Friday, December 19, 2014

Imomochi recipe: a Hokkaido specialty

Today’s coffee: unfortunately not.

I’ve been sick the past couple of days, but to celebrate the fact that I have somewhat regained my appetite, here’s an awesome recipe that is both easy and a specialty of our region: imomochi (potato mochi).


  • Potatoes
  • Katakuriko (potato starch), about 25% the weight of the potatoes. Or probably corn starch would work. I use katakuriko and corn starch interchangeably.
  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. My potatoes were medium sized, so I cut them into four chunks each to reduce cooking time.
  2. Boil the potatoes until they are tender, and then drain.
  3. Mash the potatoes. We used our Kitchenaid mixer. 
  4. Add the katakuriko or equivalent, and mix. (If you are using a Kitchenaid mixer, we recommend the dough hook.) Soon, the mixture will become gelatinous, or as we say in Japanese, mochi-mochi. And… it will be very hard to mix.
  5. Form the dough into one or more logs, about 1 ½ -2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap if you’re not going to use them right away. 
  6. Slice the logs into ½ inch slices.

Finished imomochi-log

How to eat:

You have lots of options. You can put them in a soup such as this one, or substitute imomochi for mochi in this one.

We made a simple soup with seasonal root vegetables, konnyaku, mushrooms, and mitsuba (the leaves on top). The broth was dashi with a couple tablespoons of saké and a bit of soy sauce.

Another option is pan-frying. My personal favorite is to fry some leek in butter and add soy sauce, and serve that over the top of the pan-fried imomochi. Or, more traditionally, you can make a simple sauce with soy sauce and sugar.

Pan-fried imomochi topped with leek
You can freeze leftover slices in a single layer.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent: Trying not to be so busy.

Today’s coffee: Christmas Blend

We’ve finally achieved 根雪 (neyuki, meaning snow that doesn’t melt) here in Ishikari. It was late this year; we were wondering if we would get a green Christmas. This year will be my fifth Christmas in Hokkaido; I’ve begun to think that Christmas without snow is weird. Next year will be weird, I guess.

So far we’ve had three Christmas events at church: women’s group Christmas cooking class and lunch, middle and high school fondue party, and children’s party with cookie decorating. Three concerts, three potlucks, three worship services, and three or more house parties to go. Three Christmas boxes to send. Exciting, but busy.

Here's a few pictures of our "Christmas" so far.

Women's Christmas lunch. Keith gave a talk (which was actually about Thanksgiving) and carved the turkey.
I just ate. First time to eat turkey with chopsticks.
Not actually a Christmas event, but we had a movie night for the youth group, which also featured making bread (we watched Shiawase no Pan--The Bread of Happiness) and decorating the Christmas tree.
Admiring their creations. The bread on the orange mat is actually shaped into the Japanese symbol for onsen (hot springs bath)!
Youth group Christmas fondue party. "Silent Night" accompanied by Ko-kun on guitar, Ke-kun on cajon, and A-chan on piano.
The meal was 3 courses, but most popular fondue was chocolate, of course. We ate it with meringues and seasonal fruit.
The children's party featured Christmas story told by a ventriloquist with a puppet!
Keith will be preaching from Isaiah 40 tomorrow: a message about preparing the way for the Lord, and specifically, preparing our hearts to receive him. Keith and I both preach from our hearts; each message is first for our own good, and then we share with others what we have learned. Ironically, Keith’s message tomorrow will be a rather sharp criticism of busyness, since the temptation to fill all our time with various activities (and not listen to God’s voice) is something we both struggle with, especially in the weeks before Christmas. Keith and his Japanese teacher, still hard at work on the sermon at 8:00 last night, joked that neither of them were taking to heart the content of the message.

Feeling convicted of not spending enough time resting and reflecting, here I am at Tokumitsu, despite the house party later today, the concert tomorrow, and the cake I have to bake for tomorrow’s potluck. The weather is beautiful; cold and partly sunny, snowing a bit. I stopped to chat with a neighbor on the short walk to Tokumitsu, and then I admired a flock of fat, noisy sparrows perched in one of carefully manicured trees in his yard. Somehow I felt better, having done that.

Every morning and again before bed, I am reading and reflecting on one of the traditional Advent passages, using a devotional book written by fellow students and professors from our seminary. Before dinner, we light the candles of our advent wreath and sing a verse of “Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel.” It seems that we stay longer at the table when the advent wreath is there. It was at times like these that Keith and I talked through various points he wanted to put in his sermon. It’s times like these that are helping me remember why I’m here in Japan—and helping me keep my priorities straight.

I feel like a broken record, repeatedly bemoaning the fact that I have a “busy heart,” when what I need is a quiet heart that depends on God, even when circumstances beyond my control keep me busy. But sometimes the circumstances aren’t beyond my control. Sometimes I need to make a conscious choice to stop and listen.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Ultraman's Photo Diary, part 2

Hello, everyone! Lately we've been having multiple Christmas events each weekend, making posting during the weekend a major challenge. So, I'm going to turn this week's post over to Ultraman, so he can fill you in on what he's been up to recently.

"Greetings, earthlings. It's been awhile. As you will see, the last few months have been very eventful. First, I made a new friend. We hung out quite a bit in September. 

Then for awhile, I went undercover on a secret mission. I can't tell you where I was, because it might put you in danger. But then something went wrong, and my memories are kind of fuzzy for a bit. When I came to, I was napping on the couch with this kid. I guess he rescued me?

I think my aura grew, though. Suffering builds character, I guess.

Then I was playing with some other kids, and there was a terrible accident...

Oh no! Will Ultraman ever walk again??

But never fear, I was hospitalized (at Keith and Celia's house) where my severed foot was carefully re-attached. (With superglue.) I'd better be careful for awhile, though.

So, for post-accident rehabilitation, I started with a healthy bowl of onion dip.

Then some push-ups (while also getting some spiritual nourishment)...

... and Christmas Tree climbing, of course.

While I was at it, I checked out some of the other Christmas decorations around church.

I also checked out some of the news from while I was gone.

Walking still isn't completely back to normal...

Despite being injured, I am still finding opportunities to help others.

I helped blow up some balloons to get ready for a Christmas party.

Well, that's about it for now! See you next time, and have a merry Christmas!"


p.s. Fun trivia: the plural of Ultraman is not "Ultramen;" rather, it is "Ultramans." There you have it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Giving Thanks

Today’s coffee: “Autumn colored blend” (秋色ブレンド)

I’ve been drinking my Kyoto souvenir (Kona from % Arabica) at home for the last couple of weeks, and it’s almost gone… but so nice to extend our time in Kyoto for a bit even after coming back home! We also have been enjoying yuzu miso out of a cute yuzu shaped jar—it’s so delicious on stewed tofu and daikon! So in any case, today I’m at Tokumitsu to get my coffee allowance for the next two weeks.

Here are a couple of the yuzu miso jars at the shop where we got ours.
Today is Thanksgiving, but here it’s a normal work day. I started the morning with cello practice, and when I’m done writing here at Tokumitsu, I’ll make bento for supper, head to rehearsal, and then OMF prayer meeting. That’s a typical Thursday for me. Turkey will happen tomorrow, since coincidentally, my church is holding a turkey-roasting class at the same time as my family will be eating Thanksgiving dinner in Seattle. Technically, it’s the women’s Christmas event, but given the timing, Keith, who was roped into giving a short talk, will be speaking about Thanksgiving rather than Christmas.

So today, I want to take some time to be thankful, even if the day is full of appointments and work. What am I thankful for? In no particular order…

I’m thankful that there is world-class coffee down the street from my house. And that it’s a quiet place where I am welcomed to come, sit for a couple hours, and get work done. Yay!

My cello has returned home! It sounds better than before the accident—it probably needed some adjustments for climate, and it got them. I’m also thankful that I was able to use my baroque cello for the conferences and concert in October; that worked better than expected, and I learned quite a lot from playing “modern cello” repertoire on gut strings. And I also discovered (10 years too late?) that the height of my chair (and shoes) makes a huge difference for intonation. I will be dragging around my own chair to concerts from now on… Not an easy situation, but I’m thankful for what I learned along the way.

I’m thankful for 3 years in Japan, or 4 if you count our time as short-termers. I’ve now lived here longer than I lived in Canada. I love this place where God has brought us! The past 3 years have been full of exciting challenges as I learned the language, made friends, started work, and learned all kinds of things about my new friends, about Japanese culture, and about the natural beauty of Hokkaido. This is not to say it wasn’t hard… because it was, and it will continue to be. But I trust that God will continue to provide for us as he has in the past.

On that note, I'm thankful we could go on vacation to Kyoto and Tokyo.

Kinkakuji in Kyoto, in its beautiful setting. Thankful I could get this shot without a mob of tourists in it... :)
Pickles! We love them. We love many Japanese foods, but pickles hold a special place in our hearts. I'm thankful for pickles.
I'm thankful for beautiful gardens--this is in the garden at Hakone Museum of Art.
I'm thankful for tea, and tea ceremony. We went to an お茶会 (Japanese tea party) while we were in Tokyo. Part of the event took place outside!
I'm definitely thankful for this guy. He makes my life so interesting. (This was taken in the gardens of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.)
I’m thankful that my language level has sufficiently progressed so that I can now watch and enjoy the NHK Taiga drama on TV—that’s the year-long historical drama that the national broadcaster produces every year!

I’m thankful for new small groups at church! It’s been exciting to see the cooperation and excitement among the leaders, and the desire to see our church grow in maturity and in numbers. The synergy from working with like-minded people is exhilarating. I’m thankful for the youth-group leaders too—in preparation for our youth group Christmas party, we had a fondue taste-test. It was a blessing to have table fellowship with youth group leaders and their spouses, while considering the details of preparing for the Christmas party. (I’m also thankful for the awesome lunch after church last Sunday!)

I’m also thankful for a lot of other things, but it’s time to make bento now.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Trees, and peace in my heart

Today’s coffee: Kona from % Arabica (which we bought home from Kyoto!)

Our coffees last week at % Arabica in Kyoto
We just got home from vacation on Saturday—since my cello was ready to be picked up in Tokyo, we took the opportunity to spend some vacation time there; we also caught the beginning of autumn leaf season (紅葉, koyo) in Kyoto. A change of air and scenery was refreshing, although vacations to places like Tokyo and Kyoto do not tend to be very restful. There are lots of things to see and people to meet!

In some ways, spending time with Japanese friends has influenced my thinking. Last month was super busy; I completely missed autumn leaf season in Hokkaido. Of course, when we went out, I would see trees changing colors, but I didn’t get a chance to sit outside and quietly enjoy them (until it was just a little too late). I didn’t really think about doing such things before I came to Japan; leaves changing colors just meant it was the beginning of the school year, and a marker of the coming of winter. Now I feel that if I don’t spend time to enjoy each season, my year feels incomplete. That is why last Monday we made an emergency trip to Hakone, in the mountains above Tokyo. (Tokyo doesn’t have much autumn color just yet.) Now I have experienced fall. Bring on the winter… kotatsu, mikan, hibernation… and Christmas concerts.

At Hakone Museum of Art
Even more than the actual museum, the grounds were beautiful!
I've finally experienced autumn this year!
We made another attempt to see Mt. Fuji... and we saw more of the mountain than last time we were in Hakone... but we had another no-show.
A few weeks ago, after September and October’s concerts and conferences, etc. had finished, the weather was pretty good, so we headed for a nearby leaf-viewing spot. And… the weather was not as good as expected, the leaves were almost gone, the onigiri (rice balls) were too salty, and park staff members were using noisy leaf-blowers all around us as we had our picnic.

At Taki no Ue park (滝の上公園) in Yubari. Not many leaves left.
Of course, the picnic included tea.

Although I was disappointed, somehow the experience became an object lesson. Peace does not come from our surroundings. If it did, no one would ever know peace. Rather, it comes from a heart rooted in God.

I return time and time again to Psalm 1, which we read at our wedding. We read it a couple of weeks ago at our church Bible study. The psalmist encourages the readers/listeners to avoid the path that leads to destruction, but instead to be a person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”

At first, my image of this well-rooted tree was one of quiet serenity, but I imagine that like all trees, this one also experiences bad weather, drought, earthquakes, maybe even forest fire.

But it has its roots in the right place. Nothing is going to shake it. I want to be like that tree. I wish I had been a bit more like that tree during the busyness of the last month—to spend less time worrying about having too much to do and not enough time and spend more time rooting myself in God’s goodness and resting in him. Let’s hope I can remember this lesson during next month’s Christmas rush!

Here’s a couple of Kyoto pictures; more later! (Probably.)

With our friend, Sharon in Kyoto's bamboo forest
This is in the garden of the Imperial Palace--usually it isn't open to the public, except by application. But it was open for just a few days, and we were there at the right time!

Friday, October 31, 2014

October Newsletter

Keith and Celia Olson · Newsletter #26 · October 31, 2014

Autumn picnic tea on our day off
Dear Friends and Family,

It’s been an embarrassingly long time. We have been engaged in what we call “putting out fires”: taking care of urgent things which aren’t necessarily important, while neglecting things that are less urgent but more important. Fortunately (?), the very important but long-overdue prayer letter has now become a fire to put out.

Over the last six (yikes) months, we have enjoyed fresh vegetables and fellowship at the farm, joined a team of small-group leaders in launching “Koinonia” small groups at our church in September, continued developing relationships with people at church and in the neighborhood, helped out at our annual church bazaar, planned and led worship at two conferences, and Celia played two concerts. Keith continues his Isaiah sermon series at Wakaba, and he also had the opportunity to preach at Kita Hiroshima Church and Nayoro Grace Church.

We have also continued in our first-term assignment to receive training in “how to be/do church in Japan.” Our conversations recently with Pastor Takahashi, missionary colleagues, and others at church have revolved around steps seekers take on the path to faith, and about encouraging church members to read and love the Bible and to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth.

We are beginning to think about how to finish well: we have eight months left of our first term, and only about seven months at Wakaba. We’re starting to have a lot of ideas about the sort of work we want to do in the future; over the next several months, we will be thinking seriously about where to go and whom to work with. Please pray for us as we make these next steps of faith.

On our summer holiday, we hiked across Daisetsuzan National Park.
We also took the Takahashi family hiking with us--their first time!
When it gets to be autumn, we start thinking about the church bazaar! I played cello for the guests who were waiting to come inside.
I worked at the café corner making coffee and matcha!
Keith played games with children who came to the bazaar with their parents. Several middle-schoolers helped out.
Celia and Shino played 2 concerts, in Nayoro and Kita-Hiroshima (pictured here)
We led worship for OMF Hokkaido Conference. Keith played cajon--you can see his knee behind the guitar player.
Keith led us in a devotion and communion the last day of conference. (And he made the bread himself!)

Prayer Points
  • We give thanks for everyone who has given financially to our ministry. After looking at our budgets of the past years and the one for next year, we see how blessed we are by God's provision. For the last 20 months, we remain under-supported, but for the sake of being transparent, I also want to say that our living and ministry costs balances this out by being less than expected. Please pray that we can remain in the black.
  • "Koinonia" small groups started since September and are going strong. Pray for depth in fellowship and in Bible application. Pray especially for the group that Keith is leading, for wisdom for Keith and a Christmas caroling party that his group is hosting on December 13th.
  • Celia and Shino (pianist) are preparing for concerts:  December 14th at Hokuei Church, 21st at Wakaba Church, and 23rd at Megumi Church (Asahikawa). Please pray for good health, good weather, and good first contact with these churches for guests.
  • Please pray for our 2nd term placement, as we are having discussions with OMF leadership over the next several months.
  • Please pray for us as we learn to walk alongside seekers (as well as those who are not yet interested) and encourage them to take steps of faith. Please pray especially for Mr. and Mrs. K, for Mr. S (our farm friend), and middle and high school students.

Preaching in Japanese

While I (Keith) was filling out various financial documents this September, a supporting church asked us two very good questions: what were some joys of the last year and what were some hard things of the last year. I immediately thought of the sermon series through Isaiah that I have been preaching every other month since October of 2013. I was not sure, however, which question it answered.

After we joined OMF, my various advisors have been encouraging me to preach more, something which I must admit I wasn’t thrilled with at first. But I have come to the conclusion that since Japanese pastors are few and overworked, if it can take some preaching pressure from them, I am glad to share the sermon load. When we started at Wakaba Church, Pastor Takahashi said I could preach from anywhere in the Bible. “Good, I’ll just rewrite previous Japanese sermons and even translate some of my English ones,” I thought. When I prayed about it, God gave me a different thought, or maybe he just made me rethink a thought I have always had. I believe sermons are words first meant for the pastor to hear before they are for the congregation, and for many years now, I have felt God’s beckoning toward a certain part of scripture. If I wanted to spiritually grow through these sermons, I realized I needed to trust that God would meet me in the text and give me the words that I needed to hear, so I undertook God’s challenge to preach through one of the books I understood least:  Isaiah.

Fore-telling and forth-telling prophecy, oracles, Babylonian captivity, remnant, and the like are not the everyday sort of words one learns at Japanese school. I was not even sure I could give sufficient explanation in English, so what chance did I have in communicating anything in Japanese? For that first sermon, I spent weeks rereading my dusty Old Testament textbooks, studying maps and timelines, and trying to brush up my Hebrew, to not much avail. I also read through Isaiah a number of times to more avail, yet I still felt absolutely overwhelmed and incapable. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, God did an amazing thing. He met me in Isaiah. I still had to spend weeks agonizing over writing it out in Japanese, but in the end I had a sermon. And each sermon has passed similarly. I read through Isaiah a number of times, I feel completely incapable of saying anything coherent in a sermon, and God meets me there. As I reread Isaiah, again and again I am struck at God`s immense passion which simultaneously rages against sin and yet promises salvation that encompasses all nations. The moments when I met God in Isaiah are definitely some of my biggest joys of the last year.

But I am also painfully aware of how far of a gap there is between what God has been teaching me and what I present on a Sunday morning. Cutting pages of exegetical jewels, personal story illustrations, and applications into 20-30 minute sermon is hard in any language, but then having my carefully crafted Japanese sentences corrected and finally stumbling through that written script on a Sunday…Let me just say that the Japanese way of nodding in consent with eyes closed in contemplation is also the perfect cover for nodding off in general.

I know it is not possible for me to communicate everything through a sermon, but God’s passion became my passion, and I long to see that become the Japanese Church’s passion as well. I have 4 sermons left to preach, may God use them to teach and challenge me so that I may teach and challenge His Church.

Language (and Culture) Corner

The following exchange happened at tea ceremony class. One of the steps while enjoying tea ceremony is to ask the host about the tools. We were supposed to be very serious and contemplative, but…

   Celia: What kind of ocha-ire (tea-container) is this?
   Keith: Tonkatsu (pork cutlet).
   Fujiyama-sensei (our teacher): (laughing) No, it’s setokatatsuki.
   Keith: That kind of sounds like tonkatsu.
   Celia: You’re hungry, aren’t you?
   Keith: Yeah.
   Celia: Tonkatsu is delicious, isn’t it?
   Keith: Yeah.
   Celia: We should eat tonkatsu soon, right?
   Keith: Let’s go.
   Fujiyama-sensei: (cracks up)

Yes, tea ceremony class is fun when you don’t take yourself too seriously and have a good teacher. And it’s good for the soul.

Although this blog had an unscheduled hiatus this last month, it should be up and running again now, with a new post (almost) every weekend. Thanks for continuing to support us in prayer!

Love in Christ, Keith and Celia