21 March, 2018

20 March, 2018

Suitcase on the train

I can't believe it's a month today since I flew back to Japan. It doesn't seem that long.

Someone asked me recently about that trip back, and I realised that I didn't tell you about the last leg of the journey, a very Japanese story.

The airport to our house is about 100km, give or take some. I took the trains. Three trains, to be precise. The last train I hopped on was an express and left at around 9pm. I was pulling a significantly sized suitcase, one of the two that helped move my son to Australia. It weighed 27kg (I brought back some stuff, mostly some new Australian-sized towels).

This station is the end of the line that runs past our place, so the trains usually stand open for five or ten minutes before they leave, while people pile on. I arrived three minutes before it left, so it was already very full, though not so full that people were squished together yet. However, to fit me and my suitcase on, they did have to squish a bit.The trouble was, that when you get on that late, you are in the doorway, and my suitcase is a bit wider than the usual person.
This is the station where I hopped on the express train. You can
see there is a culture of waiting patiently in line. The green "bay"
is for the next train. The orange "bay" is for the one after the
next train!

It was fine, until we hit the first stop and people tried to squeeze past my suitcase. Usually two or three people at a time can get off a Tokyo train, but it was definitely single-file in our doorway. I felt really embarrassed and apologised, while trying in vain to shrink my suitcase into a smaller space. 

Eventually enough room had been freed that I saw my chance to manoeuvre me and my luggage away from the door. It meant running over a few toes and I apologised a bit more. But the bottleneck was instantly released and a dozen or more people flowed out of the train.

Probably a more Tokyo-ite response would have been to get out of the train with my suitcase and let everyone out before re-boarding. People do this all the time. They especially do this if they want to remain near the door for an easy exit in a couple of stations time. It is considered the polite thing to do, rather than make people push past you to get through the door. 

However, I was very tired and trying to manoeuvre a suitcase half my weight in and out of the train just seemed like too much (although it was probably an afterthought rather than a real consideration at the time, me not being a true Tokyo-ite yet).

Did I mention that another thing that people get bothered by (and rightly so in a super crowded train) are backpacks? They are definitely frowned upon as taking up too much room. My regular luggage for plane travel is a significantly sized backpack. But in this regard I did a little better, I removed my backpack and balanced it on top of the suitcase in front of me, minimising my "footprint". However that would have made it more difficult to get out of the train with it all and then back on again...

That was my Tokyo welcome! I'm pleased to say I was welcomed by David at the other end of this journey with a hug and a kiss, and a short ride in our van back home.

Nothing like jumping straight back into Tokyo life. Australia was very quickly washed away as a vague dream. Even now, I'm wondering where most of my February went. I'm usually a bit confused at this time of year anyway, but this year it's worse than usual.

Suitcases and trains are especially on my mind because we have to catch the trains with (admittedly smaller) suitcases as a family on Monday morning in the middle of rush hour as we travel to Hokkaido for our mission conference. I'm advocating leaving earlier and taking the non-express trains as a way to avoid inconveniencing others and getting pinned to our suitcases.

19 March, 2018

Touching base

After  a very quiet week last week (i.e., I left the house once, in the car), we had a big day on Saturday at the first track meet for the season. Not to bore you with the details, suffice to say it was fun to watch our 15 y.o. run again. Sprinting is his thing and it's good to see him doing it. 

He ran well too, in his first high school meet, considering he's done little pre-season training, his times were good and we're looking forward to improvement as the weeks go on. So most Saturdays between now and mid May will be spent like this (although most will be warmer!)

I was wrecked at the end of the day. It was a cold day. Though it was sunny, there was a sneaky breeze and it didn't make it up to 10C, so it was hard work keeping warm, which is tiring. But the sun was strong enough to burn!

A tree near the track on Saturday, just getting its spring clothes on!
I had fun taking photos too, still working on what the best settings are for various situations and subjects. I suspect photography is a continuous learning process as you gradually refine your skills! And because I don't actually practise that much, it will be a slow process.

Sunday was a quiet day, in which I took a nap. Now today, I should be ready and raring to go, right? Well, it's been a busy day. Much more exercise than I've done for over a week (two grocery shopping trips on my bike = over six kilometres of riding).

I'm still coming to grips with the weather, it's jerking us around, and requires more thinking than mid-summer or mid-winter does. Last week we had some 18/21 degree days, and then 9C on Saturday! Today was supposed to be warm, but I was wearing a scarf at midday and thinking about gloves when on my bike, but an hour or so later the sun tried to peak out from the clouds and the temperature increased briefly (or so it seemed to me).

But thankfully the temperatures have been high enough to trigger spring blooming. The cherry blossoms are on their way out, along with various other blooming trees and flowers. I'm looking forward to all the joy that their colourful appearances brings to our weeks.

My cold seems to be better, but I'm still blowing my nose. I wonder if I'm developing some spring hayfever allergies? It's a common ailment in Tokyo. My asthma flared last week, but is gradually settling down with medication. I'm thankful none of us got the flu this season. Indeed our family has remained remarkably healthy, compared to many roundabout. I'm thankful!

We've got four days left of school until Spring Break. Next Monday we're flying to Hokkaido for our all-Japan OMF conference. I'm wondering what to pack—as it is still quite chilly up there and snow is still lying around, yet we'll be in a hotel the majority of the time, a very warmly heated hotel. Hmmm.

Not a very earth-shattering post! But just in case you wondered how things were in our house . . . 

16 March, 2018

Wonder soap with a story

I've got a story about this cleaning product.

Two of our boys went to a local kindergarten in our early days in Tokyo, over a period of nearly four years. They had two uniforms, one that they wore on formal occasions and also on the way to and from school (except on Wednesdays). When they got there they changed into their play uniform, which consisted of a white teeshirt and blue shorts. I never dressed my family in white, especially for play! But that's what we had to do for kindergarten.
The kicker was that the playground was basically dirt. Gravelly dirt! You can see both the uniforms and the playground in the photo below and on this blog post of mine from 2009. Believe it or not they also had a "mud pit", yup, not a sandpit, a dedicated mud pit! You mothers out there can imagine what sort of state our kids clothes came home in! Keeping eveyrthing white was a huge deal. 
But the PTA was on top of the situation. One of their fundraisers was selling a wonder soap: this "blue stick". We Marshalls we so concerned that we might run out of them that bought a lot. And ended up with a stockpile. A stockpile that's lasted nine years post kindergarten graduation.

You see, I don't buy my kids white clothes, so once they graduated, we had much less use for the wonder soap!

It is so wonderful that we had to buy some more just recently. No longer from the kindergarten's PTA, but just an ordinary "Drug" store. So if you live in Japan and have light-coloured clothes that need stains removed, this is the product for you!

15 March, 2018

Care package for Australia

I'm still struggling with my cold, complicated, as always, by asthma. However this afternoon if I sit quietly in my "relaxing chair", I feel pretty close to normal. In fact I've gotten through a fair bit of computer-based work in between resting over these last couple of days. I'm very thankful that this was going to be a quiet week anyway (it's incredibly rare that I have almost no meetings or appointments scheduled for an entire week, but that's what this week looked like). I'm trying to be patient with my body and thankful for the time to rest.

After yesterday's depressing post I wanted to write something a little more upbeat today. Not much has been going on that's worthy to write about this week. It's Thursday and I've left home just once since Sunday morning!

Here's my meagre offering:

We've gone the full circle. When we arrived in Japan over 17 years ago my mum sent us care packages (she still occasionally does, but usually around birthdays and Christmases). Now we're about to send our first care package to our son in Australia! I was surprised that it was pretty hard to find stuff to send. Perhaps we're not Japanese enough? 

But really, we don't eat a lot of packaged stuff, and that's all one can send to Australia. He'd love us to send onigiri or curry rice or yakisoba, (rice ball or Japanese curry or Japanese stir fried noodles) but these would never make it through customs. I wish I could send him some homemade biscuits!

One day soon I'll get back on my bike and get this to the post office!

14 March, 2018

A bit overwhelmed

Today is a gorgeous day. I can see it out the window. I can even feel the temperature rise inside. At 10 a.m. I have no heater on, something that hasn't happened for months.
Our son and his friend last year in November when we visited his
home town for the weekend.

But I'm sitting inside. My nose is drippy and my breathing ragged. Periodically an asthmatic cough forces its way out.

To make it worse, I've been crying.

Not because I'm sick, but because I keep remembering...

Remembering that friend who whispered, in the midst of a hilarious board game last month in Australia, "You can't go—you realise that!"

I'm remembering the friends who couldn't say goodbye at the shopping centre and I had to say to them (after I'd hugged them), "I love you and will miss you. But now I'm just going to turn and walk away . . . "

I'm remembering the friends in Japan who lovingly plied me with questions last week about our son's transition. One who said she's been reading my posts and crying as we made this transition.

On Sunday we spent an hour on a video call with our son. The first time we've done that since I returned to Japan. It was great, but left me sad, missing him more than before.

Then last night one of his good friends who is studying at a uni in Tokyo stayed overnight with us. That was both strange and wonderful. But when I realised that he and our son hadn't connected since our son had moved, I sought to get our son on another video chat. It was a wonderful time of reminiscing for them. I learnt new things about our son. But it also made me sad, because, time has moved on and the group that they had in high school has been scattered across the globe. Yes, I know that is the way of life. But it was a reminder that this is still a time of transition for them. Our guys are yet to connect with others in their new environments in a deeper way.

So I guess, in trying to sit quietly and not work too much this morning, I just got overwhelmed with the brokenness. All the goodbyes that we've had recently. Things that won't be fixed. Can't be fixed. Because of distance.

12 March, 2018

Retreat musings

This year's theme: "Leaving a Lasting Legacy".
Though it's left me pondering whether thinking about
leaving a legacy might be the wrong tack to take, but rather following
Jesus to the max might be better and the legacy will take care of itself?
Before too much more time passes, I want to write about the retreat I went to last Wednesday to Friday. It's the ninth time I've been to this women-in-ministry retreat and I love it every time. It's a time to go away, be with friends, worship in English, and rest from work (although I usually come back tired, but not from work).

One of the friends who greeted me with a hug when we arrived.
It's part of my missionary-life survival kit. I especially love being with friends who know what this missionary lifestyle is about. No explanations are necessary. Though this time I did spend a lot of time answering the question, "How's your son settling in Australia?" That's what I get for blogging and putting my life up on social media!

But friends who've known you for a while in this mobile environment are worth their weight in gold. This was the 25th time this retreat has been held and as part of that they had photos from many of the past retreats, as well as videos from several ladies who've been a part of the leadership team in the past, but are no longer in Japan. It was bittersweet to see these as they are friends who I can no longer share sweet fellowship with.

"Red" sister fellowship.
However, keeping it positive, I enjoyed the friends who were there. One lady asked me, in a slight panic, on Facebook a few weeks ago if I'd be at the retreat. She saw me preparing to go to Australia and wondered if I'd be back in time. I was surprised that someone who I didn't know super well would be so concerned, but encouraged nonetheless. Missionary women go deep fast. Very often we know little about one another and don't have a lot in common (aside from where we work), but we can have deep, honest fellowship regardless. I don't fully understand it, except perhaps that we're bound together by our shared experience of living and serving outside our home culture and thus are more needy and willing to lean on others?

I felt very tired this time going into the retreat. (Maybe I've been overdoing it recently?) It was hard to stay awake during the first night's worship and teaching session. Sometimes I find it's easy to concentrate on the words of songs, but other times, like Wednesday night, worship is singing without engaging the brain very much at all and I've learnt that that's okay. It was great to praise God in English and I was glad for a nice mixture of old and newer songs that I knew as well as ones I didn't.

The retreat has an overabundance of slippers and
rules about where you wear them. They have dining room
slippers and toilet slippers, but also hallway slippers and
chapel slippers! To get from the main building to the chapel
 you change into outdoor shoes and then into slippers again!
The post I wrote at the retreat (here) contained some of the things gleaned from the speaker. I didn't take notes this year, simply trying to soak it in. Probably being so tired made me a little more grumpy and picky with this year's speaker than usual (I was getting grumpy at cliques and a little frustrated that she didn't spend more time in the Bible).
Retreat is usually a time that includes tears for me. Often during worship time, or during times of sharing personally with others. This retreat was no different. Obviously saying goodbye to our son was still quite raw, but the speaker's husband died a few years earlier, so she talked about grief and the loss of Christians in the prime of ministry also brought up tears. She also emphasised that we have a choice in how we react to painful situations: certainly we need to grieve, but beyond that we can choose our response to pain.

Thursday night was enjoyable, it was a celebration of the 25 years of Women in Ministry retreats. We heard from ladies who had gone before us and a little of the history of the retreat. We sang and prayed. We were entertained by a group who'd learnt a new song that day and a spoken piece by two sisters. And we laughed at two ladies who did a skit/song routine that showed the full span of a missionary lifetime, with tongue-in-cheek. Then we finished up with cheesecake (my favourite dessert).

I'm afraid that is a bit of a piece-meal review of the days away, sorry if it comes across like that. But I've come back to Tokyo refreshed in spirit and my love-tank full. I feel ready to deal with the challenges of life again (though I wasn't ready for being hit by a cold first day back at the "office"). I'm thankful that we're planning to be back from home assignment in time to go to the retreat again next year too (Lord willing)!