29 November, 2013

Japan Photo #44

Another question for those who haven't had the privilege of coming to Japan. I think this is pretty easy, but what do you reckon? 

What are these used for?

28 November, 2013

Off to camp

This afternoon we're off on our camping trip. The town is called Hokuto and as the day is so clear, we should get a nice view of Mt Fuji as we scoot past it on the way there (you can barely see it at the bottom of the map). It will take us about 2 hours to get there via express way (and lots of tunnels), but it is only 130km away.
The weather looks great, though without cloud cover it's going to get cold at night.

We're all excited. See you when we get back!

27 November, 2013

It's starting!

Last night we went to a "Wrestling Rules Clinic" held by CAJ's wrestling coaches. They explained the basics of freestyle wrestling and especially explained the new rules that have been introduced this year. I just read through the blog post I wrote about my first experience watching my son wrestle. Wow, I understand a lot more now and I'm glad about that. It makes watching these meets much more enjoyable and less confusing.

While we enjoyed the rule clinic our younger two wrestled on the mats at the side. They wished there were some others their size there, but still had fun in a padded area much larger than our lounge room!

The excitement is rising around here: wrestling season is here. There are three meets in the next couple of weeks. The new thing for us this year is the format, it is high school and, as I understand it, the school only can have one or two representatives per weight class (depending on the meet rules and how many wrestlers the other team has). So not everyone necessarily gets to compete every time. I'm not sure how that's going to pan out for our son. It depends, too, on the weights of the other wrestlers in the team.

So, we'll see how it all pans out. But nonetheless I'm glad of the opportunity. Watching wrestling is kind-of addictive. If you're interested in seeing some action, here is a link to a match at the Atlanta Olympics, won by a Japanese wrestler.

I was encouraged too, by one of the coaches encouraging us as spectators, saying how important it was for the team that we were there. I love it that I have the opportunity to encourage and support our son in this passion of his.

The funny phrase going around here is that our son knows he needs to work on his offensive wrestling. So he says, "I need to be more offensive." Which, of course, can be taken two ways!

26 November, 2013

Craving Space

We're going camping again on Thursday. It is our third annual end of November camp, during CAJ's Thanksgiving Break. We're sooo looking forward to it. The boys too! We're returning to the same campsite we used the last two years at this time, so we know what the facilities are like and the fun that is to be had.

One benefit to camping at this time of year is that you don't have insects or sunburn to worry about. The main challenge is the cold. Forecast is for sunny weather, with about 11°C  to 1°C. That's not too bad at all, if you're prepared.

There are many things to look forward to, but I think one of the deepest ones, for us adults anyway, is the space. We're small-town Aussies who just get tired of the squishiness of Tokyo. I realised this again while talking to a Japanese friend at the gym today. Her son has just returned from a working holiday in Australia and one of the things he loved about our home country was the space.

The view across the valley from the campsite at sunrise
Here are some examples of the squishiness of our daily life in Tokyo:

  • Walking to school the boys have no footpath most of the way. What they have is less than a metre strip on the side of the road if a car zooms by.
  • If I walk out my front door, I'm practically on the street. If it look out almost any window in our house I see another house within a few metres.
  • Our car and bikes are parked precisely. There is little room for error.
  • In winter we heat only the rooms we're using. So, on a weekend during the day that is mainly the lounge-dining-kitchen area. Therefore often we're all in there.
  • On Saturday we went to watch our youngest boy's elementary choir perform. I found my eldest son reluctant to leave at interval. He was gazing around the concert hall and said, "This is the largest room I've been in for quite a while!"
  • When I ride my bike through the city to the gym, I'm dodging pedestrians and bikes everywhere.
  • On the trains, you're usually shoulder-to-shoulder with someone else. Frequently you get pushed.
  • The gym is similarly crowded. You're usually exercising at all times within 1 m of someone else, and I time my visits there for the least crowded times.
  • Park golf course at the campsite
  • It's hard to ride your bike as fast as you'd like because you're always slowing down for other bikes, cars, pedestrians, and various obstacles.
That's just a few examples, not to whinge, but to give you an idea that, though we're fairly used to life here and content, we are keen to get out of the city when we can.

So, bring on the camping!

25 November, 2013

Japan Photo #43 Answer

I asked you on Friday if you knew what this is:

It took an person of Asian background to get it. island guessed "for our ears". It is indeed an Ear Pick. 

Never heard of such a thing? It is apparently a common service that Japanese (or even more broadly, Asian?) mothers perform for their children and wives perform for their husbands: cleaning the ear canal. And, apparently, it is extremely pleasurable for some. This article, about Ear-cleaning Parlours in Tokyo, will give you more information (possibly more than you want to know).

I want to assure you that I've never used one!

24 November, 2013

Photo-a-Day: Week Four

November 18: mirror. 

This is the only full-length mirror in the house. The original mirror was a present to me from my husband. No one else around here cares much what they look like head-to-foot when they're going somewhere special, but I do, so David bought it for me. This one is tethered to the wall because its predecessor was smashed when it fell down after an energetic boy running about the house ran into it. 

November 19: where I ate breakfast.

As usual, with my family at home. Unfortunately David was missing today, he had a work breakfast, but he still made school lunches and organised breakfast before he left. He's amazing!

November 20: communication

Communication is my job! Ironically it means that I spend significant hours sitting at this computer in the corner of our dining room, talking to no one. Writing, emailing, and editing: that's what I do. It adds up to a lot of communication, but often not face-to-face.

November 21: I wish I had this.

A small en suite (this is the en suite in the house we lived in for 12 months 2009-2010). Two reasons:
1. I wouldn't have to compete for the shower room with my sons.
2. It would be warmer than our breezy, cavernous shower room here.

November 22: behind

Every week a good portion of our groceries travel home behind me on my bike. 

November 23: simplicity

Hot Dogs for dinner tonight. A simple meal. 

November 24: a word. 

Now this was really hard to choose. As a writer and editor I deal with words a lot and I notice them more than the average person. 

But here is one word that captures a lot. It is a Japanese word read "eiko" and means glory. This is on my son's wrestling tracksuit pants. It comes from the CAJ wrestling team's motto: Doxa, Greek for glory, as used in the Bible. I love it that the team has this motto, but it is also really the motto for our family's lives. We're seeking to glorify God through our lives, wherever that may be. 

23 November, 2013

Today: feeling fragile, content, and hopeful.

I'm feeling a little fragile over here.

Got one of "those" emails from school yesterday and we have one of "those" meetings on Monday. I loathe "those" situations and have to fight terribly with my thoughts to remind myself that I'm not being judged (at least that's what they reassure me) by the teachers.

Then I had an uncomfortable conversation today with another missionary parent. One in which I felt judged about my parenting, as well as about the "outrageousness" of doing a year home assignment. Arggghhh. I hate conversations like that. Where the other person feels they are right and you are definitely wrong, and there is nothing that you can say to reconcile the two because the other person isn't open to understanding. We didn't argue, but I surely came away feeling yucky.

On the up-side, today I attended my first off-campus event as a CAJ parent-of-fine-arts-participant. Up till this year we had no one doing any group extra-curricular music at school.

Our eldest son has shown no interest in either musical instruments or choirs.

Our middle son hasn't been interested in giving up play time to join the elementary choir, which meets after school. But this year he's learning percussion in school time and joined the 5th grade band, which is also in-school time. As the band consists of beginners, we haven't seen them perform yet, though I believe that will be rectified next month at the Christmas Concert.

Our youngest son joined the elementary choir just as soon as he could: 3rd grade. Today I accompanied the choir to a concert put on by a neighbouring local government, in a beautiful venue.

The concert went for three hours, but as it involved kids they had two intermissions as well as some nice interactive stuff in the last hour. I particularly enjoyed the two bands that played.

It's a pity that we spent all day inside, however, because this hall is on the edge of one of our favourite parks and it was a gorgeous day! At least three members of the family were able to enjoy the park. David took the older two home before the concert was over, deciding that they'd be unlikely to remain content for the whole three hours.
I captured this on the edge of the park on our way home.
Tonight I'm looking forward to a quiet night. We've had a run of later nights. Wednesday is always late, with the younger two doing karate till 7. Thursday we went to a "Co-corricular Dessert Evening" to celebrate the accomplishments of those who  represented our school in sports and fine arts in the last few months. Friday night we had guests over for dinner. Tonight, however, there is nothing on. I'm happy! David and I might even get a 45 minute episode of CSI in.

22 November, 2013

Japan Photo #43

Can you guess what this is used for? (Those who've lived in Japan, hold back on this and let's see who can guess.)

21 November, 2013

What do we do with all this disaster news?

Bushfires in New South Wales, typhoons in the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and Guam, mudslides in Japan, floods in Japan, hail storms in Queensland, earthquakes in Japan, tornadoes in the US. All this is recent and I feel like I'm being slammed by disaster news too often. I don't know what to do with it all.

Earlier in the month I read Philip Yancey's recent (e)book, The Question That Never Goes Away.* He writes that because he's written on the topic of suffering before (most notably, Where is God When it Hurts?) he continues to be invited to talk on the topic.

He was invited to Japan last year for the one year anniversary of the earthquake/tsunami/ nuclear disaster. He was invited the same year to Sarajevo, a city that suffered under siege for four years, and at the end of that year was invited to speak to the community in the US where a man gunned down first graders and staff (Sandy Hook Elementary School).

So he writes:
I am well aware that no book can "solve' the problem of pain. Yet I feel compelled to pass along what I have learned from the land of suffering. (Ebook location 119)
Yancey asks, Where is God? and comes up with three answers.

1. God is on the side of the sufferer. He shares in our suffering. God does not overwhelm human freedom or even prevent evil from happening. Rather, what some meant for evil, God redeemed for good. (In the case of evil things happening that people cause directly.)

2. Where is God when it hurts? God is now in the church, God's delegated presence on earth. It might even be rephrased, "Where is the church when it hurts?"
Time will not heal all wounds. Even God will not heal all wounds, at least not in this life. Meanwhile, we in the church have work to do. Some have particular gifts . . . All of us have the power of love. Suffering isolates, batters self-image, ravages hope; a loving presence can prevail over all three. (Location 1221)
He writes, "If the church does its job, people don't torment themselves wondering where God is. They know the answer. God becomes visible though people."

3. God is preparing a new and perfect home for us. Jesus asks for our trust that he's got our future under control.

He quotes Terry Waite, who was a hostage for four years in Lebanon,
I have been determined in captivity, and still am determined, to convert this experience into something that will be useful and good for other people. I think that's the best way to approach suffering. It seems to me that Christianity doesn't in any way lessen suffering. What it does is enable you to take it, to fact it, to work through it, and eventually to convert it. (Location 1254)
So, we "cling to the promise that the God of all comfort has not abandoned us but continues a slow and steady work to restore what evil and death have spoiled."

And he ends the book with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian martyr during the Nazi regime. He wrote this shortly before his execution.
I believe that God can and will generate good out of everything, even out of the worst evil. For that, he needs people who allow that everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.
I believe that God will give us in each state of emergency as much power of resistance as we need. But he will not give in advance, so that we do not rely on ourselves but on Him alone. Through such faith all anxiety concerning the future should be overcome.
I believe that even our mistakes and failings are not in vain, and that it is not more difficult for God to cope with these as with our assumed good deeds.
I believe that God is not a timeless fate, but that He waits for and responds to honest prayers and responsible action. (Location 1264-5)
There is no stopping these disasters. We can but continue to pray to our God who cares, that good will come out of these this suffering. We can but continue to play our part in "being present" in whatever way God calls us to be. We can but continue to look forward to the time when all will be right again and suffering will no longer be a given. And we can continue to know that we are not abandoned.

 * See here for his blog post about the book.

20 November, 2013

Feeling capable is undervalued

Today I went to the dentist. A pretty ordinary thing to do. It was simply a check-up and a clean.

However, life overseas is rarely as simple as life in your home country. Early last year I had some dental drama that led me to change dentists. The drama related to my inability to speak Japanese well enough for our family dentist and their unwillingness to speak simple Japanese to me. It ended up with them insisting that I bring my Japanese husband next time. Yes, they assumed that I had one! So, I decided to change dentists. I explained it in more detail here.

One of the things I hate about living in Japan with less-than-satisfactory-Japanese ability is my dependence on my very capable husband and a general feeling of inadequateness. I expanded on that a little bit here when were in Australia last home assignment and I was noting how much more competent I felt in Australia.

So the significant thing about today's ordinary dentist's visit is that I did it all by myself. I made the appointment, I went on my own and made it through independent of any help. I probably would have made it through without the dentist speaking any English because he was kind enough to use simple Japanese, but he then repeated himself in simple English. Just a small kindness, but so much appreciated.

But I am looking forward to going back to Australia for a year and not feeling so fragile when it comes to managing my own affairs.

19 November, 2013

An admission of brokenness

I've just read a book, The Beauty of Broken, by Elisa Morgan, that's encouraged me in my parenting; and that's pretty rare these days. Its main premise is, as it says on the front cover: There's no such thing as a perfect family.

The author of this book was the president of MOPS International for 20 years. She came from a broken family (divorce and alcoholism) and tried super hard to make her "second family", the family she created when she married and then adopted children, perfect. She bought into the lie that if you have "perfect family values" you will create children that turn out "alright".

The book is the story about how her family didn't "turn out okay". However, it is not just a book about her and the brokenness of her family. She actively encourages her readers by pointing them to God. That he creates beauty out of broken things, that he understands that we're all broken. God loves the broken, and uses the broken.
Gradually I faced the reality that God did not evaluate my  mothering by how perfectly or imperfectly my children developed. Rather, he expected me to address how I influenced my children by how I yielded to his love for me and then acted it out in life. Period. He did not ask me to control their responses, their choices, or their consequences...I could not fix my family—my first family or my second—any more than I could fix myself. I was broken. They were broken. I was to offer myself to God and to allow him to use my best, but still flawed, mothering to shape their development. (Location 906).
How freeing, is that? That doesn't mean I don't have responsibility for how I conduct myself as a parent (and wife, sister, adult daughter), but it does mean that there is a limit on what I am responsible for. How come I struggle with this so much? I'm always telling my youngest son he's not responsible for his older brothers. I'm often telling the boys that they're only responsible for their reaction to their brothers, not changing how their brother's react...listen to yourself Wendy!

Here's another good quote from the book:
Parenting, like all tasks under the sun, is intended as an endeavor of love, risk, perseverance, and above all, faith. It is faith rather than formula, grace rather than guarantees, steadfastness rather than success that bridges the gap between our own parenting efforts, and what, by God's grace, our children grow up to become. (This actually comes from Leslie Leyland Fields, , "The Myth of the Perfect Parent," Christianity Today, january 2010, 27.)
No parent, no matter how dedicated, expert, present, and loving, can produce a perfectly healthy and happy adult. Such a feat is simply not within our power.
That's scary and releasing at the same time. Scary, because there are no guarantees about the sorts of adults my kids will turn out to be. Releasing, because I'm not responsible for their choices. My success as a parent doesn't depend on them making good choices. God doesn't judge me by that.

I definitely recommend this book. It's been a great encouragement to me as I push onwards with these imperfect human beings God's given me, this imperfect mum, to parent.

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.

18 November, 2013

The bag-sewing drama

New sleeping bag bag.
Following up on this post last weekend about sewing bags for camping. I finally finished this relatively simple job last night.

At least it should have been a relatively simple job. Just two draw-string bags.

But I encountered several problems.

After sewing one and a half seams of the purple sleeping-bag bag my sewing machine pedal stopped working! We completed the seam by manually manipulating the sewing machine, then gave that up as a bad idea. So I asked a friend if I could borrow hers.

She'd been given her machine by a friend who was leaving Japan (common story of acquisition amongst missionaries). But she'd not tried out the machine since she'd received it. I don't think it's been serviced in a while. It clunked! And, rather than working, it broke threads and a needle. I threaded and rethreaded. I even unscrewed some bits to see if there was anything out of place, but nothing seemed to work.

In the meantime I realised that the circle I'd cut out for the bottom was too big, so I had several goes at trimming it, pinning it, re-trimming, re-pinning, until I got it all right.

Then the second machine finally sewed one seam (the final seam of the purple bag).

I then changed projects and changed threads. The machine wouldn't sew anything else for me!

New tent bag
So I vented my frustration on Facebook. And another friend offered her machine, which I picked up by bike yesterday before lunch (she was surprised, but I never even considered taking my car one km down the road, obviously I'm becoming somewhat Japanese).

This machine was shiny, new and electronic, but I'd forgotten to ask for the manual. So I had to figure out a new machine, especially the thread tension. That took a while.

But then, it sewed! And I was powering through the tent bag yesterday.

Then I realised that we wanted to plunder the old bag for extra straps and an handle. So I had to unpick that from the old bag, then figure out how to sew it onto the new bag.

Finally I got that sorted and sewn on (although the thread tension was still weird, so it isn't pretty on the inside).

I quickly sewed the draw-string casing at the top and headed for the final task: sew the bottom onto the bag. This time I discovered that I'd given the wrong circumference to one of my mathematical sons to figure out the diameter of the circle. It was too small! Choice time: cut out another circle or taper the end of the bag to the right size. I chose the second (PS if I could go back, I'd choose the first). I tapered, then pinned, then re-tapered, then re-pinned and did that one last time when it finally fit. And the machine sewed!

Because I was nearly at the end of the project I skimped on how much thread I put on the bobbin and paid for that: having to rethread it several times throughout the project. But finally, at 10pm last night I finished. I insisted that we put the cord in and then the tent into the bag to prove that I had actually achieved my goal.

In conclusion:
I'm happy with how it looks and the fact that they work. But I wouldn't get an award for efficiency or neat sewing. It took way too long! But it's done and we have two new bags to go camping with next weekend!

I'm also happy that I have a community around me who I can ask for help. It's what friends and neighbours do, isn't it? Borrowing sewing machines! I love it that God's given us so many friends (even if their sewing machines don't always work).

17 November, 2013

Photo a Day: Week Three

November 11: Memories. 

This looks like a grubby pot. However it wasn't that way earlier in the year. This pot came camping with us for over two weeks during summer and got used over fires. When I look at the black smudges I remember the fun of camping, and the yummy food we cooked. 

November 12: Clouds. 

Yesterday afternoon a rain front came through and temperatures dropped dramatically. We woke up to a grim winter-like day with gray skies. I went to school, all rugged up, to help my fifth grader's class make a Pilgrim's meal (interesting). While we were outside cooking the clouds lifted and revealed some blue sky. This photo is across the playground towards the train station.

November 13: Part of Me.

My left hand. As my dominant hand, it has served me well. It also is host to a reminder of another part of me, my husband David. He gave me these rings in 1997. It is impossible to describe myself fully without reference to him these days. We are indeed two parts of a whole.

November 14: Eating. 

I'm happily eating lunch on my own today and looking at the precious sunlight shining into our dining room. The sunlight will disappear before the end of the month, the reality of crowded Tokyo in winter where neighbouring houses block sunlight, so it is precious when we have it.

November 15: in my purse.

Well, this one is a bit revealing! I presume by this prompt that she wanted the contents of my "handbag". I call my "purse" what I keep my money in. 

In any case, I've (almost) emptied my bag. The bag that goes most places with me. Any surprises? Not many. As I mostly get around on foot or on my bike, I try to carry the minimal amount with me. I did find a 10 yen coin, and a lolly (candy) wrapper. Some hair bands? I no longer have long enough hair to use them, but I have rescued a bad situation with my emergency supply at least once in the last couple of years.

Maybe you're surprised by something? For example, my Japanese "handkerchief" useful for drying hands in public restrooms, or cleaning up spills. An essential in Japan.

What else?
  • phone and purse
  • prescription sunnies
  • emergency supplies: tissues, bandaids, pain killers, asthma spray, herbal migraine fix, eye drops, alcohol cleanser, moisturiser, lip balm
  • bike, car and house keys
  • eco friendly bag, plus a small plastic bag for rubbish
  • Curves money (saving to buy in-house products)
  • pen, pencil
  • something to fiddle with if I'm stuck in a situation where I'm a bit bored, but have to look interested, and sit quietly (my secret toy).

November 16: play. 

With five boys at our house overnight, there's been plenty of wrestling-play here in the last 24 hrs. 

November 17: 5pm

I love this time of day on a Sunday. It usually involves some form of together-family recreational activity. Today my husband is playing Australian Risk (as created by my eldest son) with two of our sons. I'm sewing a new bag for our tent in the same room. Our third son periodically puts his nose into the room to check on our progress. 

16 November, 2013

Yesterday: some odd bits

Yesterday had some unusual features. 
I think he was having trouble holding up that sheet!
Strangely enough, with long hair and a "skirt" he looked
quite graceful, must be all that sport!
Around lunch time I went to school to watch my non-theatrical oldest son perform in a play he and a small group wrote from a Greek story: Eros and Psyche. His part was Aphrodite, goddess of love! That's what happens when you don't pay enough attention to what the group is doing when their allocating parts! All the 6th and 9th graders were doing these plays. It is known fondly as "Greek Day" at CAJ, and is apparently a long-held tradition.
A tangle of bodies!
After school we walked to the doctor to get our annual flu vaccinations (all of us having varying tendencies to develop asthma). Then I walked around the block to the home of a friend of our youngest son to collect him. It was going to be a big night of boys! Our middle son also had a friend staying the night (while his mum participated in a Senior "lock in"–basically a sleep-over at school). So, we had five boys in the house last night.

We know how to look after boys: we fed them, then set them free to wrestle in the lounge room. That was quite something to see, five boys in that small space! Thankfully only one of them was "large". When they tired, we split them up for a while, then made popcorn and turned a movie on. After all that we didn't have much trouble getting them all to bed by about 9pm.

Yes, there was more wrestling this morning. And, thankfully, the weather is gorgeous today and they are old enough to be "chucked out" of the house to go and play in a nearby small park. Yay!

With two of our three boys on the introverted side of things, we don't often have guests, nor sleep-overs. So this was an unusual piece of fun. And neatly timed: November is between sporting seasons, so we didn't have to get up early this morning.

We're now back to our usual three boys again. I just gave our extroverted, thrill-seeking youngest son a "this is what life is like" talk about the mountain peaks and valleys of life. "Life isn't full of mountain peaks and after the thrill of the last 18 hours, you need to take some time to come back to a normal level of excitement." He was on the hunt for more and more excitement, but it simply wasn't going to be there!

I'm now going to bake a banana cake and try to get a troublesome sewing machine to work. My sewing project was going brilliantly, until the foot pedal on my machine stopped working last weekend. I'm on a time limit. We need these bags before we go camping in just 12 days!

15 November, 2013

My "baby"

One page in this small calendar. I love
the green theme of this page!
One of the great things about being an editor and writer is that you get to hold the product of your work in your hand. This week I got to take this calendar home, with the satisfaction that "I did it!"

It is an annual project that I put together for OMF missionaries in Japan, especially for their use as gifts for supporters back home. It's a little project, but very satisfying.

Strangely enough I wrote a post on the same topic this same day (15th Nov.) last year!

On the other hand, what is strange as an editor or writer is seeing people looking at or reading "your baby" without them realising that it is "yours".

Is this something you've experienced? Someone enjoying your "baby" without realising your relationship to it?

14 November, 2013

Not on the clock?

Screen shot of "Project Time Log"
I'm busy writing and editing today. I've mentioned here before that I'm on the look out for someone who can take over this Managing Editor's job while we're in Australia from June next year. People keep asking me how many hours a week the job takes.

Trouble is, I'm not on the clock. I'm not paid, and therefore don't clock in or out. In fact my usual modus operandi is to sit at this computer and work on several different things at (almost) the same time.
I can go from writing a prayer letter, to answering an email about the magazine, to checking a fact for an article, to answering an enquiry from the OMF website, to answering an email about another publishing project, to jotting down an idea for a blog post, and back to writing the prayer letter. In the middle there (if I'm being very naughty and disorganised), I could drop by Facebook. But I try not to! 
Does that sound a little ADHDish? I suspect I'm not the only person who works this way.

So from today I'm trying to monitor my hours spent on the magazine, we'll see how long I manage it for. I've found a iPhone app called "Project Time Log" that keeps a track of my time (as long as I press start on the timer). So far today I've spent (approximately) 1 hr 31 minutes and 24 seconds on the magazine. We'll see how long this diligence lasts! It does mean that I can't easily flit between the magazine work and other work, because that means fiddling with my phone. Maybe it'll help me be more focused.

In other news, we're getting a wrestling buzz going here. Focused training began more than
a week ago at school. The high schoolers train for more than two hours a day, five days a week. Even though our high schooler's been training on and off through the summer, he's been feeling sore. He even managed to score a bruised eye socket by kneeing himself in the eye. No lasting harm done. Don't ask how he did it (he couldn't even explain). When these guys get going there can be a serious tangling of limbs!

The first meet is on Dec 3 and I'm hoping to be able to go. The big talk amongst the wrestlers is the weight category that they want to be in by the time the season starts. For some of them that means losing weight! It seems a bit crazy to us: these fit teenagers don't have much extra on them. Some of them are still growing, and even those that aren't are still becoming men: more dense than they were last year. We'll see what happens.

In any case, the wrestling buzz is going off in our house, and the guys love to wrestle in our lounge room after dinner before going to bed. Tomorrow night our youngest son has his first over-night guest. I'm thinking that there might be more wrestling than usual going on tomorrow!

13 November, 2013

Japan Photo #42 answer

Last week I posed this question (here):
Can you tell me where I found these leaves for sale? Bonus points if you can tell my why I might spend 250 yen (AU$2.50) on them.
Well, I had few responses. Carol correctly guessed exactly which shop I found them (she's a local): a fruit and vegetable shop. And there were several guesses as to what I would do with them if I'd bought them, including use them for wrapping mochi (pounded rice treat) or onigiri (rice balls) or even in tempura.

Today I put the question to my two language-exchange partners. Though they are both Japanese, neither could come up with a good reason for why these were for sale in a fruit and vegetable shop.

The small-print writing indicates the contents are fruit, though they clearly aren't. So my friends' best guess was that it was a mistake.

So I guess we'll never know! Which is true for many things when you're living in a culture that you didn't grow up in. Many, many things you just don't know or don't know why. That is highlighted when you get visitors from "home" who ask all the "why" questions, many of which you have to answer, "I don't know." It is strange or even frustrating  to them, I'm sure. But, in order to not drive yourself crazy, you do learn to be comfortable with a high level of mystery about your country of residence.

12 November, 2013

Shocked and sickened!

Last night I was shocked to see a news report on Japanese TV that talked of the discovery of 1,699 disabled people who'd been abused in Japan in the last 6 months.

Here is an excerpt from this newspaper article:
The health ministry has confirmed that more than 1,500 disabled people were abused, most of them by relatives, in the six months through March this year.
Local governments nationwide received reports or were consulted over a total of 4,502 cases of allged abuse against disabled people in the six months after a law to prevent abuse of the disabled came into effect in October last year. Of this number, abuse was confirmed to have occurred in 1,524 cases involving 1,699 victims, according to the first such survey ever conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
The survey found that more than 80 percent of the 1,524 cases involved abuse by relatives of the disabled people. Three victims died as a result of the abuse they suffered.
The TV report included more detailed information about one of the care homes that has been found guilty. They gave an example of a man in his 70s who'd come to live in the home after receiving a head injury 10 years ago. Since he'd been in the the home, it was recorded that he's had 70 injuries, three of which were broken bones. The report went on to quote care givers who said things like,
"We hit them to get them to finish their food faster. There were others waiting for it. It worked the first time, so we kept doing it." 
"He refused to get out of bed, so he was punched." 
"We all had our own threshold of acceptable violence." 
"Some patients were found to have been abused daily."
I felt sick! I know that in Japan these caregivers are frequently poorly paid and trained, and there is a high turn-over. But behaviour like this is abysmal. I find it hard to find the words to describe how evil it is to treat other human beings with such a lack of compassion and dignity.

I also know that this is a world-wide problem. I don't want to be judgmental, because I've worked a bit in this field and know it can be extremely frustrating and exhausting. Care givers endure a lot and suffer a lot of stress. BUT these people with disabilities often have no voice to complain. We need to be their advocates.

I'm glad that the laws have changed in Japan and this area is being exposed. I'm also glad to discover that Australia currently has a National project on abuse and neglect of People with Disability takes shape-5 August 2013.

11 November, 2013

Boys don't smile: some advice

How many times have you been in a group photograph with kids and had lots of trouble getting everyone to smile? With three boys, we have terrible trouble! I remember a family situation about four years ago. It was one of those rare times when all the kids and adults of a certain part of a family were together and a photograph was "required". One family, who've only got girls, couldn't understand why one of my boys wouldn't cooperate. It was nearly a very nasty situation!

We have a friend who used to be a photographer, well she still is, but not so much professionally these days. She's taken a a couple of great portraits of our family in the last 12 months and one day some time ago, she wrote the below (yes, she's also a writer) in a Facebook comment. I thought it had some useful insight that might benefit others.

When it comes to younger kids, I have found that every girl secretly (or not so secretly) believes she is a star. A princess. A diva. She *loves* the attention of the camera because it fulfills this desire to be paid attention to and adored.
Here is a classic case of a photo gone wrong (aside from
from it being out of focus). Clearly our eldest son
was "done" with photo taking that day.

Boys see it as an obligation, and obligations are not fun. So they don't cooperate as well until you make them forget there's a camera between them and the photographer. Get them to enjoy themselves/have the photographer say and do silly things with them, and they start to smile. That's why "fart" and "boogers" works best with them. They're not supposed to say those things, but they all find it funny, and so receiving permission (even encouragement!) to act a bit silly makes them happy... and they forget about obligation that comes with a camera.

It's not as easy as kids get older. They become self-conscious. They know people will see these photos and make judgements about them. Girls try really hard to make it perfect—perfect hair, perfect make up, perfect clothes, and yes, perfect smile.

Boys believe doing those things will make them sissies. And they are NOT sissies, believe you me! 
So they will do the opposite. They will not smile. They will be present if obligated to, but they will not engage.

There are exceptions to both genders, of course, but this is the general way of things. The trick, again, is to make them forget about the camera and all it entails. This is true for both boys and girls (since girls who try too hard look stiff), but especially for boys.

Appealing to their inner child works with some... again, "fart" and "boogers" were my best tools as a photographer to get people to smile, even grown ups.

Another option is to engage their creativity. Once they're involved, they'll forget about "the obligation of a camera and all that entails" and start to have fun. And THAT'S when the smiles happen.

How you tap into their creative, fun spirit depends on the kid, so you'll have to try a few things before you find what works. Perhaps make them the photographer, even if you use the timer. Have them decide what people wear, where they pose, what is to be said just before the shutter clicks. They may get a kick out of making everyone do goofy things, or perhaps they'll thrive on taking the role seriously.

Maybe letting them show off will work. Handstands, playing an instrument, flexing their muscles, beat-boxing, popping wheelies on their bike, whatever it is they're proud of. Let them try several variations/candid shots before settling them down for a posed shot. They'll be more relaxed by then.

For almost any age and any gender, giving the person something to do will usually loosen them up enough to produce genuine smiles. A task, an object in their hands, etc. It gives them something to focus on other than the camera in their face.

You'll have to judge based on your child's personality what will draw them out of their shell. One of the above suggestions might work, or maybe none. Keep trying... but above all else, remember that if the he/she is done taking photos, you stop. Even if you didn't get the picture you wanted, stop. Even if your hair is perfect today and tomorrow your schedule is full, stop. You will just have to try again another time. You will NOT get a good picture if you twist your child's arm. That's true for any age.

Hope that helps, rambling and long as it is!

The wisdom of the advice about having something else in your hands or doing something else, we clearly demonstrated yesterday. Our boys were cuddling our friend's baby and were very happy to pose for photos with lovely smiles: a rare event (the happily smiling bit) for at least one of our boys.

10 November, 2013

Photo a Day. Week Two.

Continuing on with this photo a day prompt this week. I'm posting them daily on Facebook, but thought a weekly summary here would be fun too because the photos do reflect something of my daily life.

November 4: Table. 

The physical centre of our home, the one place we all gather together most frequently. If this table could talk it could tell you some really embarrassing things about us, and some fun things too. It was given to us by friends. After we received it we discovered it also opens out to fit 8-10 people around it. A hospitable table too! I love this well-worn piece of furniture.

November 5: I collect . . . nothing actually. But my eldest son collects dice. 

After I posted this on Facebook my husband called me on it and suggested that I collect stories. A friend also suggested that I collect green things, hence what I posted on Nov. 7. 

Another thing I could have posted was my collection of rulers, especially ones with photos in the  middle. That is a static thing, I haven't added to it in about 20 years, however the collection is in Australia and I don't have a photo!

November 6: Music. 

I've been surrounded by music and musical instruments for as long as I can remember (especially pianos). This photo is of an inscription by my childhood piano teacher in a music book that she gave me. I owe a lot to her and my parents for putting up with me in my early years and giving me a solid musical foundation. That's not to say it was an easily gained foundation (she was very strict), but I'm grateful for it.

November 7: Yes! 

I love green, it always pops out at me saying "Yes! Look at me!" My friend April pointed out I could have put this as something I collect. It fits here too. I have many green things, from my precious emerald engagement ring to everyday cups and mugs.

November 8: Someone I miss.

Now this is a big ask for someone who's lived away from their home country for 11 of the past 13 years! And it isn't just people we've left in Australia that I miss, we've met many people overseas who we're no longer near-by who I miss too. I am very thankful, though, that in my 40 years, no one really close to me has died.

But when pushed for a photo on this topic, I'll include a photo of these friends. I miss the times we had together when we were "carefree" singles and childless couples. We've seen them rarely in the last 13 years, but even when we do, it's crowded and crazy. We've now got nine boisterous children between us (seven are boys) and it isn't quite what it used to be.

November 9: Mine.

My eldest son brought me this packet of Australian liquorice back from his recent trip to Guam. I was stoked that he remembered I love liquorice!

November 10: Book. 

This is a book I finished on Friday.  Most of the week it kept me up later than I should have been up. A crime thriller right up my alley. And bought cheaply at CAJ's Thrift Shop to boot!