30 June, 2013

A short note from Sapporo

I'm sitting outside the men's showers waiting for the guys to shower plus washing and recharging some electronic devices (phone, video camera and computer).

We spent the morning at the church in Sapporo where we served from March 2003 till July 2004. It isn't a large church but we were surprised at so many faces we knew and people who remembered us. They were surprised at how big our boys were. When we were there we only had two and they were under school age. 

We also drove around our old neighbourhood a little. It is amazing how much I vaguely remember, but equally how much I've forgotten. I guess I had a bit of a baby brain fog going back then!

This afternoon we picked up some groceries and supplies and headed back to camp. By mid afternoon most of our neighbours had packed up and left, after a one-night stay. So we played cricket on the beautiful grassy lawn. 

Then we built a fire and cooked our dinner, including rice. My dream is coming true: the boys are pitching in and helping. I had all of them ask what they could do to help with dinner tonight and it turned into a group event. 

But now it's 7.20 and we're just waiting for the washing to finish before we go back to camp, jump into our jammies, and listen to another chapter of The Hobbit. Yes, we're reading it to the boys this trip. It's proved to be a great settler at the end of the day.

Tomorrow we head north, part ways to the most northern point of Japan. Hopefully we'll reach there on Wednesday, but we'll camp the next two nights at a lake on the way north. 

25 June, 2013

One day into our conference.

Yesterday around lunch time we disembarked from our overnight ferry in Hokkaido. The 16 hour ferry ride is its own story (that I'll blog about later), but it went fairly smoothly and was enjoyed by all. 

After we landed we drove a couple of hours to the location of our Japan OMF Conference. Here's our 14th floor room:

Yes, we're all five of us sleeping in a traditional Japanese room. The hotel is out in the country a bit, right next to a fast flowing, but shallow river. Lots of gorgeous green trees. 

We're going to love this Hokkaido trip, I can tell. It's definitely more spacious up here, compared to the Kanto Plain, but I guess that wouldn't be hard to manage! A definite balm to the soul. It is always hard to put down the work we were doing to go away, but so important. This afternoon we had a Q&A session at the conference with OMF's International
Personnel Directors. One thing that came up was the importance of holidays. Yes! In order to be effective in our work in a cross cultural setting we surely need to take time away to recharge. 

I'm enjoying a few minutes of down time just now. David's taken the younger two into two-floor the basement "Lagoon" swimming complex. It's amazing down there. A whole maze of different pools, slides, etc. Kids can very easily get lost, however, so full participation of a supervising adult is necessary. 

At the same time, our eldest voluntarily took himself to one of the several luxury Japanese communal baths. He came back quickly, though, declaring that it was too hot to hang around there for long. I'm glad I didn't go swimming, so I was able to facilitate him doing this. More and more often I find my role is more as a presence and facilitator, than a director or supervisor these days. Maybe other parents of older children will understand what I mean?

Anyway, it's about time to go down for our buffet dinner. If it is like last night, it'll be a huge array of food, much larger than any restaurant I've seen. The difficulty is in choosing, and stopping our 8 y.o., who has eyes bigger than his stomach, from taking too much on his plate!

22 June, 2013

Heading off on our Hokkaido Adventure

Tomorrow we head off on our Hokkaido Adventure.
By road it is about 1,450km from here to the top of Japan, the town of Wakkanai, where we
This is an approximate map of where we'll stay
over the next month (the bottom on being our
home, of course).
hope to be based for three nights. We're not driving the whole way, however. It isn't possible, to start with, there is no bridge between this island, Honshu, and Hokkaido. However, we're not even driving to the tip of Honshu, we're catching an overnight ferry from Sendai tomorrow night.

We'll spend the next four nights at a hotel with most of the OMFers in Japan at our triennial (that is, every three years) all Japan conference. About 130 adults and something like 50 kids.

After that we'll head off on our own camping journey. I'm planning to try to document our adventure here, but we'll most probably not have internet access very often so my plan is similar to our journey to central Australia last year. I'll write at the time and put the entries up later when we're home. We've had lots of people most interested in this adventure, so I hope this satisfies you all.

Many of you will know that we used to live in Hokkaido. When we first came to Japan in 2000, we lived in Sapporo, the capital city, for 3 2/3 years. During that time we studied Japanese and worked in a church planting team. We arrived with a toddler and had our second child in the university hospital there. We were stressed and exhausted most of the time, and now regret that we didn't have the energy to explore this beautiful island. 

It is less mountainous and more spacious than Honshu, so a little closer to Australia in terms of geography, but not in climate. They have severe, long winters and lots of snow. Their summer is short and not very hot (though they've been known to have a few hot days, as in over 30 degree days, in August).

Where we're going is pretty remote, a bit like central Australia but very different! No desserts.The distances are far less. And this time we're tenting, not motor homing. So we'll have to work a bit harder, but hopefully it will be more relaxing because we won't have the all-day drives that we had last year. We'll be camping in seven different spots, doubling the number of campouts we've done in our two-year camping career. It isn't all camping, we'll also stay with a missionary in a small town for two nights, and on the way back stay at an OMF cabin on the beach in Sendai. All that plus two overnight ferries. 

It's going to be quite an adventure. I can't wait!

Below I've posted some photos from our years in Hokkaido for your enjoyment.

Takino Park. We loved this large park and are going to be
camping next to it next weekend.

Takino Park. 
Bouncy hills at Takino Park with two boys who were much younger back then.
Another part of the same park. This was June and I went on a picnic with some ladies from church. The temperature was about 14 degrees in the middle of the day. Brrrr.

I think this was our farewell at the church we work in for about 16 months. We'll be visiting them next weekend. I wonder how many people we'll remember?
This was a memorable drive along the western coast of Hokkaido with my parents. That day the ocean was so calm and the drive was breathtaking, lots of tunnels and lots where the road was the only thing between the mountains and the sea.

21 June, 2013

Washing Wrangling

Half of our balcony on a sunny day.
Over the last ten days we've been working on a step-up in responsibility for our soon-to-be high schooler son. A few months ago we told him we thought it was time he started washing his own clothes. We targeted these summer holidays as the best time to begin, without the responsibilities of school weighing in on his time too.

So, we've all had some time to think about how this would work, but last week the rubber hit the road. He's been responsible for washing all our towels, bath and toilet mats, and face washers (other countries call this a flannel, or face cloth, I think) for a few years now, so the washing machine isn't a strange object to him.

But this still is a challenge, and not just for him, it's been a logistic challenge for us to think through too. Here's why:
  • we have limited hanging space
  • therefore we have a system of when and what we wash (e.g. half the sheets on Saturdays, towels on Wednesdays)
  • we use hangers that have specialist uses (see photos), and don't have many spare spaces on washing days
  • we usually wash clothes every two to three days, so our boys don't have an extensive wardrobe
A longer view of the balcony

The shirt hanger.

The silver hanger has no pegs in the middle, so it gets used
for pants and towels. The white and blue plastic one is the
multipurpose hanger, mostly small things get hung there.

A small multipurpose hanger and the other shirt hanger.

This room serves as the laundry, the bathroom room sink, and the change
room for the shower. See those little hooks, that's where we hang our
hangers when we're not using them. There isn't a lot of room.
Now we have a larger dwelling than many people here, but we also have more people in our house than many households do. But it still is a challenge. Our son would love it if it were super simple, but it isn't.

We've needed to buy him more clothes, especially underwear and socks. We've needed talk about when he can wash, to coach him as to what to do if it looks like it might rain, or is raining. We've asked, 
"So, how much underwear do you have left?" 
"You need to wash before you run out, especially if it is rainy weather." 
"You can hang clothes on hangers that are already outside, if there is room. You don't have to have a completely empty hanger to work with."
I've needed to keep reminding myself that I'm teaching him, that he's not going to get this straight off.

To complicate matters, our upcoming trip to Hokkaido is on our minds. The conference centre doesn't have laundry facilities, so I've been working on the premise that we'll have to have seven or eight days worth of clothes. My husband (who is in charge of washing clothes around here, I'm his humble assistant), says we'd best find a laundromat mid-week during the free-time. After conference finishes we'll be camping for over two weeks, and trying to get clothes washed as we go. It's going to be interesting indeed. I think we'll let the boys just change underwear a few times! 

But rest assured, we'll not be expecting our teenager to manage his own washing during our time away, we'll resume practising when we get back. At least when we return we'll face weather that will dry clothes in an hour or two. We shouldn't have the difficulties we've had this week of dark clouds that threaten to rain for days, and then do rain, so that we have washing hanging around the house constantly.

For those who wonder, we do own a clothes dryer. It isn't very common in Japan to own one and we take the Australian approach to it: use it as a last resort. It is far cheaper and more environmentally friendly to dry our clothes outside. But we do have it as a backup, if required.

I didn't wash my own clothes until I left home (though I knew how and periodically helped mum with the family washing), so this isn't something I've walked through before. Do you have children who wash their own clothes? How do you manage this as a family? When did you start washing your own clothes?

20 June, 2013

Refreshing spontaneity

Continuing on in our unusual week, yesterday David and I did something we haven't done in years. We took a spontaneous after dinner walk on our own.

We walked past our local government sports centre and ogled
these new outdoor climbing walls they've built. I haven't seen
too many climbing walls, but I've never seen ones this high.
Our wrestler had gone off to a make-up training session at 6.30pm, leaving the two of us alone for the evening.

After a humid, windy day on the edge of a typhoon, it was just perfect to be out at that time. For a good part of an hour we strolled along the local "river" and talked. Parenting ties you down in many ways, one being in spontaneity. For us as a family to do something as out of the ordinary as an after dinner walk usually involves lots of explanation and persuasion! (Unless it is going out for food.) And often it just isn't worth it.

At 7 pm most evenings we're working towards getting boys to bed. It was delicious to have the freedom to choose to be out together. A taste of what's to come as these guys grow and need us just a bit less. 

We stopped for a Maccas soft serve and then rented a DVD for our teenager (he's got a friend coming over tonight), and one for us too. Then we came home and watched "ours", continuing our spontaneous date. 

It was just so refreshing. This unusual week has been busier than I'd anticipated, but not as weird as I thought. There's been other great things too, like breakfast "dates" before David went to work and our son got up. I love it!

19 June, 2013

The Hammer

Our son received this DVD for his birthday.

It was recommended to us by Aussie friends who saw it on a plane and knew about our son's wrestling. This week, while his brothers were on camp, we three sat down and watched it.

It's a true story, about a profoundly deaf man in America who's grandfather encouraged him to be a wrestler, to help him through the struggles of childhood as a deaf child. It turned out that he was a very good wrestler. He went to college and won at a very high level (National Champion of college wrestling three years running).

It appealed to me on several levels:

The wrestling, of course, was interesting to watch and nail biting at times. I thought the ending was a little too like Karate Kid, though, the underdog with an injury beats the current champion...but of course this is a true story (with lots of collaboration with the man who it is about).

Gaining a little insight into the deaf community was interesting, stories about disability always grab me.

Language barrier
But the most surprising thing was the cross-cultural element with a language barrier complication. This man, Matt Hamill, was brought up in a "normal" environment, especially school. He learned to lipread very well and his signing wasn't so good. So when he got to university and had a translator for lectures, he didn't cope very well and in fact got thrown out of college (because he got there on a wrestling scholarship that had a proviso of a certain GPA). He then went to a different college that had a large deaf community but struggled to integrate into that deaf community.

The movie portrayed the language barrier very well. When he was listening to a lecture where he couldn't see the lecturer's mouth consistently he was looking between the lecturer and the translator, missing lots of words, some because he couldn't see the lecturer's mouth, some because he didn't know all the signs. It was portrayed beautifully. What he could hear and understand was written as subtitles, when he missed words, it was a blank like this:
To get the _________ of the problem you have to _____ .
It illustrated fairly well what it is like to listen to a language where you are partially fluent in. It isn't that I can't understand any Japanese, but when I'm missing key components of many sentences, I just don't get the overall meaning. That is hard for a someone speaking to you to understand. It is a hidden "disability".

Cross-cultural challenges
The other element his challenge in adapting to college was the language and cultural barrier with the deaf community. They didn't like him to "use his voice" and they signed too fast for him. He had to learn how to interact with them.

I liked it when at one point he used his "bilingual" abilities to help his deaf girlfriend get a petition signed. He could ask, not just deaf students, but normal-hearing students also.

Anyway, that's enough of that. It is a good movie, and even if you aren't into wrestling, I'd recommend you check it out. By the way, the main actor is deaf, so his "deaf accent" is legitimate.

18 June, 2013

Unusual week

This week is an unusual one. Our two youngest sons are at a summer camp till Friday. Yesterday I spent much of the day getting them there (packing, naming etc. and then driving took two hours each way, thankfully I was just the passenger).

When I got home at 4.30, there was no one at home. That in itself was strange. I had some coffee and headed off to the gym at 4.45. Who knew? It's not often that I'm free at that time of day. Then it was just David and I and our 14 y.o. for dinner. On my, it's a different atmosphere, that's for sure.

Today we did something entirely different. David is working all week, so I knew that I'd have to do something to spice up the week for our teenager. Then a local friend asked if I'd be interested in doing a fun project. Someone in the States who runs a team building company that specialises in Scavenger hunts (what a job!). He wanted someone to help him create a demo hunt for a Japanese training company in Tokyo. It was to be around Ueno Park which has a famous zoo plus a number of museums on the premises.

My local friend couldn't do it, but asked if we were interested. It was the perfect thing to spend a day doing with my teenager. He's got a sharp eye for detail and loves maps. We had a fun time. It was a novel experience, to spend that much time alone with him, but I enjoyed it.

It was tiring though, the temperatures are getting high and the humidity is high too. We spent most of the day on our feet (including the train trip to the park). But it was interesting to have a different objective in an outing. It felt like we were English Detectives (the project was particularly to look for signs that are in English or bilingual)

Here are some photos he took:

An enlarged copy of "The Thinker" outside the Museum of Western Art. Bijutsukan (Art Galleries/Museum): a word I protested about learning in my early months in Japan, saying I was uninterested in them. But I finally ended up visited one. All I can say is that this visit hasn't convinced me it is a word I'm going to use much in the future.
One of the English signs in the zoo.
I was there!
A Hair Pagoda? 
Herb garden on the top of the National Museum of Nature and Science
Torii: entrance to a Shrine (no we didn't go in).
This was the find of the day: the nature and science museum had many of these on every floor. It is a multilingual explanation of nearby exhibits. Wonderful!
By the time we got to the museums in the afternoon I felt like we were casing the joints! We raced through the six floors of the science museum fast and the art museum even faster. I hoped we didn't look too suspicious!

So now we get to write up our scouting report: that indeed there is much potential for an English-based scavenger hunt in this area. We'll see if he sends us back to do a more detailed sketch that could form a draft scavenger hunt.

16 June, 2013

Interesting English

I was deleting some of the photos off my phone the other day and I found a bunch of "Interesting" English photos. So here, for your own entertainment, they are:
Found in some women's toilets. It is common to
find boy-sized urinals in women's facilities.
A great idea, I reckon! But they didn't quite get the noun right. 
This is very good English, actually. It was found on a train platform.
This is one of those new platforms where they have a fence
separating you from the train, the 'doors' that they mention are sliding
doors in the fence. It is supposed to reduce the chance of people
jumping off platforms in front of trains.
Um, what? A toilet cubicle photo.
This one from a 100 yen shop. Are you "a safety driver"?
These oranges were "Made in Australia"!
In a bicycle shop. I was tempted to break into song.
And some tissues: "Life Yell", um.

15 June, 2013

What's new at our house?

It's been a crazy, unusual week. So what's new in our house!?!

School broke up at lunchtime on Tuesday. That afternoon, in the spirit of keeping them busy (and avoiding the first day of holiday blues), we dragged them to the Immigration office to pick up our new Residence Registration Cards and our new visas. (Having not a lot of choice of days about when we did this had a little bit to do with it too.)

That evening we dragged them along to an international schools jazz concert. For something student organised and led, it wasn't too bad. There were really good moments and not so good moments (which our boys inevitably picked up on subconsciously and whispered ever so not subtly about wishing to leave). Overall, though, it was a good musical experience that the boys talked about with enthusiasm the next day (when they weren't so tired).

On Wednesday the boys enjoyed a Nothing Scheduled morning. After lunch, though, the younger two went off to enjoy playing with some kids at school in what is known as Childcare for CAJ Staff kids. Wednesday evening the younger two went off to karate training for the last time till late July.

Thursday morning I sent them off to Childcare early and did an Occupational Therapy assessment at CAJ. They came home at lunchtime and we struggled through the afternoon. That evening we fed the boys early and David and I went to the end of year Staff, Board, and PTA dinner while the younger two enjoyed more childcare (in the school gym, we could hardly get them to come home at the end they were having so much fun).

One HeroScape board creation (it's different every time).
Friday morning I had four boys in the house. We adopted a middle school boy for the morning with the express purpose of teaching him about HeroScape, the game that's infected our boys for weeks now. This young man has the misfortune of only having sisters, so he enjoyed a boys' morning. Our younger two went off one last time to Childcare after lunch (and had a water balloon fight while they were there).

Last night eating yakiniku.
Friday night we finally had time to have our family celebration of finishing school. For the second year in the row we went out to a Japanese restaurant in the style of Yakiniku, where you BBQ your own meat at the table. We did this last year to celebrate the end of the school year and decided it was a good, yet easy tradition to establish. Boy + meat + fire are a winning combination. This local restaurant also has a salad/cake/drinks bar (not as extensive as a Sizzler one, but acceptable). The drinks bar has something very unusual for Japan (as far as we know anyway), it has two flavours of Slushy. Yum, on a hot evening!

Then today our eldest finally got some action. He went to a friend's party all day and goes almost straight onto wrestling training this evening. Our younger two went to a Futsal fun day for 2 1/2 hours in the middle of the day. David and I took the child-less opportunity to go back to that large new shopping centre to have lunch (at Subway, reminiscent of some very early dates) and buy some things we need prior to going away next week.

After a cool rainy week the heat got turned up yesterday afternoon and it was a warm night leading to a pretty warm and sticky day. We enjoyed the shopping centre's air con!

Then this afternoon's been devoted to all sorts of things, including preparation for the younger two going to camp on Monday. That's a whole 'nother blog post (it's going to be a weird week without them next week).

In the midst of all of the above, I was still sorting out details with two magazine issues (the summer and autumn ones), as well as preparing for the Occupational Therapy assessment, and then writing the report. And adjudicating boys in various disputes.

All things considered, it's been not a bad transition to school holidays. But this morning I had trouble getting up (even though I'd been awake for ages), I'm winding down and our time away, starting in just over a week, will be very welcome.

14 June, 2013

The Spoon Theory

I ran across The Spoon Theory recently, it is a way one lady used to describe what it was like to live with chronic illness, especially invisible illness. It is a wonderful way to look at it. In fact I heard someone recently use "Back points" as a similar analogy to how much she could "budget" in a day for her chronic back injury.

Not wanting to diminish the terrible challenges of chronic illness, I think it is a useful metaphor for being a parent too, or even for life in general.

The truth of the matter is, everyone has different levels of energy, or, we start each day with a different "numbers of spoons". I just read a magazine article about Bec Hewlitt who admits that she has a lot of energy and often doesn't sleep much. She obviously has been gifted with "a lot of spoons". I have friends like that.

When we're young we tend to believe that we have unlimited numbers of spoons. As you get older you realise that isn't the case. For example, if you overdo it one day, you often pay for it the next day, as if you've "borrowed on the next day's spoons". So I guess you could say that as we age we "start the day with fewer spoons".

In my case, when I got married at 24, my husband perceived that I had a lot of energy, "ran rings around me", is the way he puts it. Once I had children that seriously diminished. You can visualise that with the spoon analogy.

Parenting kids "takes a lot of spoons" for me. In my experience, different children cost us different amounts of energy. I have one, for example, who has loads of perseverance. That was particularly difficult as a 2, 3, 4, and 5 year old, especially because he often chose "negative perseverance" i.e. "NOOOOO." He costs me fewer spoons now most of the time, because for example, he'll persevere at his homework or anything he sets his mind to (which is more often becoming positive, helpful things). As the boys grow and mature they're requiring less of my spoons, so I have more energy to devote to other things. I'm really happy about that!

Dealing with an emotional situation also uses up lots of spoons for me. For example, a serious disagreement with my kids, or worse, with another adult, costs me many spoons and zaps me of my energy.

Anything can be factored in here: illness, pain, stress, socialising, language barrier, cross-cultural living, conflict, change, relationships, hormones, roles, activities of daily living (Occupational Therapy talk for stuff that you need to do to take care of yourself and others in your life) etc.

Don't you think it is a useful way to think about things? I can wish I had as many spoons as others, or that what costs me spoons was different. And then there are others who would like my handful of spoons. But in the end I am who God made me to be, with all my weakness and strengths. Somehow I need to come to terms with how many spoons I have and what uses them up. Not forgetting that God indeed is our strength (read: "our source of spoons"). Sometimes it feels like I've run out of spoons altogether and how could I possibly do any more. But you never know when God's going to give you another spoon!

Hmmm, somehow I don't think that would pass as the best theology: The Spoon Theory, but it does helps me in thinking about daily life.

There are times when I can freely offer to do things, because I know that I have a lot of spoons in hand. There are other times when I know that a lot of my spoons are already accounted for and I need to be more careful in how I use them.

At this time of the year my spoons are used up faster than usual, because the boys are on holidays. I have to factor that into my life. So right now, it's just after lunch, I think I'll go and take a short time to chill out on my bed with a book.

13 June, 2013

Unexpected Journey to Africa

I didn't expect to be totally taken in by this book, but oh my, it is way more than it seems from the cover.

Probably the biggest attraction for me was reading about another international school, yet one that is in a totally different context to ours. Rift Valley Academy (RVA) is in Kenya, on the eastern side of Africa, way up the side of a mountain. It isn't in the big city, and is surrounded by heart-wrenching poverty. Students don't commute there via trains as they do at CAJ, the vast majority of them live on-campus.

The author of the book (or at least the main one, he had a co-author), calls himself the least likely of missionaries. He and his family ended up in Africa in a bid to make a new start after their third boy was born with deformities incompatible with life, and only lived a few days. First off they only went to Africa for a year, as boarding home parents at RVA. The early chapters are sprinkled with hilarious descriptions of what it is like to run a dorm full of 10 year old boys. Descriptions that I, and my family of boys, could easily relate to. I read some portions out to my family and we were nearly on the floor laughing.

That is the cleverness of this book: the authors' abilities to weave humour into a story that is bleak at times. For both the story of the loss of his son and the devastating hunger and poverty that they saw in Africa are not at all funny.

Just before they were about to go back to their usual corporate lives in America, Steve saw Kenyan children lying on the floor in a classroom. He asked the Kenyan teacher why. Her reply was, "They haven't eaten since Sunday, it's now Thursday, if they sit up, they'll faint."

After that Steve found he couldn't remain in the US. He and his family returned to RVA after a year away and have been there ever since (with home assignments in the middle, just like us).

What has brought this story to the notice of more than Christians is that Steve set up a charity called Kenyan Kids Can and set about providing the poorest Kenyan government schools in their area with free simple lunches of beans and maize. He progressed on to providing schools with computer centres, allowing these Kenyan kids to learn important skills and hopefully move on to breaking the poverty cycle. By the end of the book he was feeding about 20,000 kids lunch every school day. He received a CNN Hero award (see here for a video).

In the midst of all this he talks about his family and work at CVA (he ended up becoming the Guidance Counsellor). Those parts of the story are interesting too. CAJ is the only International School that I've ever encountered at close hand. The comparisons were fascinating. I had trouble putting the book down.

Here's the man himself talking about his journey.

Another point of contact was seeing how much difference the investment in one child or adult's life can make. We sponsor a child in Africa and it's exciting to think of the difference that that one little bit could make in his life, and the life of others around him in years to come. Often times I feel helpless in the face of the ginormous problems in this world. It is wonderful to see someone who feels terribly ordinary, making a big difference just where God puts him.

I definitely recommend this book, it's a great read. It brings Africa alive in a way I've never experienced before. It also brings you to the realisation that God uses ordinary and weak people in His plans in the most unexpected ways.

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

12 June, 2013

Not so panicked about the last day of school

Yesterday was the last day of school. I wasn't as terrified of school finishing as I've often been in the past.

Possibly because gradually, ever so gradually, my boys are less demanding. It's not that I don't like to spend time with them (but 24-7 for 11 weeks is a bit much, especially when
they were younger).

But also, though I may look like a Stay At Home Mum, I'm really am more like a Work From Home Mum. I only work part-time, and don't have a time-based salary, which makes my time very flexible. However it doesn't mean that I can put my work down for the 11 weeks of school holidays we've just entered. Much of my work continues.

A blog is a useful record of some past events, I've just read through the list of things I still had pending at this time last year. The list is similar this year, though I'm a little further along in some things. Interestingly we had very little end-of-school class activities and none of these sorts of emails:
You know, "We've decided to do a special book for the teachers, please have your child draw an amazing multi-coloured picture with some special words of thanks for the teacher and have it to us yesterday." (I exaggerate, but you get the idea.)
Another reason why I'm not feeling so panicky this year, is that both our younger boys will be gone for five days next week at a summer camp, leaving me with more spare time than I'll know what to do with. After our experience of them both going to Soccer Camp in
Here's another reason not to be too scared about
holidays this year: the boys are still somewhat obsessed
by this game our eldest got an extension for on his birth-
day a couple of weeks ago.
March, we know how weird it is without their presence in the house for days at a time. Next week will be weird, no doubt about it, but it will be good for finishing up things before we leave for our great Hokkaido Adventure next Sunday (23rd).

These first few days after school finishes have been panic-inducing in the past because my boys aren't fabulous with transition. And the sudden change from a highly structured school day to a relatively unstructured holiday-day is hard on us all.

Additionally I'm married to a teacher. A teacher in the American system that believes in doing exams right up to the very last day of school. So these days following all the students going on holidays is very busy at school with marking and reports. In fact David works at school right up to the end of next week, doing all variety of things, including, I'm sure, preparation for the next school year. We work well as a team, so parenting on these difficult transition days without him around has been tough in the past. Thankfully we're past most of those days as the boys grow, but I'll still be happy to have him on holidays too and seeing him get the rest that he needs after an intense year.

10 June, 2013

My favourite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe

On Saturday I did my usual quiet-Saturday activity of baking snacks for the week/s to come. I baked Chocolate Chip Cookies, Butterscotch Cookies and a light fruit cake called a Norfolk Vinegar Cake.

The butterscotch cookies came about because an American friend of mine had some butterscotch chips to give away that were past the use-by-date (significantly, but they still taste good), so I jumped at the chance to try them out for the first time ever.

Anyway, Lesley asked for my Butterscotch Cookie recipe. Truth is: it's my Chocolate Chip recipe with butterscotch "chips" substituted for chocolate chips and the nuts left out. My mum reckons you can't buy butterscotch chips in Australia. They look a lot like chocolate chips, and aren't hard like butterscotch lollies (US=candy).

The recipe is an Australian Women's Weekly recipe from the book "Kids' Party Food". As it is a copyrighted book, I'm not supposed to reproduce it here. I have found the recipe online in several places (legally or not, I'm not sure) here is one. By the way, I use only one cup of chocolate chips/butterscotch chips, instead of 1.5 cups.

The Norfolk Vinegar Cake is from a bona fide UK "English Tea Time" recipe book that my sister-in-law gave me when she and her British husband were moving back to Australia after living in the UK for a while. It's has the most unusual method I think I've ever seen for a cake, but it's pretty simple and works well as a substitute for those of us who have trouble getting mixed fruit.

So, we're set for at least the week to come and I'm getting lots of "we love your baking Mum" good vibes from the troops.

09 June, 2013

Japan Photo #36

We're almost finished our two week camping trip in Hokkaido. I've been too busy enjoying our time away to write much here, but today I thought I'd drop in another Japan photo. 

What do you think this "mark" means and where would you find it? Again, those who've lived here, please hold back and see what guesses we receive. 

Cross cultural lives

CAJ's Graduation is one of the times of year when I'm most reminded of how cross-cultural our lives are. Sometimes, because we work mostly in English it is easy to forget. Believe it or not!
All dressed up!

But I was reminded again on Friday that we cross cultures everyday. Just going to CAJ is a cross cultural experience. 

On Friday night we attended another CAJ graduation. The ceremony is very formal. And afterwards is a fun "reception" party with finger food, attended by something like 500-600 people.

My boys love going because of the food.

I like going because
  • it's fun to have an occasion to really dress up (and, in my case, not have to worry about riding a bike),
  • often I'm seeing the children of friends and colleagues graduate and that is satisfying. It is good to be there for the families, when we're almost all so far away from our own families, it is good to support one another at times like these,
  • because somehow it helps the rest of what makes up CAJ, make sense.
CAJ, as I've said before, is an American curriculum school. Therefore it is quite a foreign place for an Australian parent (or any other non-American) to step onto its campus, not to mention trying to understand and fully participate. But it also is an international school, and that is fully on display at graduation, despite the American overtones (like graduating gowns and all the terminology like valedictorian).

One of our German colleagues joined us on Friday to help our Singaporean colleagues celebrate their sons graduation. She was surprised at many things (as I mentioned in this post, many terms are new to non-Americans). But one thing she especially mentioned was the range of names in the graduating class. 

Given Names like:

And family names like:

And several students with names that reflected the mixture of cultures within their families or upbringing, eg. Sarah Miho Thompson or Anthony Taro Nakayama.*

At the end of the ceremony the benediction from Numbers 6:24-26 is said over the students in languages spoken by the graduating student's families. We had nine benedictions on Friday: Malayalam, Cantonese, Spanish, Japanese, English, Korean, Mandarin, Indonesian, and Tagalog.

A car registration/number plate we saw in Queensland last year.
I've gotten used to the formality, now that I've been to a few I find I can relax more with the strangeness of it all. But there is a little bit of the Queenslander in me that says, "Let's just relax a little bit here."

*Not the actual names of students

07 June, 2013

Live CAJ graduation feed

Last year's graduating class
Here is something interesting you might want to check out, if you happen to be home later today. From 7pm Japan time (8pm AEST), you can see CAJ's graduation via a live feed. You may have read my thoughts on CAJ's graduation before. I wrote in 2009 before and after for my first ever impressions of the event, and the sad event in 2011.

Today you have a chance to see it (or a bit of it) for yourself here.
Now I know what I wore last year
to graduation! Here I am with other
OMF mums who had kids at CAJ last
year. The lady on the left of the photo
has her second son graduating tonight.

06 June, 2013

An irksome problem

This weeks I've been working my way through a problem that you don't think about when you read a magazine, and indeed it is a problem that magazine editors try very hard not to have.

I guess that every magazine has a slightly differently process, but recently, we've been allocating articles to the magazine fairly early, most of them before they've even been written.

The magazine I'm managing editor for is not high profile, like Reader's Digest—we don't have piles of non-solicited articles pouring in. Our magazine is written by missionaries, most of whom are very busy working, not writing articles.

Recently, though, the strategy we've used for procuring articles is to give a theme to each issue and call for articles via the group email system that our organisation (Japan Evangelical Missionary Association) uses. This has worked very well, and now we're getting more proposals than we can publish.

Based on these proposals we decide what we'll include and then an author has about six weeks to write their article. This is a good system, but like any system can go wrong.

This week I've had a glitch. I've been working with one author for many weeks on her article, which at first seemed promising, but has turned out not to work very well. On Monday I got feedback from one of my team members that the article wasn't as good as I'd hoped and she questioned whether it should be published. Hmmm, a whiz around my internationally-based editing team (one was in the US), and they all agreed, so I pulled the article (and had to write a rejection "letter").

That was the "easy" part, though I didn't write that rejection letter lightly. The harder part I'm still dealing with. That article was slated to take up two pages of our 40 page magazine. Suddenly I need to quickly find some replacement content. At this point it is too late to commission another article, which irks me, because we had more proposals than we could accept. It also irks me, because it falls on my lap to find something suitable to replace this article with.

Thankfully it is a topic that I am not unfamiliar with—TCKs or Third Culture Kids. But I'd value your prayers as I work this through.

Below is a more general monthly prayer email I sent out early this week.

Pray for Japan Harvest magazine

Thank you for your prayers for Japan Harvest during May. Here are some up-to-date prayer points for the magazine.

  • The Spring issue is out and looks good.
  • Dates have been set for the next two Writer’s Workshops. Registration opens this week for the November workshop in the Tokyo area.
  • The encouragement of seeing a growing number of writers and the increasing quality of the magazine.
  • The Summer issue is coming together but as I mentioned last month, our designer is due to have her second baby this month, right around the time that we'll be finishing up the issue. Pray that we'll be able to work around this. Pray she'll have a good birth and easy baby!
  • For participants for our Writer's Workshop in November.
  • We've received many proposals for articles for our Autumn issue on Member Care issues. Pray for the editorial meeting on the 7th of June where we'll decide which proposals to pursue.
  • Our goal is to encourage, inspire, and equip the members of the JEMA community. This magazine is the official publication of the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA). Pray that we'll serve the community well.
  • Japan Harvest team (listed below) is put together by volunteers. All of us have other responsibilities. Six of us are mums with young children. Pray we would all use our time wisely and work smoothly together.
  • We're still looking for a News Editor/coordinator and writer/s for the Member Care column/department.
Here is the list of our Japan Harvest team:

Executive Editor: Gary Bauman
Managing Editor: Wendy Marshall
Art Director, Production Editor: April Mack
Associate Editor: Rachel Hughes
Fact Checker: Georgia Anderson
Proofreader: Evangeline Kindervater
Advertising Director: Yuko Miyata
Administration Assistant: Yuka Oguro
Plus the translators for our News section: Atsuko Tateishi, Tomoko Kato, and Tim Williams.

Thank you for your continuing prayers.

Please pass this along to others who might be interested in praying for the ministry of Japan Harvest.

05 June, 2013

Parenting: always letting go

Last week on Monday we released our eldest son to make another step towards adulthood. He went to his wrestling club on his own. As I wrote here, it is a 45 minute journey involving two trains and one of the busiest train stations in the world.

This is a journey of about 22 km.
We enjoy considerable freedom here in Japan, especially in respect to safety and allowing the kids to get themselves around. I wrote a bit about that here.

Even though this is a relatively safe journey, it was still a big step to take, letting him do this (before we did, we accompanied him on the journey with him four times prior to letting him go it alone). And I have to admit I felt a bit shaky.

His biggest concern was managing the language at wrestling. My biggest concern was disaster planning.

One of the concerns with earthquakes is that they disrupt the train system. So if you rely on the trains to get home, and they stop on you, you're in a little bit of a bother, especially if you're a 14 year old foreigner without much Japanese and less idea of Tokyo's geography.

One of the weird images from the March 11 earthquake was rivers of people walking along train lines that night to get home. We heard stories of people walking many kilometres home in business shoes, or other people borrowing bikes to ride across Tokyo. And that was without major damage in the city.

The other thing that happened that afternoon/night was a serious disruption of mobile phone service. The internet worked fine, but phones took a while to get up and running again. I'm not sure why, perhaps they were overwhelmed with the number of people using the system?

First line of defence in a tricky situation would be for our son to call us, but if that isn't working and neither are the trains, it is tricky.

You might think this seems a bit extreme, but these are the sorts of things you must think about when you live in an earthquake prone country.

So, what have we done to plan for this possible eventuality?

We've photocopied the pages of our road map (which is all in Japanese), and added some English to help him out. If necessary, he could use this to walk home.I hope and pray that it won't ever be necessary, but there are no guarantees in this life.

As for our son's concern about language, his CAJ coach laughed off that concern saying, "The coach is a nice guy." And it's true. Not to mention, if we don't tip him into the deep end sometime, he'll never learn much of the language at all.

So, it's a continuation of the theme of parenting: teach and release. Constantly preparing them for the day when they'll need to function as independent adults.

04 June, 2013

Unexpected cultural divide

Many years ago an older friend with three children, who had five siblings, some of whom were single, told us it was a challenge to cope with the differences between the single aunts and married siblings. The singles had more resources: time and money, to heap upon nieces and nephews than the married ones did.

Divide between multiple children families and single children families
This level of formality for the end of middle school
seems extreme to my Australian eyes. The next day
an elaborate lunch was organised after numerous long
meetings (in classic Japanese style, the numerous
meetings, that is).
Now I'm finding a similar divide, not in my own family (all our siblings are married and have children), but with fellow parents at school. There seems to be a larger number of one child families around and I find that difficult. Mostly because they have more resources to devote to that single child: time and money. I love my kids no less, but my time and energy has to be split between the three of them. And our budget too, accommodates three children, not just one.

This becomes especially noticeable at school events. We cannot be at everything all our kids do. Nor do we have the time to devote huge amounts of it to one child's celebratory event. I guess our laid-back Australian-mess comes out then too. We just don't do formal celebrations to quite the level that other nations seem to.

I'm a conscientious person and I find that I struggle with guilt on these occasions. I say, "No," to participating in or planning various events, but then suffer with guilt. Occasionally it all gets a bit much and, instead of thinking about things rationally, I start to get resentful about a situation and other people. Not right thinking, I know, but I do struggle with it.

Divide between Western and Asian cultures in celebrations
Last Friday and Saturday were classic examples. Despite CAJ being a largely American-style school, about 1/3 of the students are Japanese by nationality (and many others have American nationality, but have one Japanese parent), another good percentage (?17%) are Korean. Both Japanese and Korean people are big on ceremony. This strongly influences the school in many ways. We keep hearing from people who've been around here longer than we have about the changes that have seeped into the school over the years (I'm thinking especially about the ones that aren't Leadership Team directed).

So, we end up with large celebrations at the end of middle school. Something that doesn't happen in Australia or America (as far as I know). I had to pull myself into line on Saturday and realise that what we were seeing happen was significant to those from different cultural backgrounds than my own. Different, not wrong. And because it was significant to others, it was important to honour them.

So, I got a double dose of culture shock at the end of last week: from Asian families with only one child.

Culture shock doesn't end after those first couple years of life in another country. Sometimes it broadsides you later on too!

03 June, 2013

Japan Photo #35 Answer

Caroline was 100% correct with her answer for this photo.

She wrote:
Is it a bottle for spraying oil?
I think I've seen one before (in Melbourne some years ago), and the tube in the lid is for pressurising it.
I've got no idea why you're so excited, unless it's that you can't get spray cans of oil in Japan (assuming that I'm right about what it is!).
Yes, it is a bottle for spraying oil (or vinegar or other things, if you so wish). You fill it with oil, hand pump and then spray.

It is a wonderful item because you can't buy spray cans of oil here (or at least I haven't seen them in any local shops). I've previously bought spray cans through FBC, a foreign import company. Now, not only can I just use the olive oil from my kitchen, but I'm environmentally friendly too, no extra waste!

It's amazing the different things that you just assume will be in another country, but aren't. Spraying oil is one thing I took for granted in Australia.

I didn't buy this wonderful item in a Japanese store, though, it was a Costco purchase, so I wondered if it was becoming a common item in Western countries. Seems not, at least not yet.