31 December, 2016

Looking back at 2016

I've written and sent out our monthly new/prayer letter this week. It included a short look back at 2016. I've got room here to take a slightly broader look.

Here's what I wrote at the start of the year: http://mmuser.blogspot.jp/2016/01/looking-forward-to-2016.html

Our stay at Lake Biwa was definitely one of the highlights of the year. For
me, unexpectedly catching this sunrise (I didn't set an alarm and it was
before 5am) with my new camera was an extra bonus.
A lot of what we expected has happened, especially the bigger "rocks" of conferences, retreats, camping trips etc. I didn't get to the online writing course that I thought I would do, though I did some casual learning about inDesign (the design programme that our design team uses for the magazine).

Things were pretty predictable with usual school events: sporting calendar, changing of school grades up to 6, 8, and 12. There were unexpected day-to-day things within that, like emails from teachers about behaviour and missed homework/assignments! Not nice.

I have kept up reasonably well with exercise, though this has fallen through since November. I've done some long rides once or twice a month. And was going to the gym once a week for a few months. I need to get back on the horse once school starts again next Thursday.

We did get back on track with the magazine, as of Summer, which was posted in Autumn. I'm still trying to find a better balance so that we're not rushing at the end. But it seems that unless a magazine urgently needs to go out in the next four weeks, our design team (as a whole) can't actually manage to work on it!

The unexpecteds of this year were topped by my father-in-law's return of cancer and fast decline. David returned to Australia in February to see him and then again later in the month to his funeral. February was already going to be a hectic month, with two overseas trips planned (me to Bangkok for OMF training and David and Callum to Korea for wrestling). Two extra trips to Australia, not to mention a death of a loved one, put a strain on the household and our parenting. We were relieved to have a week off at the end of March.

Other unexpected are rather pale in comparison:

  • Our camping trip in July was wetter than expected. But we survived remarkably well.
  • Our camping trip in November was colder than expected and we certainly didn't anticipate snow. But again we survived and have some great tales to tell from both adventures.
  • I started meeting some ladies for Bible study in November as a result of a visit from a Bible-story-telling evangelist who works in Taiwan.
  • Being involved in analysing and recommending changes for the OMF Japan website.
  • Becoming the editor of an OMF Tohoku blog and initiating the development of an editing team for a wider OMF Japan blog was also an unexpected development late in the year.
  • Our eldest has taken even more to the guitar and now the count of stringed instruments in our house has reached three: two guitars and a ukulele.
  • Ending up in the organising team for the end of year student-parent events for the seniors, which included a lot of cross-cultural and linguistic challenges as well as doing things that aren't in my particularly skill set: setting a budget and searching for a venue for a banquet.
  • We've had a number of unexpected changes in health around us (including two colleagues struggling with serious cancer), as well as friends who've unexpectedly moved away. That took its toll on me in September, when I felt considerably melancholic.
  • Having all three boys in middle and high school sport has altered things a little too. With them all in cross-country, David and I had some unexpected couple-time thrust upon us. We've had quite a lot more "going-out" dates in the last six months, than we usually have in Japan. Feeling able to trust them all alone at home is a new thing that's eased up the pressure.
  • Oh, a fledgling advancement into photography as a hobby, plus getting a new DSLR camera for free was a big unexpected this year for me too.
Our household is definitely more teenage-like than it was a year ago, with our 11 y.o. seeming to have already reached those rocky years some days. I'm buying and cooking more food than ever before!

Those are the bigger things that stand out for me in 2016, though there are probably some that I've forgotten.

Again, like last year, I've happened upon a great set of verses in my systematic Bible reading today. Ps 16. Especially vs 5-8.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken (NIV).
As I said, I felt unusually shaken and out-of-sorts in September (see here about being out-of-sorts and here about the colandar of missionary life) with various losses and potential losses. It is quite relevant to reflect here on how secure I really am in Christ. No matter what the coming year holds, I have security in him.

I hope that I can remember to continue to reflect on this Psalm as the year unfolds, but that is tomorrow's post (or maybe the day after, depending on how well I pull up after tonight's marathon).

30 December, 2016

Life this week in-between Christmas and New Year

Life around our place has been very cruisy. Not much getting done beyond the basics. We're sleeping late and going to bed late. And getting a little social again.

On Wednesday we went to see Rogue One with a Finnish family of boys from CAJ. All enjoyed it. I did too...but I was a bit sad nonetheless. I'd tell you why, but don't want to spoil your fun if you haven't seen it yet.

Yesterday we had an English/Finnish family join us for morning tea. The main attraction was for our English guest to enjoy his first Fruit Mince Pies of the season! But we had a good couple of hours just sitting around and chatting. Their two children had a great time playing with our old Duplo and Kitchen toys. It was lovely. In the afternoon David and I ran away for an afternoon tea date at a coffee shop. That was really good too!

Today we've got a Japanese/American family joining us for lunch (I must finish this quickly so that I can get to making the soup I've planned). They've got three young children too, so the toys will be coming out again. We're hoping for some great conversational times with them too.

Tomorrow we're hoping to go for a family bike ride, but the jury is out as to whether we'll be able to motivate all the kids to join us. Then tomorrow night we'll join with more international friends to celebrate the New Year.

It's great to have the time to be more hospitable. It's wonderful to have friends around at a time when we might most miss being with our families.

Though I do have bits and pieces of work that need to be worked on or at least monitored too:
  • I've written/desk-top published three newsletters this week
  • Believe it or not people still contact OMF Japan via our website at this time of the year (I guess they have more time to think about the future...) So I'm still answering emails.
  • Our magazine design/proofreading team is (supposed to) be working on getting the Winter issue done. That inevitably means emails to me with questions. I'm yet to check what our proofreader has been finding.
  • Articles for the Spring issue are due in two weeks and some are already dribbling in.
  • Never mind the shopping and cooking for the family...that's a given!
But for the most part I've been relaxing. One day I'll get back to vacuuming the house and cleaning the toilet...

29 December, 2016

Orange Chicken Recipe

This is a delicious recipe that I've been making for many years now. It brings the most mouthwatering smells into your house.

Today I used 1.2kg of chicken, but the quantity of the sauce ingredients below is only for half that amount, our boys have typically not enjoyed the sauce so I generally have kept it separate to the meat, but they must be growing up because two of the three enjoyed the sauce-coated chicken tonight. Play around with the quantities to meet your needs.

1.2 kg Chicken breasts
8 tablespoons flour (2/3 cup)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup orange juice
1/2 chopped large onion
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar

1. Combine flour and cinnamon in a plastic bag.
2. Cut chicken into pieces, they don't have to be bite-sized. Strips are good.
3. Shake each piece in the bag till coated.
4. Heat oil in frypan. Not much is needed.
5. Fry chicken on both sides till golden brown and cooked through.
6. Remove chicken.
7. Sprinkle some flour/cinnamon mixture in pan with some oil. Mix together well, cooking for a short time.
8. Add sauce mixture. Boil, stirring gently till the onion is cooked.
9. Either serve separately or with sauce poured over chicken. It's lovely with rice.

It took me just over half an hour to make tonight. 

Slow cooker version
If you're into slow cookers and want to make it even faster then try this: Throw everything into the slow cooker except the oil. You don't even need to pre-coat the chicken in flour, just thicken the sauce with cornflour in a saucepan before serving. Pre-cook the onion before putting it in, though. A couple of minutes in the microwave will do the trick. 

28 December, 2016

Fruit Mince Pie Recipe

As I wrote yesterday, I made fruit mince pies while we're away (I also made more yesterday, that makes about four or five dozen!). It's a relatively new tradition in our house. I think I've done this about three Christmases now. It's not something I ever contemplated doing before then, even though I'm totally fine with making sweet short-crust pastry. In Australia it is something I've just bought in the shop.

Below is my pastry recipe (passed down to me by my mum), part of my apple pie recipe. But the quantities I play around with a little. Japanese flour and Australian flour have different gluten contents, so a higher flour to liquid ration is needed (i.e. more flour for the same amount of liquid). So you can either use this amount of flour and liquid and then add in more flour as needed, or start with more flour and add liquid till you get the a good pastry consistency (not sticky, but wet enough to hold together).

I would also argue that the tablespoon of cornflour isn't essential.

The fruit mince I don't have a recipe for. My method this time was to combine apple sauce and orange juice with some mixed fruit (not candied) in a saucepan and cooked them for a short time (I'd have used cinnamon and maybe nutmeg, but I forgot to take them with me). For the first lot I let it soak in the fridge for a couple of days (convenience more than anything) and for yesterday's lot I used the filling straight away. But there are many different recipes online that you can use, if you need one.

Once you have these you need to roll out a portion of the dough as thinly as you can and cut it into circles with an appropriately sized cup/small bowl or container. The tops I made with cookie cutters, but you could also make them circles. The assembly is simple and then I brushed the top with egg.

I baked them in my fan forced oven at 170˚C for 15 minutes yesterday.

27 December, 2016

Winter holidays

We returned on Christmas Eve from our holidays and time has flashed past since then. I've not felt a significant desire to get back on the computer to do work and even blogging has seemed like too much effort. Relaxing, I guess that's what it's called!

In any case I've had to come back to the computer today to do some time-sensitive desktop publishing, so I thought I might as well show you some of our holiday photos.

We were at a place called Miyota, north-west of Tokyo. Our holiday accommodation was on the foot of an active volcano and looked over a valley. The view wasn't stunning, but we could see the horizon, which is a lot better than we usually can manage.
Sunset from our verandah across the valley.
From the local park you could see fields and the valley one way.
And Mt Asama, the other way.
Even "big" boys can have fun in a little park.
Mt Asana, "our" volcano, from a local park that we walked to a couple of times.
Our accommodation. We occupied the top floor, a four-bedroom apartment with a loft that made a fifth bedroom.
Driving home at sunset one afternoon the views across the valley were delightful.
We went to a neighbouring town for ice skating one sunny afternoon (every morning we took very slow and I spent a lot of time reading). I stayed off the ice, but it was lovely being out there in not-so-cold weather (it was about 10C).
Alas our time at the rink was shortened by a tumble that split the chin of our eldest son. We visited the local hospital and I did a 40 min round trip back to our accommodation to get our health insurance. Turns out he didn't have stitches, but they
deftly put the skin back together with just tape (as far as we know, a little bit of information could have gotten lost in translation).
Three days later our eldest's jaw was good enough to enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant, our yearly tradition. The restaurant specialises in cook-you-own-meat BBQ, but there was plenty of other Japanese food around including rice, noodles, curry, fried chicken and seafood, spaghetti and bolognese sauce. With all-you-can-drink soft drink, tea, and coffee as well as ice cream, dessert, and fairy floss, we had quite the feast and four hours to enjoy it (we ran out of steam at about the 2-hour mark).
This is the main living area of the holiday accommodation. Behind the camera was a small lounge. Up the stairs is a loft area where our middle son spent most of his time. The bathroom was behind that wooden door in the centre of the picture and the bedrooms to the left and right of the photo. It is much more well insulated than our Tokyo house and so, once it warmed up, was delightful. No shivering while getting undressed for the shower or changing out of pjs in the morning. Even the toilet room was warm!
Home-made fruit mince pies! Yum. Recipe for the pastry in my next post.
One of my big goals was to read! I read all these in six days. The top one was a read-aloud for the family. I read about two chapters after lunch and dinner each day (except at the restaurant). The second from the top I read in under 12 hours on our last full day there. Reading in bed is my best relaxation tool and I used it to the full these holidays. I've long loved these winter school holidays in Japan. The sun gets up late and it's cool enough to lounge in bed for hours.

We're back in Tokyo now and have another eight and a half days of holidays before school starts again. It's still slow starts and lots of reading, with a little bit of work (for the adults) slipped in the middle. Recharging for the busy months ahead is our motto.

17 December, 2016

A secret Japanese weapon

We've escaped to the west of Tokyo and into the mountains. No, not camping, but our mission's holiday house. Wonderful! So I'm probably not going to be doing much blogging this week. My goal is to sleep and read and relax.

I did want to show you this secret weapon Japanese use to survive cold winters. Kairo: disposable hand warmers. They are air activated and last several hours. Quite nice in roomy boots too, if you have cold feet.

Now I've Googled it I realise it isn't just a Japanese thing, but they are widely available here. We don't use them much, but they were valuable when we were camping last month, I can tell you! I find it amusing that they use a kangaroo on the packaging.

16 December, 2016

Long winter skirt

After a couple of serious posts, here is something less serious.

I acquired this polar fleece skirt from Thrift Shop in April this year. For some reason no one wanted it and it was still there when we did the "Free shopping" just before clean up time. I'd been laughing at it all Thrift Shop and then just decided that I had to have it.

It's turned out to be an amazingly warm skirt. 

Coming from sunny Queensland where daytime temperatures are rarely lower than 15 degrees Celsius, it has never occurred to me that wearing skirts would be possible in the winter. When we first arrived in Japan, we had a supervisor who never wore anything else in winter, she even shovelled snow in a skirt. She declared that skirts were warmer than pants because there was greater shared-heat! I thought she was nuts, and obviously had been living in Sapporo too long! 

Actually at the time I never wore casual skirts in summer or winter, but that's changed in the last 10 years.

So, in Tokyo, from about November to April, I exclusively wear long pants. For a good portion of that time I also wear a second layer underneath, the amazing invention of long johns!

But now I've discovered that long winter skirts, combined with tights or dark coloured long johns also work. Now you're all wondering if you'd find me wandering the streets in this "ducky" skirt and the answer is "NO!" But it does make warm home-wear. Working at my desk next to a large glass sliding door when the temperature is below 10C is cold, especially on my legs and feet. So sometimes this week, I've slipped out of uncomfortable jeans into this comfy skirt when I've gotten home and it's been lovely. It's like wearing a blanket!

The next step will be whether I can bring myself to buy an "outside" worthy skirt and wear it in public? I stopped by a favourite clothes shop yesterday and browsed in the long winter skirt section (there are short winter skirts too, but that's just for the young and brave). Yes, there are some nice casual winter skirts out there. I might just add one to my wardrobe sometime soon.

15 December, 2016

Confessions of a recovering conscientious student

I was a very conscientious student. "Conscientious" was one of the frequently repeated words on my report cards. 

David and I are a good couple, but our similarities
in the area of study-habits makes us less than sympathetic
to our not so studious boys!
I'm pretty sure my parents didn't know how lucky they were because I was also the eldest child (but I won't say anything about my sisters...). I'm a pretty typical eldest child: destined to want to fix things, be responsible, self-motivated etc. Though my oldest boy has played havoc with this birth-order theory!

To make it even more challenging for our family, David has the exact same characteristics. We hate seeing our boys leaving things to the last minute, not studying for tests, etc.

These last few days have been "culminating events" for high schoolers. That means they're on exam timetable and assessment has been scheduled. 

But not all are exams. I heard that the Economics class is going to a local Indian restaurant run by former CAJ parents with the goal of quizzing them about starting up a business in Japan. They'll finish their time there by enjoying lunch. I'm thinking the stats students (of whom one is my son), who have an exam at the same time, will be feeling a little ripped off!

But back to me being a recovering conscientious student. It served me well at that time, but it isn't a helpful characteristic when you're a parent it seems. Especially when you have kids who aren't that way. I've tried to be my kids "conscience" and it hasn't generally worked. It's just not something that's easy to turn off, though!

I'm trying, now, though. Especially for our eldest. I'm well aware that he's most likely not going to be in our house or even in the same country as us for tertiary studies, so he'll have to figure things out for himself. Hence, I'm trying really hard to hold my tongue these days.

14 December, 2016

16 years today

This day, 16 years ago, we walked on Japanese soil for the first time. We came as long-term missionaries and stayed nearly four years before we left for home assignment in Australia. No vision trip or short-term trip beforehand. No mid-term holidays. I think we did it the cheap way, but the hard way! I had very little understanding of what life would be like and it was a struggle, especially because we arrived in the middle of a Sapporo winter which was like nothing we'd ever lived in before (they routinely get five metres of snow each winter and snow is permanently on the ground from November/December to March).

However as I've contemplated today's anniversary, I've had two main thoughts.
Our first Christmas in Japan, only 11 days after we arrived. Those
two boys in high chairs will graduate from CAJ next June!

1. How far we've come!

In just the last two days I've done things I could hardly have imagined 16 years ago. I've independently:

  • gotten a hair cut and a massage, 
  • ordered a coffee and lunch, 
  • driven two hours in Tokyo with a Japanese driver's licence (admittedly along a route I know quite well, but it is not a straightforward route),
  • had conversations in Japanese with several service providers and a Japanese teacher at the school, 
  • wrote a text in Japanese, and
  • caught two trains (admittedly quite local, but I know I can do more than that).
Not to mention both of us contributing as much as we can to mission work in Japan on a daily basis.

2. How little of us still being here is because of us!

I get frustrated when people praise us because we've been here "so long" now. I'm frustrated not because I don't like praise (alas I do), but because we have seen so many people leave the field after being here for less time than they'd hoped for reasons beyond their control. For example illness in the family, learning difficulties with the kids, home church issues, lack of financial support, educational difficulties, relational difficulties, differences of opinion with the mission, even death. 

Any of this could have happened for us. Indeed we've had challenges with our kids and home church issues that could have resulted in us leaving. During our first term one of our sons had health issues that could have sent us back home. I felt so discouraged after our first term that I nearly didn't have the heart to return for another term. We spent nearly two years raising support to get here 16 years ago and we never did get to the 100% that our mission requires, they took a leap of faith and used general funds many times early on to keep us here. Were it not for David's job at CAJ, we probably wouldn't be able to stay, financially-wise.

As we were just before we arrived in Japan (at our
mission's international headquarters in Singapore at
their orientation course).
So the reason we're still here isn't because we're so amazing. Instead we have an amazing God who has sustained us here. He's given us good health (mental and physical), protected us and our kids from serious illness, provided appropriate schooling options, given encouragement and friends, provided suitable work, equipped us with suitable skills to match the work he's given, and more than adequately arranged for all of our needs to be taken care of. He's given us a stable marriage where we work well together as a team and provide the balance we each need. He also created both of us with a strong degree of perseverance and a reluctance to give up that's sustained us through some difficult times.

Okay. I'll get off my soapbox. 

I'm grateful and humbled and thankful to be able to still be a small cog in God's plan in Japan (and Australia).

12 December, 2016

Keep going

After something of a rest yesterday I've tried to work hard today. (Yesterday we went to church and did 100 yen shop Christmas shopping for in-family gifts. I baked four-dozen biscuits for family snacks, and hosted a couple of teenage-guests for dinner. So it wasn't the most restful of Sundays, though I did lie down with a good book for a couple of hours.)
I love this sign. It's a shop in a house at the top of a hill we
sometimes ride up. It seems to be a strange thing for a commercial
 business to encourage you to do, but it is a nice thing to read after
labouring up the hill on your bike.

Yesterday I also took a look at my schedule for the week and realised that if I was going to achieve my goal of getting sufficient work done (editing especially) so that I didn't have to take my computer away on holidays with us this Saturday, I'd have to knuckle-down this week. That meant starting with Monday morning. And I knew that could be difficult, often I find Monday morning after a wrestling meet really hard going because of fatigue plus adjusting my focus from what has often been an all-consuming and emotional Saturday of sport.

So today I set myself to start hard. With meetings at school (prayer meetings, not the hard parent-teacher variety) from 10-12, I had 8.30 till 10 to work. I figured coffee at the coffee shop with my computer would be a great way to kick-start the day. 

So I marched out of here with my computer in my bag just a few minutes after the last boy left the house. And I've been on a roll ever since then and gotten much more done than I thought would be possible.

January and February will be harder because we have several weekends running with wrestling tournaments, plus a couple of mid-week ones. This time I've got holidays to look forward to. But I still think it might be a good way to kick-start the week on those difficult Mondays. If I can be more efficient in getting work done, then it's less guilt-inducing if I need to take a break later in the week. And it seems, for me at least, that if I can make a good start to the day, the rest of the day rolls out better.

11 December, 2016

Yesterday: first wrestling of the season

Yesterday was a huge day for our family. 

4.30 I woke up and never made it back to sleep with lots to anticipate in the day ahead. However I laid huddled in my warm bed with my iPhone and Kindle until 6am.
This is the line-up of guys in the same weight class as our son. They were waiting to officially weigh-in. Weign-in is strict. Even 0.1 of a pound over is not acceptable. They use pounds because a significant number of the schools in the league are American-base schools.

5.30 David got up and prepared lunches for us plus put a few breakfast items out for people to choose from.

6 I got up and woke up our youngest wrestler then had breakfast.

6.30 David left with our youngest son to go to the middle school meet. David was both driver and coach for their meet today.

6.45 I woke our eldest son. Packed everything up, hung up washing and ignored the breakfast wash-up. And the two of us left soon after 7 to walk down to school. With all we needed for the day including our own lunch plus for the hospitality room: a slow cooker full of Japanese curry, a full 10-cup rice cooker, an Esky (cooler) with drinks and cold meat etc. He didn't have breakfast because he wasn't sure he was under the weight limit for his weight class. It turned out he was a fraction over and had to sweat a bit of it off before the official weigh-in at 8.30.

7–8 I spent helping set-up the hospitality room for the coaches and officials. I had lots of help, so it wasn't a big deal.

8-10 This was a waiting, the most boring time of the day. The wrestlers weighed-in, warmed-up, cut finger nails (see the communal finger-nail clippers attached to the bin in the photo, ewww, but you really don't want to wrestle someone with long fingernails and they are very strict about it). But it also included a nostalgic time of seeing people we haven't seen since last wrestling season.

9 At around this time the seven-strong middle school team was in action at another international school an hour away. All barring our son were novices but they came away with two gold, two silver, and a bronze from their round-robin competition (each competing in a group of four wrestlers around their weight). Our 11 y.o. son had a rough start and ended up a little battered (strained back and sore neck) but he was brave and went on to pin his next two opponents.

Not long after 9 our middle son also arrived at the gym, having slept in. He's a relatively keen spectator of wrestling, even though he's chosen not to do it himself.

10 Just before 10 they started wrestling and this continued till after 5pm with a 30 min lunch break. With 19 wrestlers on our team we were kept busy cheering for our team members. Someone said to me that one of the great things about wrestling is that you can get quite close to the action, a bit different to sports like soccer, hockey, and cricket.

2.40 The middle school team and David made it back to CAJ and we were all together again.

This is our son giving his opponent a nice face plant. This guy actually went up against our son several times last season too, some of the hardest fought battles we've seen our son involved in. Yesterday our son was quite dominant. I was interested to see how friendly this guy was off the mat, he even came up and gave our son some coach-type advice mid-way through a bout with another wrestler. Again I'm impressed with the camaraderie between competitors.
It took a while to feel I was back into the groove again, but it was nice to be back in this season. Additionally we had the pleasure of seeing our eldest son start his senior year with an undefeated tournament and claiming gold.

Below is the full array of the gym. About 150 competitors, about 25 coaches and officials plus plenty of supporters. Our gym was bursting and the atmosphere was great!

Here's the hospitality room looking all neat and tidy. All the hard work was coordinating things beforehand. It was all self-serve and there wasn't a lot to do besides just occasionally checking that all was okay (we had a roster of parents to do this through the day). There was clean-up, but our team helped a lot with that. They cleaned out almost all the left-overs like a plague of locusts.

5.45 Wrestling finished and awards were handed out. Then the long process of cleaning up the whole gym began. I think we finally got home at about 7.30. Tired but satisfied with the day.

10 December, 2016

Cross-cultural stress

I'm at our first wrestling tournament for the season today. 

So I'm reposting a link to an article I wrote about missionary stress that was published in May last year: http://thriveconnection.com/2015/05/05/cross-cultural-stress/

Here's a post I wrote last year when I was experiencing a lot of stress and it was coming out in my health. The doctor asked, "Are you stressed?" (We'd just moved back to Japan a couple of months earlier and my son had been in hospital, not to mention that I was struggling to do this medical discussion in my second language.)

09 December, 2016

Emotional day

I'm struggling with emotions and generally a bit scatty today (difficulty concentrating on the one thing, disorganised, absent-minded). Here's why:
  • The first wrestling tournaments of the season tomorrow in addition to having the family split in two to cover two of our boys wrestling in two different locations. David's the coach for the middle school team and going to another school with them and I'm coordinating the hospitality room for the coaches and officials at CAJ tomorrow (25 people).
  • More seriously, a CAJ colleague and friend is having her second brain surgery today in ten days, to remove a malignant, deeply impeded tumour. This is not looking curable.
  • I went to the weekly parents' prayer meeting this morning at school and the whole room was raiding the tissue box as we prayed over Lois and her husband. I could barely pray out loud. My emotions crept up on me. I guess there's a lot of grief, big and small, been going on for me this year and it comes back multiplied with a trigger like this. I feel drained.
  • Then I've just had a 40 minute conversation via Skype with a missionary mum who's having difficulty with their young primary-aged child. It all sounded horribly familiar to some of the difficulties we have had over the years, but especially when our eldest was in the Japanese system in Grades 1 and 2. I retold some of our story. It was emotional!
In the light of all that, I want to end on something a little lighter. After picking up some formerly broken wrestling head gear from the shoe repairer this morning, I found these stickers at a nearby shop: "Flake Stickers"! I didn't take a very close look, but now I'm wondering what they are. Because "stickers" are usually called "seals" in Japan and "flake" just doesn't make sense unless they are snow flakes!

08 December, 2016

Slipper conundrum

It's pretty well known that Japanese don't wear their outdoor shoes inside their houses. It's one of the big cultural things to get used to when you first come here. I've always liked the idea, but sometimes it is a challenge if you don't have shoes that are easily removed. 

I remember hosting a visiting OMF doctor for a brief visit (just an hour or so) one time. She'd never lived in Japan and was on her way to the airport at the end of a trip to Japan to do medicals for missionaries. She blustered into our apartment and said, "You don't mind if I don't take my shoes off, do you? I'm tired of doing that."

It is something we even do in our own house in Australia when we're there.

But I've got one exception to the rule. When I answer the door I usually go out in whatever I'm wearing: slippers or bare feet. You can't answer our door without stepping into the "outdoor" zone that you can see in the photo. The dark-coloured place where outdoor shoes go. The accepted practise is that you don't step on the "outdoor" floor area without outdoor shoes on. Which means, sometimes, tricky manoeuvring if the area is full of shoes. I took this photo when all four of my guys were at school. Once they're home it is harder to get a "parking spot" close to the "indoor" part.

Usually there is no problem and people don't pay much attention to what I've done when I answer the door. But in the last 10 days I've had Japanese people freeze in this area, not knowing what to do with their shoes. That's really unusual. Taking shoes off in an area like this is as natural as breathing to Japanese.

The reason they've faltered, I'm guessing, is not so much because we're foreigners, but because my big, furry indoor slippers (Ugg boot lookalikes) look like outdoor shoes to them. And because I've worn them into the "taboo" area for slippers as I answered the door then worn them back into the house.

So, what should I do? Take the extra moments I need to change my shoes to answer the door? That seems especially inconvenient when it is usually a salesman or postman at my door.

07 December, 2016

Photos of our city #5

As I wrote in my first post of this series:
Wikipedia says: "Higashikurume is a city located in the western portion of Tokyo Metropolis, in the central Kantō region of Japan. As of 1 February 2016, the city had an estimated population of 116,896 and a population density of 9,070 persons per km."
That would mean most people live in apartments and high rise, right? After all that population density is higher than the densities for places like Singapore (7,987 people per square kilometre) and Hong Kong (6,442) that definitely have lots of high density accommodation.

Well actually, no. That's one thing that surprised us and continues to surprise people we talk to in Australia when we're there. We live in a house and so do many other Tokyo-ites.

Here are some photos of accommodation in our city:

A new house built just this year down the road from us with an
old house next to it.
This is across the road from the previous photo. Agricultural land that has rarely been cultivated in the last five years that we've lived here, with houses closely behind it.
Rotating to the left from the previous photo and you can see the high rise buildings
surrounding our train station.
These are older than the previous buildings and not so close to the train station.
This is also just down the road from our house. Lower standard accommodation than those close to the station. They come with car parks, which is a bonus!
The best view of the sun setting that I could get the other day from our upstairs balcony.

So yes, we do live in a high density city, however it doesn't feel that bad, especially with the two rivers running through it and agricultural land sprinkled through too. It doesn't feel "inner city" as you might imagine a CBD to feel. It's very quiet at nights, definitely a bit out of the big city life. Inner-city Tokyo (the 23 wards) has 9,375,104 people living in it with a population density of 15,146 people per square kilometre. Those places "feel" inner city! Especially for David and I who grew up in Australian country towns.

06 December, 2016

Food for all-day wrestling meets

Wrestling starts on Saturday, and I'm starting to think about food for our family again. This time we will be split across two venues. I need to get back into the groove and was relieved to find this post from last year that showed some of the things I was taking last season.
This obviously won't work, but I thought it was a cute food
photo! We own a number of these "food eyes", bought
here in Japan.

Now I just need to do a bit of work to ensure that I can provide stuff like this. The boys particularly complain if I don't put enough savoury stuff in. At meets it's easy to just snack on unhealthy stuff all day long (there often is no defined lunch break). People eat when they're hungry and wrestlers eat when they can (usually very soon after a bout). The wrestlers particularly need protein-heavy food.

This week is a bit of an easy start for three of us because the high school meet is just down the road at school, we don't have 2–5 hours of driving to factor in, and we know that reliable lunch can be bought at the venue. Hey, I even know where I can buy coffee when I need it!

Now I'd better get my mind back onto today's jobs and the 15+ item To Do list that's waiting.