30 November, 2012

Last chance for book giveaway

Did you miss my book giveaway post earlier in November? I have only three entries, two local to me (who I can cover by donating the book to the CAJ library) and one in rural Australia. The challenging qualifier was
someone who lives more than an hour away from their nearest English bookstore.
Anyone else want to enter? If no one else puts their hands up before the end of the weekend, I'll put you in the draw.

Two easy, scrumptious recipes for afternoon tea

I'm trying to do my best today to keep away a cold, or at least minimise the severity of a cold (and no, this is not an invitation for you to give me "cold hints"). I'm lying a bit low today and working quietly at home. However, I have an aching head, exacerbated by one writer's insistence on writing with a low FLESCH readability level (see an explanation here).

Hence, I'm going to opt for an easy blog post. Judie asked me some time back for the recipe for Snickerdoodles.

So here it is:


85g soft butter
2 eggs
1 1 /2 cups* or 330g sugar

Mix thoroughly together.

Sift these together:

2 1/2 cups* or 375g plain flour
3 teasp. baking powder

Then stir into the wet ingredients. Roll into small balls and roll balls in this mixture:
2 teasp. cinnamon
50g sugar

Don't place them too close on the tray. Bake at 190 degrees C for approximately 10 minutes.

Absolutely scrumptious. If you like Cinnamon Toast this recipe is a double bonus. The cinnamon and sugar combo. can also be used to make Cinnamon Toast.

I would have shown you all these gorgeous apple muffins, they've just been eaten up so fast it was hard to take a photo!

Super Simple Apple Muffins

3/4 cup* or 170g sugar
260g SR flour **
1 cup* sultanas
1 teasp. bi-carb soda
3 teasp. mixed spice or cinnamon
1 egg
1 cup* cooked/tinned apple
90g softened butter

Mix all dry ingredients. Add egg, apple, and softened butter. Mix well. Place in 12 hold muffin pan and bake in moderate oven for 20 minutes.

And get your taste buds ready for some awesome action!

For some reason, this time I found the mixture a bit dry, but I simply added a touch of orange juice and that worked just fine.

And before I end, I have to give thanks for my mum who gave me both of these recipes, as well as the skill, and love of baking. Thanks Mum!

*These are Australian sized measuring cups = 250ml.
**SR Flour is Self Raising Flour. Australians are very fortunate to be able to buy flour that already has the raising agent in it. For those of us who don't have that luxury, you can just add 1 teaspoon of baking powder to every cup of plain/cake flour and you're set.

29 November, 2012

Australian Christmas comes to CAJ's 1st graders

And one of the Asian kids even knew
what this game was!
Yesterday I went to CAJ to teach the Grade 1s about Australian Christmases. I did this last year too. What I did was pretty similar to last year, you can check that out here. It was a fun outing. I hope the kids enjoyed it too.

I especially love it that they enjoyed Colin Buchanan. I played a short part of his Christmas DVD, that included a segment of him talking to the kids about what is different about the Australian climate in contrast to some of the Christmas cards that get sent at this time of year. He made an instant connection with this international bunch of kids who'd never "met" him before. Such a great screen presence!

And of course we sang "Aussie Jingle Bells" with him.

If you want to "meet" Colin, go to the link I posted above. He's a fantastic Aussie Christian musician/children's presenter etc. that our kids have loved since they were tiny.

28 November, 2012

When am I called "Wen"?

Today I went back to the hospital I went to last week (wrote about it here) for test results. In Australia they'd phone you, or maybe only phone you if there was a problem with a routine test. But, it seems, I needed to go back and get the results myself. As it was, it took longer to register at the front desk than it took in the doctor's office. I didn't even sit down, I was in and out so fast! I'm glad that I only had a 20 min bike ride to get there. If I'd sat on a train or in traffic for an hour, I would have been a bit annoyed.

After my struggle with one staff member last week, I was pleased to find a person in accounts who could see the funny side of things. She apologised with a smile in her voice as she gave me this invoice:

One problem with a Western name is that they sometimes don't fit on computer generated forms such as this. Most Japanese have between three and five characters in their names.

It is interesting that some places they use your actual romanised name. But more often they used our Japanese-spelt name (as in the second photo).

That shortens my name slightly. Marshall becomes five characters. Wendy is the same length, though. So sometimes they can't even fit my Japanese-spelt name into their computers, especially if they decided to add my middle name, even though it is short.

We have a colleague in Hokkaido who has more than one middle name, plus a long hyphenated surname. His name never fits and is downright annoying when filling out forms.

I remember being annoyed that I had to learn a new way to write my name, but even more annoyed that I had to pronounce my name differently for Japanese people to understand it. I didn't expect that when I came to Japan.

It didn't take too long for that to just become normal, however. So I'll answer to "Maashaaru" just as easily as "Marshall" nowadays.

Interestingly my first name, though they don't have a "W", sounds pretty similar in Japanese. I'm thankful for that. It is written phonetically as "Uendi".

27 November, 2012

Answer to Hard-Off and Off-House photo quiz

Time to reveal what these stores sell. They are second hand stores, hence "off".

Hard-Off sells second-hand electronics, hardware, cameras, other appliances, musical instruments etc.

Off-House sells second-hand household goods, clothing etc.

As one commenter noted, there is also "BookOff", second-hand bookstores. I Googled it and to my surprise found that there are stores in the US as well as France and Korea. 

The names of the stores are a tad mysterious, though, for native English speakers.

26 November, 2012

Our camping frustration

Just in case you got the impression that we had a perfect camping trip. I want to tell you about the most frustrating part of camping for David and I. It is the kids. Actually, it's their unwillingness, at times, to help out.

I have to admit they are better than they were on our early camping trips, but we still have times when they won't help do simple things like unload the car, cart bags, or help pull the tent down.

This trip I tried to relax a bit, remembering that they are kids and need to goof off a bit. My improved attitude did help me a bit. But I still get annoyed when it feels like David and I are doing all the work (especially when it is work that the kids can easily help out with). It becomes even more annoying when you ask for some help and you are ignored. Or they start to help, you leave them to it, and they get distracted and wander off to look at an ant, or have a pretend sword fight with a stick they found.

Fanning the fire. Our youngest especially enjoyed
collecting pine cones to add to the fire this time.
There were times this trip that one or more were doing a fantastic job. For example, our eldest, particularly, did a great job of pumping up beds on our first night. The younger two also did a pretty good job of helping with the fire most meals (which is, of course, more attractive than carting luggage or rolling up sleeping bags). They all helped out, at times, with various other camping-jobs too. Just not always as willingly as I'd have liked.

But they all did jump in (admittedly, after a tongue lashing and some negative-consequence applying) to help us get all the gear back into the house when we got home.

This last thing is a bigger deal that you might think. To unload the car, we have to park it on the road, which is only just wide enough for two cars to carefully pass at low speed, so we are being an inconvenience to anyone using our road. And in putting things into a Japanese house you face the barrier of the shoe-changing step in the entrance. So everything gets piled in the entrance and it soon gets so that there is no room to go in or out. Having one person inside and shoeless to ferry stuff out of the way is pretty important.

But generally, I'd have to say that they are improving in attitude in relation to helping out while we're camping. They're gradually learning all the different tasks that are required during a camping trip. I guess that's half the battle. My feeling is that the more everyone pitches in, the more enjoyment we all get out of the trip. If only I could get them to fully understand that.

I guess it is part of the whole, "Why should we help out with chores at home?" question that kids ask. And parents try to answer as best we can. The "it's a privilege" is usually met with a good deal of scepticism, at least in our house. Do other people have similar experiences in their house?

25 November, 2012

A new tradition

Reading in bed was popular.
Well, we're back from camping. Actually we've been back more than 24 hours, but I loathed to even open the computer, I was enjoying my non-computer time so much. I didn't turn it on until this afternoon to do an important email, and of course, type this blog post.

We had a much more successful trip than when we did the same trip this time last year. Everyone was appropriately dressed and had sufficient clothing and bedding to stay warm. It was also just a little warmer than last year: 3 degrees Celsius for breakfast instead of -2C! It makes a big difference.

We've noted before that our family does better when we're not doing a "first". We're all more comfortable knowing what to expect. It was fun to go back and repeat the same things we did last year.

The weather was different this time. We didn't have the wind that kept me awake half the night last time, but we also didn't have clear skies and sunshine. We mostly had grey cloud and drizzle. That's probably why it wasn't quite so cold. However, the rain wasn't bad enough to keep us indoors. In fact it held off while we enjoyed playing Park Golf.

The Swing
We also discovered a couple of new attractions. They've strung up a couple of swings from high branches. One of the swings swung out towards the view down the mountain and the ground fell away, so it felt like you were a lot higher than you actually were. There also was a flying fox that looked sedate, but it actually was a bit scary: you hurtled towards a tree and only stopped at the very last minute!

The Swing
 The autumn leaves were beautiful again.
After Park Golf-ing, we retired to the tents, and blankets
for a game of Monopoly. This all ended abruptly when
one of the pegs holding the annex came out of the soft
soil and knocked everything off the table outside. Once we'd
fixed that it was time to start the fire in preparation for dinner.

 And fire was not only practical, but a fun occupation. Quite a few hours were spent in front of the fire, either enticing it to greater things, or cooking food on it. Such fun!

I've learnt too that chocolate is a Must Take for camping. Not only will it melt nicely in foil over a fire, tastes even better when combined with banana and marshmallows in the foil — it covers over any lack of food that occurs. You finish a meal with chocolate and no one remembers that they'd desired just one more slice of bread, even though there weren't any left!

 Our trip included a Japanese public holiday and the start of a long weekend. The second night we were there the campsite was full. Almost every tent held children, so it wasn't a loud night. And the campsite is actually well laid-out, so that it didn't feel crowded. There were plenty of places for the kids to run and play.

Mt Fuji was shy while we were in its vicinity (too
much cloud and haze), but here is something of a view.
One of the other fun things we did was go to an onsen (Japanese hot baths), on the second evening. We learned from year's experience and  we did that after dinner, then raced home and jumped into bed before we could cool down too much. After a day in the good old outdoors, a hot bath made us all very sleepy.

The advantage in going camping in the cooler part of the year is that the night is longer, and once the sun is down, it is too cool to do much, so bed's the best option. We got more than eight hours of sleep both nights and have come home feeling refreshed.
Apple Farm shop
On the way to the campsite on Thursday we noticed this apple farm with their roadside apple shop. We stopped there on Saturday on the way home. They had "seconds" for sale for only 100 yen per kilo. We got a big bag and I've made Apple Pie and Applesauce this afternoon. I wish I could go back now for more apples. They are simply delicious. The boys enjoyed this stop. They got to see apples on the tree for the first time in their lives. More and more I appreciate the old adage that food is the way to a man's (and boy's) heart!

As we travelled home, I asked if this was to be our new family tradition: camping on the American Thanksgiving long-weekend and I got an enthusiastic "Yes" from everyone.

24 November, 2012

Japan Photo #22

These two are shops in Japan.

Can you guess what their merchandise are? (Just for those who don't already know.)

22 November, 2012

"Rain firms the ground."

I found a book on Japanese Idioms on our shelf the other day and thought I'd periodically share one with you. Idioms in your own language can be boring, or very useful. But idioms in another language can be fascinating!

Today's is particularly relevant to the camping trip we're about to take.
"Ame futte ji katamaru"   
 This phrase literally means "rain firms the ground". Its meaning is that adversity builds character.

Apparently it is often used at weddings, encouraging the bride and groom that though bad times may come, their tie to one another will be strengthened as they stick together through the challenges. Or at least that is my interpretation of the explanation given in the book.

However for today, as we embark on our camping trip in the cold, it is tempting to think, What a foolish adventure. I prefer to think that avoiding difficulties doesn't help us grow or appreciate what we have. After a trip like this, we will appreciate the wonderful things in life like, heating! It also will give us good family memories.

But one thing I'm looking forward to is the simplicity of life without email and the internet for a couple of days. It's been a stressful month. I've been pushing myself hard on several fronts and it is time to take a short break for sanity.

Sourced from 101 Japanese Idioms, by Michael L. Maynard and Senko K. Maynard.

21 November, 2012

Cold Camping Adventures ahead

We're going camping tomorrow for two nights. It is the American Thanksgiving and we have a 3 1/2 day weekend.

The temperature are forecast to be low (single digits at night), but we're hoping not too low. Nonetheless, we're excited. And we're prepared (we talked about the two-of-every-piece-of-clothing idea). We did this last year at the same campsite, so we know how it feels to be camping at these temperatures. Check back here for what I wrote at the time.

We have many memories from our trip last year:
Lots of sleep. (David)
(So cold that everyone was in bed straight after dinner and we're approaching the longest night of the year, so we've not woken )
Being bonked on the head by his brother practising his Park Golf skills during lunch. (10 y.o.)
We assured him that this wouldn't happen again and instructed his brother that practising Park Golf so carelessly wasn't acceptable.
Park Golf fun (7 y.o.)
Watching the sun set on Mt Fuji while sitting in the onsen (hot springs bath). (me)
Fantastic facilities (both adults)
 (Hot running water, free gas cooking facilities, grass sites, and heated toilet seats.)
Great views (all of us)
(Looking across a valley to snow-sprinkled mountains, which the sun shines on in the early morning.)

One of the keys for us to low-stress camping is our camping list. It is saved on our computer and we print it out every time, with small modifications for season, menu etc. This list enabled us to go camping in August, only 36 hours after we arrived back in the country!

I'd already printed this out earlier in the week, so when our 7 y.o. rushed up to me this morning and asked how he could help with preparing for camping, I had a fairly easy go-to answer for him. I marked some items on the list and his task was to find them an pile them into the plastic crates in the living area.

He is gifted at "helps". He just loves to do it (except when it comes to regular chores, that is).

As a little bit of an aside, I looked at the list after he'd gone to school and realised that I'm causing him a little bit of confusion. You see I discovered in high school that it is far easier for me, as a left-hander, to write my ticks opposite to the usual tick (US=check, I think). As you can see below, there are my ticks (eg. beside "washing lines") and there are his (eg. beside "fan for fire"). He's go the tail headed a bit in the wrong direction.
But for now, I'm back to editing, while the coast is clear.

20 November, 2012

Routine medical issues, not routine at all

 I spent all morning seeing two doctors in two different locations. I had my blood pressure checked twice, done a wee test, and well, you don't want to know about the rest.

Thing is, if I were in Australia I could have this all done by my GP, and all in under 30 minutes. Whenever I'm in Australia and this topic comes up with a doctor, they are always aghast that I can't go to the same doctor for asthma drugs as I can for a PAP smear (sorry if this is too much information). So today, I went to our local internal doctor for the first one and a gynaecologist for the second one (meant filling out two hospital forms, as I was a new patient). Different locations, different lines that I had to sit in, and different blood pressure checks. All morning event.

Thankfully I was met with kindness and helpfulness from almost everyone. The reason I was a new patient is that the last gynaecologist I went to was a dreadful lady, I blogged about her here, and as you'll find out if you go and read about her, I decided back then that I'd never see her again. So, I finally hitched up my I-can-do-another-new-hospital britches and went.

The "almost everyone" refers to a nurse/admin person (not sure which), who tried to tell me that I couldn't have a test done that our OMF doctor had asked for me to get done. Well, actually she said I could have it done, but insurance wouldn't cover it. In only a couple of minutes of conversation she almost had me in tears. She just spoke louder in large public reception area about my private request and used more complicated words that I didn't understand.

Eventually, just before I couldn't cope anymore, she excused herself and found an English-speaking staff member who confirmed that I had understood the original lady correctly (which was a relief).

It didn't relieve me of the problem of what to do about this screening test. It seems that if I say I have a problem, then insurance will cover it, but if it is just a follow-up on a recommendation by a non-Japanese doctor, I will have to pay up. Um, I said I'd go away and talk to my husband (and our OMF Medical advisor). We'll see what eventuates.

All that said, dealing with relatively routine medical issues in another land, in another language is not a routine thing. It takes courage and determination.

In love with Bach

I fell in love with this piece, the last movement of the first Bach Partita, when I learnt it, maybe late primary school or early high school.

I'm sure that I never played it this fast or this smoothly, but there is something cool about crossing your hands over and also I love "making the melody sing" as my teacher would have said.

19 November, 2012

A dilemma

My job as the Managing Editor of a magazine involves setting a lot of deadlines. Every time I send an email to someone about the article they've submitted, asking a question about their article, I give a deadline. Whenever I send an article to one of my colleagues to edit, I set a deadline. I have to set deadlines for my production editor, and even for my boss. That sounds a bit harsh, but I've discovered that unless you do, some people just won't bother to reply, or they'll reply in their own time, which doesn't help me keep a magazine on schedule. I try to reasonable, usually allowing four or five days for the review or edit of a single article.

Now I've just had my medicine dealt to me. I've been asked by someone to look at over 90 articles and give feedback on them, for a story-project. "We would like your feedback", is the exact phrase used. I asked for a deadline and got the reply, "Next week".

Huh? Probably they don't expect me to look at all 90 articles, but I think, given my current work load, I might have trouble even reading just a few of the articles, plus giving "editorial feedback" on several.

I wonder about how much experience this person has in editing? It often takes me over an hour just to edit one article, not because they are extraordinarily bad, but because there are many layers of questions to ask, for example:

  • Does it make sense?
  • Is it well organised?
  • Does it answer all the questions it raises?
  • Does the logic hold up?
  • Is the tone suitable?
  • Does it fit the audience?
Then you think about structure, the lead, and the conclusion.

After that you look at more obvious stuff like, spelling, punctuation, etc.

And then I have to decide whether to make the adjustments myself (often easier) or to ask hard questions of the author and get them to make the adjustments (takes longer, but produces a "truer" product).

Part of this dilemma I talked about in this post, when I talked about the "Fuzzy Boundary" problem that we have in volunteer work, which is what missionary work essentially is. I don't have a job description as an OMF missionary. It doesn't exist. So, how much obligation do I have to contribute to a project that someone else in our organisation has dreamed up? Yes, I have editing experience, something not many people in the missionary community have, which means that I feel somewhat obligated to contribute. But I also have a number of other responsibilities that I'm already committed to.

Now, I'm not sure what to do about this story-project. Should I write back to clarify what they expect of me? Should I just do what I can of the articles? Or should I just ignore the whole thing?

Any ideas?

18 November, 2012

I can breathe this weekend

This is only the second weekend since September 1 that we haven't spent most of Saturday at a cross-country meet or one of us hasn't been working (away from home) for at least one of the days.

It makes a difference. I feel like I can breathe a little bit. We even had time (and mental space) to talk about things like Christmas presents, holidays, and our camping trip (which starts on Thursday).

Yesterday we did have a event planned. It wasn't too stressful, but we were a part of the planning. We helped organise a family BBQ for the fourth grade class. It was a "keep it simple" event, so the food was potluck, and David and I organised some easy games. David also was the staff liaison person, which became quite important when rain was forecast and we discovered that our wet-weather plan was somewhat thwarted by another booking of the school's cafeteria.

Here are a few photos of a couple of the games:
One of the parents, who is also a teacher at the school
participating with enthusiasm in the
blow-the-ping-pong-ball relay.
SO much energy. I'm so thankful the rain held off so we
could do some energy-using activities outside.
Challenging: building card towers. Not many groups were
successful at this one. The cards were too new and slippery.
In addition, David's been pecking away at an assignment he has due for a Master's subject he's doing this semester, the last one of the year. But in the middle of all that we've managed to do some online Christmas shopping, be very present at church, and rest a bit. 

David's also taught Sunday School, helped our two younger boys do some simple woodwork, and worked at cleaning up our pocket handkerchief backyard. 

Me? I've pushed a few more articles onwards in the editing process, written a couple of blog posts, and read a few more chapters of two non-fiction books that are very relevant to my daily life. Um, I also slept-in yesterday, which was wonderful: almost 11 hours sleep!

Overall, it hasn't been a slothful weekend, but productive as well as somewhat restful. I think what helped it to feel more restful were generally cooperative kids. For example, we had no major blowups or fights before church this morning which meant we got there 10 minutes early. Amazing!

17 November, 2012

Rules are important in Japan

I'm not much interested in fishing, so I almost didn't read this article, even though a number of my missionary colleagues recommended it. But it proved to not be about fishing at all.

It is about figuring out how to get along with others in Japan.
Rules are very important here. Japan is a highly structured and hierarchical society. There is a rule and regulation for everything - but there is also a huge fear of conflict.
I love it that he's couched this learning in a story about getting footage for the BBC about some disputed islands . . .

Over the last few days I've been trying to think of a personal example where we're abided by rules on the surface, while everyone, including the rule-enforcers, know that our intent is something else altogether. I've failed to come up with a good example.

The best example I have of appearing to obey the rules, but not really, is the rule at our former local swimming pool of "no sunscreen allowed." Nor was shirts (unless they were proper swimming shirts, forget the name...), nor were hats when you were in the water. Yes, this was an outdoor swimming pool with no shade. So, us swimming there with our lily-white skin was impossible, unless we put sunscreen on before we left home. No one checked of course, and because we didn't do it at the pool, it was totally acceptable.

Yes indeed. Obeying the letter of the law and avoiding conflict is important here. Unfortunately they don't seem to obey the "helmets for under 12s" law nor the "seatbelts for everyone in the car" or the "no more than one child on a bike" law. No idea why those are less important than "taking your shoes off at the door" or "no shoes on the train seat" rule . . .

16 November, 2012

A book giveaway

Here is a book of Tips. Insight into "having what matters", is what the blurb tells me.

Luci Swindoll, author of this book, is a sister to the more famous Swindoll, Charles. She is, however, a famous speaker and author in her own right, apparently.

I'm always a bit wary of someone giving me advice, particularly advice about "making the most of everyday". My days are pretty squeezed as they are. 

But she's given us some gems in this book. I like the way each of her 50 tips is encapsulated in five words. That makes them easier to take away into every day. Here are some to try on:
  • Acknowledge your need for help
  • Stay proactive about your health
  • Decide what is not necessary
  • Allow yourself to be sad
  • Engage people in fun conversation
  • Disregard what isn't your business
  • Celebrate the life you're given
Each tip comes with an engaging short story. Not every tip was applicable to me, but enough were that I wouldn't mind keeping the book around for future reference (or maybe to the school library where I can borrow it again).

Because of slow postage and an overly quick email to Book Sneeze, I've ended up with two copies of the book. I'd like to give one of them away. I'd like to give it to someone who lives more than an hour away from their nearest English bookstore. Please comment below if that means you and you'd like a copy. I'll use a random number generator to decide who gets the book.

This is another review for http://booksneeze.com/ 

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me for review by Thomas Nelson Bookshttp://BookSneeze.com. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

15 November, 2012

Satisfied: another job is completed

On Monday we received our copies of the OMF Japan calendar that I produce for the missionaries here. Looks pretty good. I love it that the designer has created a unique design based on hanafuda, a Japanese card game.

We printed over 3,000 of these small calendars and missionaries mostly use them as gifts for supporters back home. It is one of the many small jobs I do (I wrote a bit more about it last year here).

14 November, 2012

Abortion: a surprise article

We recently raised the issue of abortion, especially abortion in Japan, in Japan Harvest.

The "story behind the article" is that we had a young lady here with OMF on a short-term mission trip who has been involved in post-abortion counselling in the US. While she was in Japan, she did some investigating and found some very disturbing information about this topic. She took a small group of missionaries, including me, to visit a Shrine south of Tokyo where people go o pray for the souls of dead children and aborted babies, particularly mums who've aborted their babies. I wrote about it here, back in February.

As a result of that visit, I encouraged the short-termer to write an article on the situation for the magazine. As a result, we've just published one article and have one more to come in the next issue.

As in many countries, it is a topic that doesn't see much light of day. Certainly in some countries, abortion is a very political topic, but the fact that women who undergo abortions suffer post-abortion stress, is not well known. Here in Japan, very little is done by Christians for those who suffer.

It was a surprise, therefore, to find that an English language newspaper here published an article on the weekend about the one missionary who is solely working (as far as we know) in this exact area. You can read the article here.

13 November, 2012

A special goodbye

In mission work we're always saying goodbyes. It is easy to become a bit blasé about it after a while.

Dorothea in white with her husband beside her while
we prayed for them.
Yesterday, however, we participated in a bigger "goodbye" than usual. It was the handover of Japan field leadership. The couple, Wolfgang and Dorothea Langhan who've served as Field Director for the last ten years handed over leadership, as per OMF policy. Ten years is the maximum a leader can serve in one position.

However, it isn't like an election where we've booted out one set of leaders for a more popular one. We love the Langhans. They've loved us, and loved our kids. We're sad to see them leave, but also happy for them that the heavy mantle of Field leadership has been lifted from their shoulders. It was a blessed time of giving thanks for their servant leadership and sending them onwards with our prayers.

At the same time we welcomed in a new couple into Field Leadership, David and Lorna Ferguson. They were warmly affirmed and blessed by our prayers and encouragement from God's word.

This transition has been "in the works" for a couple of years. We've agreed as a field that these are the leaders that God has raised up. But still transition can make people uneasy. And this isn't the only leadership transition in recent months within OMF Japan. The two current leaders directly under the Japan Field Director, regional directors, have each been in place less than one year.

It's at times like these that it is good to be reminded of Jesus' words recorded in Matthew 28:20, "I am with you always." Even though our earthly leaders change, our heavenly Father, who never sleeps, is always with us.

It was wonderful to be a part of this important moment in OMF Japan's ministry in Japan. We are so blessed to have such godly, yet humble leaders in our mission. And leaders who aren't in another country. Leaders who know what it is like to live here, who know first-hand the struggles we have. Leaders who invite us into their lives and are also keen to get to know us "on our turf." Yes, I'm thankful, because God has blessed us abundantly.

12 November, 2012

Japanese toilet paper answer

You're all hanging out for the answer to my toilet paper question, right? Actually Anthony isn't, he guessed correctly.

Don't feel badly, even though I read sufficient Japanese to know the difference between these two types of toilet paper, it took a long time (years) for the penny to drop about why the lower one had a W on it.

They are, simply, "Single ply" and "Double ply".

S obviously equals Single.

The W is a little more complex. The word written on the packet is a Japanised "Double", it turns out like this (phonetically): dabooroo. If you say that quickly, it sounds a bit like "W", don't you think? At least that is my reasoning.

I hope you didn't waste too much time pondering it, although I did hear that someone spent an hour researching Japanese toilet paper . . .

11 November, 2012

Physics, the stage, and a good weekend

This weekend my husband is being a Physics teacher geek, getting together with a bunch of other international school physics teachers. I'm not sure what they're doing, but it sounds like they're enjoying it. I'm just grateful this one is in our neighbourhood (ie Tokyo). The last one of these he attended was in Shanghai, which was a whole big deal including visas.

So yesterday he had breakfast and left some brekkie stuff out for the rest of us (I don't like getting up early on Saturday, if I can help it). We told the boys the night before that they could have breakfast whenever they felt like it. Result: very happy boys for most of the morning and a delighted mum who ate breakfast in peace and then enjoyed applying herself to some baking.

The afternoon was pretty quiet too. I continued baking and the boys had SQUIRT time then a bit of "screen time" (ie Miniclip).

At 3 I fed them some afternoon tea and we headed off to school for the high school performance of "Arsenic and Old Lace". A comedy that's more of a Will-the-murderers-be-found-out, than a Whodunit. CAJ stage performances are almost always superb. It is amazing the talent lurking at this school!

I invited some English-speaking Japanese friends. They enjoyed it, though needed a bit of help with understanding some of what was going on. Their three girls had much more difficulty, unfortunately.

The play was long, 2 1/2 hours. And it ran right over dinner-time: 4-6.30. So it was lovely to come home to a warm house with dinner ready to put on the table. That made the transition back home much easier.

Overall it's been a good weekend where the boys have, for the most part, gotten along well and been obedient. I'm so thankful.

Today, our middle son went to Sunday School. He's been refusing to go and instead coming to church with us (it happens at the same time). He also joined with all the other children when they came upstairs and sang us the Lord's Prayer in Japanese before the annual children's blessing.* I'm thankful.

Now, however, I have the dishes waiting to be washed up. Before long it will be food time again. Golly, when they're home like this it seems that most of the time we're feeding them! Even our seven y.o. — who tries his best to eat exactly the same amount as his 13 y.o. brother. And even goes so far to claim that it's unfair if I rule in favour of his older brother getting an extra serve of something and not allowing him to! I'm just waiting till he's old enough to take part in these school theatrical performances. I think we could be harbouring a future star of the stage. I just wish he could wait until then to exhibit those theatrical tendencies.

*The pastor praying over the kids, this is culturally significant as this time of year the Japanese often take their children to the shrine to be blessed.

10 November, 2012

Photo question #21

It's been ages since I did a photo question. Can anyone who doesn't speak Japanese tell me the difference between these W and S packets of toilet paper (aside from the colour)?

I'll post the answer in a couple of days.

09 November, 2012

Japan and Blood Types

In Japan blood types are a big deal. I knew this, but this article told me much more. Apparently employers often ask about blood type interviews, politicians mention it (to the point of blaming their blood type for bad behaviour), and their silver-winning Olympic softball team (in Beijing) used the theories to customise their preparation.

There is a widespread belief that character is linked to blood type.
According to popular belief in Japan, type As are sensitive perfectionists and good team players, but over-anxious. Type Os are curious and generous but stubborn. ABs are arty but mysterious and unpredictable, and type Bs are cheerful but eccentric, individualistic and selfish.
A father and son with no medical background have published dozens of books on the subject here. Amazing.

So, do you fit the stereotype? I don't really.

08 November, 2012

It was time to say "no"

Today I've been tail up, head down, editing articles for our next issue of Japan Harvest. It's been fun, actually. Especially editing my favourite kind of article: a first person story. The story needed quite a bit of tightening, but it was fun. The kind of thing I usually have to do to my own work. But it was nice to come at it without knowing all the extra details that can cloud your own story writing, and help make this missionaries testimony shine brighter.

But to get this time I've faced a challenge. I had to say no to a party. My job is based at home, on the computer. It is not meeting-driven. So, when I have a clear day on the calendar, a day free of other commitments, it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm free from work and free to say yes to anything I wish. In fact I shouldn't. It is when I say yes to a whole lot of little things that I start to fall apart.

At this time in the editing process (just after the submission deadline for a new issue) I feel stressed because I've imposed a deadline on others that they've met. If I'm not doing my best to work on editing their work, I'm being unfair to my writers. In this case, I've also got a tail-end deadline that is rolling up fast. Christmas. I want to have this magazine done and dusted before the Christmas break. It isn't going to happen, but I want to have as much of it done as I can.

But all of that probably isn't of huge interest to you. What is more relevant is the challenge of  organising your time. More so when you have a lot of freedom.

As I've worked on this magazine, I've had a prime view of different people's challenges with time management. Of course I usually see it when people have trouble with time management and are struggling with the deadlines. My observation is that different people struggle differently with time management, but most people have difficulties with it. At least two of my co-workers have difficulties without deadlines. I have to give them clear deadlines to help them work efficiently. I myself struggle more with shoving too much into a set period. I am too ambitious and frequently find myself with too many goals, or, as I said earlier, too many things that I've said "yes" to.

So, I need to learn to keep an eye on my calendar and think a bit more carefully about how much I try to shove into a day, or a week, or a month. Of course there are times when I don't have much control over that. But there is much I do have control over. Even if it is hard to do it, sometimes I do need to say no to a party.

So, you ask me, how do you organise your time? I don't know what works for you. Everyone is different. But for sure, do your best to get it under control before it starts to control you and the important things in life get crowded out.

07 November, 2012

Shopping--a whole day affair

Yesterday my trip to Costco turned into a bit of an adventure. It is always a big trip (see here for a description of a typical trip there). BIG in more than one way. Only 20km, but usually about an hour each way (if not more). Then the shop is huge and, because we only go there every two or three months, the amount we buy is large too.

It isn't my favourite outing, but, like most shopping and housework, it just has to be done.

One of the most annoying things about the trip is how many rude Japanese you discover. I know enough Japanese to hear all the comments from other shoppers about how extremely fully my "cart" (US for shopping trolley). My husband suggested I should turn and agree with them in Japanese, they'd probably be very embarrassed to find out that I understood them!

But yesterday it went a step further. The lady serving me at the register couldn't stop exclaiming about how much I had. I think she must have been fairly new in the job. Because it isn't too unusual to have large amounts come through. If she wasn't so pleasant and chatty, I would have been very offended. I even offered the information that I have three hungry boys at home. That didn't stop her repeated exclamations, though.
This was my full shopping trolley yesterday.
To cap it off, the checkout lady exclaimed
over how long my receipt was and then proceeded to thank me for paying in cash and to give me pointers about how to get it all to my car safely.
She really was a bit unusual.
I was pretty pleased with some of my finds. I found some Australian carrots. All the way from Tasmania. I also bought some Australian pork or was it lamb? I forget and now it is at the bottom of my chest freezer, so I can't check.

I went back for a second run at Costco (after putting all
the food in the car) and bought this table for camping.
I'm pretty pleased, it is a lot more solid than our current table.
David's not quite so sure, he's worried about fitting it into our van.
This is almost another story, the new saucepan was necessary
as the one on the left was unceremoniously "killed' the night before when my
supervision of piano practise left some apples cooking
for too long. Japan has gone into colour in a big way (it used to be
much duller), this is the first purple pot I've ever owned. In
that exact size and style I could only buy purple or pink pots!

On the way home I stopped at two other big stores to buy needed things. I figured, the day's been pretty wrecked anyway (in terms of getting needed computer work done), so I might as well keep shopping. 

I bought this new saucepan at a large home ware store that's been built in our old Tokyo neighbourhood.

And I also stopped to buy some special winter-underwear. I blogged about it here only six weeks ago and someone commented that it was too early to talk about the cold. Well, it isn't too early now. We're getting single figures at night now (Celcius) and we're going camping in two weeks! So, I'm trying out this Japan-grown technology. And no, I'm not going to blog a photo of myself wearing them!

When I finally got home I stopped the car out the front of the house so that I could unpack the car (which is almost impossible to do once the car is parked in the carport [US=garage]). Ten minutes later I hopped back in the driver's seat to start the car and put it away.

It didn't start. After some texting with my husband, who happened to be free, he called the roadside assist folk. In the meantime I dealt with afternoon tea, piano practise, homework, and putting all the stuff away.

It was such a good place for this to happen. I could have been stranded at Costco or either of the other two shops. But instead, I was at home, doing all the things I needed to do. The roadside assist guy came after about an hour and declared our battery ancient. He started the car and told me to drive it straight away to our mechanic.

Amazingly, just after he left, David walked in the door and was able to do exactly that. It was only about 5pm and the mechanic was still at work, but able to replace our battery straight away. And the whole episode was over, in under three hours with little inconvenience to us. Amazing!

So, it was a successful, if long (like this post) day. Lots achieved very efficiently. I just hope I don't have another like it for a while.

06 November, 2012

Funny English

This is a fun packet of shower caps, check out the English.

It seems that I can use the plastic shower caps with a washing machine or a drier or an iron, but not with them all.  Subtle, I know, but still fun.

I'm a bit worried about the phrase, "prevent water and moisture during shower time", does that mean that I'll have trouble getting water on the rest of me?

And what on earth is "hair packing". Please don't tell me that I need to pack my hair next time I go away, I hate packing enough as it is.

But the funnest bit is "Leave it at abandon area as per request of every district." I never considered the rubbish collection place had so much emotion attached to it. Apparently we "abandon" our rubbish there. I wonder if anyone cries?

05 November, 2012

New gutter thingies

Last year I smashed my finger while sweeping the gutters outside our house, see the post here and a nice photo of my fingernail a week later here
These concrete blocks are what used to help our cars and
bikes get over the gutters.
This job hasn't gone away, the gutters still need sweeping and my neighbour still sweeps daily, making my gutters look terrible 95% of the time. But since the accident, I've been a bit leery at shifting those concrete blocks to clean underneath them.

Many houses have plastic versions of the above blocks. I've often envied them, but disposing of the large heavy blocks seemed to be too difficult. When I mentioned my idea of replacing the blocks to David, he said, "That would be easy, we'll just stack the blocks down the side of the house."

Oh, didn't think of that! So this weekend we replaced the heavy, dangerous blocks with light, but strong plastic gutter-thingies. What do you call them? Ramps? 

Only downside is that I now have no excuse to not sweep the gutters, except that I often have many other things to do that I deem more important.

04 November, 2012

Excellence in your day-to-day job

In preparing for yesterday's Japan Harvest magazine planning meeting, I was looking for some inspiration along the lines of Christians striving for excellence. I came across this blog post. It is a tad lengthy, from my perspective, but the author makes these good points:
  • excellence is a Biblical virtue that Christians should pursue at all times
  • striving towards doing the best we can, can have a stunning results
  • pride and burnouts are downsides of striving for excellence
  • striving for excellence requires discernment: it is better to go for 100% effort at a few things than 70% at many
  • excellence is a direction, not a destination. Excellence should become a habit, rather than a goal.
I didn't expound on these points at our meeting, but I did start with Colossians 3:23-24, which I think is an excellent verse to ponder as we think about starting another week of work.
"What ever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” NIV
I feel this is especially relevant to a job like a magazine editor, who can feel torn between lots of "human masters". Decisions we make are pretty visible to the readers of the magazine. And especially in a missionary community, where most people have strong opinions. If we keep our eyes on our Lord, however, that will help us keep our perspective.

03 November, 2012

Radio exercises — a Japanese tradition

Here is a video about a piece of Japanese culture that you might not know about.

We've only encountered it at Japanese kindergarten and elementary sports days, and occasionally seen it on TV or if we're out early, seen employees standing outside buildings engaging in this early morning exercise program. But, it is obviously a long-standing tradition in Japan.

How much it contributes to the well-being of the nation, I don't know if anyone has studied or even questions. Apparently it is so engrained that all natives need to hear is the opening strains of music, to head automatically into the traditional stretches. Here, a Japanese lady writes about the exercises with nostalgia.

02 November, 2012

Charlie Brown, get out of my head

Today we had parent-teacher interviews. 2 1/2 hours of them. I don't think I learnt too much I didn't already know or suspected, but it was good to go face to face with the teachers. However, now I feel a bit overstimulated. 

Plus I have had a bit of an issue come up this week with an editorial decision I had a large part in with the magazine that came out last week. Someone has objected strongly to the decision and as an editorial team we're talking about it. I don't like conflict and no one enjoys being criticised, especially over a highly visible decision that many people are holding in their hands. 

So, I'm just feeling the need to chill out a little this afternoon.

I thought I'd share the song that my 7 y.o. has been learning on the piano recently. A song that I'm not conscious of hearing before, but probably I have. For a fairly laid-back song, it has stuck in my brain. See what you think:

Charlie Brown theme song by Vince Guaraldi

While looking for it, though, I found this Peanuts theme by the Piano Guys that made me cry. I've worked  with elderly people in a number of different settings, and this is such a precious little video. How much joy music can bring! It's truly a gift from God.

01 November, 2012

I beat the stress with creativity

I recovered from my adventure last Thursday and Friday pretty well. As you may know, I'm not a great traveller. It wears me out, even when I'm travelling on my own and know where I'm going.

Anyway, probably the main reason I recovered well was that it backed onto a quiet weekend. And on Saturday I had a "creative" day. Look at all I did. It didn't wear me out at all, it energised me!

Sneaking a look at the chocolate chip cookies in the
cupboard. Got to look quickly, or they'll all be gone!
Love these! Snickerdoodles. The name gets an award to start with. But I'd forgotten about these particular type of biscuits until someone baked them for the Thrift Shop workers a couple of weeks ago and it took me right back to childhood. When I came home, I went searching in my recipes, and lo and behold, I have my mum's recipe. So I made these. They taste and smell wonderful! Thanks Mum.
Snickerdoodles—coated in cinnamon and sugar.
This was also a triumph for dinner. For the entire time we've lived in Japan we've made home-made pizzas using a yeast base mixed in our bread maker. Unfortunately our family is out-growing the breadmaker. Meaning, the amount of dough it can produce is only barely enough to feed us for one round of pizza. (Reason we make our own: bought pizzas are ridiculously expensive. The only other time we have pizza at home is generally Costco pizza.)

So, inspired by my friend Rhoda, I decided to try making a larger amount of pizza dough from scratch. It really isn't too hard and certainly the 10 minutes of hard kneading could be quite therapeutic.
My middle son helped with the toppings. He loved working
in the kitchen with me and I enjoyed his company. Bonus!
And my non-baking achievement: sleeping bag covers. Both these sleeping bags were bought second-hand at Thrift Shop a year or two ago. Neither had covers, only plastic bags that were rapidly dying. So, I bought some material and made covers. Simple!

Perhaps the covers cost me more than the bags, though!

The bonus was the cord on the blue bag. The cord was recycled from the plastic bag that had carried the sleeping bag before. I just love the colour contrast with the blue.
Confession: I didn't finish the second one till Sunday.
I love creating, especially very practical things that don't require a lot of fuss. The weekend was the perfect foil to the stress of the week preceding it.