31 August, 2012

Writing 101 ideas

You may recall this writing workshop I led in April, and here I mentioned that the participants wanted to have some basic writing training included in the workshop. That task has fallen on my shoulders and as our next workshop is only about six weeks away, I need to get working on it. So far I have a number of resources, lists of writing tips, and a variety of ideas floating around. I need to get organised.

So, here are some ideas I have to start with.

I start with the assumption that people know about basic writing from high school. I'm not going to teach things about spelling, verbs, sentence structure, dependent clauses, etc. Sorry!

But I am going to highlight things that we editors constantly struggle with in people's writing. These include:

  1. Unclear writing. I'm always asking writers, "What did you mean when you wrote XYZ?"
  2. Long sentences. Break it up. People will lose your train of thought, get bored or distracted and just turn the page to see if the next article will hold their attention better.
  3. Unnecessarily complicated words and sentences. Don't try to sound intellectual, sound natural, write plainly. This is challenging for those who are theologians or have done professional writing or research theses.
  4. Cliches are easy to write, but boring. Try not to include them, make your writing fresh.
  5. Flabby writing. Write tight and you'll keep your audience. Eliminate extra adjectives, adverbs, and other unnecessary words.
  6. Indirect writing. Don't be afraid to be direct. Use strong nouns and verbs. Say what you mean, don't fluff around.
  7. Preachy writing. Many of our writers are also preachers in their ministries. It is easy for anyone to slip into that style, but it isn't nice reading. Personal stories can help
And then there are structural issues
  1. Start well. Jump straight in, don't fool around saying what you are about to say or talk about where you were when you had the inspiration for this article. Just start.
  2. Finish well. Don't dribble off and leave the reader wondering what your real point was. 
  3. Stick to your topic. No rabbit trails. Make sure everything relates back to your one big idea for the article. A magazine article is too short for more than one big idea.
I've got some tips for self-editing too. Something I wish some people did more of before they sent their articles in.
  1. Don't just look for bad spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Look for the things I've mentioned above.
  2. Sleep on your article before editing it. It will be easier to see your mistakes in the morning.
  3. Don't be precious about your words. Sometimes your favourite phrase just has to go in order to make your meaning clear. Less words are often better.
  4. Don't edit until after you've written your first draft. Editing and creating are using different parts of your brain. You destroy your creativity if you let your editing self into the room while you write.
I've also found some tips about taking criticism. Some people find this harder than others and I need to remind myself that as I interact with authors. I'm wont to jump straight into an email and point out the bits that I didn't understand or think need rewriting, but I need to make sure I point out the good bits too and encourage the writers.

What do you think? Is this a good starting place? What suggestions do you have? What's helped you with your writing?

30 August, 2012

Missionaries don't need vacations?

Oh boy, I didn't do any research related to yesterday's post, but I just typed "missionaries vacation" into Google and found this post called Missionaries don't need vacations! http://myall4him.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/missionaries-dont-need-vacations/

Hot, yummy, and not nice

11:01pm 30.5 C
Last night at 11pm I took this photo in my bedroom. The temperature reads 30.5 degrees Celsius! I went to sleep soon afterwards with only a fan and an ice pack to hug.

This has been a pretty standard temperature over the last weeks since we came back, give or take a coupe of degrees. In fact it is pretty standard night time temperature for the whole of a Tokyo summer — early July to sometime in September. I miss my childhood in Toowoomba, where even though the summer was way longer than Tokyo's and it got pretty hot during the day, it always cooled down at nights

We used to sleep in air conditioning in Tokyo, but it was expensive and last year when the ancient air conditioner in our room broke, we didn't replace it. I've learned to sleep at these temperatures. I wondered if I could, but I have. Although I'm not sure what quality my sleep is. I'm longing for at least mid-20s!

On Tuesday I tried a new recipe, Frozen Blueberry Yoghurt. I had high hopes in these high temperatures. But despite their delicious look, the texture was pretty awful. Grainy and full of icicles. Not the creamy I'd hoped for. I wonder if I'd used normal yoghurt rather than low fat whether it would have been better? I guess I have no option but to try again. I've bought some tinned mango, yes, summer, but no mangoes here :-( . So I'll try with a smoother fruit and see what happens.

On the other hand I also made some tomato sauce (US=ketchup) from fresh tomatoes and put it on some noodles for lunch today. Delicious! Oh my, it isn't going to last long!

29 August, 2012

Holidays and cross-cultural workers

Cross-cultural workers need holidays. Cross-cultural workers take holidays. It seems obvious.

But cross-cultural workers often find it difficult to take holidays. People in ministry generally do, but there are some extra factors that make it more challenging for cross-cultural workers.
  1. Location — this depends on where someone is working, but if you are stressed because of cross-cultural issues, it is challenging if you can't escape it, just a little, when you go on holiday. There can also be a lack of suitable holiday accommodation in-country. Many countries just don't take lengthy holidays like Australians do.
  2. Cost — typically cross-cultural workers are on a low wage and dependent on others for support. It isn't easy to make holiday plans if you are on a tight budget.
  3. Time — ministry is demanding and relentless. It is often hard to prioritise your needs above those around you in order to take time to rest.
  4. Friends and family — cross-cultural workers typically are not located near friends and family. Therefore they will want to spend time with these people during holiday time. Time spent with friends and family isn't always relaxing. It is challenging to balance the need to spend time on your own and spend time with these precious people.
  5. Travel — often a considerable amount of travel is involved if family and friends are to be seen or you want to travel away from the cross-cultural situation for a time. This is tiring on what is supposed to be down-time.
  6. Replacement — during your absence, ministry needs to continue in a place like a church, hospital, or support ministry. It often isn't easy to find replacements. Thankfully this isn't a problem for teachers.
  7. Cultural norms — not every culture has the same attitude towards holidays that Australians have.
  8. Climate — not every ministry location is a good place to take a relaxing holiday. When we first arrived in Hokkaido, we were surprised at how all the missionaries seemed to holiday between June and September. Some of that is related to school holidays, but the rest is that for those in Hokkaido, it is the only time when it is warm enough!
I'm sure if I thought a bit longer I could come up with more!

For those of us in Japan, numbers one and two are a big issue. As is the lack of self-catered holiday homes or units here. Japanese typically take only a few days holiday at a time and often spend them in expensive hotels. The solution to this for many missions and missionaries is to acquire houses/cabins in-country for budget holidays. We've also taken up tenting holidays. Flying to Australia from Japan is also expensive, that is the main reason we don't holiday in Australia every year.

With regards to number three. I always think of the passage in 1 Corinthians which reads:  
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (Ch. 3:16,17, NIV)
These are harsh words by Paul, but it's clear I have a responsibility to look after my body. If I don't, then not only will my ministry and others suffer, but I'm sinning against God.

Number four was an issue for us this last trip. One of the reason we hired a motorhome and drove to Uluru was so that we could have some time "on our own".  We met some Australians who have been involved in cross-cultural work within Australia. They expressed the same tension,   "How can we organise a holiday that doesn't involve meeting scores of friends and family without offending people?"

I didn't mention cross-cultural adjustments. Entering your home country again after being away for a while takes some adjustments. That can be stressful (although we didn't find it so this last time).

What other challenges do you think might face cross-cultural workers in trying to take time off?

28 August, 2012

I have new stuff

I'm not sure why, but I have some difficulty owning up to the fact that we have some new "stuff" that I'm gaining a lot of pleasure from.
  • Is it a missionary thing? That we have to always have second-hand stuff (you know, the old "used tea" bag syndrome)?
  • Or is it a reaction against the materialism that so encases our societies?
  • Or is it that I secretly feel that having (and enjoying) new stuff is an ungodly thing to admit? Something like the ancient gnostics who believed everything non spiritual was inherently bad?
  • Or perhaps it is this song:

Well I'm now going against my feelings and I'll tell you about the stuff we've got.

David's mum wanted to give us a big gift when she was here. She ended up buying us a new digital TV (our old TV was a dinosaur and because Japan is now totally digital we haven't been able to watch live TV for some time). It's 28 inch and is wonderful. But we still can't watch live TV. Our antenna needs to be changed, so as I type I'm hearing the antenna guy outside replacing our antenna (thankfully at the expense of the landlord). By the way, what a terrible job, climbing on people's roofs: stinking hot in summer, freezing cold in winter! So soon we'll be able to watch Japanese TV. I don't even know what's on these days, it's been several years . . .

When we went to Costco, just after our camping trip back a few weeks, we finally found a Stick blender. We were given one for our wedding, but had to leave it in Australia because Australian electrical goods need 240 volts and the Japan's network only gives out 110 volts. And up till now we haven't seen separate stick blenders (apart from a food processor which we already have), or they've been too expensive. But now we have one. David made smoothies the other day with it. Today I made myself an iced decaf coffee and also blended the home made tomato sauce (US = ketchup) that I whipped up. It's terrific, the stick blender, I mean! But I'm sure that the tomato sauce will be great too, it smelt delicious.

Broken over-the-ear headphones
New ear buds.
Yesterday I did some shopping for Fathers day and another family birthday. While I was out I also bought myself some snazzy ear buds after my fragile over-the-ear ones broke on our journey to Australia. My new ear buds have a retractable cord and different sized rubber bits. So you can choose the size that fits your ear canal. Makes sense! I've always had trouble with ear buds because I have narrow ear canals. By the way, ear phones are wonderful things for long train journey like I'll do on Monday to our monthly OMF prayer meeting.

And I got interrupted in my posting by the antenna man who got busy discovering that most rooms in this house (think four out of our six rooms, not including bathroom or toilets) had outdated TV outlets. Ancient, if I read things correctly. They were finished installing the antenna a loooong time before they finished sorting out all the outlets! But now we seem to have access to a lot of stations, even a free satellite disk that the "ABC" of Japan provides. We shall have to explore this.

So now you know about my new stuff. Do you ever feel embarrassed about owning new stuff or is that just my special weirdness?

27 August, 2012

"Just me" time

After a peaceful weekend with "just us" I am enjoying a day of "just me". In fact the start of a number of "just me" days. It is amazing how much you can get done when it is "just you". I can think again!

It's been more than 11 weeks since I've had one of these days and it really helps me learn to value my independence. I love:

  • the freedom and ability to plan my day (between 8.30 and 3.30) as I wish 
  • not to have to answer to anyone about where I'm going or for how long or why
  • not to have to explain anything to anyone about why I'm doing what I'm doing
  • not to have anyone hanging over my shoulder as I try to work on the computer
  • to be able to go to the gym when I want to, without having to consider how that impacts anyone else
  • to leave the house and know that no one will have a meltdown while I'm away
  • to be able to sit down and do something until it is finished without interruptions
  • to have peace and quiet all day long
  • to sit and eat lunch without having to talk to anyone, or adjudicate any fights, or make painful conversation, or...
I guess I have a pretty good job, don't you think? And I already have more energy. My energy-stealers are all at school!

So, after an absence of exactly two months I went back to the gym. I also was able to go gift shopping and make decisions (I couldn't do that last week when I took my mother-in-law shopping, something about having someone else with me made it very hard to think).

I'd liked to have done some more work on the magazine, but our prayer letter was begging for attention, so I'll have to leave the magazine to tomorrow. And guess what? Tomorrow, and in fact the rest of the week, are "just me" days! Yippeee.

25 August, 2012

"Just us" time

Early this morning we saw off David's mother to fly back to Australia. We enjoyed her visit — her fresh wonder at this place Japan and our "Japanese" lives that has become as familiar to us as an old cardigan. We don't "gaze and wonder" much anymore in our local area. It is amazing to have someone new come along and remind us of how different our lives (or at least the superficial bits) really are to what they'd be if we were in Australia.

But it is also tiring to have all that "gazing and wondering" because, obviously as the local experts, we fill the role of "explanation givers" (even when we have no idea of the right answer). That gets wearying.

So, now we are enjoying some "just us" time at home with no big agenda to fulfil. It feels a bit like a long-lost piece of clothing that was packed away many months ago and just now trying it on again is a bit unfamiliar, yet comforting.

For most of the last two months we have been in other people's houses, or rolling along in a motor home with a tight agenda, or had someone in our house. And for the month before that We had little schedule, with the boys on holidays, but David and I still working (and not forgetting our camping adventures). Wow, no wonder I was feeling a little stressed. As a family we all enjoy routine, and there has been precious little of that over the last three months. Or if we did have a routine, it was stretched out of shape to accommodate other people as well. So, I've been feeling stretched. I'm ready to go back into shape, the regular shape of our non-holiday lives in Japan.

But I was happy to try something new yesterday, something I've been meaning to do for a long time. I tried my hand at making some tomato chutney. Earlier in the week I found some tomatoes for a cheap price and bought several kilos. I tried it using the slow cooker to reduce the heat in our house. Only problem was that it didn't boil off enough liquid so I needed to finish it off in a saucepan. But I still think the slow cooker was a good idea, because it reduced the amount of time I needed to use the hot stove. Next thing? To try to chutney out!

24 August, 2012

Guest post by my mother-in-law

Last year when we had visitors from Australia I asked them to write a guest blog post (see here from Evelyn and here from David). So now, as my mother-in-law's time with us draws to a close I asked her to write a little something too. Here are her impressions:

What can I say about my time in Japan with my family! 

A young grandma on the flying fox!
It has exceeded any expectations I might have had. To be able to actually have time with David, Wendy and their three boys and to share in their lives has been a tremendous experience. To me this has been the essence of my time here — what living in Japan is all about . . . sharing in people's daily lives. 

Now I have a wonderful vision of their home, their school, and most of all their walk with the Lord in whose presence I was able to be when I attended church with them all. Praise God indeed!

I would also mention my camping trip with them all — such a very close encounter, to enjoy the Japanese countryside, history and culture which is everywhere. Also the Adventure Trail, game of park golf, climbing step after step to visit waterfalls. 

Shall I mention shopping trips with Wendy, absolutely delightful. I have been so well looked after I am coming back!!

Well, after that rousing report, you'll all want to visit! Actually she's looked after us so well, you're definitely welcome back Mum! Next week we'll have to get back on the horse for various housekeeping matters like washing up, laundry, and vacuuming!

23 August, 2012

Something different about Grade Eight

Our eldest son started eighth grade today. There are a couple of similarities, but numerous differences between the situation our son is in and what it was like for us, his parents, at the same life stage.

When we were growing up eighth grade was the start of high school and in almost all cases required changing schools. Back then in Queensland we had primary schools (1-7) and high schools (8-12). We also had uniforms. Don't you love these photos?

For both of us, this was the first and only school change we made in our school careers. For me, it meant going from a small school (one class of 30 year sevens) to a large school (200+ grade eights in nine classes). It was also the first time we'd had to shift classrooms for all our subjects.

Our son has already shifted "schools" five or six times (depending on whether you count part-time home schooling while he was a Japanese school) since he started grade one (only four "schools", though). He's gone to school in two different countries. He's experienced three different country's schooling systems and school in two different languages.

His current school, the Christian Academy in Japan (CAJ), has an elementary, middle and high school section. So today wasn't as big a transition as David and I made in the 80s, because middle school goes from grades six to eight. Next year he'll enter high school, but he won't change schools, just floors. He doesn't wear a uniform (though he did for 1 1/2 years in Australian schools, and the half a year he spent in Japanese kindergarten between being in Grade 1 in Australia and entering Grade 1 in a Japanese school). He's experienced shifting classrooms and teachers over the last two years.

Perhaps the biggest differences are perhaps deeper, however. A new grade nine teacher at the school made these observations on her Facebook status this afternoon:

  1. All of the students in grade nine except one felt they could communicate in at least two languages.
  2. There are very large number of students whose parents work in some type of missionary capacity here in Japan
  3. Probably more than half of the students have parents that are different nationalities than each other and the students are proud of that fact.
This is a very different school to the ones that David and I entered when we started Grade eight. But it is also a wonderful school and an amazing environment for our kids to be growing in.

22 August, 2012

My life is like a pressure cooker

Wow, now that I'm finished with my Uluru trip diary, I actually have to write here! I still have to tell you about few days after we returned the motor home, they were pretty cool too. But I can't just copy and paste that like I have been with the Uluru trip.

School starts again tomorrow (for the kids, many of the teachers have been working for over a week already). It's been 11 weeks since we farewelled school on this intense day. The time has gone quickly! Tomorrow I will have kids in Grades 2, 4, and 8! Wow.

Actually I can't wait. Things have gotten more and more intense around here, what with David working but his mother still visiting (till Saturday), the heat keeping us mostly indoors, and the boys getting more and more excited and difficult to manage. Not to mention that I'm behind on my Japan Harvest editing (due in part to being in Australia early in the month, and the other part, to having the boys home on holidays). I'm feeling more and more pressure. I'll be glad to have the boys back at school and have those quiet hours between 8.30 and 4 to get things done without interruption.

But I might have to play loud music in the first few days after they're gone to help me concentrate, because those first few days are very quiet. After 11 weeks of boys thundering down stairs and erupting in loud random noises, it isn't easy to adjust to the silence. See my post on last year's first day of school here.

One of the other reasons I'm feeling exhausted is the humid heat. We've had 35 degree Celsius days the last couple of days and last night it barely dropped below 30 degrees and humidity in the 70s has made it difficult to bare. David and I are still struggling with post-cold asthma and I don't think the humidity is making it any easier. Hopefully things will ease up soon.

21 August, 2012

The Final Day

(Saturday 28th July)

Our final run back to Tweed Heads to drop off the motor home was unexpectedly stressful. We were supposed to drop it off at 4pm, but we couldn’t just drive straight from Bundaberg to Tweed Heads, we had to stop off in Brisbane to pick up our next car, but also to clean out the motor home. We had to extricate all our stuff from every little nook and cranny, and believe me, there were a lot of places to store stuff!

Plus we had to stop for lunch and make sure we emptied the right things (think black and grey water) and filled the right things (think petrol tank and fresh water tank).

Then there was a lot of roadwork, especially between Bundaberg until a bit after Gympie where the dual carriageway began. But anyway, the whole morning was frustrating, I felt a bit like we were in one of those reality shows and even though we’d practically completed the long journey, we’d fail if we didn’t get to a certain place in Tweed Heads by 4pm.
Our final motorhome-journey sunrise.

We stopped at our friends’ house to pick up their car. We also removed everything from our home and car of the last 16 days and dumped it on their front lawn. And then we descended into a frenzy of cleaning. It actually didn’t take too long with three or four of us working at it and very soon David drove off with our eldest son in the front seat of the van. Leaving me with the two younger boys and a dishevelled pile of our belongings. I then endeavoured to locate the right bags of clothes and shove them into the right suitcase.

Finally two lanes.

The Gateway Bridge
When I’d filled all the suitcases, I engaged our friend’s help to stuff it all into the car he was lending us. I reflected with him that he probably never expected that “supporting missionaries” would ever involve him in helping us clean a motor home. He agreed it was a little unusual.

About half an hour after David left, I too pulled out on my way to Tweed Heads. This time, after nearly 8,000km of driving in a small “truck” I sat in the driver’s seat of a Commodore Wagon. I felt like I was sitting on the ground. The difference was remarkable. Probably my low seat was the most challenging thing, although later David had a lot of difficulty with the indicator. In the motor home it was on the left (being a Mercedes). In a usual Australian car it is on the right. The lever on the left powers the windscreen wipers.

David eventually beat the deadline by 30 minutes. I didn’t get there till 50 minutes later, primarily because I forgot which exit I had to take off the motorway. It was wonderful to realise that we’d completed our journey safely. We achieved all we’d hoped to achieve.
Goodbye dear motorhome.

And it turned out that we drove 7,990km. Just a bit further than I’d estimated!


To lose one centenarian may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose 230,000 seems like sheer carelessness! Yet, that’s exactly what happened in Japan as officials today revealed that they were unable to locate hundreds of thousands of citizens supposedly aged 100 or over. 234,354 centenarians couldn’t be found at their listed addresses.

In late July, 2010 for instance, the mummified remains of Tokyo’s oldest man, 111-year old Sogen Kato, were discovered at his family home, where he must have laid for the past 30 years.

Soon after, it was revealed that Japan’s oldest woman, 113-year old Fusa Furuya, had in fact vanished decades earlier. And in late August, police found the bones of a 104-year old woman stuffed in a backpack at her son’s apartment. 

Not until recently did an official discover that it was slightly odd that some 77,000 Japanese were listed on the database as having celebrated their 120th birthday, or that 884 of those had hit the grand old age of 150.

It is suspected that many families decided to keep quiet about elderly relatives’ deaths in order to continue claiming state benefits.

Remarkably, this mass gray-haired vanishing act hasn’t caused Japan to lose its title as home of the planet’s longest-living people.

According to the UN, the average life expectancy in Japan is 82.6 years, compared with 78.2 in the US. 

Government officials reassured Japan that the country’s longevity record – a source of considerable national pride – was safe, as the figure is based on a house-to-house census carried out by field workers every five years.
Source: World Weird News 2010-09 via Neil and David Verwey 

20 August, 2012

Final full day

(Friday 27th July)

Roadwork in the misty morning.
Today we drove from Mackay through Rockhampton and into Bundaberg. The landscapes we’ve seen today have been more like we’re used to seeing in Australia. I’m guessing it is pretty typical “within 200km of the coast” open forest that we’ve been seeing yesterday and today. When I think of Australian terrain, that is what most readily comes to mind. It’s been good, though, these last two weeks, to see a different part of Australia altogether.

We had a whole overhead cupboard
full of books for the boys. They learned
to appreciate that by the end of the trip!
We encountered lots of roadwork throughout the day, which was frustrating.
We even waited quite a long time at one petrol station to fill-up the tank, apparently it was an unusually busy day and they only had one bowser with diesel (that had two hoses, but one car with an extra large caravan completely blocked everyone else from getting to it). Plus it took ages to get out of Mackay, partly because we left at peak hour, and our place of stay for the night was a fair way from the highway, but also because we encountered a police road block (for an unknown reason) that we had to negotiate our way around, without a road map. So once again we landed at our destination just at dusk. Not ideal, but not because we hadn’t tried hard and kept the breaks short.

We stopped for a short lunch at David's mother's new house in Rockhampton. It was too short, but thankfully we've already see her this trip and we'll see her again in Tokyo as she's coming to visit when we return.

Beautiful coastal bushland north of Bundaberg.
But our destination was worth striving to get to. We’re with a family who were OMF missionaries in Japan for a few years in our early years in Japan. They’re back in Australia for now, but we love to get together with them because we have so many shared experiences and memories. Plus our kids are very similar ages, even if they don’t really remember each other well. Oh yes, and they’re teachers. So that is something David has in common with them.

Loved these clouds.
My throat is gradually getting better, but it is sore again tonight because we’ve been talking and talking with our friends. My throat is sore from talking, but my heart is full. We started the day with good friends and finished it with other good friends. How much better can it get than that?

Things I’ve really appreciated about this trip 
-       seeing more of Australia than I’ve ever seen in one go before
-       laying eyes on places that I have known about for most of my life, but never been to
-       completing a challenge that most forthright people have declared as “crazy”
-       free camping
-       seeing lots of horizon, and watching multiple sunrises and sunsets
-       doing something that gave our extended family ways to connect with us, when sometime they have trouble finding any common connections with us
-       boasting material
-       the memories it has generated
-       total mental break from Japan and what we normally do in Japan. Just concentrating on getting from point A to point B before the sun set has kept us from thinking about work and refreshed our minds (hopefully).
-       the interesting things David and I never get to discuss in our every day lives

19 August, 2012

Just testing

FB has been a bit weird recently, and thanks to Vicki I've figured out why no one is commenting on my posts there. Somehow I'd limited my posts to only my Mum seeing them! So, this is a test to see if I can get back online with posting my blog posts on FB!

To the ocean

Yes, we have a large state!
(Thursday 26th July)

Yes, we reached the ocean three and a half days after leaving the sentimental “centre of Australia” (not the actual centre of Australia, that is about 200km north of Alice Springs).

This morning we woke up on the beautiful Australian bushland, surrounded by gum trees and birds, and a river flowing just a couple of hundred metres away. It was a beautiful place to begin, unfortunately, much like most of our trip, we couldn’t stay long to enjoy it, we had to “make tracks”. We continued to drive east through Charters Towers and down to Townsville.

Bigger trees, definitely a wetter climate here west of
Charters Towers.
In Townsville we’d arranged to meet someone David taught in his last couple of years of teaching in Australia. This “young man” is now an ordained minister and at the end of the year to be working as an army chaplain. I’ve not met him before, but it was a pleasurable couple of hours where he treated the whole family to beverages from The Coffee Club, and we sat in a green grassy park and ate lunch next to the beach. After lunch we let the boys go down to the beach and touch the ocean. It is the first time in over two years that we’ve been to the beach. The boys loved it. Our eldest even showed our “new” friend some wrestling moves after he’d shown some interest in them. Wrestling on a beach, however, is a very gritty affair. They both came away a bit like lamingtons — covered in sand, but both happy.

This is why Australia's national colours are green and
gold. The most common colour (aside from yellowed
grass) is the green of eucalyptus. Then you see these
stunning flowered bushes: yellow wattle, our national

?Near Townsville. A lot different terrain than what we'd
become accustomed to seeing.

The boys, and in fact all of us, would have loved to stay longer, but again, we had to leave before we were satisfied. We’d organised to stay with friends in Mackay, 300 or so km to the south.

It has been interesting to watching the geography change as we’ve driven to the coast. It is so green and wet and so variable after what we saw hour after hour in central Australia.

City driving terrified me after all the long straight country
driving we'd done. It didn't help that we were driving
a large box-shaped vehicle! I let David do this bit.
A common thread throughout our whole journey is that almost everywhere we’ve stayed and many places we’ve driven through we’d like to have stayed just a bit longer. I can imagine happily doing this same journey over a month rather than 16 days. I’m not sure whether the boys would have been happy too, but then perhaps they would have been. We’ve really had to neglect the E of our EF parenting philosophy. Exercise has been sadly lacking in our long driving days, and we’re seeing the effects of that now, with very ratty boys by the end of the day. Thankfully we only have two more long travelling days to go.

The Beach! 
Tomorrow we leave early again and travel to Rockhampton to see David’s mum’s new house. Then we’ll travel on to Bundaberg to see some more friends who we haven’t seen for three years. We’re nearly at the end of our marathon journey.

18 August, 2012

"Hello" season

This week we continued our three-year-old tradition of welcoming at least one new staff-family to the CAJ area by having them over for a meal and, if they have kids, to a romp in the park.

We had the Erwin family over for dinner on Tuesday night. This is their first time in Japan, though they have lived in Asia before, most of their recent years they've lived in Texas. Their kids are somewhat similar in age to ours, so it was a fairly good mix. Then today, using the train, we took them to a long-term favourite park.

This is the other end of the "goodbyes" that happen in June. Not only do we say "hello" to old friend who return, but we say it to new friends too. It is good for us to see Japan through "newbies" eyes. We get so familiar with things that we forget how difficult it is for newcomers. It is easy for me to beat myself up about how little I know of the language, the culture, etc., but in reality, I know quite a bit (though what I know of this country and language is still a drop in the bucket of what there is to know).

As we straggled out the door this morning, though, I wondered if we were making a mistake. The temperature was already above 30 (actually it barely dips below that overnight in July and August) and the humidity was high. I felt like I was swimming through the air, and it was only 9.45. Thankfully, though, God sent us some rain that cooled the atmosphere just a bit and made it much more bearable.

Going back to an old favourite destination like this is also fun, it helps me to feel a part of this strange land of Japan, just a bit more. After all we have quite a history here now. Most of our marriage and child raising years have been spent here. We have so many memories buried all over the place.

But here's a question for you. If I say, "Erwin" with an Australian accent, Americans think I've said, "Owen".  Should I "put on" an American accent to say their name? I've had to change the way I say "Isaiah" and "Megan" for Americans with those names, so that they match the pronunciation they know, but "Erwin" requires an American "r" and I don't know if I'm comfortable with that . . .

17 August, 2012

The voiceless day

(Wednesday 25th July)

I started the day with less voice than yesterday and that hasn’t improved. It is very difficult to manage my rowdy family with nothing more than a squeak or a whisper. Even worse in a van where just to be heard you have to speak pretty loudly. A few times I resorted to notes. However, “Settle down or you’ll lose another M&M!” just doesn’t have the same force in a note! Even worse is that you can’t easily get other people’s attention. I can barely reach the boy sitting in the rear facing aisle seat, I tell you I was tempted to throw things today!
Where we landed at the end of the day:
Campaspe River.

We started with grumpy boys this morning, actually mostly just one grumpy boy. It was late to bed last night and then he was the one sleeping on the breakfast table, so had to be shifted most urgently this morning. Another one said, “I don’t like this, all day driving, day after day, thing very much.” I could only agree with him.

Today, though, we were able to finish driving a little bit earlier, about 5pm. Enough time to go and explore the flowing river (and give the grey nomads a scare when our boys went up on the narrow road bridge, which constituted the 110km/hr highway, before we knew where they were). It was a very timely spot to stop for the night as the boys had about reached breaking point. About 10km earlier our eldest forcefully thumped the seat repeatedly and then screamed his lungs out. His explanation:
Building a castle with river sand.

“I did it to get out my frustration so that I didn’t thump one of my brothers.”
“What are you frustrated about?”
“I don’t know.”

I could have answered that for him. He was sick of being stuck in this car, just like the rest of us. I applauded his ability to recognise his own emotions and not take them out on his brothers, but the yell was a bit much and gave David, who was driving at the time, a fright.

I didn't look too sick, did I?
This morning I dozed off in my seat after driving the first shift. This is highly unusual behaviour for me (as an adult, as a kid I did it regularly); but probably a combination of tiredness from all this driving and battling a cold. It did help the morning go quickly, though! I was worried about my after lunch driving shift, so I broke my no caffeine rule and drank a Diet Coke. That helped my drowsiness a lot!

In the last driving shift of the day we met a kangaroo on two different occasions. We slowed for both of them, the first one actually took off and jumped across the road only a couple of metres in front of the motor home. If we’d hit it that would have probably been the end of our motor homing holiday. It was fairly large, maybe about 130cm. So it was a relief to get off the road a little earlier today.

Just after sunrise the next morning.
We’re in a lusher environment; the tablelands west of Charters Towers. I’m not sure we saw any water flowing or lying around in the Northern Territory, but there is around here, even water lying along the road. More vegetation, more wildlife. We lost count of the road kill we saw in the hills east of Mt Isa this morning, in fact all along the road. There must have been dozens.

Oh, and tonight is our last official “free camping”. We only have two more nights left in our journey and for both we’ll be parked at the houses of friends in Mackay and Bundaberg.

Tonight we’re in a lovely spot by a river, but the downside is that we’re sandwiched between the highway and the train line. Granted we’ve only seen one train in 3 ½ hours, but every now and then a semi trailer sounds its horn, no idea why, but that could be a disturbing feature of this otherwise charming spot!

Another good thing about today was that we were able to get almost all the clothes I washed last night dry. Only because we travelled basically east all day and, being winter, the sun came steadily from the north, through the window over our bed. At each stop I spread out a new set of damp clothes on the bed and through the whole day it almost all got dry! Amazing.
Sunrise the next morning.

For now, it is 8.45pm, and I can’t wait to lie down on this bed (I’m sitting up while typing). Maybe we’ll need a holiday to get over this holiday?

16 August, 2012

Awesome start, very ordinary finish

(Tuesday 24 July)
This morning we started early again, finishing in time to see the sun rise in a most spectacular place — Karlu Karlu (Devil's Marbles).  I finished tidying up after breakfast a few minutes after everyone left and was most surprised to get out of the motor home and find my entire family standing on the tops of large boulders! I scrambled up too, as far as I dared with my short legs, and watched the sun rise. It was beautiful.

And there is nothing quite a quick scramble on boulders to produce quiet boys for a while afterwards. We had a good start.

But on the whole it was a day when Murphy’s law abounded. The first hint was 100km into my first shift of the day. I was driving carefully at 49 km/hr through Tennant Creek, but missed the school zone sign and was pulled over by a policeman (in a green police car). He was gracious enough to just give me a warning, seeing quite clearly that we were visitors to the state, but it shook me up a little.

This was our third encounter with police in the Northern Territory. The first two were on David’s shifts when he was Random Breath tested plus a visual safety check. Our fourth was to come later today when we stopped at a rest stop across the road from a remote police station. 

On our way out of the rest stop we realised that we’d neglected to take the water cooler off the kitchen bench (a lethal weapon at 100km/h), so David pulled across the highway and onto the verge while we fixed the problem. In that short time the policeman noticed us (we’re pretty obvious) and dashed out in his car to see what was wrong. He was a bit nonplussed that we were fine. There isn’t a rule about not parking in front of police stations, is there? I’m guessing he was having a slow day!

Camping at Karlu Karlu.
Most of the rest of our travels were fairly uneventful, if long. Again, we had very few stops — most were driver and passenger seat changes, fuel, toilet needs. We made it back into Queensland again, our home state.

Oh, but I did pass my second road train (with three trailers)! My first was yesterday just outside of Alice Springs. It is a scary thing to do, especially in a motor home! But thankfully this baby has a good amount of power and we were on the Barkley highway west of the Qld border, which is pretty straight and not high on traffic.

A painted-on road grid!
Check this link:
I’m battling a cold, though I don’t feel too bad. I sound pretty bad though. It is a combination of a cold and talking over the noise of the engine to David as well as shouting back at the boys. My voice gradually faded over the day. I even took a nap. I don’t remember the last time I napped during a car journey.

We pulled into Mt Isa close to dusk, I dashed into Coles to get groceries while the guys got petrol. Then we searched for the caravan park we were booked into. The directions were distinctly unclear and got us lost at a time when we were low on energy reserves. My lack of voice didn’t help my feelings of frustration either. By this time the boys were just acting crazy in the back, and that made finding our way even more difficult. Eventually we found our way and parked. Everything seemed to take so long as we prepared for dinner and sleeping the night, and I began to make mistakes, a sure sign of tiredness.

A lot of straight, flat, featureless land today.
My first mistake was while preparing to wash up after dinner. Without a dish drainer, it is challenging to dry dishes for five people. I was checking the stove to see which element was hot (David cooked left-over pancake mix for dessert) and unthinkingly touched the hot one with the pads of my index and middle fingers. Oooooouch!

Next mistake came soon afterwards. I somehow lost the plus down the plughole. It squished and went shooting down the pipe. Thankfully it is tethered to the tap, so we fished it out eventually!

Third mistake was putting the laundry into the dryer on too weak a setting (which goes with another mistake: not bringing enough dollar coins with us on this trip). End result: a bunch of clothes that are clean and only partly dry and no money to put them through another dryer cycle (office is shut). They’re hanging outside overnight, I hope they are a bit drier before we depart early tomorrow. Wet clothes are difficult to manage when you are travelling!

Fourth mistake: washing myself in the shower with body lotion. It was lovely and smooth, but I wonder how clean I got?

I could write more, but my fingers are hurting and I’m tired. Time to call it a day. Tomorrow onwards towards to coast. We have two days to get to Mackay via Townsville, both days should be less than 700km, which is better than today and yesterday. We’ve driven close to 1,600km since yesterday morning. No wonder I’m a bit muddled. Hopefully it will be a good night and another great start tomorrow. Our youngest son commented to me that he was disappointed we couldn’t see any horizon from our caravan park. I guess we’ve seen a lot of horizon recently and he’s grown to enjoy that. I hope Tokyo won’t be too much a comedown for us all!

Baking in Tokyo

Its hot and I think my brain is short-circuiting. I can do small things, but somehow the long list of articles that need editing for Japan Harvest are eluding me. The truth is that on top of the heat, and the boys still being on holidays and a visitor in the house (mother-in-law), I have a long list of "To Dos", editing being only one of them. And there seems to be many "easier" things to do than edit articles.

It is currently about 32 degrees Celsius with something like 60% humidity. It wasn't much cooler last night, about 29 degrees in our room all night. I woke up with little energy to start the day.

So now I'm sitting in a little damp blob at the computer hoping that some work will get done. Maybe soon I'll put the air con on in this room . . . question is, how long can I hold off? Air con is so expensive to run!

My mother-in-law is struggling with the feeling that Christmas is coming soon, so she's been in the kitchen baking a fruit cake and I've been playing Christmas carols, hoping to cheer us up! But truly, why do Australians bake at Christmas time? It is truly the opposite thing that you should be doing when the thermometer is so high!

Oh well, back to trying to concentrate on editing. I've now given in and the air con is on. We're hunkering down inside, just like we do in the middle of winter. Although I think I prefer winter, at least you can rug up and take the boys outside, in summer it is very difficult  when it doesn't even cool down after the sun goes down.

15 August, 2012

The Loooong Haul

(Monday 23rd July)

Today we drove the longest we’ve driven this trip. About 830km. We left at 7.36am and arrived a bit after 6pm. We took one toilet/driver swap stop, two driver swap/fuel stops and one other fuel stop, none of them long. Lunch was tacked onto one of those fuel stops and consisted of sitting on the gutter at a service station scoffing sandwiches made before dawn. Those who didn’t beat the driver through their sandwiches got to finish their lunch on the road (the driver had her banana waiting at lights to get out of Alice Springs). It was a Loooong day.

The day started well, with lots of quiet in the back, which was good, because it was a challenging start. I drove east just after dawn for two hours before handing over to David. I wore a cap to help me view the road in the face of the sun rising in front of me! It was a bit tricky. Thankfully no wallabies or kangaroos jumped out or we could have been in trouble.

The noise from the boys got worse later, especially towards lunchtime. Without going into details, you only need to know that there were various clashes as siblings are wont to have. One drama king, one stubborn, opinionated boy, and another long-suffering sibling who put up with a lot, but got quite tired of the nonsense and eventually put his foot down. We put our “foots” down quite a number of time too! After lunch David put a DVD on to help quieten the mob. But of course a DVD only lasts so long, so eventually they had to find their own things to do.
A Karlu Karlu sunset

We arrived at our isolated destination not long before sunset and immediately sent the boys to climb on the abundant boulders that lay around. You see we’ve arrived at a place called “Devil’s Marbles”. Actually I prefer the native name for it Karlu Karlu, or “God’s Marbles” as I’ve also heard it called. It is a remarkable area covered with large granite boulders, like a giant’s marble collection that he failed to keep neatly packed away.

We ate a simple tea of bacon and eggs, boiled mixed veggies, and a triple-decker cheese quesadilla (three tortillas with cheese sandwiched between the layers and baked in the small oven we have onboard).  We are “free” camping. Actually we’ve paid $AU7.70 (!) to park here (with about 30 or 40 other parties) and camp with no facilities except a drop toilet. Again, like Avon Downs last week, there is no settlement close by. Free camping has the advantage of being uncomplicated. When you pull up somewhere you have nothing to connect to. You just turn on your gas and, if you’re as late as we were arriving today, start cooking dinner!

We discovered on arrival that the park ranger just happens to do a campfire with an hour of explanation of the local area, flora, and fauna. He also answered questions from the many who gathered around. We got there for the last half of his talk and it was fascinating. One really interesting part was about the climate of this area. It doesn’t have a defined annual cycle. Rather more of a 10 to 20 year cycle that includes wet and dry times. 2010 and 2011 were very wet years (Alice Springs got 76mm of rain in 2009, 760mm in 2010!). Both of David and I were expecting to see a more arid, barren Northern Territory. But it seems we’re here not too long after a prolonged wet period, and that is why it doesn’t seem too arid.

My boast for the day is passing my first three-trailer road train. I'm not sure I've even done that in a car, to do it in a motor home was quite something — holding-my-breath, kind of something! For those of you who aren't Aussies, a road train is a truck with two or more trailers (see Wikipedia's explanation here). The one I passed was more than 50m long. I do need to temper my boast and tell you that the truck was driving at 70km/hr (on a 130km/hr road) and driving up a hill . . . but I did pass it. (Ed's note: I passed another one the next day too and David passed one later, east of Mt Isa . . . or at least he says he did, I was asleep.)

Well, we’re up early again tomorrow, hoping to leave at about the same time — just after sunrise. We’re aiming for Mt Isa, where we’re booked into a caravan park. If we get up early, though, we might just have a little bit of time to explore the close-by boulders a little (the boys did today before the sun set, but we didn’t as we were busy with making dinner and a little bit of set-up).