31 December, 2012

Looking back at 2012

On the first day of 2012 I wrote a post about what I thought might be coming up during the year. There were less big surprises in 2012, a relief really!

  • We visit Australia in July. We certainly did. 
  • Motorhome driving holiday to Uluru while in Australia. This was the highlight of the year. This link will take you to all of the posts I wrote "on the road".
  • Increased professionalism of Japan Harvest (the magazine I'm an editor of) and increased responsibility for me there. Yes, this happened. I also became the Managing Editor of the magazine. More change has happened with the magazine this year than I believed possible.
  • More camping trips. We did three camping trips again. One was interrupted by a serious typhoon, where we had to find solid shelter for a day and night. Check out the post on that here. We also established a new tradition: camping on Thanksgiving weekend. 
  • At least one women's retreat and one mission conference. Yes, did this.
  • Another skiing trip with me to try out skiing next winter (hopefully I'll be injury-free) this time next year. After a year of varying concern about my knee, I did get to go skiing just before Christmas and it held up well. 
  • Keep blogging daily. 351 blog posts during 2012, and the blog was viewed 20,525 times during the year (barring today).
  • Keep going to the gym. I did, although not as often as I'd have liked at times. I didn't make it there during our time in Australia or for a month or two after that due to my knee and holiday busyness.
  • My eldest child turns 13. He did indeed. Now he's looking at 14 and moving into high school (year 9 in the American system)!
Here are a few things I didn't anticipate on Jan 1 this year:
  • My mother-in-law came to visit us in August for three weeks. She accompanied us on a camping trip to Nikko (north of Tokyo).
  • Wrestling captured our son's heart and I was shocked to find myself appreciating the sport too, in a different way to how you might suppose. See this post.
  • I wrote a 10 post series answering questions for a friend for her Bible College assignment. It began here and I was surprised at how people enjoyed the series.
  • Regarding blog surprises, this photo question post was one of the highest viewed of the year (possibly due to Simone blogging about it). Not something to brag about in my resume, but interesting nonetheless.
  • We had the first annual Japan Harvest planning meeting. It was a positive step forward, especially establishing magazine themes for the coming 12 months.
  • We held two Writer's Workshops, one in Tokyo and one in Kansai.
  • I travelled to Kyoto and Osaka, for the first time, and on my own!
  • I lost a tooth, actually it got wrenched out of my mouth by a dentist in Australia. Again, not something that makes front-line news.
  • One of the boys had the flu early this year, but it didn't pass to the rest of the family, thankfully.
So it seems I scraping the bottom of the barrel now.

One thing I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped, was writing. I was too caught up in managing Japan Harvest, and editing other people's writing. That job continues in 2013, but hopefully it will settle down a little and the processes we've put in place will enable it to run more smoothly and be less time consuming than it has in the past. We'll see if I manage to get some more writing done in the coming year. But that is really the subject of tomorrow's post.

We have many good memories from 2012. It's been a good year for the Marshalls as a whole. We've seen the boys grow (mostly) in good directions, especially our eldest. It also was the year that my first-born overtook me in height.

I started 2012 with this promise:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
And I finish with it too. I thank God for the good plans he had for me during 2012 and for giving me the strength to fully participate in them. I thank him for the Hope that he gave and continues to give as I face the future. I thank him for the Love that he gives, freely, that enables me to face the future, knowing that I'm loved.

30 December, 2012

"To cover foul-smelling things."

Here is another Japanese idiom that is particularly suitable, considering the aroma I encountered last night.
"Kusai Mono ni wa Futa o Suru"
Literally, to cover foul-smelling things.
Who remembers this from childhood? I haven't driven
to the dump with a trailer load of rubbish for a long time!

It means to opt for short-term solutions. A stop-gap or temporary fix. Shutting the door on last night's offensive smell wasn't going to make it go away, as much as I wanted it to!

Nowhere to step

Last night we were ensconced wonderfully in our warm bed, drifting slowly into sleep when there was a little sound next door in our younger boys room.

Then an urgent voice, "I vomited!"

I went to get an ice cream contain from the kitchen for the lad before I went in to see him. David went in and I encountered him on the way back up the stairs.

"Don't rush in," he said, "there's nowhere to step."


When I opened the bedroom door, the smell overtook me before I could glimpse the magnificence of what a vomit, from the top of the ladder of a double bunk bed, could achieve in a room where the floor was covered in beloved Lego.

Many things to be thankful for, though. The room doesn't have carpet or tatami (traditional Japanese woven straw flooring). There were no Barbies or fluffy slippers in the way, and only one book. And he missed most of the bedding and got none of his own clothes. I'm also thankful that his brother's head was down the other end of the bed, otherwise his brother would have ended up in the shower. I'm also thankful that the bookshelves are a long way from the bed (curtesy of the earthquake vulnerability of Japan).

And I'm especially thankful for a husband whose nose doesn't work brilliantly. He could hardly smell that quintessential aroma. He wondered why I dragged out a hibernating fan and opened the windows on a sub 10 degree night. He did the worst of the clean up. I buzzed around the edges and together we got the job done before midnight (except for washing Lego, which was done this morning). I'm so thankful for the partnership we enjoy in sickness and in health, in good times and bad.

Now we wait and see whether we need to cancel our New Year's Eve plans for tomorrow night. Everyone else is still well . . . for now.

29 December, 2012

Holidays in the mountains Part 2

Well, we did a lot of stuff that I didn't take photos of. Like reading, sleeping in, playing board games, and watching DVDs.

I did take photos of our lunch at the all-you-can-eat restaurant I told you about here. These photos show some of the remains (we were counting plates, the "+9" indicates the plates that the waitress relieved us of before we had a chance to take a photo).
At the bottom of the above photo you can see part of the grill where we cooked our own meat. This, along with the 10 flavours of ice cream, plus soft serve, plus chocolate cake were the favourites. I'm sure the boys ate more than what we paid for! And I didn't need to cook dinner. We had make-your-own sandwiches (or they did, I had a mandarin/mekan and a small tub of yoghurt).

I forgot to take photos of the ice skating (only took video footage). So, you'll have to imagine that. It was freezing, as a spectator, sitting in the middle of an open air rink (it was an 0 shape with a cross over point in the middle). It was also a little intimidating for our skaters, who were sharing the rink with a University Speed Skating team as they trained! Thankfully there were no bad injuries from this encounter with the ice.

The next day we drove up further into the mountains to ski. It was a scary and slow drive up, as some snow had fallen overnight. After living in Hokkaido for nearly four years, we don't take snow driving lightly. And were especially aware of our 2 wheel drive without snow tyres. We eventually stopped and David put snow-chains on the car, for the first time ever. It wasn't a great place to do it (there was nowhere to pull off), but he finally managed it.

When we got there we hurried into our ski gear as quickly as we could, and took to the slopes. It didn't take the boys too long to get into the rhythm of things again. I was the only one for whom this was the first time, and the idea was that I'd take a lesson as the others had done. We missed the first lesson of the day by 20 minutes, so David volunteered to pass on what he could of the mechanics of beginner skiing. He's a good teacher! And I was soon skiing down the beginner's slope.

It didn't take too long before everyone in the family abandoned me, though, for the next most difficult slope. After lunch I tried that steeper, longer slope too, but only survived two goes down before I got too scared and exhausted, and abandoned the endeavour for the day. I went and watched the boys having a huge time at the sledding slope.

It's been 20 years since I water skiied. Maybe if I'd tried snow skiing back then I wouldn't have found it to be such a scary experience. Water skiing is much less terrifying. You have much more control over the speed as a beginner (as long as the boat driver is sympathetic).

The next day we took a bit of a hike to explore the area around the holiday house. It was our first time there, so it was nice to check out the local terrain. We found a little "riverlet" to follow (it was lined by concrete, so I'm not certain what to call it). It was also good to take our sore muscles out and stretch them a little.
Later in the day we drove over to the nearby town we we'd previously stayed and got caught in holiday traffic. It was the middle of a long weekend for the Emperor's Birthday. Nevertheless, the boys got to explore their favourite Lego Shop while I waited in the car down the road in a convenience store car park to avoid the traffic and paying for the car park of the flashy shopping centre. It took a long time to get home again after that, and the boys were super high, after having looked at all that Lego but not bought any. To pass the time we played Christmas-themed 20 questions and had a great time.

The next day we headed back to Tokyo. I mentioned here how the holiday included having the boys volunteering for various jobs. It certainly spread the load and helped them to have a better appreciation for some of the things that David and I just do routinely. This week at home we've not scheduled so many jobs for them, but rather asked them to volunteer for at least three things before they go back to school on the 7th.

Overall it was a very relaxing and enjoyable holiday. We're continuing to appreciate this stage where the boys are getting older and more able to entertain themselves. It is less physically exhausting (though it can be more emotionally exhausting). One of the best things about the day on the ski slopes was that we didn't need to supervise the boys. There was enough for them to do to keep them busy and out of trouble. We enjoyed some couple time, even if some of it was spent hurtling at a scary rate down a slippery slope without decent brakes!

28 December, 2012

Holidays in the mountains Part 1

Here is the delightful apartment we stay in while away last week.

This is the main kitchen/dining area. Through the door on the left of the photo you reached three bedrooms that our boys occupied. Up the ladder you found a small mezzanine area where the boys played board games like Risk.

The door near the ladder leads into the small bathroom and toilet.

This was our bedroom, traditional Japanese style (except for the curtains).
And a photo of the kitchen from further back, showing the lounge room, which was sufficiently removed from the rest of the place to afford a good hiding spot for a parent who wished to read without being disturbed.
 We gave the boys this puzzle, a souvenir of our mid-year trip. It was an enjoyable activity to start our holidays with.
 Here's the outside of the house. It is actually three apartments. We had the top floor. The bottom floor has two two-bedroom apartments.
 Other side, our stairs.

Apart from the house being newer than we've ever experience in an OMF Japan holiday house, the best thing about it was that it was wonderfully warm. Well insulated, meant that having a shower and going to bed wasn't as unpleasant as it is here in Tokyo. The outside temperatures were lower, but we didn't know that until we stepped outside.

I'll do another post (maybe tomorrow?) on some of the other things we enjoyed doing while up "in the mountains".

26 December, 2012

Japanese Christmas Cakes

Here's a link to an article about the Japanese Christmas cake tradition, and particularly, about one very expensive cake this season.

25 December, 2012

Christmas, when it isn't so joyous

Here is a great post from a friend who served in Japan as a single for a number of years, giving her perspective of Christmas in Japan for the many single Christian women (there are more of them than single men in the church).

Spare a thought for them, as well as many around the globe for whom this isn't the most joyous season in their lives.

24 December, 2012

Home again

We arrived home about 2pm and things have settled down enough now at 5, to be able to spend time on the computer and write a little bit here.

I've scanned through the couple of hundred emails that arrived in our absence and dealt with the most urgent ones (at least I hope I have). Many of the emails are heart warming season's greetings. We'll wade through those at our leisure in the coming days. It's always good to hear from people we don't see often. Many of them receive our news 11 times a year in their inbox, but we often only hear from them annually. We love this time of year!

We've had a fairly relaxing holiday. We skiied, ice skated, dined at an all-you-can-eat restaurant, read, played Risk, did jigsaws, walked and played outside (in close to zero degree C temps).

It was the new thing that we did that has helped it to be more relaxing for us parents. The night before we left, I sat down with the boys and wrote a list of the main jobs that needed to be done the next day to get us out of our house here in Tokyo and into the holiday house. It was an easy step from that to doing up a roster for setting the table and washing up for the whole week. As a result I've only washed up a couple of times. Repeating the same thing last night resulted in some responsible boys this morning who were meaningfully engaged in helping us get home.

I can't say it was without hitches. For example. This morning it got to the point where there were only a couple of jobs left. The house had been cleaned and the heaters turned off, so the boys were "out in the cold" literally, while we turned the water off, emptied the pipes, put antifreeze in the pipes and toilet etc.. They weren't happy for 45 minutes or more. The neighbours heard plenty of argument from this imperfect missionary family.

More about our holidays later in the week, after I've had time to download some photos. Unfortunately there isn't photographic evidence of my skiing prowess. Or maybe I'm fortunate in that regards, as it would have revealed my lack of prowess as a first-timer.

Tonight we're heading off to the Christmas Eve service at our church. They don't have a Christmas morning service, it is a work day for most. We've never made it to the Christmas Eve service, but we're feeling bold tonight.

Our kids have noticed that Japan isn't really Christmassy. I don't think they really understand how different the culture is here than in Australia, in terms of Christian traditions. There are less Christians here than in Australia. But pretty much everyone in Australia celebrates Christmas whether they are Christians or not. Not so here.

Christmas has various connections in the wider culture, but they mostly run along the lines of eating KFC on Christmas Eve with your beloved and putting up Christmas decorations. Most shops have Christmas carols playing. Not much present giving happens. Some shops had people dressed up as Santas or Reindeer in the last week. Apparently one of the Pizza Delivery companies had their deliverers wearing Santa costumes today, on their motorised scooters!

So, back to our house. Tomorrow will be a quiet day for us. Our just-us family Christmas usually entails opening presents after breakfast, Christmas cake for morning tea, and a hot traditional lunch. The rest of the day is pretty quiet except for various Skyping times with family in Australia. This is our 11th Christmas in Japan (out of 17 we've celebrated together as a couple). It is our "normal".

Have a blessed and meaningful Christmas.

21 December, 2012

Japan Photo Question #23 answer

I posed another Japan Photo question on Wednesday: What's this and where did I get it?

It is a plastic bag.  At at least one shop I go to, the cashiers pre "scrunch" the plastic bags so that it is easy to slid your tray of meat into the bag. 

I just can't imagine this happening in Australia!

19 December, 2012

Japan Photo Question #23

Since I'm away, it's a good time to pose another "what is it" question. 

What do you reckon this is? And where did I get it? 

I'll post the answer in a couple of days. Happy guessing! (Again, people living in Japan, or lived in Japan—let's give everyone else a chance to guess first.)

17 December, 2012

Your holiday plans?

It is the time of year when people start conversations with, "So what are you doing for the holidays?"

Well, we're today we're headed off for our traditional week in the mountains, seeking snow. We're going to a different holiday cottage, but just the next-door town.

We'll be going skiing. Last year we gave the boys skiing lessons and they really enjoyed the time out there on the gentle slopes. I have yet to strap on snow skis (I've water skied a few times, and grass skied once), but I'm determined to give it a go this time. After all, I'm not getting younger. This is one of the bucket-list type things!

Our sons are keen to go ice skating again. I think I might just watch that one, we'll see. If we do it a couple of days after skiing, I might be still a bit too sore!

But we're not going to try curling. It's too dangerous!

The boys are also counting on us having lunch at Stamina Taro, a Japanese all you can eat restaurant that isn't too far from where we'll be staying. 90 minutes to eat all you can. It has more variety than Sizzler. Including the cool yakiniku, Japanese style cook your own meat at the table. Whatever day we do that, I certainly won't have to cook dinner.

We'll get back on Christmas eve, all set to enjoy a quiet Christmas at home. Hopefully all the parcels people have been telling us that are coming, will have arrived at the post office during our absence and will turn up on Christmas morning (there is an advantage living in a country for which Christmas day is an ordinary working day). We have no particular plans for the rest of that week, though maybe an excursion into Tokyo.

We have plans for New Year's Even and New Year's Day, but I'll save that for later. But, all in all, a fairly "normal" Christmas for us.

We're back at school on the 7th of January, a slightly longer break than usual for CAJ at this time of year and the only break longer than a week in the whole school year.

I'll not have internet while I'm away, though I might blog something short from my phone. I have prepared a couple of other posts and scheduled them to appear while we're away, just in case you're bored!

16 December, 2012

Home baked Christmas treat success

I've got to boast about this one. Today, for the first time ever, I made Fruit Mince Pies!

Four out of five of us love these Christmas treats, but you just don't see them in Japan. It never occurred to me to try making them, until I encountered a jar of fruit mince that missionaries had left behind when they moved back home-side. So I searched out a recipe and here they are:

When I make them again, I'll roll the pastry a little thinner and add some glazing to the top. But other than that, they're great!

15 December, 2012

Remembering my first Christmas away from home

Yesterday as I participated in more "culminating events" I ended up in more than one conversation with friends whose children aren't coming home for Christmas.

The dynamics in a missionary expat community are a bit different. Children who've graduated from high school usually study or work in another country. Their absence is, of course, keenly felt by parents. But none so sharply than at times like Christmas, when they can't always get together. It's easy to be sad at these times. Yesterday, however, I turned one conversation to remembering our own first Christmases away from our parents.

Do you remember yours? Have you ever had one?

The one story I heard yesterday was from an adult who grew up in Japan. Her first Christmas away from parents was in her first year after leaving school. She spent it with her aunt and uncle in America. Her memories of it were "it felt weird".

I did my tertiary studies only two hours from home in Queensland, so returning to my parent's house for Christmas was no big deal, in fact it was expected. Until I joined a short term study tour trip with OMF to Indonesia over the Christmas holidays at age 20. My first Christmas away was spent in Bali!

Not surfing or clubbing, but learning about the culture and religion. One Christmas day we travelled to a small Christian village and worshipping with them in their large church (big enough for the whole village to fit in). We understood very little. But we did get to sing a couple of songs for them. However my memories of the day are fairly dim.

Except for what greeted us when we finally arrived back at our lodgings some time into the evening, maybe 8 or 9pm. And the Christian couple who owned the small place we were staying brought out a special Christmas feast for us, including a whole fish (one per person), everything intact, including the stomach-wrenching eyes. We were exhausted. And I, for one, was way past being hungry. But so as not to offend our hosts, we tackled those fish. I didn't get very far, if memory serves me correctly.

But you know, there wasn't much time for homesickness that Christmas. Homesickness came later in the tour, especially when the rest of the team when home in mid-January and I stayed on an extra 10 days to look at The Leprosy Mission work in Jakarta and Cirebon (central north coast of Java).

So there's my first memory of spending Christmas away from my parents and sisters. What's yours? I'd be delighted to hear them: either below in comments, or on your own blog (but put a link here please).

14 December, 2012

Awesome jazz concert

Woah, just been to a live jazz concert at CAJ by a professional jazz band. Awesome! I think I need to get myself some more jazz music for listening. Often I'm turning to my classical collection while I'm working because it has no words to distract me from editing or writing, but jazz . . . never really considered that as an option.

Here's a taste of one song we heard (different band and arrangement, of course):

13 December, 2012

Culminating events

Today was a crowded day on the calendar. You know, one of those days that everything happens on the same day. But thankfully it all happened in the same place and nothing clashed.

Yes, we're in the middle of what CAJ calls "Culminating Events" on their calendar. I guess they mean "End of Year events", but they can't really say "end of year" because it isn't, it is just the end of the calendar year, not the school year.

Ordinarily today I would have attended a prayer meeting at school at 8.30 for an hour and a Bible study at an apartment next to the school at 1.00. As well as that I attended a Christmas party for 4th grade from 10.45 till 12 and one for 2nd grade from 2.30 till 3.30. Since I was at school and our lunchtimes coincided, I also ate lunch with my husband!

I've surprised myself by not being stressed out at the end of it all. In fact, I haven't got the headache that I've had on the evenings of less busy days this week.

4th Grade Party

The worst of it was the 4th grade party. They were so hyped. And the class seems to be full of "screamers". Who knew that 4th graders could be so loud for so long.

I ran a couple of games and they enjoyed them both. The first was Bingo, where they had to find others who could "sign off" on the various tasks or experiences on the sheet. We had a Bingo within two minutes of starting, but we couldn't get them to stop playing the game. It went on for quite a while.

The second game was new to everyone, but an oldie for me. I wonder if this is just an Australian thing?

The Chocolate Game: You sit people in a circle with a bar of chocolate in the middle. Give them two dice. Each person takes a turn throwing the dice and if they get a double, they get to go and eat some chocolate. The hitch is that to eat chocolate, they have to put some clothes on (we had some crazy hats, shirts, and socks), then they have to cut a square of chocolate off with a knife before they can eat it.

Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera out and take a photo. It was very intense and again, they were reluctant to stop! We didn't let them get through the whole bar of chocolate, but stopped partway and broke up the rest of the bar to include with the party lunch that some other mums had prepared.

The biggest hoot was that the teachers had made up JibJab cards (see another example of one of their cards here) with all the kid's faces (and one with the teacher's faces). The kids screamed. It was funny to watch, but painful on the ears.

Thankfully we fed them then, and they were all given a plate with a selection of food on it, so they didn't have to jump up and down for food. Everything calmed down then. At that point I heard that they'd had no outside break since 8.30 this morning. So we cut the party a bit short and sent them out to play for 30 minutes—for the sanity of the teachers teaching them in the afternoon!

2nd Grade Party

This was a complete opposite of the morning's party. Their teacher made the choice to make the party about someone else: orphans in an orphanage in the Philippines, where the class sponsors a child. The children brought not-so-expensive gifts, wrapped them, and wrote cards. That was the party entertainment. I thought it was brilliant!

They then had some light party food and it was home time. Much easier on the ears and the nerves!

Tomorrow's culminating events

Tomorrow is the last day before Christmas-New Year holidays. We get a full three weeks this year. Yay! It is our biggest holiday apart from the summer marathon. We're looking forward to staying in bed longer on these cold mornings. And not being slaves to the clock.

Tomorrow isn't as full as today. The usual (weekly) 8.30 prayer meeting, and the Elementary Christmas Concert at 2pm. Then at 4pm is the annual Staff Christmas party (adults only). After that is a Jazz Concert at school, lead by a famous Japanese drummer. I'm looking forward to going, but I'm not sure we'll manage to drag the rest of the family too.

Once that is over, we're free from school.

In a way, it is better than Australia, because we don't have End of Year stuff included in all of this, but in a way it is worse than Australia, because by this time of the year we're all tired. In Australia the kids aren't doing important work because school is winding up. But here they've still be working on spelling, Bible memory, maths worksheets etc. this week. And it's been hard to get them to concentrate with all the anticipation building inside them.

But for now, I need to get upstairs and get these tired, excited, strung-out, and wound-up kids to bed!

12 December, 2012

A bear of fuzzy brain

I've been thinking about what to write here today for a few hours now and I'm only getting fragmented thoughts. Probably has something to do with going to the gym at 12.30 and not getting lunch till well after 1pm.

This is the woman who has hitchhiked only once in her life. And it was because I foolishly tried to go for a jog before breakfast while at uni. I didn't last very long before I nearly passed out and had to hitch a ride back to my residence.

Rule number one for Wendy: make sure you've eaten at least a couple of hours before exercise!

So, I got home from the gym feeling as though my brain was fragmented. And it hasn't really improved since then, despite having eaten lunch (and cleaned out the saucepan I made chocolate fudge in).

Despite that, I'm feeling particularly successful today. I've completed almost everything on today's "To Do While the Kids are at School" list. Granted, it wasn't particularly ambitious, but it did include mopping the kitchen and dining room. Not a common happening (yes, I'm not the most fastidious of housekeepers).

The one thing that remains, is to continue writing a 250 word article. I've been writing it for over a day now. You'd think 250 words would be pretty easy, wouldn't you? I write 250 words here on my blog many days with no problem. So what's the problem?

It isn't that I can't think of enough words.

It's the topic. I've started writing a regular column for the magazine I edit. The column is about "Good Writing". I tell you, it is scary writing about good writing. After all, if you write about good writing, your writing is going to be under extra scrutiny from the readers! You can just hear, it, can't you:

"What credibility has this woman got?"

"What do you mean, don't use many adverbs, what are they for then?"

"She can't tell me how to write, I've been writing prayer letters for 50 years..."

"I can't see anything wrong with, 'It is possible that your conclusions are incorrect.'"

I mean, I'm just inviting criticism.

Additionally, 250 words is a small amount of words. I can't bite off too much. It has to be really succinct and, well, economical (which is my topic this time).

So, I've been throwing words at the page and not making a large amount of headway. Which brings me back to my head.

I'm still not putting together thoughts as well as I usually do. So, maybe I should go back to cleaning the house, that only requires a "bear of little brain".

11 December, 2012

"Willing to accept even the helping hand of a cat."

Here's another Japanese idiom.

"neko no te mo karitai"


I thought this one might apply to many of you this busy season. Literally it means to wanting to borrow even the hand of a cat.

It applies to someone who is swamped, shorthanded. Someone who is so busy that they'll even accept the help of a cat. If you think about it, being willing to accept the help of a cat is pretty desperate!

So, if you're feeling this way this week in the lead up to Christmas, just say, "I'm so busy I would even accept the help of a cat!"

10 December, 2012

Unplugged parenting

Today I realised again how anti-screen our parenting style is. We actively discourage our boys from spending much time watching TV, or on computers. We don't only have strict guidelines on how much time they can spend on these things every day, we have actively encouraged them over the years to develop interests that don't need to be plugged-in. And we've never bought them toys that are screen-based.

This began quite young, when we restricted TV to only one hour at a time, and only at certain times of day. That's faded out as they've become busy at school. These days they don't usually watch TV during the week and only occasionally on the weekend. As the years have gone on, internet usage has been given rules too.

But I realised today that having more than one child is definitely an advantage in this regard. When a Japanese mum of a young teenager and only child asked (in regards to the upcoming coming three weeks break from school), "What will they do, if they can't be on the internet?" I had lots of answers, but some didn't apply to her.

Our boys will be out getting exercise, playing board games with each other, and playing with their Lego, NInjago, action figures etc. They'll also be reading and perhaps doing crafty things. I'll be asking them to help me cook meals too.

Our teenager has developed a number of non-plugged in hobbies/interests including: Rubics cube, collecting dice and manipulation puzzles, learning various knots, working out (for wrestling), logic puzzles, and he is a voracious reader. He's also recently been creating an Australian version of Risk in his spare time. This boy, of his own volition, has spurned Facebook, which, I believe, is where a lot of his friends (at least the girls) are spending their time.

One of the reasons we steer the boys away from the internet and from TV is that it cripples their creativity. It also produces behaviour that isn't very helpful. A few weeks back they developed an obsession with a internet based game. Their behaviour was disrespectful and they couldn't think about anything else except getting to play that game. I banned it for a week and things improved significantly around here. That obsession has faded, thankfully.

Our guys live life at a pretty high intensity, we don't need anything that will add to that intensity. I guess every parent has to figure out what works best in their family. We've found a pretty good balance for us. We'll see how that progresses as our boys get older.

09 December, 2012

Not invited to the party anymore

How would a typical Australian kid feel about this?

This week I heard about a birthday party for one of our youngest's classmates. He gave me some of the details (there was no formal invitation), but then he casually added,
 "I might not be invited anymore, because there are too many kids coming."
So I emailed the boy's parents, who I know. The father confirmed the next morning that indeed they did have too many children to cope with in their small apartment, and would it be okay if they invited our son over on another date?

I was a little surprised, but having been in this situation before myself, understood perfectly.

So I told the boys about it at breakfast. None of them showed any sign of surprise. They all know how difficult it is to fit a lot of people into our house (which is large by Japanese standards).  Our youngest, whose "feelings" have allegedly been hurt often in recent times (this is one of his favourite phrases at present), showed no sign of hurt.

We clearly don't have 100% Aussie kids here. I'm doubting that it would have been such a non-issue in an Australian household. Am I right?

08 December, 2012

Bad memories evoked yesterday

This is one place the tsunami invaded
last year. The wave was as high as the mark
on the brown pole. But it was higher (30m)
in other areas.
We had an earthquake yesterday, actually we had at least two. One woke David and I briefly at 5.30am. The one 12 hours later was far more noticeable.

It's the first one in over a year that's had me wondering whether to hop under a table or leave the building. It started quietly too, just the infamous March 11 one. I heard it first, in the subtle creaking of our wooden-framed house. It started quietly and got stronger and stronger till the contents of the house were rattling and the floor shook under our feet. But not so strong that anything here fell down, and we were able to easily keep our footing.

There was only a 1m tsunami wave, but people were scared and many did evacuate the coastal areas: the same coastal areas that are still struggling to figure out how to rebuild from last year's disaster.

It brings back bad memories for us (and left us feeling shaky), who weren't in the disaster zone and didn't lose anyone we knew. How must it have been for those who did?

Here is a glimpse of some of the changes made to the warning systems and people's responses: Tsunami nation: then and now.

07 December, 2012

Bad days, good days.

There are days in a foreign land where you just have a bad day. You can't find the right words, you run into people who can't or won't help you, and you start to feel defeated, even home sick.

Then there are days when things seem to go right. The words snap into place, people understand what you're saying, and you just get things right (or right enough). Both of these kinds-of days happen when you're in your home country too, but somehow they seem more pronounced when you're out of your most comfortable zone.

Well, I had the second kind of day today. I thought you'd like to know about successful days, not just the baddies, so here goes.

This morning I started off with the usual—getting kids to school. We didn't have any significant fights, that's a good start.

Just before I farewelled my last son out the door, I remembered something about him having an on-computer spelling game to complete before the end of the week. He didn't have it written down, so had forgotten. Not surprising after a particularly hectic afternoon-morning of homework in which he tried to catch-up on other homework not completed earlier in the fortnight. Anyway, I, by some miracle, caught it and he had time to correct the problem. Plus, he did it cheerfully. Not always a trait associated with our middle son, but it was pleasant to enjoy its balm.

After that, an hour long meeting with my Executive Editor on Skype. This usually happens on Wednesday but we had to reschedule this week. An uneventful meeting, but with an underlaying feeling as though we're continuing to make progress on improving the magazine.

I squeezed in a little bit of email and computer work before I headed off to the hospital again for the final (women's business) tests required by our medical advisor. A bit painful, but done without too much difficulty and without much English. And I managed it all on my own. That is one of the best feelings in a foreign land.

It was a bit dicey at the end when the doctor told me that because they'd found no problems (yay!), the tests weren't covered by health insurance (boo!). I searched my person while waiting for the bill, but found less than 10,000 yen, which shouldn't have been enough and I wondered how I was going to manage this. Then the bill was rung up as 2,900 yen. Yay! No idea what happened, but I'm not unhappy.

So I rode down the road to Starbucks and had a rare coffee-shop coffee with a sandwich to celebrate my successes of the morning (not the least, getting the tests done). The Gingerbread Latte wasn't quite to my liking. I'm not sure what spice they used, but it sure didn't taste like ginger! Nonetheless, a rare trip to a coffee shop on my own was delicious.

Then I headed home on my bike, feeling all light headed with success. Dropped into the shop we buy milk at and while I was there hurdled another barrier that I hadn't tried before. I "used" the points that we'd been accumulating on our ?loyalty card. That took 400 yen off the bill. I felt successful again!

Then I headed home to pick up all the parcels that we'd packaged up the night before for our families in Australia. Loaded all of them on my bike. They piled up nicely, one may have mistaken me for Mrs Claus. And rode off to the Post Office. Once there I negotiated the "which type of mail do you want to send them by" trial. There seems to be so many ways to send a parcel from Japan! Strangely enough, the fastest way, was almost the cheapest.

My loaded bike.
The Post Office is a place that used to be almost as scary as a hospital to me, but not today. Anyway, then I spent about 15 or so minutes filling in forms about the exact contents of the box, including their cost. Even though my husband wrote a list out, I was still guessing a bit, but no one seemed to mind. I just hope no customs officer opens them in Australia and gets upset because I didn't count correctly.

Got that lot dealt with, and paid for. And then, another great triumph of the day: I remembered that we wanted to stop the mail from arriving for the week that we'll be away before Christmas, just in case someone sends us a present that arrives that week. So, I filled out another form, this one was an easy one. And Japan Post really has it over Australia Post on this front. It is a free service, with a smile!

Then I headed over to CAJ with a library book to return, and a book to donate to the library. I spent a while finding books to read over the holidays for me, and our younger two boys. I don't remember my mum needing to do this for me, but it seems that my boys struggle to find their own books to read. They need a bit of a helping hand. It is only recently that I abdicated that responsibility for our 13 y.o. and handed it over to him. He still needs some reminders, but he is starting to do it for himself.

And now I'm home, relaxing after a busy, but satisfying day. In the midst of it all I got some nice exercise too. The ride to the hospital includes a nice hill and took me about 15-20 minutes to complete each way. Plus riding around like Mrs Claus, well, that wasn't so bad, but I really do like getting out on my bike, especially on a beautiful autumn-like day like today.

Hmmm, but I do have a bit of email work to get to following up on my meeting this morning. How much do you think I can squeeze in before the boys tumble in the door? Once they're here I won't be able to do much at all, because they'll be excited: we're going to the Middle School Christmas concert this evening, with the all-important traditional hot chocolate afterwards.

06 December, 2012

Snapshots from the week

Wow, for a day that had nothing written in my schedule, it sure has been a full day! The kids will be home soon and I'm not finished my list of things yet, but I thought I'd stop by here and give you some glimpses of recent events.

Early in the week I battled a cold. It's almost gone, barring the asthma, which, like an old friend, always hangs around a little longer. So that kept me at home all weekend and most of Monday and Tuesday. Which did enable me to complete the final bits and pieces needed for our magazine's production editor/art director (she really does both jobs) to really get to work on designing the magazine, due to come out early next year.

Yesterday I spent a few hours in the afternoon with some Swiss language students from OMF. I'd met them briefly when I was up in Sapporo in May, but it was great to spend some more time with them. Even more exciting was hearing how they feel called to Support Ministries. This is pretty unusual in OMF. Most people are headed towards church planting. So it was exciting to tell them our little story of getting into support ministry. I also managed to make friends with their little boy (2 1/2 y.o.). It's always nice to pull out our younger-boys toys (like Duplo and cars) and share them with friends. They almost never fail to interest!

Then last night we went to our first Wrestling Tournament since February. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy watching the guys wrestle (check out my enthusiasm here). Though I did come home with a tension headache. It isn't a terribly relaxing spectator sport! This was just a short encounter between our school's high school team and one other. Our middle schooler will be in the high school team next year (presumably). It is a tad scary to think that he will be out there with those big guys. Mind you he's getting to be a big guy himself at a rapid pace, though still a little string-bean like, he's very strong.

This Saturday they have a six-school high school tournament, so I guess we'll be down there supporting our guys. It isn't as popular a sport as basketball at CAJ, so they need all the support they can get. I also think it is good for our middle school wrestler to watch as much wrestling as he can, he can only learn more, can't he?

Last night my husband brought home this cute Christmas card from the Grade Once class where I taught them about Australian Christmases last week. I told you they loved Colin's DVD!

Last night we also pulled out the Christmas presents that we'd been working on collecting for our Australian families. Including a slide show to make up for our video recorder that's died and taken with it all our family video footage for the year.

Actually I sat on the lounge and held my aching head, watching David sort presents until he told me to just go to bed!

It turns out the piles looked a bit sad, so today I've been doing some last-minute shopping to make it at least seem like we've made an effort to remember them. I reflected here, two years ago on how hard it is to buy presents for people you don't see very often and almost never get to hear their responses to your gifts. Nothing's changed!

Enough snaps. The kids are home. Time to follow-up on an email about homework not done, supervise more piano practise, and make home-made fish and chips.

05 December, 2012

Blam: cancer strikes another missionary family

On Monday I heard that a missionary family in Japan has discovered their two year old son has leukaemia. I don't know them well, but I have interacted with the father as he's written for Japan Harvest. His wife used to work at the OMF office here in Tokyo before they were married. They are in the same mission as my magazine boss.

It's shocking. All the symptoms he had (as far as I know) was a fever that wouldn't abate. Then, they're given this shocking diagnosis. And no, missionaries aren't immune to the bad things that happen in life. Sometimes, it seems, we (as a collective noun) end up encountering more "bad stuff" than others. In our short 12 years on the field, we've had two OMF colleagues (out of a field of just over 100 people) die from cancer and several others treated for it. But all of them were adults.

Anyway, you probably know people with cancer. You might even know some critically ill kids. But would you spare a thought and a prayer for this missionary family? If you want to follow their story, they've started a CarringBridge blog here: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/heroclark The dad writes well, however it is painful to read.

It helps put my life in perspective: what's a little cold compared to watching your 2 y.o. undergo chemotherapy for the next 14 weeks?

04 December, 2012

After-dinner reading.

Oooh, here's a good post with a long list (and comments) about books you can read to boys, by a current mum of boys. I've written a few of the titles down that are available in our school library. Thanks April (you sent this link to me ages ago).

Image from amazon.co.jp
I've mentioned here before that I often read to the family while they're finishing up dinner. It's a tradition that we've all grown to love. But, it isn't easy to find books that they'll all enjoy (my boys have a six year age span) and one of them hasn't read before. The eldest is a book worm, he reads at an incredible pace and the others are headed in the same direction, but they all still love to be read to. However, it needs to be fairly fast paced and engaging or I lose them.

We just finished our collection of Ruth Park's "The Muddle-Headed Wombat" stories last night. We've read it so many times that our eldest know knows some of the plots.

I'd love to read other titles, like The Muddle-headed Wombat in the Snow, and "in the Spring", but alas, they are expensive!

However, in the midst of my quick search I discovered that at least some of this series has been translated into Japanese! Amazing.

I'd like to see how they translate Wombat's more endearing characteristics, like his habit of turning words ending in "bble" to longer words by adding "ubble/y" eg. "terribubbly good", and his habit of mispronouncing words or mixing up words, like "Noah's Bark" (for Noah's Ark). I suspect that some of that word-play would be lost in translation.

Next on the list of after-dinner book reads is a trial of a The Hardy Boys book. I don't know if it will be too old for them. We'll see. If that doesn't work, I now have a list of other books to trial.

03 December, 2012

Life in a Crowded Nation

One thing I'm doing this week is putting together a quarterly news/prayer letter for kids about Japan and seeking to raise their awareness of mission. It's something I've been sending out for many years. This year my theme has been Geography. We've covered "Living on a Fault line", weather, mountains . . . and this time it is "Life in a Crowded Nation".

In my research I discovered this webpage (Japan: Overcrowded from Cradle to Grave). It is a little negative, but gives you an interesting insight, nonetheless, to life in a crowded Japan.

Population density figures, I've discovered, aren't necessarily very accurate. For example, Australia's is 7 people per square kilometre. Yes, it gives the image of spaciousness, but there are places that are much more crowded than that in Australia . . . a places that are much less crowded than that. It is just an average.

So, I've tried some rough arithmetic. Japan has about 126 million people. One statistic says that only 18 percent of the land is suitable for settlement (most of the rest is too steep). That leaves all those people squeezing into only 68,022 square kilometres, which is slightly smaller than Tasmania! The population density of Japan based on those figures gives 1,852 people per square kilometre!

This is our house and our neighbour's house.
Wikipedia gives the population density of the city we live in within Tokyo as 8,980 people per square kilometre. I have to say, that figure is astounding. It certainly doesn't feel that way. I've just ridden to the grocery store and back (less than 10 minutes each way). I saw less than 100 people in my travels. Granted many are at school, work, or inside (it is a cold, bleak day). Some of the inner city suburbs rate at 20,000 people per square kilometre!

But Tokyo isn't the most densely populated city in the world. Part of that is accounted for by the mountains and rural areas that sit at the western end of the "city", where we're been camping (actually it is a collection of cities and properly known as a state, not a city).

One thing that makes it look less crowded is that outside of the main centres, most of the housing is under five stories, and many people, like us, live in two-storey houses. There are less of the towering apartment buildings that you see in Hong Kong and Singapore.

But it does mean that many of the roads are narrow, with many of them without footpaths (US=sidewalk, UK=pavement). And those roads also hold power poles, community rubbish bins, signs, and always, pedestrians and cyclists.So driving can include lots of dodging.

One thing to be thankful for is that, though this is a high density country, the living standards are also high. As are the "tidiness" standards. It is one of the things that impresses anyone who's travelled through Asia. Japan stands out as a very tidy place and it is full of people who show a lot of self restraint and consideration for others, at least when out in public.

Taken from in front of our house last year
in a particularly cold patch of weather. Check
out that pole, it is on the road-side of the gutter!
It's probably easy for people who don't live in a crowded city/country to see the negatives. Here are some:

  • it is harder for kids to find places to run around when houses don't have backyards (and thus for parents)
  • it is unusual for kids to have their own room, if there are multiple children in the family
  • you have to work harder to get along with others both inside and outside the family
  • peak hour travel is very crowded
  • traffic on expressways back into town are crowded at the end of long weekends or public holidays
  • it's hard to find places to park your car without having to pay lots
  • you have to be careful when moving around, by foot, bike, or car: the likelihood of collision is high
  • speed limits are low
These are good to think about when it is all getting a bit much.
  • public transport is convenient. In the city nowhere is an extreme distance from a station and because there are so many people, trains are frequent—often only a couple of minutes apart
  • shopping for staples can be very convenient. There are many small grocery stores, unlike Australia where you often have to go to large, centrally located shopping centres
  • smaller houses are (theoretically) easier to clean, look after, and keep tidy
  • less mowing and gardening (I guess this isn't a positive if those are things that you love to do)
  • various amenities are closer, like schools, medical facilities, etc.
I'm sure there is more, but I can't think of any just now. Perhaps you can help me?

Book giveaway winner

And the winner of the book giveaway competition is . . . Sarah, from http://sedshed.blogspot.jp/ Please contact me Sarah, with your postal address.

Thanks to Karen and Maree for entering. I'm glad that both of you do have access to book stores in one way or another. And the CAJ folk, I'll be attempting to donate the second copy to the CAJ library, unless you'd like to read it first?

02 December, 2012

My Christmas Cake recipe

No, this blog isn't turning into Wendy's baking blog. But I'm still feeing under the weather (actually probably worse than on Friday), and someone's just handed me an easy topic for another blog post (thanks Sarah).

I put our Christmas Cake in the oven after lunch. Australian Christmas Cakes are pretty traditional British style. I cook one every year. Aside from chocolate-themed sweets, it is one thing that I can be guaranteed that everyone in our family likes. Actually my husband practically salivates when I mention it. I could bake one every month!

Unfortunately a main ingredient is "mixed fruit" and that isn't something you buy here. So I always bring some back from Australia with me or get someone to post some so I can make my Christmas Cake.

This recipe also came from my mum. I forget where she got it from, but it's worked every year for me and it is nicely simple.

Christmas Cake
This year's Christmas Cake just after I
put it in the oven.

2 kg mixed fruit (you can add in mixed peel, sliced almonds, cherries, if you have them).
2 teasp. mixed spice (or cinnamon, if you don't have mixed spice)
1 teasp. nutmeg
250ml orange juice (or any fruit juice or rum or brandy)

500g butter
500g white sugar
10 eggs
750g plain flour
Parisian essence (makes the cake dark, but I don't have any and the cake works out fine without it)

1. Add the orange juice to the dried fruit and spices. Leave to soak overnight in a sealed container.
2. Prepare tin. Line with at least two layers of baking paper, base and sides.
3. Heat oven to 150 degrees C.
4. Cream the butter and sugar.
5. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between eggs.
6. Add parisian essence if you're using it.
7. Add dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly.
8. Add fruit mixture (you might need a wooden spoon by now, especially if you're using a Japanese hand held mixer).
9. Place in the tin and stab through with a knife. Flatten the top with a hand dampened in cold water (this gives it a nice finish).
10. Cook for 45 minutes at 150 degrees, then reduce heat to 120 degrees for approximately five hours.
11. When it is cooked remove it and cover with a towel, leaving to cool in tin.

I almost always cut the size of this in half (only because it is hard to get mixed fruit, not because we couldn't eat it all). In a small Japanese oven (microwave sized) I used to cook it for 1.5 hrs at 150 degrees and then 1.5 hrs at 120 degrees. Basically you just have to keep testing it the first time you cook it in a new oven. When a skewer comes out clean, it is cooked.

I'll leave you to it. I'm just going to check if mine's done yet. Enjoy!

01 December, 2012

"To decorate the ending with beauty"

Here's another Japanese idiom.

"Yuushuu no Bi o Kazaru"


This one means to achieve something great just before the end [of one's career].

I'm thinking of this one particularly as we follow the cricket this weekend. The South African team is touring Australia. 

The teams are playing their third five-day match at present. It hasn't been a terribly successful tour so far. Neither team has won a match yet: two draws. For people who don't understand cricket, it seems strange for two teams of 12 people to play each other for five days and not have a result, but that is one of the idiosyncrasies of the game that I'm certainly not going to be able to explain in a short blog post.

In international team sports, there are always other smaller dramas going on on the sidelines. At the moment, Australians are watching the former captain of the Australian team. He's had a long and lustrous career. His perseverance is admirable: he declined to quit playing for his country even after he lost the captains hat. However, most people now probably feel he's persevered too long. 

He's made appalling scores this season. And now he's decided to retire after this current match. It would be nice to see him finish his career with something great, rather than dribble into obscurity. He's had one chance to bat this match, and failed to make any significant runs. That gives him one more chance.

Can you think of a time when you really hoped someone would be able to "decorate the ending with beauty"?

Sourced from 101 Japanese Idioms, by Michael L. Maynard and Senko K. Maynard.

30 November, 2012

Last chance for book giveaway

Did you miss my book giveaway post earlier in November? I have only three entries, two local to me (who I can cover by donating the book to the CAJ library) and one in rural Australia. The challenging qualifier was
someone who lives more than an hour away from their nearest English bookstore.
Anyone else want to enter? If no one else puts their hands up before the end of the weekend, I'll put you in the draw.

Two easy, scrumptious recipes for afternoon tea

I'm trying to do my best today to keep away a cold, or at least minimise the severity of a cold (and no, this is not an invitation for you to give me "cold hints"). I'm lying a bit low today and working quietly at home. However, I have an aching head, exacerbated by one writer's insistence on writing with a low FLESCH readability level (see an explanation here).

Hence, I'm going to opt for an easy blog post. Judie asked me some time back for the recipe for Snickerdoodles.

So here it is:


85g soft butter
2 eggs
1 1 /2 cups* or 330g sugar

Mix thoroughly together.

Sift these together:

2 1/2 cups* or 375g plain flour
3 teasp. baking powder

Then stir into the wet ingredients. Roll into small balls and roll balls in this mixture:
2 teasp. cinnamon
50g sugar

Don't place them too close on the tray. Bake at 190 degrees C for approximately 10 minutes.

Absolutely scrumptious. If you like Cinnamon Toast this recipe is a double bonus. The cinnamon and sugar combo. can also be used to make Cinnamon Toast.

I would have shown you all these gorgeous apple muffins, they've just been eaten up so fast it was hard to take a photo!

Super Simple Apple Muffins

3/4 cup* or 170g sugar
260g SR flour **
1 cup* sultanas
1 teasp. bi-carb soda
3 teasp. mixed spice or cinnamon
1 egg
1 cup* cooked/tinned apple
90g softened butter

Mix all dry ingredients. Add egg, apple, and softened butter. Mix well. Place in 12 hold muffin pan and bake in moderate oven for 20 minutes.

And get your taste buds ready for some awesome action!

For some reason, this time I found the mixture a bit dry, but I simply added a touch of orange juice and that worked just fine.

And before I end, I have to give thanks for my mum who gave me both of these recipes, as well as the skill, and love of baking. Thanks Mum!

*These are Australian sized measuring cups = 250ml.
**SR Flour is Self Raising Flour. Australians are very fortunate to be able to buy flour that already has the raising agent in it. For those of us who don't have that luxury, you can just add 1 teaspoon of baking powder to every cup of plain/cake flour and you're set.

29 November, 2012

Australian Christmas comes to CAJ's 1st graders

And one of the Asian kids even knew
what this game was!
Yesterday I went to CAJ to teach the Grade 1s about Australian Christmases. I did this last year too. What I did was pretty similar to last year, you can check that out here. It was a fun outing. I hope the kids enjoyed it too.

I especially love it that they enjoyed Colin Buchanan. I played a short part of his Christmas DVD, that included a segment of him talking to the kids about what is different about the Australian climate in contrast to some of the Christmas cards that get sent at this time of year. He made an instant connection with this international bunch of kids who'd never "met" him before. Such a great screen presence!

And of course we sang "Aussie Jingle Bells" with him.

If you want to "meet" Colin, go to the link I posted above. He's a fantastic Aussie Christian musician/children's presenter etc. that our kids have loved since they were tiny.

28 November, 2012

When am I called "Wen"?

Today I went back to the hospital I went to last week (wrote about it here) for test results. In Australia they'd phone you, or maybe only phone you if there was a problem with a routine test. But, it seems, I needed to go back and get the results myself. As it was, it took longer to register at the front desk than it took in the doctor's office. I didn't even sit down, I was in and out so fast! I'm glad that I only had a 20 min bike ride to get there. If I'd sat on a train or in traffic for an hour, I would have been a bit annoyed.

After my struggle with one staff member last week, I was pleased to find a person in accounts who could see the funny side of things. She apologised with a smile in her voice as she gave me this invoice:

One problem with a Western name is that they sometimes don't fit on computer generated forms such as this. Most Japanese have between three and five characters in their names.

It is interesting that some places they use your actual romanised name. But more often they used our Japanese-spelt name (as in the second photo).

That shortens my name slightly. Marshall becomes five characters. Wendy is the same length, though. So sometimes they can't even fit my Japanese-spelt name into their computers, especially if they decided to add my middle name, even though it is short.

We have a colleague in Hokkaido who has more than one middle name, plus a long hyphenated surname. His name never fits and is downright annoying when filling out forms.

I remember being annoyed that I had to learn a new way to write my name, but even more annoyed that I had to pronounce my name differently for Japanese people to understand it. I didn't expect that when I came to Japan.

It didn't take too long for that to just become normal, however. So I'll answer to "Maashaaru" just as easily as "Marshall" nowadays.

Interestingly my first name, though they don't have a "W", sounds pretty similar in Japanese. I'm thankful for that. It is written phonetically as "Uendi".

27 November, 2012

Answer to Hard-Off and Off-House photo quiz

Time to reveal what these stores sell. They are second hand stores, hence "off".

Hard-Off sells second-hand electronics, hardware, cameras, other appliances, musical instruments etc.

Off-House sells second-hand household goods, clothing etc.

As one commenter noted, there is also "BookOff", second-hand bookstores. I Googled it and to my surprise found that there are stores in the US as well as France and Korea. 

The names of the stores are a tad mysterious, though, for native English speakers.

26 November, 2012

Our camping frustration

Just in case you got the impression that we had a perfect camping trip. I want to tell you about the most frustrating part of camping for David and I. It is the kids. Actually, it's their unwillingness, at times, to help out.

I have to admit they are better than they were on our early camping trips, but we still have times when they won't help do simple things like unload the car, cart bags, or help pull the tent down.

This trip I tried to relax a bit, remembering that they are kids and need to goof off a bit. My improved attitude did help me a bit. But I still get annoyed when it feels like David and I are doing all the work (especially when it is work that the kids can easily help out with). It becomes even more annoying when you ask for some help and you are ignored. Or they start to help, you leave them to it, and they get distracted and wander off to look at an ant, or have a pretend sword fight with a stick they found.

Fanning the fire. Our youngest especially enjoyed
collecting pine cones to add to the fire this time.
There were times this trip that one or more were doing a fantastic job. For example, our eldest, particularly, did a great job of pumping up beds on our first night. The younger two also did a pretty good job of helping with the fire most meals (which is, of course, more attractive than carting luggage or rolling up sleeping bags). They all helped out, at times, with various other camping-jobs too. Just not always as willingly as I'd have liked.

But they all did jump in (admittedly, after a tongue lashing and some negative-consequence applying) to help us get all the gear back into the house when we got home.

This last thing is a bigger deal that you might think. To unload the car, we have to park it on the road, which is only just wide enough for two cars to carefully pass at low speed, so we are being an inconvenience to anyone using our road. And in putting things into a Japanese house you face the barrier of the shoe-changing step in the entrance. So everything gets piled in the entrance and it soon gets so that there is no room to go in or out. Having one person inside and shoeless to ferry stuff out of the way is pretty important.

But generally, I'd have to say that they are improving in attitude in relation to helping out while we're camping. They're gradually learning all the different tasks that are required during a camping trip. I guess that's half the battle. My feeling is that the more everyone pitches in, the more enjoyment we all get out of the trip. If only I could get them to fully understand that.

I guess it is part of the whole, "Why should we help out with chores at home?" question that kids ask. And parents try to answer as best we can. The "it's a privilege" is usually met with a good deal of scepticism, at least in our house. Do other people have similar experiences in their house?