01 October, 2016

People-filled days

This friend, Jenn, ran the prayer meeting yesterday morning and was also
one of the friends I enjoyed dinner with last night.
I spent all day Thursday behind my desk. I got a lot of good stuff done, but was sick of my own company by the end of the day. In contrast yesterday and today have been people-filled days.

Yesterday morning I went to the school's weekly community prayer meeting, it just goes for an hour and is usually a good time to worship and pray for what's going on at school. We had a good dozen or more parents there. 

After that I went home and had a Skype chat with my life-long friend Mel. It was great to catch-up about some challenges each of us have been facing. 

Then I spent some time dealing with email that had come in overnight and did my usual Friday grocery run for perishables. 

One of the now-defunct community rubbish bins.
I won't be sad to see these rusty old things go.
I also tried to do my civic duty of bin-cleaning. It's a fortnight once a year when we are supposed to "clean" the community bin around the corner. I've never seen anyone else actually do it, so I guess at what I'm supposed to do with the disinfectant, bucket, and scrubbing broom that we get given by our neighbour each year in mid-September. I usually fill the bucket with water on the days that we have "burnable" rubbish collection (it is the smelly rubbish: food scraps, etc), spray some disinfectant into the bin, "scrub" a little and then throw water in there. 

Yesterday the bin was taped shut. From next week the system changes. From next week we have to provide our own bin (or use a bin provided by the local government, but we missed applying for that). That's a big change! Not unwelcome, not just because we will no longer have to take turns cleaning it but because it means the bulky metal bins will get taken off the streets. We currently have to "dodge" these bins while driving (or walking) on our street, there's no footpath to put them on and they sit out on the road. 

At 2pm I enjoyed introducing two couple friends to each other. Both are UK-connected and have kids at CAJ, a relative rarity at the school. It was great to be able to facilitate them meeting up. 

Then I shot off to take our middle son for his last braces-maintenance appointment. That's right, next time they come off! Yippee. 

Then last night I went out with some other local mum-friends for some fun without our kids. 

It was a pretty busy day, but enjoyable too. I wasn't sure about going out in the evening (I've been quite tired in the evening this week) but David told me it would be good for me! And it was, we had a lot of laugh-out-loud fun.

Then our family had an early start this morning for cross country again, with lots of people-time. I travelled down and back with friends. Actually we spent more time travelling than watching racing. It was a small meet today with most high schoolers not coming for various reasons (they had their races on Thursday). Today I met another "foreign" mum from eighth grade. She works in an international university amongst mainly Japanese men. She was thrilled to meet another foreigner! A reminder to me of how important it is to be open to new friends. Us expats do need to support one another. Japan can be a challenging place to live. 

After we got back David and I went out to get some bits and pieces (including a new bin to put our rubbish in on Tuesday) and for a date. Then we went to collect our youngest son from a birthday party and ended up ferrying almost all the kids back to the train station afterwards (two trips in our eight-seater van).

I think some of my malaise earlier in the month was me not only being a tiny bit bored but also resisting the idea of putting effort into relationships that, in all probability, will be shorter-term rather than longer-term. But I've realised that I simply can't succumb to that temptation. The pain of not investing in friendships is worse than the pain of having friends and having to let them go. 

Well I've certainly had my fill of people-time these last 36 hours! Now for some rest. I only got about six hours last night, I generally need at least an hour longer than that!

29 September, 2016

Leaves are falling

Autumn is definitely here, even if we're being teased a little. Maximum temperatures in our area have teetered between the low 30s and even down to low 20s (Celsius) in September. Minimums have been more stable, around high teens to mid 20s. There is definitely an early autumn feel, though we are still often wearing t-shirts and shorts (some of us more than others). 
The humidity has been very high and we've had many rainy days this month with very little sun. When I showed you a photo of the beautiful blue sky a few weeks ago I didn't explain how infrequently that happens here. When it does it reminds us of Queensland, with its many blue-sky days.
But leaves are also starting to turn and fall. Check out these sakura (cherry blossoms). The top photo was in mid-August and the bottom this week. Definitely thinning out.

Now I'm fighting the feeling that Easter is just around the corner, because growing up that was the progression of things: summer holidays then school started then cooler weather gradually crept up on us and then Easter. Though this is my 12th autumn in the northern hemisphere, still struggle to line up my instincts with the seasons.

28 September, 2016

Behind the scenes of the magazine

The other day one of my sons queried me about this cryptic looking piece of paper that's currently beside my computer:

It is a list of all the articles in the Winter issue of Japan Harvest, the magazine which I manage. All sorts of information is listed there as I work on initial organisation of the production of the magazine, especially which of our four editors is going to edit which article when!

It isn't easy keeping track of all the articles and bits and pieces that need doing. Each magazine typically has 20+ articles (which means 20+ authors to work with as well). Each article goes through several steps from being submitted to appearing in the magazine. Here are some other tools I use to keep a track of it all.

This is the Google doc that I record where each article is up to in the process, plus other information like how long an article is. I used to ask other editors to update this as they went along, but I've given up on that, primarily because we started using another tool as well that's a bit more user friendly.

One of our editors has a paying job as an editor (his "day job"). His company uses Asana.com to keep a track of projects and on his recommendation we now do too. It's not perfect but it helps. It also has nice graphics too—occasionally a unicorn will leap across the page when you click that you've completed a task/subtask! 

One of my jobs is setting up this for each issue. The information on the first photo above was part of the decision-making process for allocating articles and deadlines for the various subtasks for each article in Asana. That's six steps for each of the 20+ articles I have to allocate to five people and plus due dates. It took me a few hours the other day to set up the Winter issue in this tool. Though once it is all entered in I can pretty easily keep a track of where everyone and everything is up to.

And then we get down to the actual editing. This is the Track Changes view of an article of mine from a few months ago. You can see that my team didn't hold back on making their opinions known. That is why I get a bit annoyed when people say things like "feel free to edit" or get upset when we do. I submit to this process regularly and I'd have to say that in the vast majority of cases my article looks the better for it.

Putting a magazine is very much like many things in life: a lot of work under the surface that the end user, audience, or recipient never sees. Work that hopefully makes the finished product look amazing or run smoothly. The old iceberg illustration that you occasionally see floating around illustrates this perfectly.

27 September, 2016

Chicken mince

After yesterday's post I got some meat shopping advice via Facebook. They said: there is chicken mince in the shops and it's cheap. I think I live a blinkered life, especially in Japanese grocery stores. It's an effort not to be overwhelmed. And you know, after a while you just get into a habit of not noticing (and not reading, I admit).
I happened to be near a bigger grocery store today so I thought I'd investigate and yes, they had chicken mince. It was cheap too, 86 yen per 100g (the usual way of pricing meat here). In order to get a kilo, enough for one meal plus a little bit left over, I bought five trays!  But it only came to a total of 993 yen or $AU12.83.

My FB advisers told me I could ask for larger portions at a shop where there is a meat counter. I remember seeing that at one shop I've been to (but I rarely go to that shop). In any case I didn't see one today. There was a glass-in booth in the fish section, but no one was there, just a large swinging door out to the back. Maybe next time I happen to be at a store with such a counter. In the meantime, we'll just be washing up and recycling lots of styrofoam trays (and thankfully Japan does do that).

Okay, so advice on using chicken mince? Can it be used for the same things as beef mince, or are some dishes better than others?

26 September, 2016


I love leftovers. They mean I only have to cook five evening meals a week instead of seven. They also mean a night of enjoying again the meals of the week (incentive to cook well!). 
This was last night's leftovers, or "Catch" as we call our Sunday-night menu. It was particularly piecemeal. 

Can you pick out the 
  • macaroni cheese, 
  • yakisoba (Japanese stir fried noodles), 
  • chicken from oyakodonburi (Japanese chicken and egg on rice), 
  • roast pork (unusual dish, we only eat roasts every two or three months), 
  • jacket potatoes and bacon (from a "Spud Mulligan" meal by our youngest boy), 
  • tuna pie, 
  • roast tomato sauce, 
  • leftover rice, and even 
  • left-over sweet potato? 
That's a week-and a half of cooking right there!

It's getting harder to have sufficient leftovers for two meals a week, but I'm getting crafty. Lots of veggies and carbs as well as often doubling or tripling recipes are my mainstays. To afford it I cook some low-meat meals too, like  macaroni cheese (from scratch), tuna mornay, yakisoba, and egg dishes. 

I get frustrated that lower-cost meat like mince and corn beef isn't available here. The former is at Costco, but I don't go there often. So we do eat a lot of chicken and more pork than we would in Australia, because these are what's available and affordable.

But we always have sufficient and I'm thankful.

25 September, 2016

Parenting joy

Good moods here today. I can't help wondering if it is related to the weather. We've had actual sunshine this morning, enough to cause shadows! That's been a rare thing in the last three weeks. This morning I was standing in the sun after church reflecting on this with another Aussie. We both thought we'd have difficulty living in places like the UK and Seattle that we've heard infrequently have sunny days. 

I just looked it up, Brisbane (2881 hours a year) gets about 1000 more hours of sunshine than Tokyo. Tokyo gets 400 more hours than London. No wonder we feel it! However we were wrong about Seattle, they get 300 more hours than Tokyo, and Oregon (the state I was thinking of, but didn't mention this morning) gets around 450 more hours than Tokyo! Rumours about the climates of different places aren't always correct.

Today I'm basking in more than the sun, however. This morning after church we rode to a local shopping centre and had an early birthday celebration for my husband over morning tea at one of our favourite bakeries. We'd normally have a family dinner on the day, but this week is quite messy dinner-wise, so this plan seemed better. 

As usual we managed to combine it with some shopping. Getting boys to shop is one of the banes of the life of most mums-of-multiple boys. This week our most shopping-adverse boy finally noticed he was getting super low on tshirts that fitted. A critical level, I'd say. Three shirts don't go far when you're training and wearing two a day! You don't want to know how he's managed that, suffice to say my nose is less sensitive than it used to be. 

This boy was so enthusiastic about shopping that I wondered if he'd had a personality transplant. He even willingly tried clothes on! And then made other suggestions of clothes he'll be needing as the season changes. After all that amazingness he happily went birthday present shopping with his brother for their dad, and on their own. I'm in shock. Absurdly pleased, actually. 

Recent experience has me waiting on tenterhooks for a mood change, but we made it through lunch in excellent spirits! So I'm even happier. 

All this combined with the joy of seeing them all run well yesterday at cross country (all made their goal times and two ran PBs), and I'm feeling great.

Ah, the rewards of parenting sometimes are few and far between particularly in the teen years. They are often a long time in coming. But I think days like today are definitely comparable with the joy of seeing a baby learning to walk or feed themselves, or a child learning to read or use the toilet by themselves. Not so clear-cut in definition, but definite signs of growth and maturity. Yay!

24 September, 2016

Saturday sundry

Another cross country meet is done and dusted...or would be but I assure you there is no dust on that hilly course. It's all mud and moss. Which is what you get after rain every day for three weeks. I usually love rainy days, especially if it's a little cool and I can stay home. But it's wearing thin. 

Thankfully the rain held off until after the races had finished and it wasn't too chilly. 

So I have some "sundry" for you this Saturday. 

This we inherited from our housesitters last year. I finally threw it out last month. I can't imagine why we kept it so long. This stuff is about on the level of ugliness that instant decaf coffee dwells. Put the two together and, well, words fail me. It was one of the big culture shocks of coming to Asia: that milk is often not available in communal make-your-own-tea/coffee situations. The name is entirely appropriate!
I found these "thongs" the other day in a shoe store. I'm not sure why or when you'd wear them! I'm sure I wouldn't pay AU$78 for them!
I've told you about bikes in Japan, right? Here's a small portion of a paid bike-park that is on a road we often travel. I'm not sure how long some of these bikes have been here. Not long after I took the photo I noticed a guy wandering around looking for a bike. Occasionally he referred to his smart phone (for a photo of the long-lost bike?). He looked quite bewildered and I wasn't surprised. 

One present our son got for his birthday last week was some black headphones. He doesn't seem to mind that they apparently "Pop feeling color makes pursuit of a fashion accessory". 

David and I went out last night to a fancy cafe. This is what I found in the Ladies! In an almost square room there were three yellow doors with a full mirror on the fourth wall. Fine on the way in, but confusing on the way out!
This is the first time I've seen "caffeine less" coffee on a menu. At 7pm last night it was a great option. Check out the pot of cream! Seems as though it had been stolen out of a doll's house. This cafe proudly advertises "hand pressed coffee" and I'd believe it, it's good. Certainly a whole lot better than Creap and instant decaf!