29 September, 2016

Leaves are falling

Autumn is definitely here, even if we're being teased a little. Maximum temperatures in our area have teetered between the low 30s and even down to low 20s (Celsius) in September. Minimums have been more stable, around high teens to mid 20s. There is definitely an early autumn feel, though we are still often wearing t-shirts and shorts (some of us more than others). 
The humidity has been very high and we've had many rainy days this month with very little sun. When I showed you a photo of the beautiful blue sky a few weeks ago I didn't explain how infrequently that happens here. When it does it reminds us of Queensland, with its many blue-sky days.
But leaves are also starting to turn and fall. Check out these sakura (cherry blossoms). The top photo was in mid-August and the bottom this week. Definitely thinning out.

Now I'm fighting the feeling that Easter is just around the corner, because growing up that was the progression of things: summer holidays then school started then cooler weather gradually crept up on us and then Easter. Though this is my 12th autumn in the northern hemisphere, still struggle to line up my instincts with the seasons.

28 September, 2016

Behind the scenes of the magazine

The other day one of my sons queried me about this cryptic looking piece of paper that's currently beside my computer:

It is a list of all the articles in the Winter issue of Japan Harvest, the magazine which I manage. All sorts of information is listed there as I work on initial organisation of the production of the magazine, especially which of our four editors is going to edit which article when!

It isn't easy keeping track of all the articles and bits and pieces that need doing. Each magazine typically has 20+ articles (which means 20+ authors to work with as well). Each article goes through several steps from being submitted to appearing in the magazine. Here are some other tools I use to keep a track of it all.

This is the Google doc that I record where each article is up to in the process, plus other information like how long an article is. I used to ask other editors to update this as they went along, but I've given up on that, primarily because we started using another tool as well that's a bit more user friendly.

One of our editors has a paying job as an editor (his "day job"). His company uses Asana.com to keep a track of projects and on his recommendation we now do too. It's not perfect but it helps. It also has nice graphics too—occasionally a unicorn will leap across the page when you click that you've completed a task/subtask! 

One of my jobs is setting up this for each issue. The information on the first photo above was part of the decision-making process for allocating articles and deadlines for the various subtasks for each article in Asana. That's six steps for each of the 20+ articles I have to allocate to five people and plus due dates. It took me a few hours the other day to set up the Winter issue in this tool. Though once it is all entered in I can pretty easily keep a track of where everyone and everything is up to.

And then we get down to the actual editing. This is the Track Changes view of an article of mine from a few months ago. You can see that my team didn't hold back on making their opinions known. That is why I get a bit annoyed when people say things like "feel free to edit" or get upset when we do. I submit to this process regularly and I'd have to say that in the vast majority of cases my article looks the better for it.

Putting a magazine is very much like many things in life: a lot of work under the surface that the end user, audience, or recipient never sees. Work that hopefully makes the finished product look amazing or run smoothly. The old iceberg illustration that you occasionally see floating around illustrates this perfectly.

27 September, 2016

Chicken mince

After yesterday's post about leftovers I got some meat shopping advice via Facebook. They said: there is chicken mince in the shops and it's cheap. I think I live a blinkered life, especially in Japanese grocery stores. It's an effort not to be overwhelmed. And you know, after a while you just get into a habit of not noticing (and not reading, I admit).
I happened to be near a bigger grocery store today so I thought I'd investigate and yes, they had chicken mince. It was cheap too, 86 yen per 100g (the usual way of pricing meat here). In order to get a kilo, enough for one meal plus a little bit left over, I bought five trays!  But it only came to a total of 993 yen or $AU12.83.

My FB advisers told me I could ask for larger portions at a shop where there is a meat counter. I remember seeing that at one shop I've been to (but I rarely go to that shop). In any case I didn't see one today. There was a glass-in booth in the fish section, but no one was there, just a large swinging door out to the back. Maybe next time I happen to be at a store with such a counter. In the meantime, we'll just be washing up and recycling lots of styrofoam trays (and thankfully Japan does do that).

Okay, so advice on using chicken mince? Can it be used for the same things as beef mince, or are some dishes better than others?

26 September, 2016


I love leftovers. They mean I only have to cook five evening meals a week instead of seven. They also mean a night of enjoying again the meals of the week (incentive to cook well!). 
This was last night's leftovers, or "Catch" as we call our Sunday-night menu. It was particularly piecemeal. 

Can you pick out the 
  • macaroni cheese, 
  • yakisoba (Japanese stir fried noodles), 
  • chicken from oyakodonburi (Japanese chicken and egg on rice), 
  • roast pork (unusual dish, we only eat roasts every two or three months), 
  • jacket potatoes and bacon (from a "Spud Mulligan" meal by our youngest boy), 
  • tuna pie, 
  • roast tomato sauce, 
  • leftover rice, and even 
  • left-over sweet potato? 
That's a week-and a half of cooking right there!

It's getting harder to have sufficient leftovers for two meals a week, but I'm getting crafty. Lots of veggies and carbs as well as often doubling or tripling recipes are my mainstays. To afford it I cook some low-meat meals too, like  macaroni cheese (from scratch), tuna mornay, yakisoba, and egg dishes. 

I get frustrated that lower-cost meat like mince and corn beef isn't available here. The former is at Costco, but I don't go there often. So we do eat a lot of chicken and more pork than we would in Australia, because these are what's available and affordable.

But we always have sufficient and I'm thankful.

25 September, 2016

Parenting joy

Good moods here today. I can't help wondering if it is related to the weather. We've had actual sunshine this morning, enough to cause shadows! That's been a rare thing in the last three weeks. This morning I was standing in the sun after church reflecting on this with another Aussie. We both thought we'd have difficulty living in places like the UK and Seattle that we've heard infrequently have sunny days. 

I just looked it up, Brisbane (2881 hours a year) gets about 1000 more hours of sunshine than Tokyo. Tokyo gets 400 more hours than London. No wonder we feel it! However we were wrong about Seattle, they get 300 more hours than Tokyo, and Oregon (the state I was thinking of, but didn't mention this morning) gets around 450 more hours than Tokyo! Rumours about the climates of different places aren't always correct.

Today I'm basking in more than the sun, however. This morning after church we rode to a local shopping centre and had an early birthday celebration for my husband over morning tea at one of our favourite bakeries. We'd normally have a family dinner on the day, but this week is quite messy dinner-wise, so this plan seemed better. 

As usual we managed to combine it with some shopping. Getting boys to shop is one of the banes of the life of most mums-of-multiple boys. This week our most shopping-adverse boy finally noticed he was getting super low on tshirts that fitted. A critical level, I'd say. Three shirts don't go far when you're training and wearing two a day! You don't want to know how he's managed that, suffice to say my nose is less sensitive than it used to be. 

This boy was so enthusiastic about shopping that I wondered if he'd had a personality transplant. He even willingly tried clothes on! And then made other suggestions of clothes he'll be needing as the season changes. After all that amazingness he happily went birthday present shopping with his brother for their dad, and on their own. I'm in shock. Absurdly pleased, actually. 

Recent experience has me waiting on tenterhooks for a mood change, but we made it through lunch in excellent spirits! So I'm even happier. 

All this combined with the joy of seeing them all run well yesterday at cross country (all made their goal times and two ran PBs), and I'm feeling great.

Ah, the rewards of parenting sometimes are few and far between particularly in the teen years. They are often a long time in coming. But I think days like today are definitely comparable with the joy of seeing a baby learning to walk or feed themselves, or a child learning to read or use the toilet by themselves. Not so clear-cut in definition, but definite signs of growth and maturity. Yay!

24 September, 2016

Saturday sundry

Another cross country meet is done and dusted...or would be but I assure you there is no dust on that hilly course. It's all mud and moss. Which is what you get after rain every day for three weeks. I usually love rainy days, especially if it's a little cool and I can stay home. But it's wearing thin. 

Thankfully the rain held off until after the races had finished and it wasn't too chilly. 

So I have some "sundry" for you this Saturday. 

This we inherited from our housesitters last year. I finally threw it out last month. I can't imagine why we kept it so long. This stuff is about on the level of ugliness that instant decaf coffee dwells. Put the two together and, well, words fail me. It was one of the big culture shocks of coming to Asia: that milk is often not available in communal make-your-own-tea/coffee situations. The name is entirely appropriate!
I found these "thongs" the other day in a shoe store. I'm not sure why or when you'd wear them! I'm sure I wouldn't pay AU$78 for them!
I've told you about bikes in Japan, right? Here's a small portion of a paid bike-park that is on a road we often travel. I'm not sure how long some of these bikes have been here. Not long after I took the photo I noticed a guy wandering around looking for a bike. Occasionally he referred to his smart phone (for a photo of the long-lost bike?). He looked quite bewildered and I wasn't surprised. 

One present our son got for his birthday last week was some black headphones. He doesn't seem to mind that they apparently "Pop feeling color makes pursuit of a fashion accessory". 

David and I went out last night to a fancy cafe. This is what I found in the Ladies! In an almost square room there were three yellow doors with a full mirror on the fourth wall. Fine on the way in, but confusing on the way out!
This is the first time I've seen "caffeine less" coffee on a menu. At 7pm last night it was a great option. Check out the pot of cream! Seems as though it had been stolen out of a doll's house. This cafe proudly advertises "hand pressed coffee" and I'd believe it, it's good. Certainly a whole lot better than Creap and instant decaf!

23 September, 2016

A bunch of encouragement

When I wrote yesterday I was a bit grumpy and not that happy with how the day was proceeding, but determined to make the best of it.

Part of that was conflict after breakfast with a son. Part of that was my general mentality of late (see here and here), for which I've been seeking an answer. Why have I been out-of-sorts? I'm still not totally sure, it's probably a combination of factors, including lots of gray weather as well as feeling quite heavy of heart about several circumstances in the lives of friends and colleagues (read: cancer, moving away, broken engagement, unfaithfulness, ill health, death, injustice etc.). None of these significant things have happened in our lives, but we're praying about it in the lives of those we know. And that is heavy.

However, in the last few days God has sent a bunch of encouragement my way:
Oyakodonburi (chicken and egg on rice)
  • I've felt discouraged about my blog, feeling like I'm just writing the same-old-same-old stuff. But several people have told me in the last few days that they love it and are encouraged by it.
  • Yesterday I was feeling like a fish out of water during a time in the schedule at school where some parents were learning about American college applications and others about Japanese college applications. I don't fit either box, nor did I need to hear about the other options on the "menu". I've been here too long...So I was in the library. Not in a mood to either read or browse to borrow books when I ended up in a texting conversation with a mum with young kids who lives next door to the campus. In a flash of brilliance? I practically invited myself over to her place for the 40 minutes I had left before the next meeting I needed to be at. Great conversation. The start of a deepening relationship?
  • The meeting from 4pm was about senior stuff. Important things that are happening during this year. Part of the meeting involved those of us who have volunteered to coordinate the parent-led events at the end of the year (parent-student banquet and graduation after-party) informing parents and get the ball rolling on volunteers that we need, forms to be filled out, money to be paid etc. It was good to see things start to come together. This is a risky business, volunteering to coordinate such a diverse group of people organising events like this, but it seems to be working.
  • As a result of the argument with my son in the morning, the menu for the week got shuffled around and I ended up cooking something I hadn't planned on for dinner. But it worked out pretty well. Not getting home until 6pm, I was concerned about getting it on the table on time, but it worked well. Plus it was a Japanese meal I've only made once before. Making Japanese food always makes me feel accomplished.
  • I went to the school's weekly prayer meeting this morning and unusually stayed afterwards to chat with some of the mums. One of them is an editing colleague with the magazine. We had an encouraging, meandering chat.
  • I'm in the middle of an email exchange with one of my sons right now. I don't want to violate his privacy, suffice to say—I'm encouraged at the depth of honesty we've got going.
  • Even finding that all my boys not only volunteered to make their own lunches yesterday (they all had only half-days at school) but did so without prompting or needing significant assistance.
They're probably the biggest things, though I could add more smaller things.

22 September, 2016

Going back to school

Today is the day that parents go "back to school". Yes, it's called Back to School Day. The purpose is to inform parents about what goes on at school. At the school we were at in Australia, these events happened after school and work hours, so it made it a lot less crazy.

With three boys at the school and one husband who is a teacher and has his own responsibilities towards the parents of students he teaches, it usually turns into a hectic day for me. It's particularly difficult when you have two children in the same division as we do this year: two in middle school. So there was an hour there when I needed the superpower of being in two places at the same time, learning about both 6th and 8th grades.

I often come away from this day feeling harried for several reasons in addition to the above:
And it's wet, another in a succession of about three weeks of wet
days (minus a few, I think it only sprinkled once yesterday). It's
not helping my general mood, I can tell you.
  • For a conscientious parent it is easy to feel that you are not doing enough.
  • A lot more people know my face than I know theirs. Maybe the consequence of being a rare Westerner? Maybe my Asian-facial recognition is poor ? Maybe because with my husband and three boys there, I've been around a lot so a lot of people have seen me before? Anyways, I always end up in conversations with people who I don't know, and I spend the whole time trying to figure out how I know them and not to mess up the illusion that I do.
  • I'm wearing different hats. Many of the teachers have become friends and that can be odd in this setting (I fielded two hugs offered by teachers today). Again, I know different people from different contexts. It's just a discombobulating day for me.
  • The timetable is usually "messy". Thankfully today isn't as bad as it was a few years ago for me (see here), mostly because my boys are all older.
I have the additional challenge, today, of a meeting at 4pm about senior events with all the senior parents. That thing I volunteered for last Monday, it has turned out it was much bigger than one email. I'm on the organising committee! Yikes! My catch-phrase is KIS(S), "Let's keep it simple" I've been saying quite a bit. But we're already racked up many emails and messages, just organising the organising committee, two volunteer sign-up forms, and a permission form. I'm hoping I can finish what I've started. Today is a key event in getting this thing organised, I hope it goes well.

But meanwhile, I'm due back at school for more overwhelming information about how I'm supposed to be a good high-school-parent. I'm not confident.

21 September, 2016


This week in September has been a week of celebrations for nearly two decades of my life now. 19 years ago yesterday David and I got married and five years later our second son was born in the same week as our anniversary. David's birthday is also next week, so it often is a busy time.

Here's our teenager's cake: It seems he's still okay with "themed" cakes, as long as he gets to eat them. Design credit goes to the maths teacher in the house (I just baked a rectangular cake and he made this out of it, and used almost all the cake)!

Our newly 14 year old doesn't like parties, but it happy to celebrate with the family. He loves chocolate, though! So on Sunday we went to a local Chocolate Cafe for morning tea after church. It was fun. We sat around the table recalling good memories we have of our son/brother.

Yesterday we had plans for the two of us to go out for our anniversary, but they blew apart when a typhoon strolled into town and cancelled the school events that our boys were going to be a part of (and eat dinner at). So we ended up back at the same shopping centre, five of us. It is big enough, though, and they are big enough, that we could eat separately. They ate in the food court on the third floor (almost) independently ordering their own food. And we had Chinese in a restaurant on the first floor. It was short and simple, but it worked. Next year for our 20th we'll have to try to come up with plans that are a little more fancy . . . and robust.

Now I need to consider what to do for David's birthday next week. He's a low-key kind of guy, much like the majority of our family. So it will probably be a quiet affair.

19 September, 2016

Teaching the boys about their passport country

You might know that I like to read to the family after dinner. I generally read fiction, but a few times I've read non-fiction. Almost always about Australia. 

Some time ago a friend sent us this selection of books from a series called "Australia's Best". It's getting a little dated now (it was published 11 years ago), but I've picked it up for another read through with the guys. 

The books are pretty simple, one- or two-page biographies of famous Aussies. But It's been fun, more fun than they anticipated (groans from one boy in particular at the start). Last week we were reading about musicians and it was fun to Google songs by these famous Australians. One day we read about Slim Dusty and AC/DC! They realised they know songs from both. There was lots of reminiscing when we got to The Wiggles!

Reading about sports stars just after the Olympics was timely too. 

We've just started with scientists. The first two in the book were women who became doctors in the latter half of the 1800s when women couldn't study medicine in Australia. Both travelled overseas to qualify. One, Constance Stone, returned and became Australia's first woman doctor in 1892. The other, Agnes Bennett, also returned, but struggled to find work in Australia (and also England). She eventually took over another woman's practice in New Zealand.

I love reading to my kids like this and being about to learn about Australia at the same time is a huge bonus. 

Did you wonder about my title? I've had people say "Passport country: that's cumbersome!" But it is the standard when talking about kids like ours who have grown up outside their parent's home country. Australia isn't home to them in the same sense it is to us, but they do have ties there. They've grown up with parents who grew up in Australia and have many ties there, plus that's where their citizenship lies. Yes, it's a little cumbersome, but it is also descriptive without assuming too much.

18 September, 2016

The sights you see

When we're out and about in japan, we often see interesting sights. One of the fun things of being in a country where people travel a lot on foot, bike, and by public transport is that you see more of people's lives than you do in countries where people load everything in their car and drive around. For example, the other day after church we saw a man pushing a double bass along a road on a trolley. 

Another factor are houses without large yards to hide things, so you see things outside the front of a house that you probably wouldn't in more spread-out countries. Here's a somewhat random collection of photos from the last several months of driving/riding around.

Here's a confusing intersection. Not only do the signs have way too many arrows, look at the traffic signals!

I told you it was random. Here were some beautiful rock formations we drove past on our camping trip (west coast of the Noto peninsula, for those who want to know)

We drove 2,000 km on our camping trip. I can't tell you how many tunnels we drove through, but "dozens" would probably be the best way to describe it. On some roads we barely seemed to get out of a tunnel before we were back in one again.

This was a curious jacket we happened upon not far from home.

Lots of people in Kyoto on a late Saturday afternoon.

This one was local, but not unusual. This two-way road is too narrow to have a footpath/sidewalk/pavement. Instead there is a white line drawn on the road. If you were dependent on a wheeled pusher, would you use this road to get around? Probably this lady didn't have any other options.

Washing hung out to dry and shoes on the fence, just a couple of metres off a major road.

Thin houses are common.

This photo I took in the car park of a camping shop. One of these is ours. I think we fit in pretty well, don't you? Until we put our camping gear on top covered by a blue tarp!

There is a propensity to the cute in Japan, as you probably know. It isn't uncommon to see cute logos. This dentist even has two animal statues outside the clinic.

This was probably once cute, but it is now just sad. These poor two Miffies are terribly soiled.

Today we drove past this house with stuffed toys stuffed in the fence. I'm not sure why, but surely they'll soon end up like the Miffies above?

Yes, the below photo is as seen. The Japanese language works fine in three directions. Top to bottom and right to left and left to right. So they have no problem with messing with English, though I think the below is supposed to be seen in a mirror. I think it would be the lucky person who could catch sight of this truck in their mirror!

Whenever we go to Costco we drive past this apricot coloured restaurant. I find the name of it rather intriguing: "Flying Garden". I'm not sure if I'd be game to go in!

Another common sight: mums riding with their children on the way home from kindergarten with all the various bags the kids need strung off the back of the child seat. I have to say, though, that these seats are a whole lot safer than when we first bought one in 2001, back then there were no headrests. The only seat you could buy was waist high.

This is representative of many homes in Tokyo. With little garden space, the metre or so between house and fence is often filled with garden. I love how they make the most of every little space.

Again, drying washing wherever you can. This was a commercial property and also just off a major road.

These amazing "time" capsules are often seen riding around. They cover the child seats, protecting them from rain and also cold wind. I sometimes look at them in summer and think the kids must be roasting, though.

17 September, 2016

Excitement at cross country today

Here I am with Jenn, a friend, fellow parent, and editing-team member.
Today was the second cross-country meet of the season. I felt weary when the alarm went off at 5.15 this morning! The reward was that we zoomed through Tokyo in our van and got to our destination in only about 45 minutes (it took longer than an hour to drive the 15km home, much of that was at less than 10km/hr).

But being at the meet was well worth the effort. We saw all three of our boys run. The two who'd run this course before got significant personal best times (66 and 33 seconds)! The third boy, our new middle schooler, obviously hadn't run the course before, but was only 30 seconds behind his 8th grade brother. They ran so well. One proud mum here!

The other great thing, that I've mentioned many times before, was chatting with other parents. This is something I missed when we were in Australia. Inter-school events didn't include much parental support (probably because many of them were during the working day). Plus I hadn't spent long enough in the school community to get to know many other parents.

Today I probably chatted with more than a dozen people who I know (some barely, others much better). For someone like me who works alone, but also needs people, that was soul refreshing. 

I also ran into a new family at CAJ. I met the mum about 10 years ago when she and her husband, who were cross-cultural workers in the middle east at the time, spoke at our church in Japan. We met in the babies room! We've since spent time together at various inter-mission women's events here in Japan, but not for over two years. So great to see her again. She introduced me to her husband who knew my face from my photo, which appears under my editorial in Japan Harvest magazine these days. He thanked me for my ministry.

My husband wasn't nearby at that time, but later I told him about this family and their daughter in high school. He said, "I teach her." Ah ha. Yes, we are in Japan serving the missionary community. Though it's always in the back of our minds, it's good to be reminded of that "in the flesh" sometimes.
I didn't quite get my "fancy" camera settings right for the middle
school race, but this has its own kind of charm. This is our middle son
who came 19th in a field of over 100 runners.

And our youngest who was 29th in the same race as above. This black-and-yellow
runner came up behind him with only about five metres left, but our son
didn't have enough in the tank, proving to me that this ultra competitive boy
had indeed run very hard today. He would have been 4th if the race just contained 6th graders.
Gorgeous greenery to be had in this location.
The start of the middle school race. 

16 September, 2016

Mood-lifting park ride

I've been feeling a little out of sorts recently. It's a combination of factors. I'm missing people and that grief has hit harder than I thought (I wrote about it here) but more than that, I've been "between projects" since the start of the month.

In my work there is fluctuation in my busyness. Sometimes I'm over-the-top busy, at other times it is slower. I don't necessarily have a lot of control over it, because it depends on a lot of other factors, like how fast my editing team works. That also means I can't necessarily anticipate how busy I'll be at any particular time. Though there are some things I can anticipate, like the last week of the month, for example, has become busy as I've taken on a couple of extra responsibilities for our mission that are due in the last few days of the month.

Hence, I had to work (a bit) during our camping holidays in July and after that while everyone was still home into late August, I was still working fairly hard. Now that they're all back at school I find that the pace of my various projects have slowed. I'm mostly waiting for other people to do their thing so that I can do mine.
These stunning Red Spider Lillies are only around at this
time of year. In Japanese they are called Higan after the time
of the year that they bloom (autumn equinox). I've learnt
(vis Facebook friends comments) that they are associated
with death because this is the time of year that Japanese
visit their ancestor's graves and hence these flowers don't
appear at the florists, you don't give them to people.

Basically I hate being bored. I hate running out of things to do. It's why I've never aspired to solely be a housewife (not to mention I don't like cleaning, but I can't find enough to do around the house all day to satisfy my need to stay occupied). When my youngest was nearing school age I was actively looking for more things to get involved in.

Ironically I would have happily taken more leisure time in August, while everyone was at home, but I find it harder now, it seems like I'm bludging (Aussie slang for shirking responsibility)! This post isn't an invitation for people to give me more work, because I am well aware that, as I've already said, my work fluctuates and there are coming times when I'll be extra busy.

I've been trying to get more exercise (I've been slack this year) and have been scheduling park-rides as well as gym times. Yesterday was a day I set aside to ride to my favourite park. I really didn't feel like it, but because it was on my schedule and because I had to do some birthday present shopping on the way home, I just went.

I'm so glad I did. It had rained during the night and was overcast, so things were damp, almost misty in the park. There were few people around, so it was very peaceful too. I took my camera and found some gorgeous things to shoot. The overcast conditions gave me beautiful diffused light to work with and the colours just seemed to pop out. 

I took a picnic and enjoyed sitting on one of the benches I photographed across the seasons in the last 12 months. On top of having good success in my birthday shopping, riding 20+km, and relaxing in the park, I came home at 4pm very happy. That elation lasted right through the evening. I'm so glad I went.
In the background you can just see a hint of a large number of kindergarten kids who were having a games day in the park.
I don't know what these are, but they are delicate and gorgeous too.

A white Spider Lily.
The advantage of going around with a camera just after rain 
are the raindrops adorning plants!