31 October, 2011

Divided by the same language

On the weekend my sister-in-law's Facebook status said "Hot hot hot". I think they were expecting 34 degrees yesterday where they live in Central Queensland. 

However, temperatures here have cooled at night-time. So on Saturday we changed to warmer sheets and heavier bed coverings. I quickly discovered that the names for these things vary considerably across the globe when I wrote this on Facebook:
What Aussies call a doona and doona cover.
Doonas (US=duvet) and flannelette sheets on the beds again as of today. Looking forward to some cosy nights.
I should have done better research (or any at all). Because an American friend immediately objected, saying he had not a clue what I was talking about. Doonas, duvets and flannelette sheets were a total mystery to him. This preceeded a flurry of comments explaning that the duvet is a European thing, from French actually. Many Americans call them "comforters", but not all. Some non-Europeans also call them "Continental Quilts". Doona is a brand name in Australia, but it seems it comes from Swedish.
As for the slightly fluffy winter sheets us Aussies call "flannelette", Americans call "flannel", or most of them do. I do not know what British or Europeans call them. I did meet an American yesterday who only would call them flannel if they had a crossed-type pattern on them. I didn't confuse the conversation by telling him that we call shirts and pyjamas made of this material, "Flannies"!
Last night David and I reflected on this interesting Facebook exchange that spilled out into an after church discussion yesterday. His feeling was that it was a little bit sad, that we had nothing better to do than talk about bedding! I countered that with, "No, people are fascinated by language and are usually keen to tell you what they call something where they come from." 
 As an Australian writer/editor in an English-speaking environment that comprises of people from a large variety of backgrounds I get more opportunities than most to interact on this front. It is enjoyable, as long as people are graceful in asking, "What on earth do you mean when you say or write . . . ? "

30 October, 2011

Being from the other hemisphere has its issues

We were recently invited to our 6 y.o.'s classroom for a "Fall Party" and they asked us to contribute food that would be eaten at this time of year in your country. They were, of course, thinking of harvest/autumn type foods, which doesn't apply to our country at this time of year. 

The main seasonal thing I think of for October/November in Australia is purple Jacaranda trees. (Lily wrote about them on her blog here.) But they are hardly edible! I settled for sending some popcorn. Not seasonal in Australia, but seemed to be appropriate! 

It is a bit of a balance, trying to "fit in" as well as keeping hold of what our heritage is (which, of course, is more ours rather than our boys', who have spent more years of their lives in Japan than Australia).

29 October, 2011

What is this?

We see these fruit everywhere. I ride past these trees whenever I go to one of our favourite grocery stores.

We're also eating them. I cannot remember even seeing them in Australia, but they probably were there. Do you know what they are?

 In Japanese we called them kaki (like khaki the colour, but with short vowels). In English they are persimmons. Very seasonal and very tasty.

28 October, 2011

An exciting week

I wrote on Monday that I was looking forward to a quieter week and that I'd report back as to how it went.

Well I have indeed had a quieter week than the previous fortnight. But it's also been an exciting week.

Tuesday, as I reported here, went as planned and was fun. Actually the next day I felt quite refreshed by my burst of creating the day before, slightly regretful that I couldn't continue straight away, but definitely more energetic than earlier in the week. I must remember this for the future. One way to recharge my batteries is to have a burst of creating.

Wednesday and Thursday were largely computer-days. I knocked some things off my to-do list. But a few unexpected things happened that have me excited.

Firstly my husband was able to book us another campsite for a trip away in November. You might remember how excited I got about our summer camping adventures (check here for a reminder)! This will be a bit different, a different campsite, cooler and no water play. And this time we're going to an autojou which means we get to park our car next to our tent. Standby for further reports...

The same night we started to look at possibilities for travel next summer. Our plan has been to come home to Australia for a portion of our long break from school. To visit family and friends and our main supporting churches. In addition to that we wondered about tacking on a trip to Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) while we're there. Neither of us have been the the centre of Australia and it's a bit strange when we meet Japanese who've seen more of our home land than we have. So we did some preliminary investigation. We both love planning and possibilities excite me (the price tags did not). But it was fun to look-see and think and dream of the future.

The third exciting thing I blogged about here. It was seeing my son maturing into someone I'd like to know, as opposed to someone whom I'm slightly embarrassed to be related to!

The fourth exciting thing is an answer to prayer. Back a couple of weeks ago while we (the editorial team of Japan Harvest) were rushing to put together the latest edition, God impressed upon me to pray for a new team member to join our team. This seemed an unusual thing at the time, these sorts of impressions don't happen to me very often. However I did, and, hey presto, on Sunday I had a somewhat random in-the-pews conversation with someone after church. It almost accidentally (of course, no accident, but it wasn't directed my me) turned to editing. To cut a long and detailed story short — we had a meeting yesterday and we have a new team member, at least for a trial run on the Spring Edition next year. I'm excited, I'm very excited.

So, my quieter week has been full of blessings. And I'm thankful.

27 October, 2011

Eggless coconut loaf recipe

Mrs Q requested this recipe I mentioned the other day.

Coconut Loaf

1 cup* desiccated coconut
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup SR Flour**
3/4 cup milk (low fat is fine)

Mix all together in bowl (it looks terrible, but ignore that). Pour into greased and floured loaf tin. Bake for about 45 minutes at 160-180 degrees Celcius.

For serving cut into slices when cool and butter.

* This is a metric cup — 250ml.
**For non-Aussies, this is 1 1/2 cups plain flour with 2 teaspoons of Baking Powder.

PromOTing Better Living

Today is World Occupational Therapy Day*.

Here is a link to a Google map showing the countries where Occupational Therapists work and how many of them are in each country. I was a tiny bit surprised to find there are 53,000 of them in Japan and 15,000 in Australia. I guess that reflects a difference in population size.  Sigh. I really wish I knew more about OTs in Japan.

To be honest I feel rather adrift from my first chosen profession. It is not just that I'm physically isolated in a country where I don't speak the language of my fellow professionals. It is more that I don't often get to use the skills and knowledge that I have as an OT. This isn't my main job. 

This was the handwriting of one child I've seen.
In the last year I've seen several children with varying difficulties including challenges with handwriting, developmental difficulties, and questions about visual processing. Which makes me a only a very part-time OT. I continue to be available as a resource to the local English-speaking community and, as time and opportunity permits, continue to network with other professionals, including Allied Health professionals and teachers. My profession has allowed me to come alongside and encourage other parents who struggle with children who require just a bit more of us than their peers. For this I am thankful. 

I don't know what the future holds, but perhaps God has put me here with the skills and training I have for such as time as he has yet to reveal?

* World OT Day was created by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT). They are also the ones who supplied the very nice logo above.

26 October, 2011

Boasting about my son

I just want to boast about my eldest son for a minute. I've complained about him and his brothers here before and some balance is called for. Yesterday, though, he told me this story (without a hint of boasting).

"Today we buried a time capsule."
"Oh, where?" asked me.
"Along the side of the gym, you know, where all those bushes are. We had a big tube and put tape on it, vinyl tape. We wrote on these papers stuff about ourselves and put them in the tubes. Mr Willson had this cool spade with a narrow blade and we took turns digging a vertical hole for the tube." (This is the abbreviated version of the story, it actually went on a bit more than this!)

At this point my interest in the story was only held by the fact that he hadn't told me why they'd done it and when they were planning for it to be dug up again.

"So, did you dig up anyone else's tube?"
"No!" What kind of question is that?
"How long until someone digs up your tube?"
"Oh, we haven't decided yet, sometime before the end of the year."

Double-take from me. Huh? And here I was thinking five years, ten years.

"We wrote stuff about ourselves and when we dig it up we'll see how much we've changed."

A nice enough story, but the post-script he gave as I left the room is what grabbed me.

"We forgot to wipe the dirt off our feet before we went back to our classroom and tracked dirt right through the building. I found my teacher vacuuming it all up and I helped her. My friend W came and helped too."
"Did she ask you to help?"
"Nope, I thought it was very unfair for her to have to do it all, so I helped."


Maybe he is learning something from us after all. Actually he has matured a lot in the last twelve months. We can see big changes, positive changes. It is so encouraging. I hope he is encouraged when they finally dig up that tube and he sees how he's grown during the year. His lack of pride was endearing. I said to him later,

"I'm so impressed that you went to help your teacher. You really have a clear sense of what is fair."
"Oh, I do?"

Love it!

25 October, 2011

My Creating Day

Reporting back on how my "quiet" day is going.

I've managed to stay on-track. I did some baking. I stepped out of my comfort zone a little and tried a couple of new recipes. 

Here we have Gingernuts (left) and Melting Moments (right). (I just discovered that Melting Moments is also an Icecream brand, obviously not in Australia, maybe the US?) I've had mixed success. The Gingernuts are pretty tasty and weren't very hard. One of the things I occasionally miss from Australia is store-bought Gingernut biscuits. These aren't quite the same, but not too bad. Some of them have a too-brown bottom. Victim of our non fan-forced oven and a distracted cook.
The Melting Moments are pretty bad in my opinion (but my husband begs to differ). I used an Australian Women's Weekly recipe. Their standards are high. For starters the biscuits are supposed to look like this photo, piped out of an icing bag. But my icing bag doesn't come with anything that will produce a star that big. Plus I hate icing bags, they are messy to use and difficult to clean afterwards. 
The chocolate mixture you are to dip in uses an ingredient I didn't have, solid shortening. I substituted Olive Oil, but didn't think carefully about it. What it needed was an oil-base that is solid at air temperature. Result? Chocolate that isn't set at room temperature! And it's lumpy because I stuffed up the melting-of-the-chocolate.

The filling between the biscuits is also too soft. Probably should have used butter rather than margarine. Hence I don't feel like they are a great success. The jury's out as to the opinion of the boys. The biscuits really aren't lunch-box material, but they'll do for after school snacks.
Next time I might use this recipe, that says you only have to flatten balls of the mixture with a fork and you don't have to dip it in chocolate! Sounds good.

This is the other recipe I made. An old stalwart, Coconut Loaf. I acquired this recipe when I did some cooking in Primary School. And I know why they chose the recipe, it is simple and fail proof. This has no butter or eggs. Only flour, raising agent, coconut, sugar and milk. It always works and is always tasty. I've frozen one of these for an event next Monday.

After lunch I visited my favourite craft shop for the materials to make three pairs of long pants for my boys. It is such a soothing shop. Not over-the-top like some large barn-sized craft shops I've been in in Australia. 
 I shopped at a leisurely pace and found some heavy knit black material that will make fine pants. My choice has been confirmed by a unanimous vote in favour of the material by all the boys. I'm looking forward to making these.

So, the only thing I missed was a nap. Creating is restful for me. And I'm feeling pretty relaxed, so that is good. My sewing table is ready to set-up for the days to come and I have some tracing paper to make the patterns for the pants. The snack-pantry is full and I can head into the rest of my "quiet" week with a bit more in my energy bank. A good day all round!

24 October, 2011

What a "quieter week" looks like

I'm trying to have a quieter week this week, after two crazy ones. I'll let you know at the end of the week if I managed.

Today I did a bit of household maintenance (probably should have included cleaning, but it didn't – no surprise there). I filled up the larder and did a couple of errands. Helped a colleague from Hokkaido with some research by introducing her to some friends and took her to the station with her bags on her way to her next stop-over. I also made it to the gym again, first time in nearly a week and I cheered the participants in the CAJ Fun Run, a rather low-key event that the cross-country runners are required to participate in. My son got a PB of something like 2 minutes faster than he's ever run 2 miles before. A really fast run that surprised us all.
Tomorrow I've deliberately not scheduled anything. Here's what I'm thinking: I'll do some baking, because the school lunch-box biscuit supply is about at an end. Then I'll do some shopping – I'm going to buy some material to make at least one new pair of long pants for each boy, maybe more. 

Long pants for boys are things that you don't often find at Thrift Shop. Guess why? The knees get torn out, if not that, the crutch busts out. So, it is pattern modifying time (I have a pattern for adult shorts and little kid's long pants, but not for school-aged boys). And time to pull out my sewing machine again. 

And I'll probably do some lying down. I know myself well enough to know that I cannot keep on going at this pace without some catch-up time, otherwise I'll be paying for it with some kind of physical dysfunction.
Wednesday and Thursday each have one meeting apiece plus "computer time" which encompasses everything from preparation for the writer's retreat/workshop that I am helping facilitate in a couple of weeks to answering email, editing articles and writing the magazine's Style Guide. Oh, yes, and preparation for my English Evangelistic Bible study on Friday morning, better do that. Yep, shouldn't be too bad a week.

Have you figured out that for me, a quieter week usually doesn't mean nothing to do? It just means less scheduled in my diary and less deadlines. I do hope that the baking and sewing tomorrow will be relaxing though. They usually are.

23 October, 2011

Thrift Shop snooping

Please forgive me for my temporary Thrift Shop obsession. It is like a virus, but will be gone soon. Today I want to show you some "treasures" that we got at Thrift Shop. Instead of lining them up, I've done a CSI-type snoop around the house, looking for evidence of Thrift Shop purchases. Here's what I found:

Boys playing a game they found – Travel Hangman. Very cool.

My muesli container broke recently and it isn't something easily replaced in Japan. Found this Tupperware one for a song.

Long story on this mint-green gown. On home assignment I'd been given a beautiful soft-pink dressing gown. Very appropriate as my old gown from college days was worn out and not-so-warm any more. However, I don't really wear pink! But, being a good missionary, I took the gown and wore it. My other "beef" about it was its lack of pockets. Well, while sorting skirts and pants on Wednesday I saw this gorgeous green (my favourite colour) gown hanging up across the aisle. I looked at it all day and wondered whether I should buy it. Eventually I did...for only 200 yen (AU$2.50). The next day I took my pink gown in and donated it to the sale. Happy me! It it longer and has pockets!! Yay!

These are Christmas presents. Two sets of Australian books for the boys. They look like they've never been read.

Our youngest has been jealous of my gown (not the colour) all last winter (the fact that his oldest brother also has one made this worse). David, when rummaging in the not-unsubstantial pile of clothes in the 6-8 years "booth" found this gown. He's thrilled to bits. Oh, and it has a hood too!

This is a specialist piece of plastic, a Lego Ninjago Arena. You can buy it for about AU$20. I bought it for 200 yen. It is for a game that the boys play with Lego figures.
This is a book our 6 y.o. found. Has cut-out models to make.

One of the many pieces of clothing we found for our eldest who is growing out of all the grow-into clothes we had stored away.

A Rubics-cube "look alike" that is much less clunky than the previous 100 yen model our 12 y.o. owned. He's loving this.

Our oldest also found this riddle calendar that he can tease people with each day.

He also found these plastic cubes that each have manipulation puzzles in them. One of his favourite pastimes.

A pair of cheap snow-pants for our 12 y.o. for the once-a-year visit to the snow that we'll do just before Christmas

CAJ middle and high school students have to cover the textbooks that they borrow from school for the year. Apparently in the US you can buy fabric re-usable book covers. I found a packet of them and they're already in use.

Cherry Pie in the fridge. These were being sold by the piece during Thrift Shop. My thrifty dessert-loving husband has found out that they sell off the left-over pies cheaply at the end, during the clean-up to the workers. He says it is worth going to help clean-up just to get cheap pies!

An insulated coffee cup for our camping trips.
Here's something I wasn't looking for. Some cloth place mats. These are to be for special occasions and I love their vibrant colours. There were two sets of four that I would never have bought had there been only four, but the eight of them match sufficiently to be a perfect extra touch to the dinner table.
There's more that I bought but didn't get photos of, like a couple of jumpers (US=sweaters) that I needed. Thrift Shop is a great place to find bargains, if you are careful. I had in my mind (and a list) what we needed, and kept myself in check. Very satisfying to find things that you need that would cost a lot more if you bought them new.

We have a couple of things that we wanted to sell, but haven't managed to yet. If you're interested and in the area, I've posted them below:

16" bike with trainer wheels.

An easel  – white board and blackboard combined.

There, I think that is Thrift Shop out of my system for another year. No more till next April.

22 October, 2011

Another shocking loss

We've had another shock. A missionary colleague passed away suddenly two days ago. 

Ruth Ayling had beaten breast cancer 15 years ago and she and her husband were looking forward to retirement very soon (this year or next, I believe). However, earlier this year the doctors discovered a re-occurance of the cancer. It didn't seem too bad at first, but then doctors advised them to return home (the UK) fairly quickly for treatment while she still had strength (as opposed to sticking around for treatment here). They left suddenly in June. It seems as though treatment wasn't going all that badly when this week a heart attack suddenly took her.

Now this is no eulogy, and I am not doing the cliché thing of saying only nice things about the dead. Ruth and her husband were whole-hearted servers. They served as boarding home parents for many years here in Japan and since we've been here they've been caretakers of the Guest Home here in Tokyo. Ruth was the most sympathetic, kind-hearted person I think I've ever met. Most often we met her after a harrowing journey with our boys (be it a plane journey or a cross-city journey). She always enquired if there was anything she could do to help. She had an enormous heart and it seems impossible that we'll not see her again this side of heaven.

They quietly served without complaint and it is so tragic that after serving their whole lives like this, just as retirement is in their grasp the partnership is taken away and Gareth faces life without his beloved Ruth.

Below is the "thank you" that I gave them as they left earlier this year. (I've modified it a little to protect our kids' identities.) 

This is the second beloved colleague we've known and lost in the last four years to breast cancer. So sad! Please pray for her family and colleagues, and give thanks for the thousands of people whose lives they touched together.

21 October, 2011

More images from Thrift Shop

I'm too tired to write tonight. But here are a couple more images from Thrift shop today. Three days down, one (and the busiest) to go. Oh, and here's a blog post about Thrift Shop by one of the (young) teachers, if you want to go look.

Some of the ladies who were hard at work today to make it all run smoothly.
Shyni, the "poser" in this one is telling us, "She's still alive!"
This one isn't from today, but rather Wednesday afternoon. One of those random moments when I realised while working in the gym that the music I could hear wasn't recorded, but live and I went looking for it. Our resident strings/French teacher brought a string ensemble into the foyer of the gym and blessed us with what seemed to be a spontaneous performance (well practised, but not announced).

20 October, 2011

Tired but blessed in abundance

Yesterday and today I worked for over 12 hours (in total) at school with many others, setting up the biannual gigantic garage sale they call Thrift Shop. Tomorrow the 1 1/2 day sale begins. Friday is for PTA members only. On Saturday it is open to anyone and we always get a huge turnout. Needless to say this is the main fundraiser for the PTA.

My volunteering continues through the next two days. I'll serve at the registers.

For me, one of the attractions of serving at Thrift Shop is spending time with people. Catching up with friends and getting to know new people too.

Particularly in the first two days there is lots of opportunity to create your own working environment. With many different jobs on offer you could sort or price or fold or arrange or carry or supervise. You could work alone, in pairs or in groups. You could do the same job continuously or change frequently. You could sit or stand or walk.

But you can also become visually overwhelmed or have an ADD "attack" with all the distractions!

For me I love the variety. My personality is a bit split between extroverted and introverted. So I found myself alternating between 'lonely' jobs and people intensive jobs. I also get bored fairly easily, so the ease with which I can change jobs is fun.

But back to the people. I took some photos today of just some of the fun people I've been working with. These people I'm proud to also call my friends. Yes, missionaries are called to leave their family and friends, but God blesses abundantly. There are seasons of loneliness, but I gave to say I'm wallowing in a season of abundance at present!!!

19 October, 2011

White eggs vs brown eggs

When our visitors from Australia were here in June-July they kept commenting about our white eggs. They wondered why we have eggs with white shells in Japan, when usually Australians buy brown eggs in the supermarket. I think they may have even wondered what Japanese do to the chickens/eggs to get them white. Well, it isn't as sinister as they might have thought. I Googled "chicken egg colour" and found that Wikipedia has a very nice little section here about egg colour.

It turns out that the colour is mostly determined by the breed of hen! Pretty simple really. What isn't so simple is what different cultures expect in their eggs. For example, "in most regions of the United States, chicken eggs are generally white. In some parts of the northeast of that country, particularly New England, where a television jingle for years proclaimed "brown eggs are local eggs, and local eggs are fresh!", brown eggs are more common." (Wikipedia)

Funny, hey? We think we're a most enlightened people, but our ignorance is actually pretty profound, and about the most common of topics.

18 October, 2011

Gulping air before I dive down and swim again

Today I am gulping air. Actually, not literally. But from tomorrow morning until next Tuesday my schedule is pretty well chocked up. Wednesday to Saturday is Thrift Shop. This biannual event at CAJ is huge. Take a look here, if you want a picture of how exhausted I'll be by the end of the week.

But before I duck down and start swimming hard I thought I'd give you an updates on some previous blog posts.

Now you probably aren't on the edge of your seat waiting for this, but had you wondered what happened to my fingernail? What's the end of the story? Here's the start of the story, if you missed it. And a week after my close encounter with two concrete blocks my fingernail looked like this. Five weeks later my finger nail and I am still well acquainted. Thankfully it is attached around most of the border of the nail (minus about 3mm on one side). The middle is a different story, but while it isn't attached to the nail bed, there isn't any pain and the swelling is gone. I'm just a bit concerned that I might catch it on something and it will rip . . . but we won't think about that. I'm keeping it well trimmed!

As for last week. When I wrote this post I felt quite stressed. Did you feel my stress? Well, after getting myself worked up, I worked very efficiently and hard and almost all of what I had to do got done. I also discovered that we don't have a house-guest this week after all. 

The English Bible study went fairly well. Next one is next week. I need to rethink the English-teaching side of the study. The study series (The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller) begins with a 38 minute DVD session by the author. Though I think he is speaking slowly and deliberately, it isn't slow enough for my English students. SO, I think next time I'll take a little bit of the DVD at a time, pausing and going over the English. I so take for granted, not only my English, but my Bible knowledge. This is such a familiar story, but Timothy Keller makes Jesus' intent in telling the story much clearer. It is a great study, I'm enjoying it just for myself. Somehow I have to pull back and get my students at least to first base. At least they find my English easy to understand (complements along the lines of "we love your voice" and "you speak graciously" were given!).

Last magazine packing day.
The magazine got edited and it is at the printer as I type, phew! Next Monday is packing day. So, we're onto the next edition, with an extra event thrown in next month. But that will be the subject of another post.

As for now, I'm off to do some research on magazines. I'm trying to find magazines that might accept a story or two that I've written. I have one I've written on one of my experiences during the post-earthquake period, but I'm having trouble finding a home for it. Anyone have any suggestions?