30 September, 2012

Shoe shopping with boys, our strategy

I've blogged before about the challenges of shopping with our three boys. For example here. I think we've learned the art of doing it successfully pretty well, though, and we proved that again today. There are three keys
  1. Know exactly what you want
  2. Find what you want, buy it, and leave. 
  3. Do it all fast

There was a need to buy shoes and no time lately to do it. All our weeks and Saturdays have been too busy, leaving Sundays. We don't normally shop on Sundays, but today we made an exception and hit the shoe shop. We bought six pairs of shoes in under half an hour.

My new brown rain boots. Do you like them? My old ones were terrible
for walking in, which kind-of defeats the purpose. These ones
look better and feel better. And in the land of much rain, these are
much needed.
This was probably the most shocking part of our trip. Not long
ago my eldest son and I could share shoes. Look what's
happened since then (this is my foot)! Now his feet are bigger
than his dad's. These shoes are Japanese size 29 (i.e. 29 cm length feet).
I think that is about 11.5 in Australian men sizes.
And may we avoid going shoe shopping for a few more months as a family! On the way home I lamented that we aren't preparing them very well for their future wives. They asked, "Why?"

I tried to explain that many women like to shop around, they take time to try on many different styles, even different shops, before they make a decision. There was silence in response to my explanation. Women are from a different planet? I doubt they have any comprehension of that kind of shopping behaviour. Oh well, I guess I still have time.

29 September, 2012

My 36 hours retreat

It was the OMF Kanto women's retreat.

It started (and ended) with a five train journey. This was the last train, out in the country, and not many people riding. The first three trains I didn't get a seat and had to work to find space to put my tiny suitcase.
 The view from the last train was awesome. This is heading into the valley where we've been camping several times (including in June, when a typhoon invaded the valley, see here). I love this corner of Tokyo!
 Today we wandered down to the river and had our small group time here.
 I love the internationalism of OMF. At the retreat we had only two pairs of people from the same countries.
New Zealand 1
Australia 1
US 1
England 2
Germany 2
Switzerland 1
Korea 1
Japan 1
Uganda-Sweden 1
Here Alison, our Kiwi, is talking to Philipa, who grew up in Sweden,
and moved to the UK when she was 14. Her Dad is Ugandan.
Headed home. We had a blessed, yet short, time of renewal.

And I was on the other side of the train with two other lovely ladies!
We were grateful for a seat. Being Saturday afternoon and not inner city, that
wasn't too much of a problem.
I slept well last night and enjoyed the relaxing fellowship of these ladies. But now I'm back with the "rabble" and I need to go and pay some attention to getting them through showers, dinner, and bed.

28 September, 2012

Japan and technology

Wi-Fi Vending Machines

There is no denying that Japan is light years ahead of the West when it comes to vending machines.

One of the most recent innovations is facial recognition vending machines. When the new vending machine scans the facial features of an approaching customer, it then displays a tempting advertisement deemed appropriate.

Asahi Soft Drinks plans to set up thousands of new vending machines that dispense standard drinks and also works as a free Wi-Fi hotspot, sending Wi-Fi signals out in a 50 m-radius.

Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming more prevalent in Japan with the rising popularity of smart phones and Internet tablets. These new vending machines will offer Internet access that will be will be free and accessible to anyone without the need for a pass code or a payment. Buying a drink from the machine will not be necessary to access the network.

As of 2012, Asahi hopes to set up 10,000 of the new vending machines throughoutJapan.

Additionally, the machines could be useful for tourism and shopping. As a user logs on to the free Wi-Fi they are taken to the homepages of local shops and nearby sightseeing destinations.


Soft drinks

Vending machines that know what you want to drink before you do, is in fashion! These touch-screen machines use facial recognition algorithms to match consumers’ faces with a database of different facial types – while taking into account the weather – before perhaps suggesting vitamin water for health-conscious women or a hot coffee for office workers.


Thousands of cigarette machines in Japan use technology that determines the age of the buyer, not allowing the under 20s to buy cigarettes. The vending machines use sensory technology that is able to detect the age of the buyer based on the quality of their skin, wrinkles and bone structure with a claimed success rate of 90 per cent.

Cell phone scans

Today, users habitually scan their cell phone over the small black-and-white square of pixels found in the corner of ads, billboard or magazine pages and receive information directly on their cell phones such as menus, maps, discounts, and cinema times.


Holographic technology, which recreates virtual 3-D reality, is currently in the pipelines, with Japanese scientists saying it could become a reality by 2016.

Source: Hanna Steward-Smith 2011-12-08 via Japan Mission 

27 September, 2012

A week of 24 trains, if I'm lucky

Today begins a week of not being home much and a lot (for me) of train travel. If things go well I should take 24 trains from today till next Wednesday.
You often don't get a seat in Tokyo trains, even in the
middle of the day.

Today I went across the city to lead an OMF prayer meeting. Seven trains.

Tomorrow I head off to an overnight OMF women's regional retreat. Five trains.

I return on Saturday. Another five trains (if I don't get lost).

On Monday I go back to OMF Japan's headquarters (where I was today) for a three day coaching workshop. Four trains.
Two friends who I enjoyed being with at last year's
missionary women prayer day/mini retreat. Do you
like the venue?

I return home on Wednesday. Three or four trains.

Thursday I attend a missionary women's all day prayer meeting/mini retreat back out in the same town where the OMF retreat is. No trains, this time I'm driving or being driven.

I enjoy going away, but find it hard to actually break away and go. I also feel a little like I'm abandoning my husband and try to do my best to soften my absence by preparing meals before hand (usually by cooking lots so there's plenty of leftovers) and making sure the fridge and cupboards are well stocked.

The venue of the OMF women's retreat. We sheltered
there during the typhoon that came through while we
were camping in June.
Add to it all the fact that it is my husband's birthday in the midst of it all and I won't actually be around for most of it. Therefore I'm baking a cake, at least I can leave him with a cake! Do you think I've learned the lesson that the way to a man's heart is via his stomach (that works for boys too, by the way)?

This all has the effect of making me feel quite stressed. So it's no wonder that I have a headache today, which means that I'm more disorganised than usual. I hope that it is all worth it. If the retreats are refreshing, I should come back feeling more up to the task!

Thermal Underwear

With winter coming up and knowing how much I feel the cold in this uninsulated house, I'm thinking I might need to get me some of these.

26 September, 2012

A Mature Christian teaches?

Simone has been talking about characteristics of a mature believer over on her blog. One full-time minister commented that a characteristic of a mature believer is "teaching". He clarified, "I don't mean teaching in the "standing up the front" sense - I mean teaching in the older man/older women teach younger men/younger women sense..." Someone else clarified his position in saying, "one would expect a mature disciple of Christ to be a disciple-making disciple."

I've been surprised at my emotional reaction to this little discussion. Perhaps because the word "teaching" has layers of meaning, and some emotionally laden. Especially as I remember how limited I've felt in some churches regards how women were made to feel in the few roles we were allowed to take on. How, especially as a young adult, leaders didn't allow me to take on much responsibility at all, therefore infusing me with the feeling that therefore I mustn't be competent or responsible enough.

I've also been in various circumstances over many years that have limited, I perceive, my opportunities to teach. Think: inability to speak Japanese, full-time Mum with demanding children, ill health, small country church with no need for my abilities besides as an occasional musician, large Japanese church with no need for my skills besides music, temporarily in Australia as a "travelling circus" of a missionary unable to regularly contribute at any church or with any individual etc. 

Some of these are unusual situations, but I think that many mature believers find themselves, at various times, in situations where they are unable to teach anyone. Of course the above mentioned full-time minister covered this by clarifying further, by saying "desire to teach".

Formal opportunities for me to teach have been limited. And I don't believe that teaching is my special gifting. But that doesn't mean I'm not a mature Christian.

I've never been formally discipled. I've never formally discipled someone. I don't think I'd know where to start. Does that mean I'm not a mature Christian?

However, probably (though I'm not consciously aware of it), I probably "teach" people. Via my writing, via my relationships, by example, by this blog? J, mentioned this informal "teaching" on her blog last week.

But in the end I think that I prefer Deb's broader definition: 
"Christian maturity is (1) continued growth and (2) fruit."

25 September, 2012

Fun with the Grade 2s

Yesterday I taught writing to the Grade 2 class that my youngest son is in. I did the same for the same teacher when my middle son was in her class two years ago. Typical occasional teacher, I had way too many ideas to fit into a one hour slot. But we managed to slim it down and do some good stuff. At least I think we did.

The part I enjoyed the most was interacting with the class about ways to make a short boring story more interesting.

The story was:
Tom went to the park. He played. He went home.
We talked about all sorts of ideas ranging from what he saw on his way there and on the way home, what he could smell, hear, taste. How he felt (hot, cold etc.). More interesting words for "went." We didn't actually rewrite the story together, there were too many opinions! But it was fun interacting with them and hearing all their ideas.

I also read them one of my favourite children's story that is chockers full of interesting words (which was my lesson theme). Lynley Dodd's Hairy Maclary's Rumpus at the Vet.

I couldn't find it on Youtube, so I decided to be bold and record my own (very amateur) video just for you.

After talking about interesting words, interacting with them about how to make sentences more interesting, I gave them some writing prompts and let them fly with their own ideas. I'd had lots to writing prompt ideas (too many, actually), but the most popular turned out to be pictures, and this one particularly:

I found this here.
I personally think this one is also fun, but I guess I have a mum's perspective that these 6, 7 and 8 year olds don't have:

This image comes from http://www.edgalaxy.com/literacy/tag/images

I talked to one girl who wanted to write about this photo, but when I asked her how she thought the baby ended up in this position, she said, "I have no idea." Which really makes it a very difficult photo to write about!

I'm now thinking about teaching about writing to missionaries next month (25 and 26th). Somehow I don't think I'll be reading Hairy Maclary or showing photos of babies taped to the wall?

24 September, 2012

Monday Muppets

A friend of mine used to do the occasional Monday Muppets post. Seeing as I'm exhausted (read the Rolf Harris book for too long last night), and I also told the Grade Twos today that I write on my blog daily, I'm going to take the easy route and post a Muppet video, the Muppets and Victor Borge.

I really enjoy Victor Borge, I think I discovered him about the same time as I discovered Mr Bean and in the same place: during my uni years when I used to have lunch at my minister's house after church. For me, though, he shares a similar feature with Mr Bean, I tire of him fairly quickly. However in small doses they are both very entertaining.

23 September, 2012

Rolf Harris Part 1

At the moment I'm enjoying an autobiography of this famous Australian. I'll write about it when I'm finished it, but in the meantime, I thought I'd show you some Youtube clips of this entertainer:

This next song he did in Japan during the 1970 Osaka World Expo. I've just read about it in his book. Unfortunately the Japanese didn't understand the humour and just sighed sympathetically throughout the song.

I also remember this song as one that a young man (about 10 years older than I) used to do as his contribution to any church concerts that were held. It was always quite funny!

This one is very moving:

And here is a version of "Tie me kangaroo down sport" that he did with the Beatles.

Stay tuned for my post about the book itself.

22 September, 2012

I want to run away

A quote I saw on Facebook this week rings true to me today:
"I don't know about you, but I have thought about running away from home way more often as an adult, than I ever did as a kid."
When I first saw the quote I thought, no, not me. But yesterday and today have changed that a bit.

Without saying too much about my children and one son in particular, I just like to put it out there that we're having a hard parenting time at the moment (and for a bit longer than a moment, actually). I've felt like running away (with my husband) at least three times today.

Parenting three boys is no piece of cake. Especially when none of whom have easy personalities — despite how cute you might think they look or how smart I'm often told they are — they are full-sized challenges. And not just one challenging child multiplied by three either, bigger than that.

I know I'm not alone in struggling with parenting. But it does sometimes feel very lonely when you're shut up in a house with three boys who are not getting along with each other or with us. Who care more about themselves than they care about anyone else. Who often present a lovely front to (almost) everyone else except us. And to know that you can't escape this tomorrow, nor next week. Not even will this be over in three years time. This is an endurance event and I don't feel, right now, like I'm up for the challenge.

21 September, 2012

Autumn vs Fall

The weather is changing seasons finally. Last night we slept without a fan for only the second time since we came back (not including camping). Today I don't even feel very sticky. I love it!

One of the funny things I find here in Japan is that everything starts to be pumpkin-shaded. I think that happens in America too. The marketing/decorating etc. becomes orange-themed. It is strange to me, coming from Queensland, Australia, where our seasons are much less marked; Halloween isn't a big deal (or haven't been in the past — I believe that that is changing a little), and Thanksgiving doesn't happen at all.

Gum trees, which are everywhere
in Australia, lose their leaves at
any time of year.
That brings me to a short discussion about the term for the season: autumn vs fall. I live and work in a somewhat American environment (of course the Japanese call it aki), so the word "fall" is used a lot, possibly almost exclusively for the season. In fact I've been working on the "Fall issue" of Japan Harvest recently. This term has apparently has been used with the magazine since it was founded in 1950 and is evidence that missions here have had a strong American influence.

It isn't a natural word for me to use at all. Even though it is English, it isn't my native English and I think most Australians regard it as an American term and one that we just don't use at all.

Yesterday I was surprised to find that the word has wider and older origins than America. That it isn't an American invention, but rather it fell out of use in England in the 18th Century when the French-origin "autumn" came into popular use.

I was also surprised to find that some Americans do use "autumn". It doesn't seem to be as foreign to them as "fall" is to us.

Here is where I found out some of that surprising information.

20 September, 2012

Sleepover party and an anniversary

Today we're having a bit of a chilled-out day.

Last night we held a party for my new 10 y.o. It is the first non-family party he's ever had. There's a variety of reasons for that, one being that he's never asked for a party and so, typically, it's slipped under the radar and never happened. There are lots of things like that in a multiple-child family. I notice this particularly as I interact with smaller families. Particularly families with only one child.

It also happens to be the first every party-sleepover that we've ever hosted as a family. Our children's personalities have a bit to do with that, as do our personalities. Not to mention that with three fairly highly strung boys, our life runs on a thin wire anyway. It doesn't take a lot to push the stress over the top.

Playing Heroica, a Lego game.
Possibly another reason is that as children we had almost no experience of party-sleepovers ourselves. I haven't checked with my husband on this, but I suspect he never had one, nor went to one. I never had one and the only sleepover party I did attend ended badly. This is a story in itself.

I'm not sure how many preteen girls were at the party, but considering we were at a small school, it was probably all the girls in our year level: between a dozen and 15. Brave parents! We did all the usual things, food, stories, we may have even watched a movie (though not guaranteed, that may have been before videos were standard equipment in homes). And we were late to bed.

When we woke up early in the morning there was a rush to use the toilet and I ended up in a line. I leaned up against the door frame and mistakenly put my hand in the hinge-space. My friend shut the door on my fingers and, in her semi-comatose state, couldn't figure out why it wouldn't shut. I remember her saying, "I can't shut the door. I can't shut the door." While repeatedly trying to do so. In the moment I couldn't spit out, "My fingers are there." until significant damage had been done.

I lost both those fingernails, painfully, over the following weeks. Man that hurt!

I can't remember ever being invited to another sleep-over. I don't know if they just weren't in fashion, or I earned a reputation?

In any case. Our excursion into sleep-over parties last night went well. We kept it low key and small (only two guests). We were helped by a present that our son received for his birthday, a Lego game called Heroica. My boys are enthralled by Lego and games that include a fantasy story, weapons, and where you create your own board. This game has all of that. Our son's guests were equally enthralled. I think the other thing that appeals in these sorts of games with this general age group is the huge number of rules. I struggle to understand it all, but they love it.
Dinner table set for seven.

End result: we provided very little entertainment. Mostly just supervision.

After a simple dinner (hot dogs and veggies) we ate a calculator cake. Then showers followed by settling into a movie (Garfield 2). The movie didn't end until nearly 10 o'clock. I was wilting. Thankfully my husband has more stamina and patience and he waited another hour downstairs while the boys gradually settled. Though they tell me that they didn't go to sleep until after midnight. By the time I came down for breakfast at 7.15, they were already well into more rounds of Heroica.

Our grand team effort Calculator Cake.
The numbers melted in the heat!
The boys both left mid-morning and now we're left with a holiday-day to fill in, with, guess what? More Heroica!

Meanwhile, my husband slaves away at Professional Development (yes, that's why the boys are home on a Thursday), learning how to teach EAL students. This is the new ESL. It stands for English as an Additional Language. And certainly is a more accurate label for many of the kids at CAJ. The two guests last night speak at least one other language. One has a Singaporean dad and Japanese mum. The other has a Japanese dad and American mom.

15 years ago today we made vows we've never regretted.
But for now, I'd better go and prepare some lunch. Oh, and remember to wrap my wedding anniversary present for my beloved. Today marks 15 years since we tied the knot! Wow, a lot has changed since that day!

19 September, 2012

Taking up the challenge

One of the blogs I follow is written by a mum of five boys and one girl. She wrote a book called "How Do You Tuck in a Superhero" (I wrote about it here). This week she's begun a ten minute Tuesday challenge, where you write for ten minutes without stopping and publish it on your blog, if you have one. I usually write here for longer than ten minutes each day, but to set a timer and just write sounds like an interesting challenge. So, here I go.

Today started like most Wednesdays during school time. We ate breakfast at the usual time (7.15), but the only person who had to be at school at the usual time was David. The school has a slow start on Wednesdays, the kids start an hour later. The boys love to play at this time. And today especially so, because our son's just received birthday presents, including a cool Lego game called Heroica.

The challenge for me is getting them to do their jobs before they start playing. Especially our eldest who has more jobs than his brothers on Wednesday. He washes up the breakfast dishes (usual weekday job) but also washes all the towels.

I've discovered that I'm much better at cleaning when there are other people around. When everyone is at school I'd much rather be doing jobs that I find hard to manage when they're here, like writing or editing.

So, earlier this year I decided to make Wednesday morning my weekly housework morning. It is when I clean both our toilets and vacuum as much of the house as I can. Occasionally other jobs poke their heads in there too, like cleaning out the turtle's tank. It seems to be working well. The dust bunnies on the stairs aren't bugging me so much and the toilets, when cleaned weekly, don't smell as much :-)

I'm not the best housekeeper, but I figure, I do all the important things (like keeping our family fed and clothed).

Then at 9.45 I had an editorial meeting with the Executive Editor of Japan Harvest. This is a weekly meeting when we talk about anything pertaining to the magazine. This used to be a long meeting (up to two hours), but as I've grown to understand my role better and our roles have become better defined, the meeting time has come down to an hour or less.

Now I would usually be headed off to the gym, but as the Orthopaedic specialist said to stay away from the heavy exercise, I'm not doing that at the moment. Which is a problem that I don't like. It means that I have less energy than usual (and the fact that summer is lingering on hasn't helped that). So, perhaps I'd better go and do some more pushups and sit-ups.

Yes, I've been building up my strength with these two upper body exercises, though my "wrestling" son doesn't thing that my modified pushups are even worthy of counting as real exercise. But they've got to count for something, surely? And my stamina has increased. I can now do 20 sit ups (with my feet under the lounge! I can't do even one without something to hold my feet).

Okay, that's my 10 minutes up. What do ya reckon? Any other bloggers out there keen to take up the challenge?

18 September, 2012

Beating deadlines, and other fun things

Today I'm having a pretty fun day. It is one of only two days I get to be at home while the boys are at school this week. Thursday and Friday are student-free days (or, as CAJ calls them, Staff Professional Days).

I started the day with the pleasure of submitting the last of the material for the next issue of  Japan Harvest (the magazine I edit), to our designer/production editor. I was two days early! Feels good. Now I'm praying for our designer, that she'll be able to do a great job in the time available to her.

Then I did some grocery shopping, particularly preparing for our middle son's birthday party tomorrow. He's 10 and having his first every sleep over (and we're hosting our first ever birthday sleep over)!

I'm glad that his birthday is finally here, because we've endured some tremendous emotional swings as this intense young man struggled with unbearable anticipation. Is there anyone else out there who struggles with the overexcitement that comes at birthdays and Christmas?

Now I'm trying to think about teaching my youngest's class (second grade) about writing. It's hard because many of the kids are still struggling with English and even speaking in sentences is hard for them. With little classroom teaching experience, it is a challenge for me to think about teaching them, but a fun challenge.

I think I'll keep to the theme of "Interesting Words" that I used two years ago when I had the same opportunity to teach the grade twos when my middle son was in that class. I'm thinking about using some writing prompts that aren't just words or pictures. I'm thinking about using a toy or something that can be moulded into a shape (like a bendy toy). And also about using a song or music. Does anyone out there have a musical writing prompt suggestion?

So, I guess I ought to get back to doing what I'm doing, instead of talking about what I'm doing.

17 September, 2012

Back to School Day

8th grade maths.
I embarrassed my 13 y.o. son in front of his classmates today. Not too hard to do for a teenager!

He was in maths and it was an open class, so there were a whole lot of parents there. The teacher was struggling to get responses out of the kids (who were all embarrassed to even have their parents in the room). So when she asked a question that no one answered, she opened it out to the parents and I put my hand up (or maybe I put my hand up earlier than that, I can't remember). Anyway, she then asked my son if it was okay to ask his mum for the answer and he shook his head. She asked him if he knew the answer and he shook his head, so I got to answer it anyway. I got it right too!

Today was Back to School Day at CAJ. Sounds a bit strange, 3 1/2 weeks after they actually went back to school. But, as I explained here last year, it is a day when the parents go "back to school". We meet teachers, learn about what our kids will be doing this year, and get an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our kids a little bit too.

This year they structured it differently, one of the big changes was actually some time of "open classroom" time. Where the kids had class, and the parents were allowed to be in the classroom.

This was kind-of fun (especially when I answered that question about scatter graphs). It was interesting to see the kids that our kids are with every day and some of the interaction. Watching the eighth grade boys do PE wasn't quite so fun. It was hot (they were smelly) and then it started to rain!

I did enjoy year 8 maths and English. I especially enjoyed the opportunity I had to embarrass my son.

Elementary was pretty good too. Especially the fact that my husband could help me out. Otherwise I would have been shuffling between two classes and would have missed 50% of what was going on. Usually my husband is working at the same time as any school day event for parents, so I'm the sole representative of of our family, but today he got to go to 2nd grade and I did 4th grade. That made for a calmer experience!

I'm glad I didn't have to stay for the 2-4pm high school segment, I'm exhausted! I got to come home at 2 with my younger boys. Next year I get to do both elementary and high school, but skip middle school. Two years after that I get to do all three! What fun!

I think the reason I find it so exhausting is that there is a lot of people around and I have so many different "hats" that  it is challenging every time I meet a new person to remember how I know them and come up with appropriate conversation! I think some must wonder why I look permanently spacey! I also had to stand up a lot through the day and now my knee is aching. Thankfully I put the slow cooker on this morning!

I'm a published photographer now!

Today a photo I took while travelling in outback Australia was published on another blog. Check it out here

It is called "Picture Praise" and includes a story I wrote about the picture. I'm just amazed that the photo that I took while we drove 100 km/hr actually came out okay!

16 September, 2012

Pop-Up Starbucks?

The hospital I visited on Friday had a Starbucks in the foyer. I might have been very excited, except for my low caffeine diet. Annoyingly Japanese coffee shops don't seem to have heard of decaffeinated coffee.* I might have had a coffee anyway, except that I'd gone to a coffee shop the day before and really didn't want any more headache trouble (this heat does me in).

While I'm on Starbucks, I saw this post about Starbucks opening the first ever "Pop-Up Store" in Tokyo. Even after reading the article, I still have no idea what the heading means. What is a pop-up store? The only thing I can think of is a pop-up card or pop-up book that little children read. No idea. Perhaps you can explain it to me after reading the article.

*A friend did tell me it was possible to get a decaf coffee from Starbuck here, but it was something that took a long time for them to produce and it didn't taste very good either.

15 September, 2012

Cross country Saturday again

The CAJ middle school boys waiting for the start.
Today we had cross country again. Same place as last week (check out my post from last Saturday here).

Two big differences.

  1. I didn't wake up with a headache. Yay!! 
  2. I had to drive six kids with no other adult in the car. Not so yay!
The drive was longer and more tedious, not just because the traffic was worse, but because I had no one to distract me with good conversation! Just silly 11 y.o. girls in the very back of the van, who were watched by my incredulous 7 y.o. and an almost 10 y.o. beside me who was very moody, ranging from silly jokes and creative stories, to grumbling about all sorts of things. Teresa, I know you read this blog, and your young lady wasn't a problem at all, she was very quiet for most of the trip back to CAJ.
This is all the middle school boys just after
the start — all 105 of them.

Some of the runners (not mine).

Anyway, the day was just as hot, but I weathered it better because I hadn't battled a migraine the day before. Our eldest son, however, took his coach's advice to "take it easy down the hills" a little too much to heart and ran well under last week's time. Never mind, there are still at least four more meets in the season for him to find his rhythm.

Another CAJer striving for the finish line.
A couple of random observations from today:
  • I'd rather drive from Mt Isa to Alice Springs than drive in Tokyo traffic like I did today!
  • When you are a foreigner living overseas, you connect with other foreigners so well. I had a lovely conversation with someone I'd only just met (who is a Christian, but not a missionary) and I swear we connected better than I do with many Australians who've never lived overseas.
I fought sleepiness all the stop-start way home, but after a bit of a rest (and a slightly caffeinated coffee) I feel a lot better now, so I'm off to make a very simple dinner.

14 September, 2012

Another encounter of the medical kind

Today I ventured into a large inner city hospital. I have a dislike of large Japanese hospitals, mostly due to my experiences with them in my first term (I wrote down some of that here).

I have a niggly knee. It is barely enough to call "pain" most of the time. I'm not limping, but I know that it just isn't quite right. Especially if I walk on rough surfaces or jolt it for some reason (like tripping and landing heavily on it). I've been trying to ignore it, but some colleagues urged me to at least as our OMF Japan medical advisor about it and he advised me to get it seen to, as it is the second time in a year that my knee has caused me concern.

The trouble is, it is only a niggle and there is no reason why, as in, I can't pinpoint an accident that might have caused this. It is hard to describe, even in English, as it isn't consistently painful and I can still do everything I usually do.

All of this heightened my anxiety to stay out of a Japanese doctor's office. But, that is exactly where I ended up today.

And not just our local orthopaedic's office, we've been there a few times with our boys with sprained joints and a hair fractured finger, but a whopping big hospital. Reason being, investigations were likely to lead down the path of an MRI (arrgghhh).

So, we did what foreigners do in Japan when confronted with a medical problem (actually a need for any sort of service, a car problem, need for a hairdresser, a dry cleaner etc.). We asked around. End result: a friend's husband contacted a colleague and got me an appointment with a professor, no less!

Some of our many Japanese patient cards.
So, today I swallowed my fear and strode off downtown on my own. The who-you-know principle was very clearly to my advantage today. The hospital already had me in the system, they had my patient card* and a chart so that meant I could avoid all the initial "set
up" and could cut straight to the chase.

But I'm sure you don't want to know the rest of the story. It is a typical story of the large-institution-in-Japan type. You get shuffled from place to place, carrying various pieces of paper as you go. It reminds me a little of international airports, actually.

I saw the doctor, he sent me to x-ray, they sent me back, he saw me again. He was somewhat puzzled (and probably a little bored by my not-so-dramatic case). The x-ray didn't show anything and my symptoms are hard to describe and not so severe. No surprises there, really. We talked around in circles for a bit (thankfully his English was better than my Japanese), and eventually agreed (I think) to pursue an MRI if my knee is still bothering me in a month.

I survived, minus a few too many yen! But I didn't feel very triumphant. You see I just want this problem to go away. I don't want to struggle to hike with my kids. Heck, I'm not even 40. I want to go back to the gym too. I was grateful to see that there was no sign of osteoarthritis. But whatever the problem is, it's hiding. I don't really want to brave an MRI for such a seemingly small problem, but it seems that might be exactly where I'm headed. And hopefully that will justify my complaint. At present, there is no evidence that this isn't just all in my head.

*I don't think we have the equivalent of this in Australia. Whenever you go to see a medical professional here, you get a card. We've got quite a collection from various hospitals, specialists, dentists, and even a masseur-type professional.

13 September, 2012

I'm a bear of little brain

I might adopt this as my editing motto:
For I am a bear of very little brain and long words bother me. ~ Winnie the Pooh
Long sentences bother me too. And so do a whole lot of other things.

Editing is making me a bit picky. I love it when I pick up a book these days that doesn't trip me up with bad writing but carries me away on the story. If the writing is bad I'm just as likely to put it down.

I need someone else who is a bit picky to join me in editing Japan Harvest. It's a complicated story, but we've peeled a small part off the role of the Executive Editor and need someone to fill the position of Associate Editor. We also need a News Editor and Advertising Director.

I'm praying . . . and racking my brain to see if I can think of people to ask. Can you pray too?

12 September, 2012

Unexpected turnaround

Our eldest son had a challenging start to his formal education. He went to Japanese kindergarten in Sapporo for 1 1/2 years, then we went on home assignment for a year. He attended Preschool (like kindergarten) for six months and then Grade 1 for six months in Australia. Then we returned to Japan, but to Tokyo.

Our eyes were firmly fixed on the Japanese public school system at this point because we wanted our kids to grow up understanding the language and culture of the land they were living in. Additionally we knew of a number of other foreigners who'd put their kids into the system, so it wasn't such a strange thing to do. But because he hadn't yet turned six, he was ineligible to start school, so back he went into kindergarten for six more months. We were hoping that those six months would help him to get back on track with understanding Japanese (kids can often pick up a new language quickly, but they are just as fast to lose it when not exposed to it).

I home schooled him to keep up his English and we persevered with kindergarten. His Japanese never seemed to come back and he struggled. He developed some bad habits and attitudes towards his Japanese teachers, but the kindergarten indulged him. After six months he graduated from kindergarten with his class and progressed down the road to the local primary school.

We found out, to our horror, that he was in a class of 38 kids . . . with one teacher. The classroom was chockers (colloquial Australian for 'overfull'). The teacher was young and keen, but with a class of that size, most days presented our fairly monolingual son with long periods of talking from the teacher. He got bored really quickly and started causing trouble. Here I won't go into details, I don't want to embarrass my son. But it was a difficult time of many phone calls from teachers, meetings with staff (including the principal). And many tears from me.

Our son's Japanese primary school.
After a year we thought he was settling, but early in second grade it escalated again. It got to a point where we decided to withdraw him from the school and send him to CAJ. We didn't know why he struggled so much, but we figured at least we could remove the language and cultural challenges.

So from year three he attended CAJ. Our struggles with him weren't over, but that is another story.

However, the two year encounter with the Japanese education system left our son with a negative attitude towards the Japanese language and Japanese teachers in particular. You can see how I beat myself up over this at the time. Our good intentions produced the opposite result!

In May this year, towards the end of the school year, he started to think about what subjects to choose this school year. Especially, whether he wanted to continue to study French for a third year. He loved French. So when he first voiced his thoughts about changing to Japanese study in year 8, I couldn't believe my ears. Thankfully I held my tongue, though, because soon he was saying things like this,
"I think I'll take Japanese because that is the language of the land I am living in. It would be really handy to be able to speak and read this language."
Amazing turn around. And the fact that he's come to that conclusion on his own, the conclusion that we'd come to a long time ago, but failed in our execution of OUR plan to get him to acquire Japanese, still brings me to tears.

This week he lamented that there were only two Japanese periods in a week. He's so keen! We're praising God for this turnaround in attitudes!

11 September, 2012

Independence — a legitimate goal?

Not being 100% competent at managing my life is okay and the idea that I could manage this is just a lie, an illusion.

This is one of the things I struggled with this time coming back from Australia. Every country-to-country transition we make is challenging. The challenges vary, from physical to mental and spiritual. And they vary according to life stage and experience. This time I also struggled with coming back to Japan so fast (it is the fastest turn-around I've ever had from Australia).

This isn't the first time I've struggled on this independence issue, and I dare say it won't be the last.

In Australia I am very independent, and pretty competant. I can manage my own affairs fairly well. I can answer the phone and talk to anyone who calls. I can answer the door and know what any salesperson is saying to me and how to politely knock them back. I can go to the bank, the hairdresser, the doctor, the post office, the dentist and have (almost) no communication troubles whatsoever.

That isn't the case in Japan. It just isn't. 

In Japan I rely far more on my husband and others to stay afloat. I am not particularly competent here. People who first come to Japan (or any country where they don't speak the language) and talk about feeling like they're in kindergarten again. Yep. And now, 12 years later, it just feels like I never graduated.

But if I look at the situation in a balanced way, I do okay. I can go to the shops, use the train, go to my local doctor (for regular problems like asthma), visit the pharmacy, go out for coffee, go to the gym. I can even go to the hairdresser too. And even if I can't have the conversations I'd like to have in those places, I do manage to do them without anyone holding my hand.

I can answer the phone and the door too, and I know how to say, "I don't understand" or "No thank you." but I don't always know what I'm saying "No thank you" for!

There are some things that David and I have just divided up as "my" responsibility and "his". And in Japan he happens to hold more responsibilities for me than he does in Australia. Things like reading official letters, dealing with bureaucracy, ringing the real estate for repairs on the house. Those are his.

And if things go a bit awry or something out-of-the-usual occurs that I need help. 

Like losing my health care card (like an Australian Medicare Card). It's gone missing. I don't know how long it has been missing, but it's gone and David is going to the City office this afternoon to see if he can get a replacement for me. One benefit about Japan is that there is one person designated "in charge" of the household, usually the husband, and he can do many things without the presence of the other members.

Ah, stop the press. It's been found . . . in my husband's wallet. How odd is that?

But back to the original statement: the idea that I should be totally independent. It really isn't true, is it? "No one is an island" is a nice cliche, but it really is true, isn't it. 

For example, while I have good health I can build an illusion of independence. But as soon as I come down with gastro, I'm dependent on others. Losing my independence is as simple as a little germ, or the loss of a job, or an accident.

The only reason I am able to be independent at any time is a gift from God. One not to be proud of if I have or despondent about if I don't. I'm not "more acceptable" if I'm able to manage my own affairs independently. 

What do you think? Where do we get this fierce independence from? The reluctance to rely on others? 

My Occupational Therapy training has a little bit to do with it, I think. It is something I know has had an influence on my parenting. If someone can do something themselves, I'm very reluctant to do it for them (like put socks in the right place).

But I think it is a deeper thing too. Something that makes us feel sorry for people with disabilities. Something that frustrates us when we're ill or otherwise limited. What do you think?

10 September, 2012

Mixed bag of a day

It's been a so so day. Two out of three boys have had some nasty patches. I've been in and out all day (five times) at various meetings and events. In the midst of all that my head has felt weird, like the start of a headache, though no major headache ever eventuated, but still hindering my thoughts.

My last two outings were related to trying to buy milk without any money in my purse . . . and that wasn't the end of the day. I still had to deal with a reluctant boy doing piano practise, a boy not being responsible about homework, and an email from a teacher a boy's bad behaviour. Argghhh.

In the midst of all this there was good stuff, however. For example, three boys raving about their homemade lunches!

One thing that made their lunch special today was some Double-choc muffins that I made yesterday afternoon. I've been avoiding baking due to the heat, but lunch boxes still need to be filled and our lunchbox filler (my husband) was making noises to the effect that I was letting the side down in regards to snacks. So I backed the muffins yesterday. And they were a hit. Our middle son, who usually doesn't lack for descriptive words when he's feeling eloquent, couldn't find sufficient words to describe how good the muffins were.

Sultana Slice
Last week I also tried out a microwave recipe. I don't normally use the microwave for baking, but I was getting desperate in the heat. This recipe is superb and very tasty.

Sultana Slice

175g butter
1/2 cup* sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1/2 cup sultanas
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind (optional)
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

1. Put butter, sugar, golden syrup in a big bowl.
2. Cook it for about 2 minutes at about 350 watts.
3. Stir well.
4. Add sultanas and lemon rind. Stir well.
5. Add flour and baking powder. Mix well.
6. Spread evenly in a 20cm square casserole dish.
7. Cook for about 5 1/2 minutes at 350 watts. Cool.
8. Ice when cold. Then slice.

Lemon icing
1 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

*Please note that Australian cups are 250ml and tablespoons are 20ml.

I also threw this coconut loaf together. Another recipe the boys rave about that is super easy (but does need an oven).

Anyways, it's off to bed for me. Thankfully tomorrow is a brand new day.

09 September, 2012

Look at your missionary with a critical eye?

Recently I read a blog post  by a former missionary-in-Japan about judging. About the areas about which people tend to judge missionaries:

"How we spend our time, how we spend our money, and how we raise our children." 

It does help to explain why missionaries are often very careful about what they disclose in prayer letters (like talking about holidays).

You can read it here. She talks about what unconscious assumptions we might have, but also gives some helpful, Biblical ways to respond to our critical hearts. It is both a challenging and helpful post. 

08 September, 2012

Chilling out on an army reserve with cross-country

Today the inter-school cross-country season started in Tokyo. This is our third season as parents of a cross-country runner. Last year I wrote about the cool venue here.

Looking down the steep hill the runners
call "gut hill". It was painful to watch some
runners try to get to the top of this.
I think we've acclimatised to the different system of inter-school sport. Here I wrote about the vast differences between this system and the Australian system. Today I found myself trying to explain to our middle son about these differences. He's in Grade 4 here, only a couple of years away from being able to "go out for" inter-school sport. The first year he'll be eligible is Grade 6 and that year we're planning to be in Australia for a year's home assignment. I tried to explain how different school sport was there. That there was a within-school once-off cross-country race from which they chose the best runners who went on to represent the school in one regional race. None of the serial races that happen here. I think the season for our middle schooler will be a total of six races over six weeks, quite a different system to Australia's, with much more training (three 2 hr afternoons a week for middle schoolers).

The races between these international schools all happen about an hour from here at a U.S. army recreational facility, a mini forest in the middle of suburbia. Because it is still hot, the races start early. This morning I have to admit to feeling less than enthusiastic about getting up at 5.30, especially when it was already 28 C in our bedroom (it was nicer outside, but only by a few degrees for an hour or so). I was also carrying a headache I've been battling on and off for the last few days. However I'm glad I went.

The setting is tranquil (especially if you ignore all the sweaty teenagers), and with no responsibilities I could sit and relax for a few hours under shady trees with a book. It did mean two hours of Tokyo driving, but I was fortunate enough to be a passenger, not a driver. I feel tired now, but mentally refreshed. Getting out of the house and not staring at this computer for a while was good for me.

It was also good to see my eldest son compete. He did well — bested his previous best time at the course by 32 seconds. His comment at the end was that it felt shorter than in previous years. He's grown and is stronger! I'm looking forward to seeing what further improvements he can make during the season.

07 September, 2012

Wearing many hats

At CAJ we're known as the Australians who wear hats. Apparently most other Westerners in the world don't routinely wear hats to keep the sun off them? The sun is strong in Australia and our skin is fair, so hat wearing during the summer months is a compulsory thing (although I suspect the boys don't do a great job of this at school since it makes them "stick out").
While camping in July, we did a ropes course
with the boys — with our hats on!

But this post isn't about physical hats.

Yesterday afternoon I found myself switching "hats" at a speed that was challenging.

We were called into a meeting after school about one of our boys and his classroom behaviour that has been less than respectful. On the way to that I stopped by the library to return some books, especially some books that I'd been asked to review for them. (First hat: book reviewer.) In the library I saw a friend whom I'm talking with about helping out with the magazine I edit. (Second and third hats: friend and editor.)

The bell rang and I proceeded upstairs to meet the teacher with my husband. On my way I saw another teacher who asked me about a student in her class this year that I did an Occupational Therapy assessment on last year. (Fourth hat: Occupational Therapist.)

We sat down and had our little meeting. It's never nice to hear your children have behaved in ways that you don't condone, but we're on his case now! (Fifth hat: parent.)

After our discussion petered out, the teacher invited me to come and teach the kids a bit about writing one day. (Sixth hat: writer/teacher.)

Then, this teacher, who hasn't just taught two of my kids, she's also a friend of mine, offered again to help me find an Orthopaedic Surgeon to consult about my knee, which has been causing me some concerns (her husband is a specialist in a respected hospital in Tokyo). (Seventh hat: needy foreigner/friend.)

All of that in the space of an hour was quite something, even for me, who is used to switching hats.

So, what does being a missionary look like? It's really hard to say, don't you think?

06 September, 2012

Writing Badly

It's really hard to deliberately write badly when you've been practising writing well.

This I learnt yesterday as I tried to put some example sentences into my Writing 101 presentation. But with some searching in the writing books I have on hand I found some. I also found some doozies in my own unedited writing back in 2007 when I first started to take writing seriously.

Check these out. I'd also love it if you could provide me with more "bad examples" also!

Unclear writing 

“He noticed a large stain in the rug that was right in the center.”

In referring to two male friends, Ralph and Joe: “He is happy because he loves his wife.”

Long sentences 

“Kim, a student at Central College, won the lottery, and she is going to quit her job waitressing at Slab o’Beef, where she has been working for the past three years.”

“Location can be a problem for missionaries going on holidays, this depends on where someone is working, but if they are stressed because of cross-cultural issues, it is challenging if they can't escape it, just a little, when they go away for a break.” (from something I wrote last week!)

Flabby writing 

“The mission is in the process of doing a survey of their members.”

“What I didn’t initially realise was that I’d have to sleep in the same cot as my son!  Granted it was a largish cot and I am not a largish person, but still…neither of us was used to even being in the same room at night, let alone the same bed.” (Sometime I wrote some time ago.)

“Two or three times before in her life, she had fought winning battles against cancer, and each time the Lord had healed her.”

"Macbeth was very ambitious. This led him to wish to become king of Scotland. The witches told him that this wish of his would come true. The king of Scotland at this time was Duncan. Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth murdered Duncan He was thus enabled to succeed Duncan as king."

Avoid repetition 

“English does not tolerate repetition of words. Repeating words will just turn people off reading your writing. You will be surprised how much improvement you can bring to your work by avoiding repetition.”  (From

Indirect writing 

 “The fact that he had not succeeded.” 

“He showed satisfaction as he took possession of his well-earned reward.”

Multiple problems

A nice example from On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. This one has cliches, unclear phrases, and isn't written tightly.

Last February, Plainclothes Patrolman Frank Serpico knocked at the door of a suspected Brooklyn heroin pusher. When the door opened a crack, Serpico shouldered his way in only to be met by a .22-cal. pistol slug crashing into his face. Somehow he survived, although there are still buzzing fragments in his head, causing dizziness and permanent deafness in his left ear. Almost as painful is the suspicion that he may well have been set up for the shooting by other policemen. For Serpico, 35, has been waging a lonely, four-year war against the routine and endemic corruption that he and others claim is rife in the New York City police department. His efforts are now sending shock waves through the ranks of New York’s finest. . . . Though the impact of the commission’s upcoming report has yet to be felt, Serpico has little hope that . . . 

More examples

I'm still looking for examples for "Preachy writing" and "Unnecessarily complicated words and sentences." Any takers? My husband has promised me some examples from the latter category from his current reading for his Masters in Education.