Friday, August 31, 2012

Draggin' Our Posteriors

We are all exhausted tonight.  Mom has finally slipped into a coma and we will likely get bad news later tonight or early in the morning......bad news for those of us who will miss her so much but good news for Mom as her pain will be ended at last.  The boy flew home tonight to get to work tomorrow and was able to say his goodbyes before Mom started to truly slip away.  

We got the final clean out of the apt. completed and the keys returned. It felt so odd to be leaving the building for the last time.  Odd is such a descriptive word for one so tiny.  Everything about life feels odd right now.  What will we all do when we leave this time warp and have to rejoin the daily schedules in our lives?  How will we cope with it after this week of alternate reality?

This is the first night my husband had to admit how tired he is and what an emotional basket case he has become this week, so he is not staying with Mom tonight.  She doesn't know him any more, she isn't conscious at all now and he needs some rest, at least as much as he will be able to get, in another place tonight.  He is here with me for the night, but I assured him that if he wakes up at any time during the wee hours of the morning and feels compelled to return to the hospice he is to do so.  

Wish we could better enjoy the lovely room we are in tonight but it somehow doesn't matter right now to either of us.  It is a bed that is not in the hospice.  Beyond that we could be staying anywhere. 

Odd.................

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Age Old Gastronomic Question: Where is There to Eat in This Town??

Our first week in Kelowna has been enlightening!  We have never spent more than a couple of days here in a row in our lives, as we are usually cruising through for a quick visit with the rels and then on to the west coast.

Usually we have no trouble locating ethnic and otherwise interesting cuisine in places that are new to us, but we have struggled mightily since arriving here!  Chutney's is one of the nicest Indian restaurants we have been to in a very long time, Ume is wonderful for Japanese food and I have mentioned them previously.  As of yesterday we can add Marmalade Cat Cafe for wonderful organic breakfast foods and The Bohemian Bistro for very expensive sandwiches and wraps that are worth every penny. I had no idea a simple chicken salad sandwich could be so thick with filling and tomatoes and cucumbers and and and and........the side cup of broccoli salad with pine nuts was so delicious.

Now if we can just find a late night restaurant that is NOT Boston Pizza or Montanas or some other form of fancy-ized fast food.  Quite a shocker that it is so difficult to find such a place.  If we wanted to spend hundreds of dollars on dinner each evening there are a few places open but for decent affordable food after 9pm the choices are limited to non-existent.

Kelowna has been a disappointing experience in many ways, lovely as it is, and it is doubtful we will ever return here for a visit.  We are not boat folk and that is probably our biggest problem with finding things to interest us here. Saw a couple of movies at the theatres and that was fun because we so rarely go to a movie together.  Usually we watch arts films with our son as there are few Hollywood style flicks that interest him.  (or us if we are being honest)

It is after 8pm once again here and no dinner has happened as yet.  Time to head out.  Perhaps the Pheasant and Quail Pub would be adequate this evening.  I want to get with it and get some dinner in my tummy before we tie into a wonderful Rico Suter Pinotage the boy has been saving to have with us before he flies home tomorrow evening.  This time it seems we have brought our cultural preferences with us.........in a lovely dark green bottle! 

Mom's Ongoing Battle

And so Mom continues to hang in that limbo between life and death.  Yesterday was a terrible day for her, so much fear, physical pain, and both exacerbated by an unexpected visitor in the afternoon when we were all over at the apt. packing everything up; a loud, blithering visitor who upset mom with every visit over the past years.  Who goes into a palliative care room without permission from the family anyway? It was an awful day for Mom.  We hoped her battle could end during the night but she is still with us and still in pain and fear.  

On the positive side we did get almost the entire apt. packed up yesterday.  Bags of garbage were hauled to the big bins, boxes of old tapes and CD's and books will meet the same fate today.  All the dishes from kitchen and dining room, ornaments, wall art and clothes are ready to be delivered today to the thrift store. Health aides are all cleaned and prepared for a return to the Red Cross.  It was a very tough day for my sister-in-law and husband of course.  I felt good being able to be the practical one who got a chance to truly do something useful to help out.  Just sitting isn't my best ability in these situations and I need some time to do helpful work that others can't face doing.  Packing and dumping was cathartic.  It is how I best deal with my own grief.

In other news.........wait a minute...there isn't any other news.  When a family member is dying the universe is suspended, confined to a tiny palliative care unit other than the occasional foray out for food, and in this case mom's apt. for packing.  You are sort of aware that the rest of the world is going about their business but it has no meaning.  Nothing matters beyond the need of the one who is dying.  It is a different plane of existence during the death process.  The understanding, prayers and condolences from so many friends has been life sustaining for the rest of us as we attempt to assist in ushering mom into a world without pain and fear.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

And On It Goes

Mom, as is her wont, defied everyone last night and not only lived through the night but is on one of the post stroke mini upswings that often happen.  Her face turned from death mask greeny grey to a rosy shade of pink.  Her hair had been brushed out this morning and a lovely pink nightgown adorned her.  The morphine had worn off to the point where her one good arm was waving about from severe Parkinsons tremors and she was distressed as she couldn't verbally express herself.  Eventually the physical pain reasserted itself and she is now sleeping mid afternoon after a mild dose of pain killers.

My husband slept over at the hospice in her room last night and will probably do so again this evening.  He is exhausted to the point where our son had to take the  car keys and drive him home for a nap.  He plans to stay there again tonight and I am urging him to take a break for a couple of hours and go to the movies with our son.

We worked with my sister-in-law this morning to empty the rest of the dresser drawers and prepare the rest of the furniture for the mover.  He has come and gone now for the last time and we will spend tomorrow packing up the dishes and ornaments and clothes for delivery to the thrift stores.  Mementos for one and all have been salvaged and packed for transport home.

Today we decided to find lunch at a reasonably priced, non-greasy, non-sodium enriched, non-lumpy, non-chain restaurant as we are all feeling decidedly stodgy.  Finding such a place has proved to be amazingly difficult in Kelowna.  There is a particularly nice pub with reasonable prices, a lovely East Indian restaurant and now we have found a delicious Japanese take out that is brand new and features chefs who are actually from Japan.  In all the good Japanese restaurants we have found in the past 10 years in Western Canada this one is the most authentic.  It is called Ume and we will definitely lunch there again before we leave here.  We had one of the worst Chinese lunches yesterday that any of us have ever eaten so of course we had to counter that with a return to the Indian restaurant for dinner!  Slurp!  Burp!  Urp!

This blog posting is as scattered as my brain is today.  I am exhausted from the particular stress that comes from sitting still day after day, knowing that someone in the family is going to die but not knowing the precise hour or even day.  It is difficult watching my emotionally worn out husband crying because after he told a joke to his mother this morning she was able to turn her head toward him and say accusingly in her old way at his bad puns, " Oh Dell!!!", before her voice failed her once again.

Losing family to the spectre of death, in this case a death thus far without faith and the accompanying fears from that lack, is one of the most difficult things to go through.  It will take my husband and his sister a very long to deal with this when it happens.  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Some Things Do Not Change No Matter the State of Mind and Body

We don't know mom's medical status yet today as we head over to see her, but it is plain to see that she is losing ground more each day.  36 hours or so ago she had another stroke that left her completely confused all day yesterday and robbed her of even more movement on her left side.

However, it seems some things don't change even when the mind is inhabiting a different plane than the body.  The nurses told my husband last evening that all day mom was talking about and fretting about 2 subjects that she has regularly talked and fretted about in the years I have known her:  where is everyone going to spend Christmas and when is she going to get some beer??? 

With my family determined to have the winter holiday plans signed, sealed and delivered by mid September each year and my husband's family unable to decide who would go where and even whether or not there would be a family Christmas celebration, sometimes not deciding for certain until mid December, it made for a bit of stress each year for our little family caught in the middle.  

But one thing was for certain whenever we found ourselves visiting my husband's family during any  holiday time:  mom would be very content to end a meal with a large dish of iced cream and a pint of  beer.  Iced cream and beer were a ritual of far more importance that Christmas trees or gifts or other holiday related activities. We never ceased to enjoy watching mom tuck into a large bowl of vanilla iced cream as her pleasure in it was so infectious.

When she would head east to visit us in our home, iced cream and beer were her first requests and always when she asked for them it was with a twinkle in her eyes.  We could tease her unmercifully about these particular culinary choices and she would always respond with a sarcastic comment back.  Mom always gave as good as she got when she was teased and it seemed the teasing was a great part of the ritual.  

There is nothing I would delight in more right now than to slip over to the hospital with a dixie cup of vanilla iced cream and a few sips of beer to brighten her day and cheer her spirits.  Wonder if I could slip a non-alcoholic "near beer" past the 24 hour care nurse......???  


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Humour in an Awkard Seniors Moment

So happy to pick up The Boy at the airport this morning!!  To see him doing better in life than he was a year ago is a thrill even at his adult age; that upward movement and life changing circumstance is always a joy to a parent.

And speaking of parents we had a lot of fun with my husband's mother when we visited her in hospital this morning.  I say "fun" meaning we were able to help her mind relax on a day when she is very much engaged mentally on whatever weird and wonderful planet she sometimes inhabits.  I have done elder care for years and so one thing I am able to do is roll with whatever imaginary scenario seems to real to these beloved seniors when their minds can no longer keep up with the reality most of the rest of us inhabit.

It is possible that she had another small stroke last night that has effected her mind for the worse once again, but her humour, the bold humour we remember, asserted itself delightfully.  We got talking about how both her children and grandchild learned so much from her many abilities and talents and how those things are making their lives better as a result.  Her response was definitely "the old Mom":  "Well!", she said.  "I am a pretty smart woman then, aren't I?"  (this accompanied by a little smirk)  Mom never could accept a compliment without making a bit of fun of herself in the process and today, even on Planet Wherever", was no different.

I am not sure my husband coped well with her response to the arrival of her grandson by commercial airplane.  She was very concerned because she wasn't sure about the location of anywhere he would be able to wash the plane after his flight.  But our son and I thought it was very cute that she was concerned about "his plane".  There was no point in trying to point out the error in her thinking, far better to just say that someone else was taking care of washing the plane so she could relax and stop worrying about it.

She and I had a lovely conversation about an imaginary sweater she thought was hanging on the wall of her hospital room, one with a long woolen thread hanging off the bottom, so a good discussion ensued about the best way to get that piece of wool re-threaded so that it would not unravel.  Mom was completely lucid for the discussion, other than the fact that there was no sweater and no thread. 


Right now my husband is over at the hospital just sitting with her, my son has gone out to do some shopping, and I am reflecting on the joys of working with the elderly and the wonderful chances I have had to understand their lapses of memory and the alternate realities they have to deal with sometimes.  A former client used to hallucinate in the night hours that there were fires burning around him.  Once I learned that the  best way to calm him and help him get back to sleep was to pretend he and I each had hoses to blast water on the flames and put them out, life became easier for us both.  He was able to go back to an untroubled sleep and it certainly didn't hurt me to just go along with him.

Before too many more years it may be my turn to enter the realm of alternate reality experienced by so many seniors. I hope and pray my family can just permit me to be where I am if I am experiencing any joy or peace in the midst of it.  I hope they don't mind pretending that what I am saying is just fine if it gives me peace and rest in my mind.

It is hell to get old, in so many ways.  I can only pray that I will find myself at that difficult to nearly impossible stage of life surrounded by those who understand and just let me find peace wherever my mind wanders.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Snow Capped Mountains

We got quite a surprise today driving through the good old Rockies on our way west:  the peaks were all covered with fresh snow, and not just a bit of a sprinkling either!  There is REAL snow up there all ready!  More evidence of an early winter to come......

Had our first visit with Mom today.  Her voice is weaker and her body a bit more emaciated than last time, but she was lucid and introducing us to one of the nurses who care for her 24 hours a day.  She is receiving wonderful care.  We robed and gloved so were able to hold her hands and stroke her arms.  She was delighted to see us and is so happy her grandson is flying in tomorrow and her daughter on Sunday.  We will see if she continues to hang onto life on earth once we all return home or if she gives herself permission to go.

We found a wonderful restaurant for salads on our trip today in the town of Golden, and tonight we ate far too much excellent Indian food.  My husband is more familiar with this city than I am and knows a few very decent eating establishments, so we are overstuffed and returning to salads tomorrow.

The drive through the mountains was about perfect:  a little sun, a little rain, very little traffic for this time of year.  A small mountain sheep standing in the middle of the highway in Rogers Pass made for some good wildlife gawking and a fast hit to the brakes!!

The hotel is lovely with a complete kitchen, although it is going to be noisy tonight I am guessing as it is a huge place and every room is filled for the weekend.  I know it will be quieter for us in a couple of days when we move over to the guest suites at Mom's soon to be former residence.

So we will pick up the boy from the airport in the morning and then go and meet with Mom's boyfriend so we can plan a visiting schedule that doesn't wear her out.

It is going to be an interesting week visiting not only with Mom but now also with several other elderly rels in various stages of disease and decay, who live in the area.......I am likely going to be incredibly depressed by the time we get home.......

Thursday, August 23, 2012

There Ought'a Be a Law....Wait a Minute, There IS a Law!

I have to confess there is one thing about small prairie towns that annoys me more than anything else:  the lack of enforcement of early morning noise bylaws, particularly as related to construction noise. In 2 of our previous towns the bylaw was never enforced no matter who called in the complaint and I am so disappointed to be in yet another town with this problem.
 
This morning I was awakened well before 5am to the sounds of metal pipes or metal roofing slats being dropped and dragged across pavement, as well as a sound that puts me in mind of a back hoe pushing through mounds of shattered glass. The noise has been accompanied by a fair number of hollering male voices.  It is now 7am and the sounds have not abated.  In other words, on a day when I have to be travelling for long hours, I have not had sleep sufficient to support long hours on the road.

Not sleeping does not contribute to a feeling of serenity.  It does not leave me kindly disposed toward whoever is making that horrendous noise, nor toward the local police force who did not answer my phone in to complain with so much as a recording.

Not sleeping leaves me intensely irritated, jumpy, crabby and nasty, as well as nauseated and shaky inside and out.

I suppose I could have really become irate and taken my life in my hands by driving around town until locating the offenders and giving them a piece of my mind.....yeah, that would have worked....pajama clad old woman races to construction workers or truckers or railway crew or whoever is making said noise, and demands they stop work until the end of the nightly noise curfew so she can return home and get some sleep.  O yeah.....in the world of small town macho prairie males that would work fer 'sure!!  NOT!! Even if I was a man I doubt I would get any action short of threats to get lost or else, at worst, or a ton of laughter at best.  

There is still an hour before the nightly noise curfew ends.  I suppose I could continue in my quest to contact law enforcement on principle, even if there is now no time to get a decent sleep before having to take off for my trip.  But I am severely hampered by what I call my non-directional hearing.

Yup, I can't tell what direction noises are coming from when there is a distance of more than about 20 feet involved.  I wouldn't actually be able to report to the police where the noise is coming from.  It could be from a roofing crew down the street to the east, or from the railway crew at the tracks to the south, or from one of the many industrial businesses or the town landfill site to the north and west.  It could be coming from 6 blocks away or two miles away. Sigh........

I hope my husband slept well last night because he has a slew of miles to drive today while I sit beside him in a stupor.  Days that start off so wretchedly for me are difficult to recover from.  Travelling to see dying relatives is stressful enough without a complete lack of sleep just as we get into the trip.

Well, at least the sun is all ready shining brightly and the weather forecast is great for the entire week ahead everywhere that we are travelling.  Maybe, just maybe, tonight I will get some sleep.

I have another reason to rejoice:  yesterday in a small town up the road from here the noise bylaw WAS enforced against a construction crew...maybe there is hope for our town as well!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And Away We Go

(I always want to add "with a Bo Dee O Do" after that phrase, like when we were kids! haha)

The canoeist arrived home late last night, all brown tanned, covered in huge scratches from a losing battle with a pine tree on a portage, grinning, filled with excitement about the things seen, the activities accomplished.  Apparently the younger guides were suitably impressed with the fitness of both their old fogey clients and upgraded the route so they could canoe some rapids after all.  

Since the route takes place in Canadian Shield there are huge granite rocks shooting out of the Churchill River where the guys could beach the canoes and go jumping into the river for a swim.

An added joy was taking time to visit Stanley Mission, the oldest church in the western shield.  It was built in 1852 I believe.  My husband's uncle used to be a teacher in that area and he had never had the chance to visit the man there, but at least now he has seen the area. 

The expression "happy camper" certainly applies to my husband after this trip.  He said he didn't think about anything related to home, family or work once he got out in that canoe and is feeling so refreshed.

And now we hit the road to go and see to his mom.  2 nights ago it appeared she was choosing to slip away and wouldn't live to see the morning. For the first time she didn't recognize her long time faithful companion and we were certain she was leaving us.  However an infection in her system was discovered, is now being treated and she has responded well.  We still don't know that she will last the 2 or 3 months needed to move her into a nursing home, but for now it appears she has rallied sufficiently for us all to see her over the next few days. 

This will be the toughest trip we have had since my husband flew home from Tokyo 11 years ago when his father passed away. We are so grateful our son can fly out to join us and see his grandmother.  He will be a great moral support to his father.

I hope we can relax enough to enjoy the drive through the mountains.  It has been several years now since I have had the pleasure of that gorgeous trip through the Rogers Pass.  Hopefully it won't be spoiled by an overabundance of summer holiday traffic, but even if there are a ton of holiday'ers on the road the scenery is spectacular and perhaps all the traffic will force us to slow down long enough to get a chance to enjoy it in passing. 

Don't know when I will get a chance to blog again but no doubt, despite the sadness concerning my husband's mother, there will be other, cheerier adventures as well to write about in a few days.

Chat soon.........


Monday, August 20, 2012

Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me.....

TEACH CHILDREN THE BIBLE IS NOT ABOUT THEM

--by Sally Lloyd-Jones  (Act the Miracle:  God's work and ours in the mystery of sanctification)


When I go into churches and speak to children I ask them two questions.

First. how many people here sometimes think you have to be good for God to love you?

They tentatively raise their hands. I raise my hand along with them.

And second, how many people here sometimes think that if you aren't good, God will stop loving you?

They look around and again raise their hands.

These are children in Sunday schools who know the Bible stories.  These are children who probably also know all the right answers--and yet they have somehow misssed the most important thing of all.

They have missed what the Bible is all about.

They are children like I once was.

As a child, even though I was a Christian, I grew up thinking the Bible was filled with rules you had to keep (or God wouldn't love you) and with heroes setting examples you had to follow (or God wouldn't love you).

I tried to be good.  I really did.  I was quite good at being good.  But however hard I tried, I couldn't keep the rules all the time so I knew God must not be pleased with me.

And I certainly couldn't ever be as brave as Daniel.  I remember being tormented by the Sunday school chorus, "Dare to be a Daniel" because, hard as I tried to imagine myself daring to be a Daniel, being thrown to lions and not minding...who was I kidding?  I knew I'd be terrified out of my skull.  I  knew I would just say: "OK yes whatever you say!  Just don't throw me to the lions!  Don't pull out my fingernails!  Make it stop!"

I knew I wasn't nearly brave enough.  Or faithful enough.  Or good enough.

How could God ever love me?

I was sure he couldn't.

On Sunday, not long ago, I was reading the story of Daniel and the Scary Sleepover  from The Jesus Storybook Bible  to some 6 year olds during a Sunday school lesson.  One little girl n particular was sitting so close to me she was almost in my lap.  Her face was bright and eager as she listened to the story, utterly captivated.  She could hardly keep on the ground and kept kneeling up to get closer to the story.  

At the end of the story there were no other teachers around and I panicked and went into automatic pilot and heard myself--to my horror--asking, "And so what can we learn from Daniel about how God wants us to live?" 

And as I said those words it was as if I had literally laid a huge load on that little girl.  Like I broke some spell.  She crumpled right in front of me, physically slumping and bowing her head.  I will never forget it.

It is a picture of what happens to a child when we turn a story into a moral lesson.

When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it all about us.  But the Bible isn't mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing--it's about God, and what he has done!

When we tie up the story in a nice neat, little package, and answer all the questions, we leave no room for mystery.  Or discovery.  We leave no room for the child.  No room for God.

When we say, "Now what that story is all about is...", or "The point of that story is...", we are in fact totally missing the point.  The power of the story isn't in summing it up, or drilling it down, or reducing it into an abstract idea. 

Because the power of the story isn't in the lesson.

The power of the story is the story.  

And that's why I wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible.  So children could know what I didn't: 

-that the Bible isn't mainly about me, and what I should be doing.  It's about God and what he has done.

-that the Bible is most of all a story--the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

-that--in spite of everything, no matter what, whatever it cost him--God won't ever stop loving his children...with a wonderful, Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

-that the Bible, in short, is a Story--not a Rule Book--and there is only one Hero in the Story. 

I wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible so children could meet the Hero in its pages. And become part of his Magnificent Story.

Because the rules don't change you.

But a Story--God's Story--can.


So my question is, where was this woman when I went to Sunday School?? If I had been taught about God in this manner it would have revolutionized my faith as a child. How well I remember "the load" I took on every Sunday morning, just like the little girl in the story.  Thank you Sally Lloyd-Jones for realizing what so many have missed over the centuries in teaching children about God.



  





Saturday, August 18, 2012

Losing a Mother

We are having a season of sadness in our family right now.  My husband's mother, who is in her 90's, has taken a turn for the worse with her health in the past several weeks and her quality of life has pretty much disappeared. 

Less than 2 months ago my husband and his sister travelled to Mom's city to move her from her independent living suite to a smaller assisted living residence. She was only in the suite for a couple of weeks before a health crisis landed her in hospital where she has been ever since.  In the past 2 weeks her health has deteriorated to the point where it is now obvious she will not be returning to her residence.  The paperwork is underway to have her moved into a nursing home in the next couple of months, but we are not certain she is going to rally sufficiently to make that move.  For my husband and his sister the looming loss of the strong, incredibly capable, hard working, independent woman they called their mother is intensely difficult.  Those life long qualities have been lost so quickly and we know that she would suffer greatly to have to live long in her current state, but it makes it no less painful to realize a huge part of their lives is coming to an end.

So we are all on our way to see her and spend as much time with her as we can.  Grandson is flying out next week as well so the whole family will be with her.  All her belongings must be moved out of her suite as she will not be returning and dealing with them will give us something to focus on and get some physical activity going to counter the sadness of the emotions.  Her elderly boyfriend is distraught to be losing his best friend and needs support from the family as well.

Our holiday is over before it started but what an amazing way the details have worked out to be at mom's at this time when she most needs us.  My husband all ready had the time off for holidays and once he gets teaching in Sept. there is no way he could go out to mom's and move furniture etc. until Reading Week........in NOVEMBER!  My son has just returned from school in the States and can take a few days to visit his grandmother before he returns to work.  I was able to find a hotel there that had a cancellation for the very days we need a hotel on short notice for one of the last of the summer weekends.  My husband's sister discovered that the guest suites at mom's building are free for us to rent for the days immediately after our hotel reservation ends.  The incredibly helpful senior citizens' moving man is available and knows where we can store mom's furniture until we can decide what to do with it all.  Everything is working out to take care of mom's needs and her "stuff".  

So much to be grateful for during a most difficult family time. 

Last night I found out my own father is having a health issue that is rendering him incapable of walking very much.  It may or may not be solveable and we are waiting on x-rays next week.  Another possible parental health crisis or a problem solved with healing time and therapy?  Mom is running herself ragged taking care of him.  They are in their middle 80's and while they have done very well with their health, incredibly well actually, are we looking at 2 more seniors needing to change their lifestyle in the next year?

It is that season in our lives that we have been afraid to face but are now having to do so.  If we have fears for our parents,  how much more debilitating are THEIR fears as they face the realities of aging?

The next year is going to be a tough one for us all.............

Friday, August 17, 2012

Eating Out in Tokyo in the Year 2000

From a letter home in December 2000, remember that the prices I list below are the prices from over 10 years ago now:

After a particularly strenuous week of soot scraping here at home and at the workshop, (why can I do all this filthy physical labour here without complaining when I was nearly suicidal trying to get away from it at home in Canada?? Go figure!!), we splurged on dinner out at a Denny's just around the corner from our apato!!  Yes, a Denny's....just like home, right?  WRONGO!!  Before you get all excited about us having a western food source so close to us in Mitaka I must tell you that the closest things to American food on the menu are hamburger steak and  a BLT with fries.......sort of.  

Dell ordered the BLT which featured a spicy fried egg instead of the T and there wasn't a smidgen of B on it anywhere!!  French fries are a new commodity and still somewhat suspect to the Japanese palate apparently, but for only $4 you can order a full side plate of them....and receive maybe 10 french fries on that plate on a good day. By the time the crusts were cut off Dell's bread (have never seen any sandwiches served here in Tokyo with crusts left on the bread), the very small slices of bread, there wasn't a lot to the sandwich.  He sat and looked at his plate in utter disbelief for a long time before he ate it....all 4 bites of it...fries included! 

I opted for the hamburger steak, which turned out to be about a quarter pound of ground pork stuffed with minced mushroom and onions and shaped like a teeny meat loaf.  This $13 entree was rounded out with a couple of teaspoons of soy gravy, a tablespoon of mashed potatoes with the consistencey of Cream O' Wheat and 2 veggies: a slice of cooked carrot about 2/3 of an inch long and a similar sized piece of broccoli.  I paid an extra $4 for an added food package so my meal time extravaganza was rounded out with 2 tablespoons of rice, 2 slices of daikon pickle and a Barbie's Play House sized bowl of mizo broth with 3 bits of sliced leek and 2 itsy bitsy cubes of tofu floating in it.  Yum, yum!!  Now I know why the Japanese customers were eating their miso soup floaties with chopsticks!  There was no room in that bowl for a spoon of any size!

For another $4 (do I see a menu price trend here?) I was able to order a strawberry smoothie by pointing at the picture of it in the menu.  (Confession, that is how we ordered everything we ordered from that menu, by pointing at the pictures and smiling hopefully at the waitress.)  Then we hoped against hope that the bowing, modest waitress would ask us no questions regarding our choices!!  I assumed a smoothie would be difficult to toy with even for the Japanese, right?  Wrong again!  It arrived with an actual strawberry or 3 in it, but it also had small chunks of yam paste for which a spoon was graciously provided so I could fish them out and eat them without choking on them by accidentally sucking them in through the straw.  AND of course no sugar whatsoever in this drink as sugar is not healthy.....well, yes dear bowing modest waitress, even I, ignorant Canadian that I am, know that sugar is not healthy, but I do expect it in a sweet smoothie that was supposed to be my North American treat with this meal.  Yam paste in a strawberry smoothie...imagine my delight......yeah....not so much.....

Dell was so hungry, after his itty bitty BLT minus the B and the T and not being served with enough fries to plug a tooth cavity, he decided to order a second entree....much to the dismay of the bowing, modest waitress who seemed overly concerned that to do so would be too much food and not healthy for him.  Of course we would end up with the one waitress on staff that not only knew a few words of English but was also a health food nut. Sigh........ He fared somewhat better with his second meal: a wee bowl of Spaghetti Parmesiana accompanied by an "American Bun".  The spaghetti, despite the eensy weensy portion size, appeared completely North American when it was delivered to our table.  As Dell started to eat it he realized that what appeared to be large chunks of delicately cooked chicken were actually large chunks of delicately steamed squid!  (Actually the squid here is totally delicious....which is good as it appears in EVERY pizza and potato dish in the country!!)  The American Bun looked to be the right size and texture, but of course, this being Japan there were strips of seaweed baked into the top of it. hahaha  Dell found his 4 ounce water glass didn't hold enough liquid to wash down 2 meals so he ordered a 6 ounce glass of iced tea.......yes, of course it was green tea.... no sugar, no lemon....NO ICE!  The bowing modest waitress explained that it wouldn't be good for his teeth to get cold.  Heavy sigh.......... 

This Denny's meal is responsible for my discovery of Melon Soda drinks.  O there is nothing in Canada to top this amazing soda.  THIS was my real treat of the night!

That was our first feast of Denny's fast food........Japanese style.  I think we will go there again.  The entire meal cost less than $50US and we almost got enough to eat by the time we each had 2 meals. (Yup, I just had to get another hamburger steak meal so I wouldn't starve on the 2 block walk home.) The restaurant was spotlessly clean, the expected hot hand towels for pre-meal washing were bleached white as snow, and there was also a sink and soap in the entrance way to wash our hands before we even entered the dining area.  I am so glad we squirreled away a few yen for a date night.  Just hadn't planned to spend it all in one place!  

(NOTE: the same meal in Tokyo now would cost nearly double what it did when we were there in 2000.  Try to imagine spending nearly $80 for a dinner out....at Denny's!!)  


Theological Labelling

Theology like any other academic discipline is filled with useful terms, definitions, categories, and streams of thought for the purposes of study and research.  Once again the battle between complementarianism and egalitarianism is on the forefront of theological debate, although the subscribers to each belief system have been arguing about gender in ministry for decades, centuries even. The debate about the place of women in public ministry never seems to go away, and certainly very little seems to be definitively decided year after year after endless year.  In my own church denomination there has been a great welcoming of women in leadership and preaching roles in recent decades....on the one hand. On the other hand there is a sect or two in my denomination that has not accepted women in the pulpit, as well as one that did accept women in the pulpit until very recent years when their doctrine actually reverted back to not accepting women in the pulpit. YES to women leaders and preachers, then NO to women leaders and preachers, back and forth, up and down, side to side, and on and on it goes.

My friend over at Cheese-Wearing Theology has posted an interesting video featuring members of The Gospel Coalition discussing why they are complementarians more than egalitarians and all the members of the panel are men.....men discussing strongly their concepts of women in ministry with nary a woman present.  That sort of discussion doesn't offend me....any more.  I am old and have been listening to the same arguments pro and con regarding women in public ministry all my life.  On some level it has ceased to have meaning for me any more after listening to the same ideas on each side of the issue for over 50 years.

In the course of living most of my life in the church in its various forms and expressions I have developed my own view of the issue.  It is based on the practicality of life and the apparent practicality of God in getting his will accomplished on the earth.  A general theme of biblical scripture in both testaments for both genders is that whatever you find to do in life and ministry, do it heartily, do it well and above all do it for the Lord. I look at the stories of the Bible and see God using whoever is available at any given moment to do his good will. Sometimes it is men and sometimes it is women.

To me the questions are more along the lines of "what is God trying to accomplish in a given circumstance?" And "who is available AND WILLING to accomplish it?" In my culture I may have a strong preference for one gender or the other to perform certain acts of public ministry, but I can't claim a strong biblically based preference and know beyond doubt that my preference is God's preference. There are too many good and logical arguments on both sides of the complementarianism and egalitarianism issue.

This weekend I will have a chance once again to experience an attempt to please God by serving in one of our churches as leader and "preacher" (actually a word I do not like as it seems to scream at me both from the written page and from the lips when it is verbalized....for me the word just "feels" abusive for some reason).  There will be some in the congregation who will not like it, will feel I am overstepping my boundaries not because of my lack of academic theological degrees, but because I am a woman.  I have experienced that before and survived.  I did not ask to do this task.  I did not even want to do it this weekend to be honest as I have a lot of other things on my mind right now.   It takes hours and hours for me to research a simple 5 minute homily due to my lack of theological training.  I can't risk saying anything that is incorrect or risk giving practical application of the scriptures that leads people down the wrong path of interpretation or practise. Preparing the simplest of homilies is a stress but one is expected.  This weekend in particular I really feel I have "better" things to do with my time in terms of the practicalities involved in cancelling our vacation plans to go and assist with a dying relative....booking places to stay near her, trying to figure out a way to best assist her and also to still see my son now that I can no longer go to his city, after planning this holiday for the past 4 months.  My mind is otherwise occupied, my emotions are hurting and I am finding it difficult to concentrate on planning a church service today. 
 
BUT is God more honoured by our church service going forward at the hands of a woman, even a somewhat distracted one, or by cancelling the service completely because no male priests nor laymen are available this weekend?  Is it wiser to gather together in praise and worship under the leadership of someone less than acceptable in the eyes of many, based on gender, or to lose out on the corporate worship of God because the leader of the service is not the desired male?  Am I supposed to post a sign outside my church doors that announces there will be no service today because no men, either ordained or laymen, are available to take it?  I honestly don't know for certain, but it seems to me that even my feeble attempts to lead the service and extend the fellowship of believers this weekend will be better than no attempt at all.  I am not a complete rookie at this sort of thing, I know God can bring something good to our corporate body at this service.  If some of the men in the congregation decide at the last minute that they are available to do a lay service instead of me taking it, that is fine as well.  They are welcome to do it. The important thing to me is not the gender of the leaders, it is whether or not God is going to be fellowshipped with this weekend by our corporate body.

I think I have just reached a point in life where I am not worried any more about who leads what in public ministry based on gender.  Let it be an issue for others. I don't have the energy any more to worry so much about it. For myself I want God to be publicly honoured and praised and for his people to gather in corporate worship.  Hopefully the leadership is competent. My constant prayer for the church is that all church leadership will learn to wisely discern God's heart for their teaching and worship leading...whoever that leadership is, male or female. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Winter's a'Comin'....All Ready?? Whaaaaaa??

Over the past few days I have been trying valiantly but with ever decreasing success to ignore the signs of an early winter fast approaching.  Unfortunately all the signs are there that our wonderful warm summer is going to end far faster than we are used to, more quickly than we are prepared for.  Unbelieveably the last of our previous winter's snow melt in Western Canada only completed its descent from the mountains less than 6 weeks ago and now we see signs of this year's winter season all ready encroaching.

In the past few weeks we have seen fewer birds than we see in the spring and autumn. This is quite normal as they have been in the northern part of the province enjoying nesting, birthing their hatchlings and eating summer treats.  They don't pass this way again until the fall........and they arrived this week: red breasted nuthatches, finches of all kinds and even two young woodpeckers, barely travel worthy, have arrived at our feeders and waterer in the past two days.  The yard is swarming with birds we are not supposed to see for weeks yet. Ducks and geese are all ready practising winter flying formations even though their young are barely out on their own as yet.  This is frightening stuff; it is happening at least a month too early for our comfort.

The leaves on some of the trees are turning yellow......during a hot summer that can simply mean they are too dry, but this summer they have had plenty of rain to keep them watered in between the bouts of hot weather. The taller prairie grasses and some of the weeds are turning an autumnal light green leading to yellow all ready. 

Last night the outside temperatures dropped into the single digits, with reports of 0 degrees in the southern portions of our province....light frost has touched a few of the crops, although there was no damage.

The last straw today was the discovery, while vaccuming and washing floors, of a number of young spiders who have infiltrated the laundry room and kitchen.  The house is filling up with the autumn population of various types and sizes of arachnids that drive me crazy and give me the shivers every time I lay eyes on their little round, 8 legged, quickly skittering bodies.  The larger spiders in particular have given me pause as they never enter the house until preparation for the winter season begins. 

This afternoon I took a phone call from Vancouver Island where the temperatures this week have been hovering in the low +30's and the anguished voice on the other end of the phone line informed me that there are wintering spiders making their way into the residence of the caller......spiders who do not make their way in until the first signs of fall are on the way. Oh, and why would the birds there be practising winter flying formations all ready??  O no........not there too!!!

Guess it is going to be an early winter this year......mentally I am starting to prepare myself for the sheets of ice that will decorate our streets and sidwalks once again for who knows how many months. For someone recovering still from a broken ankle sustained on last winter's ice fall it is a terrifying prospect and now apparently going to be an earlier (therefore longer) one than expected.

"The thing which I most greatly fear has come upon me."  Thank you Job for that succinct expression of stark terror...... 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Man Superman

My husband is one of those people I admire greatly for his ability to do almost anything.  Growing up on a subsistence farm with two parents who had to be incredibly inventive so the family wouldn't starve had quite an impact on him.  He grew up with two practical and creative role models and it has served him well all his life.

He is a fine wood craftsman and carpenter, a scholar, a priest, a teacher, a mountain climber and outdoor sports enthusiast, a farmer, a rider of horses and milker of cows, a master cook, a quilter, a repairer of all things electrical and mechanical and does plumbing as well, a gardener and a terrific seamstress.  Just this evening he hauled out the sewing machine and opened up the back of an outgrown sports vest (yes, he is a good eater too in his old age, teehee) and expanded it two sizes with some new material, as well as spent some time creating a mattress cover out of an old sheet.  Then he sewed up a new fly for his tent after he patched some holes in it. His gifts and abilities are endless and I feel completely stupid and useless in comparison.  My own gifts are limited at this point to discovering bad restaurants and watching tv without falling off the couch!

BUT there is one thing my dear amazing spectacular husband cannot do.

He cannot sing.

He cannot carry a tune in a bucket.

To this one disability I cling...........teehee  

Congratulations to my wonderful husband! I would be completely lost without you. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

First Japanese Mountain Resort Experience

From Letter #3, December 3, 2000
New experiences this week:
Drove up to the mountains with my cousin to deliver some old furniture to our mission language school at the resort town of Karuizawa, Japan's answer to Banff.  It was a rare perfect day. The temperatures were mild, at least until the mountain winds began to blow at noon.  The winds from the night before had blown all the smog and clouds away from the whole area.

We were able to spend the entire 2 1/2 hour drive on the toll highway ($80 US). Along the way there are rest stops with biffies, standup noodle bars and vending machines. Neither my cousin nor myself can have caffeine so we drank cans of hot corn chowder while Dell imbibed his usual Royal Milk Tea.  Why can't Canadian vending machines dispense HOT canned drinks??

Half way to Karuizawa we looked to the west and there was a ( rare,we were to discover), perfect view of Mt. Fuji. It is a gigantic show covered volcanic cone rising majestically out of the mist below. As we were to learn, the peak is nearly always covered in smog, fog and mist. The low (by Canadian standards) red rocked mountains have saw toothed peaks which are extremely noticeable set against the treeline of conifers only 1/2 mile below.  The trees are so thick and so green they make the mountainsides look like softly moulded velvet....like the artistic bent of a bonsai pruner gone berserk.  In among the pines are clusters of red and orange leafed deciduous trees so it is a most beautiful sight.  After completing a couple of minor repairs on some missions retreat cabins we were able to tour the town while my cousin was in a meeting.  Many of the stores are newly winterized and are open year round selling knockoffs of American name brand clothing, hiking gear, watches and jewellery. Apparently the police here are not as strict as in Tokyo for checking on product authenticity.

For our lunch treat we chose a restaurant featuring the latest rage here in Japan: the Japanese interpretation of Italian food.  It is a grubby little place we wouldn't have stayed in for more than 10 seconds at home, but in Japan it is just one more new experience for us.  The 50's style diner upholstered bench seats were torn and filthy with soot just like everything here and the washroom was blacker than most Canadian service station washrooms, with no soap in the authentic American dispenser someone had tried to pull out of the wall at some point. 

We ordered chicken and shrimp parmesan and a side of spaghetti noodles.  Despite the bit of soy flavouring that must be a law for inclusion in all food here, the dish had the other proper herbs and necessary melted cheeses to suit the Canadian interpretation of Italian food. The noodles were well cooked in tomato sauce, just like at home. We thought we had discovered a true attempt at ethnic food by this Japanese establishment until we looked under our meat and cheese: instead of a bed of pasta our Italian delight was nestled into a bed of RICE!  Delightfully Japanese.

Dell ordered Ocha (good quality green tea), even though it was not on the menu, because he assumed it would be available.  The tiny waitress looked shocked and kept asking him over and over if that was what he really wanted.  He finally convinced her he really did want ocha and she disappeared into the kitchen.  Instead of reappearing with his tea she got into a heated sort of discussion with the owner of the restaurant.  We heard him leave the kitchen finally and to upstairs to his living quarters.  A few minutes later he reappeared with 2 steaming mugs of his own private stock  and a most sincere apology for having only American handled mugs to serve this Honorable Tea in.The waitress was not used to having North Americans request proper green tea instead of coffee or bagged tea from the USA, and when Dell asked inadvertently for the highest grade of green tea it caused a major furor as they had none in stock.  To save face in front of their visitors the good ocha had to be produced.  Aiiiii yiiiii.....what would happen if Canadian restauranteurs were so polite and accommodating to customers as to bring the requested edible from their own home kitchens?????  

Over the next hour the rest of the kitchen staff snuck out one by one to peer at us. It was hilarious.  It was only our 3rd experience in a Japanese restaurant and we are still learning so much about correct procedure, how to order, what to order....will we ever get a handle on it? We feel so incredibly ignorant. And now rather embarrassed by the performance we forced on this restaurant owner without meaning to.

One Small Decision and 'Bye 'Bye Stress

Today I had to do a bit of soul searching.  My husband is heading north on a week long canoe trip and for once I was to have the car while he is away.  But I have not been at peace about this aspect of the trip.  It is a long drive for me to take him to the nearest city to meet up with his other canoeing buddies there so they can head north together.  I would have to figure out how to get across the city to the home of one of the guys and how to return to the highway from there. Then I would have to come back on my own the following week, to repeat the procedure after the canoe trip ends:  a waste of 2 precious days I was looking forward to having on my own so that catching up on yard work and housework would not be a frantic rush while trying to find time to be alone for resting and reading before some company comes to visit me for a couple of days.

This morning as I went about doing my shopping and other house chores I realized that I truly don't need the car for that week. Anything I really need to do in town is accessible on foot to the downtown.  

If I had the car what would I do with it?

I know what I would do with it.  I would leave it sitting in the garage most of the week.  It would come out only if I had a sudden urge for a trip down the highway strip to the fast food places, where I would be tempted to eat something that would make me sick.  Or else it would come out in a moment of boredom, to transport me on a whim to the one larger store on the edge of town where I would make mindless and unnecessary purchases, filling that empty internal space that could be better filled by prayer and study.

So, I came home and told my husband the car is his.  It relieves him of the stress of wondering all week if I arrived home safely after dropping him off.  The highway to the city is a 2 lane nightmare of semi rigs and camper trailers and RVs, bumper to bumper and with a high ratio of accidents due to driver frustration.   It relieves us both of the worry of me falling asleep behind the wheel, my newest trick in my old age.  It gives the canoeists a second option for vehicle travel up north, and if nothing else an extra car trunk in which to leave gear they decide not to take with them after all.  It relieves me from the stress of pathfinding through a city I really don't know as well as I should know it after nearly 3 years of living in the area. I dislike this city and have only gone there for medical purposes in all that time.

We save having to pay for a couple of extra tanks of gasoline if I don't have to make a double trip to the city and back....money that can go toward gasoline for our holiday west after the canoe trip....the holiday to see My Son!

All in all, one small decision has relieved a ton of stress.  I feel better now.   

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Own Personal Meals on Wheels

After an exhausting, but in a nice way, morning, I am within sight of completing the 23 cartons of food I am preparing to take to my parents when next I head that way.  My parents are in that terrible limbo stage that most seniors face at some point:  the phase where they are not really ready to go to a seniors' villa for assisted living with meals, but not really up to cooking decently for themselves any more.

Hence: Meals on Wheels Suzy Style!  My parents are not yet ready to sit at home 3 or more mornings a week awaiting the delivery of prepared foods.  The Meals on Wheels organization has done an amazing job preparing excellent meals for seniors and others who require the assistance but my parents are not yet on their schedule as they are away from home too much just yet.

By the time I am done tomorrow I will have completed the following items and put them into individual sized serving cartons for mix and match:
-vegetable soup x2
-white rice
-brown rice
-spaghetti noodles
-spaghetti sauce
-stir fried chicken and veggies
-oriental chicken meat balls
-beef meatballs in tomato sauce
-pork tenderloin strips
-pork tenderloin apple/maple slices
-blueberry salmon filets
-lemon dill salmon filets
-tilapia filets
-baked chicken breasts
-spaghetti squash with beef and onions
-Indian herb cabbage and carrot strips
-dill carrots and zucchini
-chicken rice casserole
-tuna casserole
-maple sugar carrots
-cauliflower and red peppers
-green beans and almonds

I am having so much fun, AND it has forced me to clean out the refrigerator freezer in order to ensure I can get all these cartons in there until I go to visit my parents again in a couple of weeks.  I think they will have a hoot going through all the cartons and deciding what they want to have each day.  After all they have done for me over the years it is the least I can do with the geographical distance between us to contend with. 


A Few Other First Week in Tokyo Memories

My husband wrote exactly one letter home in his last year in Tokyo, the time we were actually there together in the same city at the same time! Here are a few excerpts:

Today is a Japanese national holiday called "Labor Day Thankgiving" or "Labor Thanksgiving Day".  Perhaps it is intended to be sort of a conbination of the sentiments of the North American holidays of the same names.  I can certainly understand with unemployment problems here **(the year was 2000)** why people would want to say "Thank God I've got a job!"

So, we have been here less than a week and all ready we have been:

-up at 5am nearly every morning to greet the rising sun after being fully awakened by the "heralds of the dawn".  In Tokyo these heralds are crows who make up with volume for what they lack in melody.  

-unable to determine (apart from opening and tasting) if the bag of white crystals in our kitchen is sugar, salt or some more nefarious substance.

-politely excused by train station personnel after managing to ride the train with tickets that were actually for another train line.

-encouraged by long time church planters that our first church service congregation of 3, including my wife and myself, was a typical missionary experience.

-approached by another customer at the tea shop, a gentleman who probably wanted to practise his English, who recommended his favourite tea from Shizuoka. **(Sue's note: and thus began my husband's 10 year love affair with green teas that has resulted in our purchasing a huge double door'd cupboard with 5 shelves just to house his many varieties of tea!)** 

-made aware that many of the North Americans, even those who have been here a long time, do not seem as interested in the local food and drink as we are. Although our apartment kitchen is well equipped with utensils, we needed to add Japanese teacups, pots and hashi (chopsticks)...and for Susan as a woman it is Ohashi, the Honorable Chopsticks!  For her many of the nouns begin with the honorific O that men do not need to use.  Fortunately I was also able to retrieve the big Chinese style wok that I purchased at a restaurant supply store last time I was here.  It is huge by Japanese standards but very good for stir frying the vegetables that are usually so lovely and fresh here. 

-buying bento boxes (Japanese lunch box meals) at the Family Mart convenience store nearby.  It makes our lunches quick to eat while we are still unpacking and cleaning the apt. (Try to imagine what your own house or apt. would be like if  you ran the exhaust of a big diesel bus into it for a few months.)

-to the city hall in Mitaka to apply for "alien registration". This involved getting more photos by using one of the little coin operated photo booths across the street.  The sweet little female voice on a recorded message takes you through the steps of pushing buttons to determine the size and number of prints you want.  Sweet as she sounds it was all unintelligible to us and fortunately in this booth so near city hall with many Gaijin (impolite word for foreigners), the instructions are available in English.....as well as Korean, Chinese and Urdu.  The only Japanese phrase we understood in the recording was the "arigato-gozai-mashita" (thank you) at the end.

-attempting to do the laundry in our apt. machines so thoughtfully supplied, complete with all instructions in Japanese. Washing clothes is made more time consuming by the necessity of using a Japanese dictionary to try to decifer the different control buttons.  The machine is new and high tech with many buttons and flashing indicator lights....if we could just figure out what they all mean!! 

-encouraged by our second week's church congregation:  it increased by 300%!  Last week only one parishioner, this week there were three!  Forgot to mention the biggest surprise regarding our church in Japan.  I was  asked before we came here if I would be willing to give an English sermon weekly at the English language service and that is what I agreed to. Then when we arrived I discovered I am actually the pastor and not just the speaker. haha I should have known...the old Japanese piggy  back situation: since this, why not that too?? hahaha  I think of all my trips to Japan this one will be the most interesting. 


On Holidays.........It's Official!!

This morning when I woke up I felt a peace I haven't experienced in a long time.  It was the peace you feel when you wake up in your own bed in your own house but realize something is significantly, thrillingly different than the day before.

For me the difference is that my husband is on holidays for a whole month! The church phone line into our house is unplugged, there is nothing that has to be done to a deadline today or tomorrow or the next day.  WOW!  How can life feel so different when nothing has outwardly changed?

Oh there are things to be done: lawn to be mowed, meals to prepare, laundry, the usual daily tasks. But the big difference is knowing we can get to them when we get to them with no stress or racing madly about.

Of course my husband, bless his fat pastoral heart, is going to take a half day to make some pastoral phone calls and attend to some administrative duties he doesn't want getting out of control during his holiday.  And of course those things will take more than half a day, and of course there is always something that comes up that is work related before you can get the car packed up and get out of town, something that delays the whole trip, and........

Oh peeeeaaaace...........come baaaaaaack..........

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Today's Heart Attack Moment

This afternoon my husband led a Eucharist at one of the historic churches in our parish.  Our parish is huge and many of the teeny churches that originally hosted a handful of families decades ago are abandoned now, most of them deconsecrated and standing woefully alone in what are now ghost towns. 

This particular church has not had services more than once a year or less for the past 5 years.  There are only 3 Anglicans left in the area and since it is nearly 90 minutes away from the active church here in town, it is most rare to see any of these dear folk at our local services on Sundays.


It was a wonderful service on a bright and sunny afternoon, even the dead flies, buzzing wasps and hordes of mosquitoes that would usually have infested an ancient and unused church building standing in the middle of a deserted former rural town were absent.  We had a congregation of 13 as word had gone through the area that a service would be held today.

For the first time in my life I played a 100 year old pump organ so that we could sing some hymns.  It hadn't been played in years so the first hymn was a little sketchy as my feet pumped both pedals as quickly as possible to breathe some life into the old instrument.  I think the adrenaline that arose from not having played any kind of organ in a church service before, let alone one like this one, kept any pain from reaching my overworked, still healing, ankle as I pushed and pushed those huge pedals up and down through 3 hymns that seem to have sprouted extra verses since the last time I saw them. 

BUT, despite the rush of finding out I was the organist for the afternoon, that was not the heart attack moment!   

The heart attack moment came on the way back to our town after the service. As we drove along the highway I noticed something in the middle of our lane that looked like a blowing lump of grey construction tape.  As we got closer the lump seemed to be moving in the opposite direction to the wind flow. As we got even closer that lump of tape seemed to have a feathery appearance and also little yellow sticks coming out the bottom of it.

We were nearly on top of it when my husband let out a yelp and swerved toward the ditch beside us to avoid hitting the grey mass on the road.  What had appeared to be a roll of unravelling construction tape was actually a tiny grey mother duck herding a huge number of ducklings right across the busiest highway in the area!!  

Talk about a heart attack moment!  We swerved violently to avoid hitting them dead on, the car immediately behind us followed suit although we are not certain the driver had been able to ascertain why exactly we had swerved.  We thought our duckies were goners as the oncoming traffic was so heavy and those vehicles were facing directly into the sun.  The oncoming drivers were not hitting their brakes and I was certain that in a split second there would be feathers all over the road.

But good old Mama Duck:  as soon as we began to swerve she started to race pell mell the rest of the way across the highway with her wings spread over her brood to give them the hint that it was time to move and move quickly.  The oncoming cars missed them by mere centimeters, didn't even appear to see the ducks scurrying along, and mama and babies disappeared into the opposite ditch.  Whew!!

Thank you God!  Thank you for saving the ducks, and thank you that it wasn't my time to go.....

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Two Ignoramouses Touch Down in Tokyo

About 10 years ago  I was living in Tokyo Japan, a complete rube as far as all things Japanese.  I fell in love with the city and with the Japanese people I met there.  My letters home and the way I viewed my experiences would have scandalized my Japanese friends, so deep was my ignorance about their culture and country, but I have been reading over them lately and remembering the good times, so thought I would share a few entries over the next few weeks.  Please remember these experiences are 10 years old and so in some cases what I am describing will now be hopelessly out of date.  Here is the first entry:

Upon our late night arrival at Narita airport we were greeted by my cousin and his wife who drove us immediately to a small restaurant for our first taste of truly Japanese food:  yam gelatin with black sesame seeds.  It was delicious!  But I was more fascinated by the technology in the womens' washroom:  beside the toilet in each stall, attached to the cubicle wall, was a small box with a large button. When I pushed the button to see what would happen, the sound of a toilet flushing filled the room.  It was the perfect solution to providing personal privacy while "doing the deed" but without wasting extra water, a most precious resource in Tokyo.  What a country!!

After our meal we were taken via a circuitous country route to our Tokyo apt.  After the bright neon lights of Tokyo the road seemed encompassed by pitch blackness and the lights on my cousin's car had a difficult time piercing through.  My cousin had lived in Japan for over 30 years at that point and knew every back alley, every side street, every short cut in the entire country from what I could gather, so we made it safely to our new home: an apartment in our missions building that had 2 bedrooms, laundry area, entranceway and, we discovered later, it was huge according to Japanese apt. standards.

From my letter:  The "apato" is filthy as it has been uninhabited for some months, so our first task is a "stem to stern cleaning" to remove the black soot that sifts in through every crack--every day!  The air pollution is so bad here that everything inside and out is covered by a layer of blackness.  Our white wall paper is a deep grey at the moment.

The windows are single pane so it is tempting to run our 2 gas heaters in the evenings and early mornings to take the autumn chill off, but knowing the cost of running them we have only twice succumbed to temptation.  

We are learning to use cold water for nearly everything except dishwashing, adjusting to using only 25 watt bulbs for light in order to conserve power.  

We can watch 5am sunrises over the ancient tile rooves on the surrounding buildings as we stand on the roof of our building.  Other peoples' rooves and balconies are decorated with racks of drying long johns (Big Bird yellow is a favourite colour).  There are futon mattresses set out to air, stacks of wicker chairs, plant pots and a few kids' toys as well.

Glad we at least learned the letters in 2 of the 3 Japanese alphabets in common use.  It isn't only helpful in differentiating between salt and sugar at the grocery store, but also provides us with a ton of amusement reading food labels that have been translated into Japlish.  Kellogg's Country Morning whole grain cereal has been translated to "Fresh Grainery".  Blueberry jam is "jammo barubo-barry".  Teas are "glorious and refreshing brand" or "beautiful and relaxation style".  Pringles chips are green and shaped like ripe pea pods; taste like salty peas coated with sawdust!

There are a number of tall narrow department stores in our area.  Each "department" is about 15 square feet in size and you pay for purchases in their separate departments as there is no central cashier. The aisles are incredibly  narrow, so they are a manoeuvering nightmare for large Canadians.

The 2 lane streets in the residential areas and older business sections fan out in all directions like a gigantic spiderweb. As a result I have lost all ability to find my direction. North, south, east and west have jumbled up in my head and I never know what direction I am actually heading.  The 2 lane streets here are as narrow as Canadian back alleys.  Cars jerkily deak around each other, as well as around pedestrians and cyclists milling about in the 2 foot wide pedestrian lane on each side of the street.  Despite the number of people and vehicles the city is quiet.  Cars and buses do not roar about, people rarely talk as they quick step down the street.  Other than a few giggles from the children in the park next door we rarely hear any voices from the street three storeys below us. Children here do not yell and scream from one end of the playground to the other for hours on end like their Canadian counerparts do.  It is lovely here!  

At 5pm each day a loudspeaker in the playground comes on with a little song telling the children it is time to go home for supper.  As it begins to play the kids start picking the common area toys and put them away in their respective bins (ALL the kids do this from youngest to oldest with no adult supervision....paradise in my opinion).

I will soon be learning to ride my ancient bicycle,  in my dress, pantyhose and all, so that I can fit in better with the other women around here.  The only other way to get anywhere, like the train stations, is on foot.  The mission work truck is too large and unwieldy, not to mention too expensive to run, for personal trips.  Most people average several miles per day on foot plus 1 to 5 hours on the trains to get to and from work.  To get to our church we walk nearly a mile on foot to the train station here in Mitaka, then a 20 minute train trip to Shimokitazawa, then about a mile on foot to the church building.  Reverse order to return home.  It is easy to get up and get going at 5am to avoid early morning traffic because we go to bed at 8:30pm. There isn't sufficient electric light power to do anything after dark other than grocery shopping....the dark streets are so safe here compared to at home.

Yesterday when it rained we learned the art of manoeuvering about the streets with our umbrellas.  Each store has a bin of tapered plastic bags inside the entrance doors to put over wet umbrellas so water doesn't drip on the vendor's floors.  Trying to wedge myself plus the umbrella behind a lamp post to allow a truck to pass must have been quite a sight to the svelte Japanes women behind the next post.    Dell and I are both quite big compared to the local population. He is tall and I am wide!  This trip, Tokyo seems to have reverted to mid sized cars rather than small ones, so we will be doing more "wedging" behind posts and light standards when we walk through the city than we have ever done before.

Common sights:  
--an ice cream vendor style truck cruising the residential streets each evening, but selling baked yams instead of sweet treats.  At home we have the Good Humour Iced Cream man.  In Tokyo we have the Yakimo man.  The yams are baked in sooty ovens on the back of the truck and then wrapped in foil.  They are reasonably priced and simply scrumptious, oven ashes and all.  In the evenings I live for the sound of the yam truck caller:  "Yaaaaakimooooooo,  yaaaaaakimoooooo!"

--wizened very elderly folk riding serently past on the usual 1930's style bicycles (right out of Indiana Jones movies) with the handlebar basket filled with purple, slimy, fresh octopus, and chattering away on the newest cell phones.

--slate tiled rooves in the ancient style, jammed together every which way, with new modern apt. and office buildings custom designed to squash themselves into the odd shaped gaps between the old buildings.  There are narrow stairs, a distinct lack of hand railings, and low "ceilings".  Dell has renamed a couple of the buildings he has to pass each day.  He calls them (after our well known Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump south of Calgary), Head Smashed in Apato Bump" after a few run ins between low lying cement or wooden beams and his forehead!!  

The older Japanese people we have met at our sponsoring Japanese church seem thrilled with our attempts to bow to one and all and use proper polite speech, although it is obviously bad manners here to be anything less than glowing in their praise of any sort of attempt to master anything remotely Japanese.  Probably they are more appalled with our boorishness than thrilled with our attempts to learn their language and culture.  The younger Japanese are in a huge state of transition between cultures and unfortunately seem to have picked up the worst that western culture has to offer them.......horrendous clothes, nightclubbing, and a worsening of their attitudes toward each other and toward their elders.  What have we done to the Japanese????

We are now church planters for an English outreach programme at our sponsoring church.  Their previous attempts fell apart after the last English speaking pastor left and no replacement was immediately found.  Our first service was the day after our arrival while experiencing the worst jet lag of our lives.  We had an attendance of 1.   So, it can only get better, right????