28 February, 2013

Touring Tokyo in an unusual way

A river in central Tokyo
Today I toured Tokyo with five eighth graders. It was an unusual kind of school excursion. Certainly not like any school excursion I ever went on when I was a kid.

The students were put into groups and given a list of places they had to visit around Tokyo, in a certain order, and have photos of the group taken at those spots. Some of the places were famous, others were more obscure. They also had to find someplace to buy lunch.

We had train tickets, particularly a day-pass for the famous Yamanote line. The line that you could go around and around and around all day without getting off. It connects some of the biggest train stations in the world, including Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Ueno stations.

Here's what Wikipedia tells us about this important train line in Tokyo:
An estimated 3.7 million passengers ride every day on Tokyo's Yamanote Line, with its 29 stations. For comparison, the New York City Subway carries 5.08 million passengers per day on 26 lines serving 468 stations,[2]and the London Underground carries 2.7 million passengers per day on 12 lines serving 275 stations.[3]
Asking directions from a passerby.
This elderly gentleman actually sent us
in completely the wrong direction, but
thankfully the guys in our group were
proactive about asking directions and we
got back on track soon enough.
All that being said, it is an easy line to work with because all the trains stop at every station and there is no end to the line. So there are no confusing trains that skip stations or trains.

My role was just in case some emergency like an earthquake happened. I wasn't supposed to have any kind of leadership role. I have to say that perhaps I asked questions at times or made suggestions, but I tried to keep that at a minimum.

One of the hardest things for the group seemed to be deciding on how to pose in the photos. Their brief was to have a different pose at each place. They would stand around looking at one another, no one willing to take leadership in deciding. Funny! In other ways the leadership of the group was taken care of quite well in most cases.

I can't imagine doing this as a kid. First of all we had hardly any public transport in our "small" regional centre (about 60,000). Secondly, competence in using public transport was just not an important.

We often get questions about the make-up of student population of CAJ. In our group, only one of the students and I look foreign. Each of the others have at least one Japanese parent and all of those four have lived their entire lives in Japan. The only foreign looking student has lived most of her life in China. Some in our group are missionary kids, others are children of business folk who want their children educated in English.

Almost of these students at 12/13/14 years of age have more competence at Tokyo's complicated public transport system than I do! Not hard, I know, but true.

These days I'm not sure whether an Australian school would consider it a safe activity. I could be wrong, though. Japan is so safe (violence-wise) that prior to the earthquake disaster two years ago, this activity was conducted without any adult presence at all.

The other thing that makes it an interesting activity is the bilingual situation. We often stopped to ask directions —in Japanese. That was handled by the bilingual members of our group. Of course I could have asked for directions, but it was nice to have these students use their linguistic skills for the groups' benefit, and they certainly did a better job than I could have.

All that aside, it was a tiring journey. I haven't done exact calculations, but I reckon I walked up to 15 km on hard pavement today. My feet were complaining from mid-way through the day. They're okay now, but my knees are complaining.

However, aside from some aches, I don't feel as tired as I expected to. Actually it was refreshing to go about Tokyo with people who were somewhat responsible for me, rather than the other way around. I enjoyed their company and didn't feel like too much of a "old fogey". Until near the end when two ladies shifted so that the foreign-looking girl could sit next to me and I realised that they probably thought she was my daughter. And yes, these kids are the same age as my eldest!

But for now, I'm headed to bed to nurse my aching legs.

27 February, 2013

Does Japan need missionaries?

I heard yesterday that

  • Korea has one church for every 738 people 
  • Philippines has one church for every 880 people 
  • Japan has one church for every 16,000. 
And yet at the same time the number of missionaries and pastors is decreasing.

Does Japan need missionaries?

As I talk to missionaries in Japan, pretty much everyone has stories of supporting churches who no longer support them because:-

• they don't see Japan as a needy field anymore
• Japan is too expensive.
• they'd rather support native pastors directly
• Japan isn't in the 10/40 window (by the way, it is)

Yes Japan is expensive, but it is still a needy field. There are many who've never heard of Jesus and the church (under 1% of the population) isn't big enough to evangelise their own country.

Another statistic I heard yesterday is the suicide rate: 30,000 per year. That's 300,000 in 10 years. So the truth is that Japan, though a "first world" country and a place where people don't look needy, is a country full of people with deep needs and not just spiritual ones. So yes, more than church planters and evangelists are needed.

Nearly two years ago the world's spotlight was turned on Japan when a huge earthquake and tsunami (not to mention a serious nuclear event) hit this country. There are many people who didn't "get wet" in that disaster, and many who didn't die, yet more than 50,000 have since died by their own hand since then.

Does Japan need missionaries? Yes.

26 February, 2013

Another controversial video

Yesterday I posted a somewhat controverisal video about Americans. Today I give you a wider view of the person who made that video.

I'm really flipping the camera back onto Japan and the ignorance* that is here. He is coping a lot of flack (yes, death threats too) for a video he posted about racism in Japan and how little his Japanese high schoolers know about it. Check out the Washington Post article for more details about it.

He says:
 “If I should have anticipated something, I should have anticipated the netouyu,” he told me [the author of the Washington Post article], referring to the informal army of young, hyper-nationalist Japanese Web users who tend to descend on any article — or person — they perceive as critical of Japan.

Here is the controversial video:

* Ignorance noun
the state or fact of being ignorant; lack of knowledge, learning, information, etc.

25 February, 2013

Ignorance on display

I saw this video yesterday and was shocked. It shows 10 young Americans on a beach answer questions about Japan. Their ignorance is cringe-worthy. I especially couldn't believe their answers to "Which country had a nuclear bomb dropped on it?" and "If you went there today, what would you see Japanese wearing?"

Mind you, I'm not American-bashing here. I'm sure that there are many Americans who'd do better at answering these questions than these people do. But I'm also curious as to how young Australians might answer these questions.

24 February, 2013

Recovery, before what?

I described last week as a doozy. I didn't mention it was a doozy for the whole family.

Samples from the six batches of biscuits (US=cookies)
 that our middle schooler made for his Science Expo experiment.
He compared the effect of different types of flour on the
size, appearance, and taste of the biscuits.
While I was away the middle school science department held their science expo/fair. My husband, as the school science head, helped out quite a bit. It meant that all the guys were at school until after 8 on Thursday night.

My eldest also wore a tie for the first time. I've only got photo evidence though—it was a pity to miss it. He did have a popular stand as he was giving away the biscuits that he made. This particularly impressed the elementary kids who came through with their teachers on Friday morning.

Needless to say, in order to recover, we've had a pretty low key weekend.

The next week is also a big week, though not quite as massive as last week. Monday night and Tuesday afternoon I'm going to some annual JEMA meetings. JEMA (Japan Evangelical Missionary Association) is the organisation that publishes the magazine I edit. It's easy for me to hide away behind the computer in my dining room and do my job, but it's time to get out and meet a few more missionaries, particularly men!

Tuesday evening our new OMF National Director is coming to dinner with his Scottish brogue.

On Thursday I'm accompanying some of the Eighth graders on an interesting outing called the Tokyo Tour. I'll tell you more about it after I've been!

On Friday our 13 y.o. will take off for a long weekend youth group camp (they call it a retreat...).

Friday is a student-free day, but our other two boys will be looked after for some of the day as part of teacher's kid's childcare.

Phew! Next weekend will be a recovery weekend (for four of us) too. But really, there's not much that isn't busy about the next five weeks. It is the season in the year where there a very few nights where we're all at home, and everyone gets to pack a bag and be away for at least a couple of nights.

So, there's nothing to do but take a deep breath and dive in.

23 February, 2013

Wrap-up on the first Tohoku Writer's Workshop

I'm on such a high. Writer's workshop went really well and everyone was so encouraging.

I didn't make any serious blunders, though I'm still wondering how we managed to pick a restaurant for Thursday night dinner that was 11km away from our lodging and in the middle of city of Sendai. Nonetheless it was a pleasant restaurant and not too expensive.
View from the window of the meeting room we used.

What most encouraged me was the general feeling of participants that these workshops are a good thing and that we should continue to hold them. Also the notion that we're building momentum here, that this "baby" of mine is going to get bigger and more popular!

It is a strange thing starting up something like this—an event that isn't a one-time thing. I've done it mostly on my own, with sideline support from my editing boss. And I've wondered, at times, if it is worth the effort. It certainly has stretched me in numerous ways.

Other encouraging things:

  1. God provided great travel companions for my journey and someone to share the driving. We were together for 10 hours, and we rarely lacked for good conversation.
  2. One of my travelling companions is an editing team member and a friend. I've only just begun to realise how good a friendship has developed between us. Knowing that is even more precious to me than the great working relationship that we have.
  3. That same friend/colleague and I worked well together (she was unofficially helping teach). She enjoyed the workshop and is keen to help out as she can in the future with workshops.
  4. Seeing one of the participants who didn't classify himself as a writer join us and soak up the teaching on basic good writing principles. He begged me for more as often as he could.
  5. The weather, though cold, didn't present us with snow to drive through. Thank you God!
  6. My premise in organising these workshops is to keep them simple and affordable. In this case, it was hard work to do the latter, especially as I had no one local to help. However in the end I managed to put together a workshop that cost under 6,000 yen (about AUD$60) for two nights and two days, including a restaurant meal (participants supplied a couple of their own meals). That is pretty amazing for the expensive land of Japan, and fairly important when your target audience is missionaries.

Things I learnt:

  1. I can teach about writing. I can.
  2. I can lead. I can.
  3. Next time I should ask one of the participants to take care of hot water, coffee and snacks.
  4. Don't always believe the nice Information lady at the express rest stop who tells you that snow chains will be necessary up ahead.
  5. I can organise events, even if it stresses me out.
  6. Future events shouldn't be held up north in the winter.

We drove left the workshop at 4pm and didn't get home until 9.30pm. It was a long drive, though thankfully the roads weren't congested. To help with weariness I drank a rare coffee at dinner time, knowing it would probably keep me up late. I didn't anticipate that my mind would still be racing at 3.30am! I did manage to sleep for a few hours before that, but woke up before 3. I eventually drifted off again, but I awoke feeling as though I could have had a better sleep.

I'm not totally convinced it was the caffeine, I think the high of the workshop, the great conversation on the road home, and several ideas for future workshops can share some of the blame. Nonetheless, no caffeine has crossed my lips today and I'm hoping for a good long sleep tonight.

22 February, 2013

Answer to Photo Question #28

I asked you a couple of days ago if you could guess where I'd acquired this plastic basket? No one came close. 
I found this as I walked home from CAJ one day. It was sitting on top of some other new-looking items in a rubbish pile! It is a little hard to see here, but there is a paper sticker in the basket. This convinces me that almost certainly this as never been used.

Missionaries who've been here longer than us talk about the "old days" when large rubbish was frequently put out on the road for collection. Many a missionary home has been supplemented by other people's "rubbish" collected off the streets. It happens rarely these days in the city. Governments have become strict about large rubbish, that's another blog post, but basically people don't usually leave large pieces of rubbish out anymore. It was quite a surprise to find this.

21 February, 2013

Short update from the mid-north

Blogging here from the midst of the Tohoku Writer's Workshop.

Yesterday we made it up to Sendai without needing chains, but not without seeing snow. There were plenty of snow flurries, but none heavy enough to stick to the road. So thankful.

A couple coming from the other direction didn't have such an easy time. They encountered a blizzard, but made it through okay and joined us for the night at our Seminary accommodation. I was late to bed and didn't sleep really well, pretty typical for my first night away.

Then today I've had only about an hour free. We've had lots of great interaction about writing.  An enjoyable little group, but a little hard to keep to time. I hate being the timekeeper and I haven't done a great job of it today.

Anyway, at 10.25pm I'm feeling pretty weary. It's time to call it quits for the night. I hope the wind dies down a little, though, the sound of it whistling past the building today has made me feel chilled, even though I'm warm enough inside.

Tomorrow is more free writing time and therefore my time is more free. I do have to provide breakfast and lunch, but they will be simple. Mid-afternoon we'll head home again, hopefully making it there by 9 or 10.

I'm so happy my boys are older and able to interact over the phone while I'm away, though. Two of them even asked how things were going for me up here. I love it.

20 February, 2013

Photo question #28

Here's a different type of photo question. Can you guess where I acquired this small washing basket?

19 February, 2013

What my dad didn't teach me

Before he let me drive on my own after I had my licence at 17, my dad made sure I could change a car tyre on my own.

But he didn't teach me how to put on snow chains. I never learnt in the four years I spent in the snowy north of Japan, because in autumn all tyres are changed to "winter" or "studless" tyres, no chains are used. It is only down here, where we only occasionally need them, that this skill is necessary.

This afternoon I knelt in our grubby carport and leant how to put snow chains on our car. I soon didn't notice the snow falling gently on the road or how cold my ears felt. It took us some time to figure out how to do this and quite a bit of muscle to link the pieces into place. I distinctly remember my husband telling me the petite Japanese saleswoman who sold him these chains had said, "These are easy, I use them myself." Hmmm. I beg to disagree. I wish I had a photo or a video to show you, but it didn't cross my mind as I sniffled my way through learning this new skill.

Tomorrow I'm headed north where there is guaranteed to be snow on the roads, especially once we get off the expressway. My highest hope is that we can stop at a petrol station (US=gas station) to get someone to put the chains on at the appropriate time. Otherwise it will be up to me.

Pray with me that it will all go well, whatever we end up having to do.

18 February, 2013

A bit of a breather before a doozy

The boys rushed around
finding food samples, that
Costco is famous for
providing. It cut our lunch
costs down—they were al-
ready half full before they
got there!
Today and tomorrow we're taking a breather. A non-weekend breather. It is the four-day long weekend called Winter Break at CAJ, which means everyone, even the teacher in the family, can be home.

We went to Costco this morning, and the much anticipated Lego Shop at the Outlet Mall next door (to get our free new year's catalogues—a family tradition).

Costco wasn't too crowded i.e. we found seats straight away for the five of us to sit together for lunch at their "restaurant" afterwards. And the boys were better behaved than we've previously seen at Costco (are they growing up?).

What made it a less stressful trip was that I could relax and leave most of the shopping and lifting to my husband, who does a fantastic job at these sorts of things.
Eating afterwards at the
Costco fast food "restaurant".

What isn't so good is that I'm fighting off a cold. It hasn't been too bad, but my energy is a bit low. Plus, I know that I'm leading up to a big week!

This week is the week of the Writer's Workshop that I've been planning for several months now. To avoid the dramas of the last Writer's Workshop I led and taught at (in which I arrived nearly 2 hours late), I'm driving up the day before. That way I can't be late, can I? Surely some other drama will happen (like snow, for example...).

So, everyone goes back to school on Wednesday and I gather myself to drive up to Sendai (about five hours). Thankfully I have two companions, one of whom will help with driving. Hopefully I'll be past the worst of my cold by then.

The other writers arrive on Thursday morning, and if everyone turns up we'll be a nice group of six. My responsibilities, not only includes hostess, but schedule keeper, teacher, driver, and chef! I'm providing breakfast and lunch on Friday (simple, mind you!). But I'm not planning to do any writing myself, surprised?

That is not my only challenge. My executive editor has challenged me to be more confident in my teaching. We'll see if I can muster more boldness. I wonder if my trouble last time, though, was related to the humbling experience of getting lost on the trains and being late!

We'll see how well it goes, but I predict I'll be worn out by the time we get back on Friday night. Thankfully what follows is a quiet weekend!

But as for the rest of our long-weekend. It's looking to be cold (5 degrees forecast tomorrow) and wet. Thankfully we've planned a quiet "in" day tomorrow. Two DVDs planned, including The Karate Kid (original)!

16 February, 2013

Some help with my rubbish please

We have this unopened bottle of Tabasco Sauce waiting for disposal. We received it a couple of years ago from departing teachers cleaning out their apartment. It is now more than two years past its use-by date.

My problem is that I'm not sure how to dispose of it.

Do I toss the whole thing into our "burn able" bin? Or do I empty it out into the sink/toilet/backyard, wash the bottle and put it into our "glass" rubbish and the lid into the "unburnable" bin or should it go into the "plastic" bin?

How about you? How would you dispose of it where you are?

Snack Management

For the cynics from last weekend. Here is how much slice we have left. Still a quarter remains after a week.

Full disclosure demands that I tell you my husband made a double batch of scones for afternoon tea on Sunday and we froze what we didn't eat. Those were used for one afternoon tea during the week. Also, two of my boys have been trawling through their Valentine's haul and used that for afternoon snacks the last two days.

I'd make some more biscuits for lunch boxes today, because this slice certainly won't last much longer (though we only have a three day week this week, Monday and Tuesday are "Winter Break").

However, my freezer is full of dozens of biscuits—the result of my middle schooler's science fair experiment with different types of flour. I'm going to insist that he removes them from the freezer on Monday when we go to Costco (I want the room for meat). The Science Fair/Expo is next Thursday and Friday. He's going to have samples on his "stand" for people to try out. I figure the rest is fair game for the family!

15 February, 2013

Concessions Stands

Concession n. 1. the act of conceding or yielding, as a right or privilege , or as a point or fact in an argument. 2. the thing or point yielded. 3. something conceded by a government or a controlling authority, as a grant of land, a privilege, or a franchise.

When we first came to CAJ we were confronted with a whole swag of new vocabulary. Freshman, Sophomore, Varsity, Brain Bowl, Agenda (when referring to a homework notebook), etc.

Concessions Stand or "Concessions" for short was another. It seems a strange name for a place to buy food and snacks at events, but Wikipedia has just enlightened me. They say:
concession stand (American English), snack kiosk or snack bar (British EnglishIrish English) is the term used to refer to a place where patrons can purchase snacks or food at a cinemafairstadium, or other entertainment venue. Some events or venues contract out the right to sell food to third parties. Those contracts are often referred to as a concession — hence the name for a stand where food is sold. Usually prices for goods at concession stands are greater than elsewhere for the convenience of being close to an attraction.

At wordorigins.org someone writes:
At many venues, the owner grants concessions to individual vendors allowing them to sell refreshments and other articles on the premises. Hence the term. 
This is the CAJ Concessions Stand. It is run by
seniors to raise funds for their Senior Ministry
Trip to Thailand in March. They usually run it at
sporting events, but also various cultural events
too. There is a lot of snack/junk food (some of
which is American and not widely available in Japan).
But they also serve basic main meals like hot dogs,
Japanese curry rice, chilli dogs, etc.
Concessions happens in the gym lobby if the sports are
gym-based sports. That's good when we're talking winter
sports, it's often below 5 C at night.
This was not a crowded night, but we enjoy going down to
school on some of these nights, eating their food for dinner, thereby
supporting the seniors in their fundraising, and also catching
some of the games. Though we usually have to leave before
the end in order to get kids in bed and homework completed.

We relied on other schools' Concession Stands a bit at Wrestling events, we usually take a swag of food with us, including sandwiches, but sometimes something hot is nice.

Another small piece of American culture and language for you!

14 February, 2013

Compulsory Valentines Day

I remember being shocked two years ago when we received a notice from our boys' school that exchanging Valentine Cards was compulsory, for the lower grades anyway!

After two years of this I was not so surprised to receive that email this time, but I did manage to find some cool cards that were easy to print out. My youngest son's love language is gifts, so he absolutely adored filling these out and taping lollies to the backs to give to friends.

I got these from: http://www.livinglocurto.com/downloads/valentines-day-free-downloads/

Now the two younger boys are home early, calculating how much "treasure" they have.

What I'm sadder about, though, is the rumour I've heard that Valentine's Day has turned bad in the Philippines. I'm not sure of the details, but this article at least says that some groups distribute condoms around Valentines' day near flower shops and motels.

In Japan it is the day that women give chocolate (and other presents) to men in their lives, including bosses and colleagues. Men get their chance a month later on White Day.

I have to say, though, that we haven't been very good at this tradition in any forms (except for the compulsory party and gift giving). I haven't got any chocolate to give David. We're still gradually eating our way through Christmas chocolate, our waists don't need any more!

13 February, 2013

Sweet and Sour -- from scratch

One of the things you learn to do when you go overseas to live, is make dishes you love from scratch, because you're rarely going to get them any other way.

Sweet and Sour is one dish that's worked well for us. I don't make it so often anymore, because of the bitter complaints from 3/5 of the family. Only David and I enjoy the delicious sauce. Therefore I don't make them eat it. I cook the meat separately and keep some unadulterated for them to eat (last night they committed sacrilegious culinary errors by putting tomato sauce (US=ketchup) on the chicken, imagine that?).

In any case, someone asked for my recipe, so here it is.

Sweet and Sour Chicken/Pork/Beef

Meat (for the five of us I usually use about a kilogram and get a nice amount of leftovers)
1 onion
1 carrot
1 capsicum (US=pepper, I think)


125 ml pineapple juice
125 ml white vinegar
80 g sugar
30 ml tomato sauce (US=ketchup)
about 4 teaspoons of cornflour
1 cup pineapple pieces
1 dessertspoon soy sauce

  1. Cut meat into small pieces or strips and dry fry quickly in pan. Remove meat from pan.
  2. Saute sliced onion and capsicum in a little oil.
  3. Add thinly sliced carrot and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. 
  4. Combine vinegar, sugar, pineapple juice and tomato sauce. Blend cornflour into these.
  5. Add sauce to pan. Stir until thickened.
  6. Add cooked meat.
  7. Add soy sauce and pineapple pieces just before serving, allowing only time for the pineapple to heat up.
  8. Serve with rice and additional vegetables.
See, it's easy and doesn't take too long! And the aroma is something to be believed. I had a hard time not salivating in the pan last night!

12 February, 2013

Crowd-avoidance is an art-form in Japan

In Japan, you quickly learn when to expect crowds and how to avoid them. Just the same in Australia, although crowd-avoiding tactics need to be ramped up a bit here. In Australia I know that Saturday morning grocery shopping will be busy, I also know that certain roads in Brisbane will be crowded at rush hour.
A train where we couldn't get a seat, but not really too
crowded. People are hanging onto the straps for balance.
If you are so squished that you can't lose your balance,
that is a truly crowded train.

In Tokyo, I know that certain trains at certain hours will be crowded (and if you think you know what crowded is, take a look at these shocking photos the Daily Mail published a few months ago). I know that, if possible, it is best to avoid going to the doctor on Monday mornings or any morning just after a public holiday. We've come to know that public holidays are bad times to take road trips or go to some parks.

I've learnt that going to Curves at their opening time, 10am, is stress-inducing. I've only done it once. It involves lining up and racing a bunch of grandmas to get onto the exercise circuit as fast as you could.There are only 24 places. If you are too slow, you had to wait half-an-hour till the first ones on finished their workouts.

So I usually go about 11.30 or 12 and generally I can get straight into my workout. Occasionally I'm surprised, however. Today when I arrived I had trouble finding a place for my bike out front. When I opened the door I found the entire entrance almost blocked by shoes. And looking up, there seemed to be people occupying every square metre of the place. It was crazy! Yes, yesterday was a public holiday, and tomorrow might be a snowy day.

The thing that amazes me about Curves in Tokyo, though, is the way people can exercise and stretch in relatively tiny spaces without touching one another. If you aren't familiar with Curves' set-up, take a look at this video for an explanation. At one point it shows a regular circle with a machine-—recovery station-—machine—recovery station pattern. My local gym has the recovery stations and the machines staggered in and out of the circle so that they fit in a remarkably tight space. But you do have to be careful that you don't fling your arms or legs around too much, or you'll hit someone.

If you do touch someone, you apologise straight away, with fervour. It amazes me, though, that these polite women are the same ones who push their way onto trains. Who don't appear to think anything rushing up to a soon-to-close train door and elbowing their way inside.

Ah, the mysteries of cross-cultural living.

11 February, 2013

A peculiar day

Today's just been weird.

It started off quite normally, until my eldest didn't go to school as usual, but instead walked with me there at 8.45. It was Student-led conference day. The day when middle and high school students present their work (for us, one challenging and one enjoyable piece of work per subject) to their parents and talk about their goals for the rest of the school year. It was good to see how our son is self-evaluating and the improvements he's made in the last couple of years!

Unexpected photo project
Then we came home, both of us! I've spent the rest of the day working on a photo book that will be professionally printed. Finally our Uluru trip photos will find a suitable home. It's been one of those "must do" jobs that just gets pushed aside by everything else. But I hadn't planned to do it today.

It's just that my friend and the designer of the magazine I edit shared a deal on Facebook the yesterday that My Publisher was offering. A free 20 page photo book if you shared their deal on your FB page. Plus our designer highly recommended them as a company. It was too good to pass up. The hitch is that the deal expires next Monday. So, I had to make time to do it this week.

Firstly I had to choose photos from the 535 photos that we took (and if I could go back I'd take more)! That took until lunch-time. Then, after lunch I had to figure out how to use the programme. It didn't take too long, but squishing the 85 photos I wanted into 20 pages with decent layout was quite a challenge. Not surprisingly I ended up leaving out some!

However the whole thing has unfortunately taken up a good portion of my day. I say unfortunately because the timing isn't great. I have a whole lot of articles sitting waiting for me to edit them and get them moving along in the process towards publication. I also have another article I have to write myself due on Friday. Argghh. I hate it when things pile up like this.

The weirdness of today
It was weird, however, doing all this in a not-quite-empty house. My son spent a lot of time next to me, working on a big lab report. Thankfully he didn't require much help from me, but merely my presence to keep him on-track. I wonder if it counts as an unfair advantage to have the head of science as his dad? Not that David's done much except counsel and cajole him along the road to getting the report written...

It is strange to be alone in the house all day with my eldest. He's the one most likely to be absent—at training, or sporting events, or various school excursions or camps. And I can't remember the last time he had to stay home for illness. It is distinctly weird. He found it a bit odd too, remarking how quiet the house was. I remarked with glee that that is how the house is every day that they go to school and I stay home and work!

But I must say that I did enjoy his company. He's turning into a young man I'm proud to know.

He's also enjoyed some SQUILT time (not SQUIRT time). Not reading, but Lego play on his own. Yes, our nearly-14 year old is still loves his Lego.

But as for me, I'd better get back to my to-do list, secure in the knowledge that while I haven't made much progress on my immediate priorities, I've at least put time into something that might otherwise have never made it off our hard-drive.

10 February, 2013

Antidote to anxiety

You might have seen some anxiety creeping into recent posts regarding the future. Well overnight God's given me some antidotes to that.

I can't know what the future holds for my precious family.
But I do know the God who holds our future in His hands.
Last night I was reading in Hebrews and came across Hebrews 14:5-6:
Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said,
“I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.”
So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper,
    so I will have no fear.
    What can mere people do to me?” (NLT)
I can't recall having seen that quote in vs. 5 in the context of money before. And then vs. 6 coming after seems a strange transition, though it is in the context of "concluding words" where very often in the New Testament letters there exists a whole list of advice, much like that which a mum sprouts off at her kids just before they go away to something like a camp.

However, I'm thinking about this in the context of my concerns about the future. It is "mere people" who support us, who provide what we need to stay in Japan. But the verse is clear that it is God who I need to rely on, not "mere people". That's significant when you consider that for us "mere people" can stop supporting us, or can make life difficult for us in various transitions that we need to make. Yes, we rely on others to help us, but ultimately we relying on God our helper, who has promised repeatedly that he will never fail us or abandon us. Comforting words. Encouraging thoughts.

Then I sit in church this morning and listen to a sermon about "Letting Go", based around Abraham's episode in Genesis 22 where God tells him to make an offering of his only son and lets him go through with all the actions preparing for that until the very last minute when God provides a ram instead and assures Abraham that he's proven his faith, and goes on to promise many blessings. The preacher's point (at least from my point of view) was that we can trust God with everything, and indeed that if we withhold things that we will be missing out on blessings.

And here is part of the New Testament verse that was read as part of the service:
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
    and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
    for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2:9b NLT.
Indeed. Who am I to try to imagine what the future might hold? Especially to imagine bad things that might happen. In doing that I'm doing an injustice to God who loves me and has good things planned. He's not guaranteed that bad things won't happen, but instead has promised his presence and help throughout whatever might come.

Yes, I'm feeling encouraged.

09 February, 2013

About today

The last four Saturdays running have been spent at wrestling meets. Getting up before the sun, driving, sitting and waiting, watching, yelling, congratulating, and driving home. Four Saturdays in a row!

I also baked some "Hundreds and Thousands"
slice for snacks this week.
It has been a great pleasure today to get up way after the sun rose, have a leisurely breakfast (after everyone else), and hear the boys having such a great time just staying home. I don't regret the four Saturdays away. Actually we all enjoyed them, but it did get tiring. The last month has raced past. All of a sudden it is mid-February and we're more than half-way through the school year!

For lunch we went to visit some OMF friends who also have three sons, one of which is in our middle son's class. It was a lovely time. We're so rarely invited into someone else's home here (we take up a lot of room in a Japanese house) that it is an absolute treat whenever it happens.

As is often the case in long discussions with other missionaries, talk turned to the future. Future including upcoming conferences (a big one in Hokkaido for us in June), summer holidays, home assignments (them–middle of this year; us–from the middle of next year), and even longer-term, education of our kids post-school, even retirement.

These discussions are interesting, are often repeated in various forms, and sometimes make me feel uneasy. On the one hand, I have enough things being concerned about what's coming up in the next week or month. On the other hand, these future events need to be thought about and planned for. Aspects of that make me uneasy, however. There are lots of unknowns that I struggle with accepting.

The fun part of the discussion was talking about camping. It amazes me how few missionaries have tried camping in Japan. I'm not sure why, maybe because there is an initial outlay involved plus the challenges of finding camping places (mostly in Japanese resources).

Another interesting part of the discussion was about our two very different types of home assignment. Theirs in Singapore, with a single supporting church in a small country. Ours in enormous Australia with dozens of supporting churches and individuals spread across thousands of kilometres. It makes for very different looking home assignments!

Just now, in the background two boys are wrestling in the lounge room. Thankfully it is mostly panting and giggles I hear. The oven is sizzling with some meatballs, and the heater is blowing out hot air to counter the cold below-5C temperatures outside. Upstairs one boy is showering and his father supervising, but probably also folding clothes that dried outside today in the sunshine.

It's been a good day. How was your Saturday?

08 February, 2013

Rich diversity

Some of our OMF colleagues. I can identify about nine
different countries represented here. I have no idea
how many different church backgrounds are represented.
It isn't something we generally talk about.
Theology is not something that I talk about a lot, here or elsewhere. That is, about the various theories that abound about God and our faith as Christians. It has occurred to me today, though, that I'm living in a slightly unusual situation. Most Christians hang out with other Christians who are of the same theological strain as them. That was true of me, mostly, before I became involved in missions. I'd attended Presbyterian churches all my life. I did go to a Lutheran Primary School (Gr.1-7). And hung out at various Scripture Union events (which is interdenominational).  But generally, I fellowshipped with people who had the same sorts of beliefs as me and same "habits" too.

But then I joined a mission organisation that is interdenominational. Mostly OMFers are not charismatic or ecclesiastical and certainly not Catholic; so there is less diversity than in the general Christian population. But for the most part, what theological differences there are are not spoken of in general fellowship. On Monday, it was a little shocking, therefore to hear a short-termer criticise another mission's theology. Especially when I have friends in that mission.

That same short-termer was amazed at OMF's internationalism. It was the first time he, an American, had been in a small group when there were no other American's present. We had a Singaporean couple, a Brazilian, and me, an Australian. Yet the rest of us "old-timers" were not fazed at all. We've grown used to the diversity, of race, but also theology.

Yesterday I participated in a Beth Moore Bible study. It is "driven" by a workbook and DVD sessions by Beth. This one is on Daniel and now she's teaching from the second half of Daniel about end-times events from a pre-millenialist perspective (granted, she's explained the other views also and recommended we learn about them all). That is totally new to me. It is not what I've been taught in my church background. The ladies who attend the Bible study have a variety of beliefs too.

This morning I prayed with some other parents over our school. There are a variety of prayer-habits and theologies there too. The man on my left was "Yes, Jesus" and "Amen" every second phrase. The man on my right was praying some sermons, including some weird theology that I won't even try to explain here. Often we have Japanese-speakers in the prayer meeting and they sometimes pray in their heart-language of Japanese. It ends up being a rich environment of fellowship. We don't argue, we don't agree, we just pray.

So, it is an interesting environment that we function in. It's not unique to mission: I know that when my husband worked in a Christian school in Australia he also experienced a good deal of theological diversity. But when you add in the cultural challenges, as well as the varied cultural backgrounds of those we meet. You have an interesting collection!

I think the general effect is of being more open minded and a little more relaxed about the differences that aren't central to the gospel. But I do know of people who will be shocked about this. I can only think it is a taste of heaven. Yes, in heaven, I believe, we'll all have the same theology, but we'll still bring with us an incredible diversity that we generally don't get to experience here on earth.

07 February, 2013

Writing: Recycling and new

Today I sent off two articles I've written previously for our small denominational magazine to the OMF International's magazine publisher. They're looking for articles for their upcoming magazine on communication. I sent them this one about how churches can support their missionaries and one about encouraging missionaries with questions that arose from several blog posts, including small talk with missionaries and how do I respond to these attempts at small talk.

I'm encouraged that things I've written in the past can be reused again. It saves me a lot of time!

But at the same time I have an email reminding me that it is time to submit another article to our small denominational magazine in Australia. I have no idea what to write. Anyone got some ideas they want to shoot my way? What would you like to read about (from the perspective of a church member of a denomination that supports us)?

06 February, 2013

I feel like I've been bad

One thing I hate about parenting is how little control you end up having. My main gripe at present is regards to school. 

When I was at school I could control (for the most part) if I got in trouble, whether or not I got sent to the principal. And as a conscientious student, I rarely pushed things so far that I was the attention of the principal (not that I was a perfect student by any means, but I had this fear of crossing authority figures that helped a lot). 

As a parent I have little control over whether I get called into meeting with the classroom teacher or principal. It doesn't matter if I've been "good" or not. Although my tendency is to feel that when I am called in, that my parenting skills are being called into question and that I have indeed been a "bad" parent. That is my visceral reaction when I get one of "those" emails or phone calls. Grrr. Why can't my kids just toe the line?

Feeling as I am, I'm not looking forward to the meeting we have later this week. I'm scared that I'm going to embarrass myself by bursting into tears or running out of the room. It doesn't help that the teachers involved are also our friends. Thankfully my teacher-husband will be by my side. 

I just need to keep reminding myself that I am not a bad parent, over and over again.

05 February, 2013

Predictable vs challenging

In recent weeks I've felt some uneasiness. Almost unsettledness, mostly about my editing job, but also about my life in general. Me being as I am, I've thought a bit about this strange feeling, trying to analyse why.

It isn't that I'm unhappy with the job. It isn't that I have something else I'd rather be doing. It certainly isn't that things are tough at the moment.

In fact, we've gotten to a point with the magazine that things are stabilising. The magazine (and my role with it) has undergone huge changes in the last couple of years. Much of this isn't visible to our readers. But the way we put the magazine together, and the standard we are holding ourselves and our writers to, has changed enormously.

I don't have anything else I'd rather be doing at present. I'm very happy with this role and nothing else is beckoning with serious temptation.

But as I've thought about it, I've realised a couple of things about me.

Us, 12  years ago when we stood on the cusp of many
years of frequent change.
1. Since I left university, I have never had a job or a primary task (eg. full-time language school) for longer than a couple of years. Aside from parenting, but that changes frequently anyway. There are good reasons for this, but now isn't the time to go into them. I've been a missionary for more than 12 years now, but "missionary" is like saying "Occupational Therapist", it is more of a vocation or a profession, than a job.

2. I relish a challenge. I've been a part of instigating big changes in the magazine. But most of the big change is past now. That alters how I look at the job.

Not just the magazine, but life in general for us has entered a very predictable pattern. I can predict pretty accurately, that we'll be heading off to cross-country meets in September, for example, or that May, though there isn't often much on the calendar at the start of the month, will be very busy.

I guess you can get too used to change? We've had a bit of a wild ride, the last 15 years. Lots of change. Is it possible for me now to settle down more?

Of course next June (2014) we have another change. We'll be headed back to Australia for 12 months. But this too we've done before. Two years after we get back from our year in Australia we'll have another big change: our son will graduate from high school. But that is too far away to bear thinking much about at the moment when he's only 13.

I feel like a recovering adrenaline junkie or something. Why am I missing big challenges to get my teeth into? That seems crazy, especially when these things stress me often to the point of health issues.

I'm sure this phase will pass. I'm sure I'll find other things to keep me occupied and ever present. I can't live for the next "exciting" or "scary" thing.

I find it fascinating, though, because I'm really pretty much a creature of habit. I like things fairly predictable in my daily life (I've had pretty much the same things for breakfast for many, many years now). However, obviously I also need a bit of challenge in my life to keep me from getting bored.

How about you? Have you found your own balance between predictable and challenging? I'm thinking it is probably at a different place for everyone? I've heard of the "two or three year itch" for people who've been transferred regularly in the past, or grew up in families with the same. Is this something you're familiar with?

04 February, 2013

Answer for photo question #27

The photo question I posed on Saturday is related to an earlier photo question—#8.

One person got close‚ it is related to the sink. It is, actually, a sink-hole cover. Not a plug! I remember wondering where the sink plug was in our first apartment in Japan. Simple answer—Japanese don't use sink plugs in the kitchen. They use running water to wash their dishes. 

The yellow item in question (it is black in our sink) merely covers the large drain hole in the kitchen sink. It hides the basket that collects the larger bits that end up going down the hole, but aren't great for the waste system. Periodically the bag in this smelly basket needs replacing. One of my less favourite jobs!

03 February, 2013

End of another wrestling season

Yesterday was the end of the wrestling season for our middle school team. It is a short season: four competitions in just over three weeks. And today we have mixed feelings. Relief that it is over and disappointment too.

Our son is a keen wrestler and has waited all year since last February for this chance. He's sad that the chance to wrestle others his own size might not come up again until December. And in December, he'll be in the high school league, which is a step up in challenge on a number of fronts (more training, more meets, and a higher level of skill needed).

He didn't have the best of days, but he did still pin two
of his four opponents.
I'm sad that it's over, because I really enjoyed watching him wrestle, and watching wrestling in general, actually. It was nerve wracking and stressful, but also a bit addictive.

I did get my act together yesterday and take some cross-stitch to pass the time. It helped in that time between arriving (about 7.20 am yesterday), and the wrestling to begin (about 9). Once the wrestling began and my son's first bout came close, I had to put the cross-stitch away till later because my hands were shaking too much! Really! I get that nervous.

I'm also sad because yesterday he didn't wrestle at his best. Yes, we all have "off" days. But with such a short season, one off-day is big slice of the pie. And in wrestling, if you're up against someone good, you rarely get a second chance if you make a mistake.

But losing has its good points. It is where you learn things you don't learn from winning, including humility, and it can give you the motivation to keep learning.Yesterday was a good reminder of two things he needs to learn:
1. Not to take a good opponent for granted, even if you've beaten him a few times before.
2. It is important to pick yourself up after a disappointment and move into the next bout with a clear mind, otherwise you come into the next bout with a handicap.
That second one reminds me of this book I read about a decathlete. He had to learn the same lesson. Decathlon involve ten vastly different events in a very short space of time. He couldn't allow a "failure" in one to bring him down in the subsequent events. It is a discipline of the sport that our son needs to learned, and probably it can't easily be learned without loss.

I wrote a little about my disappointment on Facebook yesterday. Mostly because I've previously celebrated our son's success there. I don't want to do what many people seem to do on FB, and only write about successes. To me that seems a bit less than honest. I also  hesitated to say I was disappointed, because that may seem to make me a bit of a bad sport. But the disappointed feeling is the truth.

The truth also is that the two guys who beat him didn't let our son get away with having a bad day. They had great days, especially one little guy (who's about 20 pounds/9kg lighter than our son) and is a good wrestler. He's looked very unhappy the last two meets when he was beaten by our son and JK (see this post about the rivalry between our son and JK). But yesterday he triumphed and looked so happy. I'm glad for his success (his mum was there too, which is something special for them both).

Oh, and if you're wondering, the camaraderie that we saw last week (see the above link) was still there yesterday. I loved seeing it! Just before we left, of of the opposing team wrestlers came up and told us he'd found our son's beloved green beanie (woollen hat), and returned it to one of the other team members. We didn't know it had been lost, but were very glad it was returned. The atmosphere was one of friends parting.

But we're all glad to be getting some more free time back. Our son is looking forward to more after-school free time. And we're looking forward to free-er Saturdays.

02 February, 2013

Photo question #27

Here's a common item in Japan. Can you guess what it is? (Please hold back if you've lived here.)

01 February, 2013

Excited about an answer to prayer

I really need to get down and do some editing before my time runs out and the weekend is upon me again. Yesterday was the deadline for article submission for our next issue and there have been a lot of emails flying around (I've written about 130 of my own since Monday).

But I can't neglect to shout out about an unexpected answer to prayer that I've just received. I wrote this in our prayer letter that I sent out only yesterday:
Pray...For the Writer's Workshop that Wendy is running this month (Feb. 21-22): for safety (she'll be driving five hours each way, a small portion of that in the snow), for good interaction between attendees, and that the workshop will run smoothly.
Would you believe, this morning, I have someone who'll share the driving with me! Unbelievable. Except that I believe in a God who does things way and beyond what we expect!

Organising this workshop has been an experience of stepping out in faith and praying that things will come together. Things have indeed been "coming together", sometimes in the most unexpected way (like a babysitter for my production editor's toddler for three days, so she can join us too). I'm looking forward to seeing how this all pans out. What else is God going to do with our prayers?