17 November, 2017

How about managing stress?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 November, 2017

Taiwan in Tokyo

On Saturday I met my two Bible-study ladies at Harajuku, a popular hub in Tokyo. I have only been there a handful of times. It is usually crowded and I'm not fond of crowds. It's also full of expensive shops and restaurants—not really our scene at all.

One of the ladies is Taiwanese and the other Malaysian. Our young Malaysian friend did some research and discovered a Taiwanese restaurant. Last time we met at an Australian restaurant and the time before was American. I guess this really is turning into an international Bible study, despite never leaving Tokyo!
Taiwanese noodles. They had a subtle flavour
that is apparently very Taiwanese. I ate some,
though I did find them quite salty.
So I got to sample some Taiwanese food and drink. I'm not an adventurous eater, so I struggle to try, and enjoy, new foods. I'm not a tea drinker, nor do I like tapioca, so it was a little wasted on me! I had mango juice, though, which was scrumptious. 
These were tasty. Fried daikon cakes, I think. Daikon is a large, white root vegetable. A type of radish (but mild-flavoured).
The decor revealed someone had had a love of hexagons!
This was the ceiling.
And the tiles on the front of the front counter.
When I arrived back at our station, I was treated to the gorgeous sight of the sun setting on Mt Fuji. I wish I'd had a better camera, but I just had my phone, which didn't take such a bad photo.

15 November, 2017

Geographically distant teams

My workday yesterday was been bookended by Skype calls. 

The first was a monthly editorial meeting with the executive editor of Japan Harvest. Most it is a meeting that gives us accountability with regards to bigger-picture stuff related to the magazine and communications with the organisation who publishes it (Japan Evangelical Missionary Association). The call only spanned about 9 km, but allows both of us to work from home with no commuting time or cost.

The second call was to the UK, with a member of OMF's International Communications team. She was providing support to me in my role as part of the mobilisation team for OMF Japan. She taught me a new techie trick to use with my social media role.

Both these calls were very useful and extremely convenient. Not to mention time- and cost-efficient.

Over the last seven years I've become an experienced geographically distant team-member. I didn't know this term until I went to a workshop in Bangkok last year and spent a week learning about teams. I was puzzled at the time because the teams I'm involved in are quite different to the face-to-face ones they were talking about, so I did some research and discovered a the term "geographically distant team" (also known as geographically dispersed/distributed, remote, or virtual team). In this world of increasingly fast internet speed, the sorts of teams I'm a part of are increasingly common. Teams where the members work from their homes, or from locations that aren't favourable for regular commuting.

Below I've pasted part of an assignment I researched and wrote following the above mentioned workshop (which was called Project Timothy 3). I wrote it before the mobilisation team of OMF Japan was formed formally, so that team is not mentioned. 

If you're working on such a team, you may find it useful (sorry, it's a bit longer than my usual blog posts).

Project Timothy 3 focused on understanding teams and how to best help them work, but the type of teams the course focuses on is teams that work closely together, they see one another often, and are in the same geographical location. The team that I am most involved in is a geographically distant team. We produce a magazine, Japan Harvest, for missionaries in Japan, but do it from our own homes. Our team lives in several prefectures in Japan and two other countries. So for this assignment I sought to understand geographically distant teams better and then took a look at my own team, at what’s working for us and what needs some attention.

What are they?
Geographically distant teams are increasingly prevalent in this world as companies and organisations take advantage of the technology available to them to connect teams in ways that has never been possible before.  A broader term that’s used more frequently is “virtual teams”. They are groups of individuals not physically in the same place but united by a common goal.

Wikipedia defines a virtual team as “A group of individuals who work across time, space and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology.”
Powel, Piccoli, and Ives define virtual teams as “groups of geographically, organizationally, and/or time dispersed workers brought together by information and telecommunication technologies to accomplish one or more organizational tasks.” (http://www.managementstudyguide.com/virtual-team.htm)

Virtual teams communicate predominantly by the use of technology and may never meet. In some cases they have cultural, language, time zone, and ethnicity differences also.

Some virtual teams are temporarily formed to accomplish a set or limited task.  Teams aren’t necessarily from the same organization, are frequently topic-specific and dissolved after the completion of the task. Some teams are formed with specialists for the purpose of making recommendations, other teams have more powers to effect change and make decisions. Some virtual teams are set-up to outsource specialist tasks, like software development.

Where do you find them?
“Today it isn't uncommon for companies to have as many as 50% of their employees working on virtual teams” (http://www.reliableplant.com/Read/27807/Virtual-teams-are-different).

You can find them everywhere, from multimillion dollar companies to small business, and even in mission. NASA uses virtual teams to run space missions. Whirlpool developed the chlorofluorocarbon-free refrigerator using a virtual team. You see them in customer service support, consulting firms, management teams in national and international companies, and offshore teams for software development.

OMF International has many virtual teams. For example, the Field Leadership team in Japan—the members live in Tokyo, Tohoku, and Sapporo. One member is currently on home assignment. They sometimes meet in person, but many of their communications are via email, phone, and Skype. Another virtual team on our field this year was the Field Conference planning team. This is an example of a team that came together for a specific purpose for a short period of time.

How do they work?
There are different types of teams. Variables include: purpose of the team, whether members are from the same company or multiple companies, and the length of the project.  Some teams regularly meet, for example, the TED tech team has 29 members spread across several US states and two other countries, they meet via videoconferencing every week, as well as in person every three to four months (http://blog.ted.com/8-tips-for-virtual-collaboration-from-teds-tech-team/). Other teams meet less often or never at all.

A friend of mine in Australia works for a Christian organization called Scripture Union, that especially reaches out to school students. My friend supervises chaplains in schools across a wide geographical region. She periodically drives for several days visiting them at their place of work, and they periodically gather together at conferences. But she told me that the most meaningful thing they do to promote team unity and productivity is meeting weekly via Skype for time of reading the Bible and sharing and praying for one another.

Virtual teams: 
  • save money,
  • allow people with necessary gifts to contribute regardless of their location,
  • can be more efficient,
  • are more flexible to meet needs,
  • can work at times that suit them best,
  • individual team members have more control over where they work,
  • they save time wasted on commuting, and
  • at times it means that they can make decisions faster.
  • Essential technology can be expensive and can break down.
  • Trust is hard to build and easy to break.
  • Collaboration is difficult to manage.
  • Conflict can more easily arise from misunderstandings that come with a lack of the non-verbal cues that are part of face to face communication.
  • Members may feel isolated and lack the motivation that being physically with a team can provide.
  • Self-discipline is a must for a well-functioning team.
  • Not being in an office can be less productive.
  • Communication in general can be more difficult.
Specific challenges these teams face?
  • Building trust.
  • Managing collaboration
  • Avoiding and resolving conflict.
  • Accountability.
  • Team spirit and motivation.
  • Finding ways to meet.
Are you  a part of a geographically distant team? How do you make it work?

14 November, 2017

Rays of encouragement

Sometimes I find it is easy to get discouraged. Discouraged by what I see in myself, by my mistakes, by my perceived lacks. Discouraged by what others say or write to me, or how they act. Discouraged by the endless work that parades across my desk, by the house that never seems clean enough, or by the boys that never stay fed.

But last week I had some rays of encouragement that were like bright, sunny days after grey, cold, drizzly days.

I received this email from a team-mate with the magazine:
I just wanted you to know I prayed throughout the day for you, and with lots of gratitude to God for what you do. It makes a huge difference for missionaries and the kingdom, and it is amazing that this isn't even your original training.
I also had lunch with a leader who encouraged me in her response to the work I've been doing with social media for OMF, and also by her concern that I don't get overloaded.

And even this, from an author:
Thank you very much for editing [my work], I am very happy about this, thank you.
Praise the Lord for timely encouragement. Plus a reminder today from him that it's not really about me anyway, but about him:
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Cor. 3:5 NIV)

13 November, 2017

Friendships with sports-parents

Today I met a friend for coffee. Not an unusual thing for me to do at all. I mention it because this is one of our friends who I've usually met during the sporting seasons. Our kids have done wrestling and track and field together, which both mean long days in the stands. We've spent many, many hours sitting on hard benches together.
This is the friend I travelled and shared a room with in Korea in February. Because the track and field season finished in May it's been ages since we sat down together to chat, though we did go to the park with our families in August and I gave her a lift, along with six other women to the missionary women's event in October. When sport isn't "in season" we have to make an effort to make time to spend together, not easy because we're both busy with our respective roles.

We're both in the same life-stage. We've got three boys each and our eldest sons graduated in June. They're both headed off early in the new year to the next stage of their lives. It's nice to have a friend who's in the same life-stage. Rare, in fact, for me. I've been reflecting recently that many of the friends I see most regularly have kids who are younger than mine (even if only by a couple of years).

One of the challenging things about being associated with an international school community is that most people leave the community (either for a ministry located in a different part of Japan or they leave Japan altogether) after their last child finishes school. Of course I've got no idea how long we're going to be here, but there is a strong chance that David will continue to teach at CAJ after our youngest finishes. 

That's going to be strange—to go back to being just a staff-wife. To have no one of my own to cheer on at sports meets. To have no other parents that I see as part of the school calendar. I'm sure there'll be plenty to fill the gaps, but it will certainly be a different stage of life. One that's only five and a half years away! Maintaining friendships will definitely have to be stepped up to a more intentional activity, like today's "let's do coffee soon" morning.

These last couple of weeks there has been some tension for me about wrestling. Our middle son has decided not to do wrestling, after saying he would (in May). That leaves us without a high school wrestler in our family this year. 

Does it sound strange to admit that I've found that hard to accept? I really wanted to be supporting our high school wrestlers again as a parent . . . but it would be odd to go to all the meets and duals and I can't really justify those long days if I don't have a wrestler in the team. Our youngest is in the middle school team, so I'll get to go to his meets. I still plan to go to some of the high school meets (especially the one at CAJ in December and probably the finals). But it's taking some time to accept that we don't have a high schooler in the team this year. Part of that, too, is that I'll miss the time in the stands with friends who do have wrestlers this year, like the lady I had coffee with this morning. I'm not happy about that, but can do nothing about it. It does make me feel sorry for people whose children aren't into sports. They miss out on a lot!

Our eldest is helping out the coach, so he's still at school working with the team till after 6pm most nights. David's helping out as a responsible adult/staff member too (the coach's second son was born last week, so David helped supervise training last week). So I guess they'll both be going to meets, while I sit at home quietly with our middle son?

Alas, do I have a wrestling withdrawal?

But it's more than wrestling that I'll miss, it's the friendships formed with other parents that call me.

09 November, 2017

Stretching my wings in the city

I tried something different today to build some rest, exercise, and relaxation into my working week. 

Instead of riding to a park, I took a train. Instead of taking the train all the way to my meeting in town, I got off two stops earlier, where the park was located. Instead of leaving just enough time to get to my meeting, I left an hour and a half early so that I could wander through the park and then walk to my meeting. Instead of packing my computer, I packed my camera.

It was fun, even though I beat the best autumn colours by 10 days or so (I also beat the crowds, it was relatively peaceful there today). I've had this tentative plan for a few days, but wavered today because it was windy and I hate wind! However, I steeled myself, put on extra layers and went. The sky was so blue, it was gorgeous! And my layers worked well, so I didn't get too cold. 

It was also lovely to be on my own with my camera in a different park. On my own agenda, I could take my time in fiddling with the settings on the camera as I continue to learn about this new hobby of mine.

Here are some of my photos of Koishikawa garden.

This park sits right next to Tokyo Dome. It's almost possible to forget you're in the city, it is quiet and peaceful, but any photo involving sky includes buildings. Nice buildings, mind, but still buildings. No powerlines, though!

This photo was taken from the other side of the island you can see above.

A few sightseers around taking selfies. This boardwalk looked very temporary, obviously a work in progress.

I love the blue-green contrast in the below photo. But I'm also amazed in these old Japanese gardens, the way they prop up vulnerable limbs. This is an old garden, begun by the son of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1629 (I wrote a bit about Ieyasu the shogun who united Japan in the 17th century and founded the Tokugawa shogunate in this post). Interestingly, the garden was finished with the help of a Chinese refugee!

So close to the city surrounding it!

This one might be my favourite.

This was a tiny leaf. It barely had begun to grow when it ran into autumn.

Below are photos I took on my phone, mostly because I put my camera away after I left the park, but the first one was in the rest room. This, apparently, is what the park will look like later in the month!

On the right is the wall which surrounds the park on all sides. Makes a nice wind-shield. But I was delighted to find this little winding path on the outside of the park, going in the direction I needed to go. Much nicer than a city street!

A map along my route, only noteworthy because this butterfly decided it was a nice resting place.

Fascinating art is to be found. I'm not a great art appreciator, but this seemed fascinating. It was rotating too!

And, at the end, coffee at a serious coffee shop (seriously, we sat next to the coffee roaster, which took up fully 1/4 of the floor space of this city-corner cafe).

I ended up walking nearly six kilometres. It was a perfect day, really. A really nice balance of work, rest, and play (with a coffee shop thrown in to make it just perfect).

08 November, 2017

Personal seal

One of the first things we owned in Japan:
a family seal.
Did you know that we rarely sign things in Japan? In fact I usually have to practise my signature a couple of times when returning to Australia because I'm quite rusty. Part of the reason I don't use my signature much here is that I pay cash for pretty much everything on a day-to-day basis. I almost never pull out a card to pay for something unless I'm buying it online. The other reason is that signatures are a relatively new phenomenon in Japan. Most often official things are "signed" using a personal seal.
It says: Marshall (literally maasharu)
Last week our eldest son had to open a Japanese bank account for taxation purposes. He needed a personal seal to open the account. At first we thought that he needed his own, but it turns out that it was okay for him to use our family seal or inkan. It actually turns out that he probably didn't need a seal at all, a friend told me her Australian husband has never had one and he's employed in a firm here in Tokyo. He does it all, as he would in Australia, with a signature.
Come to think of it, now, when we take delivery of postal items, they usually ask for a signature, not a stamp. Ha, there's always things to learn when you're living in another country. It feels like you're forever playing catch-up.

We were pondering this "seal" culture when I was with my language exchange friends last week. It turns out that Japan isn't the only country that still uses them. To me it seems to be a throw-back to ancient times when important people sealed things with wax, but China, Taiwan, Korea, and Vietnam also still use seals to one degree or another (see here).

Anyway, I'd asked one of my language exchange friends about having an inkan made for our son as she owns a stationary store and customers can order inkans through them. She brought a catalogue to show us that you can see here. I had no idea there were so many choices, nor that most people own more than one. There are choices in size, style, and even the material they're made from (from cheap resin and box tree to expensive ivory). 
In the close-up picture below you can see differences in size and style (not sure why the abbreviation for millimetre is rendered m/m). The one on the right is for formal documents for something like a company and there is no up or down (which is important in the ones on the left).

There is a more informative article about this topic here.