Thursday, June 26, 2014

Applying language study to the rest of my life

Today’s coffees: Costa Rica and Peru

It feels like a long time since I was actually at Tokumitsu on a Friday morning, but here I am. Tonight I have a viola da gamba lesson for the first time in about 10 months. It’s good to have these things to motivate me. This is good; concert requests for the fall and beyond have been coming in one after another. Now is a great time to prepare. At the same time as my lesson, a few blocks away, Keith will be singing in a concert; I’m going to the concert tomorrow.

Next week we celebrate 3 years in Japan! It would be difficult to describe just how much the experience of learning Japanese and living and working in Japan has changed me, but today I want to share something I learned in language school and have continued to apply to various areas of my life. That would be a study technique called spaced repetition.

This will probably be boring to some of you. Sorry. I thought I had something interesting to write about, but I forgot what it was. I’m sure to remember right after I post this. Anyway…

Spaced repetition means you study a new word, grammar pattern, etc. and then review it the next day, 3 days after that, a week later, 2 weeks later, a month later, and so on. With each review, the time in between doubles. This brings each new concept learned from short term to long term memory.

I first applied this method to kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese writing)—within about 4 years, I was able to learn all the kanji a Japanese child learns by the time he or she graduates from high school. There are about 2200 characters. Then I added vocabulary and grammar patterns… and then I realized that spaced repetition isn’t just for language study. This applies to music as well, and a huge variety of other subjects. I’m hoping to develop my repertoire of ready-to-play-any-time pieces for cello, viola da gamba, and shamisen, and little by little regain the repertoire I learned in college and grad school that never made it into long term memory. Back when I studied cello with the Suzuki method, I remember reading about Suzuki’s encouragement to his students to review… and I never took it seriously. Now I regret that…

I used to think that review was something that had to be done all the time for every piece of music or every word, but actually that’s not the case. Since the goal is to get the information studied into long term memory, the gaps between reviews progressively widen, increasingly allowing time to review other things and add new vocabulary and new pieces of music. I really wish I had known about this in college.

Keith and I both used the Heisig method for kanji study, along with this website, which allowed for spaced repetition reviews and other study tools. We use Anki software to study vocabulary, and recently I’ve been using Anki to remind me when to review pieces of music as well.

There you have it: a very boring but useful piece of information. I hope it’s helpful. Next I’ll try to get some hiking pictures posted…

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Cup of Blessings

Today’s coffee: Rwanda

I feel like I spend a lot of time writing (and otherwise griping) about how tired I am… and how little I feel that I have to show for it. On Tuesday, I thought I should have been more awake, having just had a day off on Monday. Then I thought back over the weekend, and what my “working hours” looked like… although to be fair, it’s a little hard to define “work” in our context. Thursday: 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. Friday: 8:00-9:00 p.m. Saturday: 8:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday: 7:30 a.m.-10:00 p.m. There were some breaks, but Friday we actually forgot to eat dinner. After thought about it that way, I was able to forgive myself for taking things a bit slowly on Tuesday.

Also, I took some time to think about how to do my work efficiently and be prepared for times when lots of work has to be done at once. This sort of schedule isn’t normal, but it isn’t exactly abnormal either. I prayed about what to do (and what not to do), and the conclusion I came to is that I should pray more. By “pray more” I’m not talking about reading through lists of prayer requests, although I may sometimes do that. I’m talking about spending time with God, meditating, listening, and talking to God about whatever comes to mind. If I’m going to constantly bug the kids in the youth group to take resting and daily devotions seriously, then I need to be a good example—someone whose life is rooted in prayer and God’s word.

And yet, my mind wanders when I try to pray for a long period of time; I find that moving my body helps focus my mind. This week, I experimented a bit with incorporating tea ceremony into my prayer time. This time, there was no guest except God. I prepared my guest’s tea and set it out for him. He didn’t drink it, so I received it back like a gift—of course, it was his to begin with—and drank it myself. I used my favorite chawan (matcha tea cup), which has the character 福 (fuku—blessing) written in the bottom of the cup, so you see it when you finish drinking.
“Rooted in prayer and God’s word”—In addition to spending dedicated periods of time to prayer, I hope I can continue to find lots of reminders to be quiet and listen, even if just for a moment.

Farm update: we’ve had about 2 weeks of rain, but it seems that the tomatoes, nappa, broccoli, and radishes love the cool weather. We harvested our first cucumber, lettuce, cilantro, and lots of radishes! I also thinned (and ate) the turnips—I blanched the greens, tiny turnip still attached and topped with ponzu sauce.

p.s. I used to hate pulling weeds, but now I don’t mind it so much… somehow it’s nice to see progress in a tangible way. :)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ramblings (Tired...)

Today's "coffee" is actually bubble tea. I'm at Tully's at Sapporo Station, waiting for Keith to arrive for shopping.

And I'm wearing a kimono, by myself. Conspicuous. I just went with my tea ceremony teacher to meet another teacher, who has kindly offered to introduce me to a teacher in Seattle. Yes, there is also tea ceremony outside of Japan!

I must be tired, because I'm getting distracted staring out the window at all the taxis driving around...

It's now farm season. It's really nice to take a break from inside work and spend some time outside, but it does take a lot of time. Yesterday we pulled weeds and harvested out first produce of the year: gorgeous radishes and cilantro!

I also bought ume plums this week. This year I have to make a 2+ year supply of umeboshi, since I won't be able to make them next year due to home assignment... And maybe not the next year either. I can't believe it's already time to start thinking about these things, but we're almost finished with our third year... 3 years without going "home"... But then again, "home" is a complicated subject.

This weekend is another busy weekend, filled with social engagements and usual stuff at church. Sunday evening is our next movie event. We're still not entirely sure which movie we're going to watch. We have about 3 good ideas for the future, but none of them will work this time. This is just one of those “flying by the seat of our pants” weeks, taking care of all the things that piled up while we were gone and then some.

Today feels like a cool, misty August day on the Washington coast. It kind of makes me want to take a nap, but in a few minutes, I will be braving the noise and bright lights of Bic Camera. If you've never experienced the craziness of a Japanese electronics store, I'd be glad to explain the next time you're in Sapporo!

Saturday, June 07, 2014

That quiet voice

Today’s coffee: Brazil (from Tokumitsu, at home)

We just got back from a week of vacation at Toyako and Shikotsuko (two caldera lakes a couple hours south of here), with a walk or hike every day for 5 days! Although I’m fired up for hiking this summer, I have to say I sleep best on my own futon. Glad to be home! I’ll probably do a hiking post later this week.

We took a short walk to see some craters from recent volcanic eruptions near Toyako. This crater, called "Yu-kun," formed as the result of an eruption on my 19th birthday. Happy birthday to me? (Keith was resting from shaving this week.)
Today’s post will be short, I think. It’s Sunday morning, after all, and Sunday is by far the busiest and most tiring day of the week for us. If possible, we try to not have Sunday be our first day home after vacation, but this is how it worked out for our schedule this time.

When we go on vacation, we have an opportunity to set aside our normal daily activities (and to set aside worrying about those activities) and do something entirely different. This time, as is often the case on our vacations, the “entirely different” activities were hiking, onsen, and generally being quiet and enjoying nature. However, the temptation to continue worrying about various things was ever-present. In one such moment, a quiet voice, which could possibly have been God’s voice, said “Just listen.” I listened expectantly. “Maybe God wants to tell me something really important,” I thought. I heard the wind, the frogs in the rice paddy down the hill, the noisy semi (cicadas), birds. That was all. (Then I fell asleep.)

On vacation, I will often read through the Psalms of Ascent; this time I noticed that Psalms 127 and 128 seem to be a pair, with some interesting connections in the first two verses of each.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:1-2).

“Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labour; blessings and prosperity will be yours” (Psalm 128:1-2).

These two psalms became a reminder to keep listening, to rest, to trust. God is God, and I am not. I suppose what I needed most was not some important revelation, but an invitation to stay close. It’s as if God was saying, “Enough running around in circles worrying about things. You’re tired, and being in my creation refreshes you. Just listen and enjoy.”

Perhaps Psalm 127 was the gentle rebuke that I needed, and Psalm 128 was the encouragement to move forward.