Friday, December 30, 2005

Highlights of "Christmas Week"

December 24th - Hosting our Holiday Dinner with roast leg of lamb and all the trimmings

December 25th - Church, potluck and gift exchange, seeing the
Christmas lights in Hitachi

December 26th - A lazy day at home

December 27th - Trip to Costco to buy my pans (Thanks, Mom and Dad for the Christmas money!) and stock up on American food, dinner at the Outback Steakhouse

December 28th - Opening stockings and presents at home, watching all 7 hours of "The Flame Trees of Thika" (a miniseries set in Kenya)

December 29th - Another trip to the doctor (It's official -- we're having a BOY!), a trip to the new mall in Mito, going to see "Harry Potter 4"

Enjoy the photo collage below!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Meri Kurisumasu!

That's "Merry Christmas" in Japanese. We hope you had a happy holiday. This Christmas was a bit different for us, as it was the first time we have spent Christmas without either of our families since we have been married.

On Christmas Eve, we had seven friends come to our house for a holiday dinner. I roasted my first leg of lamb, which turned out absolutely delectable, if I do say so myself. We had a mountain of other food as well, from green bean casserole to pumpkin pie. A true feast. After stuffing ourselves to bursting, we played games, chatted, and watched movies into the evening. A good time was had by all, and being busy with dinner preparations kept me from feeling too lonely and homesick.

Christmas Day being a Sunday, we went to church in the morning. We were privileged to witness the baptism of Chihiro, a young woman who has been studying the Bible for some time now, after the morning service. After church, we had a potluck, followed by a gift exchange. Then, Rusty and I took the train to central Hitachi to do some gift shopping for each other and to see the Christmas lights.

We still have not opened our presents yet, mostly because, with all of the craziness of the last few weeks, neither of us have had time to shop for each other. The pile of gifts under the tree is steadily growing, though, thanks to the packages that keep arriving from home. I guess we will be having "Christmas week," in honor of Rusty's mom, who invariably forgets to wrap and put out presents that she buys months before Christmas and stashes away under her bed. Love ya, Mama Mary!

In the words of one of my favorite Christmas poems, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Baby, It's Cold Outside (and Inside Too)

When I got to the school on Monday at about 12:30 p.m., the thermostat on the heater registered a frigid 4 degrees. Celcius, that is. Just barely above freezing. The first thing I did when I got in the door was turn on the two kerosene-powered heaters that warm the room during the winter months. I didn't even take off my gloves or my coat until about 20 minutes later when things had warmed up slightly.

One of the little-known idosyncrecies of Japan is that very few homes and apartment buildings have central heat and air. They are not well insulated, either. Which means that we swelter in the summer and get frostbite in the winter. I don't know -- in a country that has about a three-year jump on America as far as technology is concerned, this seems a little strange to me. But then again, this is also a country where it is common to see elementary school boys walking back and forth to school in shorts year-round, and where high school girls continue to hike their skirts up well past their knees, even in the dead of winter. From a very young age, Japanese children are taught to "gambare," a Japanese word which basically means, "Suck it up, you pansy!" They learn early on not to complain about such minor things as extreme heat and cold -- it is a sign of weakness. As adults, this translates into a mentality which places less value on one's "personal physical comfort."

It strikes me that we Americans could stand to learn a lesson or two from the Japanese. Now, I am not advocating bare-legged winter walks to school or getting rid of central heating. I love central heating. It's great to come home to a warm house, to not have to bother with refilling the kerosene heater every 2-3 days (one of Rusty's LEAST favorite chores), to not have to smell those nasty fumes when it kicks on and off. What I AM suggesting is that many of us could stand to de-emphasize the importance of being comfortable. When we determine, "I could never do [insert task here]," because it takes us too far out of our comfort-zone, physically, emotionally, or spiritually, it is my belief that we have set up an idol to "comfort" and begun to worship it.

In some small way, I feel that my unpleasant experiences with Japanese winters have helped me learn an important truth: God calls us to be faithful, not comfortable.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas Partied Out!

I am officially Christmas partied out! And it is not even December 15th yet -- is that sad or what? This last weekend, I had no less than FIVE Christmas parties to go to. On Friday, I went to a homemade ornament exchange party with 10 friends. Each person who attended made 10 ornaments, and at the party we swapped. I came home with 10 new, extremely cute ornaments for my tree. And the best part is that each one will remind me of that friend in the years to come when I decorate the Christmas tree.

On Saturday, Rusty and I helped host our school Christmas parties. We had two parties during the day -- one in the morning for the younger children and one in the afternoon for the older children. The parties were a lot of fun. The kids made reindeer out of clothespins, played Christmas Bingo, had a "snowball fight" with wadded up newspaper, and had a gift exchange.

On Saturday evening, we also attended a party for the adult students of World English Center. The party was at the "50's Diner" in Taga, one of Rusty's recent finds. The chef is a young woman who studied culinary arts in California for 2 years. She makes the best onion rings and apple pie we have ever tasted -- both were featured on the menu that evening.

On Sunday evening, we hosted the LKT (Let's Keep Talking) Christmas party at our house. LKT is the weekly follow-up program to LST (Let's Start Talking), a 6-week summer program that offers free English lessons using the Bible as a text. Rusty and I have been involved with the LKT Sunday night classes this fall; there are also other classes that go on during the week. I made chili and cornbread -- I guess it was a big hit, judging from the way the pot was practically scraped clean. We played games, sang a few Christmas carols, and had a gift exchange. It was good to get to know some of the students outside of the "class" setting.

Friends Reunited

Rusty and Laura Campbell. Mark and Charity Chan. Steve and Wendy Gist. Lj and Kari Littlejohn. We four couples taught English together in Mito, Japan four years ago. On Saturday, December 3rd, we had a mini-reunion at our house -- the first time we have all been together again since the Gists returned to America in 2001. The pictures below show how our families have grown and changed in four years. Three of us now have children, and Rusty and I will be joining the "Baby Club" in not too much longer! God is good and has blessed us richly with special friends such as these. It is my hope and prayer that we will continue to be friends through the years, no matter what different paths He may lead us down.

Daddy-to-be, Mark & Freedom, Lj & Stone, Steve & Matthew
Mama-to-be, Charity & Freedom, Kari & Stone, Wendy & Matthew

Friday, December 02, 2005

Daddy Practice

There have been a lot of pictures of me and my pregnant belly on the blog lately, but not so many of Rusty (well, I'm not counting the picture of him wearing that obnoxious Beast mask). So, I thought I would share this one of Rusty and Matthew, Steve and Wendy Gist's little boy, having a good time at our house.

This picture makes me smile every time I see it. Rusty is going to be such a great dad! I am so looking forward to sharing the adventures of parenting with him as we begin a new chapter in our lives.