31 January, 2013

Where do you work?

Today has been an "at home" day. I've worked on a variety of computer-based tasks including magazine editing. Often people ask me if I go into an office as part of my editing job. The answer basically is no. The vast majority of the work is done in my dining-room office! Computers and the Internet are remarkable inventions.

This is the ground floor of our house. Unfortunately around the shortest day of the year the sun doesn't get above the houses that are only a few metres behind us. I'm thankful that, even though we're still in the midst of winter, the sun is now rising high enough in the sky to reach into my office.

To give a little perspective here's our dining room table.
The cloth-covered piece of furniture next to the computer
is ourelectric piano.
When I sit at the computer, this is what I can see to my left. This is
my kitchen which faces out onto the road out the front of our house.
This is the largest single area in our whole house. I love the
open feel and high ceilings. I never take high ceilings for granted in Japan,
after our first apartment, in which I could touch the ceiling
if I stretched (and I'm only 5'2"). That was hard to take.

30 January, 2013

You just never know what you're going to use

This week I've been putting together our monthly prayer/news letter. The way I do it, is more a mini magazine or newspaper style, rather than a long letter. There are different "articles" or "columns". (Why am I a little surprised that I've ended up a real magazine editor, I've been doing this style of news/prayer letter 11 times a year for more than 12 years now?) In any case, my husband writes a "column" every time called "Spotlight on CAJ". Yesterday he wrote this:
My grade 12 students are currently wrestling with thoughts about life after high school. They are looking forward with a mix of excitement and concern. They think it will be good to be out in the wide world, but they are not sure what that means. Just today, the discussion centred on how much more education do they need? I wonder the same myself. There are literally millions of people in the world who don’t have a high school education, let alone a tertiary one, and they are doing just fine. 
So how do we help our students figure out where to go from here? I believe that through helping students discover and develop their gifts, we also help them discern God’s leading. It seems logical that if they are good at maths, or English, or music, or sport, or art, then that indicates a starting point. Try applying to a university that will teach them more, or a ministry training course that will prepare them. If God wants them to use that gift, then He will open doors that way.
It may be that they have to start something to find out it does not work for them, but I believe that is part of God’s work as well.
Please pray that God would make His desires clear to our students. They all show potential to serve Him, whatever their gifts.
As I pondered what I'd write here today (while I worked out at Curves, no less), these words came to mind. I'm more than twice the age of the students David is talking about here, so I have the luxury of looking back and seeing how God has used various gifts and learnt-skills in my life.

Here's a list

  • This week I used my Occupational Therapy (OT) skills to assess a student and give the parent's advice.
  • My experience as a parent of my particular boys gave my OT advice more content and wisdom than I could have done as a single 22 year old.
  • I learnt the piano from the age of 4 until I left school. That skill has enabled me to help people worship on numerous occasions over the years. It is also now helping me supervise my youngest son as he learns the piano.
  • Later in life God gave me experience in writing and editing other people's writing. That's now transferred into a significant ministry as a managing editor of a magazine.
  • My mum taught me how to cook. I learnt at her feet, from the days when all I could do was lick the bowl, she allowed me into the kitchen. Now, I'm feeding a small tribe of growing boys, and enjoying the challenge (for the most part).
  • Mum also taught me how to sew (along with my home ec. teacher plus one other short course one summer). I'm no great seamstress, but can do some basics that helps when one's raising a family on a tightish budget.
Then I think of a list of things that learning some of the above taught me:
  • Persevering at piano all those years taught me to stick at something. To work at it and you gradually see progress.
  • Occupational Therapy gave me many skills that I can hardly articulate because I've internalised so many. The way I approach parenting and life in general is shaped, in part, by my OT training.
  • My first job as an OT taught me a lot about taking initiative, balancing many vastly different priorities, and being able to be productive without having someone looking over my shoulder. All skills that I'm using to this day.
And then I think of some of the things that I tried or enjoyed, but didn't go on with (for various reasons):
  • athletics (or track, as Americans seem wont to say)
  • maths and science
  • history
  • youth group/camp leadership
  • English teaching
  • acting in a musical
  • choir
I'm sure that each of these endeavours taught me things too, even if it was, "This isn't really for you." 

Now what do I conclude? 
  1. I'm grateful for all the things God has given me opportunity to try or learn during my life so far. 
  2. You never know what you try that God will later use.
  3. Even if you don't end up using whatever it is that you've tried, you'll can learn life lessons from that experience.

29 January, 2013

Answer to Photo Question #26

On Saturday I posted this photo and asked what you thought it was:

The award for the most creative answer goes to Ken:
From the shape and material it is obviously a pair of ex-military binoculars in a field case. You can use them at the wrestling when you sit right up the back doing something else, but still want to be able to comment later on close points of the encounter.
Several people got really close to the true answer, it is a cooking implement for camping. But specifically it is a Rice Cooker. Yes, a Japanese Rice Cooker! Check out this post to see photos of someone actually using one while camping. 

I think it is called a Hangou suisan (飯ごう 炊爨). The name in Japanese is very much related to the military (so there you go, Ken, you weren't so far off). It can also be used for cooking noodles, or anything, I imagine, that a saucepan could be used for. You can't see it in the photo, but there is an internal dish that sits just inside the rim. This is your "bowl" for eating. You remove it while cooking.

This is something we've been looking for, but haven't seen in the shops up till now, so I was surprised and very pleased when I found it last week. It cost me about $10. Unbelievably someone is selling a used one on ebay for US$45. The write-up on it there says: 
"Japanese camping cooker / pot is in a shape of a bean/eyemask, it is designed that way in order to give convection and cook rice thoroughly. 
The handle is designed that way because Japanese soldier used to hang it around waist."
We're getting prepared for the longest camping trip we've done yet. A tour around Hokkaido in June/July. The ability to cook rice while camping in such a compact piece of equipment as this is a great addition.

28 January, 2013


I've having the hardest time concentrating on things today. With a little bit of thought, it is pretty obvious why:

  • My home state is flooding again (this happened two years ago, and I remember feeling the same way back then). Thankfully all my family is fine.
  • I'm still recovering from a busy and emotional Saturday (can't get that wrestling out of my head).
  • Last Friday we put the latest magazine issue "to bed" (sent it to the printer). I'm so excited about how it looks! Changing gears to start working in the nitty gritty details of the next issue is hard, even though that is one of the several things waiting for me to do.
  • I have an Occupational Therapy assessment to do this week. I don't do these very often, so every time I do, it takes more emotional energy than I'd like. I just can't get into a rhythm with them.
Add all of these together and I'm feeling pretty discombobulated (love that word, it sounds much better than, "unable to think clearly" or "thrown into confusion").

So please excuse me if I sign my emails "Donald" (as I did earlier today). I'm trying hard to not make any more devastating mistakes. Hopefully tomorrow, I'll have composed myself a little more.

P.S. on More Success in Wrestling

Still recovering from wrestling, I read a blog post by another mum also struggling with the exhaustion that comes from watching your kids compete in sports. Great post, but even better was this comment that came afterwards, I really relate, to this, even though we don't yet have a high school wrestler who has such long meets:
I just read your post after a very long day in a high school gym with a bunch of sweaty, stinky boys. My son was wrestling and that is not for the faint of heart. Every Saturday from mid Dec until 3rd week in Feb is spent at an all day tournament. They start at 8 am and go until 7 pm or later! We are exhausted at the end of the day. Wrestling is so INTENSE! In fact, our school t-shirts say “my son is killing me 6 minutes at a time.” That is so true. They wrestle with all their heart and effort for 6 minutes and I swear that I lose a few years every weekend. On a Saturday, my son may wrestle up to 5 times in the day and it’s crazy! But I wouldn’t miss a match for anything. He is amazing to watch and when the hard work pays off, what a great feeling.

27 January, 2013

More success in the wrestling

So yesterday. . . after leaving at 6.30, it only took about 40 minutes in good traffic to get to Yokota Airbase. Then we sat around till after 10a.m. before we saw any action. But once the action got going, it really did and we had little time to twiddle our thumbs (or cross-stitch, as it turns out).

A good portion of the time before the middle school wrestling meets includes wrangling between the coaches with the schedule of the day. The wrestlers weigh-in wearing their wrestling outfit, called a "singlet". Once all have done that they are listed out from lightest to heaviest and the coaches then decide who will wrestle who (or is that 'whom'?).

The basic principle is that wrestlers should go against others of approximately the same weight. In high school and beyond this is done by set weight brackets. This middle school competition between international schools, though, is more about giving the students wrestling experience, and hopefully some success. They grouped them into brackets of five and it became a round robin competition where each in the group wrestled everyone else once.

Our son went up against almost the same guys as last week. Each match is scored according to what kind of victory you won: eg by a pin, or by points (but it gets more complicated than that). It turned out that our son's last bout was the decider for first place in their bracket. And it was a corker of a bout!
Our son is the one in all blue. This was nearly a pin.

These two had wrestled each other on the preceding two Saturdays and had alternated in winning first place in this bracket. (I'll call him JK for simplicity.) JK was the only wrestler who'd beaten our son this year. However our son pinned him the week before, so you can imagine the tension was high.

It had been high all week, actually, as we knew the chances of them facing each other again was high. JK had also been wondering what he could do to defeat our son! I heard him and a team mate discussing our son while he wrestled someone else yesterday in an earlier bout. JK was definitely puzzled as to how he could beat our son.

The bout went almost the full three two-minute periods. Each scoring many points off the other, a good comparison would be a high scoring cricket match or soccer game—there was heaps of action (for those who know, 31 points were scored in the bout). However our son finished JK off in the end with a "technical fall" meaning our son's score was 6 points higher than his opponents during the last period.

Our son talking to two wrestlers from
his bracket, the guy in the grey shirt being
the wrestler who beat him last week.
Watching was exhausting and exhilarating. I came away feeling like I'd had a too many shots of coffee—my heart raced.

I'm amazed at his strength. He's not a big guy, but wow he's strong! And I'm amazed at his intuitive feel for the sport. He often seems to just know what to do at the right time. Yesterday he also was more assertive and faster to initiate action from the starting position, which has been a weak point in the past. It's exciting to see him win, but also to see him improving week by week.

And, as per last year, it's been exciting to see the other wrestlers in the CAJ team improve. Both of them are first-timers, yet we've seen significant improvement over the last three Saturdays. It was fun to cheer them to victories yesterday (my throat was a bit scratchy last night).

We also saw an interesting "extra-curricultar" development yesterday. There was more mixing between teams. At lunch time we were very interested to see our son talking to a couple of the other guys in his bracket, including JK. They moved on from talking to actually practising a few moves on the mats.

I was surprised, wondering if this was good, but in the end it was just fine. Interacting with these guys took a lot of the mystery out of his opponents. They came back to being other guys who didn't know everything there was to know, who also struggled to know how to best approach a difficult wrestling opponent (especially when they asked him for wrestling advice!). You can see that they respected each other. We've heard there is quite a camaraderie develops within wrestling circles, it was good to see it beginning even in middle school. I can't imagine that happening so easily between basketball or soccer team members.

Alas, the season is short. Next Saturday is the final middle school meet (the high schoolers have a longer season). We'll see what they manage to pull out of the bag next week. Actually, I can't wait to see them wrestle again.

26 January, 2013

Japan Photo Question #26

We had a huge day today. We left for wrestling at 6.30, got home at 4.30. Then had a couple of Australian families over for an Australia Day bring and share dinner. Fantastic day that I'm too exhausted to write about, so . . . here's a photo I took recently. A purchase I'm very proud of. Can you guess what this is?

25 January, 2013

Wrestling rocks our house

Tomorrow is the third Saturday in a row that we're going to watch middle school wrestling. It's a whole day event and there has been significant overflow into our daily life as a result of this desire to support our son.

I learnt this morning that we are not the only house rocking with overly energetic children who are trying, in these small Japanese houses, to replicate the sports that their heads are currently into. A couple of other mums regaled me with stories of their houses rocking with mini basketball games.

Currently in our house, a wrestling bout can break out in the most inconvenient of places, like under my feet while I'm trying to get dinner on the table, or in the hallway on the way to one's room. I've had to referee a couple of bouts between our 7 and 10 y.o.s. Neither of whom has any technique or training, only hours of watching others do it.

Our guys wrestling (and doing head stands) during the
lunch break.
Interestingly enough, our 10 y.o. has a lot of trouble pinning his 7 y.o. brother, which I'm pretty happy about. That would bring greater tribulation upon our household than we already endure—with the carpet burn, the banged heads against sharp corners, and the arguments with the referee already taking up more emotional energy than I feel I possess.

One of the best part of going to a wrestling meet for my boys is the lunch break. And not because of the food. During the lunch break anyone can use the wrestling mats. That is a little boys' dream! Actually, it is a mum's dream too. There are no sharp corners out there and the mat is soft. So, for the half an hour or so between rounds, our boys go out and wrestle to their hearts' content (generally speaking, there are still the occasional emotional slights that need dealing with).

From my perspective, though, going to a wrestling meet isn't the most relaxing way to spend a weekend.
Here's one CAJ dad watching his son. You can see
how relaxed he isn't!

  1. It is an hour or more drive each way. Thankfully I'm not the driver.
  2. Waiting for my son to wrestling is a nerve wracking thing. And he'll wrestle probably three times over the course of the day (between 9 and 2/3).
  3. I find it hard to concentrate on anything while I'm there to pass the time. At cross-country I found it easy to pull out a book and read in a quietish corner. I'm wondering about taking my cross-stitch, whether I could do that or not, I'm not sure. It would certainly look a bit of a spectacle. Who does handiwork at such a thing? But I'm not above making a spectacle of myself.
  4. I'll probably be the only female in the group from CAJ. I know almost no one from other schools. I had a great time with the mum of one of the wrestlers when she came the first week, but she won't be there tomorrow.
But for now, I've got editing and other work to do to see if I can finish off the week in "the red" rather than "in the black". (I'm speaking figuratively here. As in, I'd like to finish today having attended to the urgent things that are sitting waiting for me to do. A bit of a vague concept, I know.)

24 January, 2013

At the end of the tunnel, there's joy

The "Stories of Hope" edition after the
March 2011 disasters. The magazine
that threw me into the depths of magazine
editing for the first time.
Yesterday I intimated that I'd had a happy day. One of the sources of happiness was the soon-to-be released Winter issue of the magazine I edit, Japan Harvest. Today I've handed it over to my Executive Editor for the final check before our Production Editor sends it to the printer. It looks so good!

I started with the magazine a bit over two years ago as merely an assistant to the editor (yeah, I know I was called 'Associate Editor', but that first issue, I really did very little). It's been quite a journey, (here you can read about the early part of it) and I can hardly believe where it's taken me.

This hasn't just been a personal journey with changing responsibilities that brought me to a level of responsibility that I wouldn't have believed two years ago, but a voyage that has involved a number of other people joining the team. It's also been a journey that has brought significant changes and improvements in the process of the magazine and now the look of the magazine has significantly improved also.

I stand in awe at what's been achieved by the team that God's assembled.

This hasn't been without it's challenges, you must understand.

  • Being the "new kid on the editing block" has produced some conflict and misunderstandings with some writers. 
  • Coming into a situation that had been stable for some time and doing some shaking-up of standards produced waves too. 
  • There has been the challenge of working with volunteers, all of whom have other jobs/roles that are significant in their life and ministry. 
  • Not to mention that this is the first time I've really ever been in a formal situation of leadership.
  • Learning to work more closely with others, especially non-Australians on a long-term basis has been a challenge too.
  • Editing the writing of people who may never have been edited before has been difficult at times. Let's just say I've been learning about walking the fine line between firmness and tact.
  • A lot of the territory I've covered for the first time. Like learning about how to work with a magazine designer. Who knew? I wrote my own job description, the style manual for the magazine, the writer's guidelines, etc. I've investigated topics I didn't even know existed.
  • Not to mention the magazine I put together at the time of the March 2011 disasters (with a lot of help, might I add), having only previously seen one and a half cycles of the magazine cycle prior to that (and never been on an editing team before).
But let's leave it there. I feel strangely like I'm at the end of the darkest part of the tunnel of learning for this job. I feel like things have stabilised fairly well. Of course nothing is really stable. As it typical in the missionary scene, change is one of the constants.

Challenges coming up (at least the ones I know about): 
  • my executive editor goes on 3 months home assignment
  • my production editor/art director is pregnant
  • I have a new team member to "simply" check facts
  • we have need of a news editor
  • and in the longer term (18 months away), we go on home assignment for 12 months
I don't know how I'll go with managing these challenges, but if I look back at where we've come from, I'm not all that scared, especially with God on our side. And I thank God for the many blessings he's showered on me as he's carried me through the challenges over the last couple of years.

23 January, 2013

Happy times

There are a heap of things I could write about today and life in general at present. It's been a happy day. In fact things are generally going along pretty well for our household at the moment and I'm savouring it.

Everyone at the dinner table tonight could think of at least one thing to "celebrate". I'd love to tell you about some of them, but I've clearly run out of time today to write anything much, or anything that makes a lot of sense. So I'll cheat and quote someone else.

We're having so much fun reading a series of books after dinner that is very close to my heart. The Billabong series by Mary Grant Bruce. Back a while I blogged this:
But back to what my eldest is reading now. He's picked up the Billabong Series by Mary Grant Bruce (written between 1910 and 1942). It is a series that was given to me by my grandparents during my tween and teenager years (usually one for my birthday and one for Christmas). I brought all 15 books with me to Japan. They probably hold the status of being the books I've read the most number of times. Every time I received a new one, I'd re-read all the books I'd previously received. It is good writing. I re-read it again last year before we went back to Australia. It had me in tears a number of times! 
I don't think it means too much to my son that he is reading books that his great-grandparents gave to me, but it does to me. Add to that how precious these books are to me and how Australian they are, and I am stoked (translation - elated).
Well, my son didn't get through the whole series back then, so I've decided to read them myself to everyone. Being about 100 years old, there is vocabulary in them that the boys have never heard of, and plenty of other things that need explanation too. However, there is plenty of action, drama, and humour to keep us all entertained.

The understated Aussie humour is hilarious, especially in the repartee between characters. But the author also has fabulous phrases every now and then. For example, this phrase that tickled our 13 y.o. so much, he went to school and quoted it to his English teacher:

(The story is set on a property in rural Victoria and they have a city-cousin visiting them, who lost his seat on the horse while mustering cattle.)
"When the rescuing party extricated Cecil from his involuntary botanical researches he was a sorry sight."
And here's a conversation between three teenagers, commenting on how much two of them have grown:

 "Ill weeds grow apace," quoted the latter gentleman (Wally) solemnly. "Jim's a splendid example of that proverb. 
"M'f!" said Norah, "How about yourself?"
"I'm coming up as a flower!" Wally replied modestly.
"A Christmas lily, I should think!"—whereat Jim murmured something that sounded "More like an artichoke!" 
Both of these sections had boys practically rolling on the floor laughing.

I love it! It is something special to have books that I treasure, be enjoyed by my kids. And in reading them aloud for the first time, I'm gaining a fresh enjoyment of them too.

22 January, 2013

Answer to the "Welcome Mat" question (#25)

On Saturday I posted this photo, asking you where you thought we might have found this welcome mat. The comments I got were so good, I just have to put them here for everyone's enjoyment:

KarenKTeachCamb said...
I'm thinking a radiography (x-ray) clinic.
Deb said...
You've obviously decided to leave OMF and join a band of pirates on the high seas. I imagine this mat was in their lobby and you snapped the picture on your way to sign up to their crew and receive your complimentary parrot.
Ken Rolph said...
This is part of an international chain of exercise salons. They usually teach pilates, but in Japan they attracted a clientele of skeletally thin runway models. So they changed their name to Pirates. They teach young budding models to batten their hatches and walk the plank. If the instructor calls out "a vast behind" the models know they need to more firmly buckle their swash.
The interesting thing about Ken's comment is that "pirates" and "pilates" sound exactly the same if you pronounce them in the Japanese way, Japanese not possessing an 'r' that is different to an 'l'.

No one came close to the correct answer, however. This mat was at the entrance to an expressway rest/food stop. We stopped there for lunch on our way home on Christmas Eve. On our way out I was astounded to see how they'd "welcomed" us to their establishment.

By the way, we weren't poisoned, we had a lovely Japanese "fast food" meal.

21 January, 2013

Unexpected blessings today

Today David and I had an unusual mid-week middle-of the-day date. School "babysat" the kids while we went to get our passports renewed (David took the morning off school). It took an hour to get there by train, but only one change. Mind you we were squished like sardines for a portion of this journey, I felt my pelvis creak with the pressure, or was it someone else's? I can't remember—we were close.

The bit at the embassy only took a short while. It was such a small thing, less work than enrolling your child in a new school! So we're finished by 10.15 and able to make our leisurely way back to work via two coffee shops (one for a mid-morning snack and coffee, and the other for lunch).

It was a delightful, almost spontaneous date. Time to stop and breath in what currently feels like a life that is spent racing from one thing to the next with barely enough time to enjoy the sunshine.

It also gave me a shock to reflect that this marks 20 years since I started preparing to go overseas for the first time. During my time in university I went on a missions trip to Indonesia (so now you know approximately how old I'm turning this year). In fact that was the time that David and I really met (though we'd been a part of a large group of Christian students prior to this, we hadn't really known who each other was). Anyway, that's another story. However, we both got our passports in the same year, preparing for the same trip overseas, so that now, 20 years later, we can renew our passports at the same time! Plus we have a great shared history that goes back more than five years before we were married.

Lots of blessings that I'm thankful for today. Not to mention a wonderfully warm day (about 8) with sunshine and hardly any wind, so we could eat lunch outside the smoky coffee shop in comfort.

20 January, 2013

Stepping into America for a day

Yesterday we left home at 6.30am, not too long after the sun rose, to go to another international school middle school wrestling meet. This one was held at Yokota airforce base, which is an American base that houses about 14,000 personnel according to Wikipedia. It is large! This is the first time I've been on a proper military base and it really is a bit of a different world, one that you enter into after being cleared through security (but thankfully no body or vehicle searches). But more about that presently.

The wrestling was good. Our son competed well, winning two of his three bouts and losing the other by points, not a pin. It is great to see him improving week-by-week, learning from his mistakes and thinking intently about how he could do better next time.

My son pinning his first opponent on Saturday.
Even though yesterday was a long, tiring day, it was worth it in terms of our relationship with him. We have the shared experience of his bouts and can talk about them with him. He didn't want to stop talking last night when we forced him into bed. Not just about wrestling, either, he was talking about a variety of things. I've heard too much about parent's who struggle with communication with their teenagers to take communication and a good relationship with him for granted.

After the meet was over we made a stop at a place I've only ever heard of before: the base commissary. Layman speak = base shopping centre. Inside it contained a variety of stores, most of which we'd never seen before. Taco Bell, I've heard of; but Cinnabon (sell cinnamon rolls among other things) and a number of other fast food places were new to us.

Though, conspicuously absent were the more well known McDonalds and Burger King. Baskin and Robins had some pretty cool ice cream flavours that their Japanese counterparts don't have, like Snickers-flavour!

My big cross-cultural experience came while ordering at Subway. It's been ages since I did that for myself, so that was a challenge to start with. But the bigger challenge was the language. I had Japanese employees trying to speak to me in American English and me, trying to speak back, but getting messed up over capsicum vs. green peppers, tomato sauce vs. ketchup, and "heat this up" vs. "toast this". Arggh.

Not to mention that they and I were about the same height—our mouths lower than the top of the glass barrier over the food, and our voices just weren't sneaking over the top of that barrier really well. I was lucky to make it out of there with not too many mishaps. I just felt like I'd stepped into another culture.

I wasn't game to step into the coffee shop. I wondered if they served decaf coffee there, as I assume most American coffee shops would. But I was a bit scared to ask. I look like I could be American and like I should know what's going on. There was no "I'm an Australian visitor to the base, please be kind to me" badge on my chest. I guess that is how Asian looking visitors to Japan feel when people assume they are Japanese.

This is where someone placed my water
bottle after they found it lying on the road.
I would have stayed longer and enjoyed exploring the grocery store, but we needed to head home with our tired younger boys. Maybe next week, when we return for another meet I'll try the grocery store and the coffee shop.

A small story-within-the-story involves my water bottle.  I drink a lot of water and I take the bottle almost everywhere with me. I love it, especially its green cap. It isn't that special—it is just a PET bottle I bought at the airport in Hong Kong, but it isn't easily replaced — I've never seen any like it in Japan or Australia. So, when I discovered on the way to Yokota that it had probably fallen out of my backpack as I hopped into the car, I was disappointed. However, when we got home after 4pm I looked down to where I thought I'd lost it and there it was, sitting upright on the curb.

This is a peculiarly Japanese thing. If they see something small someone has dropped—like a glove or hat, or, in this case a water bottle—they pick it up and put it somewhere safe, often
somewhere higher. When I expressed my amazement as, "Only in Japan," my boys asked, "So what would Australians do?" Hmmm, hard question. "Probably just have ignored it, left it where it was and it might have even been smashed by a passing vehicle."

What do you think? What would an Australia, or American, or South African might have done had they found this dropped water bottle?

19 January, 2013

Photo question #25

We're all tired.

Yesterday was an unusual and tiring day, with
  • all the boys at home, 
  • David at school marking assignments and writing reports,
  • I supported our middle schooler do his Science Expo project (baking biscuits with different types of flour), 
  • we had a friend of our middle son's come over to play,
  • his mum came for dinner, 
  • we all went to CAJ for the annual Senior Talent Show. 
We didn't get the boys to bed till 10pm and then got up again at 5.30 to head off for another wrestling meet. We got home from that after 4.30.

Phew. Lots of details there I'd love to share, but I'm afraid I need some down time and won't get it unless I stop here. I will write more about the wrestling meet and its venue tomorrow, but for tonight I'd like you to have a go at this question.

Here is an entry mat we found in the last couple of months. I'm wondering if you can tell me what kind of establishment you think had this at their entryway?

18 January, 2013

Snow Day in 2nd Grade

Elementary classes at CAJ have their own blogs. I've only just seen the Snow Day post from my youngest's 2nd grade class. Check it out, it is cute!

I've been published again

Today I have a publishing shout. Women of the Harvest have published an article I wrote 18 months ago (I've had difficulty finding a market for it). It's based around our experience of the March disasters almost two years ago.

17 January, 2013

Whose responsibility is that?

Today I was talking to two Americans, one who's been here for a number of years, the other's only been here a couple of years. Clearing snow came up in conversation and we realised that Japanese look at this task, like many other things, in a different way to other cultures.
For Karen who wondered about me not blogging
about snow. This photo is from the 4 years
we spent in Sapporo where lots of snow falls!
This is my husband clearing our parking space.

Our less acculturised friend said that in the States, if the snow fell and she didn't have a snow shovel, she just wouldn't shovel the snow. She was amazed to see people clearing snow with dust pans on Monday.

But both of us who've been here longer talked about how inconvenient that was to others.

There is a sense here that the road in front of your house is your responsibility. The road outside our house doubles as a path for many people to walk and ride on. There is no other place for people to walk. If we don't clear it of snow, the snow compresses and freezes overnight and becomes a dangerous place for people to walk, ride, and drive.

The Japanese live with many obligations, and those of us who live here try to figure them all out (we never do, of course). One overlying obligation is to not inconvenience other people. There are different ways you can inconvenience others, for example, to block their path, or take too long to do something, or cause them to have to do something that isn't their responsibility (like shovel ice in the front of your house). It's difficult because these obligations are all largely unspoken. The Japanese just know. We've had to learn, and are still learning.

The boundary as to what is your responsibility isn't always as easy to see as the road in front of your house.

For example, picking up someone else's bike when it falls down while parked outside a building doesn't seem to be other's responsibility, unless it is causing a problem for passersby. Whereas I'd naturally just go and pick it up, the Japanese don't. Do I understand? No. Life in Japan is one long learning (and wondering) experience.

16 January, 2013

Another blip, but this one less sinister

It's been another unusual week. With a student-free day on Friday, it was already a four day week for me, but when I started snowing on Monday morning and didn't stop for five hours, the geography of the week quickly changed.

Sorry for the blurry photo, but this is what it
looked like on a local lane-way on my
way home from walking out to buy
milk on Monday afternoon.
Early closure of school
School closed early on Monday, due to many of our students and teachers commuting from a distance and the difficulties they would encounter getting home. As it was, some people didn't make it home (stayed with friends). Some pushed their bikes a long way home and others took hours to drive what would only have taken a few minutes in ordinary weather.

Yes, snow in Tokyo quickly causes chaos. It is unusual for it to snow so long and so much. We've had winters here that haven't produced any snow at all. The main reason snow produces chaos (where it doesn't further north) is that it is such an uncommon event that we're simply not set up for it down here. No one has snow tires, there are few snow ploughs, people don't have the footwear for it and most of all, there is nowhere to put the snow when you shovel it.

More changes to school opening times
During the afternoon we heard that school would be starting later on Tuesday and then after 9pm we heard that it was declared a Snow Day i.e. no school at all.

The bigger problem for me was that I'd committed to play the piano for a prayerful gathering of missionary women the next morning. About 9.30 I found out that my lift had decided not to drive. With school shut several other friends couldn't go either, as they had to look after their kids. One advantage of having a teacher-husband at the same school is on days like this, he'll generally be around at home.

So late on Monday (late for me, I'm a not a late-night person) I tried to hobble together a plan that would get me to the venue close to 9am.

Same lane-way as above, taken today.
Residents have cleared this passageway
with spades over the last day and a half.
Getting lost on foot
Well, the short version of the story is that not only did I fail to get there by 9am, I managed to be nearly two hours late, after following a Google map, on foot, that had its "pin" in the wrong place. It is one thing making an error like that in a car, it is a completely different story when you make an error like that and you're traipsing icy streets on foot!

The good news is that not only did we get there (I led a friend astray too), but we were uninjured. Hospitals saw hundreds of injuries resulting this one weather event, so no injuries was not a given. Not to mention the fact that at one point, while on my mobile (US=cell phone) trying to get us un-lost, I walked across an intersection where the cars had green lights!!

Looking down the road at our train station,
you can see how a path has been cleared.
Snow gradually disappearing
Today it was easier getting around out there. I even managed to ride my bike to the gym and the shop. Tokyo-ites have done a great job in clearing passageways in the ice. Last winter we were surprised by a snowfall that stuck around for more than a week. It produced some very slippery roads and footpaths. This is very unusual in Tokyo, usually snow melts within a day or so. This time people were more prepared and got into snow clearing pretty quickly. Already many places are very accessible by bike.

The upshot of it all, however, is that I'm having trouble getting into my work today. I struggle when things get out of routine like this. Last Thursday and Friday we had the safety scare at school. Then Monday and Tuesday we have snow. Today's the first totally normal school day for a week! Tomorrow should be normal too, then it is the student-free day, when I'm not likely to get a lot of work done!

Evenings coming up
Add to that some different night-time events.

Tonight CAJ hosts another short wrestling meet for the high schoolers. We're going along to support the team, it's only a small team and they need all the support they can get when they're at home!

Tomorrow night we're going to support the girl's basketball team, who also have a home game, that doubles when we buy our dinner at the "concession stand" (food stand) and support the Seniors in their endeavour to raise money for their ministry trip to Thailand in March.

Friday night is the annual Senior Talent Show, another fund raiser for the Thailand trip, but also usually a rollicking good time.

Saturday is another early start as we head to Yokota US air force base for a Middle School wrestling meet.

Phew, I'm tired just writing about it. I'd better get back to the other things I need to get done today before the guys get home in under an hour.

15 January, 2013

Interview with author Shirley Corder, Part 2

Yesterday we heard from my friend and author, Shirley Corder, who's recently had her first book Strength Renewed published. Here is the rest of my interview with her:

So, how is the journey going (post publication)?

Great—and tough. 

Great, in that Strength Renewed appears to be selling well. I am thrilled with the number of testimonies I'm receiving from people who have been blessed in some way by the material. I have also had a lot of speaking engagements since the launch of the book. People who looked at me skeptically when I said I was a writer now take me seriously. And that's a good feeling.

Tough, because I have to follow it up—and I can't rely on another trip to a writer's conference. I sold Strength Renewed without an agent. But I am now actively looking for an agent for my next work.

One of the things that scares me about the idea of writing a book is all the self promoting work that an author must do these days. How's that been going?

Yes, I find this hard. To my surprise, I'm enjoying the public speaking and that seems to be going well. It helps that the book itself is popular. But I find it difficult promoting myself. For example, I am thinking of setting up a book tour covering part of South Africa for May next year. I am praying for contacts in each city who will catch the vision and set up speaking appointments for me on my behalf!

How has the book been received by your family and friends who knew you at the time of the cancer?

Incredibly well! I'm amazed at the enthusiasm, despite the fact that I had to change names of all except for my closest family and friends.

And so, are you already thinking about your next book? Any hints on what you might tackle?

LOL! You know me, Wendy! I have three on the go. Reason is I'm not sure which one is the "right one". My first priority is a book for the family and friends of people with cancer, offering advice and support. I plan to publish this initially as an electronic book for Kindle to see how it goes. I also have two devotional books on the go, one on the life of Hannah, and one showing God at work in an "ordinary life".

This blog is about the ordinary things this family does in the midst of something of an extraordinary situation. Can you debunk something of the myth for us, that writers live extraordinary lives?

I also had this picture of writers, especially best-selling authors, being different to "ordinary people". Then I went to my first writers' conference. I was asked to get up on the stage (because I came from South Africa) and share my testimony. I noticed an "ordinary lady" in the front row laughing at something I said (or maybe it was at my accent!). Imagine my surprise after I sat down, when she took my place on the stage. She turned out to be the one and only Francine Rivers! I had a number of chats with her over the next few days, as we both had grandbabies of the same age. She was a wife, a mother, and a proud granny. An ordinary person, but oh what a lovely lady.

I live in South Africa. For people from other countries that seems like a novelty. They see me as unusual. But I'm an ordinary person living an ordinary life, in what for me is usually an ordinary country. (Sometimes maybe not!)

Thank you so much for these questions, Wendy. It's been fun chatting to you like this.

Thank you Shirley, for taking the time to answer my questions in such depth. Thank you too, for "going before me" in this writing journey. I wish you all the best as you continue on your journey.

Shirley Corder is a registered nurse, pastor’s wife and cancer survivor. She lives near the sea in Port Elizabeth, South Africa with her husband, Rob. She is author of “Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer”, contributing author to ten other books, and has published hundreds of other articles internationally.  You can read more about her journey to publication at her website, http://www/shirleycorder.com.

14 January, 2013

Interview with author, Shirley Corder Part 1

What follows is an email interview that I conducted with Shirley Corder, the author of the book I reviewed yesterday. She's also my friend, and a writing mentor. I hope you enjoy what she has to say.

Hi Shirley, 

I'm reading your book, Strength Renewed, as one who doesn't have breast cancer. Nor do I know anyone closely who has breast cancer. Yet I'm finding your book has many insights and stories that would be helpful to a wide variety of situations, not just someone with cancer. I know your book is only just out, but can you tell us about anyone who's been helped by your book in that situation?

Wendy, thank you for showing an interest in Strength Renewed. Yes, I have been amazed at the number of people who have contacted me via email, Facebook, and phone, to tell me how they have been encouraged by the book, even though they haven't themselves had cancer. A lady in the States who went through a period of unspeakable family trauma wrote to me recently.
She said, "The emotional roller coaster you described with the cancer is similar to the emotional roller coaster of the aftermath of this event. Some days you feel like you can get up and go. Others, it's too much effort to lift fork to mouth. It's virtually impossible to eat with a lump in your throat. And if you do, sometimes it doesn't want to stay put. The alternating waves of anger and grief are a totally different tsunami. 
"But I could see the similarities in what you wrote as well. Of course we didn't have the hair loss issue, nor the IV stands. But we did have the media blitz and the attorneys and the court dates. The important thing is that the answer is in the same scriptures for the most part."
As a former critic partner of yours, I know a lot of your story about the long journey to being the author of a published book. It is one of those pie in the sky dreams that many people have — to write a book. Can you tell us something of your journey and how God guided and equipped you to be a writer?

When I was in my early teens I wrote a skit for my Sunday School class to produce. That started an annual event. I didn't consider it "writing", but when I married and we became a full-time ministry couple, I continued to produce plays and articles for church magazines. When our eldest child was approaching her final year of school, I enrolled with a correspondence school to do a comprehensive course in creative writing. I have no idea why I did this, apart from the Lord's prompting, as I had no intent or desire to ever be published.

Then I got cancer. During my fight against this dreadful disease, I sensed God telling me to write down clearly what was happening (Habakkuk 2:2). I never expected to write it for publication but two years after I finished treatment, He guided me once again through Scripture to start writing the jottings from my journal for others to read. So I signed up for all the online writing courses I could find and found myself an accountability partner in the UK. We read everything the other wrote, critiqued, edited, and set exercises for one another. We worked very hard to become good writers.

Getting published when you are not an American can be a challenge. Please give us non- American writers some hints.

Wendy, you're so right. It is very difficult. The best advice I can give is to find your niche—the type of writing you enjoy—and then search the Web for markets that accept that sort of article. Don't start with writing a book. That's where most people want to begin, but you need to gain experience as a writer, and you need to build a platform. Often, editors and publishers look to see what your platform is like before they show an interest in your writing ability.

Strength Renewed is Shirley's first book, but she's
had contributions in a number of other books (pictured).
I strongly recommend international writers sign up with online writers' groups. You can find these by Googling the sort of writing you want to do. e.g. Christian, Writers, Fiction . . .  I belong to several groups. There you not only learn from one another, you interact with "real writers" who are always free with their advice and encouragement.

Also subscribe to a number of good writing blogs where you can read and comment and ask questions. Just reading is not enough. You want to get known by the host as well as by the other readers. For example, http://www.rachellegarnder.com has a lot of excellent material for all levels of writers. But there are many.

An excellent place is to start writing devotional material for markets such as The Upper Room and The Secret Place. The word count is small, yet their required quality is high. So this teaches you to "write tight".

Another good way of getting known while perfecting your writing skills is to start a blog and write on it regularly. Once you have written a number of good blog articles, you may want to look around for similar blogs and offer to write for them (for free). This gets you known and sometimes the host of the blog may be prepared to reciprocate and write for your blog. It's all about growing your platform.

If you do decide to go the way of book publishing, the very best way is to go to an American Writers Conference. However, that is not an easy option for us non-Americans and I would certainly never have got there if I hadn't won a scholarship to my first one. Then just over two years ago, an American author who knew me from online writers' groups, wrote and offered to sponsor me to another one, including my airfare. That was amazing, and that is where I met the acquisition editor of Revell, who immediately wanted Strength Renewed (or Rise and Soar as it was called back then).

The other option worth exploring is to look for an agent who is used to handling international writers. He or she will then be the personal contact between you and the publishers. 

Ed's note: you can also find links to writer's resources on Shirley's website: http://www/shirleycorder.com

I had so much fun interviewing Shirley that I've ended up with too much content for one post. So, I'll post the rest of her fascinating answers tomorrow.

Shirley Corder is a registered nurse, pastor’s wife and cancer survivor. She lives near the sea in Port Elizabeth, South Africa with her husband, Rob. She is author of “Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer”, contributing author to ten other books, and has published hundreds of other articles internationally.  You can read more about her journey to publication at her website, http://www/shirleycorder.com.

13 January, 2013

Renew your Strength

I've had a book on my desk for some time now, waiting for its chance to make an appearance here. This is a book that has my name in it, in the Acknowledgments! It was written by one of my Invisible Sisters, Shirley Corder (her website). A South African friend who I've never met face-to-face, but who knows more about me than many of my friends.

Strength Renewed was born out of her experience with breast cancer and desire to help others out there going through the cancer journey. It is a collection of 90 mediations that shepherd the reader through the journey, from the shock of first diagnosis through to the end of treatment.

It isn't a book about her, though she tells many short stories of her journey. It isn't a how-to book either. The book isn't a theological one, nor is it a book about healing. It relentlessly points the reader to the God who helped her through the journey. It is a practical book, it is a book that will help you walk through the fire.

Shirley was the leader of the writing critique group that took me in several years ago. I've critiqued many of her stories, some are even in this book. I enjoy her style, she writes with fresh honesty about what she's experienced, not stopping to hide her faults.

I have never had cancer, but I know that if that ever happens, I want this book by my side. If someone I know well is diagnosed, I'll be buying this book for them and their loved ones.

Oh, and by the way, this isn't just a book for the one with cancer, it will be invaluable for the spouse, children, parents or other close loved ones.

Tomorrow and Tuesday I'm posting an interview I did with Shirley (via email). I hope you'll come and find out more about this book and its author.

12 January, 2013

Wrestling fun again

Today our eldest competed in his first wrestling meet of the season. I've looked forward to this for almost 12 months (see my reflections on his last wrestling meet here). It was worth waiting for. My son is bigger and stronger and more experienced. He wrestled well (and I understood more than I did at his first meet last year).

I'm still in awe of his hard work and perseverance. Of his strength and knowledge. So happy that he has something he's passionate about. Very proud that all his work paid off today in three victories!

But, by golly, it got my heart rate going. I was nervous and excited and emotional. Phew!

It was another pleasure hanging out with the mum of my son's good friend. We've encountered each other in various settings (and roles), but we've never had the time to just sit and chat. We got hours of that today. Fabulous time!

Great to see the relationship between him and his friend too. They are great mates, very different personalities, yet they complement each other. Great to see our son looking after his mate, for whom this was his first meet. I love seeing him grow and mature into someone I'll be proud to know.