31 January, 2012

The languishing to-do list

Today I am fighting with myself. You see I have this list of things that must get done . . . and it just isn't getting done. And more things keep getting added to it, without being able to cross off other things.

The problem probably started with my busy week last week. I was sick last Monday and then the snow day last Tuesday was when it all started to come unravelled. I had little time from Thursday onwards to deal with my growing to-do list, but consoled myself with the fact that this week had very little scheduled, so surely I'd be able to catch up. 

Well, guess what? The unexpected, unplanned happened! I grew sicker over the weekend, partly because I overdid it last week (by not doing my to-do list!). So yesterday I was forced to spend most of the day in bed or at the doctor, fretting slightly at my undone to-do list. 

Then came the straw that broke the camel's back. The announcement by the school that First Grade would shut today and tomorrow. Too many children have flu symptoms and it is CAJ's policy to shut a class if a too many of the class comes down with a communicable disease. A sensible policy that is shared by the Japanese schooling system. At CAJ students are prohibited from being on campus. In the Japanese system they are prohibited from doing anything outside the home (even if they are the well ones of the class). However, even sensible policies have their down sides, particularly for those who have to drop whatever they were planning to do on those days.

So today, my to-do list still languishes. And I fret. I probably shouldn't, but I have done. I've tried to be patient. Sitting and playing Junior Scrabble, Racko. Listening to reading and reading to him. But if my exterior has been calm, I haven't been all that calm on the inside. I wish I could more easily drop my expectations, but it is something I find hard to do. I like to be dependable, I hate it when life intervenes and I have to disappoint people, and myself.

30 January, 2012

Too much

I think I really did overdo it last week. My body's telling me so. I've now "got" three of the four major physical ways my body's told me over the years that I've stepped over the line. After two doctor's visits in the last four days I have medication to fix it all, but I guess I'd better do the not-so-obvious and slow down a little. So, I'm signing off today for a bit of a nap.

29 January, 2012

Final wrestling meet reflections

Yesterday our 12 y.o. had his final wrestling meet of the season, his first ever season. It has rushed past very quickly. I cannot allow this to pass without just a few comments.

Firstly. Having learnt a lot at the Wrestling Rules Clinic nine days ago (see here), yesterday was less of an quest in understanding and definitely more enjoyable. Thank you to Coach Kumate (and his mum for passing the idea on) for his excellent instruction. And Coach Rudd for continuing to enlighten us along the way.

Secondly, I have to say I've enjoyed watching my boy wrestle more than I enjoyed him playing basketball, or even running cross country. Part of it is that he's enjoying it (not that he didn't enjoy cross-country, but it could be more of a gruelling experience than sheer enjoyment) and has a good grasp of what he's doing. Also that he gets his moment of glory, I guess. He's not just another runner or another player who might or might not get some game time. But also, to see how much he's grown in knowledge and ability in just the short season of only about two months.

I love this photo, not just because it isn't blurry, but because
it represents determination. Our son (in blue) had been underneath
and managed to reverse the situation to be close to pinning his
That leads me on to reflecting again on the kinds of qualities that the sport of wrestling develops in a person. I've seen sportsmanship, and not taking a loss personally. And the ability to cope with losing, when you cannot blame anyone else on your team. This has particularly been noteworthy with our son's only other team mate. He hasn't had a good season, in terms of wins or even scoring points. But he has shown character. Many others would have given up a long time ago, would have collapsed in tears, or given over to anger. But this young man has persevered in adversity. I can only think that this experience has helped him grow and will give him an advantage over others later in life who have had easy success.

Perseverance is a notable characteristic that we've seen in both boys. Yesterday I saw my son come back from behind to dominate an opponent, almost pinning him. And in another match, he lost the first period, but was able to recover and win the next two periods, ending in pinning his opponent. He showed patience, and the ability to overcome his frustration in a challenging situation. I was impressed. These haven't always been characteristics we've seen in him. I'm excited that wrestling has helped his grow in these areas. 
At lunch time, kids were allowed out on the mats. You can see
our son practising his headstands. 
Just this side of him is his youngest brother wrestling a friend. What fun! 
With mum not saying, watch out for the shogi (Japanese-style 
paper-covered "curtains" of our lounge room).

After he pinned his opponent, he spontaneously expressed concern that his opponent was okay, after seeing his distress (partly shoulder pain, partly disappointment at being pinned three matches running). Compassion. Another valuable character trait. 

I've also seen him caring for his team mate. Coaching him, encouraging him. 

Who would have thought wrestling could bring out these things?

And of course it is great for their bodies. It is great for these guys to be gaining a great deal of control over their bodies. At the same time they're developing muscles that anyone could be proud of. And what guy doesn't like to develop visible muscles? Our guys love to talk about six-packs, show their biceps off etc.. 

Our son's loving doing headstands and can flip from a back arch to a front arch (hard to explain, but the photo shows a back arch, he can flip his legs over his head to the ground in front of him and back again). Most of the high schooler wrestlers at CAJ cannot do that and they're jealous! Now he wants me to get him some 2kg weights (dumbbells), so he can keep building up his strength even though the season is over.

I have mixed feelings about it being over for the year. It is good that we can get some of our quiet Saturdays back (and sleep-ins), but it is sad to see something that he was really getting into, coming to a close. But, I also figure, the way the year is already going, it won't be long until the wrestling comes around again in November!

28 January, 2012

And occasionally everything collides in the one week...

A whole lot of things collided this week, making it hard to get "here" and keep a track. Let me give you a quick rundown.

Sunday-Monday I had a yucky cold. Did what I could, but not very energetically. I did do 30 pushups (easy ones) on Monday and paid for that for the next couple of days!

Monday night it snowed leading to
Tuesday — a "snow day" at CAJ and everyone stayed home, meaning I struggled to get much of what I'd planned to do, done!

Wednesday — was probably the easiest day of the week, but I was running to catch up a lost day. I had an editorial meeting in the morning, which always produces work to do, then I had the gym to go to (only time I managed it in the week, due to illness and other factors), and grocery shopping. And I smashed up some ice in front of our house with a garden spade (lacking any other equipment), to make it safer for pedestrians.

The winner of the Minty wrapper competition
(Minties are an Australian lolly (candy), in
this competition, you have to tear the wrapper
into as long a strip as you can. It was popular.)

Thursday — I caught a train (on an unfamiliar route) to a missionary women's prayer meeting for the day. So blessed and so loved, by God and by friends that day. Oh my! Especially blessed by a friend and faithful reader of this blog who I rode home with. She said, "I read this posts about criticism you've received and wonder what on earth people are saying to you. I love you because you are you." Well, this is the gist of what she said, but I was so incredibly encouraged by her words and the day in general.

Friday — the biggie. I lead the English Bible study at 10, got home at 11.45, just before my missionary friend came for our Bible study over lunch. Then I caught a train just after 2 to meet a Japanese friend for a haircut in my old neighbourhood. By this time my head was aching and home medicating wasn't working, so on the way home I dropped into the doctor (one time when a doctor with first-come-first-serve worked well) and asked his opinion. He was concerned it might be sinusitis, and gave me some medication. Then I came home and jumped straight into Australia Day party preparations. Whipped up a pavlova next to my husband making meat patties and frying them. Our guests arrived between 6 and 6.30 and left around 9. Phew, what a day!

Divvying up the pavlova at our Australia Day party.
Saturday/today — Alarm rang at 6.15 and we were off and running for a day of barracking at wrestling. After we wrestled with Tokyo traffic! Got home at 3.30, tired, but happy. And tonight, after about three days of headaches, my head is feeling pretty good (though needing to go to bed soon).

I don't like being this busy. In fact it stresses me out. You have to know that in the midst of this, other stuff piles up too. Like emails (and a phone call) about editing decisions I need to make, etc. Hopefully next week will be better.

And tonight I received another encouragement. A friend reminded me that my devotional with The Upper Room (my second paid-publication ever) was scheduled for today. Many people in many countries and languages saw it today. If you want to have a look, it's here.

27 January, 2012

It has been cold

It's been pretty cold this week, for Tokyo. The snow that fell on Monday night is still lying round in shadowy places. This includes ice on many smaller roads where the buildings are so close to the road that the sun never reaches them during winter. The road outside our house is like that. I didn't really see the need of shoveling the snow on Tuesday because in my vast experience of five Tokyo winters, the snow has never lingered much more than a day. . . Not so this year.

This is the not-so-nice side of snow. You can't play with it, it mostly looks dirty, and it is dangerous to walk, ride, or drive on. In snow country they put special winter tyres on to cope with such conditions, but not in Tokyo.

In terms of temperature, I was longing for a Hokkaido-style house this morning. More insulation required! Double glazed windows would be nice Outside was -2 C at breakfast-time. Inside in places where there are no heaters (stairs, entrance, hall, toilets, and our bedroom), the temperature was just above zero. Not nice. And temperature are forecast to stay low for several more days at least.

Tomorrow morning we have a nice, early, and no doubt cold start to go and watch wrestling again. At least it should be warm in the car and once we get there. It's just the 'getting going' bit that's tough. and tomorrow I'll have a much better idea of the rules too.

26 January, 2012

You know you're Australian if...

I found this list on someone's Facebook page and I thought it was perfect to celebrate Australia Day here on my blog. I've edited it a little — of course! (Mostly to make it cleaner.)

I cannot tick every box, but certainly a majority. And a disclaimer, I do love my Kiwi and American friends, please don't take the below personally! A lot of this is "said" with a good deal of "tongue in cheek".

You know you're Australian if ...
* You believe that stubbies can be either drunk or worn.
* You're liable to burst out laughing whenever you hear of Americans "rooting" for something.
* You pronounce Melbourne as 'Mel-bin'.
* You believe the 'L' in the word 'Australia' is optional.
* You can translate: 'Dazza and Shazza played Acca Dacca on the way to Maccas.'
* You believe it makes perfect sense for a nation to decorate its highways with large fibreglass bananas, prawns and sheep.
* You think 'Woolloomooloo' is a perfectly reasonable name for a place.
* You're secretly proud of our killer wildlife.
* You believe it makes sense for a country to have a $1 coin that's twice as big as its $2 coin.
* You understand that 'Wagga Wagga' can be abbreviated to 'Wagga' but 'Woy Woy' can't be called 'Woy'.
* You believe that cooked-down axle grease makes a good breakfast spread. You've also squeezed it through Vita Wheats to make little Vegemite worms.
* You believe all famous Kiwis are actually Australian, until they stuff up, at which point they again become Kiwis.
* Beetroot with your Hamburger... Of course.
* You believe that the confectionery known as the Wagon Wheel has become smaller with every passing year. 
* You wear ugg boots outside the house.
* You believe that every important discovery in the world was made by an Australian but then sold off to the Yanks for a pittance.
* You believe that the more you shorten someone's name the more you like them.
* Whatever your linguistic skills, you find yourself able to order takeaway fluently in every Asian language
* You understand that 'excuse me' can sound rude, While 'scuse me' is always polite.
* You know what it's like to swallow a fly, on occasion via your nose.
* You know it's not summer until the steering wheel is too hot to handle and a seat belt buckle becomes a pretty good branding iron.
* Your biggest family argument over the summer concerned the rules for beach cricket.
* You shake your head in horror when companies try to market what they call 'Anzac cookies'.
* You still think of Kylie as 'that girl off Neighbours'.
* When working on a bar, you understand male customers will feel the need to offer an excuse whenever they order low-alcohol beer.
* You know how to abbreviate every word, all of which usually end in -o: arvo, combo, garbo, kero, metho, milko, muso, rego, servo, smoko, speedo, righto, goodo etc.
* You know that there is a universal place called "woop woop" located in the middle of nowhere...no matter where you actually are.
* You have some time in your life slept with Aeroguard on in the summer. Maybe even as perfume.
* You know that the barbecue is a political arena; the person holding the tongs is always the boss and usually a man. And the women make the Salad
* You say 'no worries' quite often, whether you realise it or not.
* You've drank your tea/coffee/milo through a Tim Tam
* You own a Bond's chesty. In several different colours.
* You know that roo meat tastes pretty good, But not as good as barra. Or a meat pie.
* You know that some people pronounce Australia like "Straya" and that's ok.
* And you will forward this list to other Australians, here and overseas, realising that only they will understand.

25 January, 2012

Our fridge

My husband found these photos on our camera the other day and was bewildered. I took the photo to show off the "Winning Ham". 

But then I wondered, would someone not living in Japan find the interior of my fridge intriguing? I've no idea. 

This day we had a lot of left-overs waiting to be eaten later in the week. Probably the only notable thing is the piles of one litre cartons of milk. When we go back to Australia, the massive three litre containers, we are a little bit scared. If you look closely you'll see a number of things that come in smaller packages than they do in Australia. Yoghurt, butter, OJ, for example.

I have to add that I am so thankful for this large fridge and the food that we fill it with. The fridge has served us well and is a great size for our family. 

Here's me when I first took possession of this
fabulous fridge 18 months ago.

And the bigger picture is that God has provided all our needs in abundance. This month we received support figures for 2011 and God has been very good to us via the many gifts from many people.

24 January, 2012

A snow day

Frozen snow out the front of our house this
morning. Nice and crackly to walk on, not too
slippery, thankfully.
Last night, after a very grey day, the rain turned to snow. I realised this while I showered in our very cold shower room. The shower room temperature is usually close to the outside temperature, which means well under 10 degrees Celsius. If there is a significant breeze, it usually joins you in there too because the louvres don't fully shut. While I was braving it last night there were some very large things slapping into the opaque glass of the louvres. After I was fully dressed, I looked outside and yes, we had snow coming down.

You can see the snow wasn't very deep. The boys had fun with
frozen puddles, and seeing which ones would hold their weight.

It is funny, though, how previous experience colours your view of the present. My Facebook page is always interesting. I have a large variety of friends from different countries, climates etc. At this time of year I have people "sweating it out in Melbourne" and others "digging their way out" in Sapporo. So it was interesting to watch people's reactions to last night's snow fall. We had the comments, "heavy snow in Tokyo" and "is amused watching the amount of time devoted on the news to snow in Tokyo. One of the reporters at Shinjuku station excitedly reported that white snow was falling outside (camera shot indeed shows a few white flakes falling from the sky). I guess it's all a matter of perspective and what you're used to."

I have to admit, that after living in Sapporo for nearly four years, where every year they get metres of snow over several months, I don't have the awe for the stuff that most Australians do.

Yes, it is pretty and fun to play in. But it is also cold, wet, and dangerous. In large amounts it is labour intensive and very inconvenient. I really do sound like cold, wet blanket, don't I? 

Unfortunately the park near our place is very flat, no sledding
hills at all. The little hill you see in the background leads
straight into a little creek. But snow ball fun worked.
The one thing snow does make me is a bit nostalgic. I love the way it transforms a bleak city landscape into something beautiful. I like the sound it makes as you walk over it. I love how much fun kids can have in it. And although those four winters I spent living in snow-country were not much fun (for more reasons than the snow), somehow I manage to dredge up some nostalgia.

So, if you haven't already guessed, school was cancelled today. But that was only CAJ (and other international schools, I believe). Japanese schools were still in session. While we were at the park we saw mums riding bikes (!!!!) with their kids loaded up. And others walking their little ones along in their kindergarten uniforms—shorts! 

Japan has this concept of "Gaman", which essentially means, "Put up with it and do your best." Or "patience, tolerance, self-control, endurance". It is what they say to the kids who are freezing in their shorts. It was what was said to me when I was being wheeled from the operating theatre after a caesarian to deliver my second son and they broke the news that they hadn't added in any painkillers to my drip. It is what the world saw when disaster struck last year and Japanese were patient and lacking in panic and crime. And it is why schools remain open when adverse weather conditions strike.

It is something that is hard for Westerners to understand. We are more interested in our own comfort, in our own convenience. But it is probably something we could do well to learn about from the Japanese (though I'm not sure about the shorts-in-winter idea).

23 January, 2012

Honesty again

During the night as I blew my nose again and again, I was reminded of this ad.

My nose has slowed down since then, but my head is still pretty stuffed.

This morning I would have probably stayed home and felt sorry for myself except that there was something at CAJ that I wanted to attend. This week every year the school holds a Spiritual Life Emphasis Week (SLEW). One of the key events is a daily chapel with worship and a guest speaker. I mentioned it here last year. I was greatly blessed last year by going along to the chapel times. In fact it helped to drag me out of a pretty black pit.

This year's guest speaker is a former headmaster of the school, the man who was "in charge" when we first arrived at the school in 2005. He's a man whose sense of humour I've always appreciated, but this time there isn't much humour. As he said, there have been a lot of tough things the school has had to deal with over the last 12 months. And tsunami jokes . . . well, there's nothing funny about what happened in 2011.

In the last four years he and his family have also been through some tough times. He's started by sharing some of that. This week he's challenging us to be honest by being honest himself. Not just sharing the hard things, but the hard "not-Christian-sounding" questions he's asked in the midst of their difficulties.

I'm keen to hear the rest of what he has to say. Unfortunately tomorrow is the only other day I can go; the rest of the talks I'll have to listen to online without the benefit of worship beforehand.

One of the factors that had me in a black hole last January was a conflict with someone about honesty. She attacked me saying I was too honest and open; after I'd complained she wouldn't communicate with me beyond the surface level. Yes, we're poles apart. 

I've wondered in the months since then if it was an attack that came from Satan. One of the things people comment most often on about my writing is my honesty. And I believe that not only is that how God would have me live (and write), but that the Enemy hates it when we are honest. He attacks us by bringing people into our lives who take advantage of us when we are honest. He reminds us of how vulnerable we are when we don't hide our true selves. He whispers lies into our hearts about how people won't like us if they truly knew us; he tells us that our witness will be destroyed if people saw what we really are like.

But why does he hate honesty so much? I'm thinking (and this is just a hunch) that it is because in the darkness of us hiding our true selves, sin can fester more easily. Last night I was watching "Grey's Anatomy". It is a show about brand new doctors and the struggles they find themselves with in the hospital system. One of these interns said to another, "Do you feel like you don't know what you're doing..." the other interrupted with, "...and feel scared 100% of the time. YES." The first one said, "Phew, I'm glad I'm not the only one."

Isn't that so like our lives as Christians? Most of the time we walk around pretending we've got it all together. We assume that everyone else does have it all together and it is just us who doesn't. We feel ashamed and therefore hide behind our well-formed mask. I'm becoming convinced that this is one of Satan's devices. He loves to work in the dark, meddling with our thoughts like this.

Well, this is one of my hobby horses. Just in the last year I've blogged about it several times. Here I posted a song about it by Steven Curtis Chapman. This post about balance in communication provoked an interesting discussion that I blogged about here. And this post where I've declared my commitment to openness and honesty.

It is a controversial topic among Christians. But what do you think? Do you think our Enemy likes us to hide our true selves away?

22 January, 2012

Parenting is even more frustrating if you try to Carpe Diem

My head is stuffed full today, I haven't had a cold for quite some time and have forgotten how miserable it can make you. Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning . . . so today I'll share with you someone else's writing. 

This article I found on someone's Facebook wall on Friday. It's an honest view of parenting and expresses very well the frustrations of parents when we're told by well meaning older folk to, "Make the most of every moment." And it doesn't just leave you with the frustration, it gives an alternative. Well worth a read.

21 January, 2012

Yesterday was a whopper

Yesterday was a whopper. Started with David and I creeping downstairs to have breakfast on our own. An ordinary work-day breakfast, but because the boys didn't have school (student-free staff workday), we neglected to call them for breakfast and enjoyed some adult conversation on our own. Was a lovely change. I cannot remember the last time we ate breakfast on our own.

David went off to work and the boys straggled down, wondering where Dad was and why he wasn't making them breakfast (one wanted to know if Dad had made the porridge or me, apparently I have a reputation).

Oh, and it was making attempts at snowing. Most of it melted as soon as it hit the ground, but certainly looked pretty (and cold) as it floated down.

After a somewhat leisurely start, I piled the boys in the car for a couple of quick errands. When we got back, we gathered our packed lunch and walked down to an apartment building adjacent to school. There, on the ground floor in a rented room, one of the administration assistants who organises the posting out of Japan Harvest, had taken delivery of the latest issue and was working to get them posted out. This is an aspect of magazine production that even primary kids can help with. Putting magazines and address sheets into plastic envelopes isn't hard and more hands make a shorter job. 

It took us less time, but more emotional energy, as we supervised rather brittle workers (who whined when they got bored, or if something wasn't working to their satisfaction, or if someone got in their way). I was glad that, at the last minute, I took the laptop and a DVD, it helped in those last stages where boredom set in.

Nevertheless, the job is done. And I'm always happy to have my boys realise that I do have work that doesn't involve housework. I don't just sit at home and play computer games all day and wait for them to come home from school.

So, we were back home before 4. And had an hour before we dragged everyone off to the mini gym at school (like a loft in the main gym). At this time of year it is set up for wrestling with mats over almost the entire room. We went there for this, a training session for parents who want to understand more about wrestling. And the idea for it all started here, folks, on this blog!

We spent 45 minutes learning how Freestyle International wrestling is scored, what the various "calls", rules, etc. are. The coach did a great job. It was very helpful, I'm sure I'll find watching wrestling more interesting and less confusing next time. The group was small enough to ask questions (just like I did of my dad when learning about cricket). It was also enjoyable to sit for 45 minutes and listen to a Kiwi accent (much closer to an Aussie accent than anything else we hear around here). 

The time spent there had double use. With all the mats lying around, the boys pretty soon broke off any pretence of listening to the rules and started their own wrestling matches. After a cold, wet, inside day, it was a perfect outlet for extra boy-energy. They had such a good time they didn't want to go home, but unfortunately our day wasn't done yet. We had tickets for the school's Senior Talent Show at 7pm. So, we had to force them out of there, back home (300m away) for a quick left-overs meal and then shove them out of the house again in time to get a seat for this popular show.

Though we were all tired and it was a late night for little boys (we got home at 9.30), it was fun. Our 6 y.o. particularly enjoyed the "2 guy show" where one senior provided a head and "feet" (with his hands) and another senior provided the hands. Hard to explain how the act went, but it had our son howling with laughter. It wasn't the usual, "feed him cereal", but rather a compilation of music/sounds with appropriate actions (like ballet steps).

Before yesterday I'd been struggling to hold off a cold, but I think it pushed me over the edge and I've woken up feeling a bit under the weather. Writing this morning has been hard work! Please forgive me for spelling/writing errors. 

Thankfully I'd already decided not to go to our eldest's wrestling meet today, just feeling like the younger two needed a quiet day at home. Turns out I needed a quiet day too. I watch others who have no children or grown children and wonder at the amazing feats they're able to achieve. But to be honest, these kids really drain me. And when I push them to their limits (like yesterdays constantly in and out, an unusual schedule, and then a late night), it not only wears them out, it wears me out. So, signing off for now.

19 January, 2012

Japan photo #20 solved

What were those ladies doing? I think most of you were too embarrassed to even put a guess out there. It was a Catholic kindergarten's farewell party/fun concert, so it wasn't as bad as it looks. In fact I think that I've seen it done at a church event too (but I could be wrong about that). 

It is something along the lines of Pictionary and Charades. The participants (who, in this case were "volunteered", I think) have a word to convey to the audience. They spell it out with...their bottoms. See, not that bad! Hilarious and hard to guess.

How many does a girl need?

How many emails does a girl need? I now have six, not counting my Facebook email and mobile phone emails.
One is a mission based one for work. This is our main family account and the one that is on our monthly newsletter and our prayer cards. Our mission is in the middle of switching the entire organisation (over 1,500 people) to new email addresses. So we currently have two functioning addresses with them.

Another is a yahoo account that I use for writing, Facebook, Blog comments etc.

My fourth account is another work one and my most use-specific email address it is only for emails that come from OMF Japan's website. One of my jobs is to answer these emails or direct them to the right person.

My fifth account is another work one. It is for the magazine where I'm associate editor.

My sixth email address is new this week. I was to be a part of a three-way iChat for an editorial meeting. The easiest way to manage that was to get a gmail account.

Can you tell I do a lot of my work on email? One of the reason for the multiple emails is to try and keep some order to my life. But it requires vigilence. Yesterday I sent an important email to my managing editor using my web-response email. He nearly didn't read it because he didn't know the address.

Anyway, I've decided to make my latest email address do more work for me. I've decided to make it my public Blog email address. As in, I will post it here and anyone can contact me via this email address. If you know my omf address, please use it, but if you don't know how to contact me, my gmail address is this: wendy.marshall04 at gmail.com

18 January, 2012

Special Friends are priceless

My friend and I when we were babies.
Yesterday we received a parcel from a friend I've known since I was six weeks old. She's precious! A long-term friendship like that is full of ups and downs, times of closeness and times when you were further apart. But through it all God has blessed us both hugely!

I squirreled the parcel away when it arrived, knowing it was be fun to open it together at dinner time. I had no idea, though! Towards the end of the meal I casually said, "It looks like Dad's going to finish first, he gets the prize." 
Someone said, "What prize?" 
"The prize of opening the parcel that arrived today."

Oh my, you've never seen so much food eaten so quickly. Especially my 6 y.o., who had had half a plate of food left. Next minute I looked it was all gone!

But, they were right, it was a parcel worth getting excited about. She'd included one packet of sweet treasure for each person. One packet of specially flavoured Tim Tams for each parent, a packet of Mars Bars for our 12 y.o., a packet of Freddo Frogs for our 9 y.o., and a packet of jelly snakes for our 6 y.o.. No need to think about what we'd have for dessert last night!

In addition to that she'd included T-shirts for the boys. In Australian flag colours, with the words "Fair Dinkum Aussie". I had to explain that. (Fair Dinkum means true, genuine). And several other yummy treats. These will be great at our Australia Day party next week.

The present that is most special to me, though, is this small plaque with a poem. In case you cannot see it in the photo it reads:

A Special Friend
Friends are like angels who help us fly.
Friends give us hope as we reach for the sky.
Friends lend a hand as we dream and we plan.
Friends are the joy that makes each day grand.
You are a special friend and your friendship is a blessing to me.

Now that is a blessing. Thanks, dear friend!

17 January, 2012

Japan photo #20

Okay, I haven't done one of these for a while. But today I came across this one as I sorted old photos. What do you think these ladies are doing?

I'll post the answer in a couple of days. Probably there are many who've lived in Japan who don't know, but for those who do, just hold back a little bit and see what people guess.

Cool results from blogging

This is very cool. One of my Facebook friends is one of our son's wrestling coaches. She saw my post on Sunday about wrestling and showed him. He gave her an impromptu lesson on wrestling rules. She told me and I suggested he should do something for the parents of the wrestlers. Then we get an email today announcing that he's doing just that.

I have so much fun with this blog! 

Now I just have to organise the family in order to be able to get to it. It is from 5-5.30 on Friday, before we go to a 7pm variety concert that the seniors are doing. We need to eat in the gap there. Can we do it? Yes we can! 

16 January, 2012

"It takes a while!"

This was our Australian visitor's comment yesterday as we came home from church. What she referred to was The Entering of the House. 
Just inside the front door we have baskets for winter
"bits", note the earmuffs hanging on the edge.
In summer these baskets hold hats.

In winter it is a bit of an event. After stowing all our bikes in their designated spots (there isn't much room and two of the bikes have to be lifted up two steps to their spots). Everyone troops inside with their bike keys, remove their helmets, shoes, gloves, and ear muffs. And stows them in the appropriate spots while removing their shoes. Then they can step up two steps into the house. Even though our entry is pretty big by Japanese standards, when you have six people doing this it causes a bit of a bottle neck.

Granted the boys are not also removing scarves and jackets like their parents — they scorn these in a Tokyo winter, after all, it is above zero! They're not even taking off snow suits. And, unlike earlier years, they can do it themselves . . . but still, it takes a while.

I do miss Australia a little. Where you don't usually store these things at the front door and, in fact, you don't need most of it (the earmuffs, jackets, etc.)! 

15 January, 2012

Learning about wrestling the hard way

My son is underneath here, he is very
good at this particular move. If the opponent is 
on top, the safest thing to do is to lay flat, 
with legs spread apart (so they cannot flip 
you over using your legs).
Yesterday I went to my son's wrestling meet. It's the first time I've seen him wrestle (aside from a little video my husband took of his first meet last month) and only the second time I've witnessed international free-style wrestling (unless I unintentionally saw it some other time on TV). 

I think that the sports you enjoy the most, you learn about at your parent's side, or at school. In my life, the sport I have spent the longest amount of time watching has been cricket. Thousands of hours of cricket watching (some games go for five days, so it isn't to hard to rack up many hours). Many, many hours of watching at my father's side and him patiently explaining all the "whys" and rules and terminology as it went along. That's a great way to learn a sport. It is quite a bit harder to learn a new sport as a adult, simply because you don't want to sound like an idiot. Pride, I guess?

Well, this week I've settled for sounding like an idiot. Actually I didn't really care. I just wanted to understand what it was that my son was so passionate about. And to know when to cheer!

Here my son is working hard to pin the opponent, hoping to
flip him over and gain the ultimate "pin" win.
The middle school team has only two wrestlers and they're both new to the sport, as are their parents. (The middle school and high school competitions here are usually held in different venues. So we had no other parents to help us out.) So we had fun asking each other questions yesterday. We plagued the coach and other parents from other schools around us (they must have loved us being there :-) ). Here are some things I've learnt:

  • Weight is important and wrestlers are usually only paired up with other wrestlers about the same weight
  • Weight isn't important, in that little skinny guys can wrestle just as well as big bulky guys
  • You score points for various moves. e.g. taking your opponent from standing to lying on the mat scores points, so does flipping him 360 degrees horizontally (like a roll) 
  • But there are many things that score points that I don't understand
  • A bout lasts two minutes (at least in this competition) and it was the best of three rounds
  • The ultimate goal is to pin your opponent on their back with both shoulder blades touching the mat
  • Most matches are won without a "pin", but instead on points
  • But a pin is more exciting
  • I think that yesterday's rules were that if you got more than six points ahead, you won the round and it was finished
  • It is HARD to take photos of wrestling, especially if the gym is only half lit (any hints from you photographers out there are welcome — bearing in mind that I have only a moderately simple camera). The easiest times to take photos are when your son is pinned underneath another wrestler, but that's not something you want to show off to the world! 
  • Wrestling is a great winter sport: our bleachers were hard, but warm with radiators underneath them! (I felt sorry for the parents of the hockey teams and futsal teams, as they sat for hours out in the sub 10 degrees temperatures. Another reason to be happy I have boys, they get to do an inside sport in winter!)
I learnt the term "ankle pick". It was how my son won his last bout. A surprisingly fast and effective way to down your opponent.

It is funny where your kids lead you. I never envisaged myself watching (or even enjoying) wrestling. But there I was yesterday, cheering my son as he did everything I'd taught him not to do. Not to push, shove, not to trip or hurt people. But before he did it, he shook hands with his opponent and after he'd finished, he shook hands again. It's pretty impressive the way they keep the aggression focused on just the game, and don't make it personal.

Yesterday I saw my son's determination put to good use. He's worked hard so far and he's learning and improving. I'm a happy wrestling mum.

14 January, 2012

Planning an Australia Day party

I'm excited about an Australia Day party I'm planning for the 27th (a day late, but we don't get a public holiday for the Thursday). We haven't done this for a long time, but figured it was a good excuse to get some folk together.  It's turned out to be a good excuse for getting to know some Aussies who are around, but, well, we don't know them all that well.

So we have one Aussie family from school (but only Dad and two teenage daughters can come, plus an Australian friend of theirs who's passing through town), and one Aussie-Japanese family from church (Australian dad, Japanese mum and two pre-school aged kids). We have one American family (who our kids know pretty well) as ring-ins. Plus our family. 

The Americans are feeling a little nervous, can you believe it? They thought they might need some help, some phrases or something to help them fit in. We never did get around to completing that conversation (we were watching our kids wrestle at an interschool meet — more about that tomorrow). But I wonder what I should tell them? Any (tasteful) ideas?

Food-wise I'm planning an "indoor" BBQ. All the trappings of a barbie, but without the outside grill (and with almost no backyard and close to zero temperatures at night, that's probably wise). I still have to lay my hands on some beetroot. And I'm planning to make a pavlova for dessert. Yummmmm.

Entertainment-wise, I'd love to watch The Castle, but don't think it is all that suitable for all these kids we'll have here (should figure out how to have an adult-only movie night some time...). So instead I'm thinking of pulling out all those Australian/Australian themed games/ puzzles we have. We have at least two jigsaw puzzles (Opera House and a map of Australia). We also have Australian Monopoly and Squatter. 

What do you think? About seven adults and ten kids, ranging in age from two to sixteen. What would you do in a small house for a Friday night Australia Day party?

13 January, 2012

Unfortunately, this is an M rated post

I recently received the January edition of Australian Women's Weekly (the subscription was a present last year). I was shocked to find a naked woman on the cover. In the article inside, Deborah Hutton tells us why she agreed to pose naked. 
"The reason I agreed to pose nude for The Weekly is to celebrate that I'm 50 and my body is the best it can be...For me, it's much more than just being naked on a cover. I fear there is too much emphases on how thin women ought to be and not enough on health and the acceptance of who we are, with all our imperfections...It's a tasteful photograph, of someone who is comfortable in her skin. It's a celebration for me of not shying away form the fact I'm 50, a time most women fear, as society dictates the best years are behind them."
Why, I ask, is it necessary to pose naked on a magazine cover to prove that you're comfortable in your skin? Is that the best way to address the issue of an overemphasis on youth and thinness? Isn't it selling women short? Exposing those parts of our bodies which should be reserved for viewing and enjoyment only by those who love us and have committed to keep doing so is only achieving a cheapening of who we are. Rather than helping the issue of an overemphasis on how we look, it is feeding into the same issue. It's saying that how we look is important, important enough to take someone's clothes off and show off their 50 y.o. body.

Did anyone stop to think how this affects the others who will see this magazine cover? After all this magazine is on magazine stands all over the country, and especially next to the places where young children queue with their mums to buy their groceries. And women whose marriages are devastated because of pornography. How will they feel about this "celebration"? And us mums who are trying to bring up our boys with a semblance of decency towards the opposite sex. How are we supposed to do that when women are throwing their naked bodies out there for all to see?

The "tasteful photograph" presumably means they've stopped short at showing all the woman's breasts and no pubic hair, but really.

Last time we were in Australia I was shocked that many women (even Christians) were very happy to show cleavage and bras. In fact it was hard to buy clothes that totally covered that part of your anatomy (especially if you have a short torso). So I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by this. And I could go on. But...

I'll stop before I become incoherent.

12 January, 2012

Cold and my inaugural wrestling meet

It isn't as cold here as where we first lived in Japan (Sapporo). I think they had something like -9 this morning. We only had -2 (Celcius). But that is cold enough. The unheated parts of our house were about 4 degrees. My profile photo for this blog is this one on the left. 

That just makes me feel cold right now. I'm thinking that this other one might be more suitable.

Last night we went for my first taste of wrestling. The high school wrestling team had a meet with another international school in CAJ's gym, so we went along to support them. It was fun, especially the more eventful wrestles. Some of it reminded me of rugby league, especially when one wrestler got lifted off the floor and almost dumped on his head. Looked like a football tackle to me! And another bout was between two guys who were over 200lbs (90kg). This one was quite exciting as the CAJ wrestler pinned his opponent in a dramatic moment. The title of that play we were made to read at high school "Let the Big Men Fly," kept running through my mind.

I'm sensing this is just the beginning of my career as a wrestling mum. Our 12 y.o. has joined the team this year. Actually he is 50% of the team, middle schoolers have to choose between wrestling and basketball. Basketball is the more glamorous sport at our school, even though they have to go to early morning practises (before the sun gets up). 

Our son is really enjoying it and all reports I've heard is that he's doing well and has potential. There is a lot to learn, it seems. You might think, Wrestling – lots of brawn, not much brains, but actually that isn't true. They have to problem solve constantly as they pit themselves against their opponent. And they get into some very awkward positions that they have to try and pull themselves out of. It calls for a good portion of persistence too, giving up easily is not a good trait for a wrestler. Anyway, I am no expert...a mere beginner spectator. 

On Saturday we're taking the boys to watch their brother wrestle. Last night was just a short taste (only an hour), but Saturday we'll be there several hours. Our boys were fascinated last night, we'll see how they last the distance on Saturday.