31 March, 2011

Three sights from the last three weeks in our house

Here is a sight I've enjoyed seeing over the three weeks' unexpected break from school:

Two big boys reading.

Here is something I haven't enjoyed seeing in my cupboard during these last two weeks:
Our packed evacuation bag - nen no tame, just in case.

And here is a small stop-and-smell-the-roses moment during the bizarreness that made up the last three weeks. Looking out my bedroom window and seeing a gorgeous blue sky with puffy white cloud floating past:

I choose to be thankful - for books, for a close-by library, for the possibility to pack an evacuation bag (so many people didn't have time) but not having to use it and for many days of beautiful weather.

30 March, 2011

Exercise, food and dentists

So life goes on. 

Boys still need exercise. Hence we took them for a ride down our local "river" this morning. Waterways are great in Tokyo. There are heaps of them criss-crossing the city and mostly they have paths on both sides of them - perfect for walking, jogging, walking the dog or riding.

People still need feeding. So the CRASH command centre down the road still needed volunteers this morning to help feed all their volunteers, and I went down and helped. They ended up with left-overs, some of which came home with me, so that helped feed my mob tonight.

See the glass to the left of the picture?
Teeth still need care. One of our Spring Break (for non-Americans this is a one week school holiday at the end of March) tasks was to go for our annual dental check-up. Today was it. But I have to elaborate a bit on that one, because it was a bit different to an Australian dental experience (I cannot compare it to any other country, not having had dental treatment anywhere else).

Quite possibly our family gives the dental clinic an experience not very usual for them either. When my husband rang up to make an appointment, they remembered us - even though it has been close to two years since we've visited them!

One cool thing about this dental clinic is the view. There are floor to roof windows opposite the dental chairs facing out on this view of the train station. No curtains! And yes, it means that if you wanted to you could stand on the platform and stare at the dental clientele, but Japanese aren't prone to staring. And the train rushes past the clinic too fast to recognise anyone.

The first thing you need to know is that there are no little one-on-one rooms where you see a dentist. I think this clinic has about 20 complete "stations" where a dentist can see you. Each "station" is separated by a low wall that you cannot see over when in the chair.

We went as a group, as we usually do. Maybe that is why they remember us, not only a foreign family but coming in as a group - who does that? Our reasoning is that it is just more time efficient to get us all done at once. But they called us all in at the same time and put the boys in three adjacent "stations". You can see my husband in the blue above helping our eldest to understand what was happening (his Japanese isn't that great). So the three boys were seen serially. The dentist saw one, ordered an x-ray (which someone else took care of), saw the next, ordered and x-ray and saw the last (but no x-ray - this is the one who is too young to clean his own teeth). And then went back to the beginning again, doing what he had to do. After all the boys were done we had our chance. Two parents on the chairs while the boys looked on with a great deal of amusement.

What amused the staff was the amount of questions we were fielding, granted it was done mostly in English which they didn't understand, but when I explained they laughed. It was harder to field questions once the instruments were in our own mouths, though! Thankfully no-one needed a filling this time. Only two baby teeth pulled and some scaling of the adult's teeth.

Tonight I'm having the pleasure of watching and listening to cricket. It is the semi final of the Cricket World Cup in India and Sri Lanka. A balm to my soul - the sound of cricket commentary and the crowd...I love it! The only thing wrong is that the season is wrong. I should be in shorts and a tee-shirt!

And just in case you think I'm on holidays, I've been sorting out editing tangles off and on amidst all the other things today. It isn't easy working with stories by people who don't usually write for magazines and editors who aren't very familiar with Japan. Nor helpful is the fact that my attention is pretty fragmented. I don't seem to be able to string together a decent length of time to concentrate on it. Therefore I've made mistakes, started things and not completed them and have a whole lot of loose ends to tie up sometime soon. Hopefully after the boys go back to school (Lord willing) on Monday I'll be able to knuckle down a lot better.

Ah, but for now, back to following the cricket and doing some stitching.


29 March, 2011

A day out (well, a few hours anyway)

Today we sent our middle son off to soccer day camp and headed out the door with the other two boys. Goal? Get out of the house, hang out in a big park, make the boys tired and enjoy the day.

But before we got to the park, we encountered the train station. Even if we were anticipating a pretty normal day, there was no way to ignore the changes since March 11th. The escalators are shut. This is still a strange but common sight as Tokyo conserves energy. On Saturday we went to a department store with escalators in the middle of the store. To go from floor to floor we walked up the unusually still steps.

Then the train pulled up. The train was dark on the inside. It is a station where the concourse is above the lines so little natural light shines down. I never realised that the trains used to run with internal lights on during the day. Now I know, because today they weren't.

But it was lovely once we got to the park. The hint of a spring day, where we didn't need our thick winter coats or our gloves or scarves. My 5 year old had a thick hat on that was soon discarded. We wore sunglasses and sun hats - both usually absent during winter here in Tokyo. The trees are still largely bare and the grass mostly yellow, but it won't be long before spring bursts forth. The cherry trees are pregnant with buds.

I'm pretty sure this is a magnolia tree.
It was great to get out. Since the 11th of March we have not driven anywhere nor gone by train anywhere. Only walking or biking within a very small area of our house. There was a strange feeling of "what if"s when we left the suburb. Probably the same "what if" that our boys expressed when we talked about going back to school next week. The last time they were officially at school in their classrooms the earthquake hit, I guess it is natural to wonder if/when it will happen again. The sooner we get back on that horse the better, I'm guessing.

Tree climbing
We enjoyed a Japanese picnic (rice balls) and generally frolicked in the sun. No email, no news. Lovely to leave that behind for a time. Of course our youngest got tired eventually and we returned home again to the news, emails and the work, but the time away was delicious.


28 March, 2011

Juggling balls and a birthday missed.

Tonight I'm feeling a little short on inspiration. I feel at present that I'm continuing to juggle a lot of balls. 

Some of those balls are heavier than usual - like the boys. I hadn't planned to be doing so much work during their Spring Break and it is rather a pity that I am. But one cannot always be in control. Actually probably control is an issue that is bothering me at present. 

As I put this magazine issue together I'm facing what probably makes long-time editors grumpy: a lack of control. I have a number of people working on articles, but they aren't here yet. I'm not quite sure how to cope with that yet. Trusting, waiting.

Then another ball or two is tossed my way, and I have to decide whether to catch them or not. The endless dilemma many of us face. How busy is too busy? How do I guess when I've reached my limit before I get there?

I did have a successful day getting our news/prayer letter written. It is done. We will revise it tomorrow and then send it out. I took some excerpts from this blog to give an overall feel of our lives since the 11th of March. It was interesting to walk back through the days, how quickly you forget the details! But challenging to try to reduce those days to two short pages without losing the interesting detail.

The past year of on the edge of ordinary
I realised something today too, I missed this blog's birthday. Earlier this month "on the edge of ordinary" turned two. Wow! 700 something posts later and someone says to me "you've been blogging for a long time" and then asks for advice! It has been a fun journey. As I look back on the statistics, I've had a lot more readers join since we came back to Japan last July and then a huge burst of interest while Japan was front page in the newspapers. I guess it is a good sign (?) that the numbers are going down again!

Time to go and mend some clothes that are falling off my guys. Yes, enough writing and thinking about writing and time to pay homage to that other ball I toss around - household maintenance!

27 March, 2011

A new week awaits

After two weeks of cancellations and not knowing what new crisis lies on the next day, I'm not used to planning ahead! But it looks like (barring any new crisis) I can do a little bit of planning for this week. 

It is officially Spring Break, so my husband has no school responsibilities (except to keep checking to see if any students send HELP emails). But he has started another Master's subject, and has an assignment he'd like to complete this week.

Our middle son is signed up to go to Soccer Day Camp at CAJ. Which means he can be looked after by someone else from 9.30-3.00 every day, if he so chooses.

Our eldest son still has a bit of homework left over from the distance-ed strategy of the last fortnight, plus progress needs to be made on his spaghetti bridge - which is due at the end of April.

Our youngest son is foot loose and fancy free this week. It could be a challenge keeping him busy. However we're hoping to go on at least one "big park" outing with two or three of the boys (depending on whether number 2 son decides to come with us or go to soccer camp that day).

I have to continue on with magazine editing. I have articles gradually coming back in now and they need editing. As they start to accumulate I'll have to start thinking about where I want to put them in the magazine. I also have to consider what we're going to do with marketing this special edition. There are lots of questions and possibilities on this topic. Should we market it widely to supporters in other countries, for example? Should we offer bulk specials for missionaries to send to interested people back home? Etc. Marketing is not really my speciality either. Editing a magazine is a job that includes a lot of different skills! I knew it in my head, but doing it so suddenly like this is a bit of a shock.

I also have to get our monthly news/prayer letter out this weeks. So much has happened that it is hard to think about putting only two A4 pages together!

I'm planning another Costco trip on Friday too. It says something about our recent experiences that I feel a little tentative about planning something so far ahead as Friday! Perhaps the experience has humbled me so that I am faster to add "Lord Willing" to my plans, if only mentally. Probably that is a good thing.

Please don't forget to pray for the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who are still homeless at this time. Many are grieving unimaginable loss. Many suffer survivor's guilt and Post Traumatic Stress will be plaguing many too. It is a disaster too big for me to contemplate, thankfully our Heavenly Father has very large shoulders and can take it all. Commit it to Him.

26 March, 2011

I stand amazed

Ten days ago the managing editor of the magazine (Japan Harvest) I am Associate Editor for, asked me to head up a special edition. At that point we decided to postpone the almost-ready-for-printing Spring Edition. That meant that we were at a "standing start". Added to that is that I've only been on the team for one cycle of this magazine editing process - and that only as an associate, mostly just editing articles, but not doing bigger editorial decisions or dealing with the layout editor or anything.

Ten days ago a lot landed in my lap. Plus the knowledge that many of our usual writers were neck-deep in disaster response efforts. The desire to produce a magazine that told the story from the point of view that the secular media will miss - the Christian and church's side. But the lack of journalistic skills, the lack of an editorial team adequate to cope and the lack of time to write a whole magazine myself were large barriers that stood in my way.

I wrote that night here about asking God for wisdom and help. And last Saturday I had only four articles. Now, ten days since that standing start I have about 22 potential pieces, two additional editors, six people taking first-hand accounts and turning them into articles. I have two people with journalistic training doing interviews for articles. I have a graphic designer working on a cover and some inside graphics. Amazing! And the glory doesn't go to me, because there is no way that I could have organised that on my own.

More amazing is the prior planning that simply were God-incidents. Two of the first-hand accounts are from ladies I roomed with at the women's retreat only three weeks ago. Of the six people turning first-hand accounts into articles, four of them live outside of Japan and are or have been a part of the Editing Group I've been a part of for four years now. And I mustn't forget to mention the Magazine Editing Course I attended back in September 2009. I felt somewhat out of my depth there, but how the training and the handbook that went with the course have been useful this week!

I had a great meeting with the two people with journalism backgrounds on Thursday. It was only about 40 minutes, but was a great meeting, we felt like we'd gone from a few hopeful ideas to something that might just be a good magazine. The meeting was sandwiched by prayer - before and after when I prayed that this magazine edition would be to God's glory, not ours. I'm truly amazed at how it is coming together. Isn't it true - God loves to work through us when we are weak, because He gets the glory.

25 March, 2011

It's been two weeks

And finally the stress caught up with me in a more dramatic way that made me stop and rest. I woke up with a headache that I didn't shrug off until mid afternoon. Spending two hours on the bed (not sleeping because the wind was strong enough to make the house shake) was beneficial.

We received official notice today that CAJ is planning to start up again on the 4th of April, but also that most of the days or half-days off in the remaining 10 weeks have been cancelled in order to make up for two mostly-lost weeks of schooling. It is going to be a tough run to summer holidays. I doubt that anyone will be completely recovered from the trauma we've experienced, though possibly the younger children will have not had such a tough time. I know our three have been relatively well shielded from all the news (we don't have a TV connected to an antennae and we've been careful what we let them see on the internet) and because we didn't have to evacuate, they've had a relatively stable time of it. But I suspect that many students will take some time to settle back into school life again. Teachers too, perhaps.

So, life continues on. This coming week we have Spring Break. Our middle son was supposed to be going to Soccer Camp for two days and nights, but that was cancelled in favour of a 5-day day-only camp at CAJ. Very convenient for us! We'll see how the week pans out, we're hoping the weather warms up enough to enjoy a day trip to one of the big parks in Western Tokyo. And we also have our mission's two-year review on Tuesday. We have to fill in one of those long forms evaluating the past two years and then discuss it with our Japan Director and his wife. I'll have to think carefully so that the last two weeks don't bias my responses too much.

I also thought you might be interested in reading what other Tokyo-based missionaries are writing on their blogs. A friend wrote a good blog post here called "What I didn't learn in science class..." and another friend wrote one here with some 'spot on' words on taking a Biblical Perspective on the fight or flight tension we've been dealing with over the last fortnight. And here is one from a friend who's gone back to the US for a little while, showing us how difficult it was to leave, even though she felt it was the right decision.

Well, it's off to the shower and then form-filling out for me.

24 March, 2011

Swinging emotions

Fear seems to be close to the surface for many, especially foreigners. I guess after a shock like we've had, it makes sense that people are pretty shaky. Shaky seems to be a particularly apt adjective given all the shaking that is happening. Here in Western Tokyo we're feeling at least one or more a day. I can only guess that those living closer to the coast must be feeling even more shaky.

Over the last 13 days so many things we could previously rely on have changed. People are wondering, "What next?"

Think about it. Assumptions have been challenged. Baseline assumptions like, 
  • Tokyo Trains are convenient. 
  • Food and fuel are easily available in Japan. Oh, and toilet paper too!
  • As long as we pay for it, we can use as much power as we want.
  • School will be in session on these dates (enter in calendar).
And even 
  • Japan is a (relatively) safe mission field. Yes, earthquakes happen, but big ones don't happen all that often (although there's only been two in the last 50 years that have caused more than 60 deaths).
And for missionaries:
  • I'm called to Japan, and I'm staying until (enter in some predetermined date like their next home assignment).
So, people are understandably feeling jittery. People are quietly (or more loudly, depending on who you talk to) wondering - what next? What will change next? What other assumption that I've made will be challenged?

I spent a few hours at CAJ today. I met with a couple of journalists who'll be writing for Japan Harvest, I had a pot-luck lunch with other staff families who are still around, I watched a movie with some kids at school (Despicable Me - so fun!) and I chatted with various others around campus. Some of it was fun, but at other times you could sense the tension under the surface.

We're all longing for things to get back to normal, but I wonder what 'normal' will be. What assumptions will I be able to make?

I've been wondering about a little about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I don't really know a lot about it, but with a brief search found the following useful quote (from here):
The traumatic events that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder are usually so overwhelming and frightening that they would upset anyone. Following a traumatic event, almost everyone experiences at least some of the symptoms of PTSD. When your sense of safety and trust are shattered, it’s normal to feel crazy, disconnected, or numb. It’s very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful or numb, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. These are normal reactions to abnormal events.
For most people, however, these symptoms are short-lived. They may last for several days or even weeks, but they gradually lift. But if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms don’t decrease.
It is reassuring to know that what we are experiencing are normal reactions.

I also found these list of symptoms here which I've either seen in myself or others have commented on them recently:
Symptoms of Increased Arousal
trouble falling or staying asleep
difficulty deciding anything
irritability
difficulty concentrating
outbursts of anger
spasms of grief
hypervigilance about safety
startle reactions
bodily reactions to triggers (e.g., sweating, nausea, trembling, pain, hyperventilation)
knot in stomach or headache
Here's a reminder to myself: it is not helpful to spiritualise my anxiety or upset emotions and feel guilty over them. These are normal human reactions. On the other hand I need to hand these things over to God whose promised peace beyond human understanding:

 Or as The Message puts it:
Philippians 4 6-7Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. 

Over the last 13 days I've swung between worry and peace, probably a pretty average reaction. And we've really only had a small taste of disaster here. I cannot imagine the anxiety and stress which people closer to the devastation much be experiencing. Back to praying for them (and myself).

23 March, 2011

Today's modest achievements

Here's a glimpse of the pseudo-homeschooling that I mentioned back here. Someone gave us a small electronics kit called Snap Circuits (see on the right). The boys have had fun playing around with circuits on it (my dad would be proud, he's been an electrical contractor for a long time). Today the boys have also been doing maths online, reading, writing responses to their reading and colouring in (5 y.o.). I've continued to read the Narnia books to them, something I was doing anyway, even before the recent events.
The book our 8 y.o. read and reported on today.
Here is our white-board timetable which we've been updating daily. The school has offered open times where there are skeleton staff available. You can see here that today the Art room was open for three hours and kids were able to drop in and do various projects. The library was open for borrowing. But kids were also using the computers (families with several children are quite pushed at this time with much demand on computers to do online maths and other activities) and there were adults quietly working, some teachers, some parents.
Each of the school division were given an hour to play in the gym. Our elementary-aged boys played indoor soccer. Our middle school son played basketball. Very necessary physical outlets. I feel sorry for those who live too far away to take advantage of these times.

Wednesday is also the day the school usually has chapel for older students. Today they held an open, relatively unstructured chapel, mostly singing. Unfortunately it was very late (12.15pm) and a struggle for our hungry boys to manage before lunch. But we did appreciate attending as a family and focusing our eyes on God in the midst of our less-than-normal circumstances.

Even this tiny semblance of normality will end after tomorrow as the school goes into its scheduled Spring Break. We're sure we had a whole lot of things we were going to do in Spring Break, but we can hardly remember what they were any more!
 
As has been my common habit during the last 12 days, I went shopping. The shops are getting less depressing and generally have more in them. Two shops later and I had everything on my list. Not all the shelves are filled and there are still conspicuous things short in supply like yoghurt, rice and milk. Different things were difficult to get in different shops, strangely enough. Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, for which I am very thankful. It is amazing how a situation like we've just gone through makes you thankful for things that previously you took somewhat for granted!

Believe it or not, our suburb hosts a flour mill. David went and got 5kg of bread flour and 5 kg of cake flour. So even though the shops are short on bread, we should be self-sufficient for bread for a while to come (we have a bread maker)!

Non-illuminated sign.
This evening I decided to take a night off cooking and we headed out to Maccas (translation = McDonalds) for tea (translation = evening meal). All good until dessert time. The much anticipated ice-cream wasn't in stock. What I said about dairy products is true at Maccas too!

Lights out.
So we wandered down the road to the 100 yen convenience store and bought some ice-creams there. I snapped a couple of photos to show you something of the effort Japanese are making towards energy conservation. You can see the usually illuminated sign outside the shop is not illuminated and many of the internal lights are not being used either.

This morning I checked the preview of my report for our mission's magazine, East Asia's Millions, and gave them the okay to print it. It is also going to be used on two OMF websites and in a report our director is making to our IHQ in Singapore. Wow, did I ever question whether God could use me as a writer?

I also met with the Japan Harvest Managing Editor to ask some more questions and check that I was headed in the right direction. That was a reassuring meeting and I continue to move headlong in an adventure I feel pretty unprepared for! However, God is providing stories, writers and editors in an amazing way. So not only do I feel as though I'm putting together other people's stories, I feel as though the whole magazine coming together will be a God-honouring story in itself. God loves to work through the weak, doesn't He? Reminds me of the Gideon story with the 300 defeating a whole massive army.

Well, that is today's modest achievements. School will taper down after tomorrow and we'll have to make some plans for recreation for the week afterwards. Because once that week is over it is a hard 10 week slog until early June when summer holidays begin.

Today was cold. Under 10 degrees here in Tokyo. We spent the morning in an unheated school and came home pretty chilly, but were thankful for our kerosene heater with oil in it. Tonight I'm remembering those who don't have enough clothing, food or heating tonight. And praying that they'll get the help they need quickly. Also praying that we get a warm change coming through soon.

22 March, 2011

What am I thinking about?

I'm thinking about the Australian who asked me if I was in denial. My blog has portrayed such a different image to the general media in Australia that someone asked me (tongue in cheek) if I were in denial. No, not in denial. I'm keeping up with the news and filtering out the extreme stuff. I'm also dealing with the reality that life continues. That I have to provide food and shelter and clothing and security for my kids. So I'm doing what the majority of Tokyo is doing, carrying on as normally as possible. Actually that is important. Not everyone can rush to the scene of the disaster - that would be a fourth disaster!

Safe is a relative concept. I've been thinking that we convince ourselves that certain places and behaviours are safer than others. In coming to Japan, it was considered a safer mission field than others. But is it really? This last fortnight suggests that is a false assumption. An American said to me on Sunday, "You know, I could evacuate to California and it could fall into the sea. Or I could be hit by a bus on the way out of the airport." How true! We surround ourselves with comfort in the wealthy first world and pretend that we're masters of our own destinies, but it is so not true.

I'm thinking about "hope". As I put together this magazine, we want an overall theme of "Hope". The media in general has portrayed great and massive devastation - to a point of it all seeming not real any more. They've skewed things and put a huge emphasis on the nuclear issues when the reality is that more than 20 000 people have died from the tsunami and people are suffering for lack of basic essentials, and the relief of this is complicated by the media's hysteria. There have been some hopeful stories like the rescue of the 80 year old grandmother and her grandson, but those stories are thin on the ground. Therefore I'm thinking about hope. And how that we as Christians have something no one else can give to those who are suffering. We can feed them, provide all their needs and even rebuild their homes, but without hope we've not given them much. Think about it - it is like putting a bandaid on a broken leg. Another earthquake and tsunami could come and destroy their lives again. They could be run over by a bus! Without eternal hope, we haven't given them much at all.

I'm thinking that I need to get some dinner on the table or we'll have our own nasty family disaster happening! I'm thinking I hope it stops raining and warms up tomorrow. I'm thinking that I hope everything settles down soon and the boys can get back to school on the 4th of April. I'm thinking that I hope I get as good a sleep tonight as I did last night.

I'm thinking of all those who don't know if their loved ones are dead or not. I'm thinking about those who know they are, but are so consumed with daily living right now that they cannot grieve. And I'm thinking of the OMF missionaries who arrived this morning on Honshu from Hokkaido with the makings of a Soup Kitchen to work with one of the pastors in a badly affected local community.

21 March, 2011

Our "new normal" day

We're coming to the end of another day. A day of juggling three boys, pseudo-homeschooling, two computers and two part-time jobs. A grey, rainy, chilly day. Another day where we had very little framework to hang our day on. I guess that has been a constant of the last ten days. Almost nothing in fixed in our diaries, and yet things that needed getting done. Something like summer holidays, except a feeling like we should be accomplishing things. 

I write "pseudo-homeschooling" because for the most part it is only an attempt at home schooling. We don't have a curriculum. We have few things that really need doing. It is more like filling the days with educational-value activities, than a real attempt at schooling. The trickiest part is juggling computer usage. Many of the suggested activities involve computers attached to the internet, and with only two computers with that capability it truly can be a juggle with five people in the house. (Not to say that we aren't thankful for the blessing of actually having two computers.)

My job as household manager remains. So sourcing groceries, previously known as grocery shopping, remains. 'Sourcing' giving the impression that groceries that you are looking for are not necessarily in the places you think they'll be or in the first place you look. After yesterday's encounter with a petrol-station line, we're even more reluctant to use our car. Stories of people waiting 2 hours for 10 litres of petrol are pretty common, even here in Tokyo. For now we'll keep our car with its 3/4 full tank for emergencies only. So, that meant grocery shopping in the cold rain in full rain pants and jacket on my bike. Thankfully it wasn't too bad I didn't use gloves and my fingers didn't freeze off, but on this public holiday (Spring Equinox holiday) there were very few others out on their bikes.

So, it really is a "new normal" that we are operating under. Grocery shops are not back to normal. I haven't been able to find bread flour yet. Milk, bread and noodles are still in short supply. There remain conspicuous gaps on shelves. People don't seem to be panic buying, but perhaps it is the lack of fuel that is causing difficulties with delivery vehicles?

Today, with an assurance of almost no chance of a power outage, I've finally been able to use my slow cooker to cook up the very unusual spare ribs that I found before this all happened. I've never seen them before in Japan, so it will be a nice treat.

I haven't yet taken up the cleaning challenge that is building around me. The dust bunnies in the corners just haven't seemed all that important in comparison to all the other things going on recently. I guess I've got it coming. I'm dropping strong hints to the boys who merely raise their eyebrows or roll their eyes. 

The school had various "open" things going for the morning, but that still required a parent for supervision. David ended up taking them and toting his computer along, trying to fit in some curriculum planning (or other science department stuff that I don't understand) along the way.

I stayed home and got my three articles for our mission's international magazine finished. That is the first piece of on-demand journalism I've ever done. Must say I don't think I'm cut out for fast paced journalism! But it was nice to get that done, even if I felt as though there was so much more that I could have said, unfortunately with the deadline and word limit, I just couldn't.

Then I've continued making connections, sourcing stories and networking. I went into the CRASH command centre mid afternoon to have a meeting about the upcoming edition of Japan Harvest. I'm somewhat relieved as some of the responsibilities for the edition have been taken off my shoulders, but we're aiming even higher and wider now in quality and purpose, so in some ways I'm not totally relieved. There is a lot to be done in four weeks - our tentative "send-to-the-printer" date. I still feel a little bit like I'm a sixth grader doing university-level work. However I'm gradually making progress and have found another editor to help with the stories that I'm finding.

We received a phone call from our mission's home office, just checking that we were okay. It is great to feel cared for. That has been a real sense we've had from this whole affair - that people back home do care for us. Even in normal times we send lots of information back in the form of prayer/news letters, but because life is busy we often hear very little back, that is generally okay, but sometimes discouraging. It has been very encouraging to hear from so many who regularly read our news and pray.

I was encouraged to hear people at CRASH command centre talking about taking a day-off. We mostly took yesterday as our day-off. I still checked email, but didn't really pro-actively work. Today I feel somewhat refreshed. However people at the command centre are working about 11 hours a day, 6 1/2 days a week. It is a very busy, intense and frequently changing workplace. They are working hard to get things set-up and with so many people in need, I can understand the urgency. We also fear for people's ability to keep this pace up.

Well this has been a rambling kind-of post, thanks for sticking around. I hope I've given you some insight into our somewhat unusual days. 

Before I sign-off I want to remind you of those in Japan who have greater needs than ours. That there remains, according to a report I read this afternoon, something like 2.3 million Japanese without running water. Many are able to access water via a community tap (like a village well), but not where they are residing.

20 March, 2011

Unexpected emotions

This morning as David and I served in the Sunday School we were applauded because we haven't evacuated from Tokyo. We shook our heads, embarrassed at being singled out as something special.
 
I have been reading people's blogs, Facebook statuses and notes and talking to people. I cannot deny that there is some 'stay' vs 'go' divide out there in the foreign community in Japan. I have to admit that earlier in the week when I heard of friends evacuating I felt all sorts of negative emotions, mostly confusion and abandonment. Every time I heard of someone going or someone asked us if we were, I felt thrown into emotional confusion again. Were we making the right decision? Why were others deciding to go? At the same time as I was reassuring you all that we were fine, emotions were churning inside me.

You have to understand, the friends who have gone (temporarily) are not emotional, unstable crazies, they love Japan and the Japanese and are here because God called them here. They are not homesick new missionaries either. So I was very confused about why they'd gone.  I was possibly even somewhat judgemental in my heart regarding their decision.

Then I read something last night about the reason one mum and her children left for a time. It was because of accumulated stress. She's had a stressful time over the last couple of years and the stress of this last week has been too much. I can truly understand that. First the earthquake, then the not-knowing where her husband was for a few hours, then the constant after-shocks, then the food and fuel shortages and the promises of power outages and to top it all off the nuclear power station problems. It has stressed us all, but for this lady, the stress was too much and God has provided her with a place to go to recover from all of this. Praise God He has supplied her need.

Someone else earlier in the week called us courageous. Then today I read that someone felt the missionaries who hadn't left were feeling proud! It never occurred to me that our response to this disaster would produce such a range of emotions and opinions in other people.

It's made me examine my heart, but I cannot admit to being any of these things. I'm happy that our presence here encourages the Japanese. I'm embarrassed to be singled out as something special. I'm not particularly proud as a result of my decision. Actually our decision is as much a result of weakness as it is of judging the facts. I've been frank here in the past about our family and again, nothing of the facts we found convinced us that putting our boys through the stress of leaving was worth it. Honestly, it sounded more stressful to leave than to stay! That doesn't put me in the courageous category either. Especially when I sat and read the Voice of the Martyrs magazine this afternoon and read of people in Nigeria willing to say to a Muslim with a machete that they believe in Jesus. No, I'm not courageous.

But I am encouraged by this response from a Japanese Christian:

"Through missionaries who stay in Japan, we Christians are comforted, encouraged and strengthened by the camaraderie: by their courage that they are sharing in our future.  More than that, I believe through them, non-Christians Japanese will receive the love of Jesus, who came and identified with us, and who came to give His life so that sinful men are saved.

I am aware my opinion is one sided. I am in no way making judgement on those who evacuate. They must have gone through a very difficult time in making that decision. I am sure the Lord is pleased in whatever response His labourer gives to Him as he/she serves Him. I guess I am voicing my opinion because I believe God will use in a very special way those who stay, and stick to the end, or as far as they go. I hope this will be an encouragement to those who make that decision in response to Him."


I pray she is right.


19 March, 2011

Settling back to a something like normal

Today has to be the most normal things have felt since last Friday morning. 

I didn't sleep well, shouldn't have checked email just before going to bed - Note to self - don't do that again! It wasn't that I got bad email, it just started my head spinning again about getting this next edition of Japan Harvest out. I had a good reminder tonight when I did our 5 y.o.'s nightly devotions with him. He was up to a story that focused on "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13 I really needed to hear that. My husband was also a great reality check this morning. I came down to breakfast feeling as though I needed to achieve a whole world of things before lunch, but of course it wasn't true. He corrected my point of view and I got some balance back! Oh, and he cooked a scrumptious breakfast too. It is amazing how much better a day looks after breakfast.

Play area on the left, alas not a great photo.
The boys played beautifully for a while in their room, then, pretty predictably, they got ratty and we decided at about 11.15 to go out for a ramble. We went down to the flat place near the river - under five minutes walk from here. We kicked a soccer ball around and they explored the retaining walls (not the ones you see in the foreground of the photo, on the other side of the flat place between the spare ground and the houses). It was truly a beautiful day, we didn't need coats, gloves or scarves. In fact we needed sun hats and sunglasses! It got up to something like 20 degrees, we turned the heater off very early in the day.

After lunch I went to work on email and the internet, looking for stories, writers and so on. And made some good progress. Through the day I've managed to get two writers working on two different articles and getting the handle on another article that I'll be able to write myself. That makes a total of four articles up and running already.



Then I engaged in a different kind of productivity altogether. Baking. It is becoming a Saturday afternoon ritual - where I bake goods for lunchboxes and snacks for the week to come. Today I made brownies and chocolate Lego figures.
I washed up and made damper (an Australian non-yeast bread, something like soda bread) with, bacon and egg mini pies and veggies. One of the boys' favourite meals.

One of the joys of today was talking to David's mum on Skype and reassuring her we were okay. Also receiving an email from my parents saying they weren't worried about us. Missionaries and other expats here have been under a lot of pressure from home, brought about largely by the media. It has added an unnecessary level of stress to an already stressful week. I'm thankful we don't have that to deal with.

So you see, it was a thoroughly ordinary day. Such a balm to the soul. 

The only not-ordinary thing about it was that I am trawling through stories of horror and destruction. I guess in some ways an ordinary life at home helps me to distance myself somewhat from that, but that is somewhat necessary for a writer/editor to do. 

Tomorrow is Sunday again. We've been promised no power outages (unless there is an unexpected jump in power usage, which is unlikely on a Sunday). But better than that we get to worship our Lord who is truly the only unchanging, only reliable thing in this world (if I may call Him a "thing"). Truly He is worthy of our praise.

18 March, 2011

Day seven post earthquake

Today has felt a little more normal that previous days. Perhaps because I didn't have to go scavenging for groceries? Perhaps because it was Day Two of Marshall School and the boys were great? Perhaps because we're starting to get a little bit more predictability into our days? Perhaps because I got to go to the gym and we spent half the day at school?

It was a delight not to have to go anywhere this morning. Not to feel concerned because something like toilet paper was running out. I spent the morning researching for Japan Harvest articles and soliciting people to write for the magazine. In the same room, my husband and our three boys did school-like stuff.

Our 5 y.o. did some writing and reading. Then he did some spelling using an old CD-ROM from Australia.

Our 8 y.o. continued writing his "What happened after the earthquake" story. Then he typed it into the computer. We transferred it to my computer and he sent it off to a friend of ours who teaches in an international school in Cambodia. She read last night on this blog that he was writing this and sent me an email this morning saying she'd love to share it with her grade three class and get them to respond to him. This was my son's email to her:
Dear Ms.K,the earthquake was the biggest earthquake I ever experienced.I'm sending you the story you asked me to write attached to this email. It's OK to share it with your class. So they can know more to write back to me. I can't wait until all those letters! I hope you have a fun time reading this to your class and writing the letters.
Our 11 y.o. wrote a devotional that he was supposed to have done in Bible class today. It was his idea to type it up and send it to his teacher, with the request that she email it to everyone. He also spent time working on maths (with his own personal tutor: maths-teacher dad).

At lunch time I took our youngest to a rescheduled piano lesson at school and then headed to the gym. It seemed a strange thing to do, but actually it is helpful at times of stress to exercise. Good for my mental health. My family relies on me, I need to do what I can to look after myself. The gym had fewer people there than usual, but people didn't appear to be distressed (this can be deceptive in Japan, where they are very good at putting on the appearance that all is well).

I came back to school after the gym and had a picnic lunch with the family outside the gym. It was a pretty chilly day, but the beautiful clear blue skies made it lovely to be outside for a little while.

After that there were a series of "Open" events at school for those who live close enough. Open gym time, open art room time and open library. We ended up staying until 4pm, shuffling around between different activities. I carted my laptop around and continued my editorial work as I went (I'm practised at multi-tasking). It was a bit different, but surprisingly non-stressful. I know the boys appreciated being out of the house and being meaningfully occupied (and away from us for a little bit).

Someone asked me how we are emotionally - this was my written reply:

Emotionally this week has been a bit rough. Possibly the roughest thing is people asking us if we are evacuating or not. Other rough things has been having so much uncertainty, particularly early on. Practically everything we take for granted on our schedule was cancelled, not all at once but gradually, over a serious of days - everything that structures our lives - school, jobs, meetings, camps, school events etc. Even the ability to buy food when we needed it was challenged early in the week.

Regarding evacuation. OMF leaders in Japan continue to monitor the situation very closely. They continue to advise us that evacuation is not necessary at this point. This is partly what they said to us:
·   The Japanese government is not seeing the need to evacuate people beyond the 30 km radius around the nuclear reactor plant.
·   The British and American Embassies have sent a number of bulletins but while recommending that people consider moving they have not ordered citizens in the regions to leave.
·   We want to stand together with the Japanese at this crucial time
 The last point is particularly what we are feeling and have felt since this whole issue came to the fore earlier in the week.

My Facebook status today is this:
It's been one week since parts of Japan changed forever. Hard to believe. Has to rate as one of the strangest weeks of my life. Grateful for so many things, including being able to be here to make a small difference.
As I wrote last night, our thoughts are with those in evacuation centres. We've heard that more than 20 people have died in evacuation centres already. Essential supplies are getting through, but fuel is still a challenge to obtain. Continue to pray for the Japanese.



17 March, 2011

Day six post earthquake

This shelf was totally empty of paper products on Tuesday.
Well, we're still here, still in Tokyo. And the food situation seems to be improving. Today I was able to buy milk and toilet paper, albeit at different shops. It is amazing how cheerful it makes one to know that I have more than 12 spare rolls of that stuff in the cupboard!

My bike loaded with goods, including precious toilet paper!
Today was Day One of "Marshall School". I have to say we were a little bit disorganised and it didn't go all that smoothly. It didn't help that we were promised another power blackout mid-morning and that didn't occur. Or maybe that did help? Not sure. We just don't know what we can rely on happening. 

This is why we kept our old laptops - you can still play CD-ROMs on them!
I also didn't know what really was expected of me this morning. I went down to the command centre to help the Managing Editor of Japan Harvest. I thought I'd be doing something related to the magazine, but I ended up preparing a document to orientate new volunteers at the command centre. An important document when you consider that the place is very fluid - people coming and going all the time. 

It is incredible, actually, to be a small part of what is going on there. They have a huge vision - to have six or more "base camps" up near the site of the devastation - places where they can send truck loads of supplies for distribution and places where people can work out of to help with the clean-up and restoration work that needs doing. The first one was set up today. But to go with the huge vision is a huge amount of work. They've started this from basically nothing on Sunday. They have donations and offers to volunteer coming in constantly and are trying to process all of that at the same time as basically setting up a big organisation. Amazing to see it in process. Somewhat frustrating too, because there are so many inefficiencies that need to be smoothed out. That is what my boss at the magazine was trying to help with (typical missionary - he's picked up another "hat"). His brain was pretty scrambled and it made it difficult for him to give me things to do. 


Pre-dinner wresting. Watch those paper walls boys!
Anyway, I'd promised David I'd come home at lunch time to help with the boys. At this time of flux and change it is extra difficult to be their parents and we really need to support one another. The boys really appreciate predictability of routine and that is something that has been sorely lacking in the last six days. In fact today it looked a bit better because no big announcements were made. We'd suspected our middle son was particularly upset by the changes in how long the school would be closed for - and this evening when I finally got him to sit down and do some writing the first thing he wrote about was how long the school would be closed kept changing! He got really excited about writing and is looking forward to continuing the "What happened after the earthquake" story tomorrow. Sounds like a bit of a chip off the old block, doesn't it?

This afternoon David went off to school for a couple of hours to be available to any students who came in. Our 11 y.o. went gleefully to an "open art room" time for a couple of hours. He loves art. And while they were gone the other two played happily in their room while I sorted out the three articles I was writing for our mission's international magazine.

So schooling tomorrow will be better. Our eldest son has come up with a couple of ideas of things to do that will keep him busy for a while. Our youngest son still has things to finish from what the teacher sent out today. And in the afternoon I'll troop them all down for some art "therapy" at school.

Tomorrow will be somewhat similar, except that I'll be working mostly from home. Trying to pull together a magazine of stories related to the recent events is a mammoth task that sounds way beyond me, but it is similar to the task that faces those in the CRASH command centre. They've never done it before, but are trusting God to provide the strength.

Emotionally we're feeling a bit up and down. No predictability has been very difficult. David realised he's temporarily lost a role - that of full-time classroom teacher - and that has made him feel a bit rocky. We've had friends and colleagues temporarily head home or to another country. That is not easy. 
The number of daily visitors here have shot up since Friday.

Something I've been watching with amazement is the statistics on how many people visit this blog. It is kind-of nice that so many people are reading this, but I wish the circumstances were different.

Tonight is cold. It is supposed to drop below freezing here, which means even colder in the disaster zone. My heart goes out to those hundreds of thousands who don't have enough food in their tummies or enough warmth to help them sleep tonight and probably a heart-ache deep enough to sink any ordinary person into despair.

16 March, 2011

Day five post earthquake brings new challenges

Students spontaneously praying at CAJ today.
Another day, another challenge. Today we shuffled off to school for a refreshment of our library books. It is the first time the school's been open to students since Friday, but it was only the library that was open. It was good to see familiar faces, hear the stories and vent frustrations. Great to get new books too.

Especially when we got the news later in the day that school has now been cancelled until the end of next week after which is Spring Break - a week long. So we have no school now until the 4th of April. Such joy (tongue firmly in cheek)!

So tomorrow we start "Marshall school". All three boys after breakfast and morning jobs, we'll buckle down to some impromptu home-schooling. Thankfully because there is no school, my husband is also home, so I'm not winging it on my own, unlike many mums. The school is helping a little with some virtual schooling or distance ed-type things. So we'll see how we go. As I type David is writing some lists for the boys to work on.

This afternoon, after chasing the boys away to their rooms, I spent some time working on my articles for our mission's international magazine. Everyone is saying this - it is hard to concentrate. It feels a little like we have ADD, perhaps. Probably part of the stress of the situation, and the fact that it is hard to know what will come next. It is hard to predict anything and that rubs you a little raw on the inside.

At 4pm three other ladies from our mission came over and we prepared dinner for the folk working at the CRASH command centre down the road. I'm guessing we fed about 40 people tonight. That took up about four hours - the preparation, execution and clean-up. We were scrambling really. Scrambling to get all the ingredients, in a situation where you cannot be sure what you'll find in a shop. Scrambling to get about - public transport is still unreliable and this afternoon biking wasn't even very easy, we had a dust storm with strong winds. Scrambling to have the right equipment - our house is not equipped to cook for that many people, I simply don't have the large pots required. And scrambling to get it to them hot. The kitchen next to the room they are working in is a very tiny galley kitchen, with little bench (counter) space. But it all worked out in the end and everyone was fed.

I've also picked up some extra responsibilities with Japan Harvest, the magazine where I'm Associate Editor. Our upcoming issue is going to look a bit different now. I'm not sure, but it looks like I have a lot of work ahead of me in pulling together new articles of news that is just happening. I have no journalistic background, so this is a different area of writing to what I'm used to. Praying for God's wisdom and help, that's for sure. If you have journalistic skills or the ability to transcribe recorded information to typed and you have some time to spare - I'd love to hear from you. We want to capture some of the good news stories, stories that Christians and the church has to tell.

Therefore the family juggling act just got trickier. Two people working part-time jobs from home with three boys doing impromptu home-schooling sounds like it could be a potential disaster. Pray for wisdom to listen to each other and try to work together and not against one another.

We know you are getting lots of bad news about the nuclear situation here. Please do go and read this article that I posted earlier today. It gives a much clearer picture of the situation than the popular media is portraying. We really are too far away to be at risk, despite the news you're hearing. Someone put it this way: "At the current rate you would need to be exposed for about 33 hours (outdoors) to equal the amount absorbed by one chest x-ray."

So, again I say: We're well, a bit stressed and tired, but doing okay. Thank you again for your prayers. Thank you for your emails. But please, more than us, pray for the Japanese people. This has the potential to break down some of the barriers that this culture presents - particularly the pride that says, We're okay, we don't need help, we don't need the gospel. Pray for Japan.

Here is a way you can help

If you are wondering how to help Japan, here is a way. Our mission, OMF International, is working with this organisation, CRASH, to help Japanese effected by the recent disasters. One of the distinctiveness of the group is that they link closely with any local churches in striken areas. It is a joint effort involving not only missionaries, but Japanese churches and pastor too.

For those concerned by the nuclear "crisis" in Japan

This reasonable response comes from the British Embassy in Tokyo (remember that we live more than 250km from the site of concern):

I (Paul Atkinson, presumably a Brit here in Tokyo) have just returned from a conference call held at the British Embassy in Tokyo. The call was concerning the nuclear issue in Japan. The chief spokesman was Sir. John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, and he was joined by a number of qualified nuclear experts based in the UK. Their assessment of the current situation in Japan is as follows:

* In case of a 'reasonable worst case scenario' (defined as total meltdown of one reactor with subsequent radioactive explosion) an exclusion zone of 30 miles (50km) would be the maximum required to avoid affecting peoples' health. Even in a worse situation (loss of two or more reactors) it is unlikely that the damage would be significantly more than that caused by the loss of a single reactor.

* The current 20km exclusion zone is appropriate for the levels of radiation/risk currently experienced, and if the pouring of sea water can be maintained to cool the reactors, the likelihood of a major incident should be avoided. A further large quake with tsunami could lead to the suspension of the current cooling operations, leading to the above scenario.

* The bottom line is that these experts do not see there being a possibility of a health problem for residents in Tokyo. The radiation levels would need to be hundreds of times higher than current to cause the possibility for health issues, and that, in their opinion, is not going to happen (they were talking minimum levels affecting pregnant women and children - for normal adults the levels would need to be much higher still).

* The experts do not consider the wind direction to be material. They say Tokyo is too far away to be materially affected.

* If the pouring of water can be maintained the situation should be much improved after ten days, as the reactors' cores cool down.

* Information being provided by Japanese authorities is being independently monitored by a number of organisations and is deemed to be accurate, as far as measures of radioactivity levels are concerned.

* This is a very different situation from Chernobyl, where the reactor went into meltdown and the encasement, which exploded, was left to burn for weeks without any control. Even with Chernobyl, an exclusion zone of 30 miles would have been adequate to protect human health. The problem was that most people became sick from eating contaminated food, crops, milk and water in the region for years afterward, as no attempt was made to measure radioactivity levels in the food supply at that time or warn people of the dangers. The secrecy over the Chernobyl explosion is in contrast to the very public coverage of the Fukushima crisis.

* The Head of the British School asked if the school should remain closed. The answer was there is no need to close the school due to fears of radiation. There may well be other reasons - structural damage or possible new quakes - but the radiation fear is not supported by scientific measures, even for children.

* Regarding Iodine supplementation, the experts said this was only necessary for those who had inhaled quantities of radiation (those in the exclusion zone or workers on the site) or through consumption of contaminated food/water supplies. Long term consumption of iodine is, in any case, not healthy.

The discussion was surprisingly frank and to the point. The conclusion of the experts is that the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami, as well as the subsequent aftershocks, was much more of an issue than the fear of radiation sickness from the nuclear plants.

And here is an explanation of the radiation levels by a former CAJ student.

EXPLANATION OF RADIATION LEVELS:
- 0-250 millisieverts: no obvious effect
- 250-1000 millisieverts: temporary nausea, damage in blood cells, sterility among men
- 1000-3000 millisieverts: death is possible

Fukushima power plant: radiation dosage of up to 400 millisieverts (dangerous)

Tokyo (Shinjuku): highest level detected was 0.809 microsievert (10 am, 15th)
(in comparison, Chest X-Ray: 40 microsieverts are absorbed)

A microsievert is 1000 times less than 1 millisievert. Although the radiation has risen in the Kanto area and it's good to be cautious, it's also advisable to stay calm as it is not an immediate risk to human health.

Sources:
http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/docs/energy-good-bad.pdf
http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/docs/402-k-07-006.pdf
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sievert
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110315z2.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12307698

But keep praying!

15 March, 2011

Day four post earthquake

When I put the light out last night I wondered aloud what today would hold. Each day since Friday has produced a new challenge or a new variable, I wondered what today's would be.

The new one was a variation of the old - the trains weren't running at our end of the line. They stopped at a station closer to the city. Hence, our plan to go to a big park was modified (it involved trains) and instead we pulled out our bikes and had a family bike ride, which was good for all of us. This train uncertainty also prompted the school to pull the plug on school for the rest of the week.

I also had to tackle the shops today, something I've avoided ever since rumours of power cuts filtered down to us. With my husband home much of the day I was free to dash off straight after breakfast. Good thing I did. There were fruit and veggies and other useful items when I went. After I returned home I found out that my offer to help feed the people working at the CRASH command centre down the road had been taken up and we needed different grocery items, like chicken. So after lunch I went back to the same shop. These photos are what I found. Along with a number of bewildered shoppers who looked like they'd gotten out at the wrong stop.

I think there were two minute noodles and other quick meals.
Bread and cereal section.
Paper product aisle - toilet paper etc.
We have enough food, this is really more inconvenience than any big problem. Especially when there are people up north who are much worse off.

I've been seeking quieter moments to get my thoughts together to write the short articles I mentioned at the end of yesterday's blog post. That hasn't been easy, let me tell you. Not with three energetic boys in the house. Thankfully they spent a lot of time playing Lego and chess today.

Now I'd better go and ensure that the Shepherd's Pie I made earlier is warmed up and get it on the table for us. Oh, yes. They promised us power outages, but again they haven't materialised. The uncertainty is not fun, but at least I've had plenty to keep my hands from being idle.

Thank you for your prayers. Here is a place where you can find some specific prayer points.