30 November, 2010

An old favourite

Today I visited to an old favourite. Craft Heart Tokai was part of my earliest days in Japan. There was a branch between our apartment and the language school we attended in Sapporo from 2000-2003, so I walked past it twice a day for two years. Back in those days I had approximately an hour free in the day - only an hour, where I could do something outside the house. My time, otherwise, was totally spoken for. Learning Japanese ranks as one of the hardest things I have ever attempted so those years weren't fun. Tokai represented an oasis where I could escape and dream of what one day might be (if I ever had any time). 

I've always been drawn to crafting and this is close to the perfect Japanese crafting shop. Not too big and overwhelming, not too small and crowded; a very tastefully laid out shop.

So you can understand that when we moved to Tokyo five years ago I was thrilled to find a branch of Craft Heart Tokai close by.

Unfortunately today they didn't completely satisfy my needs. Their cross-stitch supplies leave a little to be desired. But then so did most craft shops when I was in Australia last year. The biggest issue surrounded my carefully prepared list of must-have thread numbers. The pattern I'm using uses DMC categorised threads. Tokai only had Olympus threads (I can't figure out if that was the case before because I cannot remember having this trouble before). They also didn't have any conversion charts, so I had to ask for help. And typically Japan - help was very forthcoming. The shop assistant dug around somewhere and found a conversion chart. The only problem was it was an Olympus to DMC chart - numerically ordered by Olympus numbers, not DMC numbers. So for all 10 of my must-have thread numbers she had to go through the entire list and she did so with considerable patience. But they didn't have three of my must-have threads. So now I'm back to the drawing board - I'll have to check those numbers and see if I have anything close to them, I may be able to substitute.

Overall though, it was, as usual, a very soothing activity to browse in this shop and remember and dream.

29 November, 2010

How'd today go?

I guess I probably owe you a follow-up on yesterday's post. All the kids were back at school in the first "normal" school day in ten days. In fact our eldest had basketball practise from 6.40 and I didn't even see him before he left. Our middle son left at 7.55. We're letting him walk to school on his own these days and he seems to be motivated. So I hardly saw them. Then I walked to school with our youngest at 8.25 and then I had the day to myself. After the long weekend - joy! 

I guess I'll get used to it, but I find the micro-transition from having children around all the time to not having any at all a bit hard. When I came home, even though I had a list of things to do, I felt a bit at a loose end.

But just to tie up some other loose ends, yes, everyone except me got sick last week with a tummy bug. By Friday night all was well again and our youngest had the spark back in his eye (that took a remarkable length of time to arrive). Thursday and Friday were Thanksgiving holidays from school, so we had a long weekend. We didn't get too much done because we were still recovering from being sick. We did go to Costco again and David helped another missionary move on Saturday.

In terms of behaviour, our middle child was still giving me curry tonight. I don't know why he is being particularly difficult at the moment. We're hoping that a more regular schedule this week will help him and everyone else to settle down a bit.

Oh yes, and I finally got my haircut - two weeks after I felt I desperately needed one. And yet again my hair was blow-dried until it lay limp and flat against my head. Very sad.

I need to go and sort out some cross-stitch threads now, to start my next project.

28 November, 2010

Gagging on the day

I read this quote on Catherine's blog some time ago. 
"The mothers agree that indeed the years do fly. It's the days that don't. The hours, the minutes of a single day sometimes just stop. And a mother finds herself standing in the middle of a room wondering. Wondering. Years fly. Of course they do. But a mother can gag on a day." Jain Sherrard  

I really like it and it describes today - I gagged on today and in fact, many of our recent weekends. 

I could describe the awful behaviour that we've been suffering, but I won't spoil your day. I'm just praying that our boys will move through whatever stage it is that is making them so poor of hearing, so rude of speech, so short of patience and so full of complaints, that it makes them extra difficult to live with at the moment.

It is a pity, really. Today was a gorgeous autumn day and we even took the time to go on a picnic (and it took time -- driving around Tokyo on a Sunday is a pain). Unfortunately we didn't really enjoy the outing, mostly because parenting is just painful at present. 

And that takes me back to the quote above. I couldn't help but long for these painful formative years to be over, to long for days when we can take a picnic and enjoy being together instead of struggling in random directions and in the meantime hurt each other. It is, of course, a longing for what cannot be until heaven, but that doesn't mean I don't still long.

27 November, 2010

Japan Photo #9

This one is for all you botanical buffs out there. What is this plant? It is very common in shops at the moment, but I don't know what it is. Can you help?

26 November, 2010

My psychologist prescribed a hobby

This is a cross-stitch I completed last year.
Last week I completed a cross-stitch project I've been working on for some months, a birth cross-stitch for my new nephew. There has been a little delay before I started my next project, another birth cross-stitch for my other sister's baby due in January. I had to consult with her over the design and I've really noticed the gap, my hands feel restless in the evenings when the day's work has been done. 

More than that, we've been listening to cricket. Yesterday was the beginning of one of the biggest series the Australian cricket team competes in. It is a trophy called "The Ashes", played for by Australia and England every 18 months or so. It is, in fact, one of the most fiercely contested competitions in the sport. 

Now you probably don't immediately connect cricket and cross-stitch, but for me they are intimately connected. You see a cricket match takes a long time to play. This series is five 5-day matches spread over the next two and a half months. I am far too restless a person to just watch cricket non-stop, though I love it. So I've developed the habit of cross-stitching while watching. So the cricket playing on the internet radio yesterday and today made me long for a new project to hold in my hands!

But I started this note wanting to talk about hobbies, not cricket. I started doing cross-stitch for the most unusual reason. It was on the advice of a psychologist! Prior to coming to Japan we had to jump through all sorts of hoops, one was an assessment by a psychologist. One of the recommendations that came out of that assessment was that I take up a hobby that would help me to just be, to slow down a little! 

What good advice that has been. I have to admit that when I first started doing it my family (parents and sister) were pretty sceptical. Wendy, slow down? Do handiwork!?! But that was more than 11 years ago now and I'm still stitching.

It has been a great, portable hobby. One that I've been able to keep up with little kids under my feet. One that has been a great stress indicator and reliever. I know, for example, that if I haven't picked up my cross-stitch lately, that I've been doing too much and need to take a night off. 

So it is good that I heard from my sister today and I'm able to start on my next project very soon, as soon as I have all the threads. It would be nice to get going before this cricket match is over, but it is more likely to be before the next one starts next Friday.


25 November, 2010

Christmas shopping at a distance

We received our first Christmas cards this morning. And this week we've been busy preparing Christmas presents to post.

I've remembered again that Christmas shopping is a different affair when you live overseas from your family and have a budget. It's best to look for not-expensive presents that aren't heavy for posting. Some people solve this by buying things online from 'homeland' companies with no postage.

And then as you get down to figuring out what to buy/make you realise how little you really know about your family. We've been sending presents home for years now and rarely find out if they are appreciated. We never see them open their presents, nor what other people give them. So, as they don't generally tell us, it is hard to know what people really like.

Every year we've been away we've compiled the year's personal video footage and send a copy of them to all our family (and a couple of friends too). That is appreciated, we've heard. This year we're doing something else with photos, I can't say what because the chance that someone will read this and find out early...well I don't even know if any of them read this blog, but I want to be careful nonetheless.

Christmas shopping also often happens earlier than we might do it back home. Often we've shopped when we are on our annual summer holidays - in July. This year we were doing other things in July, so it's been delayed until we can't delay any longer in November. I'm not sure how early we need to post, but if we get in early enough we'll get the sea mail option. Better check that one. International post is very expensive.

At least we aren't restricted like the USians in Japan are this season. Japan Post has put a nasty restriction on postage to the US. They can only post things under 1 pound (about 490 g) this year.

Then we have to start to think about our family here. This year we're going away for the week before Christmas, returning on Christmas Eve. That means one of two things. Either we're going to have to be very organised and get all our shopping done before we leave or we'll be shopping while we're away. The boys are hoping for the latter, because there happens to be a very cool Lego shop in the town we're staying in...maybe we'll give them some money and get them to shop for themselves.

But for now we'll just have to hang those Christmas cards up and find the Christmas decorations that we haven't seen for two years.

24 November, 2010

Japan gets gold in Rugby

Did you know Japan plays Rugby? Yesterday they won the Gold medal at the 16th Asian Games in the final against Hong Kong. What's more, they were the defending champions.

Read about it here. See a photo here.

This week so far has been most unexpected

This week was never going to be an ordinary week. 

Thursday and Friday are the American Thanksgiving holidays. To add to that, Monday to Wednesday were parent-teacher-student conferences. So the teachers aren't working till 9pm every night, the students had Monday and Tuesday afternoons off and all day Wednesday. The Tuesday was a public holiday (and the hairdresser's holiday), which had little bearing on us except that I couldn't go to the gym or get my hair cut. The younger two were scheduled to have a make-up swimming lesson, however, to compensate for the lesson they missed while the swim school moved to its new pool across the street from our house.

The landscape of the week changed not long after I turned the light out on Sunday night. My husband heard a bang, then a splash and a cough. What do you think? Yes, someone jumping down from a top bunk and rushing to the toilet to deposit his tea (dinner) in it. That was when I knew that at least the next day would be different to what was planned. 

Half-way through that night another son made that awful trip to the toilet and acquired a bucket to sleep with. So on Monday I took our youngest to school and hurried home to the other two. Half-way through the morning I made a rushed trip on my bike, in the rain, to get some lemonade. And then at lunch-time to fetch the other son back from school. Then spent all afternoon exhorting our middle son to drink. He wasn't so much in danger of gastro, as of dehydration. They were both dizzy and required instruction on how to get up and walk when you are dizzy. I never realised parenting would require me to teach that!

We went to bed that night not knowing what the next day would hold. 

Tuesday morning our middle son bounced into the room proclaiming he was well. Quite an amazing recovery.The last I'd seen of him, he was flushed, slightly disorientated and moaning frequently. Anyway, both he and his big brother made it to school along with their little brother and I had a couple of hours free. I dashed off to the shop to do some errands before they all descended on me again at 12. I had hardly found the first thing on my list when my phone rang. Yes, the youngest boy was in the Health Centre with a stomach ache. So, he came home and half an hour later threw up all over the dining room. Joy! I spent the afternoon exhorting him not to drink too much. But no, while cleaning his teeth before bed he threw up a large amount of lemonade.

Today I'd anticipated having all the boys home all day, with one exception, we'd scheduled parent-teacher-student conferences mid-morning with someone to keep an eye on them when their presence wasn't required. We'd organised it so that my teacher-husband could make part of each conference. But even that plan went awry. When the alarm went off this morning my husband informed he he'd been up with the bug a good portion of the night (I knew nothing about it). He wouldn't be going to work, so I turned the alarm off and rolled over. A couple of hours later when I finally wandered downstairs to see about breakfast, I found he and our 5 y.o. curled up in the "sick room", otherwise known as the lounge room.

So, I went to parent-teacher-student conferences without my husband and with only two students. Thankfully David was ambulatory enough to look after our youngest while I was gone. Tonight we were to have a guest for tea (dinner), but we've cancelled on that. No good being friendly and sharing our bug for them to take away for the long-weekend.

As the tally stands now, I am the only one who hasn't lain prostrate in the "sick room". I'm not booking a place either.

I'm also hoping that I won't have to make any more last minute mental adjustments to the rest of the week. Being a mum is so much about being flexible. I've come to realise that even though they are all at school, I am the family's release valve. The part of the family whose role is most flexible. And to keep our family functioning I also need to remain so.

23 November, 2010

What do we use for devotions?

To follow up on the relatively negative post I wrote this morning. Here's a list of devotional resources (with links) that we have found useful for our boys' nightly devotion times:

The "One Year Devotions for Boys Books 1 & 2" produced by Tyndale.

"Gotta have God. Cool devotions for boys 6-9" by Diane Cory.

"The Wonder Devotional Book" by Cynthia Channell

We've used all the above happily for primary aged boys.

My 11 y.o. is currently using YPs. It is a dated three-monthly magazine that you subscribe to. Produced in the UK and has very cool art. Our 11 y.o. is not super excited about devotion time, but these are keeping his interest.

"Faith Factor" NT & OT by Jackie Perseghetti was fantastic. Takes the kids through the Bible from front to back, of course using selections, but gives a good overview. We're going to move onto this with our 8.y.o. after his current book runs out after Christmas.

Book review: Jesus Calling 365 Devotions for Kids

I am always on the look out for new devotional books for our family. With three kids, the third one has heard many devotions several times already and new material is called for. So when I saw this devotional book available on the Book Sneeze website, I jumped at the chance of receiving a free one.

But I am disappointed. Not because it is unBiblical or badly presented, but because of the voice the author has chosen. She has written as if Jesus is speaking directly to the child, using "I', "Me", "My" and "Mine" meaning Jesus and "you" and "your" meaning the reader. This is a fresh approach for an adult audience, but for a young child it is difficult to understand, especially when a third person gets involved in reading it to you. Phrases like "Don't try to figure out how you'll get through this situation on your own. Come to Me, and let Me guide you and give you My Peace." just sound strange to a child when their mum is reading it to them. The idea is delightful, the design and layout attractive, but the title is a bit misleading.

This is another review for http://booksneeze.com/  My previous ones are here and here and here.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me for review by Thomas Nelson Books http://BookSneeze.com. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

22 November, 2010

I did something I'd never dare to do in Australia

This evening I did something I'd never do in an Australian city. 

Last night two of my boys began vomiting. That meant my plans of doing errands and shopping this morning had to be abandoned. Instead I stayed at home and worked on an Occupational Therapy report between plying them with liquids.

But the household still needed food. So after my husband came home from school I went and did some of my errands and went to Curves for good measure. Back here I told you that I do most of my grocery shopping on my bike. At the moment, though, the sun is going down quite early - 4.30 it was today, I believe. So, by the time I finished my chores at around 5.30, it was quite dark. 

I would never consider riding my bike to do errands in the dark in an Australian city. And yet I felt quite safe here in one of the largest cities in the world! Amazing.

21 November, 2010

Sometimes I wish I had children who just sat

Yesterday we went to a sports day at CAJ. It was for home schooling families, but because my husband helped out with running an afternoon of games, our boys were invited to join in the fun.

In the morning the children rotated around four different sports, giving them a taste of tennis, soccer, basketball and cricket. Yes - cricket! What a surprise. Amongst the CAJ community are a couple of Indian families, one dad was kind enough to come and teach the children a tiny bit of cricket. It truly is a sport that is mysterious to most of the world! The bat they used was signed by some international cricketers, including a former captain of England's team (Mike Gatting). It is nice to see CAJ becoming more multicultural.

One of the things that stands out for me was personalities. At lunch-time my kids ate and ran - typical. They really don't eat much at school usually, because there is too much play to be done. However I lingered longer in the bright autumn sun. Eventually I realised that the girls on the next table over were dressed the same, had the same drink bottles, their hair was done in the same fashion etc. Yes, they were twins. 5 y.o. twins. The more amazing thing was that they sat for the entire lunch-hour. Just sat, and ate, slowly. My boys never sit and eat. They squirm, they shove it in and they leave. Getting them to linger over a meal is like extracting a tooth without anaesthetic. Very painful. I can only imagine what it must be like to have children who just sit quietly.

I was soon to have more confirmation of my boys' personalities. We were grouped together as families, in fact we had three families (mums and kids) in our team. 

Very soon my eldest was trying to entertain the others by putting the road cone on his head, by playing with water and blindfolding himself and others with the bandanna that awaited us at our relay-station.

My middle son was intense at the games. Competitive to the last. Determined that we obey the rules, even if it wasn't clear what they were!

My youngest was the victim of the other two as well as his youth. He quickly tired of the competitiveness, of the intensity and the pressure. He folded and assumed that it was all too hard.

And then my husband, who was running the games, when I complained about some unclear rules, said, "Well, at least everyone is having a fun time." I cannot say that I was having a fun time. Trying to wrestle a balloon off two intense brothers rolling in the dirt. Trying to placate the youngest and stop him being victimised by his brothers. Trying to explain to the middle son that it was okay that the neighbouring team didn't exactly follow the rules. Trying to make sure everyone had a chance to participate. It wasn't fun. But I guess most people had fun. And overall the day wasn't that bad, but thankfully it ended a bit early, I wasn't sure how much more I could take.

Some people consoled me with the presumption that my boys would go home and collapse. They don't know my boys. My kids are like energiser bunnies and go and go and go. After sports day the younger two went across the road to their usual 1 hour swimming lesson. When they got home from that they wanted to play soccer outside or balloon volleyball in the lounge. It was only when I said that I needed help putting sheets back on beds that they feigned tiredness!

However I was tired, mentally if not physically. We parked them in front of a video for an hour before tea (dinner), just to give us a break and help their active bodies to slow down. Soon they'd rush through another meal and we'd push them to bed (energiser bunnies don't appreciate being made to slow down, they click). Then we could have some peace.

20 November, 2010

A new way to destroy cockroaches?

I hate cockroaches as much as the next person, however it seems a Japanese gentleman went too far last week when he set some cockroaches on fire in his factory...and burnt the factory down. Read the story here.

19 November, 2010

Surviving a trip to Ikea

Last Friday I was madly rushing around with 6th graders at an amusement park. What I didn't mention in this post about it was that almost as soon as we got home we left for an 1 1/2 drive across Tokyo. We went to our mission's Japan headquarters for a social get-together. We planned well, we weren't about to repeat a drive like that twice in a day, so we booked at room at the OMF guest home, so conveniently placed on the same site. 

The next day (last Saturday), instead of coming straight home, we drove the opposite direction to visit Ikea for the first time. The main reason was to find a chair for our lounge room. Lots of people use it, but it is primarily known as Wendy's cross-stitching chair! The previous one wasn't all that old, but the foam inside the cushion gave up and it was a painful chair to sit on and needed replacing. 

We went to Ikea in a desperate attempt to find something tall, all the Japanese chairs out at the moment seem to end somewhere near your shoulder blades, which isn't so great for relaxing in.

The trip to Ikea was not without its painful moments, mostly related to boys who don't do shopping well and Tokyo traffic on the way home with boys (actually it was mainly just one of them) who don't do long travel in city traffic really well (it took over two hours to drive home, much of which was creeping between traffic lights). 

Ikea itself is not the easiest place to navigate around, as I'm sure many of you know. It seems to be designed to turn you around so that you are totally disorientated and ?more likely to buy their stuff. It is also an easy place to lose members of a group - i.e. children!

Nevertheless we made it out alive and without too much damage to our wallets. 

While we were there we did find something else for our house. Now the weather is cooling down we're finding lots of clothes lying all over the place. Also laundry has increased exponentially. Our family policy in winter is that pants and jumpers (sweaters) get recycled for a second use, unless very dirty. But where to put those clothes? Previously we've used a small clothes tree, but as the boys have gotten bigger, so have the clothes and the clothes swamped it. So, here we have it. The blue column or cylinder. We're still struggling to know what to call it. Any ideas?

18 November, 2010

The not-simple afternoon!

We usually try to keep things as simple as is possible in our family. Three excitable boys bouncing around the house is more than enough excitement for most days. After school, just trying to get one boy to do piano practise, one to do 15 minutes reading and the other to go to his room to do homework is enough for me most afternoons. My boys are way too perceptive, they're all minding each other's business and as a result it is very easy for nothing to get done.

Of course keeping things simple involves me not working outside the home outside of school hours and trying to do all my errands during school hours. 

In the "simple" realm, it didn't just rain, it poured today.

Firstly I had an Occupational Therapy consultation that started at 3.30 (when school finished). That was okay, David had play ground duty and so it slotted in quite easily for him to pick the boys up and take them home (the advantage of your husband working at the same school your kids attend).

Then earlier this week I'd arranged to go, with a friend, to a local framer to see about framing two of my completed cross-stitches. Because she has her own shop (stationary) and works during the time that I am most free, it was challenging to find a mutually suitable time. And yes, it worked out to be today at 5pm. So, after arriving home at 4.30 to supervise homework time and give instructions on how to finish putting together the meal that was cooking in the slow cooker, I raced out the door again at 5.10.

We spent nearly an hour sorting out frames and matts at the tiny framing shop. When I got home at 6.20, everyone was in the throes of eating Minestrone soup. 

Then it got even crazier. I'd barely said, "hello", when David's mobile rang. It was his mum who always has impeccable timing for calling! So I carried on eating and facilitating the meal - cutting apples for dessert etc. 

In the meantime our eldest son was wandering about (he'd finished eating), worrying because the phone call from his friend's mum hadn't arrived. He and his friend had carefully arranged for his friend to sleep over here tomorrow night. (I'm pretty impressed they've managed it, because neither of them have had a sleep-over before.)The only thing they forgot was to connect the dots - the mums! But he needn't have worried. Before David hung up, our home phone rang and I met his friend's mum. We chatted for about five minutes, but before I hung up David kissed me on the head on his way out the door. He had a meeting at school to attend at 7.

Then all I was left with was getting them all through their bed-time routines. Phew! What an afternoon/evening.

I'm sure life is going to get more complicated now that they're getting older. It is going to take some getting used to, though. For now I'm headed for bed myself.

17 November, 2010

Frustration with learning styles and intelligences

This morning I went to a mini-seminar about learning/personality styles. I am both fascinated by this topic and frustrated by it. On the one hand it is fun to think about yourself and how you learn, but on the other hand the topic is dealt with by putting people in boxes. And I don't like being put in a box.

Today we looked at several different systems by which people are put into boxes, so acknowledging that no one way covers all the angles, but it still frustrates me.

For example, we looked at the eight intelligences that Howard Gardner described. This is how it looks when I try to apply that to me:

Interpersonal (people) - I love people, am an extrovert and get down if I don't spend time with people often, but I get stressed if I have to work closely with people all the time.

Logical (numbers) - At home I'm often in trouble for applying logic to situations! I loved maths and did pretty well at science. I love lists and am probably pretty organised, but I have my limits in this area and would never consider a career in numbers, logic or pure science.

Linguistic (Words) - I love to read and write. I love to interact verbally and debate things. One of my hobbies, besides reading, is word puzzles like Scrabble. But I haven't learned a second language very well and my spelling and grammar aren't fantastic.

Intrapersonal (self)- I do like to work on my own and have a strong introvert shadow to my extroversion. I don't hesitate to interact with others, though, and most people wouldn't suspect my shyness. I also think a lot about life.

Visual-spatial (pictures) - I am not an artist, but I do have something of an eye for designing newsletters. I like taking photos, but are not interested in taking this up as a hobby.

Physical (body) - I was good at sport as a child and I still like to get out and get moving, though usually find too many other things to do. I like to do stuff with my hands, craft, cooking, typing, playing the piano.

Musical (music) - I learnt the piano and flute and enjoy listening to music. I am not a natural musician, though.

Naturalist (nature) - Well this is the easiest one to say is not me. I don't like gardening and don't prefer to be outside, though enjoy a nature walk as much as the next person.

So - what am I? A multiplicity of intelligence?  Or simply mixed up?

The same thing happens when you start talking about the three main channels of learning - verbal, auditory and kinaesthetic (body, movement). My primary mode is kinaesthetic, but I have a strong verbal side backing that up.

I've decided after years of thinking about this that to be a successful student you have to either have or develop multiple channels of learning. One is simply not enough. I'm also in awe of our Creator who has created such a complex thing as a brain and human beings that no one has been able to come close to understanding. These attempts at describing personalities are simply that, only an attempt to understand the amazing complexity with which we've been created.

Now I'm back to considering whether my sons are Tiggers or Rabbits, Poohs or Eeyores.

16 November, 2010

No haircuts allowed on Tuesdays

If you are ever in Japan on a Tuesday and looking for a haircut; don't bother.

Today I found out that there are almost no hairdressers open on a Tuesday in Japan. No, I didn't tour around them all, but I had planned to get a haircut. A friend told me later that almost all the hairdressers are members of a union who decided that Tuesday would be their collective day-off. Then she asked me if Australian hairdressers do the same. Ah, no, not that I know of.

Not that I'm a hairdresser expert - I try to avoid them as best I can, especially here in Japan where they don't seem to know what to do with like mine that is fine and slightly wavy. The general response is to not only wash and cut it, but to blow-dry it to within an inch of its life so that I come out of the hairdresser with completely flat and straight hair. My boys have trouble recognising me straight after a Japanese haircut!

I usually have to work myself up to get a haircut, so it is a pity that I missed out today. Now I'll have to get all worked up again on another day - making sure it is not a Tuesday.

15 November, 2010

Flapping-your-lips-while-you-eat and other undesirable bodily function noises

I'm not having much success at this: teaching boys how to control the inevitable burping, farting and, believe-it-or-not, flapping your lips while eating. Not to be confused with talking with your mouth full. No, the flapping-your-lips-while-you-eat might also be known as chewing with your mouth open. And it drives my husband crazy.

I encountered a teacher on the excursion the other day who obtusely said, "We've had trouble with that (after a boy let loose), have you had trouble at home?"

My instant retort was, "Of course. I live with three sons and a husband." I do have to mention that she isn't married. Maybe she doesn't have brothers either?

They have actually done a study (probably more than one, but I only know of one) that proves that men produce more methane in their intestines than women and well, you know what the result of that is, don't you?

But how do you teach them to do it discretely? Particularly at the table. Particularly as the teaching moment usually occurs while you are dying of gas exposure at the table or in the car while the rest of the family is lying on the floor laughing. I don't know.

The other day I tried to explain to them, once again, why we teach them manners. I took a longer view of things and tried to tell them that one day we would stop providing food for them and buying them clothes and housing themselves and they would have to find a job. Maybe I took the picture too far when I described the scene of them talking to a future employer over a meal and they let off bodily noises and flapped their lips. My husband was already out of his seat, aiming to destroy some giggling boys when he realised that, behind my hands, I was struggling not to break down myself. Soon we were all crying from laughing so hard. The mental image was just too strong. I've obviously been working too hard at producing word pictures in my writing and it has spilled out into my speaking.

But I still don't know what to do. Does any mother of a respectable man with real job and even a wife, have some advice for us young-ones on how to train them?

14 November, 2010

A compact culture

The other day I read "Japanese society and culture are incredibly compact." Ain't that the truth!

It continued, "It is often assumed that this is a response to the scarcity of level land, yet the Japanese appreciation of all things in miniature has a long history. It expresses itself in Bonsai (the art of growing tiny trees), miniature electronic goods and tiny gardens, among many other things."

I instantly thought of our neighbours 100 year-old Bonsai tree. David found him tending it the other day. Apparently it was given to him by someone (our neighbour is old, but not that old). Also apparently, it is ailing. Now that summer is over it sits on their verandah only a metre from where I hang my washing out, so I recently snapped a photo on a sunny day. Sorry that the railing obscures it a little.

But yes, it is true. The Japanese are fascinated by the miniature. Almost as much as Australians are addicted to wide open spaces.

It affects their (and our) personalities too. You aren't free to just do what you like where you like. You have to show a lot of self-control to live in such a compact culture. You do a lot of things you might not otherwise do - so that you can live close to others in peace.

Something of the Japanese inscrutability comes from this too. Most Japanese have almost no personal space they can call their own. They share their physical space with at least one or a thousand others (as in a train) most of the day and night. Even growing up most don't have the one-bedroom-per-child policy that most Australians go by. Many families sleep all in the same room and children in the same beds as their mothers until they are in elementary school. Therefore the only space they can claim as their own (apart from in their own bath) is in their heads. They keep their emotions off their sleeves and faces and bury them deep inside. This is, of course, a generalisation, however it is true for many.

It probably happens to us too. I can tell the difference between a foreigner who has been in Japan a long time without too many visits home vs. one who's recently spent a significant period outside Japan recently (say, in the last year). I think people in Australia noticed it with us too. Just as we were about to come back to Japan a lady in a church we visited often said that we were very self-contained and looked down a lot when we first arrived back from Japan. She said she'd seen a change over the year as we'd grown more 'Australian' and outgoing. But, she guessed, we were going to be 'drawn inwards' again as we came back to live in Japan. Very perceptive. The culture rubs off on us.

13 November, 2010

My day at the amusement park

Yesterday I accompanied 35 eleven and twelve year olds to a close-by amusement park for a physics field trip. My group was very balanced. We had three girls and three boys plus myself and a male Year 11 physics student.

Contrary to my misgivings the night before (which I wrote here), I actually enjoyed the day. We had the most gorgeous autumn weather. Clear sky, little wind and warm enough to take our jumpers (non-Aussies read - sweaters) off in the sun. The kids were pretty fun too. A few confessed they'd been a bit scared, but contrary to their expectations enjoyed the rides. Even I eventually went on the Cyclone rollercoaster and enjoyed it. I screamed, though it wasn't as scary as the Thunderbolt one I rode at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast when I was in high school. It had two vertical loops and a lot of speed (apparently 84km/hr).

We had a lot of fun on the bumper cars, even though the kids poo-pooed that to start with.

This massive ship-swing, I was more than happy to only watch. Also anything that went round and round.

We went through two Haunted Houses that were hardly scary at all. If there had been more sudden sounds and things jumping out at you, then it would have been scary. However one of the girls held my hand and kept her eyes closed through the whole of one and refused to do the second!

The hardest part of the trip was getting the kids to stop in the midst of the fun and consider the science. Our collective ignorance was fairly high. When we sat down at lunch time, we took a closer look at the questions they had to answer. Most of them hadn't even thought how the roller coaster got up the big slope at the beginning or how it stopped at the end. And as to why they didn't fall off the track in the cork-screw, most were totally mystified. One suggested air resistance. Some swore that the carriages were attached to the track! I knew a little more than that, but lacked the intricate knowledge to explain it well. Thankfully I'm not their teacher and could always say, "Ask your teacher."

I'm not happy that while our group was twice stopped by the teacher and their booklets were checked to see if they were making progress at filling it out, somehow my son or his group managed to slip under her radar. I sat next to him on the train home and he hadn't touched his booklet all day. I wonder what happened?

I have a lingering impression about Japanese parks in general; zoos, amusement parks and the more everyday kind-of park with playground equipment. Most of them seem old. Not particularly un-kept, but a little bit ancient. Like they were built for a previous era. I wonder why? The other thing they all have in common is the capacity for massive crowds. I think I know about that, we try to ignore the fact that we live in close proximity with 30 million other people, but sometimes you just can't ignore it. Thankfully hardly any of them were there yesterday and we almost never had to wait in line.

In reflection I would have been more comfortable doing an excursion that dealt with physiology and anatomy, but it wasn't too bad. Particularly because I didn't have to fill in a blue booklet demonstrating the physics I knew!

11 November, 2010

I am mad to be doing this Field trip?

Tomorrow I am going on a Field Trip with my son's grade six class, that's 35 eleven and twelve year olds! We are going to an amusement park to look at the physics of rides. Yes, really!

I did this too, but when I was 16 and in Grade 11. I'm one of those rare girls who studied Physics in high school. In our class of about 25 students we had only about 3 girls. I started out enjoying it, but by the end of two years I hated it. Nevertheless I got a good pass (higher than a C, but by how much, I cannot remember). And vowed never to touch physics again.

So am I crazy? I responded yes to an email that said this:
We are need of a few chaperones to help supervise groups of 6-8 students.  Chaperones must have some knowledge of Newton's 3 laws of motion and be able to describe them to the students.  Also, experience with Physics is preferred.
The teacher gave us homework! To read chapter 2 of our child's textbook! So yesterday, 20 years later I picked up a physics textbook again to read. Crazy? Probably.

Oh, by the way, I get motion sickness easily (3D movies do it to me). Yes!! But I've cleared this with the teacher. I don't have to go on any ride that I don't want to.

As an aside, it is kind-of interesting working with this teacher. She is not only my son's teacher for science and maths. She is under my husband who is like the science head of department. He is probably more of a mentor than a boss, but well. Oh yes, and my husband studied physics at university.

Good thing all of our boys are turning out to have a maths/science bent, with that much maths/science in their parents! But they are all pretty good at sport and art too. What's with that, especially the art!

10 November, 2010

Japan photo #8 solved

Not so many people had a go at guessing this one. And no one got it right, either.

Our kitchen sink has this dreadful plug-hole, that isn't a plug hole, because it isn't designed to plug-up. Japanese usually wash their dishes under running water. But we, water-conscious and budget conscious Australians use a plastic tub. You can see from the lower picture that our tub takes up most of the flat room in the sink. We were constantly 'losing' things down this hole. They don't go far, just into this muck-collecting basket, but the black rubber 'lid' conceals the contents of the basket (for ascetic reasons, the basket is horrible).

This little green rubber non-slip mat give us a bit more space for stacking to-be-washed dishes and we don't need to fear that glasses or other small things will disappear.

I still remember the first apartment we had in Japan, I couldn't figure out why this tiny kitchen had this massive sink and no plug. Our senior missionary soon put us straight. I still don't really know why Japanese have such massive sinks.

The one in our previous house (pictured below) was about twice as large as this one. It extended right under where the dish drainer is in our current sink. Thankfully there was a metal shelf fitted over it, so that we could drain the dishes in that space. And the large drain hole was under where the bowl was. You can see we put the washing-up bowl on a little stand - that is because it was so low it was giving my husband a back-ache to wash-up (and he is only just under 5'10.)

Anyway, now you know what the mysterious holey mat was!

09 November, 2010

The correct way to eat a Mandarine/mikan?

I learned the other day that the Japanese have a correct way to eat a mandarine.

Food and clothing names are one of the most confusing things across regions and countries that speak English. Mandarine is one of those fruits that seems to have a variety of names. Just now Wikipedia has cleared up some of those issues for me for the humble mandarine, as I knew it in Australia and mikan as I know the same fruit here in Japan. Other names are Mandarine orange, tangerine, clementine, and even mandarin (with no 'e').

Anyhow, back to my first sentence. There apparently is a proper way to eat it.

According to Japan from A to Z by Vardaman and Vardaman:
Be sure to peel the fruit downward from the place where the stem was attached, parting the skin into four sections. Leave the bottom intact. That way you will have a receptacle for the parts that you leave uneaten. Remove one section and, holding the inner most edge, pull the meat out with your teeth. Place the remaining skin of the section back into the peel. After you have eaten the contents, you can pull the peel over the top so that  the remains will not be visible.
 The story they tell to support the seriousness of this method is a discussion after an o-miai, a formal meeting where prospective marriage partners are introduced. The story goes that the young man is very attracted to the lady, but his mum is against it. When asked why, she said, "Because of the way she peeled her mikan." 

Wow! Good thing my husband's mum didn't have such a criteria. He would never have married me - can you see what a terrible job I did of my mandarine at lunch time? And why would I bother discarding the casing of the segments, it was so tender, I hardly had to chew!

Japanese have other interesting correct methods related to fruit. The two that come to mind are that you must peel and apple before eating and you never eat the skin of a grape.

08 November, 2010

Sharpening up our home systems

Simone wrote about "sharpening up my home systems" back in September. The phrase stuck in my brain. It is a useful one. We all have "home systems", they help us use our time well and in a household of more than one person, they smooth communication and help the household to operate well. For example, what do you do to get out the door in the morning? You probably do mostly the same things in the same order most 'work/school' days. We do. I guess a good "home system" is a habit that's been well thought out.

We've recently changed a long held home system in our house. For a good portion of the last ten years we've eaten tea (dinner) at about 5.30 and bathed the boys after dinner, then cleaned teeth, done devotions, pray and sung and turned the light out at 7.30. This worked well for a long time, but it hasn't been working very well lately. Now they are older we've added a small chore (vacuum dining room) after dinner for one child (this duty rotates). Also we have one child who seems to slooooow dooooown once he has food in his tum. Occasionally he also chooses to sit for lengthy periods on the toilet right after dinner too. We've expended a lot of energy trying to get them into bed. And a lot of angst. It had become awful.

So we decided to do something simple. We've switched showers and tea (dinner) for the younger two. This is possible because they are older and require slightly less supervision in the shower. And because David is home slightly earlier from school, so he can supervise showers so I can still be making dinner. So far it has been working really well most days.

How about you? Have you sometime "sharpened up your home systems" with a dramatic improvement? We'd love to hear your story.

07 November, 2010

Japan photo #8

Here's another photo mystery for you to solve. What do you think this is? Have a guess and stop by in a few days and see if you were correct.

Here is the solution: http://mmuser.blogspot.com/2010/11/japan-photo-8-solved.html

06 November, 2010

Photo highlights from a not-quite-ordinary week

Instead of writing much today, I've discovered some interesting photos from our week. Enjoy!
On Wednesday the boys cleaning up our backyard. I supervised! My hooded son and I also cleaned the road gutters in front of our house, but I didn't take a photo of that.
That afternoon we baked. These are the pear-raisin muffins my 5 y.o. and I made.
Yesterday some guys (about 4) came and removed our upstairs toilet so that they could replace the whole tiled floor which was breaking up. They were incredibly tidy. Taping down these flowery sheets from the front door to the stairs and then upstairs on the landing outside the toilet. When they were done they vacuumed too. Can't tell you many Australian plumbers who'd do that!
Yes, here is our upstairs toilet. It spent the night on the landing.
And this is the toilet-room without the toilet. That hole was a little horrifying - and a little smelly!
And this was Daniel, our Mexican-US visitor. Last night we fed him an Australian meal: Pumpkin Soup with Pavlova for dessert. A Mexican from the US married to a Japanese lady, eating an Australian meal with Australians in Japan with a dessert that has a Russian name. International enough for you?

Another average week in the life of our family? Maybe not. But then it would be hard to say what is an average week.

05 November, 2010

Geography for Breakfast

One of the amazing things about missionary life is the international experience that you gain. Many times you don't even need to go to many places, people come to you!

Last night we hosted Daniel, a man from Mexico who works in Texas and is married to a Japanese lady. He is at CAJ today as part of a Christian College (Aussies speak - universities) Fair. He and nine others are here from the US to run information sessions, answer questions about their colleges and generally be available for those students and parents who are considering sending their children to these colleges in the US. Kind-of like a higher education expo that we've heard happen in capital cities in Australia (neither of us benefited from these at school because we were in rural towns). The whole college-choosing and application process is quite foreign to us Aussies who have the luxury of writing our preferences on a single piece of paper. Compared to the US experience, ours seems to be rather an anti-climax. Or perhaps mercifully kind.

But back to Geography for Breakfast. Our boys are curious chaps. They drive us crazy at times with their questions. I know I should be grateful that they are inquisitive. It is just inconvenient at times - especially at the breakfast table on a school morning. Last night our guest arrived at the boys' bed-time so no one got to question him. But, by the time breakfast had begun this morning the boys knew all sorts of things about Daniel. Including his age. During breakfast we also found out the age of his wife and brother. We found out where he was born, and where his brother and parents now live. He found out where we come from in Australia, where all of us were born, where we went during our home assignment last year! Eventually I had to put an end to it, and the older boys still only just got to school on time - by running all the way.

Last week we also had the atlas out as we had the OMF Japan medical advisor over for dinner. He's from England. He got a grilling too! Thankfully he's used to it, he has four inquisitive children of his own. Be warned, if you ever come to visit...you'll be questioned!

Some people think we've sacrificed a lot to come to Japan. But we've really gained a lot. We would never have met and worked with such a wide bunch of international people. Our boys are now privileged to say, I know people from Thailand, Romania, Hong Kong, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, India, China, Korea, Germany, Singapore, Philippines, US, England, Switzerland, Belgium etc. Our lives are enriched by these people. Our minds are stretched as we have to relate and work with these people. Our knowledge about the world has become more than just that, it now has names, faces and souls.

This morning I am about to publish our 10th anniversary prayer/news letter. It is 10 years this month since we left Australia for Japan. What an amazing decade that has been. Praise God He's led us here and sustained us. Praise Him for all the wonderful experiences we've had along the way.

04 November, 2010

Japanese doctors insist pregnant mums diet

I've had one baby in Japan. It wasn't fun experience, for many reasons. One of the minor reasons is explained in this article. There is a scary trend here: Doctors who insist women diet during pregnancy. It has been going on for decades.  In the article it suggests that one reason could be:
In a country where fewer than 1 in 10 maternity hospitals can offer women an epidural, the anesthetic procedure that numbs the lower half of the body, smaller babies may be easier to deliver.
 In the article, Mark Hanson, chairman of the International Society for Developmental Origins of Health and Disease is quoted as saying:
"Japan is an extraordinary country," he said. "It's the only developed country in the world which is increasing the risk of its disease by both reducing the adequacy of nutrition of the fetus at one end and then Westernizing at the other end."
 I'm not sure what the "Westernizing" bit means, maybe that more people are eating unhealthy Western take-away diets.

I basically ignored the berating I received from the midwives and doctors. They were more concerned about the blood test results. Probably they comforted themselves thinking I was a Westerner anyway, destined to have big (i.e. over 3kg) anyway.

03 November, 2010

Amazing day!

 After complaining about my boys on Saturday, I need to tell you about today's amazing performance. Today is a public holiday - Culture Day. Read about it here. Yesterday, mums at school were excited about having a mid-week holiday. I can't say I joined in their excitement. CAJ teachers didn't get the holiday, only the kids. So I had three boys all day with no husband.

My loose plans for the day revolved around some jobs around the house.  Loose, because I've learned the hard way that forcing my kids to do what I want them to do can sometimes end in heartache and a sore throat.
  • Our back yard, tiny, though it is, needed some attention. The grass grew long during the summer and hasn't been tended to since we arrived in July. I went out there once and the mosquitoes almost swallowed me whole. So we've delayed until the temperatures died and the mosquitoes died too.
  • Our front road gutters needed sweeping
  • Also I'd committed to contributing baked goods to our church's fund-raising sale on the weekend.
  • And our snacks had, as usual, diminished. The constant struggle when you have ravenous boys. I know, they aren't teenagers yet, but they still eat a lot for their ages.
  • Other things that needed to be done included making bread and starting our prayer letter.  
Believe it or not, all of the above was achieved. And with cheerful boys. Yes, part of the reason is that they were externally motivated by our Token Economy chore system. On the horizon is a trip to Baskin and Robbins and two of them needed to get their points up to be able to 'afford' to go. 

But it was more than that. They all pitched in, with cheerful attitudes and even enjoyed the work. We worked outside for an hour and a half this morning. Then had lunch and some quiet room time. After that we baked together in the kitchen/dining room for two hours. 

End result of the day:
  • one huge banana cake
  • 12 pear and raisin muffins for church bake sale
  • 60 honey/ginger biscuits (US = cookies) for snacks and lunch boxes
  • bread for lunches
  • a prayer letter begun
  • a backyard where we can see the ground again, even if it looks like a herd of baby elephants went tramping through
  • pot plants - the dead ones were ditched, leaving room for some in-season flowers to be planted on the weekend
  • David showing off our lawn mower.
  • front gutters swept
More importantly:
  • boys who enjoyed working together and can feel the satisfaction of contributing to the household
  • boys who are learning to do things around the house
  • boys who will one day be able to cook for themselves
  • boys who are learning that there are more rewards than points for doing things around the house - that personal satisfaction is good too
  • one boy learned a new task - sweeping the gutter. He said he'd happily do it again (I'm a little sceptical about that, but we'll see).
  • one unstressed and very satisfied mum
  • one mum who can concentrate on other matters tomorrow when everyone is at school
  • continuing to build on our new relationship with the neighbour (he lent over the fence to lend us a hedge trimmer. Later our eldest son returned it and was greeted with the response - "borrow it anytime". These are the same neighbours who will be pleased to see our gutters swept!
I'm a happy camper!

02 November, 2010

Some great slow cooker recipes

I was asked for some favourite slow cooker recipes. I posted one here.

I like this one too, but unfortunately you cannot get (correct me if I'm wrong) corned silverside in Japan.

Corned beef

1 onion
1 carrot
1 stalk celery (optional)
1.5 kg peice corned silverside
1 teaspoon mixed spice
8 cloves
10 peppercorns
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar

Peel and chop the onion. Peel the carrot and cut into chunks. Slice the celery. Place the silverside, vegetables, mixed spice, cloves, peppercors, brown sugar and vinegar in the slow cooker. (I think I've left out the spices and it's been okay.)

Add enough water to come two-thirds up the silverside.

Place lid on cooker and cook for 4-5 hours on High or 8-9 hours on Low.

and I got this one from a friend.

Enchilada Casserole

15oz can of tomato sauce ( I used a can of diced tomatoes and threw in some tomato paste).

1/2 water (I didn't do this since I had the diced tomatoes, but I did use a little water to clean the last of the tomatoes out of the can)

2 tsp Tabasco sauce

5 tortillas (I used the Costco kind and split in half and layered the 5 tortillas, the split halves fit very nicely in the Japanese crock)

1 cup of grated cheese

1/2 onion, diced ( I used a whole onion)

1 lb. ground meat

Mix the tomato sauce, water, and Tabasco sauce. Pour half in the slow cooker. Layer a tortilla, 1/4 the cheese, meat and onion. Continue adding layers until all the meat, cheese, and onions have been used. Top with a tortilla. Cover the tortilla with the rest of the tomato mixture. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.

Try and enjoy!!

01 November, 2010

Tutorial on Tokyo's trains

Tokyo runs on trains. It is a fact. It is a fact that I haven't liked much. When we first came down to Tokyo during language school in 2000 it was one of the things that made me decide I could never live here. Haha! 
I grew up in an Australian country town. I don't think I'd been on more than a dozen trips on local public transport before I went to university. I've come a long way since I was 17, but not so far that I'm comfortable with this:

This diagram shows only a handful of the lines - the subway ones. There are many more!

I knew that sooner or later I'd have to figure out how to get from one side of the city to the other on my own (i.e. without my husband who is much more competent and who's usually supported me in the past on such expeditions). The reason being that our house is on the opposite side of Tokyo to our mission's Japan headquarters. The place where many events happen. Particularly the monthly prayer meeting that I'm now going too, now that all my children are at school. My husband is 'in school' too, so I'm on my own.

Today I caught a ride to the meeting, but had to come home on the trains. Thankfully a colleague who lives close by was also coming back at the same time. So, I had a 1 1/2 hour tutorial on the route! I think I might have to do it alone sometime soon so that I don't forget. Gulp! Thankfully Japanese are usually quite helpful to lost foreigners.