31 August, 2015

35 yen margin

I was saved by only 35 yen today (about 40 cents). It's something that catches me every time I come back after an extended time in Australia.

Japan is a cash society. So all my daily transactions are in cash. I've never tried to pay for groceries with a plastic card, whereas in Australia I do that all the time. It's not unusual to carry more than 10,000 yen of cash (AUD$115) in my purse. 

I paid for 250 yen for coffee this afternoon with a 10,000 yen note! No problem.

But this morning I nearly ran out of cash in my purse. I stopped at three different shops for groceries this morning (hunting for capsicum), my last stop was our usual grocery store and the total of my bill was 35 yen under what I had on me. Phew! 

It wouldn't have been the first time that I'd run out of cash at that store. It's always embarrassing! (Here's a story from last time we came back, a double embarrassment that time as I went into the wrong house and called for my husband and his wallet.)

Another cash difference here is that not only do they not blink if you give them a large denomination note for a small purchase. Neither do they appear to mind if you root around for the exact change. It is easy to end up with too many one and five yen coins, so I usually try to use them as often as I can, even if it is, say a 2,543 yen purchase, I might give them 3 x 1,000 in notes, plus 3 yen, or 43 yen if I had it. No problem. I don't do this so often in Australia. But of course we don't have any one or two cent coins in Australia, so this isn't so much an issue.

It's always an adjustment to go either way. Going back to Australia I need to remember my pin number and how to sign my name! Lots of fun, keeping me on my toes.

30 August, 2015

Sore throat and moving up another gear

Back to Work
A rare team meeting for Japan Harvest in 2013. We primarily
work from our homes, and if meetings happen, they are
either by Skype or between two of us at a coffee shop.
With the boys successfully started back at school I move into an even higher gear. On Tuesday I start back working as the managing editor of Japan Harvest. I've been dipping my toe into the waters over the last few weeks, but from Tuesday I'm having one-on-one meetings with most of the team that has worked so hard in my year-long absence. Hopefully by next Saturday I'll have a better sense of where things are now and where we need to head. But also what immediate responsibilities I have to deal with.

I think I'm looking forward to it. I'm glad for the 14 months I've had away, I surely feel refreshed as a result of not dealing with the magazine on a daily basis. Working on a quarterly magazine is a relentless occupation. There is no end, though there are celebrations along the way. But putting together a quality magazine with volunteers and with an almost none-existent budget, produces a fair number of challenges.

Health concern
Before Tuesday I have Monday. I'm going back to an ENT doctor tomorrow to see if I can get more help for a throat problem that's been troubling me for over a month now. My lower throat is inflamed. That's all I know. We don't know why, though 1 ½ courses of antibiotics haven't tamed it. I haven't lost my voice, I'm not having serious difficulties swallowing and breathing is fine (now that my asthma has settled down). Nor am I feeling ill.

I don't want to go back to the doctor, because to look at the affected area he has to put a camera down there via my nose and it's uncomfortable as it sounds. It triggers my gag reflex, and he's lucky I don't throw up on him! Thankfully a good friend who has better Japanese than I has offered to come along with me. There's something about discomfort like that that renders my limited Japanese ability even more limited.

Hopefully I'll have some better news to report about that soon. In the meantime, life goes on. I'm off to heat up some left-overs for our hungry boys (the older two have recently taken to eating bowls of rice between meals to keep the hunger pains at bay).

27 August, 2015


Today is a busy day for me. One of the exciting things I get to do is go to a free Michael W. Smith concert with my family at CAJ tonight. Yay! He's in town in relation to Billy Graham Crusade events. Here's a video of a more recent song of his.

So much asking

Missionaries seem to always ask.
Asking, asking, asking. Always asking.

We ask for prayer and for help. Many ask for money too.

It's an aspect of our lives that probably annoys some people. To be honest, it annoys me too sometimes. I'm happy to be through this latest transition, because now I can stop asking for help so much.

But even on the field we ask. It's not uncommon to see posts on Facebook from missionary friends like:
"Anyone know of a good dentist/orthopaedic surgeon/orthodontist/masseur? One who speaks English would be great."
"Where do you get Cranberry Sauce/Desiccated Coconut from?"
"Can you tell me where I can buy big cuts of meat besides Costco? Local would be good."
"Local friends. Is someone available to look after my kids this Thursday?"

We ask native speakers for language and culture help, for medical help, legal help, all sorts of help. 

And of course we continue to write prayer letters and prayer points, asking for prayer support.

It hurts to be dependent From time to time it hurts to feel so dependent. I'm grateful for the time I spent as an independent, single, professional woman before we began this journey. It comforts me to know that though I'm very dependent now for many things, that's not because I'm a slacker. It's not because I prefer not to stand on my own two feet.

I read a couple of posts around this topic recently. This one is asking why missionaries ask for so much.
Others must get tired of our petitions, because we get tired of asking. It’s embarrassing. It’s humbling. It makes us feel like a needy child instead of a responsible adult.
She goes on to give three excellent reasons why missionaries ask. And encourages people around missionaries to encourage them to keep asking.

Is dependency despicable?
Dependency, it's something that's deplored by our western societies. It's something I grew up learning how to avoid. I'm trying to educate my kids so they won't have to be dependent, I'm trying to teach them self-care and household care tasks so they will be independent. As an Occupational Therapist, that's where we were hoping to get clients/patients: to the point of being independent. 

Yet I'm not independent, our family isn't independent. This article about dependency was written by a missionary in Haiti, obviously dealing with a lot of dependent people and wondering about her own status.

She asks three good questions:
Am I going to become too accustomed to living off of financial gifts?
How different am I than my Haitian neighbor who depends on foreign aid?
Will I ever be able to not have to ask for help?
Dangerous independence
Yet there's a danger in independence. 

God highlights it to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8, when he talks about how dependent they were as a nation in the years of wandering in the desert. He humbled them and taught them in the desert. Then he warns them as they head into the Promised Land, that as they gain in independence they should be careful not to forget God.
17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. Deuteronomy 8, NIV. 
Check out the whole chapter, it is full of this theme. 

I wrote about this theme of hankering after independence three years ago here and a friend reminded me of this verse:
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.
(2 Corinthians 3:5 ESV)

26 August, 2015

Our Summer Holidays in Tokyo

We've noticed that our family has mostly moved out of the "little boys" stage onto different types of entertainment. Looking back at my blog during previous Tokyo summers, I can see we spent time going to large parks. These days our guys don't like hiking and it takes a pretty special park to keep them entertained for longer than half an hour these days. Not to mention that mid-summer in this part of Japan, a park isn't very comfortable unless you're a little kid playing in the free-water-play section of a park. Our guys are mostly too big for that too.

So during August we had to come up with a different plan. We made the effort to get out of the house for an outing downtown a couple of times. It was an effort to get the boys out of the house. One of them, especially, seems to have put his roots down deep. You probably can't blame him, after the year we've had.

In any case, our house isn't big and staying at home for days on end gets tired (they've been encouraged to go out and exercise at least every couple of days). So we made a goal of getting out together once a week during the August to do something fun.

Ikebukuro trip
In the second week of the month we went to Ikebukuro, the closest "big city" area to us. It is about 30 minutes by train. We visited a long-time favourite shop Tokyu Hands, it has about seven stories of interesting stuff. Goods that you can't find at just any store. 

We were there for an hour before hunger overtook us and we headed off for lunch, but it is a shop you could spend a long time in (and money). Our eldest found some more dice for his collection and David and I found presents for our family in Australia (we need to post them in October if we're to get the cheap postage rate, so it isn't really too early).
Um, something to hold your pen?
Balloon fingerpuppet.
Hippo crayons
Pizza, two of which are dessert pizzas. An apple-type dessert and a banana
and chocolate dessert.

We found a "new" all-you-can-eat restaurant, an American Pizza restaurant: Shakeys. It had great atmosphere and yummy food!  The linch-time prices were pretty good, especially for a family with hungry big boys. It was a pity I wasn't feeling great that day.

Then in order to walk off some of that pizza we walked to ToysRUs to browse. It's not too far, but it was underground and air-conditioned, which was pretty much a must on a day that was above 35 degrees!

We were very tired by the end of this trip. The heat was a very big factor (but I was ill with a cold, an inflamed throat, and asthma too). But it was a fun excursion, and great to get everyone out of the house for a bit.

Omotesando trip
The next week we went to a place further south, but only a 45 minute train journey. Trains these days are so much easier, with big boys who aren't likely to run away or get lost easily. After living here for eight years I'm also getting more relaxed and less overwhelmed by the trains.

The area is called Omotesando (if you click the link you'll get an impression of the street, I neglected to take a photo).

Our destination was a chocolate cafe: Max Brenners. We discovered in Australia (see here and here) that, while an ordinary cafe might be okay with our guys, a chocolate cafe is really worth searching out. Restaurant eating was not something done just for the fun of it when our kids were younger, but now they're older it can be an enjoyable outing and memory.

Unfortunately a lot of other people thought the same thing. We waited 45 minutes in a line on the footpath to be given the privilege of getting a seat inside. Thankfully this was a slightly cooler day and we had plenty of shade.

The decoration on the wall above our seat reads, "Chocolate is good for you."
The wait wasn't so easy. There were interpersonal niggles. But once we got inside, chocolate "solved" all the problems and made the wait worth it. 

We had chocolate fondue as well as chocolate milk shakes. Oh my. So rich! So yummy! 

So expensive, but as my husband rationalised, it was a much cheaper outing than taking everyone to an amusement or water park.
Chocolate fondue. White and milk chocolate. The middle one
is a toffee. The flame on the right is for cooking your marshmallows
It was very upmarket marshmallow cooking!
This was an interesting area of Tokyo, apparently internationally famous. Very upmarket and expensive and very crowded. Not a place you'd usually find our family at all. Some of the shops we walked past looked so exclusive, I'm sure the suit-dressed employees with gloves on wouldn't have let our rag-tag lot in. The air temperatures coming out of there were something sub-20 (at least it felt that way).

After overfilling ourselves on chocolate we did find one shop more to suited to our budget. It was called the Awesome Store! The boys didn't find it as awesome as they'd hoped, but then shopping is not their favourite thing. It was pretty busy, apparently it's a trendy place in Omotesando just now. The website boasts in English, "The HOTTEST store in Harajuku at the moment." Similar to Tokyu Hands in that it had unusual items for sale, but on a much smaller scale (just two small floors). The prices were reasonable.

But we were on a hurry. We arranged for a friend of our youngest to come over to our house that afternoon and the time we'd organised was approaching quickly. So we didn't linger.

That night the older two boys had a movie "night." Something we did a couple of times a week throughout August. That night they watched Harry Potter number 3. But as a family we watched the entire series of Star Wars. It was another fun way to pass the long summer holidays when you're stuck in a stinking hot summer with teens and pre-teens who'd rather stay home than anything else.

So there's a tiny glimpse of some special things we did to enjoy summer "at home" in Tokyo. Most of the rest of the days were spent hanging out at home with books, Lego, electronic games, and board games. Oh, there was exercise too. The boys were encouraged to go outside and exercise just before dinner. Our eldest got into quite a good habit of going for a run before dinner.

25 August, 2015

Starting school for the second time this year

I'm a bit slow, so it didn't dawn on me till this week that we've got something new happening this school year. David is teaching one of his own children for the first time!

Our 16 y.o. is taking Physics with his dad. It's going to be interesting. Our son remarked that it will be intriguing to see a different side of his dad.

It's also the only year that we'll have one elementary student, one middle school student, and one high school student.

School started this morning for the students, David's been working part/full-time for a few weeks now. It was a happy and peaceful start for our family. Not quite what I imagined because there has been some anxiety here. After all when you go away for a year and then come back, especially when you're entering puberty, lots of things can change. That gives plenty to worry about, if you are so inclined.

However they were glad to be finally returning to the place that they've dreamed about for the last 14 months. Ready to step out and see what really had changed. In many ways CAJ (Christian Academy in Japan) is their second home. When they talked in Australia about missing Japan, one of the biggest things they missed was the school.

We noticed in our year in Australia that many found it difficult to comprehend what CAJ was like. Here is a quote from last years yearbook, that might help.
"This is a place where worlds collide to create the astonishingly diverse community that we know as our school. . . . One look at CAJ's statistics on ethnic diversity will tell you just how amazing this is. In the students body [Ed's note: there are about 450 students, in K-12.] . . . 36 nationalities are represented, with 37% possessing dual passports. 40% of the students are missionary children, and 60% are children of business and professional people. . . Many of us don't think about it, but CAJ is more than just a school; it is a place of international fellowship and growth." p7
They'll all be back soon, it's a half-day today, and I look forward to hearing how their first day went. We'll see how loose their tongues are, and how much I need to work to pry anything out of them.

In the meantime I've had a lovely quiet morning getting things done, including writing with no interruptions. Yay!

24 August, 2015

Sizzling Summers

It's been really hot this summer, but not for as long as usual (speaking from experience, not stats, mind). We had an eight-day heat wave (31st July to 7th August) with maximum temperatures at or above 35˚C. Since then it's been more mild except for the occasional spike. Of course the humidity has remained high.
This was one of the last nights of the heat wave in our bedroom. It was one
of the only nights, however, that I really struggled to sleep. I've been very
surprised at how well I've managed.

Because we've had relatively nice temps (only 29˚C or so at bedtime), I was surprised to find this on Saturday night. The humidity isn't shown, but it was around 89%. Just a bit hotter than we were used to.
Other than those extreme days and twelve other days that they were 34˚C or 35˚C temperatures have mostly been in the low 30s. 

What makes the summer especially hard to bear in Tokyo is the humidity. Average relative humidity commonly sits between 70% and 80% in summer, which is higher than a place like Brisbane. Brisbane tends to get very humid during the day, but that dissipates more at night-time than Tokyo's does.

My parents noticed that the nights are hot, that we rarely get a breeze of any kind (and they were here just before it got really awful), and that the houses are often hotter inside than out in this weather. 

The houses are packed close together, but I don't think that's necessarily the reason for the lack of breeze because we certainly get plenty of breeze at other times of the year. The hot nights are related to how much concrete and asphalt there is around. That effect is known as the Urban Heat Island effect.
  1. An urban heat island (UHI) is a city or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities.

Here's the heat index, which show that we've been living in the "Extreme Caution" and  "Danger" zone for weeks now.

The good news is that it's cooler today. My phone says it's currently 27˚C with 61% humidity. It was only 25˚C in our bedroom when we got up at 6.30 this morning, it felt almost chilly after what we've had. Our bodies have obviously adjusted. Friday was pretty mild at 29˚C,  but it was humid and a friend who's spent the last year in dry Seattle was very uncomfortable. 

How we feel about the climate is all relative! So it always surprises me when people persist in asking, "Which season is your favourite?" Because summer in Seattle, Glasgow, and Tokyo are obviously vastly different. Brisbane and Tokyo are much more similar, but I still prefer a Brisbane one.

By the way, here's a post I wrote two years ago comparing Tokyo, Brisbane, and Glasgow's climates, including some nice stats.

21 August, 2015

Food comes in smaller packaging

In Japan the packaging is smaller. (They also tend to overwrap things, but that is another blog post.)

The other day I needed just a little bit more cream, I got it, in the cutest pack. 100ml! Beside it in the photo is the usual size we buy cream (200ml) and behind is the largest bottle of milk you can buy (1L).

I can think of several reasons for this:
1. Many people shop daily. 
2. Shoppers often cart their goods home by hand or on a bike.
3. Kitchens are small.

Another reason why dairy products in particular are so small is that Japanese people don't use much of them.

20 August, 2015

Good times and bad times with teens

The other day I saw a clever blog post about the dangers of "trick babies".  

I relate. I had one, my first born slept through the night the first night home from hospital! Not that I haven't had significant other struggles with him. He wasn't a perfect trick baby, nor has been a perfect "trick child". Here's the point where I could add some stories to embarrass him (he reads my blog), but I'll hold back. 

Turns out he's been something of a trick teen. Not perfect, but nice compared to the horror stories parents with preteen kids shudder at. I've even enjoyed him, more so as a teen than when he was younger (he has a sense of humor now, for example). 

Again I have a privacy issue here and don't wish to expose my kids with details. Suffice to say that in recent months our family has seen more emotional ups and downs in a day (or hour), than we've ever had before. Some of it is the transition, but not all. There are hormones at work. It's hard! And that's saying it nicely. 
Sometimes parenting is like climbing a
wall. Very tough at times and while there is
some element of control, many times
it's your own particular piece of
"wall" that determines your progress.

However I had a wonderful day with my two older boys yesterday. As I mentioned yesterday we went downtown to shop and volunteer at the JEMA office. 

We also had fun with what I've discovered is the way to a teen's heart: food. We stopped for a snack at Maccas discovering that Japanese thick shakes are way more awesome that Australian ones (thicker), had a Subway/convenience store lunch, and finished off on the way home with donuts from Mister Donuts. I love sitting across from my boys and chatting. This was a form of the old "divide and conquer" parenting strategy. Two boys were more fun than three boys sometimes are. We also had better conversation than many times we eat together at home.

We made a score at the game shop, finding amidst hundreds of games you've never heard of, a game they've played and also labelled as "awesome". Even the two and a half hours of packaging-for-mailing we did in the afternoon was great fun. Happy conversation and more smiles than I've seen in one afternoon for a long time. We even got away with "pranking" each other (something a serious teen seems to struggle with, I'm learning more all the time). 

Not a perfect day. There were still unexplained sudden dips in moods and nit picking. But overall a very successful day. One I'd happily repeat. 

Back to teens. I've seen other difficult teens grow up and become well balanced adults (just not experienced it as a parent). So I'm clinging to the hope that this present pain is but a passing stage. Plus I move forward with the memory of the likes of yesterday, the glimpses of young men who are fun, clever, discerning, and even enjoy being responsible. 

19 August, 2015

Moving up a gear

We're at the end of 14 months of aberration from what was normal life over the previous four years. I've just sent David off to his first official day of work at school (students don't start till next Tuesday).
David working with some high school student on
maths last year.

It's been a crazy ride, but I'm glad that we've had a window of down-time over the last several weeks. In Australia we had little down-time. School holidays and weekends were filled with visits to family, friends and supporters. There was a distinct pressure to squeeze as much as we could into our year at home. A pressure to spend as much time with family and friends as we could. Those times were precious. But it was also tiring.

In Japan we don't feel that pressure. Of course there are other pressures.

Now we enter nine months of intense school year. There are only three and a half weeks holidays in the school year between now and next June!

But it's good to be back and settling back into routines. The boys aren't going to appreciate having breakfast at 7.20 each day (one of our boys came down for breakfast at 11.45 yesterday and was grumpy that it wasn't still available). But they'll get used to it. The routine and some serious purpose is what we're in need of now.

We're looking forward to many things we've missed in our year away, including school sports (wrestling, anyone?), being more involved in the school community, Thrift Shop etc. 

But today, we've got some different things planned. I'm taking the older two to downtown Tokyo to a rather impressive board games (for big people) shop. Then lunch and they'll come to the new JEMA office* to help pack this year's member directories. Hopefully it will be a fun outing. Meanwhile our youngest son will be taken care of at school (where they provide staff childcare in these pre-school days). Hopefully he'll have a super day too. He's been showing signs of needing more people than our family can provide.

Tonight I'm just a little excited over a new cooking experiment. I've made my own mini pizza bases and frozen them. Tonight we'll try out making pizzas on them. If this works, I'll definitely do it again (pizza bases, for that matter take-away pizzas in general are quite expensive for a family with big hungry boys).

*JEMA stands for Japan Evangelical Missionary Association, an organisation that helps missionaries to Japanese people by "Networking and equipping our members to make disciples for Christ." It is the JEMA who puts out the Japan Harvest magazine I work on.

18 August, 2015

Unwanted adventure

Yesterday I had an adventure I'd rather not have had.

Our nearly 13 y.o. has a cross-bite (top teeth on both sides of his bottom teeth when his jaw is closed, preventing heathy chewing and a precursor to problems later in life), so in May we'd been strongly advised to seek orthodontic intervention. Of course we waited to begin till we came back to Japan, thinking it would be easier if we could do the whole thing (or at least the major beginning stuff) with the one practitioner.
A view of Mt Fuji from our train station.

We did what we almost always do in Japan when looking into something new, like a new professional or service, we ask around. Word of mouth is the a big way that expats survive, how we find out about these things. We asked a friend with three boys who'd all had braces who they saw and have gone from there. We were particularly looking for someone not too far away and one with a little bit of English would make things a little bit easier.

Trouble is, we needed to catch a bus, a number 12 bus. The bus stop was next to the train station, not too far away, as we figured out which bus we needed to catch.

But it wasn't easy getting our young man out of the house yesterday. He was in the midst of a good book in his favourite place (home) and doing something unknown like this wasn't his idea of a great way to spend a holiday day.

Eventually, after trudging through the rain (that sounds a lot like a story I've written about when he was two and we walked his brother to kindergarten in the midst of a typhoon, I guess some things don't change much), we made it to the bus stop. But we were a couple of minutes late. Before I had too much time to figure out an alternative plan, a bus with the number 12 pulled up. That was the bus we wanted! So we jumped on.

I relaxed. Sat back and tried to make conversation with my surly son.

A few minutes into our journey I saw a reflection of the front of the bus on a vehicle in front at a red light. It didn't say 12 anymore. I'm not sure what it was (it was a reflection, after all), but it definitely didn't have a 1 in it.

But I didn't say anything. I just became more alert, noting our surroundings (we were headed roughly in the right direction) and trying to interpret the stops as they were announced. Unlike Brisbane buses, they were also helpfully displayed on a screen at the front of the bus, even in Romaji (Japanese using English letters).

Soon we were the only ones left on the bus and sure enough the bus turned into a driveway that lead to what could only be a bus depot.

"Shuten desu," announced the driver slightly shocked driver when he saw us. Last stop.

I told him where we wanted to go and he pointed out the bus stop on the depot premises. He said number #15 should go where we wanted.

Heedless, I jumped on the first bus that stopped and asked if it were going to "Musashi Koganei". No.

Then we'd barely jumped off when another pulled up, this one with #15 clearly on its side. I asked the same question and got a positive answer. Phew!

And sure enough it took us there. Relief!

Then we had a printed Google map to follow to get to the orthodontist. Japan doesn't have road names except for main roads. There is a numbering system, but it is complicated. Google and Navi systems have helped tremendously, but generally we ask for a map or directions when we're going to somewhere new.

We found the place, though it didn't seem to be quite what we'd been led to believe. It said, "Dentist." In fact the carved sign over the receptionists desk said, "Painless dentist"! I thought we were going to an orthodontist. Anyway, they were expecting us (I'd had an email exchange with the orthodontist himself), so all seemed somewhat well.

I thought I'd made an 11am appointment, but it seems that I didn't. I think we were there on a first-come-first-serve basis, as are many medical appointments in Japan. We weren't seen until an hour after we arrived.

The verdict was braces and several years of orthodontic treatment. It was what we expected, but the prices quoted were still shocking.

Another appointment was made for Saturday for preparatory tests and we were on our way back to the bus stop. We stopped by a very convenient convenience store for some lunch and ate it outside while balancing our umbrellas on our laps.

We stopped at the train station to recharge my son's travel card and then traipsed around all the bus stops to see which was the one we wanted. Thankfully we found it and the correct bus turned up very soon afterwards, 30 minutes later we were back in home territory. You've got to give it to Japan, they have excellent public transport.

We got home four hours after leaving. It turned out to be a longer outing with more adventure than I'd hoped for!

Oh, how I sometimes long for Australia. Where I'd have been able to drive those 9km in just a few minutes. It would have been so much easier, and probably with much less adventure attached to it.

16 August, 2015

Newbie and oldie missionaries

We've been through a season of many goodbyes and now we're in a season of hellos. Not just "Hi again," after 12 months but "Hi, my name is Wendy, this is my husband David and our three boys..."
Two missionary friends/colleagues who are no longer
here in Japan. 

It is a season of making new starts, getting to know new people. Even more, it turns out, after having been away for 12 months. We're saying hello to all the new folk in the CAJ/local missions community who've arrived in the last 14 months. This year, it turns out, there has been quite a high turn-over of staff. There are 12 new staff at the school, plus their families.

We've been privileged to have already met three of the incoming staff-families. Two of them came to dinner over the last couple of weeks and the third we met at church today. 

A fourth new staff member we met is more of a family member, she calls me Aunty Wendy and has known me for as long as we've been in Japan. She's an OMF kid, now adult, and will be teaching at the school this year.

But all that aside, the season of meeting new people, while expected, can be a bit overwhelming and unsettling. We're now "oldies" in the Japan missionary world, over the average length of missionary service (though I can't remember what that figure is, but 15 years, is definitely over the line). Constantly welcoming newbies can be a challenge. Refreshing in some ways, hard in others.

I've been going through photos from four years ago (gotten behind in printing some for albums). Yesterday I saw two photos from just after the earthquake (one is above) and three friends who used to live in this area who are no longer here. It's sad. Welcoming new people means that we've also said goodbye to people we knew, people we were friends with.

I stumbled upon this blog post the other day, a short gracious article with advice for newbie missionaries from oldies. I was particularly moved by her words at the end of the article:
I remember as a Newbie, I was eager to dive into relationships with everyone in our missionary community.  We had everyone over for dinner.  We wanted to get to know everyone…and we did!  Then….people started leaving.  And leaving.  And leaving.   People’s terms ended, emergencies happened, health concerns came up.  We stayed, but everyone we loved kept leaving.  Choosing an overseas life means choosing a life of saying good-bye.
After a while, it just gets hard to initiate relationships with all the Newbies.  If we hold ourselves aloof from you, it’s because of the callouses that have grown on our hearts from so many wonderful friends leaving us.  We might not even consciously realize that we are holding ourselves back from you.  This doesn’t mean we don’t want to be friends with you.  It does mean that it may take more time for Oldies to open up.  Please don’t give up on us.  We need your optimism and energy as much as you need our experience and advice.
And then people started leaving . . . and leaving . . . and leaving.

It is easy to get stuck in a rut, even as a missionary. New people coming into our acquaintance challenges us and keeps us from getting too stuck in our ways.

A friend wrote this to me a few years ago:

Year after year I become more and more aware at how ill-qualified I am to comment on Japanese life and how often I have misjudged the society and the people. It's caused me to look hard inside myself at my own prejudices, and I've been ashamed to find that, while I don't hold racial prejudice, I am rather set in my ways about I live and think. Meeting new staff at school is always good for me because it gives me the chance to see things again through fresh eyes. I guess I'm trying to rid myself of any sense of 'my way is better' and I find that quite difficult.
So, though it can be hard to keep meeting new people and welcoming them into the community, it is important and keeps us fresh. Only God knows what valuable contribution they might make to our lives, or the life of the school community.

PS On a slightly different topic, it's always a bit strange being a staff-spouse (it's another hat I don't talk about much). You are sort-of on the inside, but not really. You might be interested in what I wrote about that a couple of years ago: Part 1 and Part 2.

15 August, 2015

Margin in life

The longer I live this life the longer I realise how much grace I need to extend to others. But also to myself.

I'm realising more and more that my perspective is different to other people's and what works for me, doesn't work for everyone. What I see others struggling with is not something I should judge, nor should I envy those who appear to doing something easily that I find hard.

I know I need margin and I plan for it, David and I have both become fairly skilled at saying no. I rely on him, at times, to help me judge whether I should say no. But sometimes that fails too. 

But obviously others don't need the same amount of margin, or they go about life in a different way. That's okay. Generally. 

But I'm also learning that in most cases it isn't my business to be poking my nose in other people's time management. I can show concern, but in the end it is their responsibility (unless I'm the one giving them the grief in demanding too much of them).

Recently I came across two posts about planning for margin, from two different perspectives.
1. Margin, the wasted space we desperately need.
2. Another perspective, where planning for margin becomes a stumbling block.

I'm in the first category. If I don't plan for margin, then things start to go wrong, especially with my health. I've been struggling with various niggly heath issues over the last few months. I'm sure that a lot of it has to do with a lack of margin in June.

My lingering asthma has forced me to tarry longer in this inbetween, holiday spot. I've enjoyed the long lay-ins in the mornings and lots of lazy time. But I've been a bit frustrated and feeling a bit guilty in the last week or so, that I'm not getting more done. I guess I've had margin enforced upon me, more margin than I thought I needed.

It's at times like these that I need to remember that I'm loved, but not because of what I do. And the One who loves me gives me rest too.

Psalm 23:1-3

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

14 August, 2015

Our cosy house (an all round view)

After posting about our lounge room yesterday, I remembered that I did a similar thing
Welcome to our house
about the whole house five years ago when we first moved in. If you want to take a peak, here are the posts:


The upstairs "hallway" (not as tidy now as it was in the photo then)

House plan plus our bedroom 

Boy bedroom photos (again, they look a little different, mostly there is more stuff in the boys' bedrooms).

Place to hang the washing

Bath and toilets (the broken tiles in one toilet was fixed some time ago, but they are breaking again)

Hemmed in on all sides (the space around the house)

13 August, 2015

Our cosy lounge room

This is our lounge room, as it was yesterday afternoon. Untidied, summer lounge room. It is the only room in the house with carpet. About 4.1m by 2.8m. Not large, but a good room. Our room, the room we relax in.

There has not been enough seating for us all, though that hasn't been a big problem because most of the year we don't sit down and watch TV together. 

We never tried to solve the seating problem, because there simply isn't room for more Western-style chairs, without compromising on the floor space. The floor space is important for boys that like to wrestle or play big board games. More chairs would limit the flexibility for how the floor is used. This also happens to be our spare bedroom, where we lay out our futons if we have guests.

But Japan has other options we hadn't considered. This year we acquired two Japanese floor-chairs (called zaisu) from friends and colleagues who were emptying their house prior to moving back to the States. They are amazing. Underneath that comfy exterior is a metal frame with a hinge. That hinge holds you upright when you sit on this chair. It will even recline!

Look at these amazing floor-chairs. They flatten all the way out, so storage isn't as big a deal as you might imagine. I can't believe we've never considered chairs like these!

This is my chair. I cross-stitch, crochet, read, mend, or just sit and watch DVDs here. It's a cosy corner.

Here's the view from my chair. On the left is the door out to the dining room/office area. On the left side of this photo you can see a hint of a cupboard. It's a huge cupboard, floor to ceiling and deep. It holds lots of stuff, including our double futon for visitors and many games.

12 August, 2015

Japanese construction workers wear interesting clothes

Here's one I prepared earlier. I don't know how: I had an awful headache at the time! 

It was the day we had a meet and say farewell day at the park in Brisbane in June. We spent a good portion of the day at the park talking to people, I can't remember how, but the topic of the interesting clothing of construction workers in Japan came up. Check this:


10 August, 2015

Lately it's been slow around here

School starts again two weeks tomorrow. Our days are quite lazy at present. The boys' bedtimes are close to ours and breakfast is mostly happening between 7 and 9. We've just endured eight consecutive days at or over 35˚C. (See this report.) It's no joke, 55 people died. The weekend brought cooler weather, back down under 35˚, but still daytime temps over 30˚

Being a Queenslander I'm used to heat, not continuous days of 35˚C+ with choking humidity. That left me like a puddle with minimal motivation. On top of that I've still got the asthma symptoms brought on the cold I caught a couple of weeks ago. Bleh!

Nonetheless various things have been happening. Here's a sample:

1. Feeding the clan, including grocery shopping on my bike. 
2. We had guests for dinner one night last week: a new teacher and her family of four children. That was a fun night, seeing our kids reach out to new kids and meeting new members of the school community. 
3. Encouraging physical activity for the boys. Most days our eldest has been out running at 5pm. Often he's run with either his next brother or with others from school. Especially with two new teacher's kids who've just arrived. Sometimes our youngest has ridden his bike with them. Last night our middle son went out riding on his own for 45 min. Our wrestler has also done some training with his Japanese club. 
4. We went to a secondhand shop last week and bought a second screen for my computer work. It's fabulous!
5. I had an afternoon out on Wednesday, getting a haircut and catching up with my language exchange friends. 
6. We've had at-home movie nights. So far we've seen the first four Star Wars and the first Harry Potter. I've been mostly working on my crochet skills at those times, but a tiny bit of cross-stitch and even colouring-in too. 
This is a balloon finger puppet. One of the quirky things
you can find at Tokyu Hands.
7. David spent some time helping out other teachers and students with various things. Today he went into school to do some preparation for his own work
8. Lots of reading, and to be honest, playing word and card games on my phone.

Shopping for fun!
Last Friday we decided to get everyone out of the house for the day. It wasn't easy (temps that day reached 37.7˚C), we weren't motivated at all and there was much grumbling. 

However the day turned out better than expected (except that I ran out of energy and felt quite unwell towards the end). We rode the trains into Ikebukuro, our nearest "inner city" location. We hung out at a favorite store: Tokyu Hands. It's eight stories high (floors aren't large) and full of quirky stuff. 

The boys were a bit hesitant at first, after all they aren't used to browsing in shops. But we ended up spending more than an hour there (could have been longer, but we got hungry). The boys bought some things for their dice/tiny rubber animal collections and I did some Christmas shopping for family in Australia. 

After that we had lunch at an American all-you-can-eat restaurant. Shakey's Pizza. It was fun. A cool basement restaurant with character and it was quite affordable too. 

Lunch: the top slice is a usual type, but the next two are
dessert pizzas. The middle is like apple crumble
and the bottom is bananas and chocolate.
Then we hiked into the bottom of Sunshine City, a high rise complex that consists of four high rise buildings. 
Sunshine City is a commercial complex that features a variety of facilities including an office building, aquarium, observatory, and shopping center. It is conveniently located in the heart of Tokyo and is just a short walk from Ikebukuro Station.
You can walk between the buildings without going outside, creating a large indoor shopping space equivalent to an Aussie shopping centre (but no groceries). We found ToysRUs and had fun browsing there too. All in air con. That was a key objective, with such heat outside. 

We returned home happy. Better than we left. I think the hot nights (mostly over 30 degrees, we went to bed at 10pm with it at 34˚C two night running) have been making our sleep lower in quality. Hence grumpiness. 

Today our youngest son's very good friend returned to Japan after their holiday in the States. He's come over to play and it's wonderful to hear. Our son's been missing his friends. 

I'm looking forward to seeing my friends too. And having energy to do stuff. I'm tired of being bowed down by illness and the heat.