30 September, 2013

White noise was helpful

The last few Saturday mornings we've risen early and headed off to support our eldest son as he runs cross-country races (we've also helped with recording results). It's been great, except that one of our boys has made the journey to (and sometimes fro) quite miserable for the rest of us.
The beautiful Tama Hills Yokota Air
Base recreation centre where the
international schools hold most of their
cross-country meets.

The issue is particularly sensitivity to noise. He's not been able to tolerate being in the car with us without making quite a scene about how noisy we are. This isn't a new thing, he's often sensitive to noise, particularly after school and especially when he's upset about something. But we've travelled many thousands of kilometres with him in recent years without this occasional excessive sensitivity being an issue.

While talking it over with a friend, she suggested headphones. I can't remember if she also suggested white noise, but that is certainly something I've picked up elsewhere. Therefore last week I worked hard to find some free downloadable white noise to put on our "ancient" iPods.

And we had the quietest trip you could imagine on Saturday. David and I even got to chat! Oh my, what a difference. We asked him later what he listened to and he said it was the "dryer" most of the time. I'm sure that would send me batty, but it enabled him to block out the rest of the noisy world and focus on reading his book. Awesome! It was a win all round.

Parenting is a challenge at all times, but when you get a win like this it is well worth celebrating.

29 September, 2013

Splayd tradition

These are our own Splayds.
Family traditions? They've become a popular topic for discussion amongst some in recent years. We haven't deliberately set up many traditions as such, but of course when you do things the same way a few times, it becomes a habit or tradition, especially with children. But because our family has been brought up across two different countries, perhaps we haven't as many traditions as some back home because we have to be flexible.

We do have a number of simple traditions surrounding birthdays. Generally speaking we open birthday presents at breakfast time and have a family party in the evening, including cake. The cakes for the boys are generally themed and often from the Australian Women's Weekly famous birthday cake cookbook. We usually eat the cake with special cutlery called "splayd" that David and I received for our wedding. 

At present we're working our way through two birthday cakes, as we've had two birthdays in the last 10 days. Our splayds are getting a good workout. 
It's interesting to Google splayd. They create a bit of cross cultural controversy (for example here). They aren't the same as the American spork, including a straighter edge that is suitable for cutting soft foods like cake and they are always metal. Splayd is actually a registered trade name and they were invented in Australia in the late 1940s. According to the official Splayd website:
SPLAYD® utensils (after the verb to splay - to slant, slope or spread outwards) were invented in Australia by Bill McAurthur of Potts Point, New South Wales in the late 1940's.
This blogpost gives us a nice tongue-in-cheek description: http://theracket.com/2012/06/splayd-a-utensil-perfected-a-nation-unified/

It is lovely, in the midst of a fairly practical and careful-spending family-of-boys lifestyle, to have the luxury of eating cake with these.

Do you have an unusual tradition in your family?

27 September, 2013

So sorry

Yesterday I bought milk and a couple of other things at our local 100 yen shop. While packing my bags the assistant knocked two of the 1L cartons onto the floor. I lost count of how many times she apologised for this. She also wiped them off very deliberately after she picked them up (no damage done to the cartons). After she gave me my change she apologised again. Then, as I picked up my bags and walked off, I knocked a small thing off the shelf with my bag. I apologised, but she was quicker in apologising to me and picking them up. I get all the rest, but that last apology left me bewildered. However, in a foreign land you spend a lot of the time bewildered, so it didn't bother me too much!

Today as I sat in the doctor's waiting room (for a minor consultation), the lady next to me had a small purse fall out of her bag and it landed lightly against my hip on the seat. She apologised. Then I went to the gym and at one point one of the trainers brushed against my bottom. She apologised. Phew! You can get all worn out in receiving people's apologies.

I understand that it is a way to maintain harmony, but sometimes it seems too much.

What I also don't get is that these same people who are apologising for brushing against you would, if you were standing in their way to get into a crowded train, shove you without any apology. Yes, they will shoulder their way past you! Like most cultures, there are vast contradictions.

Here is an interesting article on this topic, including an explanation about maintaining harmony and how apologies can help a foreigner even with little Japanese.

And another article that talks about some of the different ways you can say sorry.


26 September, 2013

Witnessing a growth spurt first-hand

I grew up in a family of girls, short girls. I've never witnessed a serious growth spurt first-hand. As a tween and teen I kept wondering when I was going to have these mysterious growth spurts, but they never came. At only 13 years of age I stopped growing up, just short
of 5'3". Neither of my younger sisters grew much taller than I.

As a mother of boys and friend of many mothers of boys, I've heard about mysterious growth spurts and I've been bracing myself for years, especially in the land of small portions and expensive meat.

But now I finally find myself in the front seat watching my 14 y.o. grow, it is an amazing thing. Just a month ago he weighed in at about 118 pounds. Yesterday he weighed 122.3 pounds (a change of nearly 2 kg).* He's also now 5'6" about an inch taller when he had his medical in August. No wonder he's eating so much. Not only is he growing, but he's running for an hour or two six-times a week and starting to work out in the school weight room once or twice a week also.

Food-wise I'm doubling or tripling my recipes and making sure there are lots of veggies and carbs available. Fill them up on healthy things and they'll be less likely to need snacks, that's always been my philosophy. It's still working. He's not roaming around asking for food at odd times, nor raiding the kitchen without permission. I've also discovered it is a great age for introducing new dishes to the menu. Last night I cooked a Spicy Lentil dish. Only a couple of years ago he would probably have rejected that,  but last night it was gobbled up. I amazed as it was quite different to the sort of food I usually serve up. (His younger brothers were less enthusiastic, but they persevered and didn't complain bitterly as I'd expected.)


*The exact "pounds" is especially important to him because it is how they determine who wrestles who in wrestling. In most of the tournaments here, the school can only have one wrestler per weight-class, so weight is very important. Consequently the wrestlers are talking about weight. Our son's just moved into the weight-class of CAJ's top wrestler last year, and who is a senior this year. It will be interesting to see what happens. If this growth continues, he could put on several more pounds before the first wrestling meet in early December.

25 September, 2013

Writers and Editors: it doesn't have to be a bad relationship

Now that I'm on a more even emotional keel about this topic, it's time to put this out there.

The relationship between writer and editor is notoriously bad. You want to know why? It is the same reason as anyone is misunderstood: writers often make assumptions about editors that simply often aren't true. Especially they assume that there is an adversarial relationship between them and the editor.

The truth is, (most) editors want to make writers shine. They enjoy getting people's work out there, that is why they do the job. One of my greatest joys is seeing writers grow in their writing. I've had the privilege of seeing some of those in the three years I've been working as a magazine editor and it's been so exciting to see.

Another reason why editors are "hated" is that writers can get very precious about their words and don't like it when editors don't have the same feelings.

However, less well known is that editors dislike a lot of things that writers do too! In the book Handbook of Magazine Article Writing (Edited by Michelle Ruberg) they list types of writers that magazine editors hate:

  • who have an "every word is precious" mentality
  • who miss deadlines without prior warning
  • prima donnas: they hate to be edited and throw a tantrum when even the smallest things is changed
  • pests: they repeatedly communicate with editors, to the point of being a bother
  • free spirits: who don't stick to editors' guidelines, deadlines, word counts etc.
  • invisibles: who don't respond to editor's emails in a timely fashion

Yep, I've dealt with all of these, and for some people, more than one category applies. Unfortunately we are a voluntary organisation, so it isn't as easy to not deal with a troublesome writer as it would be in a paying magazine, in which such a writer wouldn't be offered any further writing assignments.

Here's a great post on this topic: http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2009/01/19/top-five-things-editors-hate-and-what-do-you-hate which also gives a good list of what editor's hate.

On the more positive note, I love this post, "Three words your editor wants to hear." Here's a quote:
...when the author is fearless and ego-less, willing to listen and able to use the editor’s ideas as just a springboard, great things happen. It’s exciting to be a part of it.
Here's another one, "Five Reasons Why Writers Hate Editors, and One Reason it Doesn't Matter."
If you want to be a writer, get over yourself and learn to love your editors. Hate cracking eggs all you want but you can’t make an omelet without it. 
What about me? What do I want writers to know?

Much of the nitty gritty I want them to know is in our magazine's style guide, but the most important thing I'd like them to know is that we are working to make their work shine. And if they choose to work together with us in a mature manner, that can be a joyful process for us both.

24 September, 2013

Made in Australia

We rarely see anything "Australian" in the marketplace. However, occasionally I'm surprised. I saw this today:
And some time ago this one made me laugh. Oranges "Made in Australia."

No, I'm not feeling homesick. In fact, with only nine months left until we return to Australia for a year's home assignment, I'm feeling as though I have a great deal of inertia. Staying here would be far, far easier! There are just too many things to do to move countries and then move back within 12 months.

And then there are the things we'll miss while being away. That was very obvious yesterday when I listened to one teacher at the "parent information" day or "meet the teachers" day yesterday. She spoke for an hour about high school. Especially about the process of moving towards graduation and how we can best prepare our teens for independent living and university.

Every now and then I, or someone else in the family, gets this pang: "Oh, we'll miss that because we'll be in Australia."

We have to turn our focus to "what we'll gain", although at this point what we'll miss is far more concrete. We can't predict much of what we'll gain. Although Weetbix (a breakfast cereal) will be a definite gain, at least from one member of the family!

Maybe we should make a list of things to look forward to? Here's a start:

  • warm winter
  • shorter school days
  • English spoken everywhere
  • larger house (probably)
  • bedrooms for each boy (hopefully)
  • time with friends and family we hardly ever see
  • meat pies

23 September, 2013

Beautiful Japan's hidden tragedy

This morning, via a reliable source on Facebook, I've discovered that someone threw themselves in front of an express train at our local station yesterday. Unspeakably sad.

If you can, take a look at this post I put up in April, it has a link to a very moving video about an Irishman who's "declared war" on suicide in Japan. It's 50 minutes long, but excellent. My post has a summary of the main points of the video if the video is too long for you.

Please pray for this nation. Around 30,000 people commit suicide every year.


Here are some other times I've mentioned suicide in Japan on this blog:

22 September, 2013

Watch me run

In October, CAJ usually holds a Fun Run. It isn't long (maybe 2 miles, I'm not sure). Last year I was in Kansai running a Writer's Workshop, but almost all the rest of my family ended up running. It is compulsory for the cross-country team, but others are invited to join too. My
The roads around here are fairly quiet and
 not too bad for running on.
husband (who rarely runs anywhere) ended up running because our at-the-time 7 y.o. wanted to participate and he wasn't allowed to without someone accompanying him (though that ended up being a farce, as he easily outran my husband). Our middle son's decided that running is his thing and wants to run this year. I figured it might be a fun challenge to take up.

I used to run. I used to be in an athletics club and represented both my primary and high schools in running (though mostly the shorter races and long jump). But I've not done much, if any, running since I left school. Long distance running isn't something I enjoy. I do run several times each week, but only on the spot at Curves, in 30 sec. bursts between machines. It is quite a different thing propelling your body forward for several minutes at a time. 

So as the weather has cooled down just a bit, I went for my first jog yesterday. My youngest son, who's also an enthusiastic athlete, took me on the one mile course around our house, but got a bit mixed up and we ended up only doing about 3/4 mile (1,200m), then we hopped on our bikes and tried the course again, riding the full 1 mile course this time. I'm feeling a bit sore today. I'm starting to call our son "Coach" because he's pushing to do another run today.

We'll see. I can't see myself doing much running during the week, but how much training does one have to do to complete a two mile run without embarrassing oneself? As you can tell, my goals aren't high. I think that if I can make the two miles without having to stop and walk, I'll be happy. 

But I don't intend on taking up running as an ongoing exercise, pounding these bitumen streets is not great for the joints, I can feel the pressure in my knee that caused me problems a couple of years ago. It's just nice to prove to myself at 40 that I still have it in me to run a bit of a race. I think it's good for the boys too, to see their "oldies" have a go. I haven't asked my husband if he'll be running again this year. Somehow I doubt it.

21 September, 2013

A few photos from the week

Our middle son celebrated his birthday this week.
This is the cake that I made and David and
I decorated. 
Cross-country this morning. Our eldest
son conferring with his coach before the race.
Running down the last straight of his 5K cross country
race. Unfortunately, having gained a place in the team
representing the team in Guam next month he didn't
feel particularly motivated to run well today and
consequently his time wasn't even close to
his best for 5K. Additionally, this was a different course
to which he is used to, and he wasn't happy about that change.
But I guess we all have bad days. I can't say that our
middle son is particularly having a good day today either,
but that is a completely different story that I don't need
to write here. 

20 September, 2013

Emotion-filled week

It's been a week of emotion, culminating in a day of emotion. 

This week we celebrated a family birthday and a wedding anniversary. In our family, those on their own produce enough emotional outlay without any extra added to a week.

Additionally I still am dealing with the remnants of one of the editing problems I alluded to here. I want to just ditch the feelings of anger and sadness, but I realise that those aren't bad emotions as long as I don't hold on to them for too long. Wrong has been done to me. Worse, the person who's done wrong to me can't see that they've done anything wrong and are demanding I bend over backwards to accommodate them. I'd be betraying myself if I didn't get angry at being mistreated like this. However, I hope I'll be able to walk away from it soon and let their issues be their problems, not mine. But just so as you're pre-warned, I'm working on a post about the sorts of things that writers do that editors hate.

Then, this morning I said goodbye to a
Bags of stuff missionaries can't take with
them when they move internationally.
good friend. Actually we said "See you later," but when, we're not sure. She's a missionary who's moving back home (Singapore) for at least two years. She and her husband left our entryway full of stuff they no longer need. I need to sort through it all to decide what I want to keep and what to give to CAJ's Thrift Shop next month. But in my current state of mind, I can't face it.

Hopefully I'll be able to put all of this aside and enjoy a date with my hubby of 16 years this evening.

Book review: "What's your Mark?"


This book is an interesting concept that didn't quite capture me, partly because there was no explanation to the reader at the beginning. If I'd understood that it was the book of Mark in the Bible interspersed with short stories about people "making their mark" on this world, I might have found it more satisfying.

This book was not all it was promised in "the blurb", but I think that that is because I read it on my black and white Kindle. I'm sure the hard copy is much better, but the Kindle version is plain confusing.

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.

19 September, 2013

Saying yes and no

Clearly saying yes and no is hard. Have you ever been caught out in a question like this:
You don't want me involved, do you?
If I say, "Yes" am I saying I don't want them involved or the opposite? Usually to make it abundantly clear in English I'd answer,
Actually I'd like you to be involved.
or
No, I think we'll be fine without you this time. 

It is worse in Japanese and I still haven't figured it out.

This morning at the grocery store I said to the cashier literally "the bags are okay" 「ふくろはよろしです」, meaning that I didn't need plastic shopping bags with handles and she understood me (I've practised this many times and this particular phrase always works). Then she asked if I wanted plastic bags to cover just my meat packages. I didn't know how to answer, so I said "hai" which sort-of means "yes" (but isn't the only way to say yes and often is used as in "I hear you" in continuing a conversation) but it was obviously wasn't the right yes today. She didn't give me bags. Maybe her question was, "Are you okay without bags for the meat?" And I agreed with her?

I feel bad at Japanese 95% of the time. At times like this I feel like I'm failing even the easiest of tasks. It wasn't a terrible error by any means, but I failed to communicate what I really wanted, and that was bags to cover my meat so it didn't leak on my cloth bags (though the meat was already technically sealed, I find the plastic wrap doesn't always do the best of jobs here).

Perhaps someone better at Japanese than me can explain what I should have said?

18 September, 2013

Scary typhoon photos

During the typhoon on Monday, we had it pretty easy here in western Tokyo, but people in other parts of Japan didn't. Check out some scary and tragic photos here.


Words, racism, trivia, and a difficult choice

There was an interesting discussion on my Facebook page the other day when I posted this:
Here's another US word I've never heard before:
pratfall
n.
1. a fall on the buttocks, often regarded as comical or humiliating.
2. a humiliating blunder or defeat.
Turns out it isn't an American word after all. Some Americans had heard of it, others not. Some British had heard of it too! I shouldn't have been surprised when I accidentally came across the word (or a form of it) again today in this post.


Then there are other unusual words I've come across recently. Do you know these (all from From Billabong to London, by Mary Grant Bruce, 1915)?

assegais
kraal
aigrette
Kaffirs

This last term used to be a neutral term for black people in South Africa, but is now a racial slur. Indeed this chapter has been a challenge for me to read to the boys. The attitudes of these Australians to encountering black South Africans in Durban has been shocking. I guess it is true to the times, but still. I've had trouble reading without editing and editorialising. But the truth is that we really shouldn't avoid this kind of literature. It should be read and explained. If I try to bury my head and my kids' heads in the sand about racism in literature, I'm not helping us learn and grow.

Disclaimer: this is a random photo
of a runner, not our son. I don't post
photos of our children on this blog.
I was very surprised to find that my 14 y.o. knew what an assegais was (a special type of African weapon). He also knew something of the historical context of it, including the warrior-leader called Chaka who is also mentioned in the book.

This kid of mine is a trivia king! He's had a decision to make in the last week. It looks like he might make the CAJ cross country team that's going to an invitation meet in Guam next month, but it clashes with the high school Brain Bowl competition here in Tokyo (see an explanation of what that is here). Which to chose? For most people that would be a no-brainer, but for our sporty, yet smart son it wasn't that simple!

His cross country coach was mildly amused at the dilemma. Oh, did I mention that his Brain Bowl coach is David? So David had to decide too: whether to give permission for this expensive sporting excursion that would take away one of his pretty reasonable Brain Bowl competitors. Ah, the fun! No chance of our son becoming a stereotypical jock.

Ah, but I must get back to my wordy job. More editing and writing. That's what's on my agenda this afternoon.

17 September, 2013

Answer Japan Photo #40

On Saturday I asked what you thought these were and why the different sizes.

Karen was right in suggesting that they are bathroom slippers. Ken started off right by saying, 
Clearly the smaller ones are for a person to wear. They fit inside the larger ones...
Then he got creative and we enjoyed his fantasies. Thankfully no national secrets were revealed.

These live at my local Curves. You remove your outdoor shoes at the door and change into your indoor work-out shoes. Nothing unusual there. However, to use the toilet you have to put slippers on. The left ones work if you have bare or stockinged feet, however, what if you need to go in and don't want to remove your indoor work-out shoes? Hence the oversized slippers that go over your shoes.

It all seems a bit pedantic to me, but I try not to rock the boat. We don't use toilet slippers in our own home, but try to do the right thing whenever we're out!

I've never seen these type of slippers before in Japan these appeared a few months back. I felt vindicated when I heard older Japanese women exclaiming in surprise.

16 September, 2013

Wet adventures

Plastic gutter-ramps. They're all attached
to each other, but nothing else.
We've been having quite a bit of weather here the last couple of days. We woke to heavy rain yesterday morning. Our first plan always is to ride to church. But on rainy days we usually walk because unless you wear full rain gear it is hard to avoid getting wet while riding and we don't advocate riding holding an umbrella, despite living in a nation of umbrella-holding cyclists!

But yesterday, not too long before we left, David admitted it all might be a bit much for us and that we would move to Plan C; he declared we would take the car.

By the way, this is a dilemma only because the church has no car park and therefore we pay to park nearby if we take the car. Additionally, if the weather is fine, it takes about the same or less time to ride than it does to drive!

Then we discovered that our gutter-ramps had floated away from their designated position in front of the car (I wrote about acquiring them here). These "new" plastic ramps have been very helpful for sweeping the gutter (no more smashed fingers), but they aren't attached to anything, except each other, hence a bit of water flowing can shift them. But as you can see from the photo, there was just a bit more than "a bit of water" yesterday.

This was taken after I removed the gutter-ramps. They'd
floated away and were lodged against that pole.
This water was above my ankle, up to nearly mid calf.
This we discovered as we were about to leave for church, via picking up our youngest who'd been at a sleep-over. I was thankfully in a just-below-the-knee skirt and could easily slip on my rubber thongs (US=flip flops), but I was shocked at how deep the water was. I ended up getting quite wet as it was hard to keep the rain off while bending down to pick up the gutter-ramps with the other hand holding an umbrella. As soon as I pulled them free of the pole, they threatened to float away down the road. Their lightness was something of blessing, though, as I could fairly easily push them in beside the car in the carport.

This is really a drainage problem. We're several metres
above our local river. The water is muddy because
it's flowed off the gravel-sand playground of the kindy,
whose gate you can see in the centre-top of the photo.
It must be noted that David was planning on going out to do this job, but I beat him because we were in a hurry and my skirt (he had long pants on) and easily accessed thongs gave me a speed advantage.

I ended up wearing the rubber thongs to church anyway, because to get into the car, I had to walk through ankle-deep water at the front of the carport. It really was quite a mini flood. However, it had all gone by the time we came home. I walked home with two of our boys
This is one of our local rivers. It is usually much lower
than this, with an extra grassy bank you can stand on
that is obscured by the water.
along one of our local rivers. It was interesting to see it quite swollen, but not endangering anyone's property.

That was all prior to the typhoon that was bearing down upon us. Early afternoon yesterday we were informed that school (and the parent information day) was cancelled for today. So yesterday morning's rain was just a prelude to this morning's typhoon. It hasn't rained as intensely here, though, so there hasn't been any local flooding as far as we know. The wind gusted at times, but it really wasn't a terrible experience at all. We've stayed inside. I baked up a storm, and the boys did various school-related activities this morning (internet based maths and typing) as well as piano practise for our youngest.

Of course it's been much worse in other parts of the nation. This news report tells of more than 1/2 a million people who've were asked to evacuate a long way west of here, many in the Kyoto/Nara area.

We have friends who tried to go camping this long weekend (today is a public holiday), but really it never worked, thankfully they were able to find drier lodging.

By the way, here's a question that bothered me for a time:

What's the difference between cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes?

And here's the answer:
Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon; we just use different names for these storms in different places. In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, the term “hurricane” is used. The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a “typhoon” and “cyclones” occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.

15 September, 2013

Varsity means what?

We've entered the world of American high school sport. That includes the most important words of Varsity and JV or Junior Varsity.

Varsity is the school's top team in a sport. They don't divide by age groups, just school
Waiting at the finish line, with other supporters, for the
runners to come around the corner.
divisions. So our son now competes against everyone in high school. As our school is quite small, it isn't so difficult to get into some of the varsity teams (basketball, volleyball, and soccer, the three most popular sports are a bit harder). Still, it is an honour.

Yesterday our son came 4th out of our high school cross-country runners in his race. Only 50th out of 85 against all the other international schools who competed, but the more important thing is how well the kids run compared to their previous races. He ran nearly two-minutes faster than last week (though the race last week was 400m longer). I'm so proud of him.

Seeing as the team is so small (only 10 runners) they're all Varsity. And that lends a certain glamour to his school representation.

There are other phrases like "lettering in your sport" and "letterman jacket".

Wiki answers tells me:
Lettering in a sport usually has to do with your High School years. If you letter in a sport that means that you played on the Varsity team and you remained on the team for that entire year. To letter you must play a varsity sport and usually at the end of the year most teams throw a banquet and your coach will hand you the initials of your school which is considered your letter, it is also what you put on letterman jackets in high school.
Wikipedia tells me:
letterman, in U.S. sportsperforming arts or academics, is a high school or college student who has met a specified level of participation or performance on a varsity athletic teammarching band, or in other performance school-sponsored activities. The Varsity Letter represents the activities one has done with varsity.
Does CAJ have a letterman's jacket? I'm not sure, but I'm sure I'll find out soon.

So, it's another world, another set of vocabulary!

In November, the much awaited wrestling season begins. There is a lot of talk going on amongst the high school wrestlers about who will be varsity. The camaraderie is awesome, they're trying to figure out how our "Freshman" (9th grader) can be varsity not JV (the second string or B team).

We'll see how it all works out and, most of all, what the coaches have to say. But in the meantime, our son is doing cross-country training four days a week and planning to start weight training twice a week from this week as well. He's very keen and I'm so thankful that we've raised him to have a healthy attitude towards sports (and food).

14 September, 2013

Japan Photo #40

What are these? And why is one set much larger than the other?
(For people who haven't lived in Japan and don't read Japanese.)


13 September, 2013

Passionate about kids and mission

Four times a year I put together a newsletter for kids about Japan, I've been doing this for over 10 years now. It started as a desire to reach out to the children of our supporters. I was given a passion for mission as a child and I wanted to provide a tool for our supporters to do the same for their kids. You can see I've been interested in publishing as a communication tool for quite a while now!

Here is the "Kid's Musings" I've done this week (with a slight modification taking our address and names out of it). The theme I'm using this year is seasons. If you'd like a better quality version, just send me an email.

12 September, 2013

Feeling encouraged

There's too much going on here. Much of the "juicier", more emotional stuff I can't write about here, though!

Today I've done a couple of things in my professional and personal life that have felt a little like stepping off the sixth rung of the ladder, and hoping the landing will be okay. So far, so good.

But I've spent all morning on the phone or Skype, not quite what I expected of my stay-at-home and get-stuff-done day. Nonetheless, they were important calls this morning.
David with his new bus licence.

However, that doesn't help the fact that I feel like I'm drowning in work and responsibilities just a teeny bit.

On the family front we've had some exciting times this week. Here's some of the news:

Youngest son did actually move up a level and a belt in karate (there was a mistake and communication issues for a week that caused confusion for a couple of weeks).

Middle son got his own email address for the first time (a school email address). He's excited. He moved up in karate belts too, but he skipped a belt, so is feeling quite accomplished.

He also gets to put in his preferences for an instrument to start learning for 5th grade band. He's decided on
1. Percussion
2. Percussion
3. Trombone.
We'll see what eventuates. He also is looking forward to a birthday next week.

Eldest son got a tentative invitation to go with the school cross country team to Guam. I didn't even know where that is...have had to look it up. (It's an island about halfway between Australian and Japan, it's a territory of the US.) We didn't expect him to do this well in his first year in high school cross country (only the top five runners of the school go). But if he gets selected and we say yes, that will cost quite a bit! Tomorrow he's also getting orientation on how to use the weights in the training and conditioning room at CAJ. My teenager is going to look even more muscled!

David gets to drive the new school bus next Friday. Fun, fun, fun!

As for me, my list of what I have to do seems to be getting longer and longer. Magazine editing is a relentless occupation. On top of that we've begun a publishing project called 31 Days of Prayer, for OMF. It's a second edition, but not much of the previous one is useable, so I'm busy with trying to recruit writers from busy missionaries for each of the 31 days.

Most of my excitement at present is second hand—enjoying other family member's excitement. But we did get some great magazine feedback last week. I think that God engineered that, as it arrived in the midst of the trouble I wrote about on Sunday.

This was one email:
Thank you for your ministry to us missionaries in Japan.  We love your magazine Japan Harvest.  I read it thoroughly. 
I especially enjoyed your articles on MKs, rural missions, language learning, and Japanese culture.  Please keep up the good work.
The other person ordered more magazines because they'd given all their magazines away to volunteers and in training.

I'm so encouraged by this! And I'm encouraged to see my boys all thriving in their various interests. It's worth sitting down like this and counting your blessings one by one.

11 September, 2013

Decaf surprise

From http://www.tullys.co.jp/menu/coffee_beverages/decaf.html
I had a new coffee experience today in Japan. I've never had decaf coffee in a coffee shop here.

Today at Tully's (a Japanese coffee shop chain that pays for the brand-name of the American chain, but is no longer related), I noticed they had decaf grounds for sale at the counter, so my husband asked for kafein-ress. It only comes in one size: short and only comes black (there is cream available). But hey, seeing as caffeine consumption seems to be bad for me (I get headaches with just small amounts), it's a reasonable option.

I did have to wait five minutes while they opened a fresh one-serve packet and brewed it for me. Not bad, hey?

This is new territory for the Japanese. It is hard to buy decaf here. Instant "poison" is somewhat available (in larger supermarkets), but it isn't easy to find grounds at all. I usually buy it in bulk from the Foreign Buyers Club (I also buy bulk tinned soup, cornflakes, tinned fish and miscellaneous other things from them).

I could live without coffee, I'm no longer addicted to it. However I do enjoy the taste, and the routine of making a coffee, or going out "to coffee" with friends. It's not quite the same having an OJ.

Have you ever considered what luxury would you go to great lengths to get, if you lived in another country?

10 September, 2013

Learning history through fiction

I'm having fun reading to my boys again, slipping them some history in the guise of an Australian fiction book. (I've mentioned the Billabong series before here.)

We took a break for several months, but are now back with the fourth of the series. This is set in 1914, at the start of WWI. It's great because it's brought up all sorts of interesting discussions like: international travel before aeroplanes, life without electricity, and WWI itself.

The characters in the book take a cruise ship from Australia to England, via South Africa, in order to attend to business "in the home country" and also for the two young men to join the British military and "do their bit".

Having been on an overnight ferry twice this summer, we have some feel for life on a boat, so that's grabbed the boys' attention. As has all sorts of details about German warships and the like. It's been a fun journey to see the boys struggle to attend to the story at the beginning (being older style, there was lots of description and "scene setting" at the beginning), to now, listening intently to hear what's coming next.

Here is the clever bit: I was at the school library on Friday and happened upon this great book in the elementary section. It's got lots of well presented details, photos, maps and illustrations. Our 14 y.o. read it from cover-to-cover. His comment at one point, "It's like a real-life Risk game!"

I love it. They're getting history with their entertainment! It also helps meals along when we're struggling for non-combative conversation.



09 September, 2013

International News

Over the weekend we learned various big international news, including the result from Australia's national election: a new ruling party and prime minister. How that all pans out, we'll just wait and see.
The moment of victory for our son earlier in the year.

Of more interest to our boys was the news that Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Additionally, this morning we heard that the IOC has said that wrestling can remain an Olympic sport (for now). This is a reversal of what we'd heard several months ago. And there was great rejoicing in the wrestling circles! There's a short video of the announcement in this article that shows the excitement of the wrestling contingent when they announced the decision.

We're only new fans of the sport (and we haven't seen much of it really), but we're excited.


There is one negative point I hadn't considered about the Tokyo Olympic announcement, it was mentioned by a Facebook friend: that for the IOC to reject Istanbul was a missed opportunity:
I believe the Olympic movement just turned their back on a wonderful opportunity to build a bridge of trust to the Muslim world and the Middle East region. Confirmation that their ideals no longer embrace peace and brotherhood through sport, rather they embrace the filthy lucre.

Only God knows where we'll be in 2020. As I tried to explain in my halting Japanese this morning, God hasn't given us an end-date for serving in Japan. So, unless He gives us direction otherwise, we'll still be here in 2020, with two boys in high school. It's going to look a bit different to how our household looks now. I'll probably be the shortest in the family again. We'll probably also have a son in university. Wow!

08 September, 2013

Troubled

I've been naive. I didn't guess that being a magazine editor could stir up so much trouble. I had plenty in the early days: particularly from writers who didn't like the status quo being changed. But I believed that most of the worst trouble was behind me.

Wrong. Just this last week I've received several troubling emails from two missionaries. Both have taken my well meaning words and twisted them, getting themselves in knots about my apparent ill will towards them and the magazine. 

It occasionally makes me want to chuck the job in. I hate conflict. I particularly hate it when people get all insecure and spew out anger at me because they feel threatened or I don't give them enough adulation. I also hate it when people, who don't understand my job think they do, not just criticise but (try to) boss me around. 

Grrr. 

As I was pondering the latest of these attacks, I began to prepare dinner last night. Over my sink is a little collection of Bible verses that I rotate through the verse up at the moment is 
"Cast all your cares on Him [Christ] because he cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7 NIV
 Oh. You know what? When you're stewing over a problem, that is the hardest thing: to cast the anxiety away onto Christ! I've been trying. But it is hard.

Neither of these missionaries are going away any time soon. You'll be sure that, in addition to trying to cast my cares on Christ, I'll also be praying that these men's attitudes toward me changes.

07 September, 2013

Japan Photo #39 Answer

This is a hook, pretty obviously! Lesley came the closest with a "some sort of washing hook".

It is a hook for drying shoes.


 Usually closed in shoes, especially the shoes that Japanese children wear inside at school. They get sent home every Friday and are supposed to be scrubbed clean (being white they get very dirty, especially in kindergarten).

06 September, 2013

My heart is just walking around

Tomorrow morning begins the new year of school sport for us.

Our high school son competes in his first 3 mile cross country event (at least I think that is the distance, longer than middle school at least).

This morning I ran into another wrestling mum who said her son (a senior) has been looking
My son running up a steep hill in a race last year.
at the weights of the team and predicting who'll wrestle in which weight division (though that is really the coach's job). Several of the team this year have been wrestling since the start of middle school, so it's going to be a great year. I got goosebumps just thinking about it all.

I really still don't understand why I get so excited about watching my kids play competitive sport. I guess we put so much into parenting these kids that it is great to see them go out and do their best? Love is proud in a good way?

The opposite of the despair we feel when they make bad decisions and the angst we feel when they are disappointed or anger we feel then they are treated badly.

I guess as someone said, when you give birth (or adopt), you just have part of your heart out there walking around and there isn't much you can do about it. These emotions are part and parcel of the whole deal.
“Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”  
Elizabeth Stone* 
Someone once said to me that the joy we feel at seeing our kid's accomplishments has a parallel in God. He must look down at us when we "do well" and be full of joy. That's a precious thought. I should write a meditation on that someday...

I would add "be a parent" to this quote.

05 September, 2013

Japan Photo Question #39

What do you suppose this common Japanese item is?


04 September, 2013

Thriving

Yesterday I discovered two photos I took while in Hokkaido have been published online (aside from here).








Here:
http://thriveconnection.com/2013/08/28/blessed/
and
http://thriveconnection.com/2013/08/14/splendor/

I shouldn't be too surprised, because I submitted them myself, and wrote the blurbs associated with them. The group that published them is called Thrive, it used to be called Women of the Harvest. They are a North American based group committed to encouraging and empowering Global Women (women ministering overseas).

They've published me before, both articles, and in what they call "Picture Praise", which is what the above two photos are. Photos with a story, including a Bible verse.

If you're a Global Woman (especially if you're American), I recommend you check out their website: http://thriveministry.org/.


03 September, 2013

Connections

I rang Mum and Dad on Sunday for Father's Day (we have a different date in Australia to some other countries). It was good to connect with them both. They've got Skype working well now and we can use the video feed, which makes a conversation all that much easier, especially when I have three boys racing around here.

My recipe book.
One of the things I asked Mum about was a recipe. You see before I set up home on my own at age 21, I spent some summer hours typing up recipes of our family that were favourites and that I wanted to take with me. Nearly 20 years later I still have those pages. They've been incorporated into a different folder and many other recipes have been added to them, but the "oldies" are still there.

I get a lot of joy from this. It is amazing to cook food for my kids that was cooked for me as a child. To bake recipes that I cut my teeth on as a cook under my mum's tutelage is awesome.

Our conversation on Sunday was about a recipe that she has marked as "Wendy's favourite". I baked it on Saturday for the first time in a long time. There was a problem with not enough icing, so I wanted to check with Mum that I didn't have a typo there. She went and found her recipe and found she'd amended the recipe (just like I do, I know a recipe's well loved if I have writing all over it) to fix the icing problem.

The recipe in question:
Fruity Fudge Fingers (recipe below)
I believe she loved the connection too, going back to those days of working together in the kitchen, her teaching me all sorts of tricks and tips in the kitchen. I can see that parenting never ends, but the days when your children ask you for help or advice become thin on the ground. Me asking for her help on Sunday was a source of pleasure for us both.

Food is so much more than nutrition. It is a way of connecting. As a family, we've got a number of (pretty easy) recipes that I make often. They've become a part of our family culture and are part of what defines "home" for us. I love teaching my kids how to cook. I went one step further this summer and gave my eldest son Tuesday dinner to make. He wasn't up to choosing what he wanted to make, so in consultation with him, I added the one of our regular meals to the weekly schedule. Then I tried to keep out of the kitchen, but staying nearby on the computer to answer questions.

And so on, the chain continues. Creating a family culture and passing portions of it on. Our family is quite different to the family I grew up in. We eat different food in a different country. We have boys, not girls. Yet, there is that thread of connection. Every time I'm working in the kitchen, I have with my the skills and knowledge that was (at least partially) given to my by my Mum in her kitchen.

One of the sad things I realise as I've gotten to know missionaries better is that most of us don't have the closeness of relationship with our birth families that we wished for. There are various reasons and everyone has their own story, still the residual sadness is there. Perhaps if we'd stayed in our home countries it would have been different, but probably there would still be sadness at things not working out like the "fairytale" we dream of.

The fact of the matter is, we're not physically there. We're not there for the stuff of family culture building: like birthdays, Father's Day, wedding, funerals. We're not there for the ordinary and the extraordinary. And because we're not there, our relationships with our families develop along different lines, so that when we are there, we don't fit snuggly into family culture. Our visit is like a blip on the graph of normality.

I'm thankful, though, for good memories. I'm thankful for threads of connection like my cookbook and the recipes I make from it. I'm thankful for those good conversations, for technology like Skype that allows me to capture a time when they and I are almost in the same space. I'm thankful for a family who loves me, even though I'm not there. And most of all I'm thankful for a Heavenly Father who is always in the same space as me.


Fruit Fudge Fingers (non bake recipe, perfect for summer)
Base:
230g plain biscuits (like Marie)—crushed
115g margarine
1 cup/200g sultanas*
1/2 cup/115g sugar (can be less)
1 egg (slightly beaten)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Icing:
2/3 cup/150g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
2 tablespoons/40g butter
2 tablespoons/25g cocoa

  1. Place margarine, sultanas, and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil slowly.
  2. Take from the heat. Allow to cool a little.
  3. Add egg and vanilla, blending well.
  4. Add biscuit crumbs and mixture together.
  5. Press into a greased tin (approximately 25x30cm) using a fork.
  6. Cool in fridge.
  7. Ice.
  8. Cut into fingers and store in the fridge.
*As usual, my recipes are in Australian measurements, where cups equal 250ml and tablespoons equal 20ml.

02 September, 2013

Extroverts, introverts, and ambiverts

Our youngest was sad on the first day of school last week. It was a half-day. CAJ always starts with a half-day (8.30-12) and it just wasn't enough social interaction for him after 11 long weeks away from his friends. He is a classic extrovert. When he came home he stuck to me like glue, hoping I'd give him the happiness he wanted.
Our strongly introverted son working quietly on his own.

He is such a contrast to our middle son who is quite the introvert. Thankfully he's beginning to understand that instead of taking it out on us when he returns home, he can retreat to his room for some time to recharge.

I've been thinking more about extroversion and introversion recently and I've discovered a term that suits me far better than these extremes: ambivert.
ambivert: a person who has a balance of extrovert and introvert features in their personality (Origin: 1920s) From here.
 This blog post describes my dilemma very well. The comments after the post are from people like me, who have been confused by the strong dichotomous descriptors of extrovert vs introvert.

Here's another article that talks about the complexities of personality and how we're all on a continuum. I love this quote from the webpage:
The notion of Ambiversion changed my life. Previously, when filling in a personality type questionnaire, I”d hesitate when answering questions like: “would you prefer to go to a party or read a book?”  My first thought was “Depends on the party or book and also how tired I am from the previous night.” But that contextual option wasn’t available. Now I realize what a gift it is to be sensible, reasonable and well balanced enough to have the freedom of choice.
And this one:
I’m an Ambivert with 70 shades of Introvert and 30 shades of Extrovert! What are you? 
The Myer-Briggs calls me an Extrovert with a strong Introvert shadow, but I think an Ambivert is a more helpful descriptor. I couldn't understand, for example, why I could be so excited about having visitors to stay, and yet after a day or so, find myself seeking out privacy in my bedroom (something I rarely do when it is just the five of us here). It seemed weird, but now I understand. Sometimes my extrovert side is stronger, other times my introvert side. And I need to work at getting a balance because if I get too much solitude or too much social interaction I get worn out and grumpy.

Try this simple questionnaire, if you're thinking you might be in the ambivert range.

01 September, 2013

Our Hokkaido Adventure Days 23 to 25


Wednesday 17th July 
Takayama, Sendai
The first jigsaw puzzle we completed.
This oversized burger was just too big.

And in fact we did survive (see my previous post here). After removing the more obvious spiders (and their webs and poop), wiping down important surfaces, covering the dirty mattresses with sheets or blankets and using our sleeping bags and pillows it worked okay. We found evidence of small rodents in the cutlery drawer so we cleaned that whole drawer out, washing everything and replacing the drawer liner.

Being Australian, I’m a bit of a beach snob. I haven’t seen many beaches in Japan, but most of them are not that appealing to someone who doesn’t even much like Australia’s beautiful white-sand beaches. But we did our duty and took the boys down for a paddle/sand castle building.

Actually three out of five of us would choose mountains over beach anytime. Beaches are lacking in shade and are so, well, sandy.

It was pretty wet and miserable.
Again I didn’t feel tempted to get wet, in fact the temperatures didn’t rise much above 20 degrees Celsius, so the spectators on the beach were wrapped up. I don’t know how the younger ones managed to cope in the water for as long as they did.

Thursday 18th July 
Takayama, Sendai

Wednesday was grey, and we went to bed with the sound of rain on the tin roof (bliss!). We all slept in again on Wednesday and were greeted with heavy rain that didn’t tempt any of us to venture out until it slowed down towards lunchtime. After lunch we had an errand to run at a hardware store. But other than that we stayed at home, doing jigsaw puzzles, playing word and card games, and reading. A lovely day indeed!

That night we celebrated the end of our holidays with an inside BBQ. Lots of meat and not fancy, just how the boys love it.
Last night BBQ using a Japanese hotplate.

Friday 19th July 
Sendai to Tokyo

We packed up and cleaned the house again. And then took off for our last drive of the journey: back to Tokyo.

The second puzzle we completed in three days.
Tokyo surprised us with not being as hot as we'd imagined. Though I was sad our adventure was over, it was good to be home and back in our solid beds, enjoying our own shower and toilet. It was nice to put everything away and know it would be there when you got back. One of the difficulties of camping is that everything gets moved around all the time, so it is easy to lose things, especially at night! I developed the habit of using a bag for my "bedside table".

We'd definitely love to do another camping tour like this one again sometime in the future, but with our home assignment coming up next year, it may be a couple of years before we can. Perhaps we could explore down near Osaka, Kyoto, Nara area, or over on the western side of the island near Nagoya. 

Anyways, we now have our memories of Hokkaido, and dreams about the future to sustain us through the coming months of heads-down-tails-up of work and school.