20 April, 2018

From the depths of a Thrift Shop week

A quick post from the depths of CAJ's Thrift-Shop week (in photos).

These are the chief organisers of this year's Thrift Shop. Of course there are hundreds of volunteers not shown, we've just got more responsibility. This was what the "shop" looked like before shopping started this morning.

But back to Tuesday night, it was raining as I walked home after the initial set-up of the hardware (tables, racks etc.). I've walked this road more often this week than I usually do.

My job is the highfalutin sounding "Facilities Manger". It boils down to management of rubbish and signs. I've also kept an eye on traffic-flow (i.e. making sure that walkways are clear).

Here's some of the rubbish bags we've filled, plus a couple of other things.

Many signs! It's a temporary shop operated with a troop of volunteers. So we have what seems like hundreds of laminated signs that are easily put up and down and many of them are giving directions to the volunteers as well as the public.

Here's some of the views of the shop in pristine condition before shopping began this morning.

This is the "girls" aisle. Clothes on the left are separated into sizes.

 This is part of the men's section, with boys clothes in the background.

Toys: a very popular section.

A small "corner" for baby clothes.

On Wednesday afternoon I got a bit flat, so decided to spice things up a little with an Elmo hat someone donated for sale. Things got a little out of control with a few other Elmos from the toy department. It was worth it, hearing the giggles. There are a lot of these photos floating around now, lots of people wanted photos!

I haven't bought much, but did find some good books for only a dollar or so each.

Today was a gorgeous day. Thankfully, because it was the annual middle school science event. This year: egg drop. All the middle schoolers had to create a biodegradable container for an egg that got dropped from the third floor (or second, depending on how you number your floors). It was all quite scientific. You can see my husband here entering data about how long it took them to fall and whether or not the egg broke.

This time tomorrow Thrift Shop will all be over for another year. But we still have our hardest day ahead of us. Tomorrow the public is invited in (today was only CAJ and PTA members). It's four hours of frantic shopping (and "operating registers" for those of us doing that)! And when it's all over we get to clean the whole mess up and turn it back into a functioning gym! 

And I'm already tired! 

Gotta go and rest!

19 April, 2018

A towel in the mailbox

After you've lived in a country for a while, you get some repeat experiences, which is nice. So when I got a hand towel in the mailbox on Tuesday, I knew what was coming. 

It meant that a neighbour was having work done on their house. The towel is an upfront apology for any inconvenience the work might cause you. I presume the construction companies provide them as a usual part of their customer service.

And sure enough, the very next morning, as I was eating breakfast in my pjs, workmen started putting up scaffolding on the house directly behind ours.

Now our view of the house is obscured by fine netting.

There is satisfaction in understanding some of the unusual things about this "adopted" country.

17 April, 2018

Homesick for the Commonwealth

I was feeling a little more odd than usual as an Australian these last couple of weeks. The Gold Coast (a city down the coast from Brisbane) was hosting the Commonwealth Games.*

Most of the people we interact with locally have never heard of it. Shock! If you aren't from a "Commonwealth Nation" it's just not on your radar. That covers Americans, Japanese, Finns, Koreans, Filipinos, etc. I've even had to explain what it is to our boys. 

Even though I knew it was an event restricted to only Commonwealth Nations, it was an international event that was such a part of growing up in Australia (Brisbane hosted it in 1982 and we went to the closing ceremony) that it was a bit of a shock to find that many of my friends here have never even heard of it.

Ah, it makes me a little homesick (and usually homesickness isn't on my list of emotions at all these days). Especially when I've had almost no one to talk to about the games.

It was, therefore, a treat on Saturday to meet a new CAJ family—the mum grew up in South Africa. She knew about the Commonwealth Games and was shocked when she could talk about the sport of netball without explanation, till our American friend sitting nearby needed explanation. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out this video by Netball America for an explanation, though I question the assertion that boys and girls/men and women can play on the same team. And this video for some play action from the games. I didn't know that the game actually originated in the US, at least according to the first video I've linked to here!) Netball—another big part of childhood as an Australian girl, but again, no one's heard of it! We do have one sports-mad Kiwi around who was in shock that Australia lost the final and that her country didn't even get a medal...but I digress.

As I watched my FB page fill up with photos of the games, I really wished I could have been there. Many of my friends went to at least one session.

Our son was. He was a volunteer last Wednesday as they prepared for the start of wrestling. He had to play the part of a wrestler, which included using the change rooms, doing two wrestles and "getting" a bronze medal! He also had a ticket to see live wrestling on Saturday.

I've seen this quote about on parenting:
Your heart . . .  walking around outside your body
It's true. Even though he's thousands of miiles away now, and we don't know what he's doing on a daily basis anywhere near as much. A part of my heart is still there. So I kind-of experience the games vicariously (though didn't get much of a "report" from our son).

We didn't get to see any live videos (for some reason media licences didn't consider Commonwealth citizens living in Japan), but mostly have seen a few articles and results. So, a bit of a downer, really. Not that we've had much time to be watching sports. I was, however, particularly pleased to realise that, unlike the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games has all their disabled athletes competing at the same time as the rest. Totally integrated, including the medal count. Love it!

Well, it's been too long between posts and this is a messy one. Sorry. I'm not sure, actually that you're going to get many posts from me between now and May. I've got CAJ's Thrift Shop starting this evening (runs till Saturday), then on Sunday I'm off to Hokkaido for a five-day workshop. Maybe some short, photo-heavy ones?

*What is the Commonwealth Games?

Nicknamed the Friendly Games, it is a four-yearly international event. It's been held since 1930. Here's Wikipedia's definition of the Commonwealth of Nations:
The Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of 53 member states that are mostly former territories of the British Empire.

The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018) will welcome more than 6,600 athletes and team officials from 71 Commonwealth nations and territories. www.gc2018.com

11 April, 2018

The "Bobs" are back

Two years ago in spring we had a couple of birds take up residence in the bird house that our eldest son made in middle school. They laid a batch of eggs and hatched them. But once the babies were able to fly we rarely saw the family again, actually we never saw the babies, though we could hear them. 

We wondered if they'd come back the next year, but they didn't. However this year we have the same species of bird back again. Thanks to my blog (see here), I can tell you they are Parus Minors or Japanese Great Tits. For ease, we've nicknamed them the "Bobs" (from this fun song about fourteen animals with the special name of Bob).

I spent some time trying to capture them with my camera last Wednesday. Alas my lens doesn't have a great zoom, and the birds are so energetic and flighty that I ended up taking most of my photos through two layers of glass (having work to do, I didn't spend the whole day with the door open waiting for them).

My favourite: I captured one of the "Bobs" in flight!

10 April, 2018

Sprinting long-term

Saying "no" and admitting I need to rest: these things are sometimes easy for me, but sometimes I really struggle to tell them to others. 

I can't believe that just this morning I struggled to admit in an email to colleagues that I needed schedule some rest time on the weekend (our usual time-off as we don't work in a church). It was in relation to drawing boundaries about how much time I could interact with one of them in my house.

I also struggled with the pull on Saturday, on the way home from the athletics meet, to socialise vs not socialise. The trains I took home from the track meet also held friends who I could have travelled with, but I deliberately rode on my own. I wasn't snubbing them, but I was so tired I just didn't feel up to talking for 1 ½ hrs on the trains. However I couldn't tell them to their faces that I didn't want to travel with them, instead I deviously avoided them and hid in the crowds.

All these things are hard for me, at times:

  • first recognising that I need to pull back,
  • deciding what to say no to,
  • actually doing it,
and, when necessary,
  • telling people that I have to do it.
Perhaps I'm better than some at this, but I still don't find it easy. I'm someone who has a pretty high capacity for work or at least can get a lot done in less time than other people. But because I live life pretty intensely, I need to schedule in a fair bit of down-time. Or at least it feels like a lot. I often question if it is too much, but then when I ignore my inner voice and push too hard, I find myself really worn out or even sick and unable to fulfil my responsibilities to my family.

I'm much more of a sprinter in this life, and I'm married to a long-distance "runner" who frequently has much more endurance than me, but moves at a slower pace. My lifelong challenge is, how can I sprint, yet stay the long course?

From Saturday, the next fortnight is very full and I know I'll be exhausted, come the 30th of April. Add to that the knowledge that during those two weeks I'll be almost unable to get to my computer for any length of time, so before Saturday I'm trying to get ahead on my editing and other desk-work. Yes, I'm feeling the pressure. Thankfully this week is very light on outside commitments, so I'm working hard and and intensely.

But if you see me, do ask me if I'm taking time to relax!

09 April, 2018

My Saturday was edgy

Saturday was a track and field meet, yep, it's started up again and doesn't stop until it's all over now (mid May). It was really good that middle and high school comps were at the same venue, so we were both able to see both our boys! 

The venue is out near Tokyo Bay (40-50km away, depending on whether you take tollroads or not), and the fastest way to get there on a Saturday is by train (not to mention parking...). But it still took 1 ½ hours and four trains. The day promised to be warm-ish (around 17/18C), so we didn't rug up very much. However a nasty cold wind arrived not too long after we did and that made the day a challenge to get through.

Our family was represented in several events: 100m, 200m, 400m, 4x400m, and the 1,500m. We also had an entrant in the middle school discus, but the wind started to move the giant cage surrounding the discus circle and so they cancelled that event. The venue has a lovely tall grandstand, but that wasn't so lovely on Saturday as it caught all the wind. I ended up hiding in one of the rooms at track-level to stay out of the wind, popping out only when my boys were running.

Despite all the discomfort, it was good to be there to watch our boys. They rarely say so, but I choose to believe that they appreciate us being there. Several of their classmates tell their parents not to come and so their parents don't come, and I think that is just sad. As I've written many times before, sports provide us a valuable way to remain connected through these challenging teenage years, so I'm very thankful that they are sporty and that we have the capacity to go and watch them.

I did enjoy pulling out my camera and working to get the setting right, it's added an extra element of fun and challenge to spectating. Got some good action shots too!

By the end of the day, though, I was tired. I really don't like wind, it makes me feel edgy. My eyes were irritated by the wind and all the stuff flying around too (dust and pollen).

At the end of the competition I had to make a decision: go home with David and the team (he drove them team home in the school bus) or take the trains again. I opted for the trains, and I'm glad. It took me half the time that the bus took to get back! I also got more exercise—I took more than 8,000 steps on Saturday, mostly just because I took trains! It also gave me time "alone". I was tired enough that I didn't feel like interacting with people all they way home, so I travelled on my own (in the usual crowds). Amazingly I got a seat on each of the three trains too! Then when I arrived home fully two hours before everyone else, I was able to have a shower and have some relaxing time all on my own. Quite refreshing, really.

Interesting to ponder this from an Australian perspective: it seems to me that is definitely a little on the edge of ordinary to choose to take a train instead of riding in a vehicle and certainly that the train was way faster than the vehicle. But that is life in Tokyo. We choose what mode of transport we will take in the context of where we're going (among other things).

06 April, 2018

A birthday

It was my birthday earlier in the week. One of our boys thanked me for having it! I asked if I should have them more often and he laughed.

It was a great day. I had a couple of things planned (lunch with a friend and dinner out with the family). But there were also some fun surprises, which is always lovely on a birthday.

At breakfast I got some delightful presents, including:
Pot plant from David. I think it is in the geranium family, so that should work
well with my not-so-green thumb. Gorgeous flowers.

A minion from our youngest fun-loving son. He's delightfully soft and cuddly (the minion, not my son). The giver feels he has some claim on him...but together we've decided to call this guy "George"!

The same son also made this small card for me, I asked for an interpretation and he said it was because I was queen of the kitchen and making good food! I love it!

After they all left for school some more surprises turned up: a message from a good friend in Australia wanting to video chat and one from a local friend wondering if she could take me out for coffee. I managed to do both. And my mum messaged me before I went out for lunch wanting to book a slot to chat! So I basically was with people or talking to people pretty much the whole day. No time to contemplate how big this number that defines my age is getting.

Dinner joy was nearly sabotaged by teenage foibles...but we overcame barriers and ended up with a lovely meal at a local Italian restaurant that includes all-you-can-eat pizza. 

I love this dish. It doesn't sound great: eggplant and bacon spaghetti, but its taste and texture is perfect.

Oh, and a cake, which we don't have a photo of, because we had it after I'd showered and was in my PJs!

I felt very loved. Online too, I received greetings from about 100 people on Facebook plus some emails!

Just a lovely day, perfectly delightful. 

05 April, 2018

God's strength not our own?

I was strengthening my muscles at the gym today when I realised that I haven't written on those verses in Joshua 1 that I said in January I would ponder this year. In fact I haven't pondered them much at all recently. 

My recent thoughts have been more about what do Christians really mean when they say things like, "I was doing it in my own strength, not God's." It can tend to be a throw-away cliche, but what does it really mean?

It's very common in Japan to see old trees with their branches
propped up with bamboo sticks.
At conference last week we had an unexpected 30 minutes after the final Bible talk to do individual reflection. The passage we'd heard about was in Colossians 1, but I went searching further into the book for answers about the above question.

I pondered if, when we do things in God's strength we are dwelling in God's word (4:16) and working as if for the Lord, not for human masters (3:23). I wonder if we're working in God's strength if we're doing it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and always giving thanks to God. (3:17). Whether, when we're using the gifts God gives us (1 Tim. 4:10-11), we're serving in God's strength, not our own.

I also wondered if we're doing things in God's strength, our actions will look more like those in Colossians 3:12-15: compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, and loving.

I did a lot of pondering in that half an hour.

I looked briefly at Paul's prayer for the Ephesians (3:14-21), where he talks about strength quite a lot: asking that God would strengthen the Christians through his Holy Spirit. That they would have the strength to comprehend the entirety of Christ's love for them. He mentions the "power at work within us". I wonder if we're keeping our eyes on Jesus, whether we'll be more aware of the power at work in us, God's power?

Now back to those verses in Joshua, Here's what God said to Joshua after Moses died and Joshua was about to take the whole of Israel across a raging Jordan River (it was in flood) and into the promised land:
"No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5-9 NIV)
In one way it looks like God's telling him to be strong in his own strength, but read in context I think it says, "Be strong because you know who's backing you. I'm there with you and if you do it my way, then you will be successful." "Successful" of course being God's definition of it, not ours!

And I think that's where we often get caught, we think up a definition of success and aim at that: like number of baptisms in a church or number of people attending the church on a Sunday. We count the number of missionaries who are on the field or how much money's been given towards their needs. We even look at how many people "like" our social media pages and how many posts get shared. All these are good things, but I wonder how God measures success, because sometimes I think we're doing the best we can to judge if we're "on target" but in actual fact we don't know quite what God deems "success".

But, there it is, I've gone off topic. 

When you hear "I was doing it in my strength, not God's", what do you think of? How do you know when that is true of you?

04 April, 2018

Cherry blossom season

I can't let the sakura blooming season pass without showing you just one more taste. We missed the peak of it while we were in Hokkaido, but caught some at either end.

This first photo was taken just before we went to Hokkaido (25th March). It was one of the few trees with some branches in full bloom (you can see some in the blue section of the photo that aren't).

This next photo of pre-blooming cherry bloom trees was taken mid-March. I shared it on Facebook and a friend asked for an "after" photo. But that turned out harder to do than I thought. The trees are at a small shopping centre about three kilometres from here. A distance that isn't great if you're driving around a lot, but I am not. I don't go here more than once or twice a month. The second photo I rode down on my bike especially to take it just before we left for Hokkaido and you can see they are on the verge of blooming. Nine days later (yesterday) I took the third photo of the same scene. You can see I missed them at their peak! I'll take a fourth photo in early May to show you what magnificent shade trees they are in summer.

On Saturday David and I rode to my usual large park for a picnic and a spot of ohanami (cherry blossom viewing). There were thousands of people in the park, but plenty of blossoms to go around, even in the areas away from where the majority of trees are planted.

I love this unusual, "on the edge of ordinary" blossom!

People go gaga about the cherry blossoms, but I also love the new green leaves!

02 April, 2018

Building resilience in middle age?

Building resilience in children is a popular topic these days, but this article by Tara Parker-Pope rightly asks, what about adults, can we build resilience too? The answer is yes, and perhaps we even have an edge over kids, just because we are often better at things like regulating our emotions and have a broader perspective on life because we've got more life experience.

The article has some good suggestions for how to speed our emotional recovery when life hits you with challenges.
And of course I would select a wrestling photo. Resilience is one
thing that a wrestler needs in spades! You won't go far in most
sports without it, actually.

  • Practise optimism. Look at a bad situation in a more hopeful way, hang out with optimistic people. I generally don't find this too hard as I'm an optimistic person, but I can imagine some would struggle with this.
  • Rewrite your story How we talk to ourselves and others about our struggles affects how we cope with them. For example, I could be saying "woe is me" about our son moving to Australia, however, I'm deliberately focusing on this being a great opportunity for growth in him (and us) and that this is what we've been preparing him for for the last 18 years.
  • Don't personalise it. This is one I struggle with. I tend to blame myself when I've made a mistake or something I've done has caused the problem. I struggle with perfectionism and am sometimes too conscientious. This quote from the article is helpful: "remind yourself that even if you made a mistake, a number of factors most likely contributed to the problem and [then] shift your focus to the next steps you should take."
  • Remember your comebacks. This is where a bit of life experience comes in handy. Remind yourself of when you've had tough times before and gotten through them.
  • Support others. A strong network really helps. But apparently you can get an even bigger boost in resilience by helping others.
  • Take stress breaks. I'm sometimes good at this, sometimes not. Depending on the situation. Parker-Pope suggests things like a walk break, lunch with a good friend, or even a five-minute meditation. Muscle growth occurs during the rest time following training (or stress), same for our emotional strength.
  • Go out of your comfort zone. Yeah, well this isn't hard to do in our expat lives. The author suggests things like taking an adventure vacation (camping, anyone?"), take up a new sport or craft.
I would add a couple of suggestions:
  • Remember when God has helped you in the past.
  • Have a healthy, balanced lifestyle as much as possible: eat, rest, play.
Most of all, keep your eyes on Jesus. Honestly, Scripture and song steeped in Scripture have been my go-to when life gets especially tough. Some of the comments on the above mentioned article point out that when life gets really hard, these coping mechanisms just don't hold you up sufficiently. I would say in answer to that that's because there's a spiritual element that's missing. You can't do it on your own, though many try!

01 April, 2018

Ugly is okay?

There were two Australians and an American at a missionary conference in Japan. The American had been in Japan many less years than either Australian.

In a casual conversation, one Australian mentioned their son in passing, using the word "ugly" as a descriptor.

The North American was shocked and said so.

The other Australian pointed out that the comment was a beautiful example of contextualisation: that a Japanese person would naturally say such a thing about their child.

There was a pause in conversation as they considered that.

Of course the Australian was, perhaps, not being as Japanese in their comment as their colleague suggested (although after a lengthy period of living in this country, the ways of this country do rub off on you). For in Australia such a comment is just a bit of lighthearted tomfoolery. In Japan, a parent might say something like this out of humility. And, well, for an American, it was all rather a shock.

It's easy make assumptions or mistakes when you're dealing with multiple cultures, even between native English speakers.

Please don't assume you know who is who in this scenario!

31 March, 2018

Hokkaido conference is a wrap

We returned at 11pm on Thursday night from the conference in Hokkaido. It was a tiring journey after a tiring week. Thankfully the flight was quiet (benefit of travelling with older kids) and I felt refreshed and able to manage the two hour journey on the trains home (it took five of them, to travel 30km!).
The hotel we stayed in continues to be a curiosity (it's our third visit there). It features:
  • a waterpark in the basement (including a small wave pool, a current pool, several mild water slides, a pool full of watermelon-beach balls, etc.
  • two floors with hot springs.
  • a ginormous buffet that we ate at twice a day (it has enormous floor to ceiling windows)
  • an eclectic interior design and "artefacts"
  • lots of full-length mirrors
I've included some photos for your interest. (Here's more of the decor, photos I took last time.)

One of the many full-length mirrors. There were at least a dozen on every floor around
the elevator enclave. Then there were a bunch of enormous ones in the dining room too,
as well as random ones like this, in the hallways.

Enormous dining room with enormous windows to match. This place was crowded every
mealtime. Though it was huge, there were lines to negotiate to get to the buffets.

The teenagers, some of them anyway. There were about ten families with teenagers (many more
with younger children). Though a smallish group, several nationalities, and at least three
languages, they seemed to have a wonderful time together. Yes, it was still a bit chilly
outside (that's snow), but delightful inside!
On the way back to the airport on the bus, I was on the right side for taking a photo of this large lake.
It's a cauldron lake and has three volcanos around the edges.

After two sleep-ins in the last two days, I'm beginning to feel a little less weary. I think I'm going to have to keep a close eye on my energy in these next three months, I'm running a bit close to the edge. I drank a lot more coffee than I usually drink, just to make it through conference, even coffee for dinner on the last night, but still fell asleep at 11! Almost unheard of for me.

I do enjoy these gatherings, but now I'm home and realised I would have loved more time to talk more in depth to more people. Though it means more travel, I'm looking forward to going up to Hokkaido again next month for a week-long training event. It's at those events that you get the time to talk more in-depth to people.

I sat next to David on the way to the airport and we talked about maybe going camping in Hokkaido again . . . probably after all the boys have left home. It's a beautiful place, though with an extreme winter, it's not an easy place to live.

28 March, 2018

Up north conferencing

Hi from Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan four big islands. Our "home state" in Japan. The island we lived on for our first 3 1/2 years in Japan.

But doing a conference in a hotel doesn't feel much like visiting Hokkaido, except I can see end-of-winter scenes out the window. Having just emerged from Tokyo's winter, I'm actually not too keen to go outside and experience and more "winter" cold.

It did feel, however, that we'd come a long way on Monday. It took us eight hours door-to-door to get here, including nearly two hours on crowded train with suitcases to get to the plane. Every time I get excited about travelling, but tend to forget that I actually find it really exhausting.

We've been in missionary circles a long time now: more that 17 years. It's starting to make me feel old because we're definitely above the average for length of stay. I've said before that I'm noticing more and more the absences. The seats that were once filled with people who are no longer here. It's a tiring life, the missionary life, where transition is the norm rather than the exception. And not ordinary transition like marriage or kids starting school, but major transition that involve regular country changes and as a result regular changes in friends, teams, and leadership. It's hard to feel stable in the middle of all that.

It is good to be here gathering with OMF Japan, but also unsettling because there aren't many of my "cohort" anymore (i.e. people who joined the field at a similar time to us). I am glad, though, that I've got an actual role within OMF now. Often David and I have felt a little on the outer as we're not working in a church.

Missionary conferences like this are intense, mostly because there are so many people to interact with. There are 270 here (125 long/termers plus ~60 kids plus childcare team plus short termers plus tentmakers plus others from OMF International). And my extrovert side drives me to interact while my introvert side gets exhausted.

It's also tiring because there are many meetings to sit through. And I'm afraid I'm not a good "sitter". I should have planned to bring something to keep my hands busy while I listen.

I need quiet time to process what's going on and there's not been much of that. We're sharing a Japanese-style room as a family.