28 June, 2011

Let's go visit the super missionaries with children

Our Australian visitors have been here a few days now and I've asked them to do a couple of guest posts. To help you understand his "ravings", they have two children a son who is nine and a daughter who is six. Also, the disclaimer is: these are our visitor's opinions, not mine!

Today we have David H.'s perspective:

Visiting super missionaries and experiencing Japanese culture . . . with children.

Travelling to visit super missionaries takes on a whole new meaning with children. It really changes the perceptions that you may have by helping you see the world through different eyes . . . children's eyes.

Firstly, children have no preconceptions about anyone being super, no hang ups of anyone being better just because the are "called" or have any special ability – nope the parents are purely secondary . . . the real question is (in their eyes), do they have children . . . and what age? The whole discussion centres around which children we are going to visit . . . and who are we going to play with?

So in essence, in the children's eyes, we are visiting the Marshall kids . . . who are the parents? . . . "what they do" is not a question that even enters the equation.

Secondly, travelling to other countries takes on new meaning and new perspectives when you travel with children.  

The kids top three experiences in Japan so far could be summarised as . . .

1. Toilets
Within 10 minutes of arriving in a new country with diverse views and outlooks along with a rich and diverse tapestry of culture . . . we discovered the toilets. They have buttons, lots of buttons, the best one is the blue one and the objective is to get your sister to sit on the toilet and get her to push the blue button - the suspense is extended as she doubts your good will,  "what does it do?" . . . "is it safe?"  You convince her to sit on the toilet and then push the button . . . after a delay that surely has made you age, she cannot stop her own curiosity and bashes the button with a mixture of excitement and trepidation and is rewarded with a high pressure water jet going up out of the toilet.  You are rewarded with a high pitched squeal followed by an extended silence . . . then the button is pushed again and again . . .

After that there is the green button . . .

2. Materialism
Materialism rules over everything, especially when it comes so cheaply. Japan has 100 yen shops where everything and I mean everything is 100 Yen (oh yeah plus 5% tax) – which roughly is AUD $1.25 for each item. Before we arrived to the country we thought we were wise parents and decided beforehand to give the kids a generous 2,000 yen spending money for the entire trip. 50% of which was blown away in  20 minutes in a compulsive spending frenzy in one of these super 100 yen shops buying stuff that frankly will not make it home . . .  To add insult to injury all of it was made in China . . . To add salt to the wound almost none of what the kids bought had any relationship to anything Japanese – well if you can draw a  relationship with buying four small plastic water pistols has anything to do with Japanese culture I would be interested to know . . . it does have a lot to do with wanting to blast the other boys away in some park shortly . . . with the usually collateral damage done to a certain father who is currently wondering how he can enjoy some form of Japanese cultural experience . . . did I say that we are wise parents?

3.  Buckets
Fun and adventure is where you find it with children. After the toilet and possibly the 100 Yen shop the third on the list is the bucket in the bathroom. After a hard day running around a park, in "Rascal Mountain" with said water pistols – mixed with dirt resulting in mud caked on so hard you think it was done in a car detailing oven, the kids were summarily ordered to "scrub that stuff off or we will do it for you" . . . the mistake we did was to send them into the bathroom together as we thought it would save time . . .

To place this in context the Marshall's live in an area where the houses are on 120 metre square blocks of land, with a road set back by around 200mm with the neighbours windows so close you can literally reach out of your window and close your neighbours windows if they are open.  Further the walls are made of almost paper (some of them literally are - which is another story on playtime and breaking walls with paper planes). You can also easily hear your neighbours dental hygiene as they gurgle two doors down . . . so we are all pretty close. (Editor's note: the bathroom windows are directly over the street, so any noise made there is heard easily by the pedestrians walking or riding by). What makes it all worse is the Japanese are very quiet even at home . . . maybe because they have learnt that everyone can hear everything that is going on in the house in the next street.

Add to the mix children told not to waste the water . . . so what do they do – they use the buckets to conserve water but . . . . . the buckets are also just big enough that they can squeeze into them bottom first. The fit is so tight with the water that the bucket gets vacuum sucked on so that it sticks and can only be forceably removed resulting in the walls of the bucket vibrating at just the right frequency to send out a very loud (I do not know how else to say it) FART. This is followed by hails of giggles, quiet whisperings and minor gruntings with an eventual repeated loud, low frequency, wall vibrating, noise which could be heard some distance from the house with the consequential large Japanese audience . . . without doubt including many neighbours. The process is repeated for some time with the volume increasing at each attempt with the associated laughter getting louder and louder . . . until . . . silence . . . 

then a cry for help . . .  "Mum I'm stuck . . ."

So much for a Japanese cultural experience with children to encourage super missionaries . . .

27 June, 2011

One of our favourite park outings

Today we've had a lower maintenance day. We took our friends in a van (no public transport) to one of our favourite parks – Koganei Park. 

We were somewhat discouraged when we woke up and discovered a very overcast sky and then it started to sprinkle lightly. Not being able to come up with a good alternative, though, we decided to press ahead with our plans. It actually ended up being a great day in the park. A bit damp and muddy, but we almost had the park to ourselves on a wet Monday.

The kids were quiet on the trip home – proof that we'd given them good opportunities to get rid of some energy. But also a chance to put a little space between one another. It was always going to be a challenge, putting another family in our relatively small house. Not that we cannot fit them, but that it means less privacy for everyone. So today we saw evidence of children overloading with the constant social interaction that they've been involved in over the weekend. The park helped to even that out.

Tomorrow we're putting even more space between us. We're all heading up to our mission's holiday house in the mountains north-west of here. Our family will be driving, but we thought we'd send our friends on a little adventure. They're catching trains and then the ultimate in trains – the Shinkansen/bullet train. We'll meet them up there. Then while we're there we'll be residing in two different apartments in the same house. Sharing meals and all the fun, but just a little more separation between families. It'll help us all stay sane and last the distance (not that we're having any major difficulties!).

The mission house up there has no phone or internet access, so we'll be out of contact for much of the next week. Hopefully we'll have a relaxing time away.

I've asked our friends to write a couple of guest blog posts, so hopefully you'll see them here in the next ten days or so too.

26 June, 2011

The ordinary isn't really ordinary after all

Well, our visitors are here and there really hasn't been time to sit down and write here. It is truly amazing how much of our "ordinary" life is interesting to them. Things that we just take for granted, take in our stride is of interest to them. 

For example, on the way home from church today we stopped by a Japanese bakery for a snack. For starters, David and I baulked at all nine of us dashing in to the shop at once. We just know how crowded Japanese shops are and nine foreigners (including five kids) dashing into a shop wouldn't be very friendly to those who are already in there. We did all eventually trickle in, but I left as soon as I could and secured a spot to sit. 

Then the produce available is quite different to an Australian bakery. For example: a French stick with a sugar cream in the middle; a slinky potato on a large kebab stick; a croissant with cheese in the middle, doughnuts with sweet bean paste; and pizza. Not only is it different, it is arranged differently. In Japan all the products are out on displays that you walk around and select what you want and put them on trays with tongs.

I've also found out that I walk fast . . . a Tokyo pace?

But I've run out of time to write. This is but a couple of examples of many things that have gone down over the weekend. More to come, but I regret that I cannot record more of what it going. There is just way to much of it and it extends from waking to falling asleep! 

If you're a praying person, we'd love to have your prayers that we'll have enough energy; that we'll all stay well; and that our kids will continue to get along well.

24 June, 2011

More strange English

It is after 10pm (just about past my Cinderella hour – please excuse any rambling) and I'm up waiting for my husband to arrive with our guests from the airports. What better thing to keep me awake than write a blog post!

 I want to tell you about a couple of interesting English-orgin word-usages I've experienced this week.

The first I spotted mid-week. At Curves, my gym, there is always a lot of posters around. Quite different from the Australian branch that I patronised last year. I cannot read many of them, but one group of posters I saw this week I could figure out, piecing together enough Japanese to understand that it was about. They were celebrating the 1,000th Curves branch opening in Japan. Pretty impressive in under six years. The trouble came on the certificate-like poster. It looked something like this:

Hmmm. I looked up anniversary in my Macquarie dictionary and it couldn't possibly be used like this.
The next one is a corruption of the word "counselling". I went for another haircut (shorter still) at a different salon. After I stated my business, I waited for about three minutes and then they hustled me in front of a mirror for "counselling". It consisted of me trying to tell them what I'd like done with my hair.

Apart from the work attached to it, the practise actually makes more sense than I've previously experienced in Japan. Maybe because I've typically gone to bottom-end hairdressers – aka cheap! This one is obviously a little more upmarket. My experience has usually been – someone washes your hair, then a different person who hasn't see you with dry hair comes to cut your hair. They inevitably assume my hair is straight instead of wavy (probably partly a product of the fact that Japanese hair is fairly straight and coarse) and when they're finished cutting they blow dry it completely straight. Generally my family don't recognise me when I come home.

11pm Well, visitors have arrived, so it is off to bed before a crazy day with a nine-person household tomorrow.

23 June, 2011

More or less adventurous

Today was a little more adventurous than yesterday. Not satisfied with nearly drowning himself on Tuesday, our eldest tried again and included his 8 y.o. brother as well! Thankfully I was present this time and they didn't get quite as close to the fatal act, but they still wanted to push the limits. I just don't know how they'd know when they've gone far enough . . . when they fell in?

What's been challenging me today was trying to get three young boys to go in the same direction at the same time. After an "inside" day yesterday, I decided last night we needed to get out this morning for all our sanity's sake. It is times like these that I miss having a backyard. I still need to accompany them if they are going out to play – that, of course, means I don't get anything else done around the house. And even though it was for their benefit it took me ages to get them out. No one was ready at the same time, everyone seemed to be in the middle of something at staggered times! 

Eventually we managed to get out the door at 10.45 when my eldest surprised me by declaring, "She isn't giving us any option, we have to go." (He's usually not this perceptive or cooperative.) And his brothers left immediately. I wish they'd taken as much notice of me. Sigh!

When we left it was drizzling, so we walked with umbrellas down to the "river" close to our house and down the river a bit. Along the way we saw a number of ducks and one mother duck with her brood. We also saw a grown-up version of our turtle sunning itself on a concrete 'knoll'.
I only had my phone and couldn't get a close-up of the seven ducklings. You'll have to believe me that they are here!

We eventually got to the place with a flat bank where people often picnic in the summer months and kids play in the shallow water. School is still in for Japanese kids and we were the only ones here on a weekday. Here I sat reading for over an hour while the boys enjoyed playing in the cool water.

It was the most peaceful time in my day. And I'm thankful for it.

Getting them home was a challenge. Just like getting out of the house, they were somewhat reluctant to move-on from the status quo. They dawdled all the way home. And stopped by the place of our eldest's accident on Tuesday to try their luck! They didn't appreciate me telling them to, "GET OUT NOW!"

When we arrived home at 12.30 I was seriously in need of food and water. I hate that phenomenon – arriving home without the reserves you need to prepare a meal immediately for the troops. Thankfully my husband arrived soon afterwards and rescued us all (especially me from my self-pity party).

This afternoon has been more pedestrian. While the boys had their daily read-on-the-bed hour after lunch I caught up on email and some necessary magazine editing that I'd promised to do before our visitors from Australia arrive tomorrow evening.

Inevitably I wasn't finished when the boys' "hour" was up and the two younger ones hung around me at the computer like hot bad smells! I ended up giving them some maths problems to do. Both of them like maths, and it shows. Our grade two, soon to be grade three-er did 70 divided by 5 – in his head.

After I finally gave up doing any editing work, that same son wrote an email to one of his teachers about a book he's finished reading this week (something the school encourages to keep the kid's brains ticking over). So it ended up being a pretty academic afternoon!

I did some more baking in preparation for our guests and for going away next week. Snacks are always necessary when you have a household of five children and four adults! I had the help of my youngest son in this. It wasn't as fun as it sounds, though, in a 30-something degree kitchen with a large stove blazing away: very hot.

Back to the "getting three boys to go in the same direction at the same time", I had two boys occupied at that point – one at the computer, one baking with me, but that left the other one. Who, at that particular time, decided to stop reading his fascinating book and walk around bothering other people instead. Argghhh.

Everyone is very excited about our friends arriving tomorrow evening. Today our boys spent some time making cards and signs to welcome them to our house. Tonight we had a final phone call from them. They, tongue-in-cheek, banned me from quoting the wife. I think I might instead have to ask them to do a couple of guest posts here. I'm sure that you'd find their observations of our lives quite enlightening. We feel as though we live such a ordinary lives, but our Australian friends will immediately notice all the differences, I'm sure.

22 June, 2011

Correcting English at the gym

A much less adventurous day today. Adventurous days produce interesting stories, but I think for parental sanity they need to be interspersed with less adventurous days!

It's been hot today. 34.5 degrees Celcius in our bedroom at 4pm, and now at 9pm it isn't much below that. I'm not sure I'll find it easy to go to sleep tonight. Not feeling too optimistic about the future either. Summer is a love-hate season for me. I love the freedom of few clothes, but I really would prefer to be only moderately hot, not stinking hot. I grew up in Toowoomba, which has/d a moderate climate, especially the summer nights used to be lovely, not sweaty and yucky. Also the humidity there was no where near what we experience here in Tokyo.

But the most unusual thing that happened to me today was at the end of sweating it out at the gym. A Japanese lady approached me, speaking in hesitant English. It turns out she is a teacher at a Cram school and had an English grammar question and she put this one to me:

Which of these two sentences is correct?

If I'd known the fact, I'd never gone there.


If I'd known the fact, I'd never been there.

Well of course neither is correct until you add a "have" after "never". But as for which is the most correct, I faltered. I was frustrated. Here I call myself and editor and I couldn't answer this question. There simply wasn't enough context. It apparently was a translation of a Japanese passage that the students had to do, but I didn't understand the sentence in Japanese! 

It all really depends on whether they've completed their journey yet or not. And where this "conversation" occurs. Context is everything, I really couldn't correct the sentence with any confidence. Not to mention that all the oxygen was headed to my muscles and not my brain at that particular moment. I ended up telling her that I thought the first sentence was the best one, given a lack of context. I think her main feeling was, "If a native speaker can't figure this out then it really isn't easy!"

The one thing I did learn, though, was that you shouldn't "snatch" a pencil from a stranger in Japan to write something down. I automatically went to take the pencil she was holding to add the "haves" in and she was a bit shocked.

How about you? How would you have gone?

21 June, 2011

A surprising day

Today turned out pretty busy. I knew that I had two outside appointments, but didn't predict my busy "internal" afternoon at all.

This morning I went to a Japanese friend's house for morning tea. Actually there were going to be four of us (adults), but only two of us managed to make it. I took our 6 y.o. too and he had a great time with my friend's 3 y.o. But they mostly ended up playing outside on the road (quiet, dead-end road). The sun came out and it became very hot and steamy out there. 

We came home around midday and found my husband and other two sons in the middle of replacing the paper on the wooden frame (shoji) in our lounge room. First time they've done this, so it was a bit of a learning curve. You might remember why the paper needed replacing. 'Paper Aeroplanes' is all I'll say and you can take a look back at this post to find out the details.

We pulled some lunch together and then I dashed out to a magazine editorial meeting at the local coffee shop at 1pm. When I returned home at about 3pm my husband was still in the middle of fixing the shoji. Upstairs were boys beginning to sound stir-crazy. 

So, I impulsively decided to wash windows (especially while the shoji were out). Actually the only impulsive thing about it was the timing, we'd been talking for some time about window cleaning. 

The other crazy thing that I decided to do was involve the boys! The outside of the windows on the second floor hold a particular challenge. I'm not sure how we'll manage the ones on the front or on one side of the house, but the other side has a roof to walk on. There is no where to fall because the houses are so close together. So, I asked our eldest to go out and clean windows (this David and I had also talked about beforehand). That looked so fun to our younger two that they immediately begged to be allowed to do such "fun" work too. 

I ended up ceasing my cleaning and moving into full-time supervision. The two older boys ended up outside on the roof with me shouting such things as, "Don't stand on the neighbour's house!" and "Get back to work!" Our younger son managed to wipe down the front door and climb on the front wall (but do no work) and climb around to fetch stuff that fell (or was thrown) down the crack between the two houses and landed on our neighbours' side of the fence.

So, in this rather inefficient way, we managed to clean a good number of windows between us. Eventually the boys gave up. I sent our eldest on a "mile run", something he's supposed to be doing to train for the cross-country season starting when school begins in August. He decided to take his brothers with him and they were completely keen. The youngest went on his bike.  (At one point he got a long way ahead of his brothers and stopped to wait - there another staff member found him and asked him what he was doing there alone. She then went on to school where David was printing something, happened to see him and told him of his sons' misdeeds. Proof of what a "glass house" we live in in this pocket of Tokyo.)

They were gone a long time and we were beginning to wonder what had distracted them from completing a fairly local and short circuit. Eventually they straggled back. Our on-the-bike kid first. Then the other two, with the 12 y.o. soaked from head to toe. It turns out they stopped by the river for a bit and he slipped and fell in, fully clothed and knocking his cheek as he went in. Good thing he can swim because it is relatively deep at that point and that he didn't knock himself out. He's struggling to go to sleep tonight because it was a very uncomfortable feeling. I can only imagine! I'm not sure whether I'll trust them all to go on a "mile run" on their own again, but then again maybe they've learnt some good lessons.

After he'd had a shower he was up for cooking dinner (this was prearranged). He dragged along an accomplice and it was quite fun to watch them working in the kitchen together. 12 y.o. instructing his nearly 9 y.o. brother on what to do. He even had to cope with a change in assistants. Our youngest had a shower and then switched positions with the middle boy who went up for a shower.

When our middle son came back from the shower I asked him to set the table, as is his duty for Tuesdays. He refused. So, according to the rules, I insisted he do another job - collecting all the rubbish from the upstairs bins. But we're in Japan, so he had to sort it out too, into mostly burnable, unburnable, paper and plastic.

Phew! I hope this makes a modicum of sense. What a day! 

I'm really glad though, that we could get the boys busy helping around the house. They are usually quite reluctant. But I wish all household jobs were as thrilling as climbing out a window onto the roof . . . that added a good deal of incentive (even if it didn't keep them very much on task, they were very interested in hitting each other with rags and giving pedestrians heart attacks by peering down at them from between houses).

I am sure, though, that they are learning valuable life skills as they help us out with these things, even if it doesn't feel very efficient or fun when I'm supervising such activities.

20 June, 2011

Rainy season joys

It is the fifth season of the year here - Rainy Season. That means it rains a little more often than other times of the year. When we first arrived we couldn't tell the difference, because it rains a lot more in Japan than it does in Australia. It seemed ridiculous to say that this was an official season! However with a few years under our "belts" we can see that it does indeed rain more often in June and early July than it does in the next few months. In fact we rarely see the sun or a blue sky during this season. It doesn't mean that we get thunderstorms, nor that it rains at the same time every day, not even that it rains every day. However it does rain a lot of days.

Looking down onto our backyard hydrangea.
At Sunday School on Sunday the leader asked the kids who likes the Rainy Season. No kids put up their hands. He reminded them that the rain is important for things to grow. He noted that it wasn't easy to play inside so much, but that it was an opportunity to find inside things to do, like play indoor games.

Actually, the climate here forces us indoors far more often than the Australian climate does. It seems to be either rainy or freezing or windy or stinking hot. Not too many "perfect" days out there.

These flowers are across the road from us.
I actually quite like this season. It isn't boiling hot, but not cold either (most of the time). Today I was out and about on my bike doing errands and the sky sprinkled me for most of the time. It wasn't a real problem, though, because the rain was light and the air so sticky that it was quite pleasant to be a little wet. Another thing that is great about this season is the lush foliage. The bright green of spring hasn't faded yet and the frequent precipitation only enhances the plants. And there are some magnificent hydrangeas out there this time of year.

19 June, 2011

Do you still speak/write Australian?

As a writer and editor, I'm frequenting a place between several different types of English, not just colour vs color, but phrasing too. So I shouldn't be surprised by the response to yesterday's blog post.

I wrote this sentence on this blog yesterday:
"We just dropped by some friends who are leaving in a few days."
Someone pointed out that this isn't Australian English. Um, obviously I'm getting somewhat mixed in my Englishes, because I didn't see it at all, neither does my husband. My friend said she would have said, 
"'dropped into a friend's place/house".
Well, they live in an apartment, so I wouldn't have said "house". But as for 'by' vs 'into', I cannot remember that one is Australian and the other isn't. What do you Aussies out there think?

At least I didn't say, "visited with our friends".

And talking about different Englishes, you'd be surprised to hear our children speak. They are now sounding somewhat American. A fact that was underlined at conference when Scottish friends pointed it out and then our boys talked on Skype to a former student of David's . . . a long-time-ago student from those early teaching days in Australia. He also commented on their lovely American accents.

I'm sure we'll have some very shocked relatives when we return to Australia. Others too. Many won't understand and will probably be quite critical, even if not to our faces. After all an American accent is not a valued commodity in Australia. 

But there isn't much we can do. The American accent is infectious. Spending our days correcting their accents/phraseology isn't my idea of a fun parenting activity and it isn't likely to improve our relationships with them either. Although I do object to being called "Mom" and restrain myself from using "fourths" instead of "quarters"; I try to keep my peace about other words.

It just isn't a mountain worth fighting over, no matter how many comments we'll receive when we return to Australia. In the end neither we nor our kids will ever be "pure" Australian ever again (whatever that is!).

18 June, 2011

Clearing out pantries

We just dropped by some friends who are leaving in a few days. They were cleaning out their pantry and we became the happy recipients of a wide range of pantry goods. From herbs and spices, to meat and bread and canned soup.

First Japanese kitchen
It is strange to be on the receiving end of all this. For the last two years we've been the ones giving stuff away. Now our cupboards and freezers are full to overflowing with goods! More food than I've had in my house for a very long time. All the moves we've made has tended to make me skimpy on what I buy and how much I buy. 

I guess small Japanese kitchens has caused that too. I remember my first tiny kitchen in Japan. The only space for food preparation was also the place where dishes drained. The toaster sat on the washing machine and we only had a couple of cupboards.

Half of my current kitchen

Half of my '09-'10 large Australian kitchen
We've gradually moved to larger and larger places. Now I have a large kitchen, by Japanese standards. But nothing compared to what we used for the year we were living in Australia.

Still, seeing people moving and benefiting from their move is not fun. I've been there too many times. Here's hoping that we don't have to move out of our current residence for a long time yet.

17 June, 2011

Refreshed and exhausted

Somehow I find writing this blog daily is much easier than taking a break and then picking it up again. The last four days have been full and busy but also refreshing and relaxing. Interesting paradoxes. I didn't take as many photos as I could have, but the green with which we've been surrounded this week was a balm to my soul. Here is the view out of the window of our room:

The conference centre was a number of buildings on the side of a fairly steep hill, connected by covered walkways. On every side, out most windows, we could see green and it was fabulous. It helped me up and down those stairs!

One of my boys asked me why we go to these annual conferences. The easiest answer is: that it is close to compulsory! More than that, though, we want to. OMF conferences on the field are a combination of work and refreshment. We have biblical teaching and encouragement, we worship together and pray together, but we also do business. We hear from our leaders as to what is going on, things that would usually go into a newsletter, but it is nice to hear it straight from them. We also socialise. We catch up with friends and colleagues. We exchange laughter and hugs and tears. And all in English! (Which is good for those of us for whom English is our heart language but a challenge for those who don't come from an English speaking background, which means at least 1/3 of our members.)

Our room. The futons were a bit hard and I forgot my pillow, so I didn't sleep all that well.
This is the first year that we've really relaxed and enjoyed the programme, probably because our youngest is now school age. That means he is more able to do a lot for himself (including the stairs) and doesn't tire so easily. Which means that we hardly saw them except at meals, bed and bath time and free-time.

I need to mention exercise. My muscles are hurting, and have done all week. On Monday morning the boys were so excited about going to conference that they were driving us crazy. We didn't need to leave until 1pm, and didn't fancy a couple hours drive with crazy boys in the car. So we took them out for some exercise in the morning. It was complicated, but I ended up doing a mile run with my 12 y.o. cross-country runner. Ouch! It's been a while since I did that. Then I went for my usual half-hour session at the gym.

So, I started the week with sore muscles. Then we arrived at the conference centre and proceeded to climb up and down stairs all week; not calculated to give sore muscles any rest.

On Wednesday afternoon we had five hours free-time. Free-time at events like this is always an issue when you have young children. Not likely to be restful. We decided to take advantage of a friend offering to take a group hiking to a local lookout. We didn't expect it to be a three hour hike, though! Our 6 y.o. dropped out fairly quickly - and my husband was wise enough to volunteer to walk home with him. That left me and two Eveready Bunnies who just didn't seem to get weary at all. All the way up and back, my sons barely stopped. Thankfully the leader of our group seemed equal to the task, not only of keeping up with them, but listening to their constant prattle!

Not much to see at the look-out. Too cloudy. But nicely cool.

The scenery was beautiful, but the boys moved so quickly I hardly got any photos.

Well you can guess how my muscles felt after this hike! Thankfully I took advantage of the Japanese baths at the conference centre. Yes - a "public" bath, but once you get over the embarrassment it is incredibly soothing to overtaxed muscles.

We had a Fun Night on the last evening. It was fun, lots of laughter! But I tired quickly.

When we arrived home yesterday afternoon we felt like we'd been away for longer than just three nights. Refreshed and exhausted, but glad we'd been.

15 June, 2011

Aunty Mel's Chocolate Slice

I mentioned this slice last week. Seeing as I'm away today, I thought I'd schedule this post so you can try this delicious recipe.

110g butter
110g sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup (20ml) Probably any syrup will do if you don't have golden syrup.
1 cup* SR flour (Self Raising flour - an Australian phenomenon. If you don't have this, you add 1 teaspoon of baking powder to ordinary cake flour). Don't forget to use a 250ml Australian cup.
1 cup fine coconut

Cream butter with sugar. Add golden syrup. Add flour and coconut. Mix thoroughtly and press into a greased 23cm square tin. Bake in moderate over (about 160 degrees Celcius) for 15 minutes.

30g butter
1/2 cup condensed milk (125ml)
3/4 cup fine coconut
3/4 cup icing sugar
2 level dessertspoons cocoa

Melt butter with condensed milk (not boil) in a saucepan, stirring constantly. Add coconut, icing sugar and cocoa, mix well and spread over HOT** cooked slice. Cut when cold. 

Enjoy! Make sure you try a piece yourself before you give it to the kids otherwise you might miss out.

* An Australian cup is 250ml.
**It is very important that you ice it straight out of the oven.

14 June, 2011

Five books that changed who I am

Cath linked me in this book meme. She borrowed this image from the blog she was linked on, so I'm going to spread the joy and "borrow" it too. Great image, though some of those books aren't in the greatest condition.

It seems like the decent thing to do – to rise to the challenge, though I do admit to having taken a few days to mull over the problem.

"Five books that changed who I am". Where on earth do I begin. It doesn't say that "most" changed who I am or that made the biggest changes in who I am – just books who changed me. I, therefore, am not going to mull any longer. Here are five of the many books which have changed me.

Heidi probably (if my poor memory serves me correctly) ignited my love for longer books. These days there are lots of "chapter books", but back in the 70s, that wasn't so much the case. I remember devouring this book one hot summer on holidays up north one year. The other appeal of the book was my mother's maiden name in the book and how old it smelt. There is something special about reading a book that your mother used to read as a child.

Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels
I read this during university and it revolutionised my prayer life. I remember being passionate about prayer for the first time in my life after reading this. From my recollection it isn't terribly amazing in what it says, but it was the right book read at the right time for me.

Second Mile People by Isobel Kuhn
I was required to read this and present a book review on a mission trip to Indonesia I did at the end of my third year of university. I'd already read many missionary biographies, but this book knocked me almost flat. Isobel Kuhn wrote in a very candid style for someone of her era. This book is a series of short stories of people who aren't identified (some or all are missionaries) who went beyond what most people consider "acceptable sacrifice".

Prayer by Philip Yancey
Yes, another prayer book. This is a formidable looking book. Large and fairly comprehensive for a lay person like myself. But it too has changed my prayer life. Made me bolder, less concerned about whether I'm theologically correct. It's challenged me to take a bigger view of God.
by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
This book changed how I view my kids, particularly my middle son. It seemed as though this author actually knew our challenging son! It changed my parenting, it changed how I viewed myself as a parent. It is a book that comes off our shelf every now and then when we're feeling "parentally challenged" and we're amazed and encouraged all over again.

As I decided that the title wasn't calling me to decide on the most influential books in my life I didn't feel the need to include in my "five" the Bible. That really is the book that has had most influence on my life. My journey with this book hasn't been full of exciting life-shattering moments. More like a gentle, quiet voice as I've made decisions day-by-day, week-by-week and year-by-year. But as Cath mentioned, it is more than a book, it comes with something better than a free CD, it comes with the Living Word, Jesus, who lives in my heart and the Holy Spirit who applies it to my life, who guides me and helps me. You therefore cannot really compare it with any other book.

I tag...Helen, Simone, Karen, Mrs Q and Faith. If you ladies want to have a go, Ally's rules are below. As for the rest of you, what book or books would be on your list?
  • Tag between three and five people
  •  link back to this post
  • call the post "five books that changed who I am"
  • enjoy

    13 June, 2011

    Off to conference

    Today we head off to our mission's annual conference. Two out of three years is it a regional conference and on the other year it is a national field conference. We missed the national one last year and so this year it is the East Japan Conference. 

    Yes, that is the name that OMF gives the region that we work in. Before I came here I always thought that Japan was kind-of north-south. How do you get "east" out of that? But if you look at a map, you'll see that it is actually diagonal. So OMF has two regions - Hokkaido and East Japan. We don't work any further south or west of Yokohama.

    Anyway, enough geography. Conference is always great. The kids get next to no sleep. They hang out with other missionary kids. We get to hang out with like-minded folk. As strange a mob as they are, we find that these missionaries in Japan are those whom we find ourselves most similar to, I guess that makes us strange too. Probably it is that all of us are living in Japan and somewhat "molded" by the culture. Or at least we've learned to live here. Plus we have the other culture that inevitably you get in an organisation. We're all OMFers, that adds unity. So, even though we're an international, strong-willed, individual bunch, we hang together pretty well. Make any sense? There is a unity that we find hard to locate when we're in Australia.

    The big challenge for the kids this year is that there are a number of German speaking families with us. Six kids, I think. They all speak German and Japanese, from what I understand, not English. Our kids speak mostly English and a little bit of Japanese. It will be interesting to see what eventuates.

    We'll be back on Thursday. Both exhausted and refreshed! 

    Meanwhile I've scheduled some daily posts, which I hope work okay.

    12 June, 2011

    Blinky Bill arrives at his destination

    Here's something I mentioned starting late last year:

    If you don't recognise this cute little fellow it is because you aren't familiar with Australian children's literature. This is Blinky Bill. Actually he is pretty cheeky, rather than cute! I stitched this for my new nephew, born in January. It probably took longer than I expected because back in mid-March the concentration required for such a detailed project was in short supply. And don't be fooled by his cuteness – he was a tricky project indeed!

    Thankfully he survived the aeroplane trip back to Australia and his new owners are enjoying him.

    11 June, 2011

    Rain fair/fare

    I posted a couple weeks back about the challenges of choosing shoes in rainy weather. A few days later I discovered this "Rain Fare/Fair" I really don't know which word it is, as it isn't written in English. The top part of the sign says, "Enjoy rain day".

    They had an impressive array of rain gear rain coats, umbrellas, and most importantly, shoes. An amazing variety of water-proof shoes. I snapped a few photos with my phone.

    Interestingly it was aimed solely at women and children. No men's gear in sight.

    I liked these. They don't look like they're made of plastic. Probably wouldn't survive a deep puddle, though, with that tongue.

    Some nice looking shoes here.

    Heels, in the rain? Very stylish if you have to go out in the wet.
    Clever merchandising. I'm sure I'm not the only woman out there who feels challenged at times by the rain.

    10 June, 2011

    First day of holidays

    Yeah, I made it through the first day of holidays . . . only 76 to go (says my 12 y.o.).

    I got to sleep in. Yay! Hubby woke me up with a kiss as he left for work just before 8.

    But then I had the kids to deal with on my own all day. The "first day" of most anything around here is the hardest. The first day is an adjustment and our kids don't do brilliantly with change. Particularly challenging was our middle son today. I lost count of time outs and other reprimands, losses of privileges and yes, even a smack or two (which rarely does any good on this guy, which is why we generally don't use them). He seemed the happiest when I was ordering him around – I guess he misses the structure of seven hours of school. Never mind, he'll adjust. Our youngest had a few emotional melt-downs too. Some of it was flow-on from his older brother; at least one had to do with his brother who is twice as old as him, just not knowing how to "go softly" in a board game to give his younger sibling at least the illusion that he had a chance of winning.

    I did some fun cooking on my own, after making some salt dough for my 6 y.o. to muck around with – it kept him busy for over an hour while I messed around in the kitchen. What I did was way more yummy. 

    I made a chocolate slice called "Buttery Slice", which doesn't sound all that appealing now, so I'm thinking of renaming it "Aunty Mel's Chocolate Slice". 'Aunty Mel' is a great friend of mine, the "Aunty" is an honorary title for our kids' use. She is apparently the source of this recipe that I typed out of Mum's recipe books many a long year ago in that gap between finishing high school and starting university (Australians don't talk about "graduating" from high school, different to Americans . . . ). 

    Anyway, this is one of my favourite recipes, but I hardly ever cook it in Japan because it is full of coconut and that is hard to get here and when you do get it, it is in tiny packages, expensive and very coarse! But as it happens, I have some coconut on hand and decided to indulge myself. And everyone else, it seems – all of the boys gobbled them up.

    I also made some Apple Muffins, but the chocolate slice won over them. They'll have their moment of fame soon, I predict.

    In the midst of the random chaos this morning I managed to submit twelve photos and text for the OMF Japan 2012 prayer calendar to the publisher. This is one of the many jobs that I do and something I usually complete in late March, early April, but we all know what I was doing this year at that time, don't we? Thankfully they gave me some latitude and now it is in their hands.

    After lunch, which is so much longer and more complicated with three boys then when on my own, I sent them all to their rooms for quiet reading time. After I'd washed up all the cooking (the only bad thing about cooking yummy food) and lunch, I roughly mopped downstairs and headed up for some reading time myself. Nice!

    Later after afternoon tea (and chocolate slice) we went back to school. Yes! CAJ is a social hang-out for students outside of school hours and even in the holidays. It has the best playground around here, so of course the boys wanted to go back to play (not to learn, they hastened to add when I queried their choice of place).

    Close to 5pm we came home and ate left-overs quickly before settling down for a Family Movie Night. We watched "Holes". Not a really little kids movie. Our 6 y.o. didn't really like it, it had some sad bits and the story was a bit complicated at times (quite a bit of flipping to back-story). But it was fun to stop as a family and slow down to celebrate the start of holidays  – for now my husband is officially finished teaching too.

    Thus our first day of holidays (US=vacation) is almost over. Now we have a weekend and then a four-day conference with our mission. The school year really is over and we survived!

    09 June, 2011

    A surprising old "friend"

    Our boys' school allows them to each take 25 books home over the summer break. Because my husband teaches there, he also gets 25 books, I guess. Additionally the library is open on a few Mondays in June and July. Yay!!! What better way is there to while away the long summer hours except with a book?

    I cannot remember this ever happening at schools I've been associated with in Australia. I guess in Australia you can always borrow books from the local municipal library. (English libraries are a bit rarer here.) And in Australia summer holidays for school children are never as long as 11 weeks.
    Two "old friends"

    So, we've borrowed quite a lot of books this week. Not up to our 25 limit yet, but we'll get back to the library in the coming weeks and on the last "open Monday" we'll get our limit to tide us over until school starts on the 25th of August.

    Amazing - I did these as an Occupational Therapist with some of my clients!
    The amazing discoveries on Tuesday were two books that take me back to my childhood. We owned both of these books. The left one, The Lettering Book, I drooled over for years. Now I can see that I was longing for a computer with fonts! Back then I could only lament that my artistic skills didn't allow me to reproduce the amazing fonts, borders and other fancy things it showed us. But the book also talks about page layout, and other creative things that I now use when I do desk-top publishing for newsletters, brochures and other things. Funny to look back and see those "gifts" beginning to surface in primary school.

    Love the clothes in these photos!
    The other book is one volume of the Childcraft Encyclopedia set, published in the mid 60s! It was one of my favourite go-to volumes in times of boredom. I'm the eldest and I am 4 1/2 years older than my next sibling, so I very often had to play on my own. Mum, of course, hated hearing, "I'm bored" and usually found something "bad" for me to do. So I quickly figured out finding my own fun was much better.

    This volume is 300 pages of Things to Do. Crafts, cooking, magic, creative play, theatre etc. So many ideas. When the all the volumes of the encyclopaedia was lined up on the shelf you could see this one was the most frequently used because the little bit at the top of the spine was damaged, because that is how I got it off the shelf.

    Well we've borrowed both. The funny thing about the encyclopaedia is that you're generally not allowed to borrow reference books, and this one didn't even have a bar code on it! The librarian said it might as well be used! So she let us borrow it. But to do so, my son had to write his name on the library card - just like I used to do in primary school! He was very confused, never having done that before. She kept the card. You can see that no one has borrowed this book since 1995! However old it is, it contains time-less ideas for ways to spend those long hours of summer. I look forward to seeing my boys get into some project...

    Meanwhile I better think up some "bad" things to give them to do when they complain they are bored when they finish school at 12 today!

    08 June, 2011

    What any teacher would love to hear

    This is a portion of my 8 y.o.'s letter to his teacher. It is supposed to be a "thank you for teaching me" letter. Do you think she'll be happy?

    I am!

    07 June, 2011


    Last night we received a phone call from the friends who will visit us in a couple of weeks. They are very excited. We knew that earlier this year, after reading their Christmas letter - see here, but they are even more excited now it is close. We are very excited (even if it is buried under a whole lot of finishing-the-school-year stuff that is going on). 

    One reason we're excited is that we can count on one hand the number of visitors - friends or family - who have visited us for longer than a couple of days since we've came to Japan nearly eleven years ago. And we can count on two hands all the overseas visitors we've ever received. So, this is an Event. Additionally this is the first family with children who has visited us - so our children are excited too.

    As we talked I realised several things. 
    Yes, we miss Aussie sausages...
    • Firstly, we aren't going to be able to get everything they want to do and we want to show them into the two weeks they're here. 
    • Secondly, it is going to be hilarious and fun and the days will fly by. We'll be exhausted, but refreshed and encouraged at the end.
    • Thirdly, it is going to be like Christmas. They and another set of friends are getting together a number of things "from home". In fact they are spoiling us!
    • Fourthly, I've blocked out of my mind much of what I miss about Australian food. I really had trouble answering the questions they had about how they could spoil us. I had a couple of ready made answers, but as they dug deeper, I got really stuck.
    • Fifthly, we'll get sick of their questions and they'll get sick of us answering, "I don't know." I remember this from when my parents visited back in 2003. The reality is that what we know about Japan is far outweighed by how much we don't know. It is strange that when we're in Australia we usually end up the local "Japan experts". But actually we're quite ignorant of many things.
    Our two families have "lived" together before. We went camping together in Australia last Easter (2010). That time we were out of our element and they were the ones with the inside knowledge. This time the tables have turned. We'll be the ones translating, guiding, informing and organising. 

    Should be interesting. Should be tiring. Should be fun! Stay tuned for news on how it all goes.

    06 June, 2011

    Random thoughts leads to thoughts about raising boys

    Here are some random thoughts I had as I sat down to write this post:

    • Today I exchanged my first real email with my 12 y.o. This morning I suggested he write to me from school to give me some important information he would find out there and he did, plus some. He's growing up.
    • I have four boys after school today and for dinner. One of them is a teenager. Good thing I put a larger meal into the slow cooker.
    • The meal in the slow cooker already smells good.
    • Even with the internet it can take a lot of time to organise even a 15 minute praise time for a conference when no one has the same music book and we live hundreds of kilometres apart.
    As so often happens after a bunch of random thoughts, I found a longer thought:

    Yesterday my husband and I took the boys down to the school. Yes, on a Sunday - but it is one of the closest open areas for playing and the campus is open for students to play, supervised, out of hours. We played with them for a while and then sat and watched. Ours weren't the only ones playing. At one point on the main field there were three small groups, all playing with balls. Three different age-groups. One had a 5 and 6 y.o., one had two elementary aged children and the other had young adults (former students). 

    The thing that struck me was that they were all boys. Not a girl or young lady among them. It strikes me that while we girls can be good at sport and even love it, not many of us just have to move in a way that boys do. We took our boys out there yesterday, not because we wanted too, but they were raising the roof on our house with noise and action and obviously needed some exercise (obvious only because we now have 12 years of experience in raising boys, most of those in small houses/apartments). As we talked about it we also noted that while girls will just sit and chat, guys generally don't, they have to be doing something, even if it is non-physical like playing board games.

    My husband wondered about the lack of male primary (US=elementary) school teachers. He wondered particularly if boys have a harder time in school because their female teachers don't understand that need to move, particularly in those lower years. It is an interesting thought. I know (from experience) that any characteristic that interrupts a quiet classroom is a disadvantage. Be that physically restless or verbally outspoken at the wrong times.

    And back to another random thought. 

    Last week a friend who's pregnant with her second child, first boy, asked for some advice on raising boys. My advice was simple. The two key things about raising boys are food and exercise. If you keep those in mind you will avoid many potential problems.

    05 June, 2011

    Multi-storey bike park

    Here are some interesting photos I took last Sunday while waiting for all the kids to turn up for our son's birthday party.

    Hidden away under a building - a huge multi-storey bike park. Can you see the ramp up to the next level of the bike park? Intriguing are the "working" vehicles. Can you see the bikes with boxes on the back of them? They are delivery bikes. Not sure what for, but possibly couriers. Bikes are way faster in built-up areas and easier to park too!  

    04 June, 2011

    Musing on graduation and the coming weeks

    I enjoyed the CAJ graduation yesterday. It is satisfying to see people achieve their goals. Somehow going to graduation at CAJ helps put the rest of the school into perspective. Though it is a tiny bit sad to think that this is the end of these students' involvement at CAJ and for some, the end of their family's involvement at the school too. I realised this morning that another OMF family has "graduated" and moved on from CAJ.

    They did a good job of remembering the young man who died earlier in the week. It was sad, but sensitively done.

    The best part was afterwards (when I wasn't trying to locate my family in the large crowd). Yummy food and drink and lots of people to talk to. The nicest thing was all the people who made wonderful comments about the Japan Harvest edition which they've been reading in the last week. Finally, it is in people's hands! Hopefully we'll hear some comments from overseas soon. I posted some on Tuesday, hopefully those will arrive soon and we'll hear what non-Japanese residents think - people who didn't experience the earthquake and its aftermath themselves.

    But of course we were late to bed - the boys, especially. So everyone is a bit grumpy today. And crying "I'm bored." And school hasn't even finished yet (even though it feels extremely close, with last night all done)!

    It is going to take some adjusting to: no school for seven hours a day. 

    One part of me is looking forward to it because it means not getting up as early, having a bit more rest because almost all school-related things take a break and also, of course, having my husband home more of the time. 

    Part of me isn't looking forward to it because we have to work harder at keeping the boys occupied and exercised (a vital part of raising boys). And the unrelenting heat of late July through to after school starts isn't fun.

    And in the middle of all that my work continues: magazine editing, mission website enquiry answering, emails and the magazine style guide that I'm working on (though this isn't urgent). And my husband has two assignments due in July plus unlimited work he could do at school, he tells me. We simply cannot just take 11 weeks off! 

    So, somehow we're going to have to find a new balance to our lives for those 11 weeks. That means a lot of give and take for everyone. Great life lessons, but not always easy.