30 December, 2010

Looking back on 2010

On New Year's Day this year I blogged about what the 2010 probably contained for us. Strange to look back. Everything on that list has happened in one form or other!

Here are some things that have happened that weren't on that list:
  • I went to Hong Kong for a Writer's workshop for a week.
  • David's father had a hip replacement and then was diagnosed with cancer.
  • We spent a weekend in Canberra and Easter holidays travelling to and from family in central Queensland.
  • I have one new nephew and another niece or nephew due in the next month.
  • We found a house to move into before we even left Australia's shores and the move back to Japan was the easiest yet.
  • So we are now living very close to the school where four out of our five members spend their weeks. Very convenient and better than what we imagined might happen.
  • We went our first family camping trip and had our first go at ice skating (though David and I had been before many years earlier).
  • We drove through a barbed wire fence. See that story here.
  • Two of my sons had a go at learning a musical instrument.
  • My eldest son broke his left pinkie twice.
  • He also represented his school in both cross-country and basketball - with joy.
  • I lost a few cms from here and there.
  • With medical help I overcame two long-term recurrent health issues.
  • For the first time I was paid for a piece of writing I did.
I've enjoyed the last four months with my days free from children. My perceived "freedom" has resulted in way too many invitations to be involved in various tasks, choosing and saying "no" has been difficult and something I didn't anticipate dealing with upon our return to Japan.

Looking at the above list, however, much good has happened in 2010. Compared to the challenges I see in many lives around me, we've had a great year! I wonder what is in store for us in 2011?

29 December, 2010

Puffed rice mystery

Ten years after we arrived in Japan, grocery shopping isn't too bad, I can usually find what I want. But there is the occasional item which frustrates or perplexes. Here's one.

Today I was looking for puffed rice to put in my home-made uncooked muesli (granola, some people call it). I have been making my own muesli since I graduated from uni over 15 years ago. The exact content of my muesli now varies from what it is in Australia, purely due to available ingredients. But I find that puffed rice (or wheat in Australia) is a vital component to keep it from being too heavy. 

I've bought it before, a couple of times a year or so, but very few shops seem to stock it and I was having trouble recently.  This blog tells me it is called pongashi, but I haven't found that in a dictionary yet. Today I looked for it in a large grocery store - it wasn't in the cereal aisle, nor the rice aisle or the snack aisle nor the rice cracker aisle. I didn't know what Japanese use it for and neither did I know its name in Japanese (before I came home and googled it), so it was hard to even ask a shop attendant for help.
I finally rode to another store where I've bought it before. I found it in an island display in the bread section. Am I any the wiser? No! Except that now I have a name for it and, after googling that name and finding videos like this, have now know what the canon picture on the label is all about. I think that Japanese combine it with a liquid sugar like glucose and eat it as a treat.
I'll stick with muesli thank you.

28 December, 2010

Today's weather in Tokyo

Weather holds us captive. It isn't something we can do a lot about. I think it is a good reminder of how powerless we are! Many Australians are currently looking on helplessly as their property is destroyed by floods. We are watching their news, equally helplessly.

In the light of an unseasonable summer in eastern Australia, here is a snapshot of Tokyo's weather forecast for today and tomorrow. Not unseasonable at all.

You may not realise that not only do we have winter here, we also have short days. It says the sun rose at 6.49am today (before me) and will set at 4.35pm. It is the setting one that unsettles me at this time of day. It makes the evening go a long time. It also give me no external feedback about the time of day plus school holidays means that I'm struggling to stay on top of keeping things in a reasonable schedule at present.

Unlike part of Europe we don't have an extended twilight period, we are not close enough to the north pole. However the days seem short enough to me. 

But look at that lovely sun. It is nice outside, if you're dressed well. In Queensland when the sun shines, it is hot. I still don't get it that the sun doesn't have the same heating power in winter at this latitude! I remember our first years in the north of Japan where it hovers around zero during the day for several months. Looking out the window when the sun was shining, it looked warm and inviting, until you considered that the snow lying around out there wasn't melting and remembered that the temperature was probably as cold as a deep freeze! That was a mental adjustment. I am thankful that we don't have that to cope with now, we can even ride our bikes all year round here in Tokyo.

27 December, 2010

Four stitches forward, three back.

Just want to let you know that I'm feeling frustrated. No, not the boys this time - they've had a great couple of days. 

My new cross-stitch project - Blinky Bill for my sister's babe-soon-to-be-born. I've been working away at it over the break and doing quite well, until I discovered that the one thread colour that I've used quite a lot of already is the wrong colour brown. I was taking a short-cut and using a brown I already had, but it turns out that it is too chocolatey brown, not the drab brown that I'm supposed to use. As you can see from this video of Blinky Bill, he is not chocolatey brown at all!

So, I spent a good deal of time yesterday and today unpicking all that good work. Then, just when I thought I could start moving forward rather than back, I found another problem with the small amount of stitching I had left. So, more unpicking. I'm now almost back to a blank canvas. Sigh.

Water purification on wheels

As our home state wallows in water, they are probably not thinking too much of the drought that so recently engulfed them. However I saw this article and was amazed. It probably doesn't really address continent-wide droughts like Australia experiences, but would provide lifesaving water to those in immediate danger after disasters (as long as there were sun and wind).

Of course it would be even more wonderful if people would receive the living water that Jesus spoke about in John 4.

A truck-mounted water-purification and desalination system that can treat both freshwater and salt water and is powered by its own solar and wind devices is drawing interest from around the world. Yokohama-based Bay City Techno Co., a food manufacturing machine maker, developed the new device.

It is carried on a four-ton truck. It makes undrinkable water safe to drink by pressurising it and then filtering out toxic bacteria, viruses and salt by passing it through a special film. It produces up to 40 tons of drinkable water per day in the case of seawater.

The truck-mounted equipment can be used to create drinkable water in disaster-hit areas and any areas without electrical supply. Solar panels and small wind-propelled turbines power the device.

Several foreign and domestic companies have developed technologies capable of making seawater and other undrinkable water safe enough to consume. However, Bay City Techno's device is rare as it is both compact enough to be installed on a truck and able to generate its own operating power.

"Many countries suffer from a serious shortage of drinkable water," Toshiyuki Sato, the head of the firm said "We hope Japan's water processing technologies will be able to make a global contribution."
Source: The Yomiuri News, 2009-06-21 via Neil Verwey

26 December, 2010

Visiting us is more adventurous than what?

 One of the fun things of this season is reading people's Christmas letters. This year we've seen many of our friends during the year, but many years it is the only thing we hear about the lives of many of our friends. But even so, there are still surprises. 

Yesterday I read the letter of friends who, in 2010, went on a snow skiing holiday with their primary-aged children. They also camped on a coral reef island (with no electricity or fresh water) for nearly two weeks. That wasn't so surprising, but when they wrote about their plans for 2011, we were surprised. They plan to "expand the holidays to be more adventurous". Okay, so what's more adventurous than they've done in 2010? 

Visiting us in Tokyo!

We knew they were coming, but I'm a bit shocked to be classed as more adventurous than a roughing-it camping trip or a skiing holiday. Are our lives really that far from an "ordinary" Australian's life that visiting us is a 'adventure'?

Obviously what we class as ordinary is different to most others. On Christmas Eve when our boys gleefully said, "We're going home!" to a stranger, they meant Tokyo. 

Perhaps we should try a skiing holiday or camping somewhere remote. If flying to and living in Tokyo is not adventurous for us, obviously we need to try harder!

25 December, 2010

Low points and high points of our pre-Christmas holiday

You know I find it easiest to blog every day or every second day, as soon as I let it go more than that, it is hard to get back into the habit! Or perhaps it is that too much happens in a week and I struggle to know what to include in a short blog post!

We went up in to the mountains north-west of here. Not very far away, but about 1000m above sea level, so about 10 degrees (Celcius) colder. We didn't see much snow, unfortunately.

I think, though, that I might have preferred to remain at home. It wasn't the nicest of holidays. The high points were watching the boys have a go at a new sport - ice skating - and having a lot of fun (and a reasonable amount of success) and watching an outreach even on Thursday evening that the local Christians run and that has become a part of the tourist pull for the season (there were bus loads of tourists dropping by). 

My husband - not skating!
The low points would be pushing and shoving boys around to get done what has to be done, even when on holidays - hygiene things as well as just getting ready to go out and have a fun time (like dressing warmly). I think what made it more difficult was that we were in an even smaller space than what we usually squeeze into, as well as being with one another 24/7 - not something we do so much of any more with everyone at school.

Back to the high points. Ice skating was fantastic - no fighting and watching boys conquer their fears to a point of having a great time. The not-so-fantastic part was falling heavily a few times myself and the pain and bruises afterwards. Very thankful for no broken bones or stitches.

The other high point was the Singing Christmas Tree outreach at the local Christian retreat centre. Lots of lights and goodwill cheer. The tree filled up with about 60-70 singers. Not a fantastic choir, but very photogenic. And very cold too! There were roaming helpers who were giving away lollipops and tracts and a free hot apple cider stand too. Many tourists dropping by.

Another high point would be completing two jigsaws as a family. We didn't usually all do it together, but as we had time and inclination, which reduced the less enjoyable moments, yet gave us a sense of joint achievement. 

One last noteworthy point of our holiday is the waterfalls we went to. We drove and hiked to two waterfalls in the district, both of which were fun occasions. Even if I had to issue safety warnings on a regular basis, it didn't matter if they yelled or ran - we were outside.

But now we're home. Home-sweet-home, where we can spread out just a little more. Where we have more than one toilet and a separate room with the hand basin in it. Where we are close to a train station and have our own bikes to get around on. Where we now have all the Christmas presents that everyone has been waiting for for months, it seems. 

Hopefully now we'll find some of that "Peace" that seems to be associated in some way with Christmas.

24 December, 2010

Japan photo #12 solved

Did you guess it? This is a packet of five tissue boxes. With a convenient handle for carrying home.

22 December, 2010

Japan photo #12

Here's another photo. I think this one is pretty easy. Can you guess? 

Here's the solution. Great guessing!

20 December, 2010

Japan photo #11 solved

I haven't been around to see how you've all gone with guessing what this is. But you'll know how close you were. It is the fuel tank of our kerosene heater. In the depth of winter we have to fill this tank once a day to keep our living area warm.

Here is an opportunity to have a closer look at the control panel. We forget that this is all in Japanese. We remember when our kids, who can read English, can't figure it out. Actually I cannot read most of it, but have memorised which buttons do what and when.

18 December, 2010

Japan Photo #11

Well we've gone away to the mountains for a few days, but I've left you some work to do while I'm gone. Today we have a photo quiz, with the answer on Monday and on Tuesday there'll be another photo quiz. Lots of fun!

What is this? 

I photographed it from two different angles. 

Here is the solution.

17 December, 2010

A hot Christmas is hard to imagine

Swimming in the creek on Christmas day

 Talk to almost any northern hemisphere person (who hasn't lived near the equator) and they are almost guaranteed to be amazed to hear what a southern hemisphere Christmas is like.

Some will not eve be aware that the seasons are opposite to the northern hemisphere. I went to the hairdresser the other week and we engaged in the kind of small talk you do with any hairdresser. This young Japanese guy was quite shocked to hear that it was even summer this time of year in Australia. I had him totally confused for a moment! Thankfully we sorted out the confusion, that, yes - we do have winter in Australia, just in the middle of the year instead of the end.

Most Europeans and Americans are fascinated at the "amazing" things Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans do at Christmas. Things as ordinary as swimming, outdoor BBQs and eating stone fruit. Santa surfing in a short-sleeved suit is one image many have heard about or seen and marvelled at.

Backyard cricket on Christmas day
The idea of cold Christmas dinner, prawns and outdoor carols concerts to celebrate the season are foreign. Most have no idea that Christmas marks the end of the school year and coincides with the long summer holidays. So that, if anything, it is busier than a northern hemisphere season because it includes graduations, awards ceremonies, end of year school, work and club parties.

I once had an American say to me that if Christmas were in the summer in the US, many shops would go bankrupt. It is a season where people spend money on expensive winter gear. They wondered what people would buy if it were hot.

To be fair, it is fairly hard for most southern hemisphere folk to imagine what a cold Christmas is like. The only advantage they have is all the stuff about "White Christmas" and "traditional roast dinner" that have been exported to them by the north. In fact many people from warm parts of the world do "dream of a white Christmas" or maybe just wonder about what it would be like.

If you're in the southern hemisphere right now, can you imagine that it is under 10 degrees outside? That we're trying not to go into rooms that aren't heated. That my hands were very chilly as I hung out the washing this morning in my bathroom/laundry. Can you imagine that I wore gloves and a scarf and a thick jacket with a hood this morning to walk my youngest to school this morning? It is equally hard for me to imagine that you are sweltering in shorts and t-shirts and craving a swim, even though I was doing the same this time last year.

Isn't it interesting that we are so influenced by our current experience that we find it hard to imagine someone else feels different? When it comes down to it, we are all profoundly self-focused and unimaginative. 

All that being said, we're going to go and do what we can to enjoy the season where we are. We learned early on in this journey in the northern hemisphere that enjoying where you are, rather than being paralysed by what you cannot have and where you aren't, is the key to overcoming homesickness. 

So, I'm going to pack my Australian-made Cadbury chocolate and head for the mountains and, hopefully, some snow.

16 December, 2010

An Aussie flavoured Christmas party

Aussie thongs
Today, somehow, I ended up being the front-woman for most of the Grade 2 Christmas party. I think that is partly because I'm one of the few mothers in the class who is a native English speaker. So it turned into something of an Australian Christmas.

I taught the Grade 2s Aussie Jingle Bells, which was a lot of fun. Somehow they never really got the chorus, the traditional version was just too strong in their minds.

By the way there is no rude word in it. If you think there is, then you are misunderstanding that Australians call rubber things you wear on your feet thongs.

I also read Wombat Divine by Mem Fox. You can read about the book here. It introduced the children to words and animals like nativity, audition, beam, bilby and numbat. And, of course, a wombat. I asked them what they thought a wombat was. The first two answers were, "A type of bat." and "A type of bear." Smile!

It was a fun time, but I sure am glad I don't have to teach a class of eight year olds every day. That would be bad for my blood pressure, I'm sure.

15 December, 2010

Christmas at CAJ means concerts, parties and stunning dresses?

Christmas at CAJ (Christan Academy in Japan) means concerts. We've been to three in under two weeks. The final one was yesterday, the elementary school concert (grades K-5). In Australia the children would probably be in their school uniforms, but as the school doesn't have a uniform the children were asked to wear "nice" clothes. This meant the girls brought out their dresses. And there were some pretty amazing dresses.

Wisely most mums sent the dresses rather than the girls in the dresses, so they stayed intact for the concert. Before the concert they went out of their classrooms and got dressed. 

My 8 y.o.'s teacher told me later that when the girls in his class returned he couldn't stop looking. He said, "Their dresses are so beautiful."
Then he said, "I cannot decide which one is the most beautiful."

I think that in the end he decided on the dress worn by the girl on the right in the middle row of the first photo was the best!

The second photo is of the kindergarten and first grades. The thing that struck me the most was that our youngest is the only blonde in the whole group!

After school we attended another CAJ Christmas traditional event: the staff/board/PTA committee Christmas party minus children. Thankfully children were catered for this year. 

I do think that I need to get a new publicist - look at this dreadful photo! Only me, of course. My friends look just fine. The lady in black, Pam, is one of the few southern hemisphere friends I have at CAJ. We'll overlook it that she is from those islands to the east of Australia, we have more in common that we have in common with folk from that place on the other side of the Pacific. She understands what school uniforms are, calls cookies biscuits and knows the rules of netball. What more can I ask?

The lady in red, Mary, is the former teacher of my eldest son, who gave us such encouragement about ten days ago.

Now I only have one more class-based Christmas party to do (and run) and it is almost over. On Friday the children have a half-day and on Saturday we head to the mountains for six days for a much needed rest.

14 December, 2010

This day ten years ago we arrived in Japan

Ten years ago today we landed in Japan for the first time.

We started the day very early in Singapore. We'd just attended a compulsory orientation course during November at OMF's International headquarters. The temperature was average - 30 degrees and humid. 

Our first stop was a brief one at Taiwan airport - so brief that all the passengers who were continuing on were kept in one large spartan waiting room. There were no baby change facilities, so I changed the nappy of our 18 month old on the waiting area floor.

Then we took off for Osaka. My first glimpse of Japan was the multiple forested mountains that dominate the country. They looked lush and thick and the mountains seemed to stretch right to the edge of the islands and into the sea. It was an emotional moment, as we'd been headed for Japan for almost two years and there'd been times when we wondered if we'd ever make it.

In Osaka we had time to find dinner, which was a challenge for our toddler. I think we ended up ordering sandwiches - a wonderful cultural beginning. It was in Osaka airport that we first heard the word "Kawaii". It was to become oh so familiar to us. It means "cute" or "adorable" and white babies growing up in Japan are prone to thinking it is their middle name, so often do they hear it in relation to themselves.

Then our connecting flight to Sapporo, our fourth airport for the day. We were getting pretty tired of aeroplanes and entertaining our son on them. His usual style would be to resist strongly against remaining seated for the take-off and then, once allowed, walk constantly around the aeroplane until once again restrained. We met lots of people that day.

When we finally landed, we were greeted with a sea of red and green. The Sapporo airport welcome lounge was filled with Poinsettia. It's not a flower we're used to seeing in Australia, so the sight was quite striking.

We were met by a veteran missionary who escorted us out to the mission van. Before we left the warm building she asked if we had warmer clothing with us. We'd been adding clothes along the journey, figuring the temperatures would be low. But being Queenslanders we didn't quite realise how low that would be. About 40 degrees lower than where we'd started the day. It had been snowing outside. the temperature was below freezing. Well, we pulled out the jackets that we'd packed on top of our suitcases. I don't remember if we had gloves and scarves. I do know that we didn't have snow boots. That was one of our first purchases in the country a couple of days later. sneakers just don't cut it in wet, slippery snow and ice!

Not the first day!
We drove for more than an hour through snowy landscapes to our new tiny apartment.

My first impression when walking into our apartment was, when is it going to open out into the rest of the place? It never did. The ceiling was so low I could touch it. The lounge so small, I could pace from one side to the other in three or four steps. The only bench (counter) space in the kitchen was where the dish drainer sat. And the place to change for the shower was next to the washing machine, which was next to the sink which was next to the microwave and fridge. It was a tiny apartment.

Then our kind welcomer proceeded to tell us how to turn the water off and empty the pipes before we went to bed and other important details. But by this time it was quite late and I could hardly take anything more in. My brain was partially jelly after all the travel that day. But it was true - it was important to turn the water off or it might freeze in the pipes, leading to burst pipes and a great mess. But I was just too tired.

As soon as she left, I crashed - tears and sobs came flooding out. The whole day had been too much.

We quickly huddled into our beds and slept very soundly. The next morning we found ice on the inside of the walls of our room and our son's hands were blue.

That was the 14th of December, 2000 for me.

13 December, 2010

12 days to Christmas the Aussie way

Did you know that Australians have adapted many of the more popular Christmas carols? One is the 12 days of Christmas. Below are the words. If you want to listen and watch a bad rendition of the song, click here (I truly couldn't find a good rendition, but did find several other variations of the song).
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
A kookaburra in a gum tree
On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Two cockatoos, and a kookaburra in a gum tree

Three parakeets.........
Four great galahs.......
Five opals black......
Six 'roos a-jumping........
Seven emus running.......
Eight koalas clinging.........
Nine wombats waddling........
Ten dingoes dashing.......
Eleven snakes a-sliding.......
Twelve goannas going.......

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Twelve goanna goin, Eleven snakes a-sliding,
Ten dingoes dashing, Nine wombats waddling,
Eight koalas clinging, Seven emus running,
Six 'roos a-jumping, Five opals black,
Four great galahs, Three parakeets,
Two cockatoos, And a kookaburra up a gum tree.

Before After Japanese house transformation

I know compact living is common in Japan, but I haven't seen inside many houses, and usually only larger houses. If someone lives in a tiny house it is pretty unlikely that you would be invited inside to see it. 

So I was intrigued when I stubbled upon this blog last week, with an interesting link to this YouTube video. It shows a Japanese TV show called "Before After". It is a reality show in the style of Backyard Blitz and others like it in Australia, where they fix up someone's house. This show seems to specialise in tiny houses (probably helps their budget). 

On the show I've linked to, there are four adults (parents and two adult children) living in a very tiny house, a house that makes our current house look like a mansion. The mother is the only one who has normal sized (or placed) bed. The transformation is quite something. Some pretty amazing space-saving devices are employed. Not the cheapest of options, but amazing nonetheless.

However, they are still living in a tiny space. I wonder how many Australians would be content to live there?


12 December, 2010

This week's Miss Alaineus

Today's title comes from a great picture book called by the same, sub-titled "A Vocabulary Disaster". Hilarious and very clever.

This week just past I'm so happy God gave me encouragement over my eldest son last Sunday (I wrote about it here). Because he (and we, by extension) didn't have the best week. Probably the biggest factor is fatigue. It's been a big change - back to Japan, second international move in 12 months, second change of school and school system in 12 months, change from primary school to middle school and, well, it's been a while since we had a lengthy break. It is the 16th week since school started. If you asked an Australian child (or teacher) to do a 16 week term with only a couple of long weekends in the middle, you might have strikes! 4 1/2 days left at school, then we get 2 1/2 weeks off. Yay!

During the last week it came to light that there was no one coming forward to organise the 2nd grade in-class Christmas party. Two other ladies and myself have taken that on, so I've been working a bit on that. You'll hear more about that on Thursday, but I'm planning to include "Aussie Jingle Bells" and "Wombat Divine".

We saw some live basketball on three occasions. High school boys on Tuesday - the draw being the Concessions Stand. Not sure where that term came from, but it is a food stall run by the seniors that helps pay for their ministry trip to Thailand next year. They sell hot dogs and Japanese curry very cheaply - it makes an easy night out, plus we get to support the school sports teams (even if we couldn't stay till the end because of children who needed to go to bed).

The second occasion was yesterday morning and middle school basketball. Our eldest son was playing, so we went to support him and ended up buying some of our lunch there too.

On Friday night we had the middle school Christmas concert. It so happened that the school was also hosting two High School girls' basketball games, so we dropped in there before and after the concert. The concert was the focus, though, and it was great! Between sport and concerts, our boys are getting heaps of practise sitting still watching stuff.

I received a rejection for a small devotion that I wrote. I changed a couple of things and resubmitted it to a different publication. Have to wait a while on that. Their almost immediate response was, "Thank you for your submission, please wait six to eight months for notification of publication."

Early in the week I heard from the support staff at school that they wanted to meet with me on Thursday to talk about Occupational Therapy and what services I'm able to provide. So I spent some time working on preparing that. It went well, I'm looking forward to volunteering my services there.

So, there's my Miss Alaineus for the week past. The background to it all was a cold slowly developing. It's come into full flower over the weekend, but I'm hoping that I'll still be able to do all the Miss Alaineus things that come my way this coming week.

11 December, 2010

Confusing labels in Japan

A couple of weeks ago we went to one of our favourite parks and I saw this sign. Because my Japanese reading is not quite what it should be, I naturally read the English first then the Japanese. In this case, I might have even "read" the picture then the English then the Japanese. That was a thoroughly confusing order in which to read the sign.

The English and the Japanese say the same, but the picture says something different. It took some pondering. The sign was on a bike track and I think it means "Run slowly because there are bikes here."

I've also found some strange English food labels recently at our 100 yen grocery store (about AU$1.20) where everything is 100 yen (well, actually 104 yen with sales tax added). We buy our milk and tins of fruit and beans from there as well as some frozen vegetables and occasionally other things. 

But I'm not sure whether I should try some of these biscuit products:

Square sand

Sometimes we wish that Japan would become an English speaking country, but I think they might mangle the language and confuse us even more.


10 December, 2010

A new friend and a new jacket

Yesterday I had coffee with a new friend. We met to discuss business, but to tell the truth, the business didn't take all that long! We just enjoyed one another's company for a couple of hours. The missionary life is full of movement - both our own and others. That can be very painful. But it also has its delights. If I hadn't moved back to Tokyo, I would have missed this new friendship.

One of the first things she said to me was, "You're wearing my jacket!"

I was wearing my "new" winter jacket that I bought at CAJ's thrift shop a couple of months back. She'd sold it there because the colour was all wrong for someone who has a little child that she still lifts onto a bike. But it suits me just fine, my boys don't get lifted any more. And it is a very nice jacket, brand - Land's End - good quality too.

And it is finally cool enough to wear it. Up until now I've been enjoying my other new jacket - the red trenchcoat I bought back at the beginning of an Australian winter. 

Another aspect of missionary life that I've mentioned before here - the sharing around of resources. Finally missionaries are doing the popular thing - recycling has become the "right" thing to do for the environment. Of course we've been doing it long before it became popular!

So, just to add some balance to those who think that missionary lifestyle is all about sacrifice, giving up dreams and saying goodbyes. There are many positive things to this lifestyle - not the least being the wonderful friends that you make from all over the world.

09 December, 2010

Fight over mobile on Tokyo train delays 47 trains

This is amazing. 70,000 commuters delayed by a fight on a Tokyo train about using a mobile phone! I know Japanese don't like it, but really!?!

Broccoli growing down the road

Town Planning seems to be somewhat absent in Tokyo, especially in the concept that this is a residential area, that is a commercial area and the section over there is for farming.

Within a kilometre of our house we have many houses, two or three schools, a railway station, small city centre, several kindergartens, a swim school, restaurants, doctors, grocery stores AND farms!

These two photos were taken on our usual route to and from school.

So much for the assumption that 'city kids' don't know where food comes from. My 5 y.o. son was so pleased to identify these large leafy green plants that we've watched grow. "They're broccoli plants!" he shouted.

08 December, 2010

Parenting difficult children...continued

Wow, I've been touched by the deep responses I've received to yesterday's post. People with children of varied ages, up into their adult years. Be encouraged, folks. Parents have gone before us and have survived, and their children have too!

Since we're on the topic I have another post to add. 

You might have the impression that I have only one difficult child. Well, the challenges are different, but two out of our three boys I would classify as difficult. The second one is probably somewhat less troublesome because he doesn't cause problems at school, in fact his teachers probably wonder what I am talking about, calling him a difficult child.

Those particularly difficult years of our eldest son's overlapped with difficult years for our youngest, but he was a challenge from very young. In fact I still carry a repetitive strain injury that came from strapping our spirited, strong-willed child into his car-seat as a toddler.

It wasn't until we found this book, Raising Your Spirited Child, that our son started to make sense. The author seems to have met our middle son! "Spirited child" is a phrase she's coined and it fits so well. Our son is more intense, persistent and perceptive, just as the cover proclaims. Thankfully those characteristics seem to be helping him behave and achieve well at school. Sometimes so well that he cannot hold it all in any more when he comes home and lets all the bad out on us.

If you have a child like this, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's helped us to see the positives in a child who can easily bring out the worst in a parent and make you despair.

I've heard it said that often people stop having children after their most difficult child. Well, that isn't the case in our family. Our third child is the most "normal" and a delight (though not perfectly good at all). We continue to be amazed at how he does and learns things with ease that his brothers struggled and fought over.

They all have wonderful strengths, not the least being that they're all quite intelligent and ask amazing questions. I am thankful.

But in the end, I am encouraged to persevere. I spent some time this morning doing a Bible word study on the word "persevere". It was encouraging. God values perseverance. I'm always challenged by this passage:

Hebrews 12

 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

And I cannot finish without sharing with you the key verse I've taken for parenting. 
Galatians 6:9:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

07 December, 2010

Encouragement in parenting a difficult child

We went through a very difficult period with our eldest son for about four years, from ages 6-10. I don't want to go into details to protect on his privacy, but it was really tough to be his parent during those years. Many tears, many prayers. Many times we questioned our parenting abilities. Our confidence was eroded when, despite our best efforts, we got negative feedback from teachers. Not the teachers' fault, they were just reporting what they saw. Our confidence was shattered when people in Australia we trusted to pray for our difficulties, instead criticised us. It was hard at times to see an end to it all.

Parenting is difficult, even when your kids are 'good'. It is hard to overstate how difficult it is. One of the difficulties is that it goes on for years and years and you don't know what the final outcome will look like, while at the same time desperately hoping it will be good. It is also hard not to feel like you'll be judged based on the outcome of pouring yourself into this child day after day for years. Also, because you are immersed in the situation, it is hard to see improvements, just like it is hard to see them grow physically.

So what I heard on Sunday was a huge encouragement. We met the teacher my son had for grades three and four. It's been 18 months since we've seen her. She talked with her former student for a while. Later she took me aside and said she's so impressed at how he's matured, how far he's come since she first knew him. She went as far as congratulating us, but I was reluctant to accept the praise. After all, if I don't own his bad behaviour as my fault, why should I own his good behaviour?

So, as we face yet another email detailing the challenges he threw up at a teacher yesterday, and a coach who wants to talk to us about his behaviour on the basketball trip on Saturday, we cling to the hope that we're not doing a bad job. And by God's grace, we'll all come through it okay.

Solution to Japan Photo #10

Well pretty much everyone guessed half of the answer to this Japan photo mystery. It is something for hanging. It was a bit of a naughty question, because unless you know a little about the architecture of Japanese rooms you have very little chance of guessing.

Traditional Japanese rooms have a board around the room, part-way up the wall. It is a terrible dust collector, but it great for hanging things. Thankfully you cannot see the dust.
Thanks for having a guess!

06 December, 2010

Goodies from home

Today I had some TimTams and recently we've received four small parcels from friends. Here are some of the goodies included:

Yum, yum!! A few small gifts (that cost too much to send) have made our December very special. We feel loved!

Those things combined with lots of Christmas music, books and videos and oodles of decorations are making us feel we're getting into the groove of Christmas. 

Reggie is so cute!
At least the superficial groove. The deeper groove is harder to find in the midst of the busyness of life and a young, lively family. 

We went to a concert on Friday night. Beautiful music that I appreciated on the surface, but it was hard to go deeper into the meaning when I had to be concerned about the eight year old next to me who hasn't learned how to whisper yet (strangely enough he is whisper-reading next to me right now, why couldn't he do it at a concert?). And a five year old who was asking the time only 15 minutes into a 90 minute programme. Well, we made it through, superficially, at least. The days for music appreciation and worship stemming from beautiful music are still ahead of us. Better than the last time we went to this concert - five years ago - we were kicked out!

But for now, I'll nibble on my musk sticks, sip my cup-a-soup and savour my Cadbury chocolate and enjoy the knowledge we are loved.

05 December, 2010

Japan photo #10

Here's another mysterious object from Japan. Can you guess what it is used for and where? 

For everyone's enjoyment, could those who live or have lived in Japan just watch rather than answer please.

Here is the answer.

04 December, 2010

Meet the neighbours while sweeping the gutters

If you've been reading for a few months, you'll know I have an ongoing issue with the road gutters outside our house. You can go back and have a look here and here to refresh your memory.

Then last week, when I had a house full of sickies, I dashed out to grab my bicycle for a trip to get lemonade at the shop and there is my neighbour sweeping my gutters again. Embarrassing, but what could I do?

I was fuming about it all a bit because I'm not really into what seems like non-essential housework and it just seems a bit of keeping up with the neighbours - see who can get to it first! And I have plenty other things to do with my time.

But yesterday we had a nasty storm before breakfast (yes, weird!) and then heaps of wind -  because we're coming to the end of autumn this meant heaps of leaves. And even I can see that that mess needed cleaning up. So, when I returned from taking child three to school I saw an unusually tidy pile of leaves in our gutter. It seems that our neighbour was at it again, leaving subtle hints around.

So, as I had the time, I immediately went to work.

Last night as we returned from the school's Christmas performance, we noticed that the strong wind all afternoon had produced more leaves. So this morning, I hustled outside mid-morning and started sweeping. An extra bonus was that David had gone to do some car-related errands, so I could get to the car port too.

I must have made enough noises as I left because my youngest son came out and joined me, helping with the broom and shifting heavy concrete blocks. 

First one neighbour (not the hyper vigilant one) came out and hopped in her car and left, not without noticing and commenting on my cute helper. I hadn't even noticed, but my freckled five-year-old had his 'Santa' hat on.

Then our other neighbours came out, applauding our work (that was pretty gratifying). They too were impressed with my 5 y.o.'s work and hat (maybe in that order too). They even inspected the gutters after my son levered the concrete blocks out of the way and pronounced them "not too bad".

Then they gave me some pruning advice on one of our small trees out the back and lent us a some long-handled pruning shears to do the job (no getting out of it now). Apparently our elderly neighbour had climbed the fence between our two houses in the couple of months of vacancy that preceded our moving in, just to do some pruning. (There is not enough room for an average sized adult to walk down the side of the house from the street to the garden.) They're pretty keen about gardening! His wife didn't think he should be climbing fences any more though, and I'd have to agree, they must be at least in their 70s or 80s.

So now I feel like I've made a little bit of progress in gaining the acquaintance and favour of our neighbours. No mean feat in Japan. Perhaps there is meaning to sweeping gutters, after all - meeting the neighbours.

And I also know that we 'caretake' a Japanese crape myrtle tree, which should produce some lovely white flowers in spring.