money. Money I don't have the authority to spend...so I wait on others to give me the go ahead.

I wrote something of a marketing proposal, but I'm sure it would have failed Marketing 101. Basically we're hoping to get this magazine out to more than just the usual Japan missionaries who receive it. We're sure that with the heightened interest in Japan and the vast amounts of money that has been given to various ministries, that there will be an interest in our special disaster edition. Gestimating how much that interest will be is impossible for this Occupational Therapist cum Mum cum Freelance writer. I didn't even do Business Studies in Grade 9 and 10!

At 11 I dashed off to a sixth grade prayer meeting at school. Before we'd even really started I'd received two phone calls. One from our new short-term boarder. A CRASH worker who needs a bed for a few nights (he gets our lounge). Then one from CAJ trying to coordinate me seeing a child for an Occupational Therapy assessment this week. Huh? How did all these things collide? 

Then back to the prayer meeting. Only two of us were there, usually there at at least half a dozen. Another symptom of how busy everyone is at present. We shared and prayed. On this one month anniversary of the disaster the pain is still fresh and tears flowed. Actually the pain is too much for us to take. Too much hardship for one person to bear. We thanked God that we can cast our burdens on him. We thanked him that he feels the pain, that he grieves too.
After our meeting I dashed off to the gym and then back home in time to meet Matt, our new boarder. By the time I got to lunch at 1.45, I was shaking. But thankfully friends who holidayed in Australia a couple of weeks ago brought us back a special treat - Promite! Not a very famous Australian spread, not as famous as its cousin, Vegemite. Not even that popular with many Australians, however, I like it (but not Vegemite). It made for a yummy lunch.

Then back to editing, shuffling documents around, looking at maps and wondering how on earth I'm going to pull off this whole thing. Certainly I feel something like Gideon did when God gave him 300 men to fight a battle against 135 000! But who got the glory when they were victorious? Not Gideon.

10 April, 2011

An edge-of-the-ordinary kind of day

Yesterday was a fairly ordinary Saturday home day. I pottered around doing gardening, baking and a tiny bit of cleaning (not a lot of gardening, really). I also pondered digitally modifying maps, but that is not quite an ordinary job.

I did do more in the kitchen that I'd usually do, but it was a labour of love. Preparing for an Aussie BBQ with friends in the evening required a bit more work than most Aussies would put into such an ordinary event.

My husband made two batches of bread rolls using the bread maker and oven (bread rolls are pretty rare in the shops here). I pickled some canned beetroot I unexpectedly found six months ago (second time in all the time I've lived in Japan that I've seen it in a shop, but they weren't pickled). I coaxed some eggs and sugar into becoming Pavlovas (meringue with cream and fruit on top, for those who haven't had the fortune to try this Australian dessert). We made potato salad and transformed raw mince (translation - ground beef) into meat patties, also not available in the shops. Then, in the absence of an actual BBQ (translation - grill), my husband cooked them on the gas stove in a fry pan with some onions.

Sorry for all the brackets above. There are so many things which need translation when you are writing across cultures: Australians who don't understand what you can and cannot get in Japan, non-Australians who don't know the Aussie lingo. Do you get the feeling, though, that we had to think out-of-the-box to get this Aussie BBQ going? This form of Aussie BBQ is something we've done periodically since we first came to Japan in 2000. After all, how else can you celebrate Australia Day on Jan 26 when it falls in the middle of winter? Yesterday wasn't Australia Day, obviously, but it was a great way to enjoy our nationality and share with our friends.

They'd never had pickled beetroot on a burger before, though the "dad" had grown up eating "pickled beets", as Philadelphians call them. And the "mum" had an interesting "beet" story, but I won't embarrass her here, only to say it has been a very long time since she's eaten them.

Pavlova was new to them too, though they'd had meringue before as in Lemon Meringue Pie. I was worried they'd be too sticky, but they worked out very well, except that my husband struggled to detach them from the grasp of the baking paper, thankfully he won.

Before our visitors arrived my husband and sons brought down our new hand-me-down card table and chairs from the attic and extended our six-person table to accommodate our five visitors. It is the first time we've done this and it worked really well. I predict more hospitality events for the future, though maybe not Aussie BBQs every time!

08 April, 2011

Gritty eyes and cringing soul

Gritty eyes. That's what I have today. No, I haven't been crying, nor am I overly tired despite the middle of the night earthquake last night. It is dry here, hasn't rained much recently. And today is windy, many bikes down the street were falling over through the day. No one bothers to pick them up because they'll just fall again. We have a couple of unplanted fields nearby (nearly wrote paddocks, but they're too small for that I think) and the top soil is flying in my face every time I go out. I really don't like wind, it is like scraping fingernails on the blackboard of my soul.

I guess I shouldn't be thinking it is too unreasonable to be out of sorts today. After all I've had a shocking start to the year; floods back "home", emotional and relational stresses sent my stress levels soaring in January and February and of course the "Higashi Nihon Dai-Shinsai" (Great Eastern Japan Disaster - the official name the March 11 events). Obviously we haven't recovered totally from the earthquake either. Last night's wobbly at 11.30 was enough to get us out of bed. Nothing fell down and two out of three boys didn't wake, but memories are easily stirred. Our first thought after it was over was - where was the epicentre? How big was it? My usually calm husband had to walk around for a bit before he could come back to bed.

Since then we've heard that it was indeed close to the March 11 epicentre and that places closer to there shook a whole lot worse than we did. Thankfully there was no tsunami wave of any significance. I cannot imagine what it felt like to those who've lost loved ones, homes and everything they knew. Apparently people were evacuating to the hills almost before they dressed. Fear is close to the surface. We were just starting to relax a little too.

I wonder, how do I maintain a sensible alertness without exhausting myself? Not sure. I did go to the shop and made sure I had a slightly more than usual stocked pantry. 

Well the weekend is about to explode onto me - meaning boys coming home from school. Once more I venture out into the gritty windy day and try to keep my soul under wraps, preserving it for whatever battles lie ahead.

07 April, 2011

Cherry blossom trees

The first three photos were taken yesterday at CAJ. 

Well, these aren't the best photos, maybe I'll try tomorrow in the morning (these were taken after school). 

The following photos were taken in earlier years.

This is also CAJ, taken from my husband's former classroom window. Wouldn't you like a view like that at your workplace?

It is traditional to have a drinking party underneath the blooming sakura. This isn't as easy as it sounds because they only bloom for a week or so and not at exactly the same time each year.

06 April, 2011

Seasonal gifts

I suspect not many of my readers have lived for any length of time in the other hemisphere to where they were born. On top of the inevitable cultural differences, there are the seasonal differences too. I've written about it before here. But today I was musing on the different gifts which are given. It seems obvious, really, Christmas = summer gifts in Australia and winter gifts in the northern hemisphere. So sometimes we get interesting presents from Australia, but usually they are things that can be put away for later when it is warmer - like a pair of shorts.

My birthday is in April, so it is the start of spring here and the beginning of the cooler seasons in Australia. I've decided there are benefits to being born at the change of season like that. In Australia presents related to the upcoming cooler seasons are appropriate. In Japan, spring-type presents are welcome. This birthday I received two flowering potted plants. Beautiful spring gifts after the bleakness of winter. One year I celebrated my birthday picnicking under the Sakura trees at CAJ (cherry blossom trees). They're a tiny bit later blooming this year, and I'm about to go and enjoy them today as I pick up my sons.

05 April, 2011

Yoghurt, juice and magazine editing

For days it's been a puzzle to us why though most food is back on the shelves, we're having difficulty buying yoghurt and orange juice. A short conversation with the owner and chef of the restaurant we enjoyed on Sunday night put us straight. 

Power outages have played havoc with the process of making yoghurt, which requires a long period of warmth to grow or the culture dies. I should know this as we made our own yoghurt last year in Australia, but of course didn't realise that the yoghurt manufacturers were in Tokyo. 

The juice (and even milk) issue relates to the containers they come in. The factory which made many of the cartons was wiped out by the tsunami. They are both starting to come back onto the shelves now. Apparently another company has stepped up their carton manufacturing. Don't know what's happened with the yoghurt? Maybe a non-Tokyo manufacturer has stepped up production?

Today I've had my most peaceful child-less day in nearly a month. Everyone at school. Me at home working on pushing this magazine closer to being published. It has been a lot easier to concentrate when I don't have boys in and out of the room. However it is incredible the amount of details which go into a magazine (and I have to work hard to concentrate on details, they aren't really my strength). 

Today I've been checking with writers, editors, editing articles, looking for photos (and permission to use said photos), watching word-length, thinking about how it will all fit (which pages to put what) and even writing an article of my own. I probably need to think about the marketing side of the magazine, but really need the help of my boss on that one. Marketing is another one of my not-a-strengths.

But for now it is back to school - got to pick up those rascals and bring 'em home.

04 April, 2011

Getting back to normal

Yesterday my birthday finished on a high with a childless dinner date with David. It was quiet (something we really value these days) and enjoyable. No high expectations, just enjoying one another's company. The boys didn't really care what we were doing, they were having a great time with another family of five. A wonderful couple who took care of six kids for three hours!

When we went to pick up the boys, we sipped peppermint tea and chatted to our friends while the kids played Lego upstairs. A very pleasant evening altogether.

Then this morning there was no slouching. Alarm clock, lunches made (not by me), breakfast (with everyone dressed before breakfast - almost a record), washing hung up and out and everyone out the door by a fraction after 8am. The boys were excited about going back to school, though they feigned partial disappointment because it meant the end of endless play at home. 

I dropped the youngest at school and proceeded directly to the car park to catch a lift to a mission meeting on the other side of "town" with three other missionaries. We had plenty of time to catch-up and tell stories as we drove for nearly an hour and a half.

The meeting was billed as a prayer meeting, at least the first couple of hours were. But it was unlike any prayer meeting I've ever gone to. Lots of guided personal reflection before God, probably the best title would be "Stop, Look Back and Reflect". I've spent quite a bit of time reflecting on our recent experience through the medium of this blog, but many people haven't had the time or taken the time to do that. Even, so this was a very private reflection, so things I wouldn't feel comfortable writing here, I could write. It was a valuable time.

Then we heard from several people who've been on relief trips to the affected areas. Their first-hand accounts were moving. Especially the man who expressed the concern which must face every Christian who goes into the affected areas - What do you say to them? What do you ask? What is a culturally appropriate way to approach this? It isn't something we learned in Cultural Orientation - it is not as if relief work is something that missionaries in Japan are routinely involved in.

Then, as if I've been doing it all my life, I hopped on a train and came home. Amazing that only a couple of months ago it was such a big deal!

I arrived home in time to pick up the younger boys from school and follow them home (they beat me up the road), give them a snack and send them across the road for their newly scheduled swimming lesson. They used to have them on Saturday afternoons, but that limited our Saturdays a bit, so in this new Japanese school year (school year runs from April to March), we've switched to Monday afternoons. I'm happy. It meant that though I'd been busy all day, I still had a childless hour (yes the lesson is an hour long) in which to go to the gym!

The boys seemed to have a great day. They're really happy to be back into a 'normal' routine again. I'm happy. I've got my days back again. I even bought four litres of milk at once today, I don't think I've done that for three weeks!

Now tomorrow I'm going to have to get my editor's hat and my writer's hat out again and get down to some serious business!

Oh, but before I go, I must tell you about two of the many birthday greetings I received. One said, "May the Lord continue to grow and challenge you in the new year!" I have to say I think I've had enough challenges so far in 2011 to last for a few months, maybe even to the end of the year. I think the second greeting was more my style, "Hope it is happy and happily uneventful." Yes, I think I can say my birthday this year was happily uneventful!

03 April, 2011

A quiet birthday

Well, it is my birthday, but I thought I could still do a short blog post. I've been rather philosophical on recent birthdays, but decided to just relax and enjoy a quiet day today without too high expectations. Here is one of my presents, which made me laugh. Not the present itself, but the English warnings on the back:

As has become traditional on my birthday, David bought an ice-cream cake from Baskin and Robbins. We enjoyed the cake, but the double bonus was watching the dry ice "melt" into gas before we ate the cake. Nothing like a bit of every-day science.
Tonight, courtesy of an American friend I happened to meet in a car-park the other day, we have a babysitter (should I say babysitters - our boys hanging out with their family of five hanging). My friend reads this blog and told me not to write about our encounter and the photo she showed me...so I won't, but I will thank her for her kind hospitality and commit here on-line to returning it in the not-to-distant future!

So, now off to get ready for a date!