30 November, 2017

Autumn in Tokyo yesterday

This week is a bit of a slower week and yesterday was an extraordinarily warm, sunny day for late November (high teens), so I took the time to go out on my bike. I rode through my usual park south of us, went a bit further south (discovering some nice back streets) to a coffee shop and a little bit of Christmas shopping. 

I picked up an onigiri (Japanese rice ball) for lunch and picnicked on my way back home in a little park I discovered just south of the bigger park. Though surrounded by suburbia, it was very quite most of the time.

Just like in spring, this time of year you find unexpected surprises around many corners. Instead of flowers, it is coloured leaves.

This was sandwiched between buildings.

This was in the park (I didn't have my big camera with me. Apologies for the blurriness.)

And the twin seats I've often sat on and photographed before (below is what they look like in June).

This was across the road from the big park. Just gorgeous.

This was a portion of the small garden at the end of the little park I sat in to eat my lunch. A curious little place.

I discovered one of the white-gloved men at work rearranging bikes! Most of them are beyond retirement age, I don't know how they manage, lifting these bikes all day.

It was great to get out for some exercise and explore our local area a bit more. I enjoyed getting away from my computer and the warm autumn air. I soaked it in before the grimness of a Tokyo winter (my least favourite season here). Today is cold, grey, and drizzly. I'm glad I had the time and opportunity to go out yesterday.

29 November, 2017

Expats and community

Yesterday on Facebook, a former CAJ teacher shared an article she'd found about why expats love (and need) community. It was a good article for a couple of reasons—community IS very important to expats and the article explains why but also why expats struggle in the area of community when they return to their passport countries.
Some of the current members of our community. The
people I travelled with to Korea for wrestling earlier
in the year. 

You've read me rave on about community, friends, relationships here. Here's a sample:

And this post called The Colander of Expat Life, that has had more than 2,000 hits on it since I wrote it last year.

After I read the article above (the first one) I wondered if my non-expat readers understand what community is like for expats and why we need it so much (besides losing all our support network at the same time by moving away from our home countries)? The article says this:
Relationships go deeper quicker because our conversations are fueled by vulnerability.
No one says it out loud — “Hey I’m a bumbling idiot and you seem like a slightly less bumbling idiot, think you could help me out here?” — but that’s the field where community grows.
We huddle up — and we help each other — because we would fall apart if we didn’t.
We move forward together and learn to function at varying degrees of competence but all of us (even the long time vets) are operating at a fraction of the functionality of the average local person. 
Because we're functioning at a lower level than the locals, we need one another so much more. It works in facilitating relationships with locals too. Asking for help can open many doors of opportunity that you wouldn't otherwise have if you were competent  That's how I met my best Japanese friend: I was hopelessly incompetent when our children were in kindergarten together and she rescued me.

Here's a couple of other examples when I've been helped by expats in our community (local or Facebook):

But it's also important to realise that when we go back to our passport countries, not only  have we been changed by the experience of living like this, but that others won't get it. And we won't find quite the same type of community living again. That's why I wonder if people who haven't lived outside of their home country understand. This is what Jerry, the author of the article wrote:
[We expats love community] so much so that we long for it wherever we go, especially back “home” — but “home” is a different reality.
You’re not a bumbler there.
Scratch that. You’re not supposed to be a bumbler there.
We haven't transitioned back to living in Australia permanently (or even for a longer period than 12 months) yet, but I can see from our experiences of living there that we miss (or at least I do) the community I've got here, even if it is constantly changing.

So do go and read the article—if you are or were an expat it will ring true and if you aren't you might learn something about us.

28 November, 2017

Our weekend away Part 2

I have way too many Mt Fuji photos from the weekend! It really is a photogenic mountain. Much like when we were at Uluru (Ayers Rock, the enormous rock in the middle of Australia), it was hard not to keep snapping photos as the light changed.

We saw two sunsets from different vantage points and I saw one sunrise also. Here are my best shots:

Sunset on the first night

Sunrise the next morning. There were a lot of cars in the carpark, but not so many people at this viewing point 80m or so from our cabin. I'm thinking most of the viewers climbed the nearby peak in the dark and watched from there. We climbed the peak too, but quite a bit later in the morning.

The path up the nearby peak. It wasn't all as wide and smooth as this, but as far as mountain climbing goes, we had it pretty easy. It was about 30 minutes up and 30 minutes back.

With amazing views from the top! Australians are used to wide blue skies, but it isn't so common when you live in Japan. The horizon is something we rarely see from ground level in Tokyo and certainly not "wide skies".

This is the little bay and town (Heda) that we drove down to and had a delicious seafood lunch at. We watched the sun set from the other side of that little peninsula (the one with the beach). The next photos are from that vantage point.
Looking back at the mountains and Heda town.

This one is one of my favourites, I think.

27 November, 2017

Our weekend away Part 1

CAJ had a long weekend for American Thanksgiving, with Friday off. So we took advantage of that by going away, but not camping. We stayed in a very nice little cabin.

We drove down in the middle of the day on Friday and it was warm in the car with a beautiful clear blue sky. I had pangs of regret that we weren't going camping. But they didn't last when we arrived. Our cabin's location was a bit exposed and the wind cold and nasty at 3.30 when we arrived. I was very glad to not be putting up a tent and sleeping in it all night with flapping canvas all around.

But the view was magnificent! I'll post more photos of it tomorrow (photos from my "big" camera). I saw a sunset and sunrise from the area near the cabin. It's justifiably a popular viewing area of the iconic mountain.

We watched the sun set and then travelled down the mountain to the city to spend the evening with missionary friends from the UK. It was them we'd come to visit for the weekend. Their eldest son graduated with our eldest son in June and we've enjoyed getting to know them over the last few years. We also visited them 18 months ago (see this post) on our way back to Tokyo after our Kansai camping tour. They live in a very beautiful part of Japan.

The next morning, I got up early to see the sun rise (6.30) and then went back to bed. Three hours later I got up and joined the family for breakfast (another advantage of having older kids). Four of us then climbed a nearby mountain "peak" (only about 300m above the cabin) and were rewarded with this view.

For lunch on the Saturday we drove with our friends down to this fishing village: Heda. The view across the bay of Mt Fuji from the peninsula is very impressive.

Heda is a fishing village and there are signs for crab all over the place. If we were willing to pay over AU$100, we could have eaten one of these Spider Crabs (these ones were still alive). These grow as large as four metres across and some of these giant ones were prominently displayed in restaurants.

Our friends have been praying for this town for several years and have been going there monthly in recent times to lay the groundwork for what they hope will be a church plant in the coming years. This Friday they're going there with some of their church members to advertise for a Christmas event in the town that they're planning.

The view from Heda's wharf area.

We rambled along the beach and the boys climbed around on the rocks on the other side of the peninsula. After watching the sun go down we drove back to our friends' house along the coastline (very windy road). We enjoyed the evening with them (which included board games) before going back up to the cabin.

Here's what our cabin looked like on the inside. A simple open plan with a kitchenette at one end and bunks at the other (with a toilet).

We could only see the tip of Mt Fuji from our cabin, but the view across Suruga Bay was pretty impressive on its own.

On Sunday we spent the morning at the church our friend's work at. It's a small, rural church. Our family of five was about a quarter of the attendees on Sunday. They bring their own lunches to eat after the service and this photo was taken at the end of lunch.

We didn't go very far for this weekend—160 km—but with Tokyo traffic it took over three hours to get there and twice as long to get back. One reason why we seldom go away for the weekend, because driving back in on a Sunday takes energy and seems to negate the rest gained by being away.

But it was worth it this time. We got away from all our responsibilities here and explored another corner of Japan for a short time. We got to see some pretty amazing views, but even better, got to spend time with friends.

It was good, too, to worship at their small church and be reminded that most churches in Japan are like this. But also to remember the value of what we do: if CAJ didn't exist, this family wouldn't be able to continue to work in this rural area while their boys are in high school. So in a small way we're their support team, enabling this small church to continue to have a workers.
Our route home. Yesterday afternoon it was faster than the other route indicated, according to Google maps, but it took over six hours, including a short toilet break plus a longer dinner break and dropping off one of our passengers (our son's former classmate) on his campus—International Christian University.

23 November, 2017

Not camping this weekend

This is approximately where we're headed.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of our snow camp. Did you hear about it? If not, here it is: Remember the time mum and dad took us camping in the snow?
Us, last year this weekend.

In the last year we've had some great conversations with other people about this camping trip. Most have been in the realm of "you're crazy!" But we do have super memories. And it really is fun to have done something a little extreme like this and survived.

The amazing sight we discovered on our way back
from the toilet block on our first morning.
As I wrote when we went camping last month, we decided not to camp this year at Thanksgiving time (which had been our tradition for several years). It turns out that the weather is going to be quite favourable if we'd chosen to do it—sunshine with daytime temperatures in the teens, night times still low single digits. But we've made other plans.

We're still going to a campsite, but we're spending more money and renting a cabin instead. Hopefully a cabin that has a heater!

We're also going to a place where we know local church planters from the UK and will spend time with them and their teenage boys over the weekend. Because the weather is forecast to be good we should be able to have some fun at a local beach (but not in the water!).

If it's a good experience, we might even go back in warmer weather sometime with a tent. Apparently there are good views as it's up on a hill.

We're looking forward to getting out of Tokyo, even if only for two nights and three days.

22 November, 2017

On this day seven years ago

One of the things I like to check in the morning is the "On this day" on Facebook. It brings up a lot of interesting things that I've posted in past years: events, photos, etc. Because I've posted links to my blog on Facebook pretty much since the beginning, it also shows me those and they can be fun to read also. 

Today I came up with this, a glimpse of what my life in was like when I had 11, 8, and 5 year olds. Sometimes I'm asked about when my kids were younger and even now I can't remember a lot of it. Having written about one particular day on my blog, we can go back and have a peek into life in 2010. Indeed quite different to my life now.

Here are some extracts (for context, we were at a fun sports day for home schoolers, held at CAJ):
Parks were a big part of our family's recreation when
the boys were younger. So much energy!
At lunch-time my kids ate and ran - typical. They really don't eat much at school usually, because there is too much play to be done. However I lingered longer in the bright autumn sun. Eventually I realised that the girls on the next table over were dressed the same, had the same drink bottles, their hair was done in the same fashion etc. Yes, they were twins. 5 y.o. twins. The more amazing thing was that they sat for the entire lunch-hour. Just sat, and ate, slowly. My boys never sit and eat. They squirm, they shove it in and they leave. Getting them to linger over a meal is like extracting a tooth without anaesthetic. Very painful. I can only imagine what it must be like to have children who just sit quietly. . . 
Very soon my eldest was trying to entertain the others by putting the road cone on his head, by playing with water and blindfolding himself and others with the bandanna that awaited us at our relay-station.
My middle son was intense at the games. Competitive to the last. Determined that we obey the rules, even if it wasn't clear what they were!
My youngest was the victim of the other two as well as his youth. He quickly tired of the competitiveness, of the intensity and the pressure. He folded and assumed that it was all too hard. . .
I cannot say that I was having a fun time. Trying to wrestle a balloon off two intense brothers rolling in the dirt. Trying to placate the youngest and stop him being victimised by his brothers. Trying to explain to the middle son that it was okay that the neighbouring team didn't exactly follow the rules. Trying to make sure everyone had a chance to participate. It wasn't fun. . . 
Some people consoled me with the presumption that my boys would go home and collapse. They don't know my boys. My kids are like energiser bunnies and go and go and go. After sports day the younger two went across the road to their usual 1 hour swimming lesson. When they got home from that they wanted to play soccer outside or balloon volleyball in the lounge. It was only when I said that I needed help putting sheets back on beds that they feigned tiredness!
However I was tired, mentally if not physically. We parked them in front of a video for an hour before tea (dinner), just to give us a break and help their active bodies to slow down. Soon they'd rush through another meal and we'd push them to bed (energiser bunnies don't appreciate being made to slow down, they click). Then we could have some peace.
People now say to me, "You're lucky to have such active boys." But I don't know. I definitely feel like it's been a long, challenging 18½ years of parenting so far. I love to see them compete in sports now: I love that all that energy now has a positive outlet (and I don't need to organise or facilitate it). Also, then when they come home now, they are generally tired and don't bounce around like they used to!

Sometimes I'm asked if I miss the times when they were younger and the truth is that I don't. As you've just read, it was an exhausting period of my life. I had pre-schoolers for 10 years and that was long enough for me.

It's also good to remind myself that life is a little physically easier now than it was then, it is easy to forget. What I've forgotten a little, is that it wasn't mentally or emotionally easy back then either. The battles have changed, the boys have gotten bigger and stronger (but not more strong-willed, that's been steadily difficult, I think). It is harder now, though, to make them do things they don't want to do. They are definitely more opinionated and don't hesitate to let us know those opinions.

Enough reminiscing. Back to now. Tonight we have the first wrestling meet of the season (actually just a dual, should be less than an hour). The team is much smaller than last year and it's discouraging to see that. We don't have any of our family wrestling tonight, but I do have friends whose kids are, and I'm keen to sit with them and cheer for their kids. No disguising it—I'm excited to see live wrestling again, though I know it won't be as special as last year, but it won't be as stressful either!

Another messy evening: as I'll make dinner early and people will eat it when they're free (wrestling starts at 6, but two of our family won't be home from school till after it's over and another family member will be home before 6, but out until late as he goes straight to youth group from there, we're not sure if the fifth family member will even leave the house...).

21 November, 2017

Interesting map facts about Australia and Japan

I love maps and interesting statistics. This article has some fascinating statistics that relate to
our lives as Aussies in Japan. Here are the ones that catch my eye most:
  • Japan's a pretty green place, especially in comparison to Australia. Japan has 68.6% of its land forested, that's 17th highest in the world.
  • Japan has many more roads than Australia (1.21 million km vs 823,000 km), despite Australia being 20 times bigger than Japan. I guess it makes sense in some ways, because Japan has more than five and a half times Australia's population.
  • We've moved from one of the least crowded nations to one of the most crowded (well, we pretty much knew this already!).
  • Australian drink more alcohol than Japanese, in fact more than most countries do. I don't know if I'm surprised at this. I do know that alcohol is readily available in my local grocery store in Japan, though.
  • Japan is one of the highest risk nations for a natural disaster. Yep, pretty sure I knew this. That's why we have an emergency kit in our cupboard.
  • Australia and Japan are both listed on the high end of urbanisation. Difference is that there's a lot of places where no one lives in Australia. Driving through Japanese and Australian countryside is quite a different experience. The cities and towns are much further apart in Australia.
  • One of the hundreds of tunnels in Japan, this one is on
    the northern island on Hokkaido.
  • The two countries are similar in ranking for rail network, but I'm sure that that is totally skewed by the long distances trains have to cover to get to Perth and Darwin. Rail is the primary mode of transport in Tokyo. 40 million passengers use the trains each day! More than Australia's whole population. Tokyo alone has 882 stations and nearly 5,000 km of track!
Our house (blue roof) and road.
Go and have a peek at the maps, you might learn something about your country you don't know!

20 November, 2017

A messy day

Today's been a messy day. It was one of those days that it's hard to get traction on anything. Here's how it went (please be patient, it is messy, after all).

As many of you know life as a family just gets more complicated as your kids get older. Mine aren't super social, so they're not off at other people's houses all that much, but they do do sport, and in this season that means wrestling training until after 6pm many nights. Thankfully we live close to school and I don't have to pick them up, and they can eat dinner pretty soon after they finish training.

I am one of those people who like to know what we're having for dinner ahead of time to save the mental angst of trying to figure out what I can make with what we have. So I have a simple menu plan for our evening meals (very simple, just a list of the days with the main evening dish written on it). This week I'd planned chicken wraps for tonight and our eldest agreed he'd like to make that (as part of his agreed household job of cooking one evening meal a week).

Then we discovered yesterday that tonight there were inter-school basketball matches at school in the evening. That meant that we maybe could buy dinner at school and support the seniors fundraising for their Thailand trip next year. It's become an enjoyable family tradition to do this as much as we can during the autumn and winter sporting seasons.

The other factor in figuring things out was one boy deciding that he wanted to go to the doctor (for acne that just isn't improving). 

Then are the other factors that have made planning a little tricky this week: 

1. Wrestling duals at CAJ on Wednesday night, which I'd planned to go to and most/all of the family with me.
2. Thursday is a public holiday (only relevant because doctors don't open on those days, CAJ has school that day).
3. We're going away Friday for a long weekend.

So, can you see, trying to figure it all out is like a jigsaw puzzle. What piece fits where?

This morning my questions were:
1. Is food being sold at school tonight?
2. When is the best afternoon to go with my son to the doctor? (Keeping in mind that you can't make appointments to see this doctor, you have to just turn up and take a number, and it is usually a long line).
3. When is the best night for our eldest son to cook dinner (keeping in mind that I'd already gotten the chicken out to defrost)?

At 9.30 this morning I thought I had it figured out: We would go to the doctor this afternoon, then have dinner at school tonight, and our son could cook dinner tomorrow night. I checked with the relevant boys and then informed everyone else (though one boy failed to look at his email and was clueless).

So I merrily went about my day as best I could.
8.30-10 A bit of email and catching up on other computer-work related things.
10-11.30 At school at a prayer meeting and touching base with David about our plans for the evening.
11.30-12.15 Rode to get groceries
12.15-1.00 Ate lunch
1.00-3.00 Computer work (editing, email etc.)
3.00 Headed out to the doctor

We got to the doctor and saw the above sign. The doctor's hours have changed and he's now closed on Mondays! Arggghhh.

Yes, I know, really just an inconvenience, not a big problem. But it took a while for my son and I to reformat our thinking and adjust what we were going to do next, not to mention refiguring the puzzle I've outlined above. I ended up going to a nearby department store and I wandered round a bit in the warm until I felt ready to go home (I did get a couple of pantry items that we needed).

One more piece of background to today: it has dropped down to winter temperatures. It was 6C at 8.15 when our boys left for school this morning, and hasn't risen a lot further than 10C. I haven't felt like going outside at all, all day! Inside is a bit better, but only if I'm in the dining/office/kitchen area. And it's back to feeling cold a lot of the time and the inconveniences of winter to go out: scarf, jacket, gloves, and hat/ear muffs.

Sigh. Sorry for my grumblings. I'm glad that I have the means to keep warm, God is so good to us. I really don't have any right to grumble. I'm just going through the transition of late autumn to early winter and never enjoy that transition in Tokyo.

If you're interested, here is how the rest of the afternoon panned out:

4.00 I rode home, bantered with boys (yes, they were in the mood) and had coffee.
4.15 Got on the computer, answered a couple more emails and started this post.
5.30 Walked to school for dinner with David (the boys all at at various later times at school)
6.15 Watched basketball.
7.30 Walked home and had a very hot shower to warm up.

And now I'm back at the computer, finishing off this blog post.

I know that this kind of scenario is played out in many houses every week. It's usually not so complicated, though knowing when to have dinner on the table is a bit tricky in this season.

I'm not fond of the messiness. In some ways it was easier when they were all home by 4pm and in bed by 7.30. Though what we've got now is more physical freedom, it takes more mental and emotional energy to do all the shuffling, negotiating, and coordinating. 

I am really thankful I'm not driving kids all around like I would be in Australia, though. It does make it a lot easier that we live really close to school. I'm also thankful that I have a flexible job that I do from home, and that I have a lot of control over my own schedule, so that isn't usually a big factor when it comes to dealing with the family. It does mean, though, that things I've planned are usually the first to go (for example, time at the gym).

But I've raved on long enough about this messy day . . . messy life. How much of a "messy" schedule are you willing to put up with? How do you cope?

19 November, 2017

Another (exciting) piece of the puzzle

In the ongoing saga of transitioning our eldest son to the next stage of his life, we've had unexpected news. 

Good news. Unexpected, because it's come about two months earlier than we thought it would. But very good news.

On Friday night, while I was cleaning my teeth, my husband called out in a curiously upbeat voice, "[Our eldest son] has got a letter."

I knew he'd not gotten snail mail that day, so at 10pm, how could he have gotten a letter? I poked my nose into our bedroom where my husband was folding clothes and raised my eyebrows (my mouth occupied by a toothbrush). He pointed to the big boys' bedroom next door.

I poked my nose in there and couldn't see anything, because our son's desk is tucked away behind a bookshelf. So I went all the way in to where my son was staring at his computer. He pointed at the screen. There, I could see an official letter from the University of Queensland that said something along the lines of, "we are offering you a place in the course Bachelor of Mathematics and Science."

"Wow!" I spluttered, barely keeping the toothpaste inside my mouth. "That's amazing! Congratulations!!!" And I high fived him.

Our middle son was wandering around saying, "Mum's in my bedroom cleaning her teeth?!?"

Our eldest son said the understatement of the month, "You seem excited mum."

It was his first choice and one that we wondered if his score would be high enough to get. Not to mention that we weren't even waiting for such a thing at this time.

For years we've been wondering, and answering questions from other people wondering, about how easy it would be to get an Australian child from an American-style school in Japan admitted into an Australian university. It all seemed too easy in the end, though. It hasn't cost us much time at all and gone very smoothly. I kept waiting for the hitch.

But it seems he is now accepted into university (a double degree with a high entry mark at a university ranked in the top 50 in the world, 4th in Australia, no less, oh and our alma mater too). And it's getting real.

I guess soon we'll have to make it even more real and spend some money to buy tickets to take him to Brisbane in February (school year starts in the third week).

17 November, 2017

How about managing stress?

I've really not had much time here to write my own stuff today. I seem to be spending a lot of time with other people's work . . . I guess that's part of my job and I'm not really complaining. It's great to have a skill that I can use and enjoy doing.

At times like these I look at my "draft" blog posts. I've got nearly 100 of them. Many of them are simply a link that I've found and pasted into a blog post for future use. Here's one I found recently: http://www.alifeoverseas.com/managing-stress-overseas/

This is simply one person's list of what she and her family are doing to keep stress under control in their household in Indonesia (she's quite a mix of cultures herself). It includes sleep, hobbies, exercise, and thankfulness.

The question she ended her list with was: "How about you? What routines have you found helpful in managing stress?"

Well, here's my current list in no particular order, and probably not exhaustive:

  • try not to look at email after dinner
  • try to get regular exercise, including bike rides to parks with my camera
  • get to bed before 10 most night
  • rest in bed on Sunday afternoons
  • do at least one card game (Spider) on my phone each day, sometimes I also get to do a  Sudoku challenge and Words with Friends games
  • schedule evening meals, including one or preferably two left-over-type meals
  • read good books before falling asleep
  • watch a TV episode with my husband in the evening
  • take time regularly to have coffee with friends
  • meet about once a month with a good friend over Skype
  • take time to recalibrate spiritually on my own at a coffee shop when I need to (mini retreat)
  • go camping periodically
  • take holidays during the summer and at Christmas
  • get massages and don't feel guilty about that
  • get out of Tokyo when we can
  • not feel guilty at saying no to things that I know I'm not good at
  • try to burrow back in my thoughts and figure out why I feel upset, or angry, or unsettled, or any upset of my usual balance (it's usually a small trigger, but figuring it out is helpful)
  • writing this blog!
Phew. That's a lot. Am I high maintenance? 

I've been struggling with headaches this week. I'm not exactly sure why. I have many triggers for headaches, including stress but I don't feel especially stressed at present. I hope that next week is better.

So, what about you? What do you do to manage stress? (You don't need to write as detailed a list as mine!)