31 March, 2013

Forgive myself

Forgiving myself is something that's been on my mind in recent weeks. I've wanted to write about it, but haven't had the words. I still don't. But seeing as we're focussed this weekend on Christ's death and subsequent resurrection: all for the purpose of giving us forgiveness, I thought it was appropriate to explore this issue a little.

Here's my admission: I have trouble forgiving myself for things I do that hurt others.

For as long as I remember, I've trusted in God to forgive me of my sins. I've trusted that Christ's death on the cross paid all my debt to God for the wrong things I've done and for the right things I haven't done.

Why then, do I hold onto my own wrongs, like I need to punish myself or something? Something I read earlier this year suggested it could be related to things you learnt as a child, about how apologies were approached in your childhood. Maybe . . . but I'm not laying any blame.

I've just done a quick Google search and found a good article on self-forgiveness.

Here are some quotes and my comments:
If you do not forgive yourself of past sins, it is a form of pride. Whenever we enact a different set of rules, a higher set of standards for ourself over others, that is pride. When we can find it within ourself to forgive others, but not ourselves, we are saying that we are less capable of making a poor decision than others. We are somehow more intuitive, wiser, more insightful, more careful than others, and therefore, we are without excuse and should not forgive ourselves. When we reject the forgiveness extended to us by God and others, when we refuse to forgive ourselves, what we are doing is setting ourselves above others and that is pride! 
Well, that makes sense. I'm guilty of pride. The last sentence does highlight another problem, however. That it is more difficult to forgive myself when I don't receive forgiveness from the other person. But perhaps not forgiving myself is a form of rejecting God's forgiveness of myself?
To continue to rehearse in our thoughts the events of our transgression, opposes Philippians 4:8 which tells us to dwell on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.
Yes, I understand that. It's hard, though, to control those nasty thoughts. I had an period in my life just over two years ago that plagued me for months, a time where my mistakes haunted me. It still does feature in my thoughts from time to time. And the consequences of those mistakes and subsequent actions and reactions from a couple of other people still haunt me. It's hard to forget. Although I don't dwell on them as much as I used to, I still struggle from time to time.

There is a prayer at the end of the above mentioned post, here's a portion of it:
Because Jesus died for my sins, I choose to forgive myself--to no longer punish myself and be angry with myself. I forgive myself for letting this hurt control me and for hurting others out of my hurt. I repent of this behavior and my attitude. I ask for Your forgiveness and healing.

I suspect this will be a life-long struggle, but now it is out in the open (that I see how much of a pride issue it is), I'm hoping that I can move faster to forgive myself than I have in the past.

I'm interested in your thoughts. Have you struggled with this? How have you dealt with it?

30 March, 2013

Our 7th Camping Trip

Getting there

On Wednesday morning, the day we'd planned to leave for our camping trip, we woke to gentle rain. The forecast didn't anticipate rain till later in the day, however. This became a
pattern: the forecasters were wrong the whole day!

We pushed on regardless. David's got this plan for erecting our tent in the rain that he's not had a chance to try yet, maybe this would be the day.

Soon into our drive, though, we realised that traffic was going to be a problem. The electronic boards on the expressways that give traffic information told us that many of the expressways were choked. As we drove, we went from plan A to B to C and finally D. Instead of driving the shortest route across "town", we drove the long way around. I doubt that any of our routes would have gotten us there under the 5 1/2 hrs it took. Midweek wet-day traffic in Tokyo isn't for the light hearted.

We'd been going to drop in to visit some Australian colleagues who live partway down Chiba. Halfway through our journey we realised that we'd run out of time for social calls. We had to call and break the bad news to them.

It rained most of our journey. Only towards the end did we have hope that we'd be setting up without rain.

The campsite

Our humble camp.
When we finally arrived we found the campsite was situated on a hill. Chiba is largely lacking the large mountains of other prefectures in Japan, but it does have lots of knobbly hills. Our campsite was on a hill. A curious place, it's a part of a working farm. A citrus orchard. Compared to most of the campsites we've been to it was really low key.

We missed the tiny office as we scaled the hill in our loaded van. The road up the hill was obviously an inside job: not very neat. They didn't assign us a campsite, just said, "Pick a spot". We found one under a blossoming cherry blossom tree with no near neighbours. They gave us no map, so we had to explore to find the facilities. But they did give us a complementary bag of mikan (Japanese for manderin).
The view from our tent down to the Pacific Ocean.

There was a pre-used campfire spot near our campsite and a cut lumber pile down the hill. Perfect.

A parenting triumph

Set-up was a dream. The dream I'd had when thinking about camping with the boys. It's only taken us nearly two years and seven camping trips to realise it! The key was listing all the jobs out the night before with the boys and calling for volunteers. They knew what was expected, felt jobs had been distributed fairly, and cooperated.

That cooperation continued throughout camp. We had boys washing up too. Packing up also had everyone engaged and helping as best they could. I got less steamy and the process was much less stressful.

What we did

On Thursday morning we lazed around at camp. David and I played Bananagrams. The younger two pulled out some plastic figures and created their own fun. Our eldest one started a Monopoly game with himself. The younger boys floated around and tried Bananagrams and joined in the Monopoly game too.
The Bōsō Peninsula. Red box points to our beach.

This too was something I'd dreamed about: that we'd be able to relax at camp and the boys would find their own fun without needing us to entertain them.

Thursday afternoon we headed off to the nearby beach. We weren't sure what we'd find or where we'd park (yes, even in this rural community, parking is an issue). But we struck gold. A beach that was being groomed for the summer crowd (tractor pulling a machine that was sifting the sand). We hung out there for an hour and a half, until the grey skies began to gently sprinkle. The sea was too cold to swim, but the boys had lots of fun chasing waves and building a castle. David and I sat on a dune in our long pants and jumpers, and played Scrabble Dice. It was divine, especially when you consider how cold it's been today 13 degrees and grimly grey. We didn't have blue sky on Thursday, but the cloud was high and the temperature moderate.
This is what the beach apparently looks like in summer.

We came back for showers (I made sure I didn't take my sneakers into the shower this time) and then set in on dinner prep in ernest. Something I love about camping is how meal prep and meals are an event in themselves, and there's room for lots of involvement from others. The guys worked on the open fire or messed around in the vicinity (playing with badminton rackets and pucks for a time, and making a "shelter" with thin planks of wood from the wood fire). And we used our rice cooker for the first time! Basically it meant putting the right amount of water and liquid in the sealed tin and setting it on coals for a time, then leaving it to steam. The timing is a bit tricky, but David did a sterling job and we had fluffy white rice with our Japanese curry.

The farmers came around again with more mikans, and some kind of salted cooked seafood. We were coming to expect them. They came around the next morning with more, including fresh milk that was still warm!
The fire.

After dinner we tried to make Doughboys (like damper or scones on a skewer), but I made the mixture too runny and it wouldn't stay on the skewer. So we made little foil parcels and enjoyed some damper cooked on the coals. After all the stomachs were satisfied, the fire was too much to resist and the boys built it up again. We sat around talking, singing, and eventually I read two chapters of our family post-dinner book, and then we did the boy's pre-bedtime Bible time. It was a wonderful family time.

The "shelter" which wouldn't stand up to much "weather"!

In conclusion

It was a great trip (aside from all the driving), ticking the boxes on several of our camping goals:

  • exploring other parts of Japan
  • getting the boys into the outdoors
  • getting out of the city
  • seeing the boys grow in helping with jobs around the place
  • relaxing 
    • three days away camping seems much longer than if we'd stayed home
    • we got a fair amount of sleep
  • building family memories

But I'm not sure if we'll be hurrying there (if "hurrying" is a word you can use of driving in heavy Tokyo traffic) again due to the travel time. 10 hours of driving for a two night trip is just too far in our estimation. There are a lot of other places we could go in that time!

29 March, 2013

Home after our 7th camping trip

Camping under a blooming Sakura Tree (not the most
luxuriant of sakura, but nonetheless).
We're home again from our camping trip! I'll give you a fuller account tomorrow (I know there are some of you out there who love to hear about our camping trips), but for now, some positives, negatives and photos.

David's learnt a lot about campfire making.
This was our 7th camping trip as a family
(on our own) and I think we've found a good

  1. By far the biggest–city traffic was awful and caused a 150 km journey to take over 5 hrs each way.
  2. Much less of a concern, but still—in the fairly primitive showers, I managed to wet my sneakers on the first night. Thankfully I had a pair of crock-imitations (that are slightly too short) and that I had the presence of mind to put my sneakers near the fire at breakfast so they dried quickly.
The beach.
  1. Full family (95%) cooperation in set-up and other jobs at camp.
  2. Thursday morning we just hung around camp and everyone found things to keep them occupied. This is a first and something I dreamed about when thinking about camping with a family. Actually this attitude prevailed the whole camp, David and I didn't feel presumed upon to provide entertainment for the crowd and so got to relax ourselves. Wonderful!
  3. Open fire with free firewood. We had a lot of fun with our first open fire while camping (most campsites don't allow this). Much entertainment from this simple thing. Including sitting around it for hours yesterday afternoon-evening, singing, reading a couple of chapters of our latest book, reading the Bible and praying. Wonderful memories.
  4. Beach. While not a beach quite up to golden sand Australian beaches, it was fairly clean and the boys had a heap of fun there. It was only a 5 minute drive from our camping spot.
  5. Not crowded campsite, so we had a large section of flat to spread out and play. The boys kicked soccer ball around, and played badminton. They also built a "shelter" out of the free wood (and put it all back this morning).
  6. Camping under sakura (cherry blossoms). I thoughts we'd largely missed the cherry blossoms, as they were looking great on Saturday, but we had no energy to manage going out to see them.
  7. We cooked rice over the fire in our
    new Japanese rice cooker. Worked a treat!
  8. Good weather. It rained much of our trip over, but the rain cleared before we got there. Additionally it wasn't too cold.
Is that enough?

28 March, 2013

Answer to Japan Photo #30

On Monday I posted this photo from my son's Kyoto/Nara trip.

The answer is simple, really. It is a tropical plant, wrapped up with Japanese preciseness, against the winter's cold.

27 March, 2013

A Hope Story by a Japanese surfer

We're off camping (in the rain) this morning. But I thought I'd leave you the link to this wonderful "Hope Story" video by a Japanese female surfer.

26 March, 2013

Dizzy from remembering

Oh my, I've just made myself dizzy by writing our prayer letter. Every month I write a prayer letter and one "column" is "On the Home Front" where I write about what we've all been up to in the last month. It normally looks a little crazy, but this month is just insane. Here's an edited version of what I've written:
To say March has been busy would be an under-statement. It was rather like musical chairs around the dining room table, and difficult to keep up with everyone’s schedules.
To add to the craziness, our younger two started karate classes! 
  Our eldest went with his class to Kyoto and Nara overnight. He had a great time, although is now trying to complete the project that went with the trip: a detailed scrapbook about what they saw (which included much history). Earlier in the month he went on three day youth group camp in the snow and had an outrageous time.
  David held the fort while Wendy went away for two nights to the women’s retreat. His absence for nine days in Thailand, gave Wendy plenty to do at home. It got even stranger as  trip away was during David’s absence. So for a couple of days it was only Wendy, and the younger two at home. 
  The same day David returned from Thailand, our 7 and 10 y.o.s left for soccer camp, but they missed each other by half an hour. So David, Wendy, and our 13 y.o. had a very quiet weekend without them at the start of CAJ’s Spring Break.
  Thank you for your prayers this month!

B is where we're headed.
In Christ, David and Wendy

Tomorrow, though, we're going away. We're starting the 2013 camping season a little bit early! Today is a bit chilly at 11 degrees Celsius, but the rest of the week is forecast to be warmer than that, even up to 20 degrees on Thursday, so we're hoping for a joyful departure from the city for a few days.

I've warned the boys that tonight we're drawing up a list that will cover almost all the jobs required of us over the next few days and they will be volunteering for jobs! Hopefully this will make their responsibilities very clear to them and we'll all be able to relax a little more.

25 March, 2013

Japan Photo #30

My very helpful 8th grader took a couple of photos on his Kyoto trip last week for my Japan Photo spot.

Here's the first one:

What is it?

24 March, 2013

Less schooling but more exhausting

I started this yesterday afternoon:

Last night at 9.30 our eldest came home from his 40 hr class trip to Kyoto. In under 24 hours David will be home and our two younger boys will already at their two day soccer camp.

Big change over of household members! I'm the only consistent factor. It now seems fairly unlikely that David will be home to hug our 10 and 7 y.o.s before they leave for soccer camp, so I'm praying it will go well, especially for our 7 y.o., for whom this is his first ever camp without us.

In just a little while I'll be heading to school for the before-Spring break Elementary concert (but they call it a program). It usually consists of lots of group singing and some musical/play action.

I keep wanting to say it is the "end of term", but that actually isn't the case. They have two semesters and (in middle school) four "quarters". There are only two breaks longer than a long-weekend:
• Christmas vacation, which is usually about 2 1/2 weeks long, and
• Spring Break, which is 9 days, including the weekend either end of the week.

And neither of these breaks is the "end" of anything. On top of that are sports seasons, of which there are three! Confusing for the newcomer? Yes!
Spring is coming to our backyard.

From my Australian mindset, it is a lot of schooling without much break and we all get tired. I long for those regularly scheduled Australian school holidays — every 10-12 weeks getting at least two weeks off seems pretty good right now, from the perspective of a mum and teacher's-wife. Instead, we hold out all year for the whopping 11 week summer holidays (less for teachers)!

There are many reasons for why it is as it is at CAJ, including synching with other international schools for inter-school competitions. But that doesn't stop me wishing for more frequent and longer breaks. But I do need to be thankful that we're not in the Japanese system that has even fewer holidays.

Here's an interesting fact:
Students in the United States spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do students in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests - Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days). From here

Here's another:
At 180 days, the American system lags most of the industrialized world. Korean students attend school 225 days a year; Japanese students, 220. From here.
Wiki.answers says this:
The Australian schooling year has about a 200 day school year (a few less when you take public holidays into consideration). This is 20 more than the American school year but 40 less than Japan and Germany. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_days_a_year_are_Australian_school_students_at_school

So we're doing a month's less schooling a year than we would be in Australia, but squishing it into a sardine tin of nine months. I believe it's more exhausting.

Saturday afternoon's post script:

Life ran away with me yesterday afternoon and I didn't get this finished. David did indeed come home this morning, 20 minutes after our 7 and 9 y.o.'s left. It's turned really quiet here with both the guys left catching up on some rest.

I'm just trying to catch up with my head. It's been a crazy month and this topsy turvy week to finish it off has been pretty exhausting. I'm glad that we can settle down a little now and have our Spring Break.

Unusually quiet here

I am blogging from an unusually quiet Sunday-afternoon household. Generally by this time on a Sunday after a restful weekend, the boys are revving up, all refreshed and ready to head into a new week.

Today it's just David and I, and our eldest son. The younger two are at a camp till tomorrow afternoon. This is a first. We've never had our eldest at home overnight with the other two away. And it's just the beginning, the two younger boys will be at a five day camp in June.

The house definitely lacks a certain level of noise and activity. A pleasant peacefulness, actually. Our 13 y.o. Is finding it a little boring. It doesn't help that our bookworm neglected to check any books out of the library, when will he learn?

Only child
He was surprised to find that Mum and Dad spent 2 1/2 hrs lying down yesterday afternoon. I'm not surprised: David flew overnight from Thailand and I was feeling the stress of holding the household together in his absence. I explained that that is what adults do if they're tired and don't have demanding children or other responsibilities: they rest as long as they need to. A new concept, apparently. I guess from his perspective it looks like we don't need any more rest because we get up and attend to their needs, even though we're feeling tired. A bit like that myth he once believed about housework: that I did it because I enjoyed it!

Meanwhile we've enjoyed some things we can enjoy while the younger ones are away: Curried Pumpkin Soup for dinner, Harry Potter 4 (at least father and son did, I'm not a fan), and even a spot of clothes shopping that is much easier with one or two, rather than three. I've even bought a new bike: a green one with gears, yippee! But more on that another day.

I think this is a grand idea: send the energetic family members away at a sports camp at the start of a break so the older ones can rest in peace and have more energy for them when they return!

21 March, 2013

Social Values in Japan

I'm tired and need to take some time out before the boys come home. Once they're home it will be full on for most of the rest of the day, so I'm going to pull a post out of my draft pile.

This is an article from the Japan Times titled Prized Japanese Social Values. It's from a study that an American did about social values that Japanese children are being trained in. The top three don't surprise me, but the fourth does.

Let's hear what you think. What are do you think the top four Japanese social values would be? And then let's compare.

20 March, 2013

How're you going?

Overall, things are going okay during David's absence. Especially if you ask me now at 1.30pm, when none of them are here! Ask me at 8pm tonight and you will probably get a different answer.

Our younger two boys' beds.
I've been getting a good deal of work done during the day (editing, emailing, newsletter writing etc.). Today I even have an unusually domestic morning. (That is—vacuumed the whole house, washed up breakfast dishes (not usually my job), two loads of washing, cleaned toilets, changed all the towels, and did grocery shopping!)

But the evenings are tiring. These guys are hard work, even at the best of times, but worse this week because they're missing their dad. Not as physically hard when they were much younger, but more emotionally difficult.

I've had to order one son inside the house after he vowed to never come back in. Why? His brother had offended him by locking him outside for 10 seconds!

Our youngest had trouble going to sleep the night before last. He was worried about a number of things, including whether he'd see his dad on Saturday before he went off to his first ever camp away. His response to not going to sleep? Coming downstairs every 10 minutes to inform me he wasn't yet asleep.

There were fisticuffs in the lounge room last night after dinner. The two younger ones had been "happily" engaging in a bit of friendly after-dinner wrestling (not uncommon these days) and one boy felt he'd been unfairly treated, lashed out with the immediate response of being smashed in the face. Hmmm. End of wrestling.

But not the end of the feud. These two fought verbally all the way through their joint Bible-time. Tricky to manage? Yes. Eventually I separated them and brought one into my bedroom to cool off while we folded washing together.

Not long after I was done with them my eldest said, "Are you coming to do Bible time with me?" I said, "No, I'm having a shower first to calm down and then I'll come in."

In an effort to help them, David's been trying to Skype us when he's free in the evening. This hasn't been a great success. The WiFi where he is is unreliable and frustrating. The boys here don't always manage a conversation well at that time of night (anytime between 6.30 and 8).

On our minds has been our eldest son's class trip to Kyoto trip. He left early this this morning. Thankfully he had a comprehensive "to take" list and managed that almost entirely on his own. He even made his own lunch last night (with consultation).

So, this morning I dragged myself out of bed at 5.15 to say goodbye. He's gone till tomorrow night. He won't see his brothers at home again until Friday night. Friday morning they have a late start, so he'll probably still be asleep when they go to school. It is a hectic 40 hour trip and they don't get much sleep. I know, because David went on this trip four years in a row last term when he taught the 8th graders.

After farewelling him I went back to bed, but struggled to get back to sleep. So we ended up getting up a little later than usual, thankfully it's a Wednesday and school doesn't start until 9.30.

Mornings are generally better around here than evenings. Generally speaking we're almost all morning people (excepting perhaps our youngest, but his age cloaks it a little).

One success this morning was that while eating my breakfast, I coached my middle son through assembling his own lunch (including some left-over home-made pizza). He was impressed with himself. I'm happy because this guy needs to be approached laterally in order for him to help out in ways that aren't, in his mind, "his responsibility". If something stinks of "an extra job", he's out of there. Yet, if you can get him involved he's usually very satisfied with whatever he's managed to achieve.

One of the great personal-coping successes of the week has been scheduling coffee with a friend. She hardly believed me when I said that our 1 1/2 hr conversation had filled my tank for the rest of the week. Even though my kids are older, I still don't get the kind of conversation with them that I need to fill up that social part of me.

What made it an even more exciting conversation is that we were planning my 40th birthday party. My husband is a wonderful man, but his talents don't extend to organising social events like birthday parties. So, I've decided to take matters into my own hands. I've asked this friend to cater, and some other friends to do decorations and a few games. This is the first time since I was 21 that I've had more than just family at a birthday party. About time, don't you think?

Tonight I have to get the boys to karate on my own. That means driving a slowly for about half an hour through awful traffic at 5.30 (it is faster to ride, but my husband wasn't confident I'd find the place on my bike, it is in a neighbourhood that I'm not familiar with). Hopefully it should go alright. I'll be collapsing tonight, though. I hope that no one struggles to go to sleep because I think I'll be headed to bed earlier than usual.

PS Just after I posted this I looked out my glass sliding door and saw half my washing and the pole it was attached to, in the garden. And I didn't think it was very windy today...darn. Thankfully most of it doesn't need a rewash, but one of my big hangers has broken in the crash and will need to be replaced before I do any more washing.

19 March, 2013

What if the big earthquake comes to our backyard?

With the two year anniversary of the disaster up north just past, there has been plenty of talk, and thought about what will happen when (and that is the word used in this discussion) a big earthquake hits Tokyo. It's big in the news and has been on the minds of Japanese for maybe decades now. 

We have one of the biggest cities in the world located on one of the hottest seismic points in the globe. This news article from early last year is titled "Study: 70% chance big quake will hit Tokyo within 4 years." And there have been many other such articles.

There is an interesting post over here called "Emergency Departure". It is talking specifically about missionaries in politically unstable countries and thoughts making emergency evacuation plans. I commented there from the perspective of Japan where the politics are stable, yet the chances of natural disasters that may mean evacuation is necessary, are a fact of life. The post asks big questions like, “Are we supposed to be (or called to be) safe?”

It is a complicated, emotional issue. One that isn't too far below any missionary's conscious thoughts. But one that isn't much talked about because there are varying opinions, and because it is hotly emotional.

There are practical things to do and various levels for example individuals having emergency supplies and organisations having policies in place for emergency situations.

There are mental things to do, like consider the above question: "Am I called to be safe?" or "How strong is my commitment to this country?"

Some things are hard to consider prior to such an event and would need to be decided at the time. Especially with external factors playing a big part. That was the case with the disaster two years ago: we couldn't predict that there would be radiation concerns. We didn't know before the event that the school would be closed or that for some people the stress of the situation was so bad that they were unable to function. We didn't realise that there'd be a rush on toilet paper, here, hundreds of kilometres from the disaster. (We will next time, though!)

There are lots of things we don't know, yet I like how one missionary phrased it.
"Yes, this is a potentially dangerous place to work. Pray, though, that if there is a big earthquake here, that we would be safe so that we can be a light in the aftermath." (My paraphrase.)

18 March, 2013

Too Windy

One very calm, probably summer day.
It is windy again in Tokyo today. It just seems we've had more very windy days this year than in previous years, I'm not sure if I'm correct, I can't find any confirmation. Scenes with bikes blown over like this person photographed are quite common.

I'm struggling to keep clothes on the "line" outside. Actually most of our clothes are hung on poles on our narrow 2nd floor balcony. A couple of years ago I wrote about doing laundry in Japan. This morning I found some of my washing dragging in the dirt that's coating the floor of the balcony. The pole had blown out of the metal "V" it sits in. I brought the washing inside after that.

Most of my "laundry hangers" have
their own "pegs" like this.
Last Wednesday I also brought the washing inside after I found one of my plastic "hangers" in the garden. The gusts were terrible that day, I had to walk past the fields near our house four times and could feel the grit hitting my face. At this time of year the fields don't have much planted in them and the soil is very dry, so it just blows everywhere.

But the gusts that day must have been especially severe. It isn't common that my "pegged on" hangers blow off the pole. I'm just thankful it landed in my garden and didn't sail into anyone else's or onto the road. That evening when we went to karate, I saw someone else's hanger "hanging" on a roadside bush a long way from its original position.
Washing in the bare post-winter garden.

Thursday, the day after the big gusts last week, it rained. We really could have done with the rain first, so then all the dust coated surfaces became mud-coated. On Friday I was in and out of the house all day. At one point, when I came home between errands, I found a little pile of dirt and rubbish in my gutter (see photo). My elderly neighbour is a little fixated on gutter sweeping, as I've written about before. So, I dutifully swept it up, as well as the rest of my gutters. I think she's augmented the pile with some of the dirt from the gutter outside her house.

The pile of dirt my neighbour "kindly" swept
up and left on my side of our boundary.
An Australian equivalent would be my neighbour mowing part of my slightly neglected lawn and dumping the clippings (plus a few of her own) on my lawn. Not very subtle!

I could really do without the wind. Thankfully I don't have allergies as many here do. Nor do I have a cough that's irritated by the dust, but I feel sorry for those who do. And also for those who must be out in it more often than I.

While I'm glad that this heralds spring and warmer weather (I don't even have a heater on at the moment, it is around 18 degrees inside, wonderful), I'm inclined to think that spring without the gusty winds would definitely be more enjoyable.

I'm also hoping that our camping trip next week will coincide with a slightly calmer day, otherwise it could be a challenging trip!

17 March, 2013

Rediscovering that "No" actually means "Yes"

Yesterday was surprising. I decided to say no to something and that turned into a big yes for something else.

But first let's start with breakfast. My 13 y.o. is doing "track" this season. He's doing it more to stay in shape and to combat boredom and difficulty going to sleep, than because he's passionate about track and field; his heart is pining for wrestling. (Truly, I'm practically quoting him). Yesterday was their first meet. He left at 6.30. I got up and gave him some company while he ate the breakfast he made for himself. Then I went back to bed and slept another couple of hours.

At 8.45 my youngest (nearly 8 y.o.) came in to my room and announced it was breakfast time. He'd spent the last 45 minutes preparing a special breakfast. He set the table, heated up waffles and English muffins, and cut up fruit. He cut his finger too and got his own band aid without help. It was an impressive achievement.

The night before he'd announced he wanted to make breakfast so I showed him the frozen items and waited to see what would happen. He'd copied the sort of breakfast my husband usually makes, his dad's given him a great example to follow.

Without much persuasion my 10 y.o. volunteered to wash up, so all that was left to me was tidying up the table (not too hard when everyone always takes their own plates to the sink).

What a lovely start to the day!

The waffle was made from scratch by my husband
another Saturday morning. My son retrieved it from
the freezer and warmed it up.
At lunchtime I took the two younger ones to McDonalds. It was fun, we sat around and had "real" conversation. We tried asking each other "big questions", like "Tell me three things you really like about your school." After that we rode our bikes to a slightly further away grocery store for some supplies. The spring warmth and sight of newly blossoming flowers along the way heightened our enjoyment.

When we got home the boys took turns at their allotted 1/2 hr of Saturday computer games, and our youngest did his piano practise. Then they settled into a couple of hours of Star Wars enjoyment: movie number 6. (I had to give video tape rewinding instruction, our 10 y.o. didn't know you could rewind a video quickly by turning off the play-function!)

While they did that I tried baking a new recipe: Cinnamon Apple Muffins. Mmmm, yum.

Here's the recipe:

Cinnamon Apple Muffins/Cake

Sorry, bad phone photo.
Yummy muffins, though.

2 small apples (small pieces)
2 tablespoon sugar
0.5 teaspoon cinnamon

280g flour
1.5 teaspoon baking soda
0.5 teaspoon salt
50g sugar

100g butter (melted)
1 egg
250g plain yogurt
100g sugar

2 table spoon sugar
0.5 teaspoon cinnamon

Prepare A, B, and C separately and then mix well.
Put D on top of the muffins/cake (be generous).

Bake at 200 degrees for 18 minutes (or until firm, which was about 25 minutes in my slow oven).

I posted another Apple Muffin Recipe a few months ago, it is simpler than the above recipe, but this one is moister. This new one tastes like an Apple Pie in a muffin form! It's been given a 5 out of 5 rating from the family, which makes it an instant lunch-box filler for this week (I tripled the above recipe and got 4 1/2 dozen small muffins). And indeed it is very filling, with yoghurt and large chunks of home cooked apple, it can't be that bad for you!

After all that, all that remained was to get boys through the shower and to feed them. The shower part was harder than it sounds, for they quibbled about what order they were going to go in (any other families have this fixation on shower-order?), and then needed reminders to get out. Our shower is half-way between our top and bottom floors, that doesn't make it easy to supervise when I'm here on my own, because they're usually showering when I'm preparing dinner. Last night, though, I used the rice and slow cookers, so I didn't have to be chained to the kitchen, while pretending to be a yoyo up and down the stairs.

Our 10 y.o. son's also just been diagnosed with mild atopic dermatitis and is having to do that thing loathed by boys: apply cream to his body! That increases his already ponderous progress through the shower routine. He's also required to do it when he dresses in the morning, so morning dressing has become a longer chore also. This is the child who got the class award for "thinking" in 2nd grade. Sometimes I think he would rather think than do anything else, include the practical things in life, and especially looking after himself!

It was just the three of us again at dinner, because our 13 y.o. hadn't made it back from his "track" meet yet. In fact he didn't arrive until after 7.30.

Which brings me back to my "no" that turned into a "yes". I decided not to go to support my son in person at his track meet. I had several reasons for that, especially that my husband was away. Knowing that I've got not parenting back-up makes me even more cautious with my energy reserves.

A couple of friends didn't really understand my decision, but I stuck with it anyway. I'm so glad that I did, because it turned out, not only that I was able to have a restful day, but I was able to "love on" my younger two sons. They've been "dragged" to cross-country and wrestling this year as we've supported their brother, but this time in staying home, I could focus on them for a change. Their time will come, when we'll be going to their sporting events, it just isn't here yet and I sometimes wonder if us going all the time to their big brother's events makes them feel loved less. But then maybe I'm overanalysing my parenting. I know they did love going to watch wrestling, in fact both of them want to join the team as soon as they can...but still.

In any case, spending all day with them was a good investment of time.

Juggling multiple children's needs is so challenging at times. I can't imagine how crazy it gets with four or more!

And today, seeing how tired our 13 y.o. is, makes me even more glad that I stayed home yesterday. One tired mum dealing with three tired boys on her own, just sounds like something I'd like to avoid if possible.

16 March, 2013

How English speakers mangle Japanese

After my recent "go" at the Japanese language for mangling English, to be fair, I should mention how English speakers mangle Japanese. Unfortunately it is a difficult thing to present in writing to an English-speaking audience. Often it is accent that destroys the word. For example:

Karaoke is said (in Australia), more like "karyoky". In Japan the word is said, "ka-ra-o-ke", each syllable is pronounced.
(This is using an Australian pronunciation, sorry to my international readers.)

"a"s sound like "a" in "a beetle"
"ra" is like the "ra" in "rasp"
"o" is "o" as in "ox"
"ke" is like the "ke" in "kettle".

Have a go!

Karate is another one. It has three syllables, "ka-ra-te" Not "tea" but a short "te" like the start of "teddy".

Kimono always gets me in Australia. If I say it the Japanese way, I'm often misunderstood, but I can no longer say it authentically in an Australian accent.

I think the chief problem is that Japanese only have five vowel sounds, but English has many more than that and English speakers apply a variety of vowel sounds to Japanese words, which easily skews the words to a point of being unrecognisable. Much like this word: "makudonarudo" is not recognisable to an English speaker as Japanese for "McDonalds".

15 March, 2013

My husband's gone away for a while

This morning my husband kissed me goodbye while I still lay in bed (yes, I didn't get up to say goodbye, that is normal for early morning marital farewells in our house). He's gone with the Seniors (Year 12s) on their much anticipated class trip to Thailand. He'll be gone eight days.
This is a photo from early on in our
time in Japan. We've had to rely on
each other more than if we'd lived in
our home country. And therefore have,
perhaps, a tighter bond than we other-
wise would.

I'm not so worked up about it as I was last year when he went (see here as I admitted my weakness in this area). I don't like him being gone, but I survived. Plus, I have many friends who have more frequent husband-absences and who I really admire for being able to do this. As I type, I think about my very good friend with six children who has to deal with long absences, and another who had three under three when her husband was deployed overseas.

I wrote this time last year about this verse: "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13, NIV. Indeed, I can do everything that my God gives me to do, in the strength that He also gives.

I just got a text saying they're about to get on the plane. I love my man and hate to see him leave, even for a short while. But as I said to my 7 y.o. this morning, who expressed the same sentiment, "The Seniors need him just now, so we'll lend him to them for a bit." He seemed happy with that.

Yesterday I also expressed the sentiment to a colleague that these short separations are good for our marriage. They help us to appreciate each other so much more. It is easy to take for granted how much the other parent does in a busy family, and how much we appreciate them just being there as a back-up. I hate having no backup. I'm it for the next eight days (well, I do have my heavenly Father, but He doesn't generally wash the dishes or supervise showers).

But as for now, I have business to take care of before the weekend, and three boys, are upon me. See you later!

14 March, 2013

Intriguing thoughts about long-term living in another culture

Image from amazon.com
"Bento Box in the Heartland
My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America" by Linda Furiya.

This is the intriguing title of a book I've just finished. 

Bento Box is a Japanese lunch box.

It is a first generation Japanese-American's story about growing up in a small town in Indiana with her Japanese parents. The memoir centres on food, but it isn't a typical food memoir. She explores a whole variety of things related to her childhood, but particularly her struggle with identifying who she was.

For me the intriguing points where where her story parallels our own.

Like when she talks about how her parents carefully monitored  their Japanese food supplies. And would drive six hours to Chicago to buy Japanese ingredients. I realised this is just an extreme version of us going to Costco. 
"Japanese home cooking had become the only daily thread my parents had to their culture. Even I knew that Japanese food symbolized something greater than sustenance. It was like a comforting familiarity that assured them they could make it through the daily challenges of living in a country not their own. A simple bowl of perfectly steamed rice or ramen noodles in hot broth could do wonders in keeping homesickness at bay, lift the blues deepened by the adjustment period of learning new customs, and stir the appetite to eat.
It wasn't until I was in my thirties and living in Beijing that I really began to understand what my parents must have gone through. On the days I was most homesick, a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich or a homemade milkshake did wonders to boost my flagging spirit. p95 
And about their first trip to a store they'd discovered in Chicago:
The cooler was soon overflowing with seafood and other cold items. The knowledge of their presence put my parents at ease as Dad wove his way out of the city and onto the highway." p105
I realise that sometimes I feel guilty that I'm not more Japanese in my food tastes and what I cook at home. Probably I don't need to feel that way, though.

The other point of parallel is even closer to home. Often she writes about her mother's struggles with English and how she spoke as little as possible in public, worried about her accent. Her mum relied on her husband for everything outside of the home, including driving and making phone calls. The author did all her mum's English correspondence from 3rd grade on, including her own school permission letters.

This is painful to admit, but I too rely on my husband a lot in areas of dealing with Japanese, especially phone calls, and official things. I don't feel as free here as I do in Australia. I wish I did, I wish my Japanese was better. My confidence is lower here than in Australia.

But in general I do have a much better deal of it than this family, there are some stark differences between us. We aren't immigrants. We aren't expecting to spend the rest of our lives here. We are supported here by a mission organisation that cares about our well-being. I have lots of English-speaking friends and our kids are in an International School and speak the same language at school as they do at home (which does make it easier for us all). This family was the only Asian family in their town. And of course the Internet has changed things significantly for those of us living in a country not our own.

Sometimes I wish we were more "Japanese" in our lifestyle, but I think we've had to find a level of acculturation that works for our family, our personalities, and our abilities (not to mention our jobs). When we first came to Japan I assumed that we'd be much more immersed than we've ended up being.

Actually it was a source of great concern for me early on. I couldn't figure out how I'd be able to get that comfortable with "being Japanese" and still be able to stay a long time (which has always been our goal). After a while, I figured out that we'd never "become Japanese". I also was told by a veteran who'd "stayed a long while" that you just need to do it one day at a time. "Can you cope for today? Then you're okay. Leave the rest." That was a great comfort.

This has been a bit of a ramble, but I hope that it gives you another insight into what it's like to live overseas in a culture that is very different. Any thoughts?

13 March, 2013

Answer to the Mangled English question

Last Thursday I asked you to see if you could decipher some English mangled by the Japanese language.

I was a bit tricky, however. The "key" I gave you wasn't in the order that the characters appeared in the word. The word was:

This is my ordinary member's card.
This reads Purachina.

It means "platinum", a rare and precious metal.

The context was a Curves, where they apparently give you a "Gold Card" if you've been a member for more than three years and a "Platinum Card" if you've been a member for more than five years. In typical Japanese fashion they put the name of everyone who'd achieved these statuses on a poster.

Unfortunately, though I've been a Curves member for over five years, I don't get either card. Because I've changed gyms twice, and both times internationally, I'm still a "less than three year" member of their local gym in their eyes. Oh well, next time I'll make it, though I don't really know what it means to own a "Gold Card", except that they give you some small gift.

12 March, 2013

Personal memories of the period after the 2011 disaster: in photos

Two years ago when disaster struck Honshu's north eastern coast, we were hundreds of kilometres from the main disaster zone and therefore didn't suffer any significant immediate damage from the earthquake or the tsunami. Even though we were not involved directly in post-disaster relief work, the event still impacted us. We have our own story, as does everyone from those days.

Some missionaries evacuated—overseas or just further south away from the nuclear power plant; some were involved in relief efforts, either directly, or in administration support; some did PR work, or raised support; some were in leadership and had to make hard decisions about advising others. 

All missionaries were dealing with rampant press accounts of the radioactive situation. All were dealing with a huge number of emails and phone calls from family and friends home-side who wanted reassurance of our safety. All were hurting for Japan. Everyone had to make their own decisions on how to face the situation. 

All of us have our own stories.

Our family didn't evacuate. We stayed very local (petrol was hard to buy and the trains were irregular for a while). But we are not without memories of that time. It wasn't a normal period of time and we wondered when things would get back to normal. School shut down. Friends evacuated. Usual events were cancelled. For a while we had surprises and new things to deal with every day, even down here in Tokyo. I'm not suggesting we suffered badly. What we went through was nothing at all compared to the chaos that abounded in the disaster zone. 

Here are some photos of our memories:
Empty shelves for days afterwards.
Baking more of our own bread than we usually do (we usually supplement with shop-bought bread, but that wasn't possible for a while after the earthquake).
The elation at the first time I was able to buy toilet paper!
A bring-and-share lunch with CAJ staff families: those who were still around.
One of our evacuation bags that remained packed for several weeks after the March 11 disaster.

Electricity saving meant many escalators throughout the city were turned off for several weeks. This one is at our local train station.
Right through the summer there was evidence of electricity saving in shops with fewer lights on. It served the double purpose of creating an atmosphere of "mourning".
The "disaster" magazine I had a very large part in getting out, and which consumed me for weeks after the earthquake, sold thousands of copies. It took us nearly a week to package them all up to post out.
Colleagues came to our house one afternoon and we prepared dinner for some workers at the relief agency CRASH, which operated at the time out of our suburb. It was actually good to be doing something helpful, and in community. At times after the earthquake we felt isolated with most normal "social" activities on hold. Getting together with others was such an encouragement.
Impromptu home schooling as CAJ shut down for a few weeks.
Dreaming about and planning for camping in the summer for the first time helped me through this difficult time.

11 March, 2013

2 years on, we remember (a couple more links)

Here are a couple more links:

Fukuin no ie. The Christian centre that took the
Fukushima church refugees in for a time.
This is an article about the 150 member church whose building was very close to the nuclear power station that released radiation. They made news in Christian circles because they evacuated as a group, about 60 of them moved to various locations, before settling for some time at the Christian retreat centre that also took us in last year in the middle of a typhoon. It seems that they are finally back in Fukushima and have built a chapel a bit further distant from the reactors.

Here is a moving lyric video written for this anniversary.

What's happened since the Great Tohoku Disaster?

Yesterday I gave you some links to secular news items. Today I give you some news from the Christian and missionary community.

There has been a large influx of missionaries into the disaster area. Here is a video from one such agency, interviewing survivors and hearing from missionaries and Christian workers in the area. You'll hear a Japanese word: kasetsus, this means "temporary accommodation", though how temporary they'll end up being, no one knows.

Here is one project begun by missionaries that we heard about at the women's retreat, a business that makes jewellery out of debris (smashed ceramic and glass). The project employs more than a dozen women who lost loved ones or houses or both during the earthquake/tsunami disaster. We heard one women's story at the retreat I went to last week. Heartbreaking: she lost her mum, her pregnant sister, and then her husband chucked her out of their house. She's been suicidal, but now, through the love of missionaries, she's come to faith in Christ. You can buy the jewellery they make through their website: http://nozomiproject.com/

CRASH, a local Christian relief group who has worked hard for the last two years in relief, and recovery. They have a number of videos on their Facebook page that will gives you a view of some of the Christian side of the recovery.

This is a short testimony in song and a thank you to all who've prayed and given since March 2011.

This video is of a former yakusa (Japanese-mafia) who helped in the recovery effort alongside Christians after the March 2011 disasters and as a result God changed his life. Great story!

I hope that you are inspired, blessed, encouraged, but especially that you'll pray for Japan today. Many were lost directly due to the earthquake and tsunami (about 30,000). More than 100,000 were displaced from their homes due to the nuclear disaster and most of those will probably never go back. Many more have been lost to suicide since March 2011, some directly due to the disaster, others less related, but the ongoing "slow tsunami" of despair continues to overtake this country.
  • Pray for God's peace and presence in the midst of pain.

  • Pray for hope that comes from knowing God.

  • Pray that God would continue to raise up communities of believers that can bring Jesus into broken places.

  • Japan is one of the least reached nations in the world, with less than 1% of its 125 million people claiming to be Christian. Pray for an amazing outpouring of God's spirit upon Japan.

10 March, 2013

Tomorrow is the second anniversary: we will remember.

I don't know if the second anniversary of Japan's triple disasters will appear in your local media. So I've collected some links to stories, and photos here:

Two years later: three images of Japan's barren tsunami coast 2 years on.

Japan's recovery, two years later (18 photo images)

Revisiting Fukushima's Ghost Towns (15 images)

After Fukushima: families on the edge of meltdown

The one remaining citizen in the nuclear exclusion zone seen at his home in Tomioka town, Fukushima prefecture.

Japanese Police Still Search For Missing Victims after the 2011 tsunami.

If you want to, you can go back to some of the posts I wrote at the time, in order to remember the big impact it had on our lives, even though we were hundreds of kilometres away from the affected area:

The next day, a fuller account, but still with no idea of the longer-term impact nor the magnitude of the disaster.
Day five brought new challenges.
And a post showing all too clearly some of the uncomfortable emotional shifts that I went through during this difficult period.
Two weeks later.

Tomorrow I will blog about some of the hope that we're seeing in the area and some of the Christian work that is going on there.