31 July, 2010

A river or a stream?

Yesterday we went for a family bike ride. Less than five minutes walk away is what the Japanese call a river. I'd rather call it a stream. Look at the photos, what do you think?

When we first came to Tokyo we were kind-of disgusted that they'd concreted up the sides of pretty much every water course in town. Though I guess we've grown used to it now. The bonus of that particular strategy is that along most they've created paths for bikes and walking. It's a safer place for the boys to ride their bikes (though you still have to be careful crossing the occasional road). There are also places where you can get down and play in the water too (if you wish), though I'm not sure how clean the water is.

In contrast to the "river" we used to live near, this one seems to run all the time. Our previous waterway only ran after rain (it is the third photo). It was a nice way to walk to kindy back then, a little bit of space and away from the worry about traffic. It is the rare street that has a footpath and usually then it is only on a busy road, so for younger kids you are always concerned about them running into traffic, though admittedly on those streets without footpaths usually the traffic is only moving at about 20-30km/hr.

So, in general we're happy to be living near a "river". Especially as there is relatively little other nature around. Most houses have a tree or two or some pot plants. CAJ has some terrific cherry blossom trees, but no grass. So, to find a little bit of space and something nice to look at, the "river" is welcome.

It is also still a nice place to take a family bike ride, though yesterday's ride was just a little bit hot. We weren't gone all that long and the boys came back looking like they'd just had a hot shower - their hair was wet and faces red.

30 July, 2010

A few house photos

I've added a few down-stairs house photos for you here. I'll put up some more on another day and probably a rough house plan too, once we get our scanner up and running.

Taken from the kitchen sink looking back through the kitchen to the dining room (which also houses our electric piano and my desk and computer).
Dining room, complete with electric piano and computer (my work station).
Closer view of the lounge room. This is a typical Japanese-style room. Under the carpet is tatami - thick rice straw floor covering. The white over the windows is paper covered sliding wooden screens. They are the only privacy afforded. There is nowhere to hang curtains. Unfortunately rowdy boys frequently put holes in the paper!
Looking from the dining room into the kitchen. We're also filing in the kitchen these days!
From the dining room into the lounge room.

29 July, 2010

Bedside tables

One thing about our life in Japanese that has annoyed me is the bedside table. We don't have a normal bed. Our mattress rests on ten large plastic drawers. It is a fantastic storage spot, particularly to store winter clothes. Especially good because storage is always an issue in Japan.

But because they are drawers I periodically want to access the drawer under my head - where a bedside table would ordinarily go. However a bedside table is essential for someone like me who rarely goes to sleep without reading for a little while at least. My bedside usually houses from two to ten books at a time!

For the last four years I've solved the problem by using this blue plastic box as a removable bedside table. It doubled as the ironing box (extra incentive to stay up-to-date with ironing once the lid wouldn't shut). Can you tell we've gotten good at solving storage problems?

Today we acquired something that is even closer to a real bedside table (left). It is plastic and easily removable, yet it has drawers, so it will be neater.

We found something for David too (right). He doesn't read as much as me, but he does keep his Bible and prayer material there. It was always a pile on the floor, which is annoying when it comes to vaccuuming.

Ah the bliss of setting up a home, especially with access to second-hand shops! Together these cost only about $10.

28 July, 2010

Japan photos #3

I'm still not well and haven't eaten a full meal since Sunday. Bored silly, but getting heaps of rest! I haven't felt unwell until the lack of food started to hit me today and now I'm pretty light headed.

Anyway, here is something else you don't find in Australia.

Q.: If you saw traffic lights like this, what would you do?

A: The correct thing to do is to just proceed in any direction you wish. You can be assured by the red light that cars going the other way have a red light.

Did you guess?

27 July, 2010

Japan photo #2

Here is something else we were given the other day. We bought the mat on the left - it is a shower mat, the sort that goes under your feet in the shower. Particularly useful in winter here as it keeps your feet warm. The shower room is massive in this house, big enough to be a large walk-in robe, so fitting a mat in is no problem. We've had such mats before, so that was not what interested me. The other pictured object did. Obviously once we'd bought the mat we had to carry it somewhere, it is an awkward size, about 1m by 50cm. So the shop assistant very helpfully pulled out some stick-on handles and attached them to the packaging.

Japan photo #1

Here is the first of a series of photos of things we've found in Japan but I haven't seen in Australia.
These are individually wrapped cotton buds. Japanese like individually wrapping stuff for example biscuits (cookies). Caring for the environment? This plastic is supposed to be recyclable, at least that is how we divide it for rubbish collection. What happens after that, I have no idea.

26 July, 2010

Transition stress

Moving countries is hard. I've said it a lot of times and I know it. Now my body is telling me it. First my ear canals became infected and now, well, a Facebook friend said I gave To Much Information earlier, so just let's say, though I'm hungry, I'm not eating at present.

Today it is 4 weeks since we moved out of our house in Goodna, Australia.
It is 2 weeks since we arrived in Japan.

We have done an awful lot in that time and things are shaping up fairly well. But we have shepherded energetic boys through one of the bigger transitions of their growing up years. We've landed in one of the most trying seasons of the year in Tokyo - 30+ degrees Celcius with very high humidity. And we've downsized - this house, though big by Japanese standards, is smaller than what we had in Australia. The boys, particularly, are hovering between relationships. They've said goodbye to all their Australian friends and yet school doesn't start for them for more than 4 weeks. They have much to look forward to, but it is still largely unknown, especially for the younger two.

Aside from all the physical unpacking, we've been ploughing our way through other tasks - setting up the internet, setting up bill-paying, restocking the larder, adjusting to a the idiosyncrasies of an old house, operating in Japanese again for the first time for a year, negotiating the medical system, re-establishing relationships etc. It is probably no wonder that my body has packed up and said, "REST YOU".

Unfortunately life goes on here whether or not I'm well. Thankfully everyone else is well, including David, but I fear for him with the extra work that ends up on his shoulders when I'm down. Lord, please hold him up!

25 July, 2010

Slotting back into life in Japan

Today we rode to church. It is only 1km away now. We save about $AU 6.40 a week by just being able to ride to church. Our church has no car park, only a bike park. So for four years we paid for parking. A slight disincentive to chatting afterwards? We had a brief time (18 months) in Sapporo where we rode to church, but not too often in my life have I ridden a bike wearing an ankle length skirt - or any skirt, to be honest. It didn't go too badly.

Of course the issue of wearing a helmet came up. We've always insisted our boys wear helmets, but adult just don't do it here. Unless they are in spandex on a racing or road bike. I asked David to wear a helmet last term when he rode 6 km to school, but I only got a helmet in the last year of our time here. I'm wearing it when we ride together as a family, but struggle to put it on when I'm on my own. I feel alien enough as it is without doing something that makes me even more weird looking.

This afternoon after things cooled a degree or too we went out and gave home-made biscuits (cookies) to our neighbours. This is a Japanese custom. That when you move into a new place you go and meet your neighbours (either side and over the street) and give them gifts. My missionary friend explains it in more detail here. It is a useful custom, but one that I don't feel very comfortable with either. Usually because I don't understand everything that they say to me and that can lead to awkwardness. Thankfully these times I have my trusty husband by my side. Unfortunately our boys were fairly crazy by this time in the afternoon and, though they were around, were trying to beat each other up with plastic baseball bats or tickle each other - lovely introduction to the neighbours. We only found 50% of our neighbours at home, so we'll have to go and have another try tomorrow.

The boys were so crazy that we didn't want to stuff them back into the house, so we gathered up some play equipment and wandered down to CAJ (Christian Academy in Japan). It is only 300m away! The boys played there for quite a while and I sat under a large shady sakura (cherry) tree. It wasn't too blistering hot, but still well into the mid 30s. Thankfully a slight breeze was blowing and it is quite cloudy. We're hoping for a storm.

24 July, 2010

What have I been doing this week?

I'm trying to remember what we've done this week. Not very easy. Here's a summary:

Public holiday. I felt so unwell that I didn't go anywhere. David did some grocery shopping. We unpacked more boxes.

Tuesday was busy
David had to supervise some students doing a test for some summer maths subject they are both doing (don't ask!). The gas man came to install smoke and gas alarms while David was out. Then I went, with trepidation, to the ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor at 11. After filling out the inevitable information form, they told me to come back at 1 (the line was so long). It actually worked out very well, because in the gap we had lunch and the postman came with my health insurance card (meaning I only had to pay about 30% of my doctor and medication bill). After the doctor we dropped the boys at a friend's house and dashed off to a furniture store to buy several different things, but most importantly, a mattress for our bed. We ended up being able to buy a new bike for David too. Collected the kids, ate tea and shoved the kids in bed. Then I collapsed.

Wednesday was much quieter.
The phone and internet were connected this day. The saga of trying to get our computer to connect to internet without the wires began after they left. We also discovered that we could only receive but not send from our usual email account, and since then have had to copy and paste to an internet based account whenever we want to reply to emails. Annoying!

We received our 11 y.o.'s bunk bed and bookcase from another missionary family and put it together. They also gave us a set of drawers for our bedroom and another bookcase. Finally that night I could take my clothes out of my suitcase. We also unpacked a lot of other boxes with books in them.

We went for a short family bike ride then David went to retrieve our last piece of furniture from its storage place - our freezer, which someone used for the year we were away.

Now with our freezer in place we were on a mission to fill it up. A trip to Costco (American wholesale shop) to buy bulk meat, bread, toiletries, peanut butter and many other things. The trip proved to be a little too much, however, on the end of a busy week, we struggled to hold things together when we got home and this morning the boys are showing signs of tiredness.

My ears continue to be a concern. At Costco yesterday my eustachian tube got stuck open at one point and my own voice echoed in my head so loud I could only whisper! Last night I had trouble sleeping on my other ear (the one that was good last week) due to pain. Thankfully they are taking it in turn, otherwise I'd have to sleep on my back - horrors! Headed back to the ENT this morning. Just after opening time, the doctor's schedule was already 2 hours full. It is truly first-in-best-dressed here in Japan, the land of no appointments for (most) doctors! Put my name in the line and came home for a couple of hours. That's it for today so far...more pending.

Phew - just recalling my week is truly exhausting. The trick is trying to find a balance. If we just stay at home and have quiet days (which we're really like to do) and the boys get bored. They have no back or front yard. No road to play on this time (last time we had a quiet road, quiet enough to draw in chalk on). It is, in fact, too hot to do much outside anyway. Only 4 1/2 more weeks until their teachers can have the task of filling up their days...

23 July, 2010

Fridge anatomy

Here is my fridge and a dreadful photo with me to show how tall it is (or maybe how tall I am not!) Below I've tried to show you some of the inside bits that make it so amazing. Sorry the quality is a bit poor. I'm pretty tired tonight.

22 July, 2010

Second instalment of 'settling into our house in Tokyo'

Yesterday I left you hanging a bit with a couple of stories. Well, maybe only one.

My first grocery shop was the first day we arrived in our house. Of course - there was absolutely nothing besides our water bottles in our marvellous fridge. Especially nothing for breakfast the next day. Thankfully I'm already fairly familiar with the area and didn't have much trouble finding the shop I wanted. It was not much trouble shopping, either, because it is a smallish shop of a chain that I shopped at two or three times a week for four years, so I know what they stock (very unlike Woolworths or Coles in Australia). There is very little choice of brand, but that is fine - I get through fast!

The trouble came when I got to the cash register and realised that in Japan you pay in cash, not with your plastic card (as I always did for the groceries in Australia). And I only had 7 000 yen on me (less than AU$100. So, red-faced, I explained in a halting-just-returned-from-a-year-without-speaking-Japanese way that I had to go and get some money. He was very kind and held aside the rest of the groceries while I rushed home with what I'd managed to buy and asked my husband for more from his wallet (Japanese ATMs are still too scary for me).

In my rush I had to try and find our house. I got close. Our neighbour's houses all look pretty similar to ours. They're all close to the road, close to each other and have covered garages next to the front doors. With my car blocking half the narrow street, I climbed out and dashed into the most likely door (which was unlocked) - shouting, "David, where's your wallet?" Too late I saw that the entry hall was not jammed with boxes...I left as fast as I could. I still haven't met our neighbour (coming up soon - another Japanese custom we must adhere to). I don't know if anyone heard me or not. I hope not.

Too many embarrassments for one afternoon! It is a good thing that someone brought us some pizza for dinner.

21 July, 2010

First instalment of 'settling into our house in Tokyo' stories.

It is now Wednesday, nearly a week since I first set foot in our new house. I'm tired and it is bed time. It has been an extremely busy week, complicated by me having an external ear canal infection as I wrote about here. That is gradually clearing up now. I didn't include some history in that post. One of the reasons I was so upset by it, is that a couple of years ago in Japan I had an ear infection that took three doctors, innumerable multiple-per-week visits and about four months to clear up. Thankfully it looks like this time will not be as bad as that.

I could write you pages and pages about the last week, but here is something I scratched out last Saturday, which will give you an idea of what a running start we had:

There's stuff happening. No wonder I'm tired!
We arrived at our new house at 1pm on Thursday. Now it is 5pm on Saturday. That's only just over 48 hours. In that time we've
    •    unpacked unnumerable boxes with many more to go
    •    got a new mobile (cell phone) - which happens to be an iPhone!! (surprised us)
    •    spent more than two hours filling out forms to register as "aliens" and for national health insurance (compulsory)
    •    got our house to a point of being liveable - that means, sheets and pillows, some food in the fridge and pantry, a kettle, hygiene maintenance possible (we have soap, towels, shampoo, toothbrushes, toilet paper etc.), table and chairs, and bedrooms have curtains for blacking out early summer sun
    •    4 bikes are serviceable (the boys have just taken them for a test drive). One more adult bike required for family mobility
    •    embarrassed myself at the grocery store and with my neighbour (story to come)
    •    grocery shopping has totally more than 25 000 yen so far ($AU 300) in 48 hours
    •    been to the school library and got out more than 75 books (it isn't open now until school starts in late August)
    •    discovered that garbage disposal systems are not all the same in Tokyo (more later)
    •    sweated a lot - it is definitely humid here!
    •    enjoyed our new fridge and washing machine. our 7kg washing machine is just so understated, yet has massive possiblities. Also our new fridge is 500l. It feels like it towers over me (I can only just reach the top shelf) - but it is fantastic!!

Stay tuned for further stories of our settling in!

The Internet is coming to our house

I can hear it reving it's engines (almost). I'll be back in regular contact soon.

19 July, 2010

Sick and vulnerable

I'm sick and feeling vulnerable. I think it is one the things I dislike most about being overseas - being unwell, feeling that lack of control that comes with being reliant on a system you don't really understand and being unable to communicate as clearly as you would like.

It's a public holiday today, so I can't even really get to a doctor. We don't have our health insurance cards yet either. I have some drugs from the dr I visited yesterday, but she really didn't give me confidence in her diagnosis (I appear and to have an infection in my ear canal -it is swollen). She wanted me to go to a specialist on Tue. So I wait and hope the antibiotics are the right thing to be taking.

It is all just bad timing really. Transition between countries is a vulnerable time. Please pray this will be resolved quickly!

17 July, 2010

Connected again... sort-of

I have an iPhone! Not at all what I expected when we went looking at new mobiles (cell phones) yesterday. But it turned out to be the cheapest option! So, while we don't have a home phone or home Internet yet, we are connected! Typing is still not as fast as a full sized keyboard, though, so I'm only writing a little tonight.
Very tired - we've done a lot this week! Tomorrow is a rest day, focus on family day.

16 July, 2010

24 hours in

We're 24 hours into living in our new house. Things are gradually taking a shape that doesn't resemble a cardboard box. The house is larger than our previous Tokyo-house but just as old. Figuring out where to put all our stuff is the biggest challenge. Because Japanese houses are small, everything has its place and when you change houses you have to find new places for everything. For some reason it is not as intuitive as Australian houses, where, for example, the laundry powder goes under the laundry sink (we have no laundry sink) and the groceries go in the pantry (we have no dedicated pantry). It is a challenge, but not an un-fun one.

The boys are having an absolute ball with all their 'old' toys. We've hardly seen them and only when necessary have pulled them away for food and water!

No time to write now...internet access at home is still five days away!

15 July, 2010

Today we Move In

Hang on, I'm getting the impression people think we are settled. We are not. We are comfortable with Japan, but we are still living out of suitcases. Today we move into our accommodation for the coming X number of years. The furniture is approximately where it should be and the boxes are all in approximately the right rooms. The fridge is in place (Yay!) and the washing machine and dryer are too.

But the boxes are still sealed. The fridge and pantry are totally empty. The sheets and pillows are somewhere too. I've even got a vacuum cleaner in a box that will need to be found quickly as the house is pretty dusty (previous residents moved out a month ago). Plus a myriad of other jobs. So today will be a busy day and the days following too.

I'm really glad that we got a rest last week between houses, otherwise I'd be much more exhausted than I already am (struggling with headaches particularly).

Very soon we will pile into our borrowed van and drive more than an hour on express-ways across town, stopping to buy a mattress for our eldest. Then the fun begins!

Our phone and internet will not be connected until next Wednesday. If you're lucky I might get access a couple of times in the meantime, but otherwise you'll have to wait a week for further instalments on our move back to Japan.

14 July, 2010

Memo to self: beware of mother's guilt

Here is an excellent blog spot on the guilt that mothers struggle with. This is a reminder to myself to work on this area.

Day One back in Japan

Yesterday we were up early - again. It is summer, the sun is up early and so are the boys. We ate breakfast earlier than we usually do on school days!

Then, as I wrote yesterday, we hung around waiting for shops to open. Once we got going we really got going. We headed off to find a fridge and washing machine. If we were in the district we'd lived in the last four years, we'd have known where to go, but it was a little more tricky this time. Given some vague directions, we hopped on a train, went one station and then walked half-way to another. Eventually around lunch-time we found a large shopping centre and collapsed in the food court. One quite unlike we've seen for 12 months in Australia. No McDonalds, no KFC, no carvery or Subway. Only Japanese food. It was terrific. Our 5 y.o. and I chose noodles (udon), our 7 y.o. and David chose Japanese curry rice and our 11 y.o. chose rice and something like a rissole (hamburg - it looked like a steak, though). Once again the food was inhaled and during prayer time last night our 7 y.o. said a special thank you for a Japanese lunch!

Refreshed and refuelled, we set out for the electrical store nearby. To our joy, the fridges we'd looked at and tentatively selected on the internet were there and at a good price. To our surprise they were also in stock and able to be delivered the next day! A washing machine was no problem either (and much cheaper).

Crazy boys running and getting lost in the shop was a much bigger concern. They refused to listen and suffered the consequences - the loss of a trip to Mister Donuts (a much anticipated treat for our first day back). Ohhhh did our 7 y.o. moan. I just hope he'll do better next time.

By this time I had blisters forming on the balls of my feet. Too much walking in nearly new sandals. We still had to walk to the station and then walk back to our lodging. I made it without the blisters busting, thankfully.

In all of this we still felt no surprise or shock at being in Japan. It was like getting back on the bike after a bit of a break. It still seems amazing that a place so foreign to most Australians has become so familiar to us. We even had little trouble with our Japanese.

Besides being footsore, my head was starting to ache and spin, so I lay down for a good portion of the afternoon. David, however, geared himself up for a call to the telephone/internet company and managed to organise for it to be connected next Wednesday. That is faster than we managed in Australia, but there still will be a gap, although the school where David works is just down the road, so I'll probably be able to go down there and connect up occasionally.

One of the other things which stood out about the day was that because we had internet access yesterday, we were able to communicate our arrival to a lot of people quickly. We had many Facebook "Glad you made it"s from various people. But most encouraging were the "Welcome back"s from the community of friends and colleagues we already have in Tokyo. Leaving Australia is never easy, even though we feel strongly that we are doing what God wants us to do. The actual leaving bit is not fun. However moving to a place where you already have a lot of people who care about you takes the sting out of the tail. We've already got networks here that usually take months or years to establish when you move into a new place. We already have a babysitter for Friday when we have to take care of some official business at the city hall. Amazing!

Our 5 y.o. is delighted with his haul from yesterday too. He scored a new umbrella (essential for Tokyo living) and replacement scissors (which are even cuter than the ones Brisbane airport claimed).

Today David is on the other side of Tokyo supervising the moving of our stuff. The stuff we pack up and stored June last year. He'll also bring back a van we're borrowing for a month and tomorrow morning we'll drive back and take possession of the house ourselves. Can't wait! But in the meantime, I have to help the boys wait...one...more...day.

13 July, 2010

A day between countries

I have a few minutes before we launch out onto Tokyo to find a washing machine and fridge. Most shops don't open until 10am and our bodies are still on Australian time, which means that we're up a little early - it is 8.30am here, not 9.30am like our bodies are telling us. So I'll give you a little insight into yesterday.

We were up at 4.45am. The boys leapt out of bed and were ready to go by 5.15 (the plane didn't leave until 8.45 and we didn't need to leave home until 6). That was to set the tone for the rest of the morning until we got on the plane. They really didn't understand all the adults sitting around and waiting, the lines etc. "Why don't we just go?" At check-in we discovered we could have brought 11 more kilograms. Darn! That is another whole AU$100+ box that we posted. Oh well. There was no line at check-in, we began to wonder if the flight wasn't fully booked.

Once we got on the plane, we first were delighted to see the individual screens in front of us. 8 1/2 hours of square-eyed peace for parents! Then our earlier suspicions were confirmed - the flight was less than half-booked. All my toilet-lining-up fears were alleviated.

The day went on forever, though. I'd packed my watch, so I had no idea of time. Confused by the fact that all the meals were out too. I'd eaten an apple on the way to the airport at 6.30. Had coffee with Mum and Dad at 7.15 at the airport then after take-off we were given a main meal (not breakfast!) at about 10am. After that it was mostly drinks with only one snack until about 3pm when we had sandwiches! We were met and driven to OMF guest house, arriving about 6.30 (7.30pm Australian time) and as soon as we could, we headed off to the nearest convenience store for a Japanese staple - onigiri - Japanese rice balls. Yum. The boys inhaled them!

Other amazing things about the day are best listed:
  • Our plane was directly in front of the viewing area where Mum and Dad could stand (though we could only see them not talk or touch). So they watched us walk onto the plane.
  • We lost a pair of scissors. Try as we did, we didn't manage to banish all the scissors from boys' backpacks to their check-in luggage and we lost a pair. It seemed like they were training people at that section of the airport, so I had a feeling they enjoyed actually finding something which they could take off us! 5 y.o. cried, however. Another loss (after weeks of saying goodbyes the smallest thing can be traumatic).
  • We barely slowed down at customs in Tokyo! They weren't really interested in our luggage at all.
  • The weather isn't too hot today. Overcast and moist, but I'm not uncomfortable. It is apparently 24 degrees (Celsius) and occasionally dribbling. Hanging up washing inside like I've done it all my life.
The weirdest thing is that it feels like we've woken from a dream. Actually it hardly seems that we've been away. Very strange feeling - that we've got a life here and a life in Australia which only seem barely connected!

12 July, 2010

We're back in Tokyo

After an amazingly smooth trip we're headed for bed in Tokyo. Modern travel is amazing really!

Funnily enough it seems as though we've hardly left, the city seems very familiar and not shocking at all. For dinner we ate onigiri - Japanese rice balls. Yum!

Now for bed. More details tomorrow.

11 July, 2010

What have you enjoyed most about your year in Australia?

For my last post on Australian soil this time around I want to reflect on this thoughtful question I've been asked a couple of times recently:
 What have you enjoyed most about your year in Australia?

There are many things enjoyable about being in the country I grew up in. Here's a just few!
  • Reconnecting with friends and family who've known me longer than ten years has to be one of the biggies. 
  • Relaxing in a country where I both speak the language and understand a lot of the whys behind what goes on.
  • Regaining confidence in my ability to do simple things like deal with bureaucracy, banks, fill the car etc. (mostly related to language ability)
  • Working in partnership with my husband and having him home a lot of the time.
  • With all the boys at school for the first time and David and I both working from home, we've enjoyed a lot more couple time than we have had for eleven years.
  • Shopping has been fun.
  • Medical stuff - actually having appointments, understanding the system, having a fantastic GP
  • Aussie food
  • Libraries and bookstores
  • Cricket and various other TV
  • Wide open spaces (my husband calls this "space therapy")
  • More privacy (no one can see my washing)
  • More anonymity (I don't stick out)
  • Church in English
I'm sad to say goodbye to most of this. Others I'm just used to being without and can get by. I keep reminding myself that I've survived without it all for eight years already and it'll be fine.

We fly at 8.45 Monday morning (tomorrow). Leaving at something like 6am. See you later Australia. We'll be back in 2-4 years. Of course I'll be back blogging from Tokyo, probably on Tuesday.

10 July, 2010

Unexpected day

Today we'd planned nothing. So we ended up with an unexpected day.

To start with I unexpectedly slept in to 9.30! I guess I must have been tired and must be feeling relaxed too. My brain was pretty fuzzy after that, though, so it is good that David took charge and got us all out of the house. While I ate breakfast he made a picnic lunch.

Soon after that he shoved us all out the door on an unexpected adventure. We stopped at the local shopping centre to post three more boxes and then searched for a bookstore. None there, so we drove on. You see we're such book lovers that we find this period of in-between libraries very hard. So we dashed into a second-hand bookstore that we found along the road (much cheaper than our original plan) and found a book for our 11 y.o. to read on the plane.

Then we headed off for New Farm Park, which has become our most favourite park in Brisbane. We parked under this tree that the boys instantly claimed as their own. And had a picnic lunch nearby on the grass. Then we headed over to the location of the most terrific playground we've found in the city, only to find it shut for renovations (same thing at South Bank the other day - didn't anyone tell them that it is school holidays?). Huge disappointment! Nevermind...plenty more trees to climb.

Nearby was a place we knew existed, but weren't sure what it exactly was "The Powerhouse". David had it confused with a museum in Sydney called by the same name and I thought it was a theatre. Turned out I was correct, but I'm glad I went to check it out anyway because they had a free performance for kids starting about seven minutes later. Very cool group called "Clocked Out".  Based around percussion, it was a fabulous and free 30 minute performance, followed by another half and hour of exploratory hands-on music creation for the kids (picture on left is of the boys making waves like sound waves as demonstrated in the performance).

Of course, to get back to our car we had to explore every climbing tree on the way. I doubled back to use the loo (bathroom) and had one of those unexpected encounters I wrote about the other day. Except this one was fairly pleasant, if rushed. Someone who'd gone to my parents church while I was in Brisbane studying in the early 90s. We parted, vowing to catch-up on Facebook. Gotta love Facebook!

The way home was straight past our new favourite second-hand book store. David had got to thinking he'd like a book on the plane too and I wanted one too, so we stopped. I then had to do a very hard thing - chose one book! I'd much rather borrow several from a library, then there is no pressure to read or even enjoy a book. I can choose different genre and pick up the one that suits my mood. BUT be restricted to one choice!?! It took too long and the boys were complaining, but I found something that will have to do. The whole concept of travelling with my children on a plane AND being able to take my own book is quite a foreign one!

Now we're 'home'. The day has been both unexpected and pleasant. The children are watching DVDs prior to some kind of dinner that I have to manufacture out of almost nothing. Oh, we do have 2 minute noodles, that's something I guess.

09 July, 2010

Retro stress relief

Last month I read the book Honourably Wounded and used it to spring into this blog note a few weeks ago. Yesterday I used something I learned in the book. We'd had a stressful day. The boys were obnoxious, disobedient and hopelessly giggly by dinner-time. David and I almost ended up yelling at each other as a spin-off. Then after the kids were in bed we still had trial-pack to do.

By the time we'd done all that we were wound as tight as a cord on a new vacuum cleaner. We ate some yummy supper together, but then felt too stressed to go straight to bed. As I sat there wondering what to do next, I spotted an unusual sight in a house of boys. This house usually contains both a boy and a girl, so there are plenty of girly things around. One is a doll house with Barbies. Sometime yesterday the Barbies were stripped. (5 y.o. confessed today that he was trying to surprise their owner!) It just didn't seem the right thing to leave all these Barbies (and look alikes) plus Ken starkers (naked) in the living room! So, I sat on the floor, dressed them and combed their hair (David joined me - it took him back to the days he helped his young sister). It was a remarkably soothing activity and I was able to go to bed very easily after that.

This takes me back to the book I mentioned. The author, Marjory Foyle, advocated lots of things for stress. One of them was indulging in a retro-type (or child-like) activity regularly. Like flying kites or swinging. I never had Barbies as a child (for reasons that I fully understand now). But yesterday they were very helpful. I must keep that strategy in mind, not that I'll have Barbies at hand on most occasions, but I'm sure other toys would do equally well.

08 July, 2010

Awkward encounters

Our whole year has been full of awkward encounters of various kinds, but this just-about-to-go-back point particularly lends itself to experiencing embarrassing social situations. Take the following examples:

Someone you've said an emotional goodbye to some days previous happens to see you at a shopping centre.
Running into a man who used to support you but has cut off his support for unknown reasons.
Someone who hasn't answered your emails about getting together, sees you on a train with your hyperactive kids.
Accidentally seeing someone who was part of a long-time-ago painful church discussion about your missionary call.
Receiving hand-made gifts from a need-to-please-others person that you are expected to take with you in your already bulging luggage.
While having difficult discussions with fractious kids over what to order at a fast-food restaurant, you run into an old acquaintance who wants a deep discussion.
A long-time-ago friend who doesn't know you are a missionary runs into you in a public place.
A shop assistant who wants to know your current postcode for a survey.

These vary in difficulty to manage, of course, but can be stressful, depending on how the other person reacts. The extra factor in here is that our children are more difficult to manage in public (and private too, of course) at the moment - so when we run into a situation that needs particular care, very often I don't have enough brain space left for nice social conversation. It is very tricky. All I can do is pray later that I said the right thing at the right time and didn't say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

07 July, 2010

5 sleeps left...

With five sleeps left we are cruising, getting a few small important jobs done - like collecting the bond on the house we've lived in this year, sorting out our medical insurance and doing our tax return. But generally taking things fairly easy, thankfully!

We found out this morning that we'll be moving into our Tokyo house next Wednesday - that's only two sleeps after we arrive in the country, truly amazing! And the removalists (movers) will even pick up our Clavinova (electric piano) from the friend who's been looking after it. The cool thing about that is that it is a potentially back-breaking operation as it is heavy and is up a set of very steep and narrow Tokyo-style stairs. We're very thankful not to have to organise that ourselves.

Now the main thing that remains is to fit everything into our suitcases and under the 100kg limit. Excess to that needs to be packed up separately and posted. You may ask, "Why posting? Surely there is a cheaper way?" You wouldn't be the only one. When we took 6 10-12kg boxes to the post office last Friday the guy there nearly had a heart attack and we had to reassure him several times that this was what we wanted to do, that we'd thought about this long and hard.

This is the third time we've moved to Japan from Australia and we've found that posting stuff, while it seems expensive, is the easiest way. It is not the most expensive, either. If we send stuff by boat or unaccompanied baggage, we incur customs costs as well as the expense and inconvenience of going back to the airport (2-4 hours from our house) to collect it all. Posting not only has the advantage of all the expense being up front, but the stuff gets delivered to our door at the other end too.

What are we taking back? Not furniture, that's for sure. Hardly any electrical stuff (different voltage). Very little food stuffs. Mostly our wardrobe plus some resource books, Occupational Therapy resources, medical records (that go everywhere with us), a small number of extra special toys, some medicine and other things that are harder to get (or impossible, like soap-free cleanser) in Japan. Some DVDs, especially ones that have been gifts to the boys in recent months. We've been very selective. Very few toys actually made the cut - mostly what fits in backpacks plus two boxes of Z*O*O*B. Oh, my contour pillow is coming...now I need to stop writing about it and find a place it will fit into my bulging suitcase.

06 July, 2010

Another unusual reunion

Here is the story of three couples and their kids. Back in the late 90s all six of us were childless couples, living in Brisbane, attending vastly different churches but applying to be long-term missionaries with OMF International. In January 99 we all attended an OMF Candidates Course in Brisbane (one of the children was a babe-in-arms at that course and I was pregnant). At that course we were all accepted to join OMF. From there we all went on the deputation trail. OMF required we have 100% of our support before we left. The Callows (Jeff and Belinda) and the Himstedts (Daron and Janet) were headed for Thailand and we for Japan, so the amount we needed was vastly different.

Over the next 15 months we did a number of mission related events together. The most extravagant was an imitation aeroplane trip to promote mission. It was huge! So was I...at 38 weeks pregnant!

In March of 2000 the Himstedts left for Thailand and in the middle of the year the Callows took off. That left us. I cried. We didn't know at that point if we'd ever get where we felt God had called us to. We eventually left in November of that year, but were undersupported for most of our term. Actually in retrospect we should have left it until after the northern winter, but that is another story altogether.

The wacky part of this story relates to both our ages and our kid's years-of-birth. For at this time of the year the adults' ages step up one year at a time. Couple by couple. So the Marshalls are the youngest, then the Callows, then the Himstedts. Our kids were all born in consecutive calendar years - every year from 1998 for nine years. Four of the nine were born overseas. And the families took it in turn too. Callows, Marshalls, Himstedts, Callows, Marshalls...you get the picture. We all have three children. The Callows and Marshalls have boys and the Himstedts have girls. Weird, hey?

So, all of us have now served for about 10 years overseas. We've all had our trials and challenges. We've walked in different places (we haven't been to Thailand and they haven't been to Japan, for example), but have so many things in common. The one thing we have not managed to do is live in Brisbane all at the same time. Both the Callows and Himstedts have only just last week come back from Thailand and we've about to leave again. This is the first time since 2000 that we've all been in the same city at the same time.

So much to talk about this morning, it was a pity when the time came to an end. We've all prayed for one another over this last decade and we're all Facebook friends, so we know an awful lot about each other's journey - both from what we read and what we've ourselves experienced. Now we have another memory to add to our collection, plus photos!

Today in the airlock

1. Our car situation has been sorted out and thankfully it was simply a spark plug and ignition lead problem, nothing larger.
2. We're getting back to some sort of normality. I'm feeling less over-stimulated. For several days I've felt like everything inside me was vibrating - like after a long car/bus/train/ plane trip.
3. This morning we had a long anticipated get together with missionary friends (contemporaries). This really deserves its own post (the explanation is a bit lengthy), maybe later today.
4. We've received notice that we get all our bond back!!! YAY for all those helpers last Tuesday!
5. Not much emotional disturbance - at least not out of the ordinary (boys fighting etc.).In fact I feel a little numb.
6. The world continues on around us - various enormous sporting events, news etc. all happening, but somehow it feels like we are separate from it all, like we're floating in space...maybe it is time to go and have some lunch!

05 July, 2010

This week is like an airlock

This week might seem rather unusual to people. "What are you doing - just hanging around?" Yes, I guess we are, but it is a somewhat peaceful time in between bouts of chaos. If you go back and have a look at this post about the stages of transition, I can tell you we are at the very end of stage 2, just before we crash into Japan and the chaos of stage 3. I likened it earlier today, when talking with a friend, to being in an airlock. We have done most of our farewells, have few responsibilities and fewer commitments to fulfil. It is a time of regathering ourselves, of resting before the next big outlay of energy. We've learned (during four previous international moves) it is important to build in pockets of time like this. Important for our sanity and ability to make it through to the end of the transition.

 It is also a time where we mop up bits of last-minute things that need doing. For example, finalising the boys' medicals for entry into CAJ in August. We'll also be seriously re-packing our suitcases and putting together a couple of extra boxes of stuff that won't fit into our 100kg and need to be posted. And, as I speak, waiting to hear the verdict on our borrowed van. We have a bad track record on borrowed vans. The last one, five years ago, needed towing away to the final resting place for cars in Japan! Hope this one is not as bad as that, it has served us well all year, right up until a week before we depart.

Perfect age?

Yesterday someone who is not acquainted with our history, said, in response to our farewell at church,
"Your kids are the perfect age to be going overseas."
I resisted the urge to tell her that we've previously left Australia with a 2 month old, an 18 month old, a nearly 3 year old and a 6 year old (on two different occasions, of course). Never mind that we've parented children of all ages from birth to 10 years of age while living in Japan. Now we're going with 5, 7 and 11 year olds.

But what is the "perfect age"? Probably taking teenagers is not too advisable - especially for the first time. I admit it was hard to take a baby over, but probably worse to take a spirited 2 year old! Taking both a baby and 2 year old at the same time five years ago was probably the worst scenario, though!

I do acknowledge that this time it has been (so far) a lot easier transition with older kids. They're able to understand what is happening and even help (instead of hinder) the move. But that is something I can enjoy now. In contrast to having children at a less convenient age being something that would hinder us in following God's call. I guess that is what irritates me inside when someone makes a comment like that - implying that we're doing it because it is convenient to us now. NO! It is never convenient to do what we're doing. Children are never the perfect age and we are never perfectly prepared. We're just willing and able (i.e. medically fit) and being willing makes it the perfect time to go, not any outside circumstances.

04 July, 2010

Shocking Sunday

I am almost too tired to write. To be honest, if I didn't have children who needed me to sit up and force them into sleep, I'd be showering and headed for bed myself! Nevertheless, since I'm awake and doing practically nothing, so I might as well write a short note about our rather shocking Sunday.

It was a day along the lines of those stressful things I spoke about in this post about fridges. An unexpected event that occurs in the midst of transition tends to be almost too much.

Starting in Toowoomba, we ate early and left while the ground was still white with frost (unlike the photo). Just as we exited the town down the range (Great Dividing Range) we began to hear suspicious noises from the engine. These didn't go away, but rather gradually increased, especially when we accelerated or drove up hills. Because we were on a time schedule (getting to our farewell service at a church in Brisbane) we powered on, but feeling less and less happy about the car.

The service was enjoyable and it is always special to be called out the front and prayed for. Meaningfully, there was a de ja vu  moment when the congregation sang the same song that was sung as a solo at our first "going out" service by the same pianist: "The Potter's Hand". Here is the chorus:
Take me, Mould me
Use me, Fill me
I give my life to the Potter's hands
Hold me, Guide me
Lead me, Walk beside me
I give my life to the Potter's hand
 That was the (only) point I needed a tissue.

Afterwards we were invited to a friend's house for lunch and our car limped its way there - barely making its way up the hills. We called road-side assistance who said, "Best to get it towed to a mechanic tomorrow morning to check it out."

Amazingly this happened on the very day that we were able to pick up prior-offered car to use till the van is (hopefully) fixed.

After lunch we shifted our shrinking load of belongings into the place we're house-sitting for the week. Sat down for 20 minutes, then made beds and headed back for 5pm worship at the same church. Another farewell meeting, similar to the morning. More talking, more food. I don't feel under-fed, but I do feel over stimulated.

Hopefully the rest of the week will be less eventful. Tomorrow we've nothing planned, except David has to go with the car to the mechanic. The people we are house-sitting for are leaving very early on a camping trip, so after breakfast I guess we make ourselves at home and catch up on washing and sanity.

03 July, 2010

More farewells and a surprising coincidence

Today we had a Toowoomba farewell. I was born and grew up here. The supporters we have here are mostly my parents' generation and above, so it was a totally different age group to last Saturday's farewell. The other big difference was the temperature - it was cold (something like 12 degrees, minus some for wind-chill factor). We huddled indoors and drank hot drinks. It was a pleasant morning, but I wonder how many will still be in their earthly home when we return in 2-4 years time.

My big encouragement of the morning was an elderly lady who got herself all excited about us going back, about the opportunities that awaited, that we were "following God's call on our lives". She was so excited that I'm sure she would have hopped on the plane with us!

The saddest time was saying goodbye to my sisters and their children. Our 5 y.o. is particularly close to one of his cousins and our boys cried as we said goodbye. We told his cousin that he would have to write a letter and he cynically said, "Pwff, a letter wouldn't go that far." Providing some light relief!
My youngest sister also cried. It is tough for them as well as us.

Tomorrow morning we leave early to head back to Brisbane for a double-header (morning and evening services) of farewells at the church we attended before leaving for Japan back in 2000. We'll also move into the house we're house sitting at until we leave on the 12th. I don't anticipate it being a very fun day, though there is an interesting twist to the day. We have two brothers of the pastor visiting - they are also pastors. They'll be preaching at the services. It just so happens that one of the guys lives in the same town in South Africa (no less!!) as one of my writing critique partners. And the husband of my writing friend is a retired pastor who often fills in for this guy when he is on holidays! How's that for amazing connections?

So we continue to ride a roller-coaster of emotions. Lord willing it will be over soon.

02 July, 2010

Two vastly different tasks

Yesterday and today have centred around two main tasks.

The first being tidying up our belongings:
  • sorting out the boxes to be stored here at my parent's house and putting them up in the ceiling or in cupboards
  • sorting out how much excess baggage we've got and getting that into boxes for posting
  • doing a trial pack to check weight
The second is less easy to be objective about. Spending time with my family. My two sisters and their children have been around. A family meal last night with mum and dad. All dancing around the reality that for the next two to four years our Christmases, birthdays, mother's and father's days etc. will be celebrated in different countries instead of together. After spending eight of the last ten years away we now know that there is no way to make up for lost time. No way that the time away can ever be redeemed. At times like these it is only a firm sense of "this is what God wants us to do" that keeps us firm in our resolve to go ahead. It is easy to get wobbly.

Perhaps the weather has gone out in sympathy - dreary clouds that occasionally dribble along with considerable chill.