31 October, 2012

2 1/2 days

This is another unusual week, a short week for the boys. They've had only 2 1/2 days of school and the rest of the week is parent-teacher interviews, so the students aren't on campus most of the time. They'll probably join us for our interviews on Friday morning. My husband is a bit frustrated with his next 2 1/2 days. He doesn't mind talking with parents, but he's ended up with an on and off-again timetable. You can't do much with 7 or 20 minutes spare! Perhaps some marking, but other than that it is pretty destructive to productivity.

Thankfully all three boys seem to be in good moods. I hope they remain that way for the majority of the week. So hopefully I won't be too frustrated with my 2 1/2 days.

I'm in a better mood today too. After my post yesterday and a "yell" to some good friends and a colleague about our struggles, I've been feeling more positive and motivated — more my normal self. While I do get excited, I usually don't get great dips in mood, "fairly steady" would be a good way to describe me.

God graciously not only encouraged me with his word yesterday, but bolstered me with some great conversations and messages from friends.

So, the rest of the week? This is the week that I have articles due for our next magazine issue, so they are trickling in. But I'm not sure I'll get much done between now and Monday. It is actually pretty difficult to think about articles when the boys are around and by the time evening comes I'm pretty done in for the day (yes, that's right, I'm not really an evening person). Unless it is a short and pretty straightforward article, it takes a good deal of effort for me to really read and edit an article. Not just read, but question: how can this be made better?

Just in case you're wondering — my boys do like a good
word game!
I'm going to try to spend some one-on-one time with the two younger boys too. Maybe playing Scrabble or something with them. It is something that we're not really good at in our house (except for the nightly one-on-one Bible time with them in the evening). I don't know how people with more than three kids do it! It seems to take most of our energy just to get through the days and nights, let alone organise special one-on-one times.

30 October, 2012

Not every day is fantastic

Today I'm feeling particularly uninspired. Not only am I trying to do work that I don't like (planning, and planning for meetings—I hate meetings). But we had a bad time with our middle son this morning. It got me off to a bad start altogether.

So when I think about planning for the next year of Japan Harvest (the reason for the meeting I'm planning), I'm feeling thoroughly uncreative and uninspired. I hope I feel better on Saturday when we actually get together. I've never led such a meeting, in fact I avoid these kinds of meetings as often as I can, and as for leading it . . . well, at least there are only three of us and I know the other two pretty well.

I've probably got a touch of PMT too. Too much information, you say? Well, my reason for having this blog is to show what ordinary life as a missionary is like (or at least these very ordinary missionaries) and, well, we don't have fantastic days all the time! So there you are.

Thankfully I took some time off my tortuous planning to have lunch and do some homework for the Beth Moore Bible Study I'm doing with some friends. God blessed me with this passage: Isaiah 43:1-7

Key points:

  • God's called me
  • God will be with me no matter what difficulties I encounter
  • I am "precious and honoured" in his sight and loved by him

Finished off by verse 7:

  • I'm created for God's glory, he formed and made me.

Ah, valuable words to cling onto, specially when I'm feeling a lack of honour from my kids.

29 October, 2012

Amazing toilet button

I forgot that I promised to show you this amazing toilet button that I found in the Shinkansen on Friday.

Isn't that fabulous? I tried it out and it only works one way. There must be a female Japanese engineer out there working on Shinkansen toilets!

Why so many trains?

Yesterday Deb asked in her comments about why trains systems here are so complicated and why some train journeys require so many train changes. There are a few reasons I can think of.

Firstly, and probably the biggest reason is that there are a lot of people jammed into not much space. That means that there are a whole lot more train stations and train lines to negotiate than in even the large cities in Australia. Something like 42 million people are serviced by the below train system.
I found this map of Tokyo's stations here, if you want a closer look.
Not all the train lines are owned by the government either. That often means you have to exit one set of gates and, if you're lucky, the other gates will be close by. Or, you might have to walk several hundred metres to find your connecting train at a completely separate station.

Tokyo is a collection of several city centres. So the trains head for those centres and to get from one part of Tokyo to another that isn't a city centre, you might have to go through two or more city centres.

Our train line is privately owned and terminates at our nearest big city centre, Ikebukuro. If you want to go any further than that, you have to change trains there. It is a large, slightly scary station. In fact this is what Wikipedia says about it:
"with 2.71 million passengers on an average daily in 2007, it is the second-busiest train station in the world." 
I remember the first time we went through there, it was lunch time and we had a hungry toddler. It took us ages to find somewhere to eat and all our nerves were frayed by the time we found something.

Need to know your geography
So at these big train stations, you first need to find your line (which might not be right next to the line you just alighted from) and then you need to figure out which platform you need to be on. That demands that you know some big train station names and a bit of local geography. My chief problem on Thursday and Friday was that I only had the names of the stations I was headed for, not the other big stations round about and almost no local geographical knowledge.

For example, I thought I'd found the Kintetsu line that I needed to change to on Thursday morning. I knew I needed to head to Ikoma station, but couldn't find that on the line maps on either platform. Weeeeell, actually I thought I found it on one, but that got me into trouble as I hoped on the wrong train on the wrong line and ended up far from Ikoma station. It turns out I wasn't on the Kintetsu line at all, but the Hanshin line. I'm truly not sure how that happened.

Then on Friday my new friends from the workshop put me on a train to Nara, even though I knew I needed to head to Kyoto. They didn't tell me that I needed to change trains at Yamato-saidaji station for a Kyoto-bound train and that Nara wasn't actually on the way to Kyoto. I neglected to change, but quickly realised my error and changed trains at the next station.

Not all trains are equal
Another trick that gets me is that not all trains are equal. There are a bewildering array of train-descriptions. From Local and Rapid to several types of Express: Semi Express, Commuter Express, Limited Express and plain old "Express". Shinkansen is a "Super Express".

The difference in these is mostly that they don't all stop at every station. And unless you are "in the know" you might easily miss your station. Trains do have good announcements, but you do have to pay attention (and not sleep like many Japanese do). Some announcements are in English, but mostly you're relying on Japanese announcement.

So, depending on which train I catch, I can make it from Ikebukuro to home on one or two trains. It is often more efficient to take an express train to the station before your station and then hop off and take the local (which is often patiently waiting for the express passengers) one more station to your own. Or the other way is also common, take a train from your not-so-major station to the station where the faster trains stop and change trains there to get there faster. That sort of behaviour quickly racks up the "train count".

Then you get the trains that terminate at various stations short of your destination. That's happened to me on several occasions. It happened on Thursday. I had no clue that this train would do that (not knowing the names of the stations between the one I was at and my destination), but I was going the direction I needed to go, so I hopped on anyway. I had to change trains about three stations later because my train terminated there.

Does that help, Deb? Most signs have Romaji (the English letter form of Japanese), so that is really helpful. But it still means lots of careful looking at many signs, listening to announcements and cacophony of other noises while negotiating around many urgently moving bodies who all seem to know exactly where they are going.

28 October, 2012

How did the Writer's Workshop go?

On Friday I promised to tell you more about my trip and the workshop. So, here goes.

The trip
Shinkansen interior. These are the "economy" class seats,
"non reserved". Pretty nice hey? More spacious than an
aeroplane, both between seats and in the aisles.

What I've learned is that I need help! When travelling to a place on public transport that I'm unfamiliar with, the potential of me getting lost, if I'm on my own, is pretty high. Especially if it involves trains and buses and multiple connections. No only do I need to prepare better (look more closely at the maps, lines etc.), I need to allow more time. Especially if I'm the one driving the schedule, I need to be there!

Tokyo to Kyoto is about 500 km. I'm now working on planning the next Writer's Workshop, probably in Sendai, which is a little closer than Kyoto. I'm not sure how I'll get there, probably either by train or car. But I'll be certainly asking for help if I think it's going to get too complicated at the other end.

Shinkansen trains are amazing vehicles. They go too fast for me to happily look out for any length of time. On the way down on Thursday morning I managed to start feeling nauseous (not a surprise, I'm prone to motion sickness). But they really are a comfortable and convenient form of travel, if expensive. The one way trip to Osaka cost about AU$180. And 500 km in five hours is pretty fast travel through very built up areas.

The Workshop

On Thursday at noon, I burst into the conference room, two hours after the schedule that I carried had told participants the workshop began. Trouble was, I was the one in charge. Everyone reassured me that it was okay and we carried in from there, but we did lose time and it meant I hurried through my teaching time faster than I might otherwise have done. But it was the first time I'd taught this material (or anything about writing), so I didn't really gave a clear idea on how long it would take me to get through it all.

After dinner I did a simple writing exercise with them. It included these cool photos! To my surprise it was embraced with enthusiasm and in the end everyone read their work out to everyone else, even though it was largely stream of conscious and unpolished.

At the end of the workshop I asked the participants to give me feedback on the whole workshop. This has been a useful strategy in the past and it proved so again.

I began these workshops with the vision that they would provide a retreat-type setting in which people could have time to write. However we've found that the missionaries who come want more than that. They want input on good writing and interaction with others about their writing. This group suggested more time spent giving each other feedback on each other's work as well as longer time spent on the rewriting of "bad" sentences that I have them during the teaching time. I've been surprised that people have been quite bold in sharing their work. I didn't want to force anyone, but so far no one has refused, people truly want feedback that helps their writing improve. And interestingly, the feedback usually turns into discussions about wider topics that missionaries discuss, like "How do you approach that topic with a non Christian in this country?"

It was encouraging to me that though there was a variety of writing experience in the group, everyone seemed to benefit. Hey, even I benefitted. They gave me helpful feedback in something I'm writing for Japan Harvest.

So the next challenge for me is to pull together another workshop early next year, another regional one. That's been another surprising factor in these workshops — the appreciation we're receiving for doing these workshops in regional centres.

My mindset is of a regional citizen. I grew up in a place that wasn't "the centre of the local universe". Do you know what I mean? The sort of mentality that a large city develops. And I've worked as an isolated professional in a small country town. I know what it is to be far from other resources and when everything important seems to happen in another place, a much larger place. So, my heart is soft towards those who aren't living in Tokyo. They need support too. So, it seems to me that an easily transportable workshop, such as I've developed, should go "to the people" or at least to regional centres.

If only I found travelling, and organising the details for workshops easier . . .

27 October, 2012

Today is World Occupational Therapy Day

I just thought I'd put it out there that today is World Occupational Therapy Day. 

26 October, 2012

A little shaky, but I'm back home

I made it back home with only one error of judgement on the trains. What I'm trying to get my brain around is the geography of the Kansai area (name of the general area of Kyoto, Osaka etc.). The error I made today related directly to my lack of understanding about where everything was in relation to everything else. But specifically that a train headed to Nara was not what I wanted to be on when my Shinkansen train was to leave from Kyoto! No, from Hozanji, Nara is not on the way to Kyoto.

On the map, I went to three of these blog "pins" over the last 36 hours: Osaka, Kyoto, and the one that looks like it has a red shadow is Hozanji, which is the small station close to where we held the Writer's Workshop. It's up on the side of a small mountain, only 643 m, but quite steep. Nevertheless they've built houses up a good portion of the side of it.

There was a nice view from my room at sunset last night, if you ignore the power lines right through the middle! This view is out towards Nara.

To get up the mountain, a "cable car" train is used. This is what it looks like:-

And yes, it was filled with children when we used it this afternoon. At the top of the mountain is a small amusement park.

Yesterday we went for a walk on the mountain, and I wish I'd taken my camera. Not much is on the horizontal!

Anyway, my thoughts are rambling now and I need to head to bed. Suffice to say that the Third JEMA Writer's Workshop is over and it was the best yet (cliche, I know, but I'm too tired to think of anything better). Tomorrow I will tell you more about my trip and the workshop, plus a photo of the best button I've ever seen in a public toilet facility!

25 October, 2012

An event-full day

I made it to the Writer's Workshop. It just took 11 trains rather than 6 and almost two hours longer than I'd planned. Just got a little lost on the Osaka trains. But thankfully my boss was on time and able to get things started without me. With a flexible schedule, we were able to get back on track and haven't lost too much writing time.

Though I find I'm too tired to do much writing at these retreats, I did manage a little before dinner. After teaching about good writing I wrote a first draft of a very short article, the first of a series on good writing for Japan Harvest. It's pretty hard to write about good writing, actually. I mean, I need to lead by example, don't I?

I think the teaching time went well, I made them work at fixing the bad examples I gave them and that seemed to be a useful strategy. It also meant I didn't have to talk as much! It will be interesting to hear everyone's feedback tomorrow after we're done.

But for now I'm ready to crash into bed. I got up two hours early and operated on a higher level of awareness for most of the day.
This was the view from the train at Kyoto station. Hard to see, but there
is a typical Japanese tour group walking along that path. The leader
is holding up a little yellow flag. Just so you know that Japanese tour
directors overseas behave just the same as the ones here at 'home'.

24 October, 2012

Nervous and excited

I'm feeling a bit jittery. It is a mixture of nerves and excitement. Tomorrow I'm headed to a place in Japan I've never been before, the Osaka area.

I'm nervous, like always, due to the 12 trains I need to catch to get there and back the next day, including an expensive shinkansen or bullet train. I'm nervous because this is the Writer's Workshop I've been nattering about periodically, for example here, and I'm teaching. I'm also nervous because it really is my baby, I've been the one who's done the majority of the organising; not that it is a huge deal, but I'm just not gifted at organising events like this.
It always seems to me as though Osaka/Kyoto etc. are south of
Tokyo, but really they are west and only a little bit south.

Here is a short run down on what we did when we held one in Tokyo earlier in the year. This time it is a couple of hours longer and it involves me teaching a little bit about how to write better.

I'm excited too, because I'm passionate about missionaries becoming better writers so that they can get their unique stories out there for others to benefit from.

Just yesterday I read a new submission of a writer who has an article coming out in our magazine this week. Her first article took a lot of work to get up to a good, publishable standard. The second one, that I read yesterday, is so much better. It really has to be one of the highlights of my week to see how she's learnt and improved in her writing because we as editors took the time to help her rework her article.

It is something that most magazine editors don't have the time to do. They just pick the most suitable and best written articles and go with them. In this small magazine, though, I do get the chance to help writers learn to write better. And that is, hopefully, what will come out of this week's writer's workshop too.

Anyway, now I'm dashing off down the road to help pack the Autumn issue of the magazine for posting. And that's always a good feeling — to lay my hands on the final product of many hours of work.

I'll have to pack my bags tonight. I'm catching a 5.08am train tomorrow, so I'd better not be late to bed. This editor needs her sleep.

23 October, 2012

A writer's shout

So the next book on my pile of books to write about here is this: 

Growing up Among Worlds. 
30 Days of Prayer for Third Culture Kids.

This is an OMF publication. It just so happens that there are two stories in here by me. All the stories are anonymous yet true, as protecting our kids is an important thing. Especially when many of the stories illustrate struggles that children of missionaries (and their parents) face. Certainly my stories are. 

Someone asked me last week if I am actually a writer. I could assure her that yes, I've had articles published in actual magazines (that I'm not the editor of). But I think this is the first time I've had something published as part of a book compilation. So, that's my shout!

You might not know what "Third Culture Kids" (TCKs) are, I've blogged a little bit about what it is here and here, using illustrations from our own family. Basically missionary kids are Third Culture Kids (but not only missionary kids, other kids growing up in cultures different to their passports are also TCKs).

The book is beautiful. I'm very easily persuaded that green is the best colour for a publication :-)  And probably it should be called a "booklet". It is only 32 pages, one page per day to read and three helpful prayer points, plus a Scripture verse. A project that's just well put together.

I have but one complaint, and that's an author's complaint. They didn't come back to the authors to check the accuracy of the compiler's edits, as a result there is a glaring error in one of my stories. Glaring, only to those who know a bit of Japanese, but nonetheless, regrettable. 

It can be purchased for only AU$4 from OMF Australia here or for $3 (USD) OMF US here, and if you live somewhere else in the world and would like to get a hold of a copy, see if there is an OMF office in your country, they should have them in stock. Otherwise, I'm sure that our Australian or US offices would post them internationally.

22 October, 2012

A book Australians should read

I have this pile of books threatening to topple onto my laptop (well small exaggeration). They are destined to be blogged about, but life has been so hectic recently that I just haven't gotten around to it.

Today's a new start. 
  1. I've gone to the gym for almost the first time in 3 1/2 months and it feels good. It is nice to not only do that, but get back into my former routine (which includes picking up some needed items from various stores on the way home).
  2. I had morning tea (or "coffee") with a friend, we've been wanting to catch up ever since school began, and that's nearly two months ago now! So, finally, we grabbed some time together. We were missing a couple of other ladies who usually join us, but, it was good even so, to meet and share how things have been for us (this is one of those, "how are you really" relationships).
  3. I've managed to get some important emails away, ones that have been waiting for a while. It's nice to cross those off my list.
  4. And I'm going to get the first of these books off my "To blog on" list.
My Place by Sally Morgan

Is one of those Australian books that I mentioned here. I bought it in a second-hand book store with the intention of hopefully donating it to the CAJ library, intending to help them get a more international biographical section going. (Here was my original post about the lack of non-American books at CAJ.)

My Place is described as "An Australian Classic". That kind of label usually makes me run the other way. I'm not really into "classics". But I had a vague memory that this author is Aboriginal and I was curious to read about her life. 

I'm so glad I took the chance on it. It IS a classic in the best way. One that every Australian should read.

It not only tells of the author's upbringing in Perth in the 50s and 60s, it tells some of the story of her uncle, mum, and grandmother. 

I've never read anything about what it was like for Aboriginals to live in Australia. I've read plenty of literature by or about African Americans. Part of that is mostly only having access to an American library in recent years. But a big part of it is that it isn't popular in mainstream Australia to talk about this topic. It certainly wasn't a part of my education. I don't know how many Aboriginals have penned their own stories, but I haven't come across them. From what I read in the book, many Aboriginals tend to be reluctant to tell their stories. That they have many secrets that they'd rather not reveal to the world. They also are a culture that tend to have oral histories, rather than written history.

But, back to the book. It was shocking. It was shocking to see how the people in the story were treated by white people. Like possessions and slaves. The family in this story suffered so much that they deliberately hid their genetic history from their kids (including the author). It was only due to the persistence of the author that the children discovered their Aboriginal history in their early adult years (there is a considerable mixing in of "white" blood in the family, so their heritage isn't immediately obvious to observers).

The story is well written and it thoroughly took me in. I needed to get to the end of it. 

Again I say, all Australian should read this. At school we're taught about the explorers, about the wars, about the colonies, about Federation etc. But we're not taught about the hidden people, the indigenous Australians who live among us. We need to know this.

21 October, 2012

Our treasures from this week's Thrift Shop

A jar to hold the sandy soil we brought back from
our caravan park adjacent to the Uluru
National Park.
Two single airbeds. Only 500 yen each
(AU$ 6).
My tartan laprug (British made).

One of the several books we snagged.
A music bag for our youngest son for
school next year (are we forward looking or what?).
A puzzle book with 3-D blocks to complete puzzles.
Original price? US$49.95. Our price? 100 yen (US$1.25).
Our 13 y.o.'s only regret? That it contains only 11 of the possible
12 pentominos (not that it is defective, but, well, it is a mathematical
kind-of thing...).
An assortment of long-sleeve t-shirts and hoodies for winter wardrobes. 
The book I'm devouring with pleasure. Published last year
and it only cost me 150 yen!
This and the below box are what consumed a lot of the boys' time on
Friday afternoon and yesterday. A place to organise their small Lego bits.
This one is for technic bits.
This one is for mini figures. Can you see evidence that they
are dismembered? It is a passion of particularly one of our boys
that the mini figures should generally exist with their heads,
legs and torsos as separate from one another. The other drawers
includes bits like weapons, hats, shields etc.
We didn't buy a lot this year. We threw away and sold more than we bought, which is the way it should be, don't you think? With home assignment in less than two years, we're always aware of how big a job packing up is and the constant challenge is to keep things "trim" around here. If something remains unused for too long, it gets offloaded. It's a missionary's life.

20 October, 2012

Exceptional encounters

Well, Thrift Shop is over for me for another round. I started typing this while sitting in my comfy chair in the lounge room with my this-Thrift Shop-Find ticked around my legs. It is a blue-green tartan woollen lap rug. Perfect! And a huge bargain at 100 yen! Tomorrow I'll follow up with a photo post showing some of our "finds". It really is a bit like a treasure hunt, except the treasure is unique to each person.

But tonight I just want to be thankful for a couple of lunch-time conversations. (And I ended up getting distracted by an Aussie comedy and not getting back to posting this last night.)

This is the book my colleague is translating.
Firstly I joined my husband in the cafeteria to eat some Japanese curry rice. He introduced me to a couple who'd sat down there too and whom he'd just met. It turned out that the man works with a Christian publishing house here in Japan. In the course of our conversation I asked him for sone advice about the book translation proposal that I'm putting together (see here for some background). It was a useful context to make.

Then my husband ducked off to check on the spending status of our boys, who'd scoffed their food and ran find their own treasures.

I then noticed an Australian couple sitting across the way (there are only four Australian families at the school, including us) and so I took my tray and mosied on over for a bit of a chinwag. It was great! It feels like you've come home when someone else understands you better than most others in your vicinity.

We talked about a range of things, including our trip to the Red Centre of Australia in July. Almost inevitably we ended up on the "what areas we're misunderstood" or "what makes Australians just a bit different from other foreigners". We find that as a minority amongst the foreigners in this corner of the world, there are things about us that others find hard to fathom, or even irritating.

Here are a few, though it is actually really hard to write these things in a way that is potentially understandable (and not too offensive) to those who aren't Australia.

  • Our humour is often misunderstood. Sarcasm is often used in a friendly way and not to be taken seriously. In fact, teasing someone or "pulling someone's leg" is more a gesture of friendship than anything. And the more energy we put into it, the better our relationship with that person is likely to be. To be more formal and stand-offish usually means that there is a problem in the relationship.
  • We tend not to be in great awe of people in authority. This means that we often don't hesitate to question someone in authority. We also don't show the same the awe and respect for our politicians and national leaders, like some countries do.
  • We tend to be more direct. We don't beat around the bush.
  • We are very much aware that, though we look like other Westerners, we aren't necessarily the same as others. It is more than our accents that are different.
  • We tend to be more laid back than some other nations.
Of course all these characteristics have their negatives, but then all cultures have negatives to them and I'm not defending Australians, saying that we're great and perfect. 

It was just nice to talk with some other Aussies who've also struck cross-cultural misunderstandings with other Westerners here in Japan. It's nice to know that you're not alone.

18 October, 2012


Today is another full day of Thrift Shop preparation, though it tends not to be quite as busy in the afternoon, I'll still be tired this evening. So I'll post this before I go to school this morning.

The following video we saw at the coaching workshop I attended a couple of weeks ago. It it is both hilarious and a tiny bit scary at the same time. If you ever summons up the courage to go to get some mental-health advice from a professional, you certainly don't want to meet someone quite as insensitive as this fellow. 

On the other hand it makes me want to say "STOP IT" more often to my boys! Enjoy.

17 October, 2012

Old clothes and great conversations

Hanging up dresses with my eldest son
and his friend at Thrift Shop a couple
of years ago.
Thrift Shop preparation has begun. The giant biannual CAJ garage sale that takes up the whole school gym and requires 2 1/2 days and hundreds of volunteer hours to put together, but raises a large amount of money. The one in April this year brought in about AU$40,500. That is no small amount!

I've said it before, actually here, that one of the best things about volunteering during the Thrift Shop set-up time is the conversations that you have.

Today I had many conversations, but one theme came through in at least two, and that was related to men doing work around the home and teaching boys to do the same.

One conversation stands out, it was with a lady who I don't know, but who knows me as the wife of the teacher of a couple of her kids. She knows my husband only in that role: as a maths/science teacher. We were working after school was out and she was very surprised to hear that my husband had pulled the washing in when he got home (it began raining as he walked home). She said her husband would never think of such a thing and I had a sterling opportunity to sing my husband's praises. In fact, as I type, he's ironing clothes (not that he does that often, but he does do it).

I could write a whole lot about this topic. About how when David and I got together, I just expected that David would help out at home and encouraged him in this, but that all the ground-work had already been done in that his mother had taught him a lot as well as the fact that he'd had to take care of his own place for a few years before I came along. And then the moulding effect that language school had on our marriage, in that we both had to look after our kids and the house and pull together or we wouldn't have made it through . . .

I could also write about how I'm now teaching my boys to take care of a home (looking for future mother-in-law brownie points) . . .

But I've run out of time in my day. With another whole day of old-stuff sorting and then a further day of helping out at the actual sale, I need to make sure I get to bed at a reasonable time.

16 October, 2012

Beating poor confidence

I went back to the orthopaedic surgeon today for a further consultation about my niggly knee (see here for my account of last month). Rather than bore you with the intimate details of my physical condition, except to say that I didn't have to have an MRI and I get to go back to the gym.  

Instead I'm going to talk about my struggle with confidence. It is my struggle with living in Japan and where I don't understand or speak the language anywhere as well as I'd like to. I've struggled with confidence all the years I've lived here. Language school, rather than helping, made it worse, as I anticipated my every sentence would be corrected. It is something that surprises me whenever I return to Australia, that I am a relatively capable person in my home country! I wrote a little bit about my struggle here.

With my general lack of confidence, going to hospitals here scares me even more, because it is a place where you are so powerless as a patient, even more so than in Australia. 

And not just because of the language barrier. The patient-doctor relationship is more hierarchical here than in the West. Here, the doctor is the expert and he/she certainly don't expect the patient to have ideas and opinions or to question the doctor's opinion or challenge their decisions. We discovered that in a large hospital in Sapporo, when I was pregnant with our second son.

I (along with most other Westerners here) cop a double whammy when seeking a medical opinion here. I'm struggling with the language, and I'm coping with the foreign culture of the patient being powerless.

During the month I saw this video about improving your self confidence using body posture. It is well worth a look:
Amy's premise is that your body posture can change how you think about yourself. So, if you fold yourself up in a ball, hunch over, etc. your confidence will plummet. Do the opposite, open up, stand straight, even with your arms wide, your self confidence will rise. 

So today, while I waited for 1 1/2 hours to see the doctor, I tried not to curl up in a defensive ball. I sat tall and opened out my arms a bit, it's hard when you're sitting on a bench seat with others. 

As I Christian I also have another weapon in my arsenal: God's Word. So I also repeated to myself: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Phil 4:13 with a bit of Matthew 19:26/Mark 10:27 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

It worked, I managed to come out of the whole encounter with the doctor and hospital with confidence that I'd done my best, quite a contrast to how I normally emerge from these situations.

I'll be taking this all to the Writer's Workshop that I'm leading next Thursday and Friday (25 & 26). I'm teaching about "Good Writing" on Thursday afternoon. While I've done a good amount of preparation, I still don't feel terribly confident about presenting on a topic that I'm hardly an expert on. However, with God all things are possible, right?

15 October, 2012

Weekend happenings

Cross country final a triumph

And they're off. I think my son is in this pack of white
shirts, we just can't see his head to identify him.
I never picked myself as an emotional mum. I do get emotional when talking about the struggles I've had with the guys. But I also find myself leaking when I see them triumphing over difficulties and unexpectedly making good choices. Particularly in recent months with my eldest, but I'm sure moments will arise for the younger too as well.

Our son ran really well on his first race of the season, setting a PB (personal best, as I'm used to calling them, CAJers seem to call them PRs — personal records). He didn't beat that time all season, although he did run very well on two other courses that they did, they didn't count towards this course's PB, it's one of those unique things about cross country. Every course is different and you can't easily compare times across courses.

But on Saturday he smashed his PB by 30 seconds (I should add "about" there to satisfy our detail-focused kids). Then I went and got all teary. The lady next to me, who I'd never seen before, her son smashed his PB by 2 minutes and she and I were getting all emotional over one another. It was a bit out of character for me.

This was his final run of the cross country season (and as a middle schooler) and next season is wrestling, the sport he's been waiting for all year. In January I got all emotional at his last wrestling meet too, when he overcame considerable odds and beat one of his opponents decisively in his last meet (read about my impressions about it here).

It's caught me by surprise, but it is a pleasant surprise. It's nice to not be emotional about my kids only because of their struggles and the pain they cause me, but to celebrate their successes as well.

Trying on clothes 

This is a little less glamorous! Getting boys to try on clothes, even at home, is one of the banes of my life. It is a twice-yearly ritual in our house, to get all the boys' current and "grow into" clothes out for the coming season and check them all.

The trigger for this tortuous tradition? Thrift Shop, CAJ's giant garage sale that happens, most conveniently, every autumn and spring. This tradition helps us identify clothes that are no longer needed as well as the gaps in their wardrobes that we need to hunt for at Thrift Shop.

We managed it yesterday only because both parents faced up to the challenge and forced the boys to do it. There is something to be said for peer pressure within the family. We were all up there "doing it", so all joined in without question, even the most resistant one! And we laughed. The boys did some pretty impressive posing with their "new" clothes.

One of our recent family jokes has been about the amazing things (and amount of things) that the Famous Five fit into their pockets. So there was a fair bit of checking out pockets yesterday. Clothes with lots of large pockets gained most acclaim.

Planning our next camping trip

The view from the campsite we'd headed to in November.
We booked a campsite for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in November. You might remember we froze there at the same time last year. I wrote about it here. Can you believe we're going again? The boys all agreed and we assured them that we'd go better prepared this time. More blankets and thicker clothes, especially. They're fondly remembering out trip last time and looking forward to the challenge. It'd be nice if it were just a tiny bit warmer than -2 degrees Celsius, though!

14 October, 2012

Taking a sick day

My body's saying "Stop it".
I've run out of time to post today. Basically I've been trying to lie low and work on giving my body rest so I can get rid of a cold. After riding the short distance to church I sank down into the pew grateful for being supported again. I don't feel too bad if I'm not doing much at home (like typing on the computer or talking to someone), but get me out of the house moving around and I'm feeling pretty exhausted.

So, in the light of that I've decided to take a "sick day" tomorrow. Which, basically means, not spending seven hours attending a prayer meeting on the other side of the city (which also involves travelling for about three hours on 6-8 trains). I'll probably be doing some work here at home, but also some resting and possibly some therapeutic baking!

But for now, I'm off to bed.

13 October, 2012

Cool vocal percussion

Through this blog, I've discovered the Australian a capella quartet "The Idea of North".

Boys are so noisy (at least mine are) — always walking around making some kind of noise or other. So my boys were very impressed with the "vocal percussion" in this piece. Check this out:

12 October, 2012

An image of myself

Yesterday, after I wrote that blog post about lurking but non-commenting readers of blogs, I attended a Beth Moore Bible study. We're doing Daniel and yesterday was about that famous Chapter 3, where King Nebuchadnezzar sets up that huge statue and forces people to bow down to it, but the three Israelites don't and are cast into the hot furnace.
This is one image I
sometimes have of myself —
a hero. Not true, though.

Beth made a point about how we make images of ourselves. And the way that we know if are doing that is if the "out there" image that others have of us is different to the real, fair dinkum us. That challenged me. I don't think any human is totally free of this temptation to put a different "self" out there on display.

As I pondered the various comments on my blog this morning I realised again that one of the reasons I write this blog is to knock down some of that not-quite-true image that people have of me (and missionaries in general). It is risky putting words about myself out there where anyone can read them. But it is necessary to take risks like this, I think, if I am to live an honest live. Sure it doesn't need to be on a blog, that is just one route, but there are other ways to live a life among others that is true to who we truly are. Sure, different people are more private than others, but by hiding behind "I'm a private person therefore I don't have to tell people who I really am", we're believing the lie that it's okay to set up for ourselves a public image that deceives others.

I need to have things out there about myself that maybe I feel a bit uncomfortable about, if I'm to be truthful about myself before others. If I hide them (and there are things I hide, no doubt about it), then I'm not being truthful and I'm deliberately creating an image of myself that I believe others will like better than the real one. And that is not in line with what God wants me to do.

And of course there needs to be a balance. One that we need to seek God to find, because left to our own devices, we'll choose "nice, perfect-ish image" every single time.

Writing this post makes me feel uncomfortable. It probably makes you feel uncomfortable too.  I don't apologise for that. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is talking to you, as he is me, about how I live my life. And how it doesn't always please him. I need to hear that. If I just stay comfortable, I won't grow.

If you're interested in other times I've pondered about honesty, I wrote about it in this post (it has links to a number of other posts I've also written). 

11 October, 2012

Lurking but not commenting

This post has been lurking in my drafts box since April, but I reckon it is worth dragging out into the daylight.

Karen and Sarah wrote the below comments on my post about awkward encounters with people who read your blog:
KarenI don't get many comments on my blog but many people have said to me they've read it (but not commented). So then I feel left in the same position as you...how much have they read? Did I inadvertently offend (this has happened before)? What did you actually think about what I said? (because often they don't say any more than that they've read it and enjoy it). But I'm never brave enough to ask those kind of questions out loud. 
Sarah: I've had the same experience as Karen in that I've had people approach me and tell me they've been reading my blog. When I say to them (smiling), "You should come out of lurking and leave me a comment," they just smirk and say, "Oh I don't leave comments."

To tell the truth, sometimes these interactions give me the creeps. It's a jerking reminder that what I write is on the internet and could be read by anybody.

But on the other hand, what does that say about people who lurk but don't comment. I'm wondering if it's the whole voyeurism thing. It can give someone a sense of power reading someone else's personal thoughts. They know you well (or feel they do) and that gives them a sense of power because you've done all the sharing and leaving a comment would mean they have to share a bit too. I don't know, I'd be interested in anyone else's thoughts on this... :) 
Anyone have thoughts to share on this?

10 October, 2012

How's it going?*

Here are six interesting things from my today:

1. I have a new team member helping me edit Japan Harvest from next month. That's exciting! It isn't always easy to find volunteers for new jobs. She's an answer to prayer . . . and an Australian too. They're even rarer here than new volunteers!

We're in the process of spitting up the job of editing the magazine into smaller parts so that its easier for a bunch of volunteers, who have lots of other things going on in their lives, to achieve. One of the positions has been filled and another has someone considering it. That leaves the News Editor position to fill. Any one know someone who might be interested in gathering news throughout Japan that is relevant to missionaries in Japan?

2. This afternoon I met my best Japanese friend and she helped me buy Shinkansen (bullet train) tickets that will get me to the Writer's Workshop that in leading in Kansai (down near Osaka) in a couple of weeks.

3. Then we went and had hair cuts, an interesting activity to do together. After which we had a leisurely coffee together. I had a lot of things weighing on my mind and in my To Do list, but it was wonderful to take a step back and spend time with a friend. We even talked about some of our dreams for the future. It's not every friend who will volunteer their dreams. And certainly not many cross-cultural friendships!

Bjorn and Mary ten years ago.
4. We heard that a friend, Bjorn Gustafsson, died. I blogged here about him and his wife, when his wife died last year. They visited us in our second year in Japan. Beautiful people. Mission minded. Full of love for God and others.

We saw Bjorn in August just after our Uluru trip. He was lively of mind, but his body was riddled with cancer. The boys remember him because he allowed all of them to drive his scooter. The on-road scooter with a fake car muffler he'd welded onto it. That plus his leather jacket made him a pretty cool dude, even in his 70s! Typical Bjorn humour! Living life to its fullest, but still looking forward to being in heaven (and not because his wife was there waiting for him, either, as he told us quite plainly, he was looking forward to being with his Heavenly Father). What a wonderful example of a life well lived.

5. My son starting his own blog today. Or at least he's exploring what a blog might look like for him. He's been interested in computer programming for some time, so I suggested a blog might be a good place to try out some of the things he's learnt.

Also one of his favourite blogs (the only blog he ever reads?) is shutting down this month. It's a Lego challenge blog that used to put out a Lego challenge every month and kids could send in photos of their creations for that topic for example "maze".

So I suggested he could do something of his own Lego challenge blog for other missionary kids. So two blog suggestions in one week tipped him over the edge and he's been playing around this afternoon with Blogger. I'm not sure what the end result will be, but it is fun to see him trying out different ideas.

6. We've started a new tradition with the boys. Each night we're sharing up to three highlights and one low light of the day. It has produced some interesting results.

  • Listening challenge. It has been a challenge for the boys to listen to other people's highlights. A good challenge, I'm thinking!
  • I've received some "pats on the back" for my cooking. Pats that no one would usually give me. It's pretty cool when someone says that the food they are eating, that you've prepared, is a highlight of their day!
So how was your day?

* For an explanation of this common Aussie greeting, check out this post.

09 October, 2012

Our escape-Tokyo weekend

Our weekend up north was good, but too short. Three days isn't a long enough time when you spend six or more hours driving each way. Nevertheless it was good to get out of Tokyo.

Here are some random thoughts about our time away.

Saturday evening and Sunday were lovely. When we arrived mid afternoon on Saturday our hosts took us for a rambling hike that gave us some understanding of where we were located and also a lot of information about how the tsunami affected this coastal area.

The lay of the land is interesting. There are more than 30 missionary holiday cabins located up on these nobby hills. When the tsunami came last year it didn't get on top of the hills, but swept around them and behind. Because the land subsided below sea level, the hills were islands for some time. And the rice paddies behind them are currently unusable because they were inundated by salt water.

 Here you can see where the tiles were lifted away by the force of the tsunami. The fence was bent too.

Marked on the brown post way above the heads of my family is the level of the tsunami!
 Most of the damage has been cleared, but there is still evidence. Here is a gate that was smashed.

The beach was not quite a Queensland beach, but the sand wasn't too bad (not as dark and dirty-looking as some beaches we've seen in Japan). Not the best photo, though, sorry.

Our boys spent hours playing in the water. It was marvellous to watch.

I guess it is a challenge of being a TK (teacher's kid) that you get to socialise with teachers. And if you happen to be at the same school as your parents you get to socialise with your own teachers! The boys coped pretty well, though.

As for me, a TW (teacher's wife) I find myself socialising with teachers. This weekend I found myself residing in a house with four teachers. They were pretty good, though. They held off on much of the "teacher talk" most of the time. I shouldn't complain, I do remember some friends at uni who had to put up with us "therapy" students talking "shop" or worse (anatomy) at meal-times.

Really, though, our hosts were wonderful. Quite laid back and we could pretty do what we wanted when we wanted, without having to have a big discussion about it. They didn't even complain about boys who decided turn the light on and have a party at 2 am in the room above our hosts' bedroom!

Our hosts' life situation also posed an interesting thought for us. They're fairly new empty nesters. What will we do with our "extra" time when we're empty nesters (we'll still be our early 50s)? Maybe I'll write a book, or take up a new hobby?

When we asked the boys if they would like to go back to Takayama (as it is called), it was a unanimous "Yes". So I guess we'll be back there, maybe on our way home from an epic Hokkaido Camping Trip next summer?

08 October, 2012

Modern historical surprises

So, we're back from our adventure up north. It's getting late and I don't want to quickly brush over it, so I'll write about it tomorrow.

One thing we did find up there in the cabin we stayed in was a collection of National Geographic magazines. These ran from the early 60s to the mid 80s. I only pulled out about three and didn't look at them in detail, but it was definitely reading modern history. I guess it makes sense, but I was a bit sad to see an Australian writing as for an American audience, even though the audience of this particular magazine is quite international.

One issue had a large focus on Queensland, our home state. This was 1986, while Sir Joh was still the premier (sorry for you non-Aussies on this one — Sir Joh was quite a character and was in power for about two decades). It was interesting to read: Queensland has become a whole lot less conservative since those years! The author's impression of my hometown was interesting too. I wish I'd copied down his words, but they were something along the lines of "Toowoomba is English-like with its tree lined streets. Gentle rolling hills etc." Hmmm, really?

He also described Queenslanders as people with "raw honesty" (or something like this). Maybe that's my problem — I'm a Queenslander. However, that argument quickly goes south when I realise that I've been "in trouble" with other Queenslanders for my honesty.

In a 1963 magazine also focusing on Australia, there was an interesting aerial photo of Mt Isa. It looked like they only had about two bitumen roads back then. We drove through there twice in July and it certainly has come a long way in development since the 60s. This was pre-Opera house, so the Sydney Harbour photos were interesting. The best they could do on the Opera house was show a photo of a model of the building (that was in process).

I found the below advertisement in a 1973 magazine. I've posted it on my Facebook page and it's drawn some interest. I was just in the world when this magazine came out and I can't remember this particular piece of technology. My parents haven't handed one on to me, let alone them holding on to one to give their great grandchildren!

07 October, 2012

Another weird chook*

You might have seen the "brain chicken" photo here back in February. Here's another fun chicken from the "Extraordinary Chicken" calendar in our kitchen.
This one is not quite as extraordinary as the "brain chicken", but it does seem to be looking at you in a rather strange way.

*And yes, "chook" is Australian slang for chicken.

06 October, 2012

Rolf Harris Part 2

Can you tell what it is yet?

I mentioned back here that I was enjoying an autobiography by Rolf Harris. The background to acquiring the book started back in January last year in a conversation in the CAJ library about Australian biographies. I blogged about it here. The essence of it was that post was that in the CAJ library, almost all the biographies are of Americans. So, when we were back in Australia earlier this year I made it a point to find some second-hand Australian biographies to buy and bring back. No idea if the library will accept them, but this is the first one.

Rolf Harris is a long-time artist and entertainer in Australia and Britain. He does, in fact, live in Britain. But his identity is very firmly Aussie. 

I found his autobiography very honest. It didn't gloss over his shortcomings. The best biographies are like this, I think. It is always fascinating to read how someone famous struggled in their early years. And what they were like "before" fame. If they're presented as rather ordinary it helps me to feel I can relate to them so much more. And even more so if they allow you to see their struggles, especially once they "make it".

Rolf is someone who doesn't fit into any neat category in the entertainment world. He's done a lot of different things. He says he's not fantastic at any of them, but has somehow managed to combine them to make a career.

I think the thing he does best is connecting with his audience. He comes across, on TV or on stage, as someone who enjoys entertaining people and being "with" you.

Probably the best thing I can say about the book is that my teenager has read it and enjoyed it. In fact he got to it before I did. He loves to read, but he'll not just read anything! This is a great read.

05 October, 2012

Looking forward to a weekend at the beach

It is about a 400 km journey. Funny thing is the boys
 now poo-poo that length. They say,
"Ah, we drove 800 km in a day..."
After 8,000 km in 16 days, 400 km isn't all that much!
Tomorrow morning we're going to the beach at Takayama for a three-day weekend. It is a place where many missionaries take holidays in August, but we've never taken a holiday there.

It is also a place from which last year's tsunami was witnessed (it is high up, so the witnesses weren't swept away). It is not far from Sendai, on the coast. None of us have been up to the disaster-hit area. From all reports a huge amount has been done up there, but many of the areas decimated by the tsunami haven't been rebuilt. So, I'm not sure how I'll feel to see it with my own eyes.

There is another thing I don't know how to feel about. We've been invited by colleagues of David's to join them at their holiday cabin. I don't know them very well, I'm not sure how much better David knows them. But the context is that we rarely get invited even for a meal to someone else's house here in Japan. To be invited to stay with someone for two nights is pretty amazing.

There are a lot of unknowns and that makes me feel a tad nervous. But I'm also excited. The last couple of months have been crazy-busy. Not to mention our gut-busting 8,000 km journey! To stop for a couple of days at the beach is sounding pretty attractive. I just hope the boys are cooperative. Maybe, because we'll have an "audience" who holds authority in their lives at school, they'll put on their "good" faces. Here's hoping . . .

04 October, 2012

To have a history is special

So today was the last in a series of days away from my family. I have scarcely been home since last Wednesday. I'm feeling pretty tired as a result of lots of people interaction, mind being stretched, the 24 or so trains I rode on, plus a few hours in a car in Tokyo traffic today (thankfully I wasn't driving, though).

Here is just a small number of the 40+ women who
gathered together today in the most beautiful part of
Tokyo — Okutama.
Today was a special opportunity to be with a bunch of other Christian women, mostly expats and many missionaries. We spent time worshipping and praising God together as well as praying for and encouraging one another.

The longer I'm here, and the more of these events I go to, the better connected I feel. It is wonderful to go and feel I'm among friends with whom I have a little bit of a history. When you first move to a new country you have no background at all with people. Often very little in common at all, more so than just moving cities or states in the same country. So it is wonderful to be developing relationships that have a longer history. So today, for example, I prayed with a German lady I've known for about 10 years. What a blessing to be a part of this.

But now it is late and I need to get to bed. Because tomorrow I get to sit at my desk and catch-up on all the work that has been on the back-burner for the last week. Then I need to pack for our three day long weekend at the beach!

03 October, 2012

Be Strong and Courageous

I really like this post I found the other day. Talking about how if God has given us a vision, we don't need to be deterred by the critics around us.

That's a really hard thing to do. I don't know how many people over the years have tried to get us to question our vision for serving or continue to serve in Japan. It comes in many forms, from
"Are you sure, you've never been to Japan."
"But now you're pregnant, does that change your plans?" (our first son was born during our preparation to go to Japan)
to the more brutal
"You need to choose between us and them." 'Us' being a supporting church and 'them' being OMF International.
Then the ones that came later (and continue to come) after serving in Japan for some time
"How long are you going to keep doing this?" 
"When are you going to settle down?" 
"Do you see yourselves coming back to Australia permanently some time?"
We didn't personally receive criticism for remaining in Japan last year after the earthquake and nuclear crisis. But many of our colleagues did, and it was very hard for them to defy their well-meaning critics to do what God has called them to do.

How have you defied the critics and  followed God's leading in your life?

02 October, 2012

Asking good questions

I've blogged a little bit about good questions before, but mostly about asking good questions of missionaries.

Today I've been learning about asking good questions at the three day workshop I'm attending, but I've realised that I haven't really explained "coaching".

The given definition is this:
"Coaching is an on-going intentional conversation that empowers a person or group to fully live out God's calling." — Keith E. Webb.
It is basically a bit like mentoring, except that perhaps there is more emphasis on asking questions to help the person discover the answers for themselves rather than to give them advice or help.

And even if I don't end up doing any formal "coaching", the skills we're learning will be useful in all sorts of relationships and conversations that I have. Most close to home would be in parenting. Learning how to have better conversations with my boys to help them discover the answers to their own problems and situations will help us tremendously, I predict.

So a large portion of today's teaching and learning was about questions. But I'm still finding that I don't always ask good questions, I'm often ending up with closed questions. We've been provided with lots of example questions, but unless I personalise them and use my own words those questions sound very plastic and contrived.

For example I would never say:
"What are the relational dynamics in this situation?"
"What are key points in understanding the situation?"
So  I thought I might have a go at writing some good questions that might be more natural for me.

What do you think of these? (I'm thinking, not of a formal coaching situation, but a good, deep conversation with someone.)
  • What's on your heart?
  • Is there something you've been struggling with recently?
  • What other factors are in play here? 
  • How does your personality influence this situation?
  • How do you think various cultural factors impact this?
  • What might God's perspective be on this?
  • Why do you think that person responded to you like that?
  • How is this affecting your family?
What do you think? Are these questions that might help you think more deeply? There are an infinite number of questions out there, depending on the topic. Can you think of some more that are good questions that help others discover things about a situation they are struggling with?

I tend to ask my kids poor questions, especially when they first come home from school.
This is a doozy: "Did you have a good day?" It is really a throw-away line and it rarely elicits an answer. They just aren't ready to talk with me much when they first come into the house. So perhaps I should wait a bit before I start asking any hard questions. 

I asked each of them tonight (on the phone, because I'm still not home): can you give me three highlights from your day. For our eldest I also asked him for a lowlight. To my surprise, they all answered my question. A colleague today told me they ask these questions each day while eating dinner with their kids. I think that's a great idea. Now I just need to implement it. We might find out more about our kids' days than we've done in the past!

I need to get myself to bed now. My roommate has a nasty cold, so I'm hoping that I don't get it from her and take it home to everyone. There isn't much I can do about it. I've already shared a room with her for the night and there aren't any spare rooms I can shift into for tonight anyway.

Tomorrow evening I get to reverse the train journey I did yesterday morning. Probably with almost as many people. Though I think that 9pm is more of a peak hour than 5pm is, I guess I'll be able to tell you about that from first hand experience.