28 February, 2014

Whole gamut of emotions

Approximately four months from now we'll be in an aeroplane headed for Australia. In an IM conversation yesterday, a friend wrote:
I hope everything's coming together for your home assignment. I feel stressed even thinking about it.
Here's an extended reply to a question like that:
Moving into this house. Our entry looked like this (after a while)!

Hating the process of upheaval.

Happy to be going to our home country, where most things are just a little bit more familiar and easier.

Sad about saying goodbyes here.

Placated that many of the goodbyes are actually, "See you later."

Excited about seeing friends and family that we've missed while being away.

Depressed at how much there is to do.

Impatient to see it all over and us settled on the other side.

Relieved that I'll be able to speak English for 12 months.

Thrilled to see some things starting to fall in place.

Daunted by the pile of things to get completed.

Lightheaded about the possibilities in Australia. (Like writing and editing courses for me, wrestling club for the boys.)

Grieved at missed opportunities here while we're away.

Enthusiastic about new opportunities we'll find in Australia.

Fearful about how the boys will "land".

Joyful anticipation at being able to easily buy things that we can't here.

Apprehension at facing large Australian supermarkets again (so much choice).

Nervous because I know that all the above emotions are only going to intensify as the time draws closer.

Does that give you a broader picture about how I'm feeling? I'm usually a pretty steady person, emotionally, and times like this I don't like because I get a bit more thrashed around than usual!

27 February, 2014

Another problem solved by food

I've written here before about our EF parenting philosophy. I used food today to solve a problem. One of our sons has been having tremendous difficulties, at times, at breakfast time. At those times he can barely stand to be present at the table with us all, covering his ears, and exploding with anger if spoken to.

A friend posted a link on FB to this article about how food should only be used to nourish us. 
Food is for nourishing.  Nourishing bodies, nourishing relationships around the table, nourishing souls.  And when we use is properly, it's good.
The angst has been so bad in our house some breakfasts, that though we're nourishing our bodies, we've not nourished our relationships or souls and came away feeling emotionally depleted, even before we start the day. That's not how breakfast should be, in my opinion.

We have noticed, however, that he improves as he gets food into him. Once he's through his large bowl of porridge, he's usually fine. So we began to wonder if he had a snack when he first woke up, he'd cope much better. Last night I suggested that to him and he thought it was a good idea. He initiated finding something: a mandarine (as we call them in Australia) or mikan (as we call them in Japan). 

We had a very pleasant breakfast this morning. Complete contrast to yesterday morning. I hope it is the food. It's such a simple solution to a problem that causes great unhappiness to the rest of the family.

26 February, 2014

Meetings galore, but not all boring

Annual Meetings
Part of Monday and most of Tuesday I spent at JEMA (Japan Evangelical Missionary Association) annual meetings. This is the organisation that publishes Japan Harvest, the magazine I edit. They also run the various intermission events that I've gone to, like the Women's Retreat in March, and women's prayer days in January and October.

As a result of being involved in these various gatherings, I'm gradually getting to know some female missionaries. I rarely see the men, though, unless they have connections with CAJ. Going to the meetings earlier this week was an opportunity to meet and network with people I don't normally see, especially men. What's funny is how different someone can be to their writing. Most of the time I "meet" people via an email and something they've written for the magazine. Meeting them face-to-face is quite a different affair.

My view from the "floor" of the meeting for over
four hours yesterday.
One missionary I met yesterday wrote a series of articles for the magazine a couple of years ago. I really struggled with her style, it didn't communicate well. I groaned when I knew I needed to work on a new article of hers and had to do a lot of work to get her articles into shape for publication. However, meeting her in person, I found her to be very personable.

JEMA is an interesting organisation. It is a voluntary gathering of evangelical mission agencies (and independent missionaries). Its mission statement is: "Networking and equipping our  members to make disciples for Christ." We heard yesterday that they have 41 member agencies, and a total of 886 missionaries. It isn't known how many evangelical Christian missionaries there are in Japan, but probably more than twice that number.

I wonder if there are other countries that have such organisations?

Annual meetings aren't my thing, yesterday I cross-stitched my way through the hours of sitting and listening, it helped me sit still and listen better. I like meetings that small and very focused on action. However I must say that I was not coerced to go to these meetings. They were useful for networking, as I've already said, but also for finding out a little more about what's going on out there in the mission world in Japan.

For example, we heard from

  • http://the4points.jp who are doing some exciting things in media, flash mobs, and with youth to get the gospel out.
  • the 4 to 14 window focusing churches and parachurch organisations' attention on children from the age of 4 to 14, a key age for making a decision for Christ
  • Global Outreach Day, which is more a week, in June coordinating with many other countries in evangelism and encouraging people to be creative and bold
  • Billy Graham Evangelical Association is very active in Japan. In fact two of the families in our youngest son's class are with this association.
  • man who was a former Yakuza (Japanese gangster) gave his testimony and we heard a little about the film missionaries here (friends of mine) are making based on his and another former gangster's life, called 2 Criminals.

All exciting stuff! I'm glad to be a part of it. 

We also heard that the number of churches in Japan is decreasing, sadly. There are 7,238 churches in Japan, less than the number of post offices (24,000) and convenience stores (43,000). In a land of 127,000,000 people, 127,000 churches would be more realistic, if this land were to be fully reached. 

Personal planning again
I got to have lunch with my husband at this coffee shop
and am looking forward to a lot more lunches with
him during our year in Australia.
Today it would have been good to have a catch-up day, because I have several other projects that need my attention. 

However, David and I had already booked today as a home assignment preparation day (we had one earlier in the month too). He took a day of and we worked together to prepare for home assignment. We achieved quite a lot, more than if we'd just trundled along doing bits and pieces here and there in our spare time.

The most exciting thing is that we've gotten to the point of booking holiday accommodation for when we arrive in Australia. Next will be plane tickets. We're also negotiating for some people to housesit for us while we're away (not fixed yet, we're still working out details and getting permission). Still, after thinking about these things for a long time, we're finally getting to the stage of action. Yay!

Over lunch we got to thinking about what we might do, aside from deputation and meeting people. I'm keen to do some writing and editing courses or workshops. David's thinking about a few different ideas, so we'll see what he comes up with. I love new possibilities.

I also love brainstorming, coming up with ideas and then seeing them realised (though it's often most fun if someone else implements my ideas). Here's a couple from today:

  1. One idea of mine that might be completed by someone else, is a fun game about recycling in Japan. Our eldest son is into making up board/card games and so we've asked him to think about what might be possible. 
  2. But my personal project has been planning a photo book to take around with us on deputation that covers the last four years. I've brainstormed this one and now plans are coming together for this and I'm really excited!

Ah, lots of things going on! I've got a Writer's Workshop next week to plan for tomorrow, along with ongoing editing responsibilities to keep on top of. It's a busy week! But next week I'll be away from the responsibilities of home for five days (Writer's Workshop followed by the JEMA Women's Retreat), so hopefully that will be refreshing.

24 February, 2014

Clothes shopping with boys

After nearly 1 ½ decades of parenting boys we have some things down pat. Shopping for clothes is one. Recently we were all out on bikes and about to head home when my husband suddenly said, "Let's go clothes shopping!"

When my boys were this age, I had no idea of the amazing
skills I'd learn in parenting boys!
We both knew that the stocks of acceptable long-pants were getting low for two of our boys, our third son had some wardrobe needs too. I tried to buy some long pants for them on my own last week at one store without success, the shops are moving into spring mode (even though there is still a pile of snow outside my house)! So this wasn't such an unusual thing to say.

This time we went to a larger store (think Target), that wasn't far from where we were. So, barely before the boys could realise what was going on, they were in dressing rooms trying on pants that we'd found for them. Here's another time I pulled a swift one on them in order to get them some clothes.

I come from a girl-family. I have two sisters and no brothers. We never shopped like this!

Shopping with a tribe of boys vs a bevy of girls is as different as wrestling and ballet. The best way to describe shopping with boys comes from my dad (the only male in my household growing up, who hated the way we girls shopped). He says, "Women GO shopping, men DO shopping."

You go in very focused for the "kill" and then you get out. Simple.

Oh, and bribery helps too! To soften the blow the boys were promised a trip to the small bakery for a snack of their choosing after they'd cooperated.


We even got some "acceptable if you have to dress nicely" pants. Wonderful. No tears, no tantrums, and no lengthy delays. It was all over in under 30 minutes.

23 February, 2014

Photo Quiz #48

I'm wondering if you could have a guess at what this machine is? Some context: I snapped the photo while walking on a small CBD street. 

People who've lived in Japan probably won't have too much trouble because these are relatively common. Let's see if others can guess.

22 February, 2014

TCKs and Grief

This last week we had some special events at school about TCK (Third Culture Kids) issues.* I didn't get to any of them, but I've been to similar events in previous years and am well aware of the challenges that face our boys, especially as we make a big transition in four month's time. All of our boys did get to go to age-appropriate seminars about transition. I'm not sure how much they got out of them, but at least they've had the opportunity to reflect specifically about the issues.

One of the things that they talk about is building a RAFT, which stands for
Reconcile—trying to resolve any conflict before leaving 
Affirm—telling important people how much they are valued before you leave 
Farewells—not just to the obvious, but also to places, pets, etc. 
Think and talk destinationdevelop realistic expectations about your destination
This family are friends of ours who were here for only a year.
They came, we spent time together, they left. Life
on the mission field and at CAJ is littered with
such stories!
I think we do fairly well on at least the last one. Not so sure about the others. But we'll need to try to do what we can. What's not in that acronym is praying about the future, especially I like to pray that God will prepare friendships and opportunities at the other end for my boys. Those are things you can't particularly control, but are very important.

For example, last time we did this big change, our eldest was 11 and just starting to make friends at school here when we went to Australia (he'd only been at CAJ for two years when we left). He struggled to make friends in his new school. 

One of the key things he used to do at school here with friends was play basketball at lunch-time. That opportunity wasn't there at his new school: the basketball court was out-of-bounds for primary schoolers. He hated this, so we explored other options. We signed him up to a basketball club and he trained and played with them for the rest of the 12 months we were in Australia. It definitely helped. He also gradually made some friends at school which made a difference too.

It's challenging as a parent to see your kids struggle over the friends issue. Even harder when you know that it is your job that has caused some of the problems, and that you don't have much control over it.

The population at a school like ours is quite fluid. Friends come and go, even if you aren't leaving yourself. That makes relationships more than the usual level of challenge.

The other day I came across an excellent article about third culture kids and grief. I especially like this quote at the beginning:
One of the major areas in working with TCKs is that of…dealing with the issue of unresolved grief. They are always leaving or being left. Relationships are short-lived.At the end of each school year, a certain number of the student body leaves, not just for the summer, but for good.It has to be up to the parent to provide a framework of support and careful understanding as the child learns to deal with this repetitive grief. Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.”  Dave Pollock

* A TCK is a child who's spent a significant period of their formative years in a culture that is not their passport culture.  I've written a little bit about it before, here's one post.

21 February, 2014

Friday Fragments

"Ancient History"
This morning I was surprised to find a photo of my 3rd grade class up on Facebook. It has started an interesting collection of comments from my long-ago classmates. Like a mini-reunion! 

Like the proverbial Pandora's Box, it opens up a space in my memory that I'd almost forgotten: names from a dim distant past, and situations that were distressing at the time but are now just ancient history. 

My youngest son is now in 3rd grade. In some ways this photo helped me to remember that the little things that distress now aren't as important as we like to make out. Someone pushed you at lunch, or you didn't get selected for that part, or your friend was absent today. 

Viewed from the distant future, it isn't such a big deal. Which doesn't mean I should become callous, but it does mean I shouldn't take things too seriously and personally (like him yelling at me when I didn't let him into the house within 20 seconds of him knocking yesterday afternoon).

Make-up Weekend
This weekend we're making up some of the events that were cancelled due to last weekend's snow storm. Two performances of the school musical (Little Women), and a Home Schooler's event at school. We're also doing some childcare tonight for a 4 y.o. boy whose parents are going to the musical without him. 

I'm looking forward to the musical and a quiet Saturday morning tomorrow when three of my four "boys" will be at school. Seeing how well my boys cope with "babysitting" tonight will also be interesting.

Work catch-up
A good portion of the start of February was sacrificed to my cold, so I haven't made as much progress on my usual work as I'd wished, especially the Japan Harvest work. So the last week or so I've been playing catch-up on that.

The projects uppermost in my mind at present are 

  • editing articles for the magazine, 
  • the 31 Days of Prayer as we try to get it to the printer by the end of the month, 
  • the Writer's Workshop/Retreat that I'm leading in the first week of March, and 
  • preparation for home assignment
So, it's been heads down (trying not to spend too much time on Facebook, or looking at old wrestling videos).

March is nearly here
I can't believe that Mad March is almost here. It is the month when:
  • I'm away for five days at the start (writer's workshop/retreat and women's retreat, same venue), 
  • David's away in Thailand with the CAJ Seniors for nine days in mid-March, 
  • our youngest is away at Soccer Camp for three days just after that, and 
  • we're all away at our mission conference for four days at the end of the month
Then we take a deep breath and plunge into the last run of school before the school year ends and we move back to Australia.

Yowch, I can't believe it. God give me strength!

20 February, 2014

Passion from the Winter Olympics

I spent some time yesterday afternoon with my language exchange friends and we inevitably got onto one of the current event stories here: the Winter Olympics. 

I was surprised to see one of my friends tear up as she talked about Japan's gold medalist,
Yuzuru Hanyu, in the Men's Figure skating. See here for more of his story. I love the photo in this story, when he and his coach saw his world record score.

This article includes some interesting backstory. Here is the pertinent bit:
And as things turned out, there was a sweet back story to his victory. Hanyu is from Sendai, Japan, where the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 hit the fiercest. His practice rink was destroyed. But the people of Sendai, with all their troubles, still helped him raise enough money to relocate to Toronto and train for these Games.
"I don't think I'm here spiritually all by myself," Hanyu said after his victory. "I am here because of all the people who supported me. I was able to return a favor, if you want to put it that way. The medal itself can't assist with the recovery. But now that I've won it, perhaps there is something I can do, going forward from today."
Another journalist wrote this:
And then Hanyu said something equally extraordinary, when asked by the media about March 11, 2011, a day many of his friends didn't survive. "It's a very difficult subject for me to talk about," he said. "I think my service to all those who were affected by the earthquake starts today." This, he added: "is going to be the starting point for what I can do for the recovery." 
And then gave some passionate advice to the gold medal winner from Sendai here.  

19 February, 2014

More funny English in Japan

I'm still playing catch-up from my elongated cold early in February, then a day out for the Wrestling Tournament last week, then a snow day and then, to top it all off, four-day Winter break. It all equals lots of time when I couldn't work on the things that I need to work on!

Update: I don't have a middle ear infection, don't know if I ever did. I went to an ENT yesterday who said that middle ear infections are accompanied, in adults, by intense pain. I never had intense pain! However, that leaves me with a gummed up eustachian tube that isn't working properly yet and without 100% hearing in my left ear. He said, "Be patient, there's nothing more we can do except continue taking the medication you already have." Sigh. At least I don't have to take any more antibiotics.

So, in lieu of a decent post, I've a couple of photos of fun English:

My husband asked me to buy him some more L sized washing up gloves.
This was two right-handed rubber gloves that were, apparently, fluffy
inside. I didn't buy them!

And in the same 100 yen shop I found this Milk Tea (cold) that
apparently is in "off mode".
In the red circle below is says, "Calorie Off",
so I guess that is what it means: low in calories!?!

18 February, 2014

A Boy's Day Out

We're in the middle of Winter Break. A four day weekend (extended by one day to five, with a snow day on Friday) that usually seems just a little late to be called Winter Break and a little short, but this year with snow lying around, it doesn't seem too late to be called a Winter Break.

We always wonder what to do with this four-day break. It is too short to have a decent time away and too cold to go camping or hanging out in a park. This year we've not done much. We stayed home on Friday and Saturday, only went to church on Sunday, and the boys won't be going anywhere today. Yesterday, however, we planned to get out. We drove 33km south (1 ½ hr drive there and 2 ½ back) to a place called Machida on the southern edge of Tokyo.
It is set out from a corner of the store, with
lots of glass (and lights for night-time illum-
ination). A highly visible attraction for people
travelling by.

Our goal was an Outlet Mall that has a shop, Mont Bell, with a "pinnacle" climbing boulder). It just so happened that the Mall has a restaurant that Americans often talk to us about, "Outback". An American chain restaurant with something of an Australian theme. Alas we are yet to try it out as the one we saw yesterday doesn't open for lunch.

So, we went to an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant instead, which didn't disappoint. However I didn't fully enjoy it. My continuing ear problem means noisy environments are very distracting. Nor was I mentally prepared for such an experience. In any case, our focus was on the rock climbing afterwards, and we didn't really linger over our meal. But I've almost given up lingering over meals as a goal. My boys just don't do it. And we had four of them yesterday. Our youngest son's best friend came with us. He only has sisters and a baby brother, so came to enjoy a "boys day out" with us.

The rock climbing was good, but I didn't get a chance to do it. We were feeling the time-pinch by then, knowing that we'd have crowded roads to drive home on, so we just let the four boys climb. It is about 15m high with a variety of levels of climbs. The three younger boys took one of the easiest climbs and we challenged our teenager with his long, strong limbs to go for something harder. He was dripping by the end of his five minute climb. He's definitely more used to taking physical risks closer to the ground! Thankfully he was well belayed and never at risk of falling, however close he felt.

It only cost 500 yen (about $5) per primary-aged boy (700 yen for the older one), but it is a little too far away from our place. However we really can't complain because though the drive was slowish, but not bumper-to-bumper and the boys were good for most of the trip. 

I did find an English list of a number of other climbing places in Tokyo (see here if you're interested), some of which are much closer, but some have various restrictions on them or are much more expensive. We do actually have an outside climbing wall at our local gym, and a friend has volunteered to find out if casual climbers can use it (we thought it was only for club members).

Anyway, I'm glad we got out with these boys. Today they are definitely showing signs of needing to be back at school with some productive goals in mind.

16 February, 2014

They Grow Up

I had a conversation with a friend after church today. He's in the deep throes of little-boy parenting. He wondered if I wanted two more boys for a while . . . I tried to reassure him that these boys do grow up and fairly fast too! He said, "So people keep trying to tell me."

During the service, I was sitting next to my biggest boy (who turns 15 in May). It isn't too long ago that I had to take a swag of things to keep him busy and sitting quietly (or, as he grew, encourage him to bring his own stuff). 
My "fiddle toy" (pen for size comparison).

This boy has so much energy! From the time when he could get around he's always moved. It was crazy for us until he learned to read, then we would get some rest time. It is one reason we love to see him doing sports and using his energy in a positive fashion (it also helps him sleep at night). 

Usually these days, though, he sits very quietly through a whole service (an hour). 

Today he was a tiny bit restless, which led him to fiddle with things like a plastic bag, and the clip on some headphones. I don't mind him fiddling, but those things were making noises in the ultra-quiet environment of a church devoid of younger children (they were all in Sunday School or in the "cry" room out the back). So I fished out a small item that I carry with me. I carry it because I'm also a fidgeter, I need something in my hands in a situation where I'm just listening, or a little bit bored but have to sit still and look attentive. This little coil fits easily onto one of my fingers and so is a perfect, less than obvious "toy" to fiddle with.
Perhaps a slightly better photo?

It was all my son needed to sit quietly for the rest of the service. Ten years ago I wouldn't have believed you, if you'd have said that would be all it would take. Actually, even five years ago!

So, take heart, all you parents who ever despair of your kids sitting quietly in an environment such as that, it can and will happen! Indeed, these kids do grow up and shed those childish things that we tear our hair out about!

15 February, 2014

Snow Days

The road out the front of our house that we
walk down to go to school.

In the midst of yesterday's wrestling excitement, I didn't mention that school was cancelled yesterday, as well as the musical scheduled to be performed last night and today, as well as the homeschoolers' event at school today (where my husband was going to be taking a class on hands-on science). 

The snow started really light and it looked for a while like a bad decision to cancel all those things, but the snow kept coming and got heavier later in the day and into the night. We've ended up with another huge snowfall (for Tokyo). For the second time in a week our road is covered with piles of the stuff. Don't be fooled, it is very wet and not too much fun for playing in. It is light on top, but certainly quite heavy underneath for shovelling. I've seen a number of photos on Facebook of carport roofs collapsing. Thankfully our carport is under the house, so no problems there.

This is very unusual weather for Tokyo. We've seen winters where there is no snow, or only enough to dust the ground before it melts. We're not set up for it, so it looks bizarre to those in places like Sapporo in the north, where they almost never cancel events for snow.

Here's what the road usually looks like. Two cars find it
difficult to pass in front of our house where that power
pole is. There isn't much room to pile snow. We only have
enough room to park two small bikes between our house and the
front fence. No room to pile snow inside our fence line.
Today the temperature has shot up several degrees (it about 8 or 9 now the sun's out) and the snow is melting quickly off roofs and dropping on unsuspecting people or gardens below. But there is too much for it to all disappear quickly. We cleared a path to the drain down the road, but I'm not sure how much help that will be.
The space between the front of our house
and the front fence, with two
snowed-in bikes.

This morning I went out and took over from David in clearing at least the road back to the white line you see in the photo without snow. It was pretty exhausting, but then I've done almost no exercise in two and a half weeks due to this cold I'm still recovering from (my left ear is still deaf, I'm not sure the antibiotics have worked their magic, and my asthma is gradually settling, but I'm still on a high dosage of medication).

But I'm not complaining. This storm has given us a five-day long weekend. This weekend would have been four days long and is called "Winter Break". But this storm has cleared the calendar of events, so we only have church on Sunday morning and a family excursion on Monday that you'll hear more about later. Other than that, we're hanging around at home. Which, I have to admit, is a welcome break, after our many busy weekends since Christmas.

Looking right from our front gate.
Our small backyard is drowning in snow.
In case you're wondering, there is not access
from the front to the back (except about
a 30cm wide path on both sides of the house
that I've never tried to go along).
It is surreal to read of people complaining of a 35 degree day in my birth-town. Yeah, different sides of the equator alright!

14 February, 2014

Oh the fun you can have when you . . .

Yesterday I had such a fun day! As I wrote on Monday, I went to the biggest annual wrestling event that our school is involved in. It included international and US base schools from Japan, Korea, and Guam. 16 schools in all. Quite large considering our local league is only six schools.

We left home at about 7.30, arrived a bit after 9 and watched continuous wrestling until after 5pm. That's right, continuous—there was no lunch break. The two mats that filled the gym each had a wrestling match going on for more than eight hours!

It was noisy and busy. Plenty of tension and emotion in the air, since every bout counted.

Five of the six mums who were there yesterday. We had a
bird's-eye view from the top of the stands and had a great time.
Two of these mums saw their sons win gold today.
Most schools didn't have many parent supporters, because they'd come a long way. So our team of eleven guys and two coaches, with about a dozen parents, was privileged. And I tell you we made a lot of noise at times! Especially fun was having these other mums here. 

There was great spirit amongst the parents and I had some great, if somewhat fragmented, conversations with a couple of other mums. Watching wrestling like this isn't conducive to good conversation, because our team was fairly strong and frequently we were interrupted by needing to cheer for someone, sometimes two at once! We had lots of fun!

One reason I went was to take our wrestling son so that he could watch some higher level wrestling and learn. But also to familiarise him with this bigger event, presuming that he'll probably be on the team in a couple of years. He's glad he went, though it was a long day and he did get a little bored because he wasn't wrestling himself. 
This was a long and hard fought match. We yelled like crazy.
Here the ref is about to raise the CAJ wrestler's arm.

But I am super glad that I went. After watching these guys all season, it was fabulous to see them wrestling at their best. Our team did very well, better that I expected. Of our 11 wrestlers, six of them ended up in Finals. It is a three day event and the finals matches (for the first six places) were held this morning. I was very hard not to go back today. Our school ended up with two golds (Far East Champions), two silvers, two bronzes and one sixth.

At one point the seniors were warming up on this stage
area (with 16 schools in the gym, plus spectators and
coaches, there wasn't much room). A couple of the mums
went down to take a photo of them. I was way down the
other end of the gym and my zoom didn't quite cut it
in this low-light environment.
Those six medals were all taken by Seniors who've been wrestling for several years together. It would have been sweet to have been there to see that. 

I especially want to hug the mum of one of the guys who took out a gold. He has worked so hard at his wrestling, but always seems to get third, to lose out to a bad draw or a bad call from the refs. And he's such a lovely guy, a really great sport too. But this time, when it most counted, he triumphed against an excellent wrestler (to whom he'd lost at least twice this season).

I was really touched to see two of the wrestlers give their mums hugs at the end of the day. So sweet!

This is an attempt to take a panorama shot with my little
camera to give you a sense for what the place looked like.
On a funny note, I used US currency for the first time ever. We've gathered some in a little zip-lock bag as we've moved on and off US bases, and our son went to Guam last year too. My husband dragged it all out on Wednesday and said, you could use some of this up. Good idea! Unfortunately, not as easy as it sounds. If you've travelled overseas, you'll know it takes a while to get to know a new currency. I could manage the bills okay, the quarters (25 cents) were also okay, but the rest of the coins were a bit of a mystery. I ended up pulling all my change out and asking the lady at the concessions stand for some help. She picked through my coins and found (I hope) the appropriate ones. She was fully sympathetic, though, as a military wife she's lived in at least Japan and Europe and has had to deal with those currencies. I was very grateful for her help!

One advantage to the long travelling times in this city (the 22km took us over an hour yesterday), is that you can have some great conversations. We travelled with the above mentioned wrestler's parents. It was great to get to know them better.

But this marks the end of my wrestling highs for now. I'll just have to settle down for a bit and . . . hmmm, sleep in on Saturdays? Or, start working harder on preparing for home assignment? Maybe both!

But first I want to see some videos from today's finals...

12 February, 2014

Avoiding harm

I found this great advice from a veteran writer late last year: 
"When we tell only of our achievements, we do harm in two ways.
First, we imply we're above failure and therefore better or more mature than they are. Second, we imply that they're inferior because they struggle over issues that don't trouble us." Cec Murphey (See the whole blog post here.)
Here's a piece of honesty: this was one of our camping days
in Hokkaido last year. It was a pretty horrid day. The boys
were scared witless about the large bees that buzzed around
our tent. There were also a lot of mozzies about. Lots of anger
and shouting happened, and mostly by me!
Karen (an Aussie who works as a teacher in Cambodia, and who often reads and comments on this blog) wrote the following in response to the quote above:
I actually "hate" that some people hold missionaries up as "heroes". I know I'm not. I'm an ordinary person called to work in a different location, but I'm definitely no hero. I struggle, I fail, I shout at my kids and immediately wish I hadn't, I get tired, I get mad. I'm human. At the same time I love what God has called me to do.
It is one of the main reasons I keep this blog going, as a living testimony of how my family and I are just ordinary people, not heroes.

But Cec's words are good advice, not just for writers or missionaries, but it applies not just to professional writers, but for anyone on Facebook too! 

But as a missionary it is a good reminder that my newsletters or prayer letters should never just be about our family's or ministry's achievements. I've been accused in the past of being too open about our family's failures, but I'm not repenting of my ways! Yes, I've learned to be careful, especially about talking about other people in my family, but I will continue to be open about how human and not-perfect we are.

How about you? Has someone discouraged you by their seemingly perfect life? Has someone unexpectedly encouraged you by being honest about things in their life that aren't perfect?

11 February, 2014

Results of the Big Bedroom Switch

The great bedroom switch is now a couple of weeks behind us now and maybe you're wondering how it went. It was a big couple of days, switching it all over (incorporated into a big weekend that I wrote about here). However, I think it has all been worth it!

Two desks. Our middle son loves having his desk
here. It's shifted around a little in the past, but mostly
been just off the dining room in the lounge so that I
could supervise him (he's a terrific procrastinator).
However, he loves being up here after school on his
own (his older brother hasn't been coming home until
6.30 or later from wrestling training recently). The
biggest difficulty with this is arrangement is me
remembering to go up and check that he is
actually working.

The reason we changed was to help one of our sons who needed a break from the brother he was rooming with. He's settled down a lot since he's moved out, for which we're very grateful. The biggest issue we're dealing with now is a preteen who's struggling to go to sleep at an appropriate time because he wants to talk to his beloved older brother, who stays up later.

With the shifting of furniture, the ambiance of both rooms has changed considerably, to my surprise. We wondered how our biggest extrovert would cope with being in a room on his own, but he seems to be fine, even enjoying the peace.

And, as I said in that previous post, the shift enabled us to throw a lot of stuff out or put it aside for sale at CAJ's Thrift Shop in April. That was a bonus!

10 February, 2014

Another disappointing cancellation

We suffered another disappointment yesterday when we received an email telling us that today's Kanto Wrestling Finals was cancelled because not all the schools could participate due to school closings today. And we were given no hope of a reschedule.

After all the hard work our son and his team has done, it was very disappointing.
This area of Japan hosted a big snow storm
on Saturday, one of the biggest in the last
45 years. That is why the meet was
cancelled on Saturday.
This, by the way, was our backyard
on Saturday afternoon.
Additionally, this was his final (and best) chance at a medal because he'd only be competing against Junior Varsity (JV) wrestlers. He was hoping he might even get a gold, because he's beaten most, if not all the JV wrestlers he's met over the season. Alas, it was not to be.

Nonetheless we celebrate his season, it's been a good one. His tally was 13 wins and 4 losses. This is not at all what we expected, having been warned by the coach that high school was a big step up from the middle school competition. For sure, it looks better because he's been a JV wrestler, not a Varsity wrestler, but still, it's been a huge confidence boost for him and a blast for us as spectators watching him.

What's next?
Now we look forward to what's next. First I'm taking him to the first day of the three day "Far East" event on Thursday. "Far East" is the US Department of Defence (DOD) term for the Pacific region. All their DOD schools in the area (Korea, Japan, Guam) get together, and they invite some international schools like CAJ to compete too. It's a biggie, and only the Varsity wrestlers get to go. However one of the coaches at school suggested it would be good to take our son to see some higher level wrestling and prepare him for his (Lord willing) future involvement in the event. So I get one more wrestling meet to watch, but our son will just be an observer.

After this week our son plans to go back to his Japanese wrestling club once or twice a week. We're hoping he'll continue to work out after school some days in the weights room. His plan is to stay in shape because, as I wrote back here, he'll be joining a Australian wrestling club in July. We're not sure what the competition schedule will be like there, but it could be that they will have meets once every month or two. Last year there was a State championship in December. 

It will be an interesting experience, especially as there are only three clubs (that we know of) in the whole state. Our younger boys' eyes lit up this morning when I mentioned that they themselves could be wrestling in a meet before the end of the year! Phew, won't that be a challenging experience for mum? Three boys all wrestling competitively on the same day!

End of season reflections
But before I leave this wrestling post (and there sure have been a lot of them this season), I want to remember this post I wrote back at the end of our son's first wrestling season. It was a big surprise at the time to realise how much good value there was to be gained by participation in this sport. Here are some of the qualities I noted in that post, that I saw in developing in my son as he participated in wrestling:
  • sportsmanship
  • ability to cope with losing
  • perseverance
  • patience
  • ability to overcome frustration in the heat of the moment
  • compassion
  • coaching and encouraging others
I stand by all of that and would add, "Learning from losing". Of course you can learn these in many different endeavours in life, it just so happens that our son is learning them through being a wrestler. It's exciting to see how he's grown as a wrestler (comparing this year's videos to his first year!) as well as grown and matured as a young man.

And I continue to be thankful for his coaches. They are passionate about their sport. They care about their team, they are always trying to help each wrestler be better than they are, to learn from their mistakes and experiences. But they also care more about God than they care about wrestling. This brings a great balance to the whole affair and they don't hesitate to talk to the guys about faith and life. It's fantastic to have such great role models for our guys.

09 February, 2014

Stuck in the muck

This morning we trudged through mushy snow to get to church. We all had snow boots/gum boots on so getting wet feet shouldn't have been a problem. 

Part of our walk home next to a local river. It is gorgeous
out today. Warm enough at 8 degrees. And the snow
is melting at quite a rate. Some places on the way home we
waded through melted snow up to ankle deep.
Except, have you ever seen children and snow? They rarely just walk past it (unless they're bored of it because they live in it for months, like we did when we live in the north of Japan). They touch it, scrunch it, pick it up, kick it, poke it, throw it, rumble in it. So, our boys inevitably got wet socks going to church. 

Therefore I shouldn't have been surprised when I glanced over at my middle son towards the end of the service and found him with his sock off. He had it up to his mouth and was blowing in it!

It reminded me of something I wrote on Christmas Day:
    I wonder how much culture shock Jesus suffered. After all he came from a perfect existence to a very smelly, dirty, painful one. But he did enter as a baby. It's not something really dwelt on in the Bible.
   I wonder, partly because last night I struggled to rise above the smelly and yucky of my world to engage in the Christmas Eve Candle service. I was wearing a mask in deference to our host culture, keeping my messy cold to myself and seated in a pew between two of our boys.
    I tried to savour the singing, though I didn't have enough breath to sing myself, and the Bible readings using my English translation.
    The mask was distracting, when I was having trouble breathing anyway, the mask made it worse by making the air warm... But worst of all was sneezing into it. Imagining having all those yuckies all over my face and breathing through it all was almost enough to make me want to throw up.
    Then there was a distinct sound from my left and the remaining ability I had to smell told me the boy had let one loose. Thankfully Japanese are stoic and there was no tittering, but I can only imagine what they thought, especially after this had happened two or three more times through the service.
    As I said, it was hard to concentrate on the blessed and holy! I'm just thankful that I'm saved by grace and not by the ability to concentrate perfectly.
Yep, church with kids is not something serene, it is not an activity done with a single mind and purified of all that is yucky. 

Yet, I love these boys. They keep me grounded. Just when I might be beginning to think I've made myself holy or becoming close to being acceptable to God, they remind me that my feet are firmly planted in all that isn't pure and light. In fact I'm downright plastered in the muck. No matter how hard I try, there's no way I can become acceptable to God. I'm too messy and live in a world just as bad. 
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (NIVUK)
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (The Message)
But isn't the following something to look forward to: (The Message again.)
Revelation 21:21 The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God—the Sovereign-Strong—and the Lamb are the Temple. The City doesn’t need sun or moon for light. God’s Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth’s kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won’t be any night. They’ll bring the glory and honor of the nations into the City. Nothing dirty or defiled will get into the City, and no one who defiles or deceives. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will get in. 

08 February, 2014

Embracing the unexpected

Today has turned out a lot different to what we'd expected.

I've spent all week hoping my cold would be better by Saturday so that I wouldn't have to miss going to the wrestling finals. Yesterday afternoon I was in there process of convincing myself that I'd be fine by today when my husband texted me saying that the finals were cancelled. The forecast was for a day-long snow storm. 

Once I got over my initial personal disappointment, I realised how disappointing this would be for the wrestlers, especially the Junior Varsity (JV) ones (the B-team, which our son is a part of). Because this was to be their last meet. The Varsity team (A-team) still have a 3-day meet called "Far East" from Thursday next week, where they'll compete against not just the five other schools around Tokyo-Yokohama area, but other international and US defence schools in Asia.

Not only was it to be the last meet for the JV wrestlers, but I believe it is to the be only event where they get their own competition and awards. That is, they won't be competing against the varsity wrestlers.

A while later we received an email from the coach telling us that the whole meet had been rescheduled for Monday. Thankfully I have nothing on Monday that couldn't be changed or skipped, so I was free to go. David volunteered to drive the bus, and so he's able to go also. Unfortunately our younger two sons will have to rely on our reports and videos to appreciate the event.
Mid-morning just before I walked to
the doctor. Not too bad, if you're dressed
warmly enough and keep moving.

So, today isn't what we expected. It is what the weather bureau expected, though: it's snowing. Not hard, but constantly, enough that it's accumulating slowly on any horizontal surface.

Once the wrestling meet had been rescheduled I realised what a good thing that was. It would give me another couple of days to get better from this persistent cold. Plus, give our boys a quiet, restful weekend. At least two of the boys have been coming home from school very tired this week, like their bodies are fighting off something. A quiet Saturday definitely sounded like a good thing.

I thought I was getting better yesterday afternoon, I had more energy and the symptoms seemed to be slowly abating. But later as I coughed and coughed my way to bed, I realised that today would also be a good opportunity to go and be checked out by the doctor, hopefully getting some more/better medication for my cold-stimulated asthma. 

So this morning I hiked off through the snow to the doctor. Perfect day to go, too. It seems that the snow kept most people home, so I hardly had to wait at all. Turns out I also have a middle ear infection, which explains the deafness in my left ear. Got meds for that, plus permission to use more asthma meds. Hopefully with these aids, my body will overcome this bug and let me get on with important things that are piling up. 

Just when I was feeling, at the end of January, that I was getting ahead with the magazine editing, this cold has smitten me and I've done practically nothing in that line this week. Nothing like illness to help you realise how little control you really have!

But now I have a clear afternoon. It's the perfect afternoon to do some baking for the busy week ahead. My husband cooked up some apples this morning, so I'm going to bake an Apple Pie, and hopefully some apple muffins with any left-over apple. There also has been a request for Snickerdoodles. That will keep me from sitting still and feeling sorry for myself!