18 January, 2017

Music and prayer

Today, on my way to a missionary women's gathering for prayer and encouragement, I read an article by a missionary about music and prayer. It had only landed in my inbox this morning. 

I didn't have much time to read it, but skimming was enough. The author's style is not one I'm particularly drawn to, but she made a point that I suspect many missionaries can connect with: that most of the time we're worshipping and singing in a language that isn't our heart language. The words are foreign and often the melody too. It can make worship dry and our hearts grow fatigued. Then, when we do have the chance to sing in English, the emotions can come pouring out with tears. 

Many of you may not know what it is like to not sing in your heart language at church regularly. I nearly made it through the whole Christmas season last year without once singing an English Christmas carol in fellowship with others.
Our gathering this morning was permeated with song.
I see it in my friends who gather with us once a year for fellowship, blessing and restoration. They lift their arms to the sky, singing in English for the first time in months.
As we gather together, I hear in their voices a year’s worth of prayers held together with tape and glue, tattered through treacherous dangers, embedded – as we are often reminded – in spiritual battle. We let our worship do the praying for us. The words we’ve been missing for so long don’t dare hide the promises of Scripture, or the God who sees and loves sparrows and wildflowers as much as the hairs on our head. From here.
There were more than this present, but I didn't try hard to take a photo, rather
I luxuriated in being fully present with these friends, new and old.
It's fitting that I was headed where I was when I read this. Together with other, mostly foreign, women I worshipped in English this morning. I'm unusually blessed in this business as I get to do this most months at our mission gathering. But many do not. 

Still, gathered in an unhurried way with other English-speaking women, my tears still spilled over this morning. I couldn't even tell you what exactly the tears were for. But I suspect, as the author of the article above suggests, that this was an outpouring of prayer, of love, for my heavenly Father.

17 January, 2017

What's happening?

(S-cuse me, just a bit of thinking out loud here) . . . So today, do I write about a bigger topic like "failure" or "walls in Japan" or do I tell them about what's been happening here? The latter is easier . . . so I might go with that. I'll leave the other ideas till later.

Sunday was a recovery day, plus worship as usual at church in the morning. We also had an unexpected visitor for lunch, one of our OMF kids who's also a senior. I'm not always great with spontaneity like that with younger friends visiting, but older kids are just great.

The afternoon was largely spent relaxing. Two boys went to youth group and the rest of us just hung out.

Monday it was back into work. I'd been battling the start of a cold, so I was feeling particularly sluggish (the below-freezing temps outside didn't help). So I pulled out of two prayer meetings and stayed home. I worked quietly at my desk most of the day except for a quick ride to fill the pantry. Oh, and a dental check-up after school with our 11 y.o., but our dentist is at the station, less than a kilometre walk.

Where three of us are headed a month tomorrow.
Last night I ended up in the middle of a texting-blizzard. Two wresting-parent friends and I were trying to figure out a good package to fly to Korea and stay in hotels for the wrestling tournament next month. It's not something I've done much of: dealing with tour packages or, believe it or not, foreign travel! At least I've travelled a little, but not on my own. I've mostly travelled in a group or with an organisation where the responsibility of finding and organising transport, accommodation, flights etc has usually not been mine.

It seems as though it's been pretty much settled, now, though. I just need to pay for it! Travelling to Korea from here seems to be cheaper than travelling internally in Australia, or at least equivalent! It's certainly faster to get there than it is to travel from the east to west coast of Australia: 2 hrs 40 min (but about the same time as Brisbane to Melbourne). But we do have significant transfer time between home and the airport here and the airport and the hotel there (two hours both ends).

Getting around in a country where you don't speak the language is always interesting. We could have some adventures. But we'll be spending most of our time on or near the US air force base, so I presume we'll find a fair bit of English around. 

I'm excited about this little adventure. Three days of wrestling is going to be a treat, but also a tad exhausting, plus the travel that I always find tiring. I don't think I'll be ready to report for work on Monday morning (we get back late on Sunday night).

Confession: I'm feeling a little nervous about Korean food. I've never had kimchi! But it is the seventh Asian nation that I'll get to add to my "stayed in" list. Actually, truth is, the seventh country, outside of Australia, that I've ever stayed in. That's right: I've never been out of Asia, especially if you consider Australia geographically a part of Asia.

Second confession: David and I are both leaving the country for this and leaving our youngest two with friends (David's an assistant coach and gets to stay with the team on base, unlike the rest of us parents). Actually the only way we're managing this is because one of our friends will have our two younger boys to stay for the four nights David and I are away. Actually more than half of their family is also going to Korea. Two of their three boys are in the Varsity team (A team) and their mum is travelling with me. So the four of the ten of us who aren't going to Korea get to hang out together here. I think I might have to give them some money for having our boys for five days! At least to cover the food.

What else I did today
Aside from doing that, today, I've been working on editing (and helping someone else edit) for both the Winter and Spring issues of the magazine. In fact I got myself so mixed up that when I sat down to write my editorial for the Spring issue, I put stuff in there that is relevant to the Winter issue! Thankfully I figured that out pretty quickly.

My breathing is a little tight, but I am not coughing often and my cold hasn't moved past the mild zone, for that I'm very thankful. Working quietly at home and sipping honey and lemon drinks seems to have been all I needed this time to avoid a worse incursion of the dreaded cold-turned-asthma flare. Hopefully my day out with missionary friends for prayer and fellowship tomorrow will not reverse the effect of these quiet days.

Tonight I'm not cooking dinner. Indeed I've decided not to cook dinner on Tuesday nights until the wrestling season is over (4 ½ more weeks). Thanks to the inter school basketball schedule, we have basketball matches at CAJ every Tuesday for a number of weeks. That always means "concessions", which is a temporary shop in the gym foyer with both main-meal food as well as snacks that's run by the senior class. Our family loves to have dinner there, though it is quite scattered, you do meet various random people from the CAJ community. It's also helping raise money for the senior trip to Thailand in March.

16 January, 2017

Slice of heaven on Friday mornings

I wondered what I was going to write about today. After two posts full of wrestling (and a head full of wrestling) it is hard to think of anything else! But this photo was posted on Facebook today and it's perfect.

These are some of the praying mums at CAJ. First-up on Friday mornings I often go to an all-school parent prayer meeting, schedule and workload permitting. Sometimes I struggle with wanting to go, prayer is never easy. But I'm usually blessed by praying with others. Here we have a slice of heaven from last Friday (except the lone man is behind the camera at this moment): six nationalities—Japan, USA, South Africa, Hong Kong, Korea, Philippines, and Australia. And often at least Japanese and English, if not Korean can be heard as we pray together.

I can imagine that if I had never left Australia (something that is actually quite hard to imagine), at this stage in my life most of my friends would have been very similar to me. Moving away from all that was familiar when I was 27 was super difficult, like a form of death. However what an amazing life God's given me in exchange. I'm so thankful that I'm constantly challenged by being surrounded by people who have such different backgrounds to me. Not easy at all, but really good for me. 

The one thing all of the above ladies share is faith in the Lord of the Bible. That is a huge common bond.

Oh, and I was not wearing a red skirt. That is my jacket, warming my legs.

15 January, 2017

The lowdown on yesterday's day of wrestling

Sorry for the poor quality of these photos, I've pretty much
given up on taking photo. These are screen shots of the videos.
This feels like a retro photo. Our youngest son pinning his
opponent, something his big brother has done many times
before. Of course our eldest is much bigger now, so seeing
a younger, smaller version of the same thing takes me back.
The coach in the background is the same too: Coach Rudd
who patiently answered all our questions in those early years
of attending those meets.
Well yesterday, as expected, was a big day. We all left between 6.10 and 7am and got back between 4pm and 6pm. 

We didn't go so far distance-wise. 11km for David and our two oldest boys to the high school meet at the American School in Japan (ASIJ), about 45 minutes drive to get there. 22km for myself and our youngest to the middle school meet at  Yokota US Air Force Base. It took us about an hour to get there (longer to get home, because I missed a turn and took a while to figure that out).

Our school is at the top right in this map. These weren't our exact routes,
but are close enough to give you an idea.
This was the first time I'd seen our youngest son wrestle live in Japan. And one of the few times I've missed our eldest son wrestle in Japan. 
Our eldest son piling on the points in his second match
yesterday. These two have opposed one another many times
in the last two seasons. They've both won, so the outcome
is never certain. However our son has not been beaten by
him yet this season.
It was like going back in time, just a little. We cut our teeth in wrestling on two seasons of middle school meets. Going back to that was indeed interesting. Middle school meets are less intense and slower paced. 

But I missed sharing the day with my veteran-high-school-wrestling-parent-friends. We had a lot of parents at the middle school meet (eight parents for seven kids plus the coach), but most were at their first or second meet watching their brand-new young wrestlers. But it was fun to help them understand some of what was going on, like how a ref decided who won in the case of a match finishing in a tie. Or why a wrestler might do the move you can see our eldest doing in the lower photo here: grabbing the opponents legs and flipping them over.

However, those same high-school-parent friends were messaging me with regular updates from the high school meet. One even did a Live video on Facebook with our son's most challenging bout (the lower photo is a screenshot from that bout) and I watched it in the foodcourt at the air base just before we left for home. So encouraging to have friends do that!

The surprise for me yesterday were the girls. This is the first time we've had a female middle school team and only the third year we've had them in the high school team. They added so much life to the team yesterday. The boys were all pretty quiet and keeping to themselves, but the girls were interactive and bubbly. I've often felt a bit lonely as one of the few females around (though having enthusiastic mum-friends coming in the last year has been wonderful). I'm okay with hanging with "the guys" but yesterday was delightful.

Not just joy and personality, but they were so intelligent about their wrestling. They were asking questions, analysing the bouts gone, and planning ahead for the coming ones. Always learning. And they were good. They've impressed others too. I talked to some of the female wrestlers from another school who expressed their admiration (and fear). Additionally on the end of one of the videos we heard (presumably) a coach tell his wrestlers: "If you guys wrestled half as hard as the CAJ girls do, you'd be really good. I'm not kidding'. They're mean!" They are very intense, but there are smiles as soon as the bout is over. They have great on-off switches. And they really enjoy their wrestling to boot!

I enjoyed the status of being the mum of one of the wrestlers that these new wrestlers admire (our eldest seems to be a bit of a hero...), but I could encourage them in the knowledge that his early seasons weren't spectacular. They could barely imagine that he was once 12 and in grade seven, skinny and lanky, and not winning like he does today!

If you're wondering, our girls don't train with the boys, nor do they wrestle boys in competition. I think that is something that's quite appealing to them (this clear line is not generally drawn at other schools). Not only is it not that fun for a girl to wrestle a boy, it's not that great the other way either. 

The lowdown on the results from yesterday are this:

17 y.o. son: There were three "duels" (see Friday's post), but one school didn't have someone in our son's weight category, so he school full points for the team by just turning up. He won his other two matches too.
11 y.o. son: He had a round robin competition and was in a four-"man"-bracket. He won two of his three bouts and got a silver. 

This afternoon I'm trying to rest in preparation for getting back into "real life" tomorrow. Though my body has finally succumbed to a cold, after three days of a scratchy throat and slightly drippy nose. Perhaps yesterday was the last straw? Unfortunately it isn't a slow week, but if things continue to go south (especially with my inevitable asthma), I may have to cancel some things.

13 January, 2017

Friday Fragments

Leftovers from last night.

Teenagers aren't really people

Last night I made sweet potato soup. I doubled a recipe that was "for four people". I also made focaccia from scratch. This recipe was for "eight people". In addition to that, because I have one boy who doesn't like sweet potatoes, I added two cans of condensed tomato soup, which, according to the cans, should feed "five people" (truthfully it says "five serves").
So the soup should have covered thirteen people! With the focaccia it should have covered more, unless the authors of the recipes are holding something back here.

Last night's meal.
But look at what I'd had left this morning. A small piece of focaccia and two small servings of sweet potato soup. Granted the focaccia was so delicious that I ate more of it than I would have normally, but still!

Obviously my 11, 14, and 17 year olds are eating more than an ordinary "person" does. I think last night they ate even more than they usually do.

I'm not complaining. I like cooking for them and I love that they woof my food down and give me honest critiques. For example, the sweet potato soup was supposed to have coconut milk in it, but I slipped up and didn't have any in the house. So I used low fat yoghurt instead. It didn't taste as good as it has in the past and the boys noticed that. When I explained, one said, "Well, that makes sense!"

Scintillating dinner conversation

Dinner conversation included a lot of talk about wrestling. This week the high school team has had weigh-ins for the big end-of-season meet in Korea (our son only "made weight" by basically not eating all day . . . it was announced with only three days to spare and he was caught unawares). Last night they also had "wrestle-offs" as well as mock "duels". He and his assistant-coach dad only made it home after 7pm.

These are technical terms, I know. A "wrestle-off" is two team mates going up against one another to determine who makes the A team (and this was also for the Korean tournament). 

A "duel" is just one team vs another. Together work their way through the weight classes, usually from lightest to heaviest, each team putting out their relevant wrestler for each class. Points are scored for the team, depending on how comprehensive the win was. If one team has a wrestler for that class and the other doesn't, then the first team "wins" that bout and gets the maximum points. 

It's a different style to the tournament style (like the Olympics) where there are many wrestlers in each weight class and they work their way up to a wrestle-off between to top two wrestlers that day.

Tomorrow's high school meet is a duel-meet. Six teams attending, but each team only goes up against three other teams. 

I'm going to a third type of wrestling meet tomorrow. The middle school meet. It's a round-robin tournament. The wrestlers are divided into groups of about four of equivalent weights and each one wrestles all the others in their group. The one who's won the most, gets gold for that group.

So dinner talk was about who beat who, who missed out on the top spots to go to Korea, etc. As well as concern for team-mates struggling with injuries and talk about tomorrow's tournaments.

On Monday I had another missionary mum from our mission say to me that she loves sport and looks forward to supporting her kids in sport (they are younger). "But, wrestling. . . ?" She left that hanging out there in the air.

Among other things I said, "It's good to learn to love the sport that your kids love, even if it isn't something you would naturally lean towards."

We've learned to love wrestling. It's five years, now, since we first started going to watch our son wrestle and I truly do enjoy watching it. To the point where I'm very disappointed that I won't be able to watch both our sons wrestle live each Saturday in the coming weeks.

But more than anything, it's been a common language that we can speak with our son. Our younger two have been watching wrestling since they were 6 and 9. They've both had a go at it and they both speak the language too. I treasure this. These days they're venturing into territory that I don't understand, particularly in online games. And have vocab in those special areas that I don't have. So I'm very glad that we still have this common language of sport that we can connect with.

Transport tangles

This relates to wrestling too. The two meets tomorrow are in two different schools, more than an hour from each other, and from us. As is our practise, we're car pooling with local parents-friends who are also going to support their kids. But with several friends of ours who have kids in both middle and high school teams, it's getting confusing.

In a Messenger group last night between these friends of ours I got this message (I've edited it a little):
Hello. I was wondering if any of you would have room for one person on Jan 21 Yokota. And/or if you have room for one to Zama and two to St Marys on the 28th?
These proper nouns are school names. 

We're taking into account 

  • four families,
  • seven wrestlers from those families,
  • eight non-wrestling siblings, 
  • two eight-seater vans, and 
  • two meets in different locations each Saturday for the next four weekends. 
Completely confusing. This little conversation went on for a bit and got worse before I suggested that we do it one weekend at a time, but not until the week before the relevant weekend. 

We've sorted tomorrow. My van has six people in it going to Yokota (US air base school) and our friend's van has eight going to ASIJ (American School in Japan). Let's hope it works out okay! 

My alarm will be set for before 6. Departure 6.50am. 

Being a middle school meeting, though, it won't be a long one. Probably we'll be home by mid afternoon . . . hopefully.

12 January, 2017

A bit chilly in Tokyo

Here is another topic that hits missionary's budgets: heating. I wrote a more detailed blog post about this some time ago, that you can find here.

For today I thought I'd show you what I did this morning, in my dressing gown, in our backyard. 

I'd just taken the second photo of the low outside temperature from inside when I discovered our kerosene heater downstairs (our main source of heat during the day) had run out of fuel. So I popped out the "back door" and filled up the metal tank from one of our two portable kerosene tanks using a simple hand-operated siphoning pump.

I'm glad we now do this out the back, previously we used to have to go out the front (practically onto the road) and squeeze down the side of the carport between bikes and the dusty car to where we stored the kerosene. Not something you do in your dressing gown and fluffy PJs at 8.15am on a school day!

We use kerosene rather than air conditioning or gas because it is the cheapest way to heat here. We do have three electric heaters upstairs (bathroom and boy-bedrooms), but they are only used for short periods when people are using those rooms. Kerosene is a common way that Japanese people heat their houses.

But yes, things are a bit chilly around here, a normal Tokyo winter. I've become aware that I could be storing most of the food from my fridge in the stairwell/entry way. The temperature there hasn't gone above 10C for a while. It's not as cold as many parts of Japan north of here (and up in the mountains), but as we've got poor insulation in our house (including a number of large windows) and no central heating, it's cold enough for me.

These days David and I are sleeping with our electric blanket on low and with beanies and two bankets and a thick doona (duvet/comforter/Continental quilt). I've also added a soft neck warmer in recent days to help with the muscle tightness I struggle with. My boys laugh.

11 January, 2017

Eating healthily

A couple of months ago I edited an article by a missionary in Japan who mentioned that before coming here she'd been advised to not be too frugal, to take care of herself, and particularly, to eat a healthy diet.

I thought that was good advice, but also a bit intuitive. I've never considered eating less healthily in order to save money. In fact, the time when I've been the most short on money was early in our marriage (when we were still in Australia) and it was the luxuries that we cut out: ice cream, snacks, chocolate, going out for a meal etc.

Then, in the last couple of months, I've been shocked to hear different expats who are relatively new in the country talk about minimising the fruit and vegetables they eat because they are more expensive in Japan than they are in their home country. 
I would happily pay 100 yen (AU$1.16) for this in Japan. Generally if an apple is much
less in an ordinary store, it is of poor quality and not really worth the money.

My first reaction is shock. For me fruit and vegetables, along with meat, are key parts of our diet. I'm not careless in spending on groceries: I shop at cheaper shops, buy fruit and vegetables that are in season, and don't buy expensive cuts of meat. We don't eat large meat meals every day, but we do have vegetables and fruit every day, and with most meals. But for me those three categories of food are not-negotiable.

My second reaction is to reassure people that fruit and vegetables have hardly changed price since we first arrived in Japan in 2000. I don't pretend to understand economics and how food ends up the price it does when it gets to the consumer, but a good price for a largish piece of fruit here, like an apple that is bigger than my palm, is 100 yen (AU$1.16). And that hasn't changed. If I see fruit at about that price, I buy it. 

My third reaction is to recommend that people who are living here for an extended period try to get to the point of not comparing the prices of food with what they could buy them for at home, but rather try to figure out what is a good price for Japan. Constantly comparing prices is not healthy, it doesn't help you live where you are. I know that 100 yen for an apple sounds expensive from an Australian and American point of view, but this is where we live and we need to eat food we can buy here at a price that they offer. We don't eat tonnes of apples (or anything else, really, we keep a tight lid on the quantity of food we eat), but we do eat them, when they are in season.

But as I've reflected on this whole topic (I've been trying to write this blog post for a while), I've realised that I've always had a long-term perspective about our diet in Japan. We're living here long term, raising a family here, we're "running a marathon", and to do that we need to eat healthily. I'm aware that each family does that differently and have different standards, I'm just telling you what we do.

If you're interested, see this blog post for more details on how I do our grocery shopping (we source food from several different shops, and not always on a weekly basis).