12 July, 2012

Sizzler fantasies

It's funny what you fantasise about when you are away from your home country. In my first and even the start of my second term I had a rather idealistic memory of Australia.

I do miss Australia these days, but nothing like the homesickness of those early years. The boys don't really get homesick for Australia, but there are things that they look forward coming back to. Actually it is the same with Japan when we're in Australia.

Tonight we go to one place that we all like to come back to: Sizzler. There are Sizzler restaurants in Japan and other all-you-can-eat restaurants. But there is something we really like about Australian Sizzlers. I think all the boys have their personal records, you know, how many "course" they managed last time. In fact the last time we went to Sizzler was the last meal we had in Australia in 2010. Now we're not out to make pigs of ourselves, but rather enjoy a special place.

I certainly wouldn't have thought Sizzler would be something that we would miss. If you were to leave Australia for a lengthy period of time, what do you think it might be for you?

11 July, 2012

Dental dramas

I forgot to mention yesterday that I also made an unexpected trip to the dentist. You may remember the dental dramas I experienced back in March (see here) when a chunk of one of my molars fell out and I needed a large filling.

Well, in the last week or so I've been experiencing a little bit of discomfort, especially a feeling of "fullness", like I've got something stuck between my teeth up in the same area. Additionally the cold-sensitivity that developed back then has never gone away. As we're about to do a long trip out west, David advised me to go to a dentist here before we leave.

I'm glad I took his advice. The dentist, who I've never been to before, listened to my story then started probing around and shooting cold air between teeth. When he got to the tooth that was filled in March I nearly shot out of the chair. He drilled out that filling, which had taken three visits to acquire, and found more decay underneath it, as well as decay on the neighbouring tooth.

Conditioned by the Japanese method of dentistry, I expected I'd have to come back at least one more time for the fillings, but he did it right there and then. I was impressed, though I'm getting close to losing the tooth, however, so much of it has been drilled away!

Doing it all in English, however, was so easy. Times like that really make me miss living in an English speaking country.

The conversation strangers who discover that we live in Japan usually goes something like this:

"You live in Japan. How long have you been there?"
"Nearly 12 years."
"Oh, you must like it there."
"Well, we've gotten used to it. We love coming back to Australia though."
"You speak the language?"
"Some. Enough to get by, but there's lots I can't understand."
"My nephew's going there for a couple of weeks at the end of the year. He loves Japan."

I find it slightly odd that people assume we really like Japan. I guess that is the only reason they can quickly come up with for someone choosing to live there instead of Australia. It is also odd that the conversation is almost the same every time.

I'm thankful that this dentist didn't get upset that we are missionaries. We once had an experience of an Australian dentist going off about, "Leaving people to their own religion . . ." That kind of passion is a bit scary when he is the one with the needle and drill!

10 July, 2012

Our trip is getting close

Today was messy. Being a family is messy and when you are linking up with other family members it is even messier. Even though none of us are working, we each had things we needed to get done.

We did get to the library and borrowed many hours of books on CD for our 7,000 km journey. We proved on Sunday that a few stories to listen to can bring much joy and unbelievable peace when kids are getting fractious.

This afternoon was given over to cousins reuniting. And on a rainy, foggy winter day, it was all indoors and pretty noisy.

This evening we've spent some time going over our itinerary for our trip and writing down phone numbers etc. Here's a rough map of our trip:

To give you some perspective on distance. Many of these arrows are more than 600km in length!

On Friday we leave Toowoomba to go and pick up the motorhome down on the coast at Tweed Heads, then we'll come back here for the night. After that we'll take off on our adventure. It's getting really close and excitement is building!

I'm thinking about blogging on the trip. I don't think we'll have much WiFi on the trip, but I think I might blog anyway, and then put the posts up whenever I get the chance. That we we'll have an online diary of our journey. Others have expressed interest in hearing the stories and seeing the photos, so I think that will probably be the best way to do it. If I leave it to when we get back, stories will be forgotten and life will overtake me, leaving me with no time to tell it all. What do you think? Will you mind reading a few posts of our trip in one go?

But for now, off to bed. And we're praying for a non-rainy day tomorrow to get the boys out of the house for a while!

09 July, 2012

Unexpected, random, and comfortable

Yesterday we went to the church that my husband went to when he was at Uni and through to when we left for Japan in November 2000. It wasn't what we expected.
  1. It has shrunk, again. When we left in 2000, it was a church of over 100 people with a lively uni ministry, lots of young couples, etc. Since then the church has been through some difficult years (of varying natures, which I won't go into here) and each time we've come back home it's been smaller. This hits hard each time, even if friends have communicated with us about the situation. Each time we come back, familiar faces are missing. That's sad.
  2. Weeks earlier we were told we would be doing during the service, in terms of a short presentation, but it was not what we ended up doing. Pretty typical. Flexibility is a missionary's middle name.
  3. The day before we found out there was a bring and share lunch. It worked out okay in the end as a shopping centre was nearby. My boys pigged out on seedless grapes; (I don't understand why there are here now, it is winter after all!) they usually only get big seedless grapes when we go to Costco. These variety of grapes don't seem to be sold in Japan.
Then other random things happened:
  • We had four boys sitting with us for part of the service (before the younger kids went out for the sermon). The four-year-old son of the Venzes, our good friends, has really taken (again) to our boys. Have you ever noticed that little boys love big boys? Even big boys love bigger boys (for example the friend we hung out with on Friday is in his 30s and our boys love him). So, there was no question that the 4 y.o. was going to sit with his family, he wanted to sit with "the boys"!
  • A lady I'd never met came up to me and raved about my blog and how she not only read it, but had told a friend in South Africa that she must read it too. I never know what to say when these random conversations happen, but this time there was no problem, as she left without giving me opportunity to say anything at all!
  • Though people seemed generally unaware that we were only in Australia for a holiday (telling me that they haven't read our prayer letters or this blog recently), they were keen for us to stay longer, to be there again next week. The same thing happened last week at a different church. My inference? People don't have the time (or don't bother) to keep up with someone who just sends news, but prefer face-to-face contact? In that case, us coming back semi-regularly is a good thing.
After church and lunch we picked up our next borrowed car and went back to our housesitting place to pack the car and finish cleaning. The main thing to do was the outside tiles. The back yard was muddy the whole week and the tiles are white. You can imagine the mess. It took a while, especially when complicated by an overly helpful 7 y.o., who ended up creating more work.

Then we drove that ever so familiar highway back to my hometown, Toowoomba. I've driven this road hundreds of times. It felt good. 

And getting back to my parent's home of nearly 25 years was good too. They had the wood heater going! So cosy. My boys feel so comfortable here. It is the only house in their lives that has remained constant. My 12 y.o. says it is his favourite house in all the houses he's encountered in his life.

The other cool thing about this house is that they store our stuff for us when we're out of the country. Most of it is in their roof cavity, but our larger furniture is in their house. I'm currently sitting on our very own lounge. Last night we slept on our own bed, the one we bought for the first house we lived in after we got married. The younger boys slept on our bunk beds too! They have some of our spare toys, the boys have been playing with those this morning and we went out and flew our own kite. Now they are watching one of the DVDs that we left here (though in retrospect we should probably have brought them with us to Japan). I love it. There is something special about having a home base like this. I don't know how I'll feel when Mum and Dad need to move out of this place, but I think it will be sad.

I also love it that my boys are bigger than when we were last here and have adjusted to the changes better than they did when they were younger. It's making it a more relaxing holiday, that's for sure. I'm sure their grandparents are appreciating their greater "steadiness" too. It isn't easy to be a grandparent at a distance. But I think it is probably even harder to be a grandparent when grandkids that you hardly know are suddenly thrust into your presence again!

This week we're taking things as they come, but also preparing for our motorhome adventure, which starts on Friday. But preparing for such a journey comes with a whole lot of questions, like, how much storage room will we have?

In the meantime we're enjoying being at our "home away from home".

07 July, 2012

Lots of fun connecting with people

Yesterday was a full, but fun day outside in the beautiful city of Brisbane. A friend from my uni days (he was a teenager back then) came along with a young friend of his and we took a CityCat (ferry) down the Brisbane river, past the CBD to a lovely park at New Farm. We ate a packed lunch, played on the cool playground equipment (and trees), and then caught the CityCat back to South Bank where we wandered around and took in the atmosphere. The boys played hide and seek on one of the islands and then we headed home, pretty exhausted.

Then last night we had some good friends over for a bring-and-share meal. I'm feeling so blessed to have so many friends. This week, though busy, has been a reminder of how rich we really are, in terms of relationships, and long-term relationships particularly. But God's been bringing new friends into our lives too, and we've enjoyed seeing some of the fruit of our last home assignment in that this visit too.

Today we'd a public event was organised for people to come and meet us in the park. We've been only able to see a few people this week individually and knew that there was no hope of seeing more unless we did it en-mass. So today we advertised that we'd be at a certain place from a certain time and people came. We had quite a lot of folk turn up, many with young children. It was great to see them all, but, as always, disappointing not to have more time to spend with individuals.

One of the highlights was meeting a couple for the very first time. Karen and I read each other's blogs and very often comment there too, but we'd never met. Interesting, because we have a number of mutual connections! And places in common too. I even found out that her husband and I were in the same year at uni, he and I must have shared many classes together because he did Physio and I'm did Occupational Therapy. Because a number of the other people there also read my blog, they also got to meet Karen.

Another highlight was seeing people who have connections not related to us at all. Our youngest's Prep teacher from 2010 was there with her husband and baby. The pastor (who married us in 1997) and his wife were also there. She is a paediatric nurse and has met our son's former teacher when she brought her baby in for monthly checks! Another couple go to same church as a young lady I met while working in the country town of Kingaroy. I just love those unexpected connections!

Unfortunately I was so busy making connections, getting to know people, and catching up with folk that I totally forgot to pull out my camera.

Good news is that the conversations over the last few days with people who read my blog have prompted an explosion of other topics to write about in coming months (I must remember to write all those ideas down...).

For now, though, we're preparing to leave the house we're housesitting. I think I've managed to dodge some toilet and shower cleaning by being here (not my intention). But now I think I must relax a little with my husband. It's been a fun week, but I have to say I'm a bit tired. I think I'm still winding down from a hectic May-June.

And a bit more work awaits us tomorrow. We're back at the church we used to call home before we took off to Japan in 2000. I'm not sure it totally feels like "home" anymore, but we're back there tomorrow to thank them for their support over the last two years and tell them a little of how God is using their members in Japan. And then we'll be off to Toowoomba to spend some time with my family.

05 July, 2012

Bits and pieces of an Australian holiday

Yesterday turned out to be a fantastic day. I'm starting to relax!

It started for me with a sleep-in and then I met a friend I've known my whole life for coffee. We talked and talked until lunch-time. It was fabulous. Friends with whom you can skip almost all the preliminaries and take up where you left off are priceless.

After lunch was some SQUIRT time. After grabbing some Australian muesli bars, we headed off to walk to a local second-hand bookstore that we remembered from our stay in this house two years ago (just before we flew). It was a bit further than I'd imagined, but not unmanageable for this used-to-walking-places Tokyo residents. But I am finding that Brisbane is hillier than I remembered, certainly hillier than Tokyo. Hard work for walking and bike riding.

Then last night we headed off to a party with friends to watch something special in our region of Australia. The third match of this year's State of Origin series*. This is something of a Queensland (and, presumably New South Wales) tradition. It was great to sit down with some traditional pizza, chips, and soft drink and enjoy the game.

Our three boys didn't know any of the rules when we started, but they got the hang of the basics. They enjoyed it, actually. There is something about watching big men slam each other around a grassy playing field that is mightily attractive. And we enjoyed passing something of our culture onto them. Oh, and it was fun to be with these friends again. We were all pretty distracted by the game and the young kids (their kids are 2 and 4 and had trouble staying focused on the game at that late hour — the game started at 8), but it was nice to just be with them and doing something pretty ordinary.

Today we've had a pretty quiet day. Just banging around at home all morning (after another sleep-in). We enjoyed lunch on the deck in the sun. The gorgeous weather has continued. Yes, it's been a little cool outside, but the days warm up to about 20 and in the sun it is magnificent. The wide blue skies are a balm to the soul, and we haven't even left the city yet. Imagine what it is going to be like in the Outback?

This afternoon we had another SQUIRT time and then meandered off to a local park with a cricket pitch. It was great to have a go at our favourite game on a proper length pitch (though it was a concrete pitch), with grass all around.

This evening we're going to another dinner with friends. Newer friends that yesterday's lot of friends, but nonetheless, it will be a good time. And we're discovering how difficult it is to make new friends when we're in and out of the country, so we'll grasp opportunities to build deeper friendships with new folk with both hands.

And tomorrow we're really going to act like tourists, and go on the CityCat ferry down the river with another friend. God is blessing us abundantly. This week in Brisbane has been a lovely blend of getting stuff done, catching up with people, and relaxing.

*A Rugby League competition between our state and our neighbouring state, New South Wales (where Sydney is). A hotly contested trophy where emotions run high. I have many memories associated with this event, including studying for a university physiology exam, while waiting in the grounds for the game to begin.

Updated Public Schedule

Here's an updated schedule for the remaining time we have in Queensland (and Northern Territory):

7th July Meet the Marshalls day from 11am at Rocks Riverside Park, Seventeen Mile Rocks.
(BYO lunch, and also sporting equipment as you wish). Apparently showers are forecast. I'll put an updated venue here if an outside venue isn't going to work.
8th July Metrowest Community Church 9.30am http://about.metrowest.cc/
13-28 Uluru trip in a motorhome
29th July Mt Tamborine Presbyterian Church 9 am
4th August Meet the Marshalls Morning Tea in Toowoomba at South Toowoomba Baptist Church 9.30-11.30.
5th August South Toowoomba Baptist
7th Fly back to Tokyo.

If you'd like to catch up with us, and you live in or near South East Queensland, these are the places to be. We're really sorry not to make it to other parts of Australia this time, but it is basically holiday and family time and in five weeks there is only so much you can do when you have children and a limited budget. As it stands it is (as someone put it), "good but exhausting". We're hoping not too exhausting.

Feel free to contact me using this: wendymarshall04 at gmail dot com

03 July, 2012

Regaining confidence

Each time I come back to Australia from Japan (and I've only done it four times), I find that I've lost self-confidence in my ability to do various practical things while I was away. Additionally there are things in Australia that I haven't done for a while, so picking them up again is a tiny bit scary.

In answer to the question "What have you enjoyed most about your year in Australia?" I wrote this almost two years ago at the end of our year home assignment in Australia:
Regaining confidence in my ability to do simple things like deal with bureaucracy, banks, fill the car etc. (mostly related to language ability).
That was third on quite a list, you can check it out here.

But yes, little things, even like using my debit and credit cards, and signing my name (none of which I do in Japan), I need to familiarise myself with again. Even just navigating around in slightly (but not overly) familiar streets in Brisbane and Toowoomba is a little bit scary, especially in a strange car.

And there are always changes. Changes big and small. Today I went to the doctor and the way you pay for the consultation has changed, again. I think it is wondering when I'm going to encounter something unexpectedly new that keeps me a little bit on edge as I re-enter the country.

Thankfully we don't have the change of sides-of-the-road like Americans working in Japan do. Actually we had a mild instance of this kind-of confusion in Korea. We were standing on the left side of the escalator. Then we realised that everyone else was standing on the right-side. We didn't cause any major incidents, but I think that in an international airport it would have been nice to have the rule written up somewhere, or maybe it was and we didn't see it!

But something hasn't changed, at least not much. I went to the optometrist today and it seems I've hit the age that short-sighted people like. The time when ageing starts to reverse the short-sightedness. When distance sight gets better (but before near sight gets worse). So, my right eye hasn't changed at all, but my left eye is slightly better! But alas, my glasses frames were a bit of a dud — the paint is flaking off them — so I'm getting new frames.

But for now, I'm off to do some more relaxing. The last weeks have been pretty hectic and finally I can turn down the intensity a little.

02 July, 2012

Today's novelties and successes

Today we tackled our "to do" list with various services and shopping. We had some lingering details to sort out with our bank (as in, why they couldn't identify me over the phone and activate my credit card) as well as find our new Medicare cards (so I can go to the doctor tomorrow).

Then we hung out in Target and KMart, finding some great bargains, like a helmet for our 7-year-old who has a youth-sized head. Last Wednesday we could have bought him one in Tokyo for equivalent AU$60. Today we bought him one for AU$12! And cheap tracksuit pants for the boys, new camping cutlery, silicon muffin pans (these have seriously come down in price in three years), lunch boxes, and flannelette sheets (I know this isn't the term many non Australians would use, maybe flannel sheets?).

We bought groceries, sending the boys on a scavenger hunt to find various "treasures" like Australian soft drink (required an adult to translate), 3L bottles of milk (enormous to us), and dried pineapple. Just being able to buy ibuprofen in a grocery store is a real treat.

We had a basic picnic lunch in a fairly basic park, by Australian standards, but enormous and beautiful compared to the standard suburban park in Japan (wish I could show you a picture, but there are technological complications). The sky was blue and the grass (yes, grass, a novelty) was green. And there was no one else in the park! Often we've come back to a bleak, brown Australia. It is wonderful to come back to a lush, green Australia.

Our boys have noted that it is interesting to be in a country where we speak the same language as everyone else (mostly, that is). We can listen in on other people's conversations, we can understand almost all of what is spoken to us, laugh at the jokes, relax and enjoy the interactions.

I've also noted that having older children helps a lot. You can explain why you're doing such unusual things as waiting in a bank or shopping for an extended period of time (which is a mystery to my boys). They can understand the explanations and (mostly) cooperate! It is wonderful.

But now I'm off to cook some Australian sausages for dinner — yum.

01 July, 2012

Catching up

Today we went back to one of our "home" churches. They gave us a delightfully warm greeting. It was part of the "work" part of our holiday. Reconnecting with some of the key churches in our support network in Australia. So, despite our fuzzy heads, we hopped up in front and talked a little about our work in Japan. It didn't go quite as planned, but hopefully did the job well enough. Many of the people in the church are new and hadn't met us before, so hopefully it was good for them to put a face to a name.

The bonus for us was catching up with people who we knew fairly well from our 12 months living in the area in 2009-2010. God gave us some special friends at that time and thankfully we've been able to keep in contact with some of them via Facebook and my blog.

But it was sobering to drive through our former suburb and remember the floods there and in numerous other places in this area 18 months ago. We talked with some locals and saw photos. Ouch.

It was extra hard to get out of bed this morning I'm fading now at 3.45, but I'm determined to push through to bedtime. Hopefully tomorrow I won't feel so woolly headed. Most internationals we meet in Japan find it hard to believe we've never experienced jet lag. (And most Japanese find it hard to believe that we've never been to America!) There is only one hour difference between Australia and Japan. Flying between the two therefore doesn't cause time-difference problems, but there is certainly travel fatigue!

Tomorrow we face bureaucracy: getting our expired Medicare cards sorted out! We'll also be shopping again. I don't know if it will be just groceries, or if we'll manage more, as we'll be in a major shopping centre anyway! Depends on how energetic we feel in the morning.

But today's been good, but one of the best things for me personally was having two people say that they loved my hair cut short. That was great!

Another exciting thing was someone who read the magazine I put together last year after the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear power station disaster. She said Japan hadn't really been on her radar before, but that magazine issue really brought the needy land of Japan into her focus.

Ah, I'm so grateful to God to have me in where he does. We periodically get asked how long we'll be in Japan. The only answer we can give is, "As long as the Lord has us there." At present we really feel like we're in the right place doing the right thing and that is a very satisfying feeling indeed.