31 August, 2011

Who am I?

Today my youngest son began full days at school. CAJ has a soft start for the younger students, giving Grade Ones four half days and Kindergartners a couple more. Finally I'm back to where I left off in early June! 

But all this returning to school and starting a new school year has the effect of challenging me to reassess who I am. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking I am what I do.

If I am what I do, then I've just changed. Because at the beginning of last week I was a full-time Mum. Now I'm a part-time Mum and part-time something else.

It is the 'something else' that sometimes bothers me. My particular 'something else' is not easily defined. It consists of many things like a soup. That soup's flavour changes from week to week, depending on various factors. If I were to define myself according to what I do then I would be very confused.

Today I've been struggling with a headache. I'm not sure why, could be the heat and humidity, could be my lowish blood pressure. Could be fatigue. As a result, however, I've not done much this afternoon. I find it tempting to think it's been a waste of a day. But just because today's soup has a bit more relaxation in it and a lot less "work" doesn't mean I'm less valuable. 

This is a mental struggle many have, I'm sure. When you set your personal value in your work, in your title, in your money, in what you own, in your relationships – then you are setting yourself up for a crash because these things are not guaranteed. The only way I can view myself with any security is as a princess. A daughter of the King. The King of Kings. John 1:12-12  "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God."

I hope I'm making sense because my foggy brain isn't outputting words all that well this afternoon. Tell me, do you have these kinds of struggles?

30 August, 2011

"I love homework"

What's the first thing kids say when they see you after school? Yesterday, from my nearly 9 y.o. I received: "Yay, I've got homework!!!"

A self portrait of our son taken when camping recently.
He then proceeded to sit down and do it all with a tremendous focus. He's super excited about having his own desk where he can put stuff inside and keep it organised. He loves his new homework book (they call it an "agenda").

I'm so happy to see this. Not just because it makes life easier for me, but because for many years it's been easier for us to see the bad qualities of his personality, not the good qualities. This intense focus was, in earlier years, used to produce prolonged tantrums, to resist good ideas and generally be a very big parenting challenge. 

I remember one time on our kilometre walk to his Japanese kindergarten that he decided he didn't want to go and he sat down. It took me over half an hour to get him the last 300m to the front door where they had to pick him up and carry him inside forcibly. It left me an emotional wreck and I wondered if there was anything wrong with my child . . . or with me.

Actually truth be told, he resembles someone I know well. My parents will tell stories of how I also refused to budge on occasion. I also loved school, homework and (blushing to admit this) homework books.

So I knew that such determination and focus could be put to good use in the future, if he chose to. It was wonderful to see him use those personality traits yesterday for good rather than negatively. I'm praying it will continue once the novelty of school wears off.

29 August, 2011

An Australian book at CAJ

Earlier in the year I wrote a post "complaining" that I struggled to find Australian biographies at CAJ. Well, in picking out books to read over the summer, I stumbled upon an Australian book. A Rose for the ANZAC Boys by Jackie French. Not a biography, per se, but historical fiction that combines the history of a lot of Australians (and New Zealanders) who lived early in the 20th century. 

And I loved it! The descriptions of ANZAC day to the voices of Australian diggers (soldiers), took me back "home". So different to reading an American book or even an British book.

When I stumbled on this sentence: "Stone the flaming crows, she's a flaming Aussie!", I knew I wasn't in Japan any more. Not that I'd use such language myself, but it sure does send one flying over the seas.

Jackie French is the author of that popular book, Diary of a Wombat. I didn't know she wrote anything other than children's books. But apparently she is a versatile writer, covering many genres and all ages and has written well over 100 books. This one is certainly well written.

A mark of good historical fiction, in my mind, is that you are taken in by the story (without too many characters to confuse) and yet you learn lots about the period it is set in.

In this case the story is from the perspective of a 16 year old New Zealand girl. She and her two brothers (one who's her twin) travelled to England when war broke out. Her two brothers enlisted and she was sent to a Proper English school. I knew that there were many soldiers who lied about their age at that time, but a 16 year old!

It gets even more incredulous when Midge and her two friends from boarding school cook up this scheme to do their bit for the war. Not staying at home knitting socks, either. They gather resources and contacts and go over to France to start up a canteen to feed the troops. 16 year olds! And yet, this is what many teenagers did do.

Most of the book is set in France, showing much of the horror that went on there, but in the context of a story and people's lives. Midge ends up losing her twin brother and a soldier she'd been growing attached to. Her remaining brother loses his leg. 

Ah, but I mustn't spoil the story. It has a satisfying twist or two at the end.

I especially like historical fiction that includes extensive notes at the back. In this case the author has included 26 pages of very helpful explanations.

I learnt that the armies back then had very little in the way of support staff. That meant that many volunteers were needed to feed them, medically tend to them, transport them and clothe them. And who was left to do that, but the women. Some officially through the Red Cross or other agencies, but many unofficially. Some left home to do it, others sent many things through the mail. Care packages were not just nice additions from home, they were essential.

And then what did these women do after the war was over? Many never married. Over 8 million men died and over 30 million were wounded during World War One. Also, after so much responsibility and autonomy, the women were understandably reluctant to slot back into the very sheltered lives they'd been expected to live before the war. So many went on to fight for the right to vote, for contraception, degrees for women, access to higher education, hospital reform and many other social reforms. We 21st century women have so much to be thank these women for.

This is not the first novel I've read set in those times. The Billabong series I mention way back here also covered the war in four its books, it was an integral part of the story. Through those books I got a sense of the tremendous long-term volunteer-ism that existed during WW1. None of this, "I've got a week or three spare". These women (and men) put their lives on hold until the end of the war (which lasted four years, by the way). 

I also got a close-up glimpse of the mental agony that the war caused. Both in those who saw and endured things people should never have to see, but also in the "not knowing" the fate of a loved one. And the poor communications, where people were presumed dead, but weren't or presumed to be POWs but were dead. Terrible stuff. I have to say, the Billabong books always make me cry. A Rose for the ANZAC Boys didn't, but probably that is because the characters less beloved to me than the Billabong ones, who'd become like family during the several books which came before the war-based ones.

I've raved on a bit. This really is a good read. Any CAJ folk out there who want to understand a little more about Aussies and Kiwis, go and get this book out of the library – I'm returning it tomorrow. And anyone else, I'd go find it in your local library too, it will give you an appreciation for our ancestors that you could hardly imagine.

28 August, 2011

A weekend in Tokyo

Here's some things we've been doing over the weekend:


Yeah, I know, I'm starting with the really exciting stuff (the weekend got better after this – keep reading). Mould in the bathroom, greasy dust on light fittings and stubborn smells in the toilet. The exciting thing really was the temperature. It was cool enough to actually feel like cleaning yesterday – about 26 in our bedroom upstairs at the time.

Helping friends with some moving. They are moving only just across the railway tracks, a couple of kilometres. We basically took our van and loaded it and our friends' van and drove stuff over, twice. The second time I drove our van and David rode his bike. David beat me by a long way. 

Bikes are so much faster in the shorter distances here. Driving in Tokyo it isn't unusual to find yourself seeing the same cyclist repeatedly as you drive. They get ahead, then you get ahead. But in this case all David had to do was ride along the river a bit. I had to wind through tiny streets, merge into traffic and wait for a light or two. 

Note mirror and power pole on the road.
I really wasn't all that keen to drive, though. Driving our eight seater van in our local tiny streets makes me feel nervous, and this is a lady whose done a lot of driving in her time. Give me an outback Australian road any day. Japanese drivers have a LOT of patience, which is a relief, but it it isn't fun dodging pedestrians, cyclists, cars, vans, trucks, light poles and signs. Yes, the roads are so skinny that poles and signs are on the actual road. There is no footpath or verge to put them on.

But it was a delight to help our friends. I love to serve people in this way. And we've been on the receiving end of such love so many times. It is such a small thing to do, yet so needed and appreciated.

Summer festival

Today our church held their annual summer festival. It is a little bit like a small fete, except the emphasis is on having a nice time, rather than making money. The church's purpose is to reach out to their local community. For example, they have a connection with a local nursing home. The home brought some of their residents out for the fun. One of the members did a short violin recital for their enjoyment.

There were the traditional games and traditional food and drink. Like ramune, one of the modern symbols of summer in Japan. It seemed to be the "in thing" to drink today. It is an interesting marketing of a fairly ordinary product, simply known for the shape of the bottle.

We volunteered to help out. David was on the rubbish separating patrol, a very important job in Japan: making sure you put all the right rubbish in all the right places! I worked on the kakigouri stand. Literally "shaved ice" with a sweet syrup poured over the top. North Americans call them snow cones. The closest Australians would get is a slushy, I think, except that that is a frozen drink, not ice with syrup. The machine was pretty cool (see photo). A huge ice block (about 20cm cubed) held in place over a blade and rotated with a handle, literally shaving the ice into the cups below.

The boys managed to enjoy themselves, despite their worst fears. Again, it was great to be able to serve in this small way. 

And now back into a five day school week. Haven't had one of those for more than three months! I do believe I've forgotten what it feels like.

27 August, 2011

Japan photo #17

Can you guess what these are?

26 August, 2011

Embarrassment at the gym

I finally found time to get back to the gym. Since David started work last week it's been very difficult to get away. But I have to tell you about the funniest thing that happened there today.

I was exercising away, minding my own business. At Curves you do about 14 machines in rotation, 30 seconds per machine and 30 seconds at a recovery station between machines. On the recovery station you are supposed to keep moving. Everyone interprets that differently. In Japan they seem to interpret it at a much more sedate level than in Australia. In Australia the gym instructors encouraged us to do all sorts of "moves" at these places. In Japan mostly people walk or slowly jog. I figure, I'm paying to come here, I may as well have a good workout, so I usually go at it pretty hard. Jogging and interspersing that with other "moves". Like opposite hand to foot, or twisting at the waist.

Occasionally I spend one of the 30 seconds kicking my feet out in front of me up as high as I can and clapping my hands underneath my legs. I love this one, but it freaks other people out. Sometimes I get remarks, but today the response was over the top. A few ladies started talking about me and then one said, "You're so young, you aren't 30 yet are you?" I assured her I was on my way to 40 and her response was basically: "No way!!!" She then immediately went to all her neighbours and spread the word. That must have convinced these ladies that they weren't so old after all (I'm guessing they were in their 50s or 60s) and they started to try to kick their legs up too. It was both embarrassing and hilarious. However I am pretty happy with the "age" compliment.

25 August, 2011

Starting school, a public performance and a new table

Today was the first time since 2008 that my boys have all started a new school year at the same school they were at in the previous school year. That makes a significant difference. Every school year brings changes, but the changes were far less today and therefore the boys found it all easier to cope with than they did last year. 

I looked back on this day last year on my blog. It wasn't what I expected to read. I don't remember the extreme excitement I wrote about. I remember the days that followed and the grumps and complaints about homework, about conforming to the schedule and to the rules in our house that help things run smoothly during school time (like – put your lunch box on the sink when you get home before you have afternoon tea). Obviously I didn't bore you with the ugly details of our lives. I didn't remember how emotional I was at the time. It is good to look back on that and see how things are better this year. Much less transition, much more stable emotionally – all of us.

But still, they were all up early on their first day. The younger boys were ready for school more than half an hour early. In order to stop them tearing the place apart, I suggested a calming game of Triominos. It worked well, but that doesn't mean I won: I lost dismally, but I achieved my goal!

We moseyed on down to school in the rain. The boys didn't even stop to say goodbye, they just rushed off. Oh well. I know they love me, even if they aren't good at goodbyes.

Then I returned to an amazingly empty house. I had a few things in mind to do in the peace and quiet, but I did keep expecting someone to come pelting down the stairs at any moment shouting, "Muuuuum!"  First days at school are on the calendar for a long time, but they still catch me by surprise. Surprise at how quiet my house is and how much autonomy I have when they're all at school.

But I did rack up another first today. First time to play the piano at CAJ. First time to go on-stage in the auditorium and play. Scary! I don't mind playing for church or Sunday School, but playing at CAJ where I've seen amazing musical feats, where there are wonderful musicians, much more skilled than I've ever been . . . scary! 

Probably very few people at the school know I play at all. Well, the secret is out, at least in the elementary school. Today I played for one (simple) song in their chapel meeting. It went well, thankfully. I love grand pianos. Wish I had one in my house . . . the next best thing is that I have a friend who has one in her house, and she only lives a few minutes away. Trouble is I've known this for more than 12 months now and I still haven't made it to her house to play the thing!

When chapel was over at midday, school was dismissed. This is CAJ's standard soft start to school. But the two younger boys were really disappointed. They didn't want to go home so early! So they came home and talked non-stop for an hour. Then their big brother came home after cross country training and talked for another hour. By 2pm I was exhausted!
Taking apart our old table, which was really pretty small.

The last big thing for the day is that we've got a new dining room table. Our friends (the ones I mentioned here who are fixing up their "handyman's dream" house AND who own the grand piano) have been given a larger table. Their old table happened to be a little bit bigger than ours, which was getting pretty decrepit (one of our dinner guests last week had a leg break off their chair). So we decided to take it off their hands for them. The bonus was that the boys got to get their hands on some of dad's tools and pull apart the old table.

What our friends forgot to tell us until today was that their 6 seater table is extendable (you would have thought this would be a big "selling" point), so that we now have a table that can transform into a 1.37m square table, seating 8 comfortably and 10-12 a bit more squished. Amazing! All of this furniture exchange was typically missionary style – free, no money exchanged hands.

Anyway, while I'm excited about extending tables and making it through a "public" performance, the boys are all excited about going back to school tomorrow. Let's hope the joy doesn't wear off too soon, although we could do with a tiny bit less excitement. Excitement that keeps boys from going to sleep isn't really helpful.

24 August, 2011

Cardboard school bags and other matters

Tomorrow my boys start school again. In fact, my youngest begins Grade 1. 

This isn't as momentous as it used to sound when I was growing up as he's already done 1 1/2 years formal full-time schooling. But it did make me stop and think about when I started Grade 1. That's more than 30 years ago now (scary).

Here's proof that it was a while ago! When I look at this photo, not only do I notice the uniform (which was wonderfully comfortable, 'cept for the leather shoes) and the "fibro" fence. But I also notice the "port". The bag was called a "port" where I grew up in Queensland. Did anyone else grow up using a cardboard "port"? Our boys didn't have a clue what we were talking about. Thankfully I still have one that I could show them . . . a little one that my mother used when she was tiny, believe it or not, which makes it pretty old! They are amazing things. Later on I also had a thinner one for my piano lessons. I'm pretty sure Mum's and Dad's travel suitcases were also cardboard.

Anyway, tomorrow they all start school again. Yay! I'm happy to delegate their care to someone else for a while. And to allow them to get their energy out under someone else's supervision, with other kids other than each other. Socially have been a bit challenging around here recently. I think they probably need some other friends to hang out with! I think I probably need some girlfriend-time too! So many guys around my place . . .

But, if you're interested, I did find an interesting, somewhat humorous "history of the suitcase" webpage. Take a look here.

23 August, 2011

An unusual day in the life of the mother of boys

Living with a bunch of guys doesn't predispose life to include much recreational shopping. I mentioned back here that I'm not really a "shopper" anyway, but the last 12 years of my life hasn't helped that any. So, the idea of taking one of my boys for a day's shopping just seems bizarre! I hear of people doing this with their daughters or girlfriends, but this hasn't been a part of my life. Nor do I really want it to be. Living with a fairly limited budget just doesn't lend itself to carefree spending. And once you cannot spend much money, the lure to just look at stuff reduces considerably.

Well, anyway, today I had a reason to go shopping with my 12 y.o. son. We just did it in a bigger way than we'd normally do it. His (school) backpack was looking very ragged and obviously needed replacing sooner rather than later. I could have just gone and got him one, but soon realised that a person's bag is pretty personal and it is better to choose it yourself. So today we went to do that.

Earlier in the month we were hunting for some camping gear before our second trip away. I accidentally found out that there are a lot of outdoorsy stores at one location in the city, close to the place where the boys helped me pack magazines (read about that day here). So, after we packed the magazines we took off as a family to find these shops. It was a cool find. A whole lot of shops with stacks of camping products. 

So today, instead of going somewhere closer (where there would be less choice), we hopped on the trains and headed to "down town" Tokyo. I would never do this with all three boys, that is asking for a nervous breakdown! But thankfully at this time (when teachers are at school, but not students) the school provides free childcare for the primary and lower aged children of staff. We don't normally use it because obviously I'm usually able to look after them all. But this time we decided to anyway. It is the end of 11 weeks of holidays and we're all a little bit sick of one another and some time apart just helps. Our middle school 12 y.o. doesn't qualify, however, so it was the perfect day to go shopping with him.

Mostly Japanese shops open at 10am, so that was when we planned to get there. But we soon found out that most of the camping shops in this precinct open at 11am. Many of them are owned by the same man . . . a late riser? So, I suggested dropping in to Starbucks across the road to pass the time, but my son wasn't impressed. McDonalds was far more his style. So there we went, and 'hung out'. Not a huge amount of conversation, but both of us had books with us, so we read while we waited. Conversation was more likely to happen while we were walking along or while looking at goods, not while staring at one another across the table. How different to "hanging out" with girls!

Eventually we got to the shops and found a good, nicely priced backpack. I pushed things a little by suggesting that we browse a little to see if we could find a birthday present for his dad. He put up with that for a while, particularly as there were heaps of fun camping things to look at. Like portable toilets, miniature emergency sleeping bags, and Lego lamps. But after 1 1/2 hours it was pretty much all over red rover. Food called and browsing goods lost its charm for my son.

On the way to lunch we saw this entrance to a university building. We were both impressed with the size of the doors. It makes me look like Alice in Alice in Wonderland. I am short, but not that short!

For lunch there was some debate about whether it would be McDonalds (again) or Subway (which is a rare treat here in Japan). Firstly my son couldn't believe that I'd agree to going to Maccas twice in one day! But when he realised I'd say yes to that he wouldn't agree to Subway. But as they were next to one another at this spot, my plan was for me to have take-away Subway and eat it at McDonalds with my burger loving son. 

However the line at Subway was massive compared to McDs, so I gave in and ate a burger too. It was a peaceful meal. So unlike meals we usually eat as a family. My boys just don't seem to be able to manage decent table manners or conversation . . . maybe one day.

Just before we got to the train station we crossed a canal that has a train platform right at its edge. Pretty picturesque in the middle of a city. Not much rubbish floating on it either.

And so ended our little shopping trip together. 

I met someone later who has older, married sons who said, "Relationships with sons are precious, and you miss that later when they grow up." I cannot say that I really know what she is talking about. I guess it is one of those retrospective things. Relationships with sons are definitely different from those with daughters – which I can only say from observation of others, of course! It is a hard thing to put your finger on, especially when you feel like your relationship with them is mostly being a policeman! I have to admit we struggle to have big amounts of one-on-one time with each of our boys. We do spend time with them each night when putting them to bed, but doing an excursion like this is harder and somewhat random. I know they appreciate it. I think I'll appreciate it more when I look back, though. I do know that when you get them one-on-one they are much easier to relate to than in a mob!

22 August, 2011

Mr Bean fun

I've been thinking all day about what to write here. I've had an achy, crampy kind-of day. Grey and fairly cool outside, perfect for curling up with a good book. So I did, for most of the day. A bit of an overly wordy book, but I've made it to the end of its 600 pages (not all today, though)! There were times back when the boys were younger when I wondered if I'd ever be able to read during daylight hours again. Little did I realise.

Anyhow. I still don't have any wonderful thoughts to share here. So I'll fall back on Youtube. My boys have been reminiscing about Mr Bean. They saw a bit of him on video Australia. So, the other day while I was preparing lunch I let them look at a couple of Youtube videos of Mr Bean. Goodness, they nearly wet their pants as they watched them. Here's one:

21 August, 2011

What have you doing in the last week of your summer holidays?

It's time for a little catch-up on what our family's been doing. 

Last Monday we had the last full day as a family on holidays. We went to Toshimaen, the local(ish) amusement park I mentioned back here.
Toshimaen, except that last Monday it was totally packed with people.
We invited one of our 12 y.o.'s friends. He's 13 and quite a bit taller than our son, so it looked like we had four sons! I'm glad I don't, actually. I spent a good portion of an extremely hot day running around checking out where they all were. They were (somewhat predictably) difficult to get out of the multiple pools at the end of the day. We were stuffed (Aussie for exhausted) by the time we arrived home.
On the train platform, prior to journeying home. This was only slightly posed!

David started back part-time (and unofficially) at school the next day. He's been doing some private tutoring at school, plus starting to organise things for the start of school next week. So it was back to me and three boys at home. The temperatures were in the mid to high 30s (90-100 F). So no one really felt like doing anything. Because of our big day on Monday, I got away without doing much with the boys. Lots of Lego action. And I finished a second pair of shorts. We mostly just stayed home and kept a low profile for a couple of days. Though we did have some friends over for dinner on Tuesday. They're moving house. More about them soon.

By Thursday, though, the after effects of being out on Monday had worn off. And despite the temps still being very high we had to get them out of the house for some exercise. So we took the boys for a 15 minute ride down to a small shopping centre. The benefit of riding in the heat is at least you are fairly cool while riding! And when we got there we could enjoy the centre's air con! We had my husband's favourite treat – morning tea at a bakery. Then we did some shopping. 

The boys were pretty subdued, thankfully. Probably the heat and exhaustion from the days previous. I have to admit I was feeling pretty bad. The nights had been about 30-32 degrees. That morning I'd been partially awake from about 4.30am, hot and sweaty and unable to fully fall back asleep. But another reason for their lack of "shopping crazies" is that it is also a pretty subdued shopping centre. Somewhat minimalist, not too much lighting, loud music or in-your-face product display. Have you ever noticed that some shops really rev kids up?

We bought some new sneakers for the start of our eldest son's cross-country season. I found a t-shirt in one of my favourite colours (deep blue-green) and on special. And my husband investigated the optical store and ordered some replacement sunglasses (his were stolen at the amusement park). I checked out their frames – they have some pretty cool frames. My current frames are wearing badly. Do you remember how I had to have them replaced in Australia last year? Well the same thing is happening to these, the paint is flaking off. So, sometime in the next year I'll have to replace these frames, if I'm not to be wearing silver frames. Thankfully glasses seem to be cheaper here, cheaper even than when we're covered by insurance in Australia.

Well the ride home was okay, but boy were we hot when we arrived home! We turned the air con on and rode out the rest of the day inside. I think it hit 37.5 degrees in our room that day and come bedtime had barely cooled lower than 33. David and I camped that night in our lounge room on our new air bed.

The next day, Friday, David officially started back at school, doing a full day's work – meetings! The boys weren't really that nice. But then they often aren't on David's first day back at school. I think they subconsciously miss him. The big event of Friday was that the sky went very dark at around 9.30/10 o'clock. It seemed as though we were moving into night. Then the rain began. Gradually, ever so gradually it cooled down to the mid to low 20s. A drop of about 15 degrees Celsius from the day before! We slept so well on Friday night. I got 10 hours straight and it was wonderful not to wake up sweaty at 1am or even 7.30am!

Walking to church.
The weekend has been a pretty rambling one. Bits of this and that. The weather was so pleasant that I ramped up the big oven and baked some cookies. Mid afternoon we met our friends (mentioned earlier) over at their new house. They've bought a "handyman's dream" and are fixing it up. We encouraged them up with some of the Choc Chip biscuits and a little help with moving a couple of boxes out of the car into the house.

Today we walked to church because it was drizzling. Much drier to walk than ride in the rain and no point in driving, because there's no where to park our car.

Thankfully by the time the Sunday mid-afternoon crazies came on (the boys always go silly at about this time), the rain had ceased and I drove them out of the house down to the river-side park for some French cricket, confusing the locals no end! 

So, David is back to school tomorrow and we're back to getting by for the last three days of holidays. I think they have some Lego projects going on upstairs, so hopefully that will account for a good portion of time. And no, I'm not really counting the four sleeps that are left . . . after that I'll have to go and find out what I used to do when they were all at school. Did I sit twiddling my thumbs? Somehow I don't remember doing much of that.

20 August, 2011

New perspective on children

Nurture Shock

This is an outstanding book. Not only does it debunk a number of things we've presumed to be true about children and teenagers and teaching and parenting, but it does it by doing a "tour de force" (to quote a review on the back cover of the book) of legitimate research in recent years. In addition, it is very readable, none of the academic gobbledygook you find in most academic writing. This is a layman's interpretation and a very good one at that.

Here are some things I found interesting:

Research has shown that parents (and adults in general) don't really have a clue when their kids are lying.(p75-76)

That when adults tell kids not to "tattle" we encourage them to keep their problems to themselves, a lesson they learn well. To be a "tattler" becomes a very negative label and so they tend to hold back infomation when the problems become bigger in their teens. (p89)

Educational media increased the rate of physical aggression, almost as much as watching violent TV. It had a dramatic effect on relational aggression. "Essentially, Ostrov (a researcher) had just found that Arthur is more dangerous for children than Power Rangers." Apparently there is a high level of relational and verbal aggression in kids' TV. They measured it, about 97% of all children's programming includes verbal insults and put-downs, averaging 7.7 put-downs per half-hour episode. Shocking, isn't it? (p181-182)

There was an interesting section about teenagers suggesting that it is a good sign if your teenager is arguing with you. It is a sign of respect and honesty. One study showed that in families when there was more deception by the teenagers, there was less arguing and visa versa! In other words, many teenagers don't bother to argue, they just pretend to agree and then do as they wish. (p148-9)

Research has shown that when spanking is conveyed as a normal consequence (as opposed to one that is saved for specially bad offences) it has no negative effects. (p187)

One big assumption that was disproved was that things work in children in the same way that they do in adults. (p237)

For example, for a long time it was assumed that kids are affected by sleep loss in the same way as adults – it's tiring, but manageable. However researchers found that kids were much more effected than adults. In fact children's capacity to learn is badly impaired when they are tired (parents knew that already, didn't we?). (p34-5)

Sleep deprivation is even more dire in teenagers. Research has found that teenagers are biologically programmed to go to sleep later and get up later (related with when the brain produces melatonin which produces sleepiness). (p36) It isn't totally conclusive yet, but the hallmarks of adolescence – moodiness, impulsiveness, disengagement – are also symptoms of sleep deprivation. A link? (p38)

They're considering a link between sleep deprivation and obesity and ADHD too. (p42)

Another example of assuming that kids work the same as adults is praise. Praise has been shown to work with adults. But praise can ruin a child, says the research. Telling a child they're special, that they're smart, often has the reverse effect that we formerly believed it to have. Praised children become more willing to cheat in order to keep succeeding. They are basically scared that they won't live up to the label they've been given. (p15) Praising effort is much more helpful to them. Also, "A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they'll quit when the rewards disappear." (p24)

High self-esteem doesn't improved grades or career achievements. It doesn't lower violence or reduce alcohol usage. (p19)

Intelligence is not a stable thing in children. It fluxes and changes over time. (p237)

Hmm, things to mull on.

19 August, 2011

Cheap haircuts anyone?

This is a slightly tongue-in-cheek ad for cheap hair cuts at a hairdressing school in Salt Lake City. Have a look and decide whether you'd let them cut your hair.

And take a look at the behind-the-scenes video too. This is what convinced me that they weren't totally serious.

Thanks to Rachel for blogging these videos.

18 August, 2011

Am I a pink girl or not?

It is funny how the image you have of yourself changes as you age and those around you age. Now, that sounds like I've having a mid-life crisis in my 30s! But no, that isn't it. Here are some examples:

I used to buy very dull colours and never red. Red, though, has made it into my wardrobe. Primarily because a good friend whose judgement I trust told me I look good in red. I now love to wear it.

As a teenager I considered myself on the chunky side. I was never model-thin. However as I've aged and despite having had three babies my weight has remained fairly stable. Now I'm smaller than many others of similar age and experience. Getting regular exercise in the gym has helped too.

I wore dresses/skirts to school for twelve years, but rarely in my leisure hours.
I considered myself an introvert for a long time. Primarily because I am shy and because I compared myself to very extroverted people. But then had a psychology assessment and found out that I actually come out on the extroverted side of things, despite my shyness and a fairly strong introvert shadow!

Oh, and in university I was a non-coffee drinker. That changed pretty early on in my working life. How it did is a story for another day.

I used to hate jeans, but after the experience of being so large in pregnancy, I began to love jeans. They made me feel so thin!

There is one bastion that hasn't totally broken down yet. As a teenager I cast myself as a non-pink girl. In fact a non-girly girl. No lace, no pink, few dresses etc. 

Last year the skirt/dresses thing was challenged by a doctor (something I don't want to go into here). And now the pink thing is being challenged. I've had family members give me pink clothes as gifts. Last year I was given a pink night gown as a gift (when I spoke somewhere). I really needed it, though I wouldn't have chosen the colour. Swimwear shopping in Australia found me buying a pair of magenta swimming shorts (again, I would have chosen another colour, but these fitted me like nothing else did). Everyone in my family was shocked! I found it hard to find non-pink socks in Australia and underwear, well this isn't the place, but there have been pink changes there too. Not mentioning a couple of washing machine accidents . . . Then this book arrived in the mail:

From time to time you will have seen book reviews here for Book Sneeze. The deal is that they will send me a free book and I have to publish a book review for it. A cool way to get free books (no postage either). I get to choose the books and I chose this one, but I wasn't prepared for how pink it was. I'm almost embarrassed to get it out of the packet, that is how strongly I disassociate myself with pink. My boys know I don't like pink things for myself (don't mind it on others, especially a deep pink), so they tease me when we are shopping! 

What things have did you believe about yourself that have changed as you've aged?

17 August, 2011

How young is too young for kids to travel alone?

Those of you from Queensland will probably know about the current drama going on there in the news with a missing teenager's case. He's been missing since 2004. Last seen waiting on his own for a bus to take him Christmas shopping. I believe at least one bus drove past him without picking him up. The case is in the media's vision now because they've finally charged someone with his murder.

Add to that the story, this week, of a six year old who was catching a public bus to his mother's work after school, alone. The newspaper tells us he didn't hit that "please stop" button in time to get his stop. When he told the bus drive, he was yelled at him, put him off the bus 400m past his stop and kept going. At least that is how the media reported it (acknowledging that they often don't tell us all the facts). The controversy is of course at a bad time for the driver in the context of the above case. Thankfully for the family involved, his mum picked up on the situation quickly and was able to go and meet her son before any harm came to him.

Many questions arise, but one that caught my attention was, "How young is too young for kids to travel alone?"

I think that was the shocking thing about the teenager's disappearance. He was 13. Too old to be coddled by his mum accompanying him on the bus, one would think.

But how old is too young? And when do you stop accompanying them? Here in Japan we see lots of little kids travelling alone on trains and buses. And walking to and from school on their own. Something we'd never see in Australia.

Some kids at CAJ travel a long way to school on trains each day. I think that some Grade ones may travel 45 minutes or more on trains on their own. I remember speaking to one mum after the March 11 disasters about this. She was so glad the earthquake happened before school finished for the day or her kids might have been stuck on the trains on their own for a long time. The trains didn't start running again until the next day. I don't know what responsibility anyone took for any school kids who were on the trains. The "security" that parents purchase here is mobile phones. We assume we can contact them at any time to check where they are. However people got a big shock after the March 11 earthquake. Mobile phone networks went down and landline phones also weren't working for a while either. Scary!

We live very close to our kids' school, so it isn't a huge issue for us. A 300m walk is all they need to do. However there are few footpaths (US=side walks, UK=pavements – I think). And one intersection to cross that can be a bit tricky if you aren't paying attention. Nevertheless, we are going to allow our six y.o. walk to school on his own this year. His older brothers did last year. I'll probably still have to go and root them out of the playground after 4pm (kids stay and play as long as they can there), but it is going to be very strange to not go anywhere at 8.20 in the morning. Just say goodbye to them all at the front door. Strange indeed.

As for the dilemmas facing other parents about their kids walking, riding, or catching public transport alone to and from school. I'm glad I'm not in their shoes having to make these decisions. It is really challenging knowing where the line is. How do we start to let them go, know when to let them have more freedom? How can you decide when you don't know what dangers they may face? And you don't know what kind of adults they will meet. And you aren't sure how they'll react in various situations.

The amount of wisdom you need as a parent is immense and the amount of self-forgiveness you need if things go wrong has to be immense too.

16 August, 2011

Japan photo #16 solved

Yesterday I posted this photo, asking for guesses about it's usage. Many people came very close. Thanks for all the guesses!

It is a watermelon transporter. Given free to me by the checkout operator when I bought a watermelon last week. Many people ride or walk to buy groceries, so chucking the melon in the back of the car isn't an option. This makes it much easier to carry.

15 August, 2011

Japan photo #16

It's been a while since I gave you a photo mystery to solve. Can you guess what this is? Again, if you've lived here, please hold back and see what others suggest.

14 August, 2011

Impulse buying

We went impulse buying the other day. Furniture, actually. Unusual behaviour for missionaries. It is probably more in character was that we did it in one of our favourite second-hand furniture stores. And it wasn't totally impulsive. The problems we were trying to solve had been hanging around for a while, but the solutions were new.

Old bed
Firstly our two younger boys' bunk bed has been very rickety for a long time. They are at least 20 or more years old. We on the end of a long line of missionaries who've used it, and even a boarding school. We were fearful that the boy on top would topple through to the bottom one night as the base under the top mattress was breaking.

Add to that the growing amount of stuff that our middle son has been storing on his bed. He's been asking for his own room for some time and this is his solution to the "not possible" answer that he receives. All "important" stuff, including his current book, Bible and devotionals, stuffed toys, special Lego etc. Really a child just trying to have a space to call his own. It was rearranged at night time down one side of the bed, reducing the space he had for sleeping by about a third! He regularly thumped the wall with his feet at night-time. We've been thinking and talking about solutions to this, but none seemed ideal.

New bed, with adjacent shelves.
The idea of an adjacent tall shelf to the bed came up at morning tea on Friday, then we looked at how we could rearrange the bedroom (for about the fourth time since we moved in 13 months ago). It was a logical step to think about a new bed too. 

Opposite corner to above.

We found a much studier bed that has a greater space between the bunks plus a ladder that the previous bed didn't have. And a tall shelf. And the price wasn't too bad, as compared to what you'd pay for something new. And an adjacent tall shelf as something of a bedside table to keep special stuff on that you can access from bed. The boys are happy and we are too.

The rearranged room looks great and there is even room for a desk for our middle son in the future.

So our "impulse" buying went extremely well. And now we're starting to feel ready to start a new school year.

13 August, 2011

Complicated bad guy

I hooked the boys the other day when I revealed that I was reading a book that had a bad guy with amazing "powers". They kept checking back in with me to hear the latest adventures, and wondering how the bad guy would be "got" in the end.

This morning I was able to tell them that the bad guy got "got" last night. It turns out his vulnerability was silver. Ordinary weapons didn't hurt him a bit, but the silver bullet did it.

This isn't really the usual sort of story line in a book I'd be likely to read. That's partly why the boys were so intrigued. Why would mum read such an interesting book?

That was until they started to ask more and more questions about the book and realised that it was about more than just catching a bad guy. The book is called "The Eyre Affair" by Jasper Fforde and is actually very complex. Wikipedia says it is a '"genre-busting"[5] novel spans numerous types of literature, with critics identifying aspects of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, satire, romance, and thriller.' I won't tell you the whole plot, you can check out a summary here.

And the boys are right, it isn't my usual type of book. I don't generally read fantasy or science fiction or satire. Neither do I read romance, but almost every mystery/thriller novel these days seems to have some romance in it somewhere. But I do find this author engaging. I've read some of his other books too. "The Fourth Bear" and "The Big Over Easy"

The book is set in 1985, but has an alternative history that includes wars never fought and political decisions that were never made (such as to not make jet air planes). It involves a lot of reference to classical literature such as Shakespeare, Austen and, of course, Jane Eyre. If I'd done a literature major I'd have understood a lot more of the references, but the story was good enough to carry me along regardless. Add to that a main character whose father popped in and out of her life in a time-travelling kind of way, who owned an early clone of a dodo bird, and had an uncle who invented a machine whereby you could be transported into a novel. It was a strange, but interesting mix.

The boys were shocked that the bad guy wasn't the focus of the novel, also that there was romance and three weddings (Jane's first attempt to marry Mr Rochester, being one). They had trouble understanding that I didn't know an awful lot about the bad guy, that I didn't know how he'd received his "powers".

Ah, I'm still ahead of the pack. I can still read books that they don't understand. Somehow that is very satisfying!

12 August, 2011

Our second camping adventure Part 2

Yesterday I told you of our first afternoon camping. We had a good night, our new air beds are great! The only issue was the plink plinking of water still dripping from the trees above. I'd also hoped that they'd turn out some of the "street lights" that illuminated the camp site, but it wasn't to be. It was so bright that we didn't need torches to go to the loo. We were all pretty tired, however, so it didn't take too long to drop off (I stuck a t-shirt over my eyes and was fine). The temperature was perfect, cool enough to enjoy the sleeping bags.

The next morning we awoke to a beautiful clear day and enjoyed bacon, eggs and charcoal BBQ toasted muffins. It was delicious. The camp site was much more level than our previous one, so it was less tiring to get around.

Once we'd finished eating and teeth cleaning we headed off for an exploratory hike up the river. Hoping that we'd be able to follow along the river bank. It wasn't to be, however. The river was deeper and had a stronger current than we thought. It also had steep banks on most of its journey. We stopped at a spot close to camp and tossed some rocks, then decided to explore a very vertical track up from the riverside. It went up a fair way, past some abandoned huts that were about to fall off the mountainside to the river below. I tried not to think about what would happen to any of us if we stumbled or fell. Compared to the tracks we climbed two weeks earlier, this was a dangerous goat track with nothing between us and and very steep incline. 

For some reason unknown to anyone, our middle son decided he didn't want to go anywhere except back to camp. He didn't immediately follow us up the track, but stayed on the rocks next to the river. I was hoping he'd change his mind soon and join us, but he is a stubborn lad and could easily derail our exploration. If there was a reason, it was possibly that he didn't like it that we didn't really know where we were going. Uncertainty is an issue for him. But soon he became very certain that he wanted to be with us afterall. He spotted a black snake. I've rarely seen him change his mind so quickly. I'd not be surprised if that weren't a divine intervention, either!
Sleepy village with high electric fences protecting their crops!

Not too long into our climb we found a road. This presented us with a number of options to proceed and none seemed clear. In fact that was the pattern for the next couple of hours. We knew approximately where we were and where we wanted to go, but there just didn't seem to be an optimal route to get there. Following the river was out, the only other option involved going up steep inclines! 

We soon stumbled on a small sleepy village. And, after several mis-turns, we ended up at the riverside again, a little bit upstream. It turned out to be a great place to wade and our boys enjoyed watching two people start a kayak journey down river.

From there we decided to walk back to camp along the road, which, unfortunately was a long way above the river. To get "home" we had to walk up to the road, along it a short way and then down the path we'd arrived on. One bonus of this was being able to pick up one thing we'd accidentally left in the car – the second cricket bat. 

Compare the river level with the road we had to climb back up to to get back to camp, which was at the river level!
On our way back into camp we ran into someone who I know from CAJ. His daughter is in our eldest son's class. He works for Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC - though I think they've recently changed their name). He was at the camp site with a bunch of Tokyo uni students. We were to see more of them later in the day.

Back at the tent we all kind-of collapsed a little bit. Unfortunately the boys ended up being way too silly inside the tent and I sent the 12 y.o. away. He'd set a goal to memorise a few verses for his 1 John memorisation, so I sent him away with his Bible. It turns out he found a great spot to work. He sat next to the river and had some lovely down-time. Not only did he get the verses memorised, he came back recharged after some time alone.

CCC students

After lunch we had some SQUIRT time, reading on our beds (or in his chair, in the case of David) and then headed off to the river again. This time in a more quiet spot close to camp, where the boys could stand waist/thigh deep in the current fairly safely. What made it more fun was that the CCC group beat us there and were having water fights.

It started raining not too long after we'd arrived, but that wasn't too bad because the water was cool enough to be difficult to play in for any length of time. The rain didn't last long and when we got back to the tent we decided to play cricket. Something we ended up doing on and off for the rest of the afternoon! One huge pro for this camp site was having a level open area next to our tent for playing on.

A huge social event was getting the fire going again (something that worked more smoothly this time, David is really getting the hang of it). Whenever the boys got bored, another round of cricket erupted. When that got boring, we taught them French cricket. Occasionally the frisbee, but cricket really reigned over the day.

Dinner was hot dogs (cooked on skewers, so fun!), followed by Doughboys/Twisties (whatever you call them: a dough-type mixture on skewers) and marshmallows. The whole meal took hours to cook and eat. One thing about camping, it is difficult to keep left-overs. And I've realised that I rarely cook just enough for five. I think we usually we have enough for seven-nine people. Anyway, we ended up eating more than we usually would!

After dinner we all went and took our Japanese baths and nearly had the boys in bed when we realised that there was going to be a bonfire in the cleared area. An extra bonus! So the boys came out of the tent and we sat around and watched the live entertainment. It was the CCC group, who played games, then sang and had a short devotional time. Our boys gradually drifted off to bed; leaving David and I with time to sit in the dimness and listen to our Japanese Christian brothers and sisters sing praises to God. It's a wonderful memory.

The next morning we packed up our tent. We'd promised the boys another quick game of cricket, but found that we'd been going slower than we did last time at packing up. Maybe we'd relaxed into camping-time! So, they missed out on that one. 

All the kids must have been quite tired. We had some nasty behaviour during packing-up and the first half of our drive home. Then, mercifully, two of them fell asleep and the other one put away his troubles and sat quietly, humming along to the Lion King soundtrack we had playing. 

It needs to be noted here that very rarely will our 12 y.o. fall asleep during the day these days. But he has done so at the end of both camping trips. Maybe we've got something here? A way to really wear him out? That elusive "something" is what we've been searching for all his life and it becomes more and more elusive as he gets older.

Now we're back. All the camping gear is packed away and we're looking at where our adventures will take us next time. The next window of opportunity is in November, when CAJ has a long weekend for Thanksgiving. It'll be too cool to play in rivers, so what will we do?

11 August, 2011

Our second camping adventure Part 1

Our second camping adventure also went very well. Spectacular scenery, lots of food and open air and a camp set-up that worked just fine.

Lake Okutama
The camp site was about 20 minutes further away from Tokyo along the same road we took to get to our first camping adventure. We followed the main river that feeds the lake (Okutama) we camped near last time. The valley got narrower and narrower. The drop-offs from the road to the bottom of the valley were something to ignore when they were only a couple of metres away from your vehicle. I was driving. 

One of the charming things about motion sickness is that it is better to drive than be driven. So our standard procedure is to swap to me driving when the road is windy, and this road certainly is! And replete with tunnels too, more than a dozen, I think. The difficulty with this strategy, however is that David is only slightly less prone to carsickness than I, so if we don't know where we are going, it is difficult for either of us to look at a map while the car is moving. 

After about 20 minutes I pulled off the road at a little siding so we could check the map and David exclaimed, "This is it!" Surely not? A little shed on the side of the road that barely clung to the edge of the mountain. But yes, this is where we were to unload our car, pile it all into the waiting lift.
Luggage lift.

Then we watched all our stuff disappear down the cables into the trees in the valley below! Well, I did, for a moment, then followed after my husband who'd taken off at a trot down the steep track that lead down to the camp site near the river.
The cables that our luggage travelled down.

Going down the track made us very grateful we weren't carrying our gear down ourselves. At the bottom we found ourselves in another little world. One that looked remarkably like a Christian camp site, if you didn't look closely. A whole lot of little cabins higgledy piggledy scattered around, outdoor dish washing facilities etc. We ended up pitching our tent on the edge of a flat area where one might kick a ball around. There were no other tents in evidence. A single guy arrived shortly afterwards and put up his single-man tent, making ours look gargantuan.

The ground wasn't easy to put tent pegs into. Not too far under the surface a whole lot of largish stones were discovered. I must have tried up to six places for most pegs I ended up placing. It was very frustrating, because we had boys who were so keen to wield the hammer/mallet but the work was too tedious for them.

As we were putting the tent up the mountains sounded like they had indigestion. Thunder rolled ominously. After the heavy storm we'd experienced the day before in our solid house in Tokyo, we weren't keen to face one here, with a tent half erected! Thankfully the thunder rolled off and on for a few hours before it finally bore down on us and rained and rained. By then the tent and awning were up and we were in the middle of cooking dinner. It was a bit scary, knowing that if our stuff got wet then, we'd have a challenging night. But thankfully everything inside the tent remained dry. Most things outside the tent were spattered with muddy water, but we managed just fine. It was very satisfying.
An example of a tatami matted room (different, more luxurious location).

The camp site, as I've mentioned, at first look was quite a familiar environment to us. Looking a little closer and we saw some definite Japanese touches. The little cabins, for example, that I mentioned. They were merely single rooms with tatami floors. No bunks in them at all. Nor much else, from what we could tell. Maybe a couple had a kitchenette in them, but mostly people were cooking and eating outside, just like us. 
These were dotted around too, David thinks they are tiny versions of the larger cabins.

There was a large cabin that contained huge piles of futons, Japanese mattresses. Obviously they rent these out to people staying in the cabins. We discovered the next day that they air the futons out on one of the roofs, being in a narrow valley they don't get a long period of sunshine each day.

Another Japanese characteristic was the showers. Actually a Japanese bath. One for women, one for men. Much like our bathroom at home here in Tokyo, except it is communal. Everyone undresses in the vestibule and goes in to the shower/bath room. Where you soap up and rinse off under a hand held shower (no stalls) and then soak in the deep bath (up to the neck). Very clean. A lovely experience after a day of dirt, mud and sweat.

I'll continue this story tomorrow. Plenty of adventures yet to come.