Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year in Review

I'm back on mainland Japan after a fabulous Christmas vacation spent with friends in Okinawa (southern island of Japan). As you might imagine there are tons of photos to share - but that will come later.

While my neighbors have been finishing their end of year cleaning and grocery shopping, I've been spending the last day of December reflecting on 2009. After reading all of my blog posts for 2009 and reviewing my journals I thought I'd steal an idea from a friend and do a review of the year.

Q: What is the best thing you did this year?

A: Spend time with friends . . .

Q: Best meal you had?

A: Belgium Waffles with lots of toppings eaten with the Ibaraki family & Lisa

Q: Who did you meet this year? Any new friends?

A: I met a lot of people in my move to Nara and through working at Kansai Christian School. Many relationships are growing. New friend - Keiko, I met her in Tokyo and have enjoyed watching her grow in her relationship with God.

Q: Who did you say good-bye to this year?

A: Moving from Tokyo meant a lot of good-byes with friends in Tokyo at language school and Yurigaoka church.

Q: What did you learn this past year?

A: There is no such thing as a wasted experience. Teaching at a small international school and living cross-culturally provides multiple opportunities to step out of your comfort zone and develop new skills. I've found myself teaching music, playing volleyball, singing in a Japanese ensemble, preparing to direct a musical and assisting a high school basketball team - all areas which relate in someway to experiences I had in my childhood.

Q: What was the scariest thing that happened in 2009?

A: Taking the Japanese Drivers Test 4 times!

Q: What did you do in 2009 that you want to do next year?

A: Go to my Japanese host family's mountain home.

Q: Anything you did that you DO NOT want to do next year?
A: Go through the chaos of a move! I did it 4 times in 15 months and then moved my classroom from one building to another. I know it'll happen again - but would like a year without moving!

Q: How did you grow closer to God this past year?

A: Started daily readings in the One Year Chronological Bible, learned to rely, trust and love Him in new ways through the transitions this year.

Q: Give me 5 words that describe you.
A: hopeful, learner, explorer, teacher & listener

Q: Did your wish for 2009 come true?

A: Yes, I started teaching 1st and 2nd grade at Kansai Christian School - and I LOVE my job!

Q: What is your #1 wish for 2010?

A: That my non-Christian friends and students would better understand the intimate and unconditional love God has for them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sing, sing a song

Here are a few photos from the weekend full of singing.
Top photo is the group "Flower Basket" on Saturday. In this photo we were singing Joy to the World. (I'm second from the left)

This photo is all of the singers from the Itami Hall concert. The ladies sitting in the front row sang songs from various operas they had amazing voices! The woman holding the large boquet of flowers was the person who organized the concert. (I'm third from the left in the second row.)

After the concert all of the participants went to a restaurant for a "Viking Dinner" which is what they call a an all you can eat buffet dinner. They served everything from sushi to crab and roast beef.

The concert on Sunday went well. It was in a bigger hall and so pictures didn't turn out so great. Between practice and performance our singing group had our "end of year/Christmas dinner" where we at pizza and pasta at a restaurant in the same building as the concert hall. I enjoyed going out for coffee with two of the members of the group after the concert.

Friday, December 18, 2009

So You Think You Can Sing . . .

Recently I've been watching "So You Think You Can Dance . . ." (Season 4 is playing in Japan now and I have friends who record it for me. Season 6 is currently finishing up in the states.) It's the only TV I take the time to watch. It's a reality show where dancers compete for the title of America's Favorite Dancer. What I enjoy most about the show is watching how the contestants show improvement from the tryouts to the finale.

Here in Japan I've been realizing how many of the things I do involve music - specifically singing. I teach 1-4 grade KCS music class, help with the KCS High School Worship team, select music for things like the school Christmas program and participate in a community singing ensemble, called the Flower Baskets. In January I'll begin directing an elementary Musical scheduled to perform in April).

I wouldn't consider myself a good singer - I am not soloist material but enjoy singing with groups of people. If there was a contest called "So You Think You Can Sing" - I'd play the role of the person who messes up big time at try outs. And wouldn't even make the it to Vegas week let alone the top 20. The "resident expert" judges would say something like, "Honey, I sure hope you like plan B. Cuz this just isn't going to work out for you. No, it isn't." Thankfully I have my teaching job as my main thing.

But no matter the level of skill, singing is something I can do to honor God. It is a way I can build relationships with other Japanese women, and mentor third culture kid students. So if you want to see me and my groups in action here's the concert schedule for this week . . .

Concert Schedule :Place and Group
Dec. 19, 2 P.M. Itami Hall - Flower Baskets
Dec. 20, 4 P.M. - Akishino Hall - Saidaiji - Flower Baskets
Dec. 21, 10 A.M - Heguri - "mainstreet" Christmas Caroling with 1-4 grade
Dec. 22, 6 P.M. Heguri @ KCS Christmas Program
- directing 1-4 grade choir and overseeing the H.S. Worship team.

Who knew singing in children's musicals as a kid, the school choir and ensemble in high school and church choir would lead to ministry overseas? Let's pray the God who never wastes an experience can make something out of these opportunities for relational growth as well as skill improvement. I'm learning so much from my singing group and students!

Flower Basket
We'll only sing for 10 minutes of the 2 hour concerts
Song List:
I Could Have Danced All Nightfrom my Fair Lady (in English)
Tegami (Letter) - by Angela Aki (in Japanese)
Joy to the World! (both English and Japanese)
Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (Japanese)

Song list:
Frosty the Snowman
Away in the Manger
Silent Night (last two songs with sign language)
Karaoke anyone?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fast Food & Lunch Orders

Recently I stopped at a local fast food place called Honke Kamadoya. I ordered the "tori no amazu ankake obento" for 490 yen. It tasted like sweet and sour chicken (without the sour) served on noodles. It was delicious! On the side is a cabbage salad, potato salad and pickled daikon. In the center of the rice is umeboshi or pickled plum - which I found too sour. It came with wooden chopsticks and some miso paste attached to an empty cup. To make miso soup just add water.

Three days a week at school students can order lunch. Wednesday it is McDonald's, Tuesday is Gusto (a local family restarant), and Friday is Kamadoya. There are about 4-7 meals per restaurant that they can choose from for the weekly meal order. Students who don't order meals bring their own lunch or obento. We don't have a cafeteria so the students use microwaves or toasters to heat their obentos or use the hot pot to add water to their cup of noodle.

Blessing of the Children

Sunday there was a special time of blessing for the children. There are 4 children at the church. The family on the left is Arakawa-sensei's, (the interim pastor) family with 2 kids, and on the right are the Ibaraki's.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Need some energy?

Thanks to the services of Foreign Buyers Club and Costco I have an abundance of Grape Nuts Cereal and oatmeal. What I don't have in abundance is time or energy, so I pulled out my go-to recipe for energy bars and thought I'd share it with you. Because really - who doesn't need some energy? (OK, I can think of a few children who have more than enough energy! So this is for all you adults out there who need to keep up with those kiddos!)

Energy Bars / Granola Bars

1 c. quick-cooking rolled oats
1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. grape nuts cereal
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 beaten egg
1/3 c. applesauce
1/4 c. honey
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
2T. cooking oil
1 - 16 oz. package of mixed dried fruit bits
1/4 c. sunflower nuts (optional)
1/4 c. chopped walnuts

1.Preheat oven to 325* Line an 8x8x2 in. baking pan with aluminum foil. Spray foil with nonstick spray coating (or grease). Set pan aside.

2. In a large bowl combine oats, flour, Grape Nuts cereal, and ginger.

3. Add egg, applesauce, honey, brown sugar, and oil and mix well.

4. Stir in fruit bits, sunflower nuts, and walnuts.

5. Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.
Cool on a wire rack. Use edges of foil to lift from pan.

Cut into 24 bars;

100 calories, 3 g. total fat per bar

The recipe is flexible and you can add or subtract things like sunflower nuts without major problems. I never have sunflower nuts on hand and just add a few more walnuts. I used 200g of fruit this time but 16 ounces is closer to 450grams.

*Tip - After I make and cut the bars I put them into zip lock bags (2 per bag). Then I throw them in the freezer. They last longer and are just the right combination of chewy crunchiness, when I need to grab a snack or breakfast on the run.


I received a daikon from a friend last week.
She wrapped it in newspaper after pulling it from her garden.

I had no idea what to do with it but recieved several recommendations - like make Oden, miso soup or a salad.

Weekend Favorites

During the week teaching 1-2 grade and participating in other activities (worship team, basketball, tutoring, staff meetings, etc.) I often find I have to be purposeful if I want a little time for hobbies or fun activities. Weekends are a time to unwind and get a little rest before the next week starts. Assuming I'm not traveling with the basketball team, visiting Tokyo, or singing in a concert, here are some of the things I enjoy doing on the weekends . . .

*Sleeping past 7am!

*checking things off my "with-in walking distance" to do list - like visiting the bank, paying bills (at the 7-11) grabbing some goodies at the local bakery, and filling my bag with Fruit & vegetables at a new shop down the road.

* Baking a recipe like this eggplant casserole that will be divided into Tupperware for lunches the following week, while listening to a podcast like Mosaic. or Mars Hill

* Doing dishes while catching up on my current events listening to this.

*catching up on the blogs I follow

*walking or taking the train wherever I need to go (Unlike bitter cold Minnesota - The temps have been in the 40's or 50's recently with some rain.)

*getting to know the people at church

* Skyping with family & friends from the states and seeing these smiley faces.

taken at a Thanksgiving celebration - with my grandma, cousins and nieces

chatting with nephew Brendan while my nieces were at a tea party

* updating the blog =0)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

There is a term in Japanese called "Shakken"* which basically refers to the car inspection. I've read that the inspection system is in place to ensure cars on Japanese roads are properly maintained and are safe to be on the road. (*see below for background or click here to see what they test) This is a requirement for all vehicles and if cars do not have up todate inspections they can be fined by the police.

The Shakken for my car had come and due to a busy work schedule and a few poor choices on my part (err, procrastination rears its ugly head) I waited until Saturday to renew it. It was closed so I returned again on Monday after school to a local car repair shop, as was recommended by friends. There I took a little lesson in Shakken 101.
I was prepared to encounter:
1. lots of unknown terms related to the car and test.
2. annoyed and grumpy service men
3. A long wait for the test to be done (had my reading material with me)
4. a large fee of perhaps 100,000 yen or more than $1000.

I learned a few things along the way:

1. The shop is closed on Saturdays - but available without an appointment on weekdays.
2. It can take 2 to three days depending on the shop. (even with a few complications, mine took 48 hours later)
3. They will provide a loaner car while your car is in the shop. (assuming you know how to ask for it - I didn't ask for it but took the train to school instead.)
4. My Japanese vocabulary related to cars is lower than I anticipated. Is there such a thing as less than nothing?
5. Some service men are very polite, patient with foreigners who don't know who to talk about cars in Japanese, and even friendly - one of them works at Saidaiji Motors. They served coffee to me while they processed paperwork and even chatted with me about the missionaries (now retired) who recommended this shop to me.

6. You need to have proof of tax payment before the test can begin. I didn't have this one piece of paper and as a result they said they couldn't move forward with the inspections. I went on a search to find who might have this form. It turned up in Tokyo and was mailed to me. In the meantime, the shop had realized another way to confirm it had been paid and proceeded with the inspection.

Today I returned from school and recieved a phone call that the car was ready to be picked up. I walked to the station - learned what repairs had been done - paid the bill (more than I anticipated) and drove to a 6pm appointment where I received a massage and haircut (the massage is a free service - which I thoroughly enjoyed today!)

Japanese 'SHAKKEN'

*'Shakken' is Japanese for Inspection, it is the most dreaded word for vehicle owners in Japan. All cars need Shakken. The Shakken is a strict car registration scheme which operates in Japan. It consists of a series of safety inspections combined with compulsory insurance, weight and vehicle tax. New cars come with 3 years'Shakken'. After this has expired the Shakken must be renewed every 2 years throughout the ownership of the vehicle. Therefore the Japanese generally sell or part-exchange their car as a period of Shakken expires. The cost of renewing the Shakken is relatively high as the Japanese Government's policy is to reduce car ownership due to the limited space available.

Most Japanese people would rather sell their vehicles and buy new ones than renew the shakken on their old vehicle.The older the vehicle, the more expensive it is to renew the shakken, and depending on the condition of the vehicle, the more repairs you may need to do to pass the shakken. This is why Japanese vehicles tend to be in better condition than UK ones (or USA) as they look after them to keep the cost of the shakken down.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

New Life, Let the Praises Ring

Keiko and I in Tokyo during my visit in October.

Today was a unique day. I went to church in the Tokyo area without even leaving my home in Nara. Because of a web camera, the Internet and a dedicated tech crew I was able to sit in my living room and see my friend's baptism at Yurigaoka church hundreds of kilometers away.

Keiko went to Yurigaoka church on Christmas Eve 2008, searching for meaning in life. It was an especially challenging/painful time in her life and Buddhism wasn't providing answers. Her experience studying in the States and attending a catholic school provided exposure to English as well as an introduction to Christianity. Since then God has used many people around the globe and circumstances both good and bad in her life, to draw her to Him.

I met Keiko during her first Sunday worship service at Yurigaoka. The pastor said - "Lori, we have a visitor today. She speaks English really well and has lots of questions about God and the church. Will you talk with her?" Our 45 minutes talk that day was the start of a fun friendship. Her questions ranged from "What are the difference between Baptist churches and Catholic churches" to "How do you know God is with you and loves you?"

Her life of earnestly seeking God has been such an encouragement to me. Her honest questions, teachable spirit, and desire to understand who Jesus is, what the Bible says and what that might mean for her life came at a time in my life when I was in language school and feeling discouraged about my communication abilities and inability to share the gospel in Japanese.

Throughout the year Keiko has grown spiritually. Through the ups and downs of her journey she's seen God walking with her, working in her life. It was a privilege to be able to "be there" for her baptism today, to see her give the public witness to what God has done in her life and how she's surrendered it to Him.

Keiko, I'm so thankful for you and the joy of Jesus' love that shines through your life. I pray that He will continue to help you understand how deep and how wide his unconditional love for you is. May he also use your life as a witness in your family and at work.

Keiko and Takahashi Sensei talking about the details last week. One side of the "tub" will be filled with water, the other side, where the pastor stands, will not be.

Romans 6:4 (The Message)

3-5That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country.

The view from my computer of Keiko's Baptism today.