31 January, 2018

Creative problem solving in Japan

This is not an uncommon sight in Japanese train stations. The maintenance "fix" on a leak is a plastic sheet taped strategically to keep the drips on the wall, not dripping on customers. 
It always strikes me as a little incongruous, with the amazing efficiency that we enjoy with Tokyo trains. However it is still very Japanese: practical and resourcefully fixing something in a budget-conscious way that prioritises the comfort of the customers.

This type of "fixing" is not unusual in this society. It is very common to see bikes with DIY fixes, like tape covering a hole in the seat, or a crate strapped to the back of a bike for carrying groceries. Nor is it unusual to see something like a Tokyo resident clearing snow with their dust pans or breaking up dirty ice on the road with a chisel—making do with what they have.

Everything perfect and beautiful is one of those images that Japan has portrayed to the world that isn't true for the majority of "real Japan". This is a photo of real Japan, and while it isn't so pretty, it is creative problem solving that I love.

30 January, 2018

One boy thinking about home assignment

I found one of our younger two boys making this table the other day. He's processing what home assignment this year means in his life. I asked his permission to share and he asked me to block out the items he'd listed.

It is, actually, not too different to how we decided if going on home assignment in July for six months was going to work for our family. Following on from my post yesterday about making it up as we go, this is part of it: weighing up the pros and cons of any decision according to the information you have. The key difference, I think, to parenting in your home country is that you often have a lot less information to work with and a lot more unknown variables.

What's interesting about this list that you can't see is that some items appear on both the pros and cons list, for example "food". Yep, there are things about both Japan and Australia that my boys enjoy and food is one. But when we're in one country they do miss the other!

29 January, 2018

Making it up as you go

"Making it up as you go."

Yep, that's what we're doing!
Often parenting as a missionary feels like you are all alone with little
to guide you. It can be scary. We're praying for this young man as he
transitions to the next chapter of his life: settling in Australia for university.

This was a phrase that an experienced TCK (third culture kid) mum said to me recently about an excruciatingly difficult decision that she and her husband had to make last year. 

I can't imagine making such a decision, but the experience of making it up as you go rang true. It is, indeed, what we've been doing our whole parenting journey. All, of which, has been done in the context of mission. We began applying to be missionaries with OMF before our eldest son was conceived, so when we announced my pregnancy there were questions from spectators. Even though we were still in Australia.

So this week as we head relentlessly towards saying goodbye to our son as he heads off to university in Australia, we especially feel as though we're making it up as we go. Questions like these have arisen within our family:

  • What will we do about his birthday in May?
  • Can we text him in Australia?
  • How much should he take with him? 
  • Should he take his wrestling trophies?
  • When will he next be in Japan?
  • Should he take all his shoes, even the grubby work ones since they still are in otherwise good condition?
  • What kind of farewell should we have on Sunday? A family one? One with a bunch of friends?
  • What food would he like in his last week here?
Parenting, I suspect, even in a mono-cultural situation is always about "making it up as you go", however there are many less cues to call on when you're doing this in a country you  didn't grow up in with a child who is having a very different childhood than you had.

I remember talking to a Southern US dad last year at wrestling. He said if he was bringing his son up in the US, he'd know exactly what sport his middle-school son would be doing. It would have been the same that he did when he was a boy (baseball?), and the same as a lot of his son's peers. But he was raising his son out of that context and to his surprise found wrestling had entered the mix and he was scrambling to catch up, to find out what this unknown sport was all about.

We've made lot of different decisions to what our parents made, purely because of context, not because our parents were wrong. I'm sure they've looked at what we've been doing, at times, and wondered at our wisdom.

The additional challenge to making it up as you go, is that you have to "back yourself" (an Australian phrase? Meaning "to have confidence in one's self"). Despite others, yes, even other missionaries, around you making different decisions you have to make the best decision you can come up with and stick by it. Getting to know our kids as well as we can has been important here. For example, knowing that some of our boys hate rapid change has informed lots of our decisions, for example not taking short home assignments.

As any parent knows, there is no laboratory for testing your decisions either. You may never know if you've made the right decision! That's hard.

Making this big change means that we're making it up more than usual in the next month. We're praying that we "get it right", which, of course, is what we always do: praying for wisdom and then doing the best we can.

28 January, 2018

Sticky snow

From Monday. The naked twigs on our backyard tree were decorated
beautifully during the snowfall.
Last Monday it snowed in Tokyo. Usually that is a rather non-event. It snows and either barely makes it to the ground, or melts soon after. Occasionally it sticks around. This year is one of the "occasions". It snowed about 30 cm in our area, which is quite a lot for this region. The complicating factor is that the temperature then went south and stayed there. It's barely went above zero between Wednesday and yesterday. As a result the snow has stuck, especially in the shade. But it is no longer nice, fluffy snow. It is slick, slippery ice that is hard to remove from the roads and paths it has covered.

Our backyard on Monday.
This photo I took on my way home from church today.
It is one of the riverside paths we frequently ride.
I've stayed off my bike all week. Because of the way the streets are configured around our house, it is difficult to find a non-shaded street to get out to of our local residential area and therefore a non-snow-covered street. So I've walked or driven. But many Tokyo-ites are very dependent on bikes and it has been rather alarming to see even elderly Japanese people riding on ice. A decidedly risky endeavour, although walking may not be much safer as the ice is very slick in places.

But today, to get to church, we decided to brave our bikes and David and I took a rather round-about route to find clear paths. These three photos below I took on my way home, but the paths aren't ones I rode today.
Another photo from my ride home today.

One of the two "rivers" in our city. I rode on the path along the
right-hand side, the side that got the sun during the week). It was
mostly clear of ice.
This photo is of one of the houses behind our house. I took the photo yesterday, but it looks pretty much the same today. We've been watching the snow slide of this roof since Monday. Any bets on how long it will take for this to fall?

Anyway, I'm hoping that we get some higher temperatures this week (up to 8C is forecast) and that all this cold, slippery stuff will go away.

25 January, 2018

Counting isn't hard, is it?

As I mentioned on NYE, I've started studying Japanese again, more consistently and intensely. A friend introduced me to a website that I can access on my phone that consistently teaches and reviews vocab and kanji (complex Japanese characters that make up many words). My goal is to improve in my reading, which shouldn't be hard because my level is quite low. But I hope it also overflows into my daily conversation too. 

The system is compelling and almost like a game. I'm enjoying it (most of the time) and definitely making progress like I haven't seen for over a decade, partly because I'm doing this more than once a day, everyday, and when I get stuff wrong, I have to answer the question again, a bit later, no escape if I want to make progress up the 60 levels.

But of course no new method makes learning a new language easy (especially for someone like me who doesn't have a high aptitude for learning new languages). So there are frustrations along the way. One is counting.

Counting in Japanese is a bit of a pain. Truly. They have more than one word for some numbers eg. 4 is "yon" or "shi". And, even more challenging, depending on what you count, the suffix (called a counter) you use changes.

Here's an explanation of counters that I found:

What Are Japanese Counters?

Japanese counters are the words used to count objects, people, lengths of time, events and so forth. Counters are usually single-kanji characters that have a special reading just applicable to their function as a counter.
Let’s think about counting in English. To count in English we usually take a cardinal number (i.e. one, two, three, etc.) and add it to an object. If we are making a plural, then we stick on that object’s plural ending. One cat becomes two cats; one fox, two foxes; one mouse, two mice.
Counting just doesn’t work like that in Japanese. Remember—Japanese has no real plural/singular endings, so it’s not going to be the same as the English system anyway.
So how do you count objects in Japanese? Japanese uses special counting words, which come in different categories according to what you are counting. The way to count long, narrow, cylindrical objects is different from the way you’d count thin, flat ones, for example. And the words for counting small animals differ from the words used for counting humans, etc.
For example (the characters at the end are the kanji):

one = ichi  一
one person = hitori 一人
one machine = ichidai  一台
one pen = ippon  一本
one piece of paper = ichimai 一枚
one generation = ichidao 一台
one portion = ichibu 一部
one o'clock = ichiji 一時
first place or first or best = ichiban 一番

There are lots more counters than this. There are counters for small animals, lessons, volume, pages, day of the month, night, day, head of cattle and for objects that presumably don't fall under any special category like the more unusual ones for chopsticks, bowls of rice, tatami mats (traditional flooring we have in two of our rooms), single stem flower, and wheels.

Alas, I'm hopeful. Lots of practise will equal progress, right? I've invested money in this and  that is highly motivating for me. Not to mention the competitive side of me that wants to make progress in this game-like project.

24 January, 2018

Planning for our 2018 Australian sojourn

Today we've been doing more home assignment preparation: we spent the afternoon talking about ideas of how to communicate about our work and the elements that go into what we do when we're meeting people in Australia.

That includes:
  • Elements of a short presentation that we can use in front of a church or other group that explains what we do and why we do it. Most places we'll only get around 10 minutes, so we don't actually have to prepare a lot and will recycle it endlessly!
  • What to put on the display board and table that we cart around with us: it's a place we talk more informally to people after meetings and have resources to give away and sell
  • A photo album: a great communication tool about our lives in Japan that we take everywhere with us, yes, even to coffee shops when we meet people.
  • Audio-visual stuff that gets projected onto a screen while we talk. We've found a fun video that we're keen to use at a "Japan Night" if we can persuade anyone to hold one.
  • Take-aways: stuff about us that we can give away, including a prayer card.
Which is where this photo comes into the story. A couple of Sundays ago we stood outside at school in 6˚C temperatures and took a family photo for the staple product of a missionary: a prayer card. We suddenly realised that we needed to do this before our eldest son left for Australia next month.

We were much blessed by a photographer friend and his assistant wife who were willing to stand out there in the cold with us and take nice photos. Once the whole family shots were taken we got an unexpected bonus of some photos just of David and I. Do you like it? 

My hair is a mess. I really should have had a haircut before the photo and the sneaky breeze finished off the mess. But nonetheless, it's lovely to have a nice photo of the two of us—once you have children photos as a couple are quite rare.

From early July we'll be in the South-east Queensland area, but closer to Christmas are also planning to spend up to 10 days around the Perth area. If you'd like us to visit your small group, youth group, young adults group, Bible study, or church, please contact me and we'll book you in. If you'd like us to run a fun missions awareness evening or afternoon for your group, they are one of our favourite things to do (aside from meeting people for coffee), let us know!

23 January, 2018

Getting traction

It's another "getting traction by writing about the past couple of days" post.

Last week
Last week was a flurry of meetings and aside from that I mostly only got to the most urgent of things here at my desk. Lots of excitement as we ramp up towards transitioning our eldest to Australia next month and the rest of us to Australia in July. But enough to de-rail me from my usual fast, but somewhat efficient pace. It was like my brain had gone into manic mode and I found sleep difficult: either I struggled to calm down enough to get to sleep at the start of the night or work up part way into the night and struggled to get back to sleep.

Ah, the fun of having other wrestling mums to share the joy. So much
better than doing it alone!
Then came Saturday. It was a usual Saturday for this time of the year—we got up early and went to a wrestling meet. But it was a slightly unusual wrestling meet, with the middle schoolers joining the high schoolers for a joint meet for the first time we've ever experienced (in seven years of being on this wrestling circuit). That meant they expanded to three mats running during the day, one mat in an adjacent room. So even though our team was small (only seven wrestlers in total), we often missed seeing them wrestle.

It was a fun, but frenetic day. I loved being back in a bigger group of parents and hanging out all day with them was fun. But the gym is an echoey one and eight hours of that was exhausting.
Watching friends watch their son introduced for his regional final.
I was sitting in their seat the last two years. It was nice not to have that
personal pressure, but rather to support others.

It was great to see our middle-school son have success. He won all three of his bouts and got gold in his weight bracket. Great encouragement for him as he's struggled in the last year or two a little with injury and "a lot of knowledge but not enough practise applying the knowledge and not enough strength to do what he wants to do".

It was also exciting to cheer for the son of our friends. We've camped with them and spent numerous other times with them (sharing meals, sharing cars, attending sporting events). It was great to see their son excel on Saturday, even if he did give us a bit of a scare in the first half of his finals match by being way behind in points.

I talked, or felt like I talked, for 12 hours! Certainly the only time I wasn't surrounded by people was in the toilet cubicle. Talking over the noise on top of cheering loudly for certain wrestlers meant my voice was strained at the end of the day.

I loved being with other parents, and was able to touch base with a couple of mums from other school that I already have an acquaintance with. Sharing the disappointment with one of them as her son lost his final.

I had an opportunity to sit with another mum-friend in an unusual situation. I'm not ready to write about it here (and I may never, because I want to respect her privacy), but it was an opportunity to have a ministry of presence to someone in need. She described me as being a real help to her and that was a great encouragement, though really I was just available to her need to have someone to sit with in a crowd and listen and I didn't do a lot other than that (and answer/ask questions).

It was a much-needed rest day. Church as usual in the morning and then nothing much else for the rest of the day. I did sneak some baking in later in the afternoon.

This was a staff work day (or student-free day, as we used to call it in Australia), so the students were at home and got up late. David went in for a leadership team meeting and then did other teacherly work at his school desk in the afternoon. I took the opportunity to get up a bit later too (having lost sleep last week, I figured this was looking after myself in a way that I needed to).

The big elephant yesterday was that snow was forecast. Our eldest's job was to go into school to help with snow clearing and he hung around until it looked like it had started to "stick" to the ground and pile up late morning (it began snowing around 10). He worked there until dark last night and came home wet and tired.

We also had an overnight guest last night. One of the couple who we visited at the end of November. He was supposed to have a meeting at school this morning, but it got cancelled last night once they realised the extent of the snowfall. Alas he'd already made it to our house for the night, so he stayed and went home this morning after the craziness of rush-hour.

With boys at home and people coming and going yesterday I didn't get much traction on computer work and that was frustrating. But I did have some good quality time with boys. Two conversations particularly that I wouldn't normally expect during a usual week. One was especially important regards how the younger two are processing their big (and favourite) brother leaving home in just two weeks.

Well it snowed well into the evening and this morning we woke up to a winter wonderland. There was a good 20cm of snow on our front doorstep and I went out after breakfast to shovel our entry and the piece of road that functions as a footpath. It is all on the northern side of the house so doesn't get sun at this time of year. From experience, if it isn't shovelled as soon as is practical, it tends to melt on a warmish day such as we have today (around 6C) and then freezes to the road as the sun goes down, turning into slick ice that is hard to remove in future days.

The advantage of shovelling is that you get to meet your neighbours. Though one of my neighbours gave up shovelling almost as soon as she got out there. She rightly said that there really is nowhere to put the snow (our road only just accommodates two cars passing slowly). I shifted our snow slightly to the edge, piling it against our wall and behind the telephone pole that sits in the gutter (our front wall sits on top of the gutter, there is no verge at all). I also shovelled a short path at my elderly neighbour's entry (the one who is fanatical about gutter-sweeping).

Our overnight guest left mid-morning and I've been trying to get some traction on my computer-based work. Not so successfully, but just chipping away. 

But it's time to get back to chipping away at it.

19 January, 2018

A bit of fun with an outfit

This is a terrible photo, but I wanted to show you the outfit that gave me a lot of satisfaction yesterday. Underneath the duffle coat (I don't know what other countries call this kind of Paddington-coat) is a teal-coloured wool-acrylic blend dress. The dress I unexpectedly found in a second-hand store in Australia. The coat I picked up off a free give-away table at a missionary meeting in Sapporo many years ago.
I have been very conservative in my dress-sense most of my life. Growing up in sunny Queensland my main wardrobe staple was t-shirts and shorts. That's had to change, obviously, with age, responsibility, and especially with climate.

In Japan we've experience more cold weather than either of us ever knew in Australia. Even me, who grew up in Toowoomba, a place that many Queenslanders know is one of the cooler places in the state.

Learning to dress for the weather was one thing we did out of necessity in our first few months in the country, as we landed in freezing Sapporo in December. Long-johns layered under long pants, two layers of socks (at least for me), extra layers underneath our shirts. Boots too! And then, of course, the outside wear: scarves, gloves, hats, and coats. All these things became necessary parts of our winter wardrobe.

Less quickly I figured out that other seasons also had special clothing you could wear. The majority of the year in Tokyo is either hot or cold, the seasons in-between that are unstable and generally (to a Queenslander used to much less seasonal variation in temperatures) seem to be a rush from one extreme to the other. So the fun of dressing for the in-between seasons were largely lost on me for many years.

However, that's changing. I've got a variety of levels of clothing now. Different weight and length clothes for different seasons. I don't spend much money on clothes that I can't wear often (like a light jacket for early autumn and late spring), but I've acquired a number of very useful items on sale and from secondhand stores. I also don't discard clothes easily, most of my clothes get worn for many years before they are thrown out.

Anyway, back to yesterday. A short-sleeve above-knees woollen dress is really not my usual style, but it's in my favourite colour and is very comfortable. Perfect, with tights and a long-sleeve t-shive for dressing up on those rare in-between days. Yesterday was forecast to be a mild winter day (around 15C), which I knew would work with this dress. And I had an occasion to wear it—I was going to an annual prayer and fellowship day with some other missionary women. I threw the duffle coat over the top because when I left it was still under 10C, so an extra layer was needed outside.

My love affair with the duffle coat goes back to high school days. I went to a state school that had an inadequate winter uniform. Many of the students wore duffle coats over their uniform and it was a highly desirable item. But very expensive! So I didn't have one. When I spotted this on a give-away table it was a no-brainer that I wanted it. Finally, a "childhood" dream to own such a coat. It doesn't get a lot of wear as it is quite bulky and if there's a breeze, the gaps aren't so good (it doesn't have a zip), but I always feel just a little stylish wearing it. Wearing it over the dress was the perfect warmth combo yesterday and it felt just right.

Just assuring you that this plain missionary can have a bit of fun with her clothes and is increasingly finding that is the case as she moves further and further away from her youth.

18 January, 2018

Relatively pricey

When we first came to Japan in 2000 it was a significantly more expensive place to live compared to Australia. Since then prices haven't changed dramatically in Japan, but they have in Australia. 

Living away from Australia for large chunks of time puts the changes there into something like a time-capsule for us. When we return we notice the changes there more dramatically than those who have experienced them in small increments.

This last time we lived there (2014/15) we especially noticed how expensive going out to eat was compared to Japan. The fact that we now have much bigger boys who are much more hungry, doesn't help. But in Japan we can feed them a reasonable-size meal, not too unhealthy meal at a family-style restaurant for under 1,000 yen (or just over $11). I doubt that's possible in most places in Australia.

This article that the ABC published this week confirms what we know from experience: 
"So Australians have become richer, but Australia has become much more expensive. Japan has seen its income rise by far less, but prices haven't moved much at all."
So when we return in July, part of re-entry experience will be figuring out what a "good price" for common products are, as well as getting used to the fact that things just cost more. 

Yikes. I'm looking forward to shopping, yet I'm not looking forward to it either!

17 January, 2018

Counting the blessings

This is one of my all-time favourite camping memories—when I accidentally
caught this sunrise over Lake Biwa. I think that writing this blog
and getting into photography a bit has helped me seek out beauty and
things to share with you. It's a mindset that isn't so far away from having
a gratitude to my creator for even the smallest things.
This morning in the Our Daily Bread reading we were encouraged to be grateful for the small things. I realised that I do thank God most days for the small things. I'm grateful that God's given me a grateful heart.

Just now I'm feeling under pressure from a variety of angles, as you'll know from my recent posts. There's a lot going on. But I want to stop a moment and list some of the ways God is blessing us through his people. Whenever we do these big international moves we have more needs and are more dependent on others that we are used to. It is always a bit scary, and then we get these wonderful surprises and the joy of being blessed practically by people's generosity.

Here are some things that have happened recently or are currently in the works:
  • a friend to pick my son and I up from the airport in Brisbane on Feb 6
  • same friend who will help us get a phone and negotiate our way through phone plans for my son
  • same friend is seeking to get me a temporary phone I can use in Australia (my Japanese phone is locked, so it's not feasible to use it outside of WiFi in Australia)
  • friends organised accomodation and a car for me for the two weeks I'm in Brisbane
  • friends on both sides have offered help "with whatever"
  • three friends in two different "groups" are looking at organising small get-togethers with people while I'm in Australia
  • another special friend organising a get-away for her and me
  • some other very special friends are working on a way for our two families to meet in early July (they don't live near Brisbane)
  • we've got two meetings in churches already scheduled, personal contacts from leaders in the church who genuinely want to meet with us and hear how we are! Churches that have been with us for nearly two decades now.
  • lots of people want to know how we're doing, how our kids are
That's a lot of blessings, right there. 

I nearly was in tears over the texting conversation that resulted in the first three points here. I'd had these things on my heart that day and that evening our friend contacted me and said, "Is there anything I can do?" When I presented these needs to him his response was, "No worries!"

I'm not being lighthearted when I say that being more dependent on others is an opportunity to be blessed by God. It's the kind of neediness that we humans tend to try to avoid, but somehow missionary life puts us in that kind of position again and again. 

It's at times like those that I can say, almost wholeheartedly: "That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10 NIV).

16 January, 2018

Toilet scenes

I discovered this helpful sign in one of  the cubicles
at our snow camp. The toilet seat was heated (which made
you linger when faced with sub-zero temperatures outside).
However, I didn't linger long enough to do origami with
the end of the toilet paper.
As an aside, it is very common to find the end folded neatly
with the corners simply tucked under, generally, I think,
a sign that no one has used it since the cubicle was cleaned.
The Japanese toilet has a bit of an international reputation as being amazing. It's not an unfounded rumour. One facility at an expressway roadside stop that we visited last year had an amazing atmosphere: almost like a living room. There was subtle lighting, indoor plants, and TVs you could sit and watch. And that was even before you got into the cubicle. In the cubicle were lots of hooks and shelves for belongings as well as a sign telling you not to forget to take your belongings with you when you left. The cubicles were a complete room, with a roof and everything...or maybe that was another rest stop. I can't quite remember and alas, I didn't take photos.
Not all toilets in this land are amazing, some are dirty, some are traditional Asian squatty potties. We've seen drop-toilets, when we've been out camping. At some campsites we've been dodging the spiders or frogs. They are generally not as prudish about privacy, especially in public parks. In our second apartment in Sapporo we overlooked a park and could see straight into the men's loo from our verandah, there was no door. Thankfully we were a couple of floors up, but it wasn't what you'd see in Australia.

But for all those, you also see some pretty flash toilets in the city. Especially in hotels and shopping centres. But sometimes you are surprised at what they've decided to include, and that's when I want to stop and take a photo.

One of the big treats here in winter is heated toilet seats. We're lucky to have two of them in our own house. It really helps when the room is below 10 degrees for months on end.
But I have collected some photos and I'm happy to share them with you today.
This is our downstairs toilet and all its functions. I have occasionally used these, but mostly not. Mostly we're just happy that it heats. Here's a blog post with English explanations of how to use this.

This type of provision is becoming more common.

I discovered this in a toilet cubicle under a downtown shopping centre at New Years. I was surprised at its beauty because it was just off an underground car park. It had fancy coat hooks that swivelled.

And some interesting English!

This I found today at our local train station. So many hooks. Three double-hooks on this wall and you can just see on the left-hand wall an umbrella hook.

Outside the above cubicle in the hand-washing section were two basins, each with umbrella hooks and a shelf under the mirror (not pictured). 

Next to that was two "private" cubicles where you could fix your make-up/hair or whatever. They both had three shelves and an umbrella hook (with signs) too. Whoever fixed this bathroom up liked their umbrella hooks!

It is not uncommon in some places to find toilet slippers (at the gym, an hot springs, in hotels, even churches and homes). The idea is again, separation of the dirty and "clean", like changing your shoes at the front door. This was the hot springs that we used at our October camp for showers (there were none at the campsite). They've thoughtfully provided small slippers for children, though why they had blue slippers in the girl's loo I'm not sure.

15 January, 2018

Glasses—three pairs!

Nothing says your 40s like multiple pairs of glasses! But actually I've been juggling two pairs of glasses since my early adult years. I'm short sighted with astigmatism, so I've used glasses for distance since my late teens and had prescription sunglasses since I was 20. For decades I've been switching my glasses out the front of shops and other buildings as I move from outside to inside.

Only in the last couple of years have I needed transition lenses—lenses that allow me to read while I'm wearing my glasses. Now, it seems, I actually need reading glasses. I can read without them, but my eyes tire quickly. Even reading a book on my lap for a longer period with my transition lenses is hard, as there is only a small area where the print is completely clear.

For work on the computer, reading in bed, and for reading music, I use the ones on the left. The middle ones are my all-range glasses. Distance on top and reading on the bottom. The sunglasses lenses really need updating, they are for distance, but an old prescription. I can't read with them on, which is a pain when reading a map while in the car or my phone in bright sunshine.

I must say that I'm really enjoying the reading glasses. They make working on the computer and reading in bed a much better experience! Especially reading in bed. The frames are very thin and perfect for lying on my side on a pillow. Not as perfect as reading without glasses at all, but as close as you can get using glasses.

But it is a new challenge to change glasses when I change from working at the computer to doing other things. Turning away from the computer to look at someone across the room isn't great with reading glasses on. I understand the challenge that I've seen preachers deal with: reading their sermon with glasses on and having to take them off to look at the congregation. I haven't lost them yet, but I suspect that's probably in the works (and no, I'm not keen at all to hang them around my neck).

I've not really felt really "young" for quite some time now, but this really is a measurable step away from youth. There's quiet grief that underlies that—that I'm irreversibly moving away from a body that works as well as it was made to work. I guess, one of the blessings of older age (apart from growing in wisdom) could be that it is easier to be less attached to life here on this imperfect earth with an increasingly broken body? Easier to long for a perfect heaven with a perfect body?

This is a follow-up post from Dec 28, when I'd had the middle pair only a few days. This was my very first foray personally into the Japanese glasses scene. I'm definitely more used to my Japanese-transition glasses than I was, but they aren't yet 100% intuitive.

14 January, 2018

Our yesterday

There's lots going on here (a photo shoot, job-planning meetings, transition planning our son, schedule planning for Australia for Wendy, home assignment planning...actually lots of planning). 
Pinning one of his opponents.

But to pause for a moment and acknowledge what happened yesterday: we watched our youngest son begin his wrestling season for this year.

It's exciting to see how far he's come in the in the last two years. Yesterday he showed he wasn't a very beginner; he had more moves in his repertoire, and it looked good. He tried different moves, when one didn't work, he moved onto another. He also showed more resilience as he bounced back after a scare with his thumb in his second match (the ligament he partially tore last year is still causing some concern).

He's also now finally at the age that his eldest brother started wrestling. We found a video of that very first meet of his brother's and that made for an interesting comparison. Our youngest has basically grown up around wrestling, so knows what's going on, even if he has still to build up the muscle-memory and strategic thinking that goes with being better than a beginner. Our eldest was pretty clueless when he first stepped on that mat. 

Hey, we were clueless spectators at that point! The end of the video of our eldest's first wrestle was pretty funny. David was taping it with his phone (which made for some interesting video footage as he wobbled around with the action) and said nothing the whole match until the very end. At that point our son pinned his opponent and that was one of the few things David knew about the sport. Suddenly hearing him shout in triumph and utter, "A pin" in surprise, was hilarious.

I guess, being less clueless at this point, we know what we're probably in for . . . another five years of sitting in gyms on Saturdays watching wrestling. I am excited by that prospect (except for the exhaustion that comes with it).

Yesterday was also interesting because the CAJ team was almost entirely a Marshall affair. The team has three wrestlers, one was ill, so it was our son and one other. I went as a mum/spectator/video operator; David was the coach; and our eldest went as an unofficial assistant. The CAJ van on the way there was 80% Marshalls. It was 100% Marshalls on the way home as the other team member went home on the train with his family. Who could have imagined that in 2011 when this whole wrestling-saga began for us?

The middle-school season is short. Just two more tournaments and it's over. I'm looking forward to them (as usual). Probably nervous too. Yesterday I was more nervous at the start than I'd anticipated. I thought that a "mere" middle school meet would be easy after the drama of our eldest son's season last year, but obviously not!

Oh, did I mention that the US ambassador was there yesterday too? I guess when an ambassador has school-aged kids they have to go to school and why not send them to the American School in Japan! And, if they're sporty, why not go and watch their matches? The other CAJ wrestler's family brought a couple of missionary friends and one was chatting to this guy without knowing who he was. The inevitable question, "So what brings you to Japan?" was asked. Imagine being able to answer that with, "Oh, I'm your country's ambassador"?

12 January, 2018

Memory lane

Yesterday I took a different destination for a long ride. I had a language exchange meeting at our usual spot, but instead of taking the train two stops, I rode my bike. A 5.5k ride that took 24 minutes. It was a chilly start, but a beautiful blue-sky day with little wind.

After we chatted in Japanese and English for two hours we parted. I bought some lunch at a local convenience store (truly convenient and cheap—I spent less than AU$5) and rode to a place I used to know well: our old neighbourhood. We lived only 1.6k from the station, but I remember it was a long trek with three little boys.

You see we lived here from 2005 for four years, our youngest spent his babyhood and toddler years here. Our eldest finished kindergarten, started Japanese school, and transitioned to CAJ when we lived here. Our middle son completed all three years of Japanese kindergarten while living here. 
You can see our old house in the centre of the photo, the first place we lived in Tokyo. 
When we first moved here all the newer houses in the foreground (and another 30+ besides) weren't there. This was all a mini forest that we loved looking out upon. All our five main rooms looked out on green and we couldn't believe that this was Tokyo.

That all changed within a year when the owner of the "forest" died and his family redeveloped the land to build many houses. It was very sad, and a story that remains dear to our hearts.

But yesterday I took time to sit in a tiny park created in the middle of that "new" development as I ate my lunch and pondered those years.

They were crazy years, we had a baby, 2 y.o. and 6 y.o. when we moved there. We knew almost no one in Tokyo and jumped straight into the Japanese schooling system without any foreigners nearby. CAJ, where my husband began working less than a month after we moved in, was a 6 km ride or 20 minutes drive away. We knew almost no one there too, and it took a long time for me to get to know people at CAJ because I got over there only infrequently.

As I mentioned above, our eldest son had a lot of change during those four years and it wasn't pretty. Getting to and from the kindergarten one kilometre away twice a day wasn't pretty, as I tried to walk at least once a day, but, well, I didn't have the most cooperative kids (and they were heavy, so I didn't try to ride or put them all in one stroller). Parenting wasn't pretty.

This is the place where I learned that I didn't really like teaching English, and none of us liked home schooling. It's where we battled through a singularly nasty gastro bug that took down not just all of us, but David's sister and new husband, all within 36 hours! Where I accepted the gift of a pack of toilet paper from a kindergarten mum who was concerned for us.

But there are many good memories from this time too. My best Japanese friend (who, incidentally, I'd just had coffee with that morning) I met at the kindergarten on our middle son's first day. She's been a gift from God!

During the four years of living here God took me from a place of not knowing why he called me to Japan, to seeing a light at the end of the tunnel (in the shape of writing and editing). This is the house where I started writing this blog.

And of course, we've got good memories of our kids from those four years. This is where two of them learned to ride bikes without trainer wheels. Where my eldest son said, "I love your costume," when I came down in a skirt after a long, cold winter. It's the place where we used to talk about "Guruguru Yama" (round and round mountain), a man-made hill in the nearby former leprosy colony where the local kids would play.

This is where we learnt so much about Japanese culture. And where I learnt more about depending on God when my human resources had petered out.

All these, and more, were the thoughts that I pondered yesterday as I sat and ate my lunch. It was a pleasant journey down memory lane. A thankful time. A time to remember what God has brought us through and how he shaped us for the next part of the journey.

This is a nearby baseball field. We used to go and play here when being inside
got to be too much. It is part of a much larger fenced-area that used to be a leprosy colony.
A few times we played cricket here, sometimes while baseball practise was going on at the
other end of the field, much to the bewilderment of the baseball players!