29 February, 2012

Another snowy day

See the thick horizontal line of snow? That is a rope. Today's
snow was wet and sticky. Everyone's come home with wet
shoes, gloves, pants etc.
We woke up to snow this morning. Falling gently, but steadily. It is now 3pm and it has only just stopped! Pretty unusual weather for Tokyo. In fact it is the most snow we've ever seen in our brief 5 2/3 years in this city. However, unlike this day in January, school wasn't cancelled. That is mainly because it started late and staff and students were able to get to school without danger.

I even had to go out and shovel it earlier, that's something I've never done in Tokyo. I probably should go again now that it has stopped, but it is so cosy in here and my boots are still wet from my trip out at lunch time.

I'd planned to go to the gym today, but instead of pulling out my bike, I grabbed my umbrella and crunched my way there on foot. The Japanese word for how I felt is natsukashii. Meaning, somewhat nostaligic. Our first days in Japan were spent crunching through snow. In fact our first four years we spent crunching through snow for about five months every winter.

However, the nostalgia didn't last too long. By the time I got home my feet were wet (despite my snow boots). I wasn't cold, but the snow was turning to slush and it just wasn't so pretty anymore. Nor was it crunchy.

And now the boys are all coming home from school with wet clothes. Our 9 y.o. went to school in the snow with a only a hoodie and t-shirt, and sneakers. Unbelievable child. No scarf, gloves, no jacket. He is amazing or amazingly crazy.

So I'd better sign off and get to work on homework now.

And if anyone out there in blogdom can give me a hint on how to change the settings in Blogger to get rid of these ridiculous huge paragraph breaks, I'd love to hear from you!

28 February, 2012

One of Japan's dark secrets

Yesterday I went on a day trip to a place south of Yokohama called Kamakura. It is about 60km south of here. Kamakura is a small town that was Japan's political centre for over a century from 1192 A.D. It has many temples and shrines and even a beach and an island. Tourists flock there (see here).

The trip was organised by the wife of our regional director, particularly to visit the temple where people go to pray for the souls of dead children and aborted babies. We spent time listening to a short-term missionary tell us about her experience with post-abortion counselling in the US and then about what she's discovered about Japan's situation. Ohhhhh, it's terrible.

The many statues here were shocking to see.
This is less than a third of all the statues we saw
in this small area.
You probably don't know, but oral contraception has not been available here until quite recently. In fact abortion has an accepted form of birth control for centuries. It is believed that at least 1 million abortions are performed every year. Approximately one in three women have had one, and many women have had several.

We also learned that some doctors practice infanticide. Where, if an obviously disabled child is born, they'll kill it and tell the mother is was still born! The evils hard to even type here.

It was hard to see the exploitation of pain. Their
grief is taken advantage of by selling all sorts of
incense, candles, and various charms, and tablets.
Temples are a money making business for sure.
One of the ways they deal with the emotional pain is by visiting temples and making offerings, having a special ceremony, burning incense etc. 
Yesterday we went to a temple that is especially visited by people who had abortions or children who died. The temple houses the kannon, a popular Japanese Buddhist deity who helps in the raising of healthy children. However, in recent years, parents have set up statues (see photo) to represent their aborted babies. Parents visit there to pray for the souls of their lost children. They are considered to be still alive and have a link to this world via the cemetery. They seek to maintain some active verbal or emotional communication with the dead child so that the soul of the dead child doesn't seek retribution upon the mother or living family. (I don't really understand the above, but am largely repeating what has been explained to me.)

There is much tragedy here in this issue, but one of the tragedies are the women who continue on living as if everything is okay (emotional control is a high value here), but who are devastated inside. Like other problems in Japanese society they are covered up by the family so that no one else knows of the shame. You can only wonder how much of the depression and other mental illnesses that many Japanese suffer stem from this one issue.

I get mad when people rave about how amazing Japan is. When they've just visited here briefly and seen the glamorous, polite Japan, the polished outside, the portrayed image that we'd all supposed to believe — they don't really know how much pain and ugliness is hidden underneath.  They miss how much Japan needs true hope.

27 February, 2012


He's home. David's back safe and sound, despite some hairy rides in Shanghai taxis. Relief. I'm no longer the only one responsible for everything around here. Responsibility is so exhausting!

It's been a big weekend, only because I was an "only one". But then today I joined with some colleagues on a day trip. I'll fill you in on it tomorrow, it is too big a topic to waste on a tired brain.

In order to get there I had to leave home at 7.45, before the boys could leave for school (they can only be on campus from 8am, and we only live 5 minutes from school). Thankfully one of the colleagues I was travelling with volunteered the services of her Grade 9 son to stay with the boys until they could leave for school. It made it so much easier to get them ready — they viewed this almost as a play date, and were therefore almost totally ready for school by the time I left. But so I didn't have to get up at 5am, I made lunches last night, and did some of the washing and hung it out last night (on the hangers which hung in our bathroom until I got up this morning).

We travelled for about an hour and a half to get there, most of that standing. Then we walked around much of the day and I caught the train (actually four trains) home again on my own(!!!). I'm tired! Too tired to tell you much else about the day. But here's a couple of photos for your enjoyment, and I'll be back tomorrow to tell you about the reasons for our day trip.

Entrance to the temple we visited.
Early sign that spring is coming: the plum blossoms are beginning to bloom.
My traveling companions.
Yep, I was there!
I think I rode eight trains and one bus today.

26 February, 2012

Not giving in to frustration or dissatisfaction

Okay, so how's it going here? Well, we've had a calmer day today than yesterday. Not long after I wrote yesterday's post things went quite pear shaped with the guys. I don't really want to give you the ugly details, but it was not pretty. Thankfully I was able to connect with David on Skype after they all were in bed and off-load a little. He is great about that — he doesn't mind me telling about whatever "awful" thing happened in my day, be it with the boys or with something else like editing. He's my biggest supporter!

Got breakfast made without much drama (I never make breakfast unless David isn't here, and usually the boys complain about my poor service! So this is noteworthy!). Got everyone to and from church this morning without having to yell. And yes, that happens, but today the only reason I yelled was to stop our 6 y.o. from running into cars. We even managed to have a bit of a rest after lunch and get some piano practice done with the aforementioned 6 y.o. And now I have the two youngest ones playing card games without scratching each other's eyes out. Considering their recent history, that is very noteworthy! Some folk are praying for us, I just know it. Thank you, if it's you.

This morning was a good sermon too. He started in Job 2, but it was about what makes life worth living. He gave a number of scenarios where people begin to get unsatisfied with life. For example, when someone becomes an invalid and unable to contribute, or when an educated woman becomes a mum and stay-at-home wife (which tends to come with more expectations in many marriages in Japan than it does in Australia) and feels frustrated because  of the drudgery she feels, or when someone doesn't get into the course or school they want, or have a marriage partner or children as they'd dreamed. His point was we need to be careful when we say that life is only worth living if we achieve our goals, if we are doing something that looks worthwhile. Our life, however, is worth living in God's eyes if we're not taking life for granted and we're using whatever gifts God has given us to the best of our ability, whatever situation we're in. I think I've got that right. Does that make sense?

So for me, this has played out like this: I'm frustrated because I haven't been able to become the missionary I want to be, to learn Japanese like I want to be able to. However, God has given me other skills that I am able to use, like the ability to write, and to edit, and the ability to encourage others. Because I've chosen to use those abilities, I need to be satisfied with how God's made me, and not get so frustrated at what I cannot do as well as I'd like.

The same with parenting, I'm not as good a parent as I'd like to be. However I cannot give in to the frustration. But rather be satisfied that I'm striving to do the best I can and that God has both given me these kids (with all their foibles) and my abilities, and that it is pleasing to him that I am trying to raise them in a godly way.

Well, enough writing for me for now. I've got to get some boys through the shower-dinner-teeth-devotions-bed marathon again. Praying it will be a calmer ride than yesterday.

25 February, 2012

Admitting my weakness (just one of many)

In the interest of being transparent, I need you to tell you that I've not been looking forward to this weekend. David, my husband, flew to Shanghai yesterday for a professional development weekend. 

I feel a bit incompetent admitting that I hate him going away for just a weekend, because lots of my friends endure this for much longer and more often. That's probably why I'm hesitant to mention it here (that's the first reason I shouldn't complain). 

But the truth is we are really so much a team that it is hard to separate like this, even for a couple of days. We rely on each other a lot to do what we do. I particularly appreciate his partnership in parenting the boys. These guys aren't easy, they push us hard. Having a two-person team to deal with the assaults, makes it just a little easier.

The second reason why I really shouldn't complain is that in actual fact I've gone away more often than him in the last couple of years.

The third reason I shouldn't complain is that they are getting older and much more competent. Two of them even set up the majority of breakfast for us all this morning. (They didn't make my coffee, but that's probably expecting too much!)

So, let me get away from complaining and tell you what he's doing in China. This year he's teaching two AP subjects, physics and calculus. For all you non-Americans out there I need to explain. AP is short for Advanced Placement and the subjects count as credit for college. The curriculum is decided by a central board and the exams are marked (US=graded) by them too. Wikipedia gives this description:
The Advanced Placement (AP) program is a curriculum in the United States and Canada sponsored by the College Board which offers standardized courses to high school students that are generally recognized to be equivalent to undergraduate courses in college. Participating colleges grant credit to students who obtained high enough scores on the exams to qualify.
According to the Good Schools Guide International, it is "usually much more rigorous than the general course offerings. Advanced Placement classes are graded differently than other classes offered."[1] The most taken AP exam in 2008 was AP United States History with 346,641 students, and the least taken was AP Italian Language and Culture with 1,930 students.
It boosts their high school GPA and gives them a better chance of getting into college. I don't know how equivalent it is to the International Baccalaureate (IB), but a short internet search reveals it is a very hot topic. If you're interested, here's a short taster.

But anyway, CAJ doesn't offer IB, and only some AP courses. This is the first year that my husband has taught these AP courses, or any AP courses, so it has been a steep learning curve for him. Unfortunately professional development pertaining to these courses isn't readily available on this side of the globe. If we happened to be Americans who go home for the summer, he'd have been able to go to a course in the states last summer, but that was just too much to consider as a special side trip. Maybe one day we'll get to the States, perhaps once we're just a couple again.

So, he's at Shanghai American School for the weekend, back Monday afternoon. A short one this time. The next overseas trip is only a couple of weeks away, though. On the 17th he'll go to Thailand for nine days with the senior class for their ministry trip to build classrooms for a poor tribal community that CAJ's been helping for some years now. I think it's great he can go, but I'm steeling myself for his absence. And praying hard that the boys will be unusually helpful and cooperative!

I keep reminding myself, You're a competent adult. You used to manage on your own before you got married, you can do it now. But there's something about having three strong-willed boys and living in Japan that undermines my confidence in such platitudes somehow!

I guess I need to set my mind on this verse:  
 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

24 February, 2012

Appreciating an active life in Japan

I was talking with a friend this morning about how we are shocked by people's weight when we go to our home countries. I find it particularly difficult when I meet someone I knew as thin or fairly average, and find that they have ballooned. Both of us commented that we feel average or large here; but with a simple aeroplane trip, that changes and suddenly we are smaller than average. In height as well as weight. 

My friend is going with her family on their first home assignment from the middle of the year. She's a little worried at what her kids might say when they see obese people around. We simply aren't used to seeing that here in Japan, and you know what kids can be like. 

Mind you we had this discussion over coffee/tea and donuts! I've had a friend in Australia ask me how I stay "thin". My answer is basically that we are not extravagant in our eating, actually we try to eat fairly healthily. We don't have "bad" food, we just limit how much we eat of it. 

The other big factor is, of course, exercise. Life here has a fair bit of exercise built into it. Let me show you a sample week from my life to give you the idea:

SundayRide to church (about 10 minutes) on our bikes. Ride home from church "the long way" along the river (about 15 minutes). If the boys are particularly restless we might walk down to the river or to CAJ playground later in the afternoon for some more play time.

Monday: Ride to the gym (about 7 minutes). Exercise for 30 minutes. Ride home via the "milk" store, ride home with about 8 kilos of milk and OJ. After lunch ride to a grocery store (about 10 minutes) and ride home with a fully laden bike (two full "green" bags).

Tuesday: Walk to the train, up two flights of stairs and back down again. Same at the other end and in return. Total: 20 minutes walking, maybe eight flights of stairs up, and eight down (depending on the station).

Wednesday: Ride to the gym again and stop at the fruit store on the way home. 

Thursday: Ride to a grocery store, come home with a fully laden bike.

Friday: Walk to and from school (5 minutes each way). Ride to church to teach a Bible study (10 minutes). Ride to the gym from church then stop to buy milk on the way home.

Saturday: If there is nothing else on, we'll often take the boys for a 45 minute ride or to a park to play.

That is a fictitious week, but there are weeks that I do do that much exercise. Some weeks I do more, some less. But you can see how easily I get lots of exercise in a week. My husband struggles more. He walks around school a lot, but doesn't get as much as when he used to ride 6km to school each day during his first four years at CAJ. 

Many Australians find it hard to understand why we are happy living in Japan long-term. There are many reasons why we are content. It is by no means the main reason we are here, but we do appreciate how our active lives are keeping us healthy. And that would be harder to attain in Australia.

23 February, 2012

Tiny Turtle, not so tiny any more a year later

Last February in my eldest son's hand.

This February, they've both grown, but Tiny has grown faster.
Yesterday was Tiny our turtle's adoption birthday. He's been with us a year. Check out my posts from last year: here and here. And this one, an update from May, three months after we bought him. 

We haven't weighed him recently, but he weighed only 10g when we bought him. He hasn't actually grown much in the last three or four months because of the cold. He hardly moves around at all and hasn't eaten at all. Not quite hibernation, but certainly a slowing down of metabolism. This is the turtle who was begging for food in the warmer months!

Turtles aren't really a huge amount of fun for playing with, but we do appreciate him having him (or her, we're not sure, but female pronouns aren't big around here) in our house. Of course he's more interesting when he's moving around and eating, but as the weather warms he'll be more lively and interesting to watch.

22 February, 2012

Never a dull moment...even while vacuum cleaner shopping

This blog is all about the ordinary things of our lives, so please excuse me if I rave about my new vacuum cleaner for a moment. 

It's been more than 10 years since we bought a new vacuum cleaner and the old was one showing some wear and tear. I guess that is particularly because it is dragged out nightly by our boys to vacuum the dining room (one of their regular jobs).  The head was attached to the pipe by masking tape because it kept falling off. That made it pretty much impossible to change the attachment to do corners or narrow ledges. Everything else, except a retracting issue with the cord (it automatically retracts to minimum length, which means you're always pulling against the cord and sometimes out of the wall).

Then someone gave us their old machine when they left last year. We took it sight unseen, it works fine except that the hard pipe doesn't have a length adjustment. It is either too long or too short for me (depending on whether or not you include the extra bit of pipe) and is intensely annoying to use.

So, we finally decided to buy a new one. The last couple of times we've looked I was pretty annoyed, because the only vacuum cleaners on display in their fullness (i.e. with hoses and heads attached) were the top-of-the-range ones. That is, the ones that were out of our league, up around $AU500 or $AU600. Ouch! The other thing that annoys me about many of these higher ranger versions is that they are quite heavy, at least their heads are. I am vacuuming stairs here and my wrists aren't the strongest around. I don't want to be hauling around a heavy cleaner.

The cheaper ones only had the main motor bit and the heads. You can only get so much information from that, so then it is on to the Japanese literature that describes all the wonderful features of their many models. And, if you read yesterday's post, you'll recall we're trying to do all of this while the boys roam around the shop seeing M-rated movies and causing alarms to go off in the camera department. Shopping for significant purchases is never without its hairy moments in our family.

But yesterday we did finally pick a lower (but not lowest) range version. At almost the last moment we decided to go up one model in the range we were looking at and I'm so glad we did, because it came with this amazing attachment. Not only is this extra attachment very flexible (many angles are possible), it is thin, so I can vacuum between the oven and the bench (US=counter) for the first time. Plus, it extends 155cm from the handle (~5 feet). So I have amazing reach with it.

Hard to see, but there is a horizontal ledge up
there. My son quickly took care of that.
Our old Japanese house has ledges all over the place, and in the most inaccessible places. Using this extension we've already removed dust that has been there a long time. Walls and ceilings can be vacuumed without a ladder, even by someone who is only 1.56m tall.

My husband is looking forward to a cleaner house for a week or two (he knows me too well!).

My 12 y.o. vacuuming the tops of the blades of
the fan in the kitchen.

21 February, 2012

The EF philosophy for raising boys

Well, today didn't turn out as lazy as I thought it might have. It turns out that yesterday, though it contained excitement, an outing, and food, it didn't fulfil all the EF requirements of parenting boys.
And yes, there are similarities to looking after
boys and looking after dogs!

E stands for exercise.
F stands for food.

If, as a parent of boys, you ensure that both these are well taken care of, your life will be much easier. If things are going badly, it quite possibly be because you've neglected these two areas. Pretty simple really, most of the time anyway. Though getting the exercise can be troublesome when it's been raining a lot or if one member of the household is sick and there is only one parent around. It is also a challenge when living without a backyard as we have done for most of the last 11 years.

So yesterday was lacking in exercise. Thankfully today was spring-like day. I haven't felt that warm outside for several months, I'm sure.

But back to the morning. If you are my Facebook friend you might know that we had an interesting dinner conversation last night. I kind-of put a challenge to the guys. With no school and nowhere to be today, I suggested we could see who could stay the longest in bed this morning. It was a challenge they took seriously, though my 6 and 9 y.o. came no where near winning. I awoke (the last time—I was awake earlier about six or seven when my 6 y.o. was complaining about a lost bed sock) about 9.30 and rose a bit after 10 (wow!!!). My nearly 13 y.o. got up about 40 minutes after me! My husband cannot really sleep in at all these days, so he got up and made us all waffles, got to love him!

So, we had a lazy morning, but by late morning the signs were there that some more exercise was required. So after lunch we hopped on our bikes and found it was a gorgeous day outside. Truly you can miss these things in little Japanese houses. Because the houses are so close you cannot see far out windows, so you often don't even try. Additionally we've been used to hunkering down inside trying to stay warm recently, so no one had even been outside by lunch-time because we'd had no reason to.

We rode up the river to a local electrical store to find a replacement for David's more-than-a-decade-old electric razor. While we were there we also decided to buy a replacement for the two dying vacuum cleaners we currently have in our house. They work okay, but the head falls off one and the other was a hand-me-down from another missionary who happened to be tall — the pipe is not adjustable and it is just too big (or too small, if you remove a section of pipe) for me. More about the new one tomorrow...

On our way along the river David was spoken to by a hatted, masked, sunglass-ed man on a bicycle, whose voice David fortunately quickly recognised. It was our Japanese pastor who lives in the area. After a short chat our pastor offered to show us a new park the government is creating. We'd heard nothing about it, but indeed it will be the largest park in our area once it is complete. A gem of a resource to know about. There are several reasons they are creating it, but one is a bit grim. It is to be the city's evacuation point in the circumstance of a big disaster like an earthquake. As nice a park as it's going to be, I hope I never have to evacuate to it! 

We managed to get in quite a bit of good exercise before landing in a shop that always sends our boys a bit crazy. It has a lot to do with the annoying jingly music that is loudly played, and that it is a visually crowded place: lots of bright fluorescent lights and thousands of products. Pretty soon we needed to get out of there—not long after one son inadvertently set off the security alarm on one of the displayed cameras; and not long after I found the other two boys watching something on a big flat screened TV that involved people being blown to bits.

Thankfully by the time things had gone a bit pear shaped, David and I had been able to decide on the products we desired to buy. And as is our standard pattern in doing these kinds of purchases, he took care of the details while I took the boys away. In this case, outside and across the road to a large supermarket to fulfil the F part of the formula as it was mid-afternoon and time for some afternoon tea or a snack.

I also did a quick shop for some necessary ingredients, including potatoes for our very rare roast chicken dinner tonight. On my way out I grabbed a few metres of string that is routinely available for customer use. Why? To tie the vacuum cleaner in its box onto the back of David's bike. We'd not really done a good job of anticipating that purchase and left our stretchy cords at home. But, thanks to good-old Japanese thoughtfulness we had no problem at all.

The boys were much better when we'd returned home. We'd ticked all the right boxes. The E had been taken care of and we felt the better for it too! How nice it was to get a taste of spring — I cannot wait!

20 February, 2012

Cheap, fun outing for winter

These two days constitute Winter Break at CAJ. Not much of a break, but I won't complain. We've been trying to figure out what to do with these days. Camping was no good, neither was staying at home for the whole weekend. A park is our default mode, but to be honest (not that I'm not usually), the thought of spending maybe an hour getting to a park and then standing around in the cold for a few hours watching them play, and then another hour getting home just wasn't all that appealing. 

So I came up with another plan. We'll go to Costco. It is a comfortable under-the-hour drive. It was a job that needed doing and wasn't easily fitting into my schedule in the coming weeks. And the huge plus is that the boys enjoy it. It is one of the very few shopping trips that the boys enjoy (and that we're prepared to take them on). Part of the reason is that it involves food. Our routine is to shop from about 10 until we're done, go through the checkout and then have lunch at their basic and very cheap in-house restaurant. We also buy a cheap pizza for dinner (in actual fact we've bought ourselves lunch and dinner today for under 3,000 yen [$AU35]).

The other thing we discovered about the Iruma Costco is that in the neighbouring Outlet Mall is a Lego shop. Not that we were planning on buying any Lego, BUT they have the 2012 Catalogue available and this is what the boys have been asking for since New Years. It is a free resource that entertains month after month. The 2011 version still holds pride of place beside at least one of the boys pillows!

So we're all happy. Full freezer, full larder, and full of wonder at the amazing Lego that is out there. And tomorrow we'll all be happy to stay home.

19 February, 2012

A foreign country, just down the road

Yesterday we went to CAJ's Middle School Play: Aladdin. As is my habit I invited a Japanese friend who loves to come to these English speaking performances. She in turn invited a mutual friend of ours and we ended up with a party of nine people, our whole family plus my two friends and two of their children. Actually the two girls who came were kindergarten classmates of our nine-year old son. He was pretty embarrassed at their presence, but we tried to ignore that fact.

The play was good, simpler than the Disney version. There was just one spot in the middle where it wasn't too clear to our ESL friends how the bad guy took possession of the princess instead of Aladdin. But overall, a fun experience. The middle schoolers (many of whom were classmates of our eldest son), did a great job and looked like they were enjoying themselves. We even had an Australian princess on stage!

After it was over we scurried over to the gym, where an all-day international schools basketball tournament was being held. This meant that the lobby was warm, and had goods for sale at the concessions stand. A great place to sit and chat — at least it was warm, which was more than you could say for outside (it was below 5 degrees Celsius).

We caught the last five minutes of the last game of the season for CAJ's B-team (US=Junior Varsity team). My friends poked their heads in to watch the closing moments of the game and found themselves in what seemed like another world. In fact as we sat and chatted in the lobby, they expressed their feelings that they'd stepped into a foreign country.

I did point out to them that there were a lot of Japanese people around. Granted in this environment many were speaking English. However all the signs were in English and the concessions stand price menus had both American dollar and Yen. They were selling both American and Japanese food: hot dogs and chilli dogs; curry rice and noodles. US made chips and Seaweed flavoured chips (or do they call them crisps?). Peppermint patties and Skittles; Pokky sticks and Tars chocolate.

And for sure the campus doesn't look much like a Japanese school, though I'm open for correction here — I've only seen the insides of Japanese public schools. It doesn't look a whole lot like any Australian schools I've seen either, but then that's probably got a lot to do with the fact that I grew up in sunny Queensland where we didn't have indoor hallways and lockers for everyone from grade 6 up. It's got something to do with the lack of a grassy oval (US=playing field) too.

They were also surprised to see names on the play cast sheet like Otsuka, Yoshimura, Mori, and Kenji. I felt beholden to point out even some of the "Western" sounding names were kids who had Japanese mothers. Yes, this is a school of many nationalities. It is a mixture of Japanese, American and a number of other cultures, although I'd venture to say that American was the dominant, with Japanese coming in second.

I guess, though, I've gotten used to it and it doesn't seem so strange anymore.

Just like I've gotten used to living in Japan and had great pleasure in telling them about our camping adventure in November and how I got to sit in the onsen (hot spring) and watch the sun set on Mt Fuji. That isn't exactly an Australian thing to do. They were also surprised to hear I'd done that.

I guess we foreigners just keep surprising our Japanese hosts, even those who speak English.

18 February, 2012

Should I or shouldn't I?

We got a letter from an elderly supporter this week. We don't get letters very often anymore, they're very special! This one's got me thinking, though. Tell me what you think.

The background is that in our November news-prayer letter I wrote a "Christmas Wish List" of eight food items that we'd love people to send us. No obligations, no pleading, nothing. Just a list. 

The letter read:
"I decided to make a parcel for you . . . I followed your suggested list: I got a big parcel — did not weigh anything — went to the post office, 'Oh no,' said the post office lady, 'don't waste your money on that, you can buy all those things in the tourist shops these days in Tokyo!' It was going to cost much much more than the contents. So — I brought the parcel home and am sending the money to the office . . . and asking them to hold if for your leave or send it to you if you need it, no need to waste it on exchange. Please use it as you need to. I just couldn't imagine you going looking round Tokyo for the tourist shops! But perhaps you do."

Well, no, we don't know of tourist shops that sell Weetbix, Promite, or EasyYo Yoghurt Mixes. And yes, she's right, we don't spend our time looking around Tokyo to find shops that sell these.

But it leaves me with a dilemma. Is it the right thing to include such lists in our letters? 

It isn't as if we didn't know that postage was so expensive, and that usually treats such as we suggested cost more to post than to buy them. I just supposed that if people felt they could afford it, and wanted to, that they'd like to know what it is that we'd like. As opposed to the parcels most missionaries have received that include things that are easily and even cheaply available locally. Or that are simply not enjoyed by the family, and believe me, we've received some strange gifts. 

But these really are just treats. They aren't necessities. We have all we need, in fact far more than we need. Is is simply greed to put these suggestions in our letters occasionally?

On the flip side of the coin, we are always very encouraged when people take the time and money to send us these gifts. It is a tangible link back to Australia that we love to give our kids (and don't mind ourselves, either).

Any thoughts?

17 February, 2012

Today's yummy lunch

This is what I had for lunch today.
 The white bread-roll thing I've posted about before here. It is a steamed bun with pork filling. I call it Japanese, but it possibly came here from China (as did many things Japanese). A wonderful winter treat.

Decaf coffee, because I needed warming up after the morning (Bible study in not-totally-warm church meeting room and riding home on the bike, it's under five today, I think).

Tomato, which goes with a sprinkling of salt from the salt shaker you see there).

Small pot of yoghurt.

And the wonderful citrus: Iyokan. (Pronounced, ee-your-kan). I've just discovered Anadomikan is another name for them. They aren't as sweet as an orange and not as sour as a grapefruit. Just right!

Japanese call its smaller, sweeter cousin a mikan. Australian usually call them mandarines. I think some Americans might call them mandarine oranges. Look up the wikipedia page to find out how many different names they are called. In Japan mikan/mandarines are usually seedless.  Our boys hated Australian seeded mandarines. I personally prefer iyokan, even though their skin is tougher and so are the internal membranes.

The other thing you can see in this second photo is a book. Most weekdays I eat lunch alone at home. I'm not really a big fan of eating alone, and usually if I have to, I read. Unfortunately eating an iyokan and reading at the same time isn't possible because the eating is definitely a two-handed job. However, once I was done, I picked up this book, "The Layers of Magazine Editing", and got on with today's professional development. (Good book, by the way, if magazine editing is what you do.)

What did you have for lunch today? And did you eat it with someone? Anyone else read when dining alone?

16 February, 2012

Ideas for writing, when you have none

Where do I get my inspiration for writing from? People periodically ask me that, and probably frequently wonder at my ability to write daily here. I don't often have trouble, I really have too many ideas for just the one person (my husband will agree, he sometimes ends up finishing off what "was a good idea at the time").

Missionaries struggle with this often when they sit down to write prayer letters. And any blogger will have had the same issues.

Here's some of the things I do when I'm faced with having to write a prayer letter or wanting to write a blog post, but nothing is at the front of my mind to put out there.
  • I take a look at photos I've taken. This is a biggie and often where I start for prayer letters. These days I'm taking photos just to put on here and to put on our prayer letter. Purposeful photo taking.
  • I check my calendar to seen what's happened recently, or what's coming up. That can often spark an idea.
  • I browse other people's blogs, what they're writing about.
  • Sometimes I check back on what I've written in weeks or months previously on my blog (or prayer letter). This is often a good source of prayer letter material. I did this for our February prayer letter, I checked what I'd written last February and it included a financial update. What a great idea! So I did another one. I have a few "draft" blog posts that are unfinished, but sometimes can be polished up into a decent post for that day.
  • Sometimes a series or theme can be helpful, I haven't done much of that here, but on my Kids newsletters I've done themes in recent years. Last year I did Famous Japanese people, this year I'm doing Geography.
  • I look at books I'm reading or have read recently.
  • Things I've been mulling over can be worth writing up on a blog post as for sure others have had similar thoughts at one time or other.
  • Facebook can be a good source of ideas for blogging.
  • And of course lists are a great way to string a whole lot of vaguely related ideas together.
  • I don't do this often, but it is something that is recommended for writers: to make sure you have a notebook (or iPhone) with you all the time, so you can scribble down ideas when they occur, because often that happens at a time that you aren't able to act on the idea. Problem times for me, though, are showers, bathroom, driving. Great ideas, but no way to write anything down!
  • If all else fails, I might go surfing on Youtube!
See, I have heaps of ideas!

*Thanks to Dave Skipper for the idea for this post!

15 February, 2012

Wellness signaled by a return to ornery behaviour

Ah, time to send the lad back to school. He's had no fever since Monday night (it's now Wednesday night) and practically no flu-like symptoms since then either. Now, this afternoon, he's become ornery. So, barring a flare up of symptoms overnight, he's back to school tomorrow! And I can get out of the house again. I suspect I'm a little ornery myself.

Yet to see if anyone else receives it. I wouldn't be surprised, to be honest. Poor hygiene is rampant around here! For example, one boy, formerly flu patient, does some internet-based maths work on the computer. Later, another boy comes and checks his email, then puts his hand up his nose and back on the computer. Germ transfer both ways there! 

Ah, reminds me . . . I'd better give this keyboard a clean and wash my own hands! What gets me is that they are indignant when I suggest that their hygiene is substandard. They sigh, roll eyes, and generally get mad at me. Argghhh. That's the thanks I get for trying to help them (and us all) out. 

Thankfully they are all almost in bed now and I won't have to deal with them or their unhealthy habits for another 12 hours. Phew.

14 February, 2012

Influenza strikes

Influenza has been ripping around Japan. Apparently there are more than a million people in Japan at the moment with the virus! After weeks of seeing other families come down with it, it has finally infiltrated our house. 

Our middle son woke up with a temperature and aches and pains early yesterday morning. I'm thankful that I've talked with others who've gone through this before, because I was aware of the "procedure". You're required to have had a temperature for over 12 hours before they'll make a positive diagnosis, so I waited until the doctor nearly shut last night before going with my son (whose face by that time was bright red). 

It's been a while since we last had the flu, and in the meantime they've developed a fast test. Shove the cotton bud up the nose about five centimetres to do a swab. Five minutes later we had a positive result for Type A, or seasonal flu. And now they have medicine too! There were two choices for a child under 10. Both inhalers. I love it, if only all medicine could be taken so easily!

But their response to the diagnosis was almost instantaneous isolation. We were shuffled into an unheated corridor that I've never seen before (after going to this doctor for more than five years). 

I found this post by another foreigner in Japan who is a little bemused at Japan's fixation on influenza. His doctor's experience paralleled ours pretty well.

I also bought some masks.
So now I'm confined to the house with him for at least two more days. He can go back to school on Thursday as long as he doesn't produce a fever in the meantime. If he spikes one tomorrow, I've got him until Monday! Thankfully I have plenty of work to be going on with right here.

By the way, did you know that in Japan when you go to the doctor they routinely check your temperature and often your blood pressure too? (At our doctor it is a triage nurse who does this.)

Also, masks were pretty much compulsory for the "sufferers". They wondered why I didn't have one on. I've heard it isn't that effective in preventing you from getting the flu, but the main reason was that I didn't have any more at home, I gave my last one to my son. This situation is now rectified, as you can see from the photo. 60 masks for about $AU4. I figured, one in the house with the flu, chances of at least one more getting it? High, even though we've all had flu shots. A few more than I wanted, but that was better than a dollar for four!

Don't feel too sorry for me. My son is hardly ill today at all (actually he was easier when he was on the lounge feeling bad). Outside it is cold and raining. I'm happy here. Only thing I'm missing is being able to get out to the gym, but maybe tonight if my husband can get home in time.

13 February, 2012

Curling — a serious sport indeed

I stumbled upon this report on the state of the Olympic sport of Curling in Japan. You might remember we tried this back just before Christmas (check it out here). It proved to be more difficult than we imagined . . . but also more dangerous. Evidently, it is more serious than we imagined too!

12 February, 2012

11 months have passed and I still cry

Yesterday was the 11th month anniversary of the March 11 disaster in Japan last year. I've been working on the next issue of Japan Harvest. We are featuring some articles about the recovery after March 11 disaster. It has been interesting to read various stories from different perspectives. I thought it would be good to put some video footage here (that doesn't work well in a magazine format!) for you to have a look at.

This one made me cry:

Here is a dizzying set of photos, just post-disaster and last month, 10 months later. There are some places that look totally restored, but others that are look like they are waiting for the developers to move in. This is true for hearts too. Some people's lives look like they've returned to normal, others are far from that. However underneath, even if things look normal, there is pain hidden deep, or not so deep.

At the top of the above article is a short list of statistics, here's an excerpt:

15,846 — Number of dead.
3,320 — People still missing.
2 — Number of missing people found dead this year.
240 — Number of orphans in the three most severely affected prefectures, Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima.
I find it strange to find myself crying as I post this. Even though we weren't in the tsunami zone, the whole event shook us in many different ways. It is not easy to contemplate that many people dying, or that many families losing loved ones. And knowing that less than 1% of those who died loved Jesus makes it even worse. This event will not soon be forgotten, even as the world and our lives continue to move forward and the "anniversaries" start to slip past unnoticed.
But here is the hope. This whole region was somewhat neglected by mission organisations in the past, but now there is a plethora of activity going on. Not just recovery work, but church planting too. And of course the relief and recovery work that Christians have done in the past 11 months will lay a basis for the future. A foundation for making friends, and followers of Jesus.

Here is a link to a video about what OMF is doing in the northern part of the region.

Here's another one with a Japanese pastor from the region talking about positive things that have happened since March 11.

Please don't forget Japan in your prayers. This nation is needy, in a way that is hard to take photos of. Many are searching for meaning after the great loss that they've suffered, pray that they'll find it before it is too late.