28 September, 2016

Behind the scenes of the magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 September, 2016

Chicken mince

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

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

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

26 September, 2016


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

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

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

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

But we always have sufficient and I'm thankful.

25 September, 2016

Parenting joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 September, 2016

Saturday sundry

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 September, 2016

A bunch of encouragement

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

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

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

22 September, 2016

Going back to school

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

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

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

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