31 July, 2011

Games afternoon

Don't look now, but our family have been playing "board" games for over an hour on a damp, cool Sunday afternoon. Shocking, don't you think? The age span of our kids is 6 years to 12 years and some challenging personalities has meant we've taken a while to really get into games in our family. 

But this afternoon we've played Scattergories, Racko and Creationary. With no major fallouts or time-outs. Happy times!

30 July, 2011

Wondering: what would Australians do?

I've learnt a new Japanese word, setsuden or "energy saving". With several nuclear power plants knocked out of action in March, the big concern was for how the country would cope with summer. Especially Tokyo. There has been plenty in the media and even in our mailbox about the lifestyle changes that will be enforced or recommended. Here's just one article: http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2011/06/20/saving-energy-changing-japan/ The threat being that if we use too much electricity they'll have to restart the rolling power cuts the city experienced in March.

The big concern with summer is, of course, air conditioners, which use enormous amounts of electricity. Thankfully the last couple of weeks have been relatively mild (mostly around 30 degrees Celsius or less). I've been wondering how the total usage of electricity has been going. A friend pointed me to this page (which is of course in Japanese): facebook.com/denkiinfo Apparently it is going really well, we'll see how if this continues as summer continues, August being the hottest month of the year.

I just see an interesting comparison here. Faced with this situation, most people are doing their best to conserve electricity – for the good of everyone. I wonder if Australians, or any Western nation would have the same level of voluntary self-control? I remember when the drought was going on in my native state, the government had to enact laws to make people use less water. Generally people seemed to resent the interference in their lives. Here? There seems to be a greater level of cooperation. Of course I have little in the way of proof, I'm just speculating, I guess. But I wonder . . . 

Sometimes Westerners wonder about the difference between a Group society and an Individual society – especially in such a western-looking society as Japan. I'm wondering if this is a classic example of the difference.

And I'm wondering, if you were faced with a similar situation, would you turn the air conditioner off in the middle of summer, as an act of helping out your city?

29 July, 2011

More camping thoughts

Time for contemplation
I have some other random thoughts about camping that didn't make it into yesterday's summary.

It was great to see Japanese families out camping together. It is easy to generalise about how bad a state Japanese families are and how bad fathers are at being with their families. It was, therefore, really lovely to see dads out camping with their families.

We had two older guys camping on the next plot to ours. They did little else except talk! From dawn to past dusk. A short silence while they fell asleep, then they snored! But it occurred to me as I lay in the tent that the noise wasn't much more than at home in Tokyo. Actually we don't hear much of the neighbours here, despite being only centimetres from houses on both sides. In summer with all the windows open our bedroom is the place when we hear the most noise at night-time. Often we hear conversations and occasionally an older lady going off about something! Usually at about 9.45 we hear a man blowing his nose very loudly, probably in the bathroom.

It was very satisfying seeing our most conservative child relax and enjoy camping. He doesn't cope with new experiences easily. On this occasion his biggest beef was the insects, but that faded as the time went on. Actually you could tell we have city kids who don't have a backyard to play in. As soon as the tent went up they were inside. They weren't really sure what to do with "the great outdoors" that surrounded them. Again, that improved a little over the two days. We're hoping that next time they'll be even more bold in exploring and enjoying the outdoors.

Next time it won't be as new an experience, the boys (and their parents) will know more of what to expect and we'll be starting to establish a routine. Our kids are always easier to handle when they're in a routine and not confronting different experiences. I know they are already looking forward to the BBQ and cooking marshmallows and Doughboys again! 

This is what I slept on!
I'm know I'm looking forward to it, we just need to find me a more comfortable sleeping mattress. Just a plain old air-bed would do, but we haven't found a single single air-bed yet!

28 July, 2011

Our camping adventure

I was amazed at how small our pile of gear was.
Our camping adventure went very well. We've looked forward to it for so long, and it is terribly satisfying to have actually achieved it!

The location was amazing. Not crowded at all, like some people were worried about. But as soon as you get out of the built up areas, Japan is basically not horizontal. Neither was our camp site. Almost the only level things were where our tent was pitched, the bridges and where buildings, like the toilets and showers were. All of these locations were connected by significant gradients. So, to go anywhere, you had to walk up or down! There was a stream close by our tent site (down a steep hill), so we had the wonderful sound of rushing water. And rushing it was – down the mountain!

We were surprised to find each tenting site equipped with a table and benches.
We arrived on Monday after lunch. And spent the afternoon setting up camp and then exploring the stream. After that the fun of outdoor cooking, getting through showers and settling the boys down to bed. The showers were amazingly clean. There was even a bathmat! The showers were Japanese style: a communal change area (separate for men and women) then separate cubicles for the actual shower.
Setting up the tent. We put a verandah where David is standing, but I forgot to take a picture of that.

On Tuesday we went for a wander up the mountain. Except it turned into a three hour hike through the most scenic forest. We went up and up and up. Till we (mostly my 6 y.o. and I) begged for mercy (before we got to the "pass" we were aiming for). 

On the way back down mountain we stopped at a couple of bridges over particularly deep parts of the stream. The boys loved it that we said it was okay to toss rocks in. It soon became anything large enough to carry  – i.e. small boulders! When we asked the boys later, they all said that was one of their favourite parts of the three days away!


Onwards and upwards!

Searching for rocks to toss.


By the time we got back to camp we were all exhausted. My toes even hurt. So we hung about camp until after lunch and then wandered down the mountain, via a rather steep (up and down) non-short-cut that David persuaded us to take. But I have to admit it was scenic. In this photo you get a glimpse of the mountains were were traipsing up and down.

Our reward was getting down to the lake, which isn't really a lake, but a dam. The dam that supplies about 20% of Tokyo's water. The sides are steep and you cannot swim in it, but we could paddle in the feeding stream (the one that rushed past our tent and that we'd followed all morning). The water was very chilly, but the boys had a wonderful time shifting rocks around and shooting each other with water guns.

Playing in the stream.
The stream not long before it joins the lake/dam.
 













Another highlight for the boys happened later. We finally managed to get some coals going in our little Japanese BBQ (we've got to work on our fire making skills a little). And after hot dogs toasted marshmallows and damper-on-sticks (called Twisties or Doughboys according to my recipe book). Delicious!

The weather was almost perfect. Warm enough during the day to get sweaty and enjoy playing in the stream and cool enough at night to enjoy snuggling into your sleeping bag. It was fine until the very last minute. It was drizzling on and off when woke up on Wednesday morning, the morning we had to pack up and leave by 10am (park rules). But not drizzling so hard that we needed wet weather gear. We just folded the damp tent up and brought it home to boiling Tokyo and hung the tent over our washing poles on the second floor verandah.

Almost the only negative thing about the whole experience for me was the mattress. We borrowed some thin air mattresses (the kind you take hiking, because they are very light and require almost no pumping). But they were a little too thin for me. I struggled to get to sleep.

Last night my "list making" middle son gave me his "top five" from camp, so I asked everyone else what theirs were. The boys mostly mentioned the rock tossing, cooking over the BBQ, running around with torches at night and sleeping in a tent. David and I majored more on the satisfaction of accomplishment, the beauty and the joy at being away from all that usually claimed us (except the kids, that is). Our phones didn't even work up there.

We'll definitely be heading back to this camp site at Okutama Lake again. It only cost 700 yen a night (something like AU$7) and was very well appointed (they even supplied dish washing detergent). Also, it only took us three hours to get there, with a lunch break, so it isn't far from here. Very doable.

I'm looking forward to our next camping adventure – in about 10 days time we're taking another two nights away at a different camp site, but similar area.

27 July, 2011

I don't feel so bad after reading this

I love this post from a mother of five boys and now a little girl: All My Children. The author's also written a book. Makes a mother of boys feel as that her parenting isn't as bad as she assumed.

26 July, 2011

More questions from Deb.

Our former street. So neat!
The final questions from Deb. I answered her earlier ones yesterday.
I remember a blog post about even the concrete in front of your house being something Japanese people take pride in keeping spotless. Do you think that's because so many people in such a small space requires such courtesy? Are the Japanese people very neat generally - desks, houses, clothing etc.? Is it hard to adjust to that when Aussies are so laid-back generally?
 Japanese are fairly neat. But especially in places that are on public display. It is about appearances in many ways. So the front of the house and the entry way are tidy. After that, they are probably as messy as the average Australian. Except as you've already pointed out, it is hard to be too messy in small housing.

I think that generally things have a place and Japanese want to know what that place is, so that they aren't in someone else's way. This is how they manage to get along without major difficulties. You are always on the alert for being in someone else's way. This bothered me tremendously when I first came to Tokyo. I felt like I was such a bother to everyone else, even just stopping to look at the vegetable/fruit section I could get in someone's way. Even when you take your car out, you need to know where you are going to put it when you get to your destination, not just assume that there'll be somewhere to park. A common question from a potential guest: "Is there somewhere to park our car or should we ride our bikes or come by train (depending on where they're coming from)?"

You do get used to great courtesy here. In public places you are often treated by 'official people' very courteously. For example, when you come to road work or even someone in a cherry picker up a pole, there is always at least one person directing traffic or looking out for pedestrians and cyclists. When in Australia '09-'10 I cycled a few times in our suburb. Once I came across some roadwork that included the footpath. It wasn't clear where I should cycle to get through the area, and the road workers paid me no attention at all. I felt un-looked-after.

There are more rules here, though, than Australians are used to. That is hard for Australians to cope with. We've gotten used to a lot of the rules, but some still bother us. It makes the Japanese feel something like comfortable, though, like they know what is expected and then can do them without fear of making a mistake. And even though they don't understand why some of the rules are in place, they just do them. One of the first response our Australian visitors had to many rules we told them was "Why?" Such an Australian (?Western) response.


Thanks Deb, for your insightful questions. I hope that I've managed to go some way towards answering them. 

Anyone else out there got burning questions? 

25 July, 2011

A few questions from Deb

Deb L. left this comment full of questions on a blog post a week or two back. I thought that I'd answer her questions and leave this post to publish while we're away camping.
So, Wendy, I've been thinking about you in Japan lately and I've got three questions for you.

Is it easier or harder to keep a small Japanese house tidy? I'm thinking "easier" because it's smaller so there's less to worry about and "harder" because it's smaller so there's less room to find homes for all the stuff a modern family tends to accumulate.
It is probably easier in many respects. My visitor was lamenting her large house and the cleaning and tidying it requires. Because we have a small house most things have a place and we manage pretty well to replace things in their place. 

When the boys were younger they would bring lots of toys downstairs from their bedroom to play in the lounge room. We made it a rule that when going up to bed, the lounge room was tidied (we usually did it all together) and all the toys that belonged upstairs were returned. It was a very manageable rule that didn't take much time to accomplish and kept the lounge looking tidy. I was amazed to hear from Australian friends at that time, how difficult they found getting the kids to tidy up. It was only after I returned to Australia one time that I realised how far toys spread in a large house. Because we have limited space, less toys get out and there is less spread. We also used to limit the number of "large" toys boxes that were opened. For example, if all the trains were out, they had to be packed away before the cooking toys came out. This was only because of our small space.

Another way that a small house makes it easier is that we think carefully about what we buy and also what we keep. We regularly get rid of stuff that we aren't using because we simply don't have room for it. So my kitchen is not full of a bunch of appliances and extra dishes and pots that I rarely use. Only stuff that is regularly used is retained. It also helps that we know we have to store all this "stuff" for a year while we're away on our next year in Australia. That is a great deterrent! As is the knowledge that one day we'll return permanently to Australia and most of the stuff we have here, we'll not be able to take with us. We are not looking to buy stuff that we'll pass on to our grandchildren or furnish our retirement home with!


It's winter here in Melbourne and we are have a had a cold spell over the school holidays that has pushed us inside most of the time. You have such a small space to keep active boys in. Tips? What's worked well for inside spaces?
Tips? Here's a few:
  • Go out, even when you don't want to. Even just a short half an hour outside can help. Rug up if it is cold. Take wet weather gear if it is rainy. Take water bottles if it is hot (and seek shade). Take snowy gear if it is snowing and have fun! 
  • Ration "out" days. In a long stretch of holidays, take a day at home every second day, sandwiched between "out" days.
  • Cold weather won't kill kids. It'll make the adults more uncomfortable first! Two of our sons went to kindergarten here where the uniform, year round, was shorts. It gets down to single figures for a few months. The kids would all want to play after kindergarten for ages. All the parents were huddled and fully dressed and these crazy kids were running around in shorts (granted most had tights underneath).
  • Ensure that you have lots of crafty stuff available. Origami, colouring-in, tape, crayons, scissors, water paints, a useful box. Don't assume boys won't like this stuff.
  • Invest in toys that absorb kids and foster their creativity like Lego.
  • SQUIRT time has kept our sanity intact. I've written about it in other posts. An hour of quiet time (potentially reading) on the bed after lunch is vital for everyone. 
  • I keep TV for desperate times. Usually in the hour before lunch and dinner. I've noticed that my kids are a bit crazy straight after the TV goes off, so moving straight to a meal really helps. The 'before tea' one helps with meal preparation too, especially if there are no other adults around.
  • Enforce a rule called "using an inside voice". It keeps the noise level down.
  • Visit the library regularly. This is a good extreme weather excursion. Plus it provides fresh books in the house for entertainment.
Is that enough?

This has turned into a long post. I'll put my answers to her final questions tomorrow.

24 July, 2011

The "I can't waits"

Anyone else out there struggle with children who cannot control themselves when they "can't wait" for something? We usually have a fairly stressful December for this very reason.

Right now we have a bad case of the "I can't waits" (with less than 24 hours till we take of camping) and a chronic case of boredom. Bad combo!

One of our boys is particularly bad with boredom. It is unfortunate that he is the one for whom we couldn't find a summer program at the right time.To alleviate his boredom he resorts to inappropriate "entertaining". "Poking" and physically bothering others even when they tell him not to and often in sensitive spots. And generally wearing a very "I'm hard done by" attitude, with no initiate to seek more constructive ways to alleviate the boredom.

Another child tends to swing between extreme and inappropriate silliness and the sullen, stubborn grumps.

The third child ends up being a victim of the other two and acts the part very well.

Makes for a very unhappy family. The last couple of weeks we've hunkered down while my husband finished off an assignment and two of the boys did week-long tennis schools. Therefore I didn't plan much to do with the kids mid-week. My mistake. Now I'm paying for it. Actually we're all paying for it.

If we make it through the anticipation, packing up and driving bit tomorrow, I'm hoping that camping as a family will help to rectify the error. Eleven weeks is a long time to have these guys home, especially a 12 y.o.. I'm not terribly happy.

But I "can't wait" until we're out in the "bush" tomorrow. I've been looking forward to it for a long time . . . if only the boys would find some maturity and self-control and not wreck the experience. I'm praying.

23 July, 2011

How hard can it be to get a conversation going?

Last night we had some friends over for dinner. Friends who have two daughters. Actually, one of the daughters had lunch here earlier in the week and prompted this post. The dad is one of the most talkative men I think I've ever met. So it was interesting to see him interact with our boys and try to get some conversation out of them.

The easiest hits were the disgusting ones, like snot and toilet humour. Also sharing favourite jokes worked pretty well.

Harder were other attempts at conversation. The most memorable being this question, which he threw at our 12 y.o.:

"Tell me how your parents met."

Our son ummed and ahhhed. He had no idea. One of his brothers suggested we were at school together, but that isn't true (the truth is university, actually). So I threw a clue at them. I suggested that he could tell them the country where we first got to know each other well. Well, he knows a lot of countries and guessed and guessed and guessed . . . but he never guessed the right one: Indonesia.

It isn't that we are reluctant to talk about our romance or past, but who wants to hear? I suggested later as I said goodnight to our eldest, that when we are camping next week would be a good opportunity for us to tell them The Story. He quickly declined!

After that failure, our sole visiting incorrigible male asked, "What do you guys usually talk about at meals?" Well, that is just it. We struggle to get any decent kind of conversation going at all. Occasionally they surprise us, but usually not.

Tonight David was at the store a little late, getting last minute camping essentials (like a table), so I started dinner without him. I tried to get the boys to talk about what different things we'll have to do to get the campsite set-up. They offered a couple of useful suggestions, but within a couple of minutes of asking the question they were off down the path of, "We'll have to build a toilet . . . " Which I pointed out, wasn't true (the campsite has toilets and showers). But that didn't deter them, they were off down their favourite silly path of conversation and wouldn't easily turn back.

So I turned to my usual trick for helping them get through a meal without us fighting the whole way to have appropriate conversation. I picked up the Famous Five book and read the next two chapters.

One day . . . I live in hope!

22 July, 2011

Mutually satisfying activities

Today is the last official contact with school that any of our kids will have until the 25th of August. We've done six weeks of holidays, five weeks to go. The "bored" end of holidays. The good news is that my husband turns his last assignment in for his first semester subject today. So we have his full attention for a little while (before he starts the ramp up to starting a new school year).

But I wanted to tell you some more detail about the sewing we've been doing. On a whim, I picked up this book at the library when we were checking out our summer books.

Truly, it was wishful thinking. I really didn't think that we'd end up using the book . . . but it has proved to be unexpectedly useful these last couple of days. This is a really well put together book. Not just sewing projects, but a whole package – teaching kids the technical things about sewing (including machine part names) intermingled with fun and ending in some fun projects. I haven't majored on teaching them much about the technical stuff, but they have enjoyed some of the cool activities like mazes, puzzles and paths to follow with the machine. (So thankful that when we bought a new printer last year, we bought one that could photocopy too!)
 
These two pages are done with the sewing machine. Even my 6 y.o. was able to do the "mountain climbing" with an unthreaded machine.

It has non-sewing machine activities like word searches and cross words too.

And I've made progress on a pair of shorts for our most needy child. Unfortunately the only pattern I have is size 12 women's. But shorts are shorts, right? All I have to do it cut them down a little bit. We're not aiming for beautiful here, just functional. 

While I cannot do as much writing, editing or email composition like I normally do when they're at school, I can do a manual activity like sewing. They like it that I'm there with them. I like it that what I'm doing is not being interrupted constantly because it doesn't take as much thought. Ah, mutual satisfaction.

Next week: camping! Hopefully another mutually satisfying activity.

 


21 July, 2011

What are you doing on your summer holidays?

It is quiet just now, so I'm taking the time to write. Amazing how much less quiet time I have now that the boys are at home! Actually, not that amazing, really. (As soon as I wrote this paragraph, the noise began again, oh well.)

Here's a few things we've been doing.

Day tennis camp 
Last week for our 6 y.o. (one hour a day) and this week for our 8 y.o. (three hours a day). This has helped the dynamics at home, one less boy for a while helps!

Memorisation
Unfortunately there wasn't a summer program item that interested our eldest son at the right time (i.e. when we weren't away with our friends or at conference). So he is a little bored. He started the 11 weeks with goals and plans, but many of them are falling by the wayside out of a lack of motivation to do the hard-yards to achieve his goals. One thing he is finally getting into is the PTA Scripture Memorisation challenge. Each summer the PTA offers a reward of 10, 000 yen (around $100 AU dollars) for every student who can memorise a certain passage of scripture about 100 verses long. Last year it was 1 Peter and this year 1 John. You would have thought the monetary reward would be enough extrinsic motivation, but apparently not. He is awesome at memorisation, but we've had to instigate a daily reward (non-monetary) to motivate him and he's puttering in the right direction now. As for the goal of pre-season training for cross-country. He's a lot behind. But I have to admit I have a quite a lot of sympathy as it has been so hot. But on the other hand, this boy has to move, and sometimes we are throwing him out of the house telling him to run so that we can stay sane.

Baking 
Somehow they eat more when they are on holidays. Maybe it is out of boredom? At school there is always too much else to do than eat. Unfortunately, up until yesterday it really was too hot to bake, but I did it anyway! We're in the middle of a short cool change with a typhoon heading up from the south. Most grateful! 

I've fallen in love with these paper baking papers. Cath sent them to me from Australia. Not only are they gorgeous, there is less washing up (also tough in the heat). These banana muffins I topped with lemon cream cheese icing and they didn't last long!

Sewing 
Yesterday I pulled my sewing machine out. It's been more than two years since I saw it! This year my 12 y.o. did home economics for a term, so he know knows how to use it. It was fun seeing him explore my machine and explain it to his brothers. Their interest in this machine was fascinating. As a friend pointed out, it has moving parts, sharp bits, makes noise and you can "drive" it. Of course boys would be interested! This has helped a little on the 'boredom' front that I mentioned earlier.
 
Of course my idealistic self would love to do a simple project with each boy on the sewing machine. I'd like to make some shorts for each of them and myself too, but will it happen? Probably not. The whole idea of trying to do a sewing project with three boys hanging over my shoulder sounds prone to disaster. I only managed to cook with them because I am so familiar with the recipes I'm using. Sewing, however, is a different matter. I'm a competent sewer, but not so good as I could do it in my sleep. It takes a fair bit of concentration on details. Something that I find myself particularly lacking when the boys are all home from school.

Reading
Lots of reading, as usual on holidays. Every afternoon after lunch we have an enforced SQUIRT time. Supposedly: Super Quiet Uninterrupted Individual Reading Time. Some days we get closer to the ideal than others. It is a recharging time for parents and kids alike. A necessary break from interacting with one another.

Another thing we've been doing as a family is introducing them to a childhood favourite. Enid Blyton. I've been reading the first of her Famous Five books, Five on a Treasure IslandIt's been a fun adventure into literature that is "old" enough to not be attractive to the boys to read on their own, but the story is still interesting enough to hold them when they are forced to. Actually I "force" them no longer, they are now being held captive by the story itself.


Well, that is enough for one post. I need to get and pull together some lunch for these kids. Wow, feeding them every two or three hours; it gets tired after a while!

20 July, 2011

Be aware girls: our house is full of boys

One of the interesting quirks of having a singe-sex brood of children is when you have adult friends who have children of the opposite sex. It seems that a number of my good friends have only girls. This is all very fine when we are chatting while they are all playing in the playground at school or church, but as soon as you bring friends like this into your house you have challenges!
Two 6 y.o.s play together. Girl and boy.

Yesterday we took care of a friend's daughter for a couple of hours. She is a classmate of our 8 y.o. middle son. They are both doing a day tennis school in the mornings this week at school. Our son bravely accompanied his classmate home (I daren't call her his friend). Then it got a little bit awkward. Usually when a boy enters our house, unless he is exceptionally shy, he immediately gets snapped up by the overwhelming boy-ness of our house and will be playing cars or Lego or shooting or some other very boy-like game. A girl, I'm discovering, is a different kettle of fish.

I guess she was probably expecting me to ask her about her morning, but I've learned not to do that with my boys. They cope much better if I ask them later or wait for it to come out later, but not immediately upon entering the house. She drifted in and around and no one knew what to do with . . . a girl!?! Eventually I asked my middle son to give her a tour of the house seeing as she'd never been here before. For the boys, that inevitably leads straight to the play centre of the house – their bedroom. After that I didn't see them for a while, so I presume they found something to do upstairs.

Then came lunch. The silence was awkward. So I slipped into my default mode – conversation stimulator. I asked our guest what she likes to do when she's on holidays (US=vacation). She gave us a lovely description of her and her sister's dolls and the three cars that she owns (stipulating that the Barbies have to lie down in the bus). This recitation predictably received no response from the boys. So I asked our middle son what he likes to do on holidays. He said "Toshimaen", which is a somewhat ancient amusement and water park that we've bought season tickets for this year. He also stated, "Lego" . . . still we had no interaction going on. The atmosphere was as stilted as a formal dinner party!

Eventually our guest mentioned that she'd seen the movie "Despicable Me" recently. Well, that was the key that opened the door. The rest of the meal consisted of everyone sharing memorable scenes and quotes. 

Phew!!! 

By contrast, the daughter of our visitors a couple of weeks ago had no hesitation in interacting. She has a brother. But she also has quite a dominant personality. A born leader – she talked, whether or not anyone was listening, she organised and planned. That's not to say she didn't have challenges in interacting with our overwhelmingly boy-household. Our six-year-old sometimes was happy to comply with her plans and enjoyed her company. At other times he withdrew and complained that she was "bossy". He also had periodic doubts about whether boys should be playing with girls at all.

It is an interesting experience watching these kids interact. As a friend has said, "Your boys are such Boy boys, Wendy." Yes, it is true. Nothing much subtle about them at all. It must be a bit intimidating for a girl to enter into their "lair", the place where they are most comfortable.

I grew up in a girl-household. Three girls, Mum and Dad. Poor Dad was quite out-numbered and certainly out-talked. I remember the odd occasion when a boy turned up. It WAS awkward. But then I wasn't a very girly-girl; so we'd ride bikes, dig in the sandpit or jump on the trampoline. At least that is my memory of it, so it is probably faulty.

What are your experiences of single-sex-children families encountering the opposite sex?

19 July, 2011

One year anniversary

This is now our bedroom.
Last week I missed an anniversary here. The one year anniversary of moving into this house! We remain so thankful for the convenient location of this house. It is fantastic. It is also just the right size for us. With room for visitors on occasion too!

If you want to, you could look back at a couple of posts around the time we moved in last year here and here. But I've replicated my favourite embarrassing story of the move here:
My first grocery shop was the first day we arrived in our house. Of course - there was absolutely nothing besides our water bottles in our marvellous fridge. Especially nothing for breakfast the next day. Thankfully I'm already fairly familiar with the area and didn't have much trouble finding the shop I wanted. It was not much trouble shopping, either, because it is a smallish shop of a chain that I shopped at two or three times a week for four years, so I know what they stock (very unlike Woolworths or Coles in Australia). There is very little choice of brand, but that is fine - I get through fast!

The trouble came when I got to the cash register and realised that in Japan you pay in cash, not with your plastic card (as I always did for the groceries in Australia). And I only had 7 000 yen on me (less than AU$100. So, red-faced, I explained in a halting-just-returned-from-a-year-without-speaking-Japanese way that I had to go and get some money. He was very kind and held aside the rest of the groceries while I rushed home with what I'd managed to buy and asked my husband for more from his wallet (Japanese ATMs are still too scary for me).

In my rush I had to try and find our house. I got close. Our neighbour's houses all look pretty similar to ours. They're all close to the road, close to each other and have covered garages next to the front doors. With my car blocking half the narrow street, I climbed out and dashed into the most likely door (which was unlocked) - shouting, "David, where's your wallet?" Too late I saw that the entry hall was not jammed with boxes...I left as fast as I could. I still haven't met our neighbour (coming up soon - another Japanese custom we must adhere to). I don't know if anyone heard me or not. I hope not.

Too many embarrassments for one afternoon! It is a good thing that someone brought us some pizza for dinner. 
To this day I don't know whether our elderly neighbours know about that "house invasion". These are the same neighbours who have given us advice about gardening and gutter sweeping. The wife occasionally sweeps our gutters when we don't get around to it fast enough and are always amazed when I have one or more of the boys helping me sweep.

But again, I have to say how thankful we are to be able to live here. We hope we'll be able to live here a lot longer! Just today we had to clear out the top of our china cabinet so that it could be shifted temporarily so that a new air conditioning unit can be installed (to replace a geriatric one). Just the removal of those things threw me back to bad memories of moving. But for now we don't have to think of moving and I am so thankful!

18 July, 2011

Back to Bach

 J. S. Bach is one of those historical figures that is common name, yet few people know much about him. He is widely known for his compositions. Less well known is that he was an incredibly prolific composer. And probably an even smaller number of people know how deeply he loved to serve his God with his amazing gifts.

This book is a short biography of Johann Sebastian Bach, written from a Christian perspective.
 
It has been a long time since I studied Bach. Yes, back in high school I did, while studying for music exams. I played a number of his compositions too. So this was an interesting flashback in time to read about his life again.

Because of my background I understood the book quite well, but I'm not sure how much someone without a classical musical history would. But certainly the book is not just about music. The author looks at Bach's faith and life, something not easy to do because Bach wrote very little about himself (words, that is).

A very interesting little book that I'm glad I read. It is also a nice size for fitting into a handbag for reading on the run.

This is another review for http://booksneeze.com/ 
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me for review by Thomas Nelson Books http://BookSneeze.com. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

17 July, 2011

Three more photographic memories

After yesterday's sad post, I don't know what to write today, except that we had a great family day today. Total opposite of yesterday. We played board games (in an air conditioned room, had discussions over dinner and went for a family bike ride with no complaints or arguing from anyone. Some of you must have been praying for us! Praise God for good days!

To fill in for my lack of words, I have some more photos from our visitors' time with us.
 
Our visitors spent quite a lot of time on the phone and on email dragging out of us what they could bring with them for us. We said, almost tongue in cheek, a cricket bat. Well they brought three!! Plus two sets of stumps! Oh, and heaps of Australian treats like Mars Bars, jelly snakes, Rice Bubbles, Weetbix, Turkish Delights etc.

We tried the cricket gear out in a local park:


And we travelled quite a lot of trains together. Our family have plastic cards that we just charge up periodically, but these were complicated to get for just a short time, especially for the kids. So we just helped our visitors buy tickets at every station!


One day we took a more "adult" day. Visiting some of the city centre. Both of these photos are in the centre of Tokyo. The green one is in the public part of the Emperor's Gardens. We hadn't been there before, but it is a lovely spot.

16 July, 2011

I cannot believe it . . .

I asked, "When will it end?" when I heard that yet another teenager within the wider CAJ community has died. He passed away suddenly this morning of a brain haemorrhage. As soon as I asked it, I realised that "it" won't end, not until this old world has passed away. The pain, imperfections, challenges, disasters, tears, sickness and death just won't go away.

This question was on my mind anyway, before we saw the electronic communications that informed us of the passing away of this young man who loved the Lord. It seems almost irreverent to speak of the struggles we've had today while knowing that the mother and father of this teenager is bereft of their youngest son.

Our sons haven't been fun to live with today, but at least we've had them. It has been difficult behaviour, grumpy behaviour, demanding behaviour and argumentative behaviour that has marred what should have been a fun family day out. But, again, this evening's news has put our own challenges into perspective.

How can one learn to be content in the midst of this imperfect life? I struggle just with my own imperfect self, let alone all the imperfect people and the imperfect world around me. How is it possible that Paul said what he did? 
Philippians 4:12  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (NIV)
I guess the key is in the next thing he wrote: 
13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
I wish I could say, "Yes" wholeheartedly to this. But I have to honestly say, "Not yet. Still praying that I'll learn the secret . . . and sooner rather than later." 

Parenting, especially, is getting me down at present. I guess 11 weeks of our three particular collection of boys full-time at home could do that to you. But tonight, my prayers are with the parents, family and friends of the young man who died. May God give them the strength to make it through this.

15 July, 2011

The most exciting thing that happened today?

If you asked my children what was the most exciting thing that happened today, they'd say, "Watching Star Wars 2 for the first time." 

If you asked me, it would be that my husband finally booked a place for us to go camping in a couple of weeks. This has been a long-held plan (at least since our year in Australia 09-10), so it is nice that we are getting close to realising it. The location is not too far – Okutama, which is the far western corner of Tokyo. Tokyo is not actually a city, it is a collection of cities, more like a state. And it is shaped as an elongated oval. See the lake out near the left of the orange. That is where we are going in a couple of weeks for a couple of nights.
This is a bit further down river than where we'll be, but gives you an idea.

When we were up in Karuizawa, we took the opportunity to put up our tent. I regret not getting photos. The weather was wonderful and we got a wet weather test too! It passed with 95% flying colours, so now we know where to put the towels! The kids slept in it one night too. Or should I say three of the five kids did. Certain children refused to be quiet after several threats and were banished to the house.


So now we'll take the plunge, but not so far from home that we cannot return home if we desperately need to. However we aren't in the rainy season any more, so rain is far less likely. though if anything is going to bring it on, it could be the Marshall family camping for the first time on our own!

I have at least one friend who's waiting to hear the stories from this grand adventure!

It looks like some more green therapy. But now to motivating the boys to help out around the camp site . . . and writing some lists . . .

14 July, 2011

Sunburn

Okay, a departure from retrospective posts. Here is something which makes us more extraordinary than ordinary here, even at CAJ. Our white skin. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? But we do things to protect our white skin that people with darker skin don't do. Also, coming from Australia where the ozone hole is closer, we are far more aware of skin cancer than white people from the northern hemisphere. So, you can pick an Australian from a mile off in summer – they are lathering up and always wearing hats and sunglasses.

Well today I forgot that others don't realise what we need to do, nor to they realise the consequences. I allowed my 6 y.o. to go down to the river with some classmates and their parents. I didn't go because the older two wanted to stay home and my husband is on the other side of Tokyo today. The group he was with were almost all Asian with one northern hemisphere Caucasian. All the kids were at least part-Asian. Their skin is much more tolerant to the sun.

I put sunscreen on his arms and face and sent him off with water and a hat. But did I tell him not to take his shirt off? No. Did I tell the lady I asked to look after him to not let him take his shirt off? No. Now he is sunburnt. Ouch.

13 July, 2011

Some things I learnt from our visitors

When you live closely with other people you learn a lot about yourself and others.

In the last couple of weeks I've learned these things about us. (This is not meant as a criticism of our guests, it is just recognising that we are different to other people. That each family has their own style.)
  • We live a pretty frugal life. Frugal in what we spend, eat and even how we spend our time (like watching TV, playing electronic games).
  • The frugality extends to how we parent and what we allow our kids to do.
  • Because we are frugal with our money we usually say no when a child asks for a treat. And so our children have learned generally not to ask. Only our eldest has an allowance, so we don't have many financial discussions with them. 
  • Parenting three boys with an age spread of six years is quite different to parenting a "pigeon pair" separated only by two years.
  • Our lives are fairly regulated. This is actually a comment that our visitors made about our family. This is a result of a number of factors: including children who dislike change and prefer routine; parents who are that way inclined to start with; the more children in a family the most potential for chaos reigns; and the next point contributes to this as well.
  • We don't tolerate much whinging (whining) or debate. Our parenting isn't very collaborative (with the boys), as in we don't ask the boys opinions and discuss important decisions with them on an equal footing. Our older boys don't cope very well with lots of discussion, so if we are having a discussion we don't present many options and very often just tell them the decision.
  • We are pretty strict about eating between meals.
  • I'm less of a chatterbox than I was as a child. Is this because I have boys? On one occasion I sat with our visitors' daughter and did a jigsaw while waiting for dinner (someone else was serving it out). She prattled on and on about many things. I was tired and hungry and didn't say anything at all. Eventually she got a little exasperated and said, "Well, what are we going to talk about then?" I had no desire to talk at all...conditioned by living with guys?
  • I have less tolerance for shopping than some women. I can shop, but I don't see it as a pastime and soon grow tired of it. 
  • We try hard not to act like tourists most of the time. We've been trained to speak Japanese to Japanese. It was strange to see foreigners with little Japanese try to get along.
  • Our diet is pretty healthy.
  • Whether I believe it or not, I am fairly orderly and a planner.
  • We've become more sensitive to others than Australians often are (not to say that our visitors were insensitive, just less aware than we are of what bothers Japanese). That is how Japanese manage in such a squishy society. They are very aware of the people around them and ready to react quickly if their behaviour is infringing on others or offending them.
  • We are fairly fit as a family. Japanese life naturally incorporates more exercise: bikes, walking and trains (walking to trains and climbing the stairs in stations) are much more part of life for most Tokyoites than cars are.
Phew, that turned into a large list. There are probably other things too, but I think this is enough for one day. It is easy to see, when you write it down like that, that apart from the fact that we were very busy, blending two families with different styles in itself was exhausting!

    12 July, 2011

    Three photographic memories

    After a text-heavy post yesterday, I thought I'd do something more photographic today.

     When we were up in Karuizawa, we had a "sparkler and fireworks" night of our own. Fireworks aren't illegal here. The cheap fireworks didn't work all that well, but the sparklers were a huge hit. That may have had something to do with the difficulty we had getting them to bed afterwards!
    I had fun with the fireworks setting on our camera!
















    Walking at the volcano produced many climbing opportunities on strange larva formations. Unfortunately our "Eveready Bunny" (eldest son) led all the children on way too many climbs which was almost the undoing of our visitors' 9 year old.




    We ate lunch at a road-side stall near a waterfall. One vendor was cooking these fish on a stick. He did have quite a lot who alive, waiting to be cooked. And he allowed the children to play with them – catching them in their hands. It kept the kids amused for a long time. Poor fish were probably pretty stressed, though, especially when one of the kids tried to catch five at the same time!

    11 July, 2011

    Feeding nine in a Japanese kitchen

    Today I went back to the gym. Didn't in the least feel like doing so – the temperature hasn't dipped below 30 in our house for several days except when we dare to use our air con. One of the trainers commented that I'd been away for a couple of weeks and I told her of our visitors. Her first comment was, "Whoa, all that cooking, that's tough!" Or something equivalent to that in Japanese!

    It was a bit of an exercise, cooking for nine in a Japanese kitchen. But I'm happy to say that it all went well and I had heaps of help. At times I had too many helpers for jobs. The thing that amazed me the most was that we still managed to have leftovers! It is in the back of my mind that we're close to entering more than a decade of teenage boys, so cooking for larger numbers was an interesting exercise.

    In order to prepare for this event I drew up a schedule. There were so many ideas of what to do that it made sense to see how it fitted in the time available. Then I just added meals to the schedule. The meals were a little tricky. Not only did I need to look for meals that weren't hard and that kids who've never been in Japan might like, but I needed to keep in mind (as usual) that some things are expensive or hard to get. Like cheese and meat.
    We had to extend our dining room table.

    Here is what I ended up with:

    They arrived Friday late.

    Saturday: 
    Lunch sandwhiches
    Dinner nachos and salad

    Sunday:
    L: Noodles
    D: Out with Japanese friends at a Japanese restaurant

    Monday:
    L: Convenience store picnic in the park (rice balls etc.)
    D: Macaroni cheese (from scratch)

    Tuesday:
    Travel day to the mountains.
    L: Buy on the run.
    D: Hot dogs

    Wednesday:
    L: BYO Sandwich picnic at Volcano museum
    D: Spaghetti Bolognaise (by our friends)

    Thursday:
    L: Buy lunch at roadside stall near famous waterfall
    D: Yakisoba (Fried pork and noodles)

    Friday:
    L: Sandwiches for guys and kids and eat out for ladies who were shopping
    D: Chicken wraps (by our friends)

    Saturday:
    L: Sandwich picnic at another waterfall after a walk
    D: Left overs

    Sunday:
    L: Sandwiches
    D: Japanese curry rice

    Monday: (Tiny bit of shopping at outlet mall plus visiting the German Toy Museum and Children's Literature Museum)
    Yakiniku restaurant
    L: Yakiniku (restaurant – cooking our own meat at our tables before eating it with rice)
    D: Pizza on tortillas using up leftovers

    Tuesday:
    Travel day and day at large park, Shinrin Park
    L: Sandwiches
    D: Udon restaurant (noodles)

    Wednesday: (Tall building in the city plus the Imperial Palace)
    L: Convenience store picnic in the city
    D: Slow cooker meatballs on spaghetti plus left over macaroni cheese. This was a life saver because we came home late, exhausted and starving.

    Thursday:
    L: Sandwich picnic at Disney
    D: Pizza and popcorn at Disney

    Friday:
    L: Sandwiches at home
    D: Slow cooker Satay Chicken

    Saturday:
    L: Sandwiches
    Our visitors left after lunch

    I thought it was a pretty reasonable menu before we started. At least my kids would like it, so I figured others would probably too. 

    However I didn't reason on such things as a dislike of sauce on pasta, on them never having had beans in mince (to help it go further) and a huge liking of cheese. We were shocked when their children piled on the grated cheese to their nachos. They were shocked when we vetoed that. Nice cheese is hard to get here (we usually buy it from Costco every few months or so), so we strictly ration it. That was something new to our friends – the rationing of cheese, but they put up with our limitations very well. 

    I'm glad that I did a run of baking before they arrived because the children didn't really take to standard Japanese snacks well either. The brownies and other home baked goodies fared much better.

    The other thing I didn't anticipate is that our children's appetites would be so dissimilar. My boys ate heaps more than their children did at main meals. That did help with producing left-overs, but I did tend to give them too large portions which caused problems sometimes at meals. It also meant I felt somewhat anxious that I couldn't give them food that they'd like and that they'd be hungry soon after the meal like my kids would be if they'd eaten that little.

    Thankfully they brought quite a lot of cereal with them so that their children had food they liked for breakfast. And white bread with strawberry jam is readily available, so even if the offerings were unliked, there were alternatives.

    Children and food! How it causes stress. Travelling with children has its own special difficulties, especially when you travel overseas. I remember when we first left for Japan and spent several weeks in Singapore when our eldest was only 18 months old. We spread Vegemite on almost everything in order to get him to eat something!

    All in all, though, it went fairly well. Even the washing up, spread between four adults, wasn't a problem. We washed up about four or five times a day because of our sheer numbers and lack of space. But I do have to admit that I'm happy to be back to my five people to feed.

    10 July, 2011

    Green therapy

    One of the things we really love about the place we often holiday in in Japan (a town called Karuizawa) is the beautiful green surroundings. A real balm to the soul after the concrete and asphalt of Tokyo. We took our visitors up there for a week and here is some of the green we saw.
    Walking on a volcano


    View from the volcano
    One of the lanes in Karuizawa.

    A local stream
    David H. at a local waterfall.

    A children's literature museum in the area.
    Riding the streets of Karuizawa

    Three of the four parents on a local walk.

    Evelyn enjoying a local stream.

    A local walk with our young female visitor dancing.

    Our seven bedroom "mansion". The two families used both the upstairs and downstairs apartments of the OMF holiday house. Wonderful. The children enjoyed playing hide and seek here! We also did a trial set-up of our new tent in the front yard. Some of the children slept overnight in the tent.

    On the way back to Tokyo – a view out of the car.