Friday, May 29, 2015

May Newsletter

Keith and Celia Olson
Newsletter #28
May 29, 2015

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, this is it. We’re down to a month left of our first term… and we have no idea how we’re going to get everything done before it’s time to get on the plane. On June 7 we have our last ministry obligation, and after that, we’ll be packing and saying our goodbyes.

We’re thankful that over the last several months, we’ve been able to do seeker Bible studies with five people--2 couples (studies led by Takahashi-sensei) and A, a high school girl (led by Celia). One of the couples, Mr. and Mrs. K, confessed faith! Praise God!

We thought (a different) Mr. K would probably start Bible study sooner or later, but not just Mr. K, but his wife as well decided to read the Bible with us… and it was (the previously mentioned) Mr. and Mrs. K who encouraged her to do so! Please continue to pray for each of these five people, that they would grow closer to God.

We are thankful for these encouragements at the end of our training. God has provided us with many opportunities at Wakaba both to observe and try different ministries, and to see God at work.

Some photo highlights since the last newsletter:

Movie night and chocolate workshop for the youth group
Middle school worship band makes their debut for Sunday school
Keith's "Koinonia" small group
Hanami (flower viewing) picnic with Takahashi-sensei and his wife, Mina

Concert for kids at a preschool where our friend, Noriko works
Prayer Points
  • Please pray for our preparations for home assignment, for time with friends saying goodbye, and for handover of our responsibilities to go well. The stress keeps us from sleeping and gives us stomach aches.
  • We are thankful for Tsubasa and Kyoko Saito, a couple around our age who recently transferred church membership to Wakaba. They will join the Sambi Reihai worship team and take over movie nights with the youth. Keith’s small group still needs a new leader; please pray for wisdom as to who would be a good leader for the group.
  • Takahashi-sensei recently injured his knee (torn ligaments) and is recovering from surgery. Please pray for complete recovery, and that he will be able to get enough rest.
  • Praise God, Mr. and Mrs. K professed faith! Please continue to pray for their continued Bible study and spiritual growth, as well as for (the other) Mr. and Mrs. K and A.
  • The Wakaba Sambi Reihai team is leading worship for OMF’s 150th anniversary celebration in Sapporo on June 7. Please pray for all the details to be ironed out. Please also pray that through these anniversary events, many young Japanese will be led to serve God through missions.
  • Please pray for our “re-entry” into US life with minimal reverse culture shock. This was difficult after our time as short-termers. Please pray that we will be gracious and patient.
  • Discussions about our next designation continue. Please pray that God’s leading will be clear to everyone involved.

Home Assignment News

We just booked our flights to Seattle! We’ll be leaving the Sapporo area June 30, attending a conference and having a couple days of vacation for our 10th anniversary (July 9), then we will fly to Seattle July 11. We will be based in Seattle, living with Celia’s parents, until mid-May 2016.

We will spend the first month getting settled and spending time with family, and then we will be available from about mid-August for ministry and social engagements. We look forward to spending time with many of you and catching up in person! Please let us know if you would like to meet up for a meal or a coffee, or if you would like to have us share about Japan at your church, small group, Sunday school, etc.

We’ll provide more details in our next newsletter, including dates for any speaking engagements scheduled by that time.


Celia and I were locking our bikes in front of our church when the pastor popped his head out the window to remind us, “You shouldn’t park your bikes over there on the sidewalk; please park them here on the church property.”  I had forgotten that the church receives complaints any time the neighbors think we are taking up more space than we are allotted. I didn’t see how half a dozen bikes slightly encroaching on a rarely used part of the sidewalk could justify complaints, especially when it is only on a Sunday morning. But then again, the problem probably runs deeper, and it manifests itself in fastidiousness to the rules. Hairsplitting like this tends to frustrate me no matter where or what language, and at that moment while I was moving my bike, I confess that my frustration swayed my thoughts. I didn’t go so far as to put it into words, but I basically felt that when we finish our first term, I will be glad to get away from all this walking on eggshells.

A missionary‘s lifestyle is one of constant transition. I’ve read many books and heard several lectures describing these “settled-detaching-chaotic-resettling-settled” transition phases, but just as telling a person that he has pneumonia doesn’t make him any better, telling us that we are in the detaching phase doesn’t make it any less painful.  A person in the detaching phase starts to pull up roots, focuses on finishing things, and becomes painfully aware of what he is leaving behind.

As I write this, I’m looking up at the crawling plant that has spread halfway across our ceiling during these last 2 years. I’ve sat here staring up at this plant hundreds of times while I wrestled with sermons, emails, bible studies, and especially the Japanese language. There is no way for us to keep or even to transport this plant, since it’s stuck to the ceiling. It is so much like the relationships we’ve fostered here. Two years’ worth of tea lessons, youth movie nights, worship services, prayer meetings, gardening, and 4 years of concerts, shamisen and kimono lessons, and language study. We are starting to talk to people with unspoken understanding that we may not see them again.

For good or for ill, we don’t have much time to stop and contemplate this loss in the midst of booking travel, filling out forms, packing boxes, and saying goodbye. To manage this stress, one coping mechanism we might develop in the hustle and bustle of the detaching phase is denial. Denial is focusing on the negative aspects of our life, denying the positive, and pretending that we are glad to get away from everything. Before I knew it, I had done this to the church neighbors to whom I had been trying, along with the church members, to be a light for the last two years. Perhaps looking at the negatives of my life in Ishikari would make leaving less painful, but at the same time, it would also lessen the witness of my last month here. Ending a relationship on a good note and finishing well is a very important witness in Japanese culture. Now especially is the time I need to engage with my neighbors and friends, not run away from developing deeper relationships. 

We have been informed that the garden we’ve been tending for the last two years in front of this house will have a car parked on it after we move out. In an attempt to save at least some of our plants, I somberly cut down some trees, which had grown too large too close to the house, in order to make space for transplanting. As if in commiseration, it started to rain while I tied up the trees to bring to the garden waste disposal area. That was when a neighborhood grandma came out to inform me that I can’t tie up the branches with plastic rope. “But everyone else is using plastic bags. What’s wrong with plastic rope?” I argued, but she was resolute. During our conversation, the rain had intensified, so I told her I would fix it later. Stomping off back home half because of rain and half because of anger, I started to think “I will be so glad to get away from—” then I realized that I had started denying the good of living in this neighborhood and started focusing on just the negative again. So I picked up a ball of twine and went back out into the rain to retie my branches. The grandma saw me and came with her rope out into the rain too. Together we fixed it to her satisfaction. By that time, the rain had let up, and we were talking and laughing.

Language Corner
This is a local cement company, with the slogan, “Oops! Concrete Basics for Life.” I guess the sentiment is if you’re going to mess up, make it last.


Please continue to pray for us in this stressful transition time! We’re thankful for each of you.

Love in Christ,
Keith and Celia

Friday, May 22, 2015

Goodbyes and finished projects

Today’s coffee: Affogato, Father's day blend

Preparations continue. I checked another thing off the bucket list: my yukata is complete! The fabric was my birthday present from my mom last year, chosen while on a family vacation—batik dyed cotton with a pattern that looks like fireworks or chrysanthemums, both of which are very appropriate for a yukata. And if you’re still wondering what a yukata is, it’s a casual summer kimono which is typically worn for evening outings, in particular, festivals and watching fireworks.

In my sewing corner
I promise, it was perfectly ironed when I put it on...
While I suppose I could have packed the unfinished yukata up to finish when we come back, I received a lot of helpful advice from Fujiyama-sensei, our tea ceremony teacher, who also teaches kimono-making. Sadly, Tuesday was our last class. I definitely wanted to show her my finished work, so I hurried to finish it, and then I wore it on Tuesday… despite the fact that the “rules” state that yukata are only for July and August. Not to mention, it was cold, rainy, and the wind was blowing like crazy—definitely not yukata weather. Oh well. Sensei’s living room was nice and warm, so I didn’t get cold.

As a special treat for our last class, Sensei made us a delicious supper consisting of various dishes using 山菜 (sansai—mountain vegetables), including lots of pickles for Keith. We will miss her warm hospitality, her encouragement, the way she gets excited and talks on and on about Japanese history, the way she corrects us to help us make tea more beautifully.

Pickled cucumber, udo, tofu, and carrots, stir-fried fuki, udo tempura donburi, and miso soup with fresh wakame!
Thanks to her help, and the help of another experienced teacher in the area, I have been connected with a teacher in Seattle so I can continue my studies and start working towards certification.

Now I’m going to brag about my dad’s handiwork. I sent him pictures and measurements, and he copied a tea tray which is used for 盆略点て (bonryakudate), a simple form of tea ceremony, using gorgeous figured maple from our backyard. (I mean, he can make guitars and shamisen, so why not a tea tray?) Actually, he made two—we gave one to Fujiyama-sensei, and the other is waiting for us at my parents’ house… so be sure to come over for tea! Looking forward to seeing what other interesting things we can make in dad’s workshop to use for tea ceremony.

Dad used his bending iron (metal tube with a halogen light bulb inside) to bend the sides, just like making guitar sides.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Kuri Manjū 栗饅頭 (Chestnut buns)

Today's coffee: Spring-colored blend (春色ブレンド)

I have lots of things on my bucket list of stuff I want to do before home assignment. A few of these are cooking projects—making sure I can make from scratch certain foods that I can easily get here but not so easily in the US. (If you come over to my house while we are on home assignment, you will likely benefit from this.) Although it is possible to get wagashi (Japanese sweets) in Seattle, they are expensive and would require a special trip into the city… so I definitely want to be able to make a few simple sweets myself—wagashi are an important part of tea ceremony!

I’ve long admired Mrs. Haga, a church member, for her delicious kuri manjū, so I asked her to teach me to make them. Last Saturday, Noriko and I spent the afternoon at Mrs. Haga’s house, learning to make kuri manjū… and of course, taste testing! I have translated the recipe below.

Kuri Manjū 栗饅頭 (Chestnut buns)

Ingredients, for 15 manjū:
  • 50g sugar
  • ½ large egg, beaten
  • 10g butter, chilled
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 100g flour, sifted
  • 240g shiro an (白あん, sweet white bean paste), chilled (I'll try to post a recipe for this soon...)
  • 15 sweet stewed chestnuts (栗の甘露煮, kuri no kanroni)
  • For the glaze:
    • 1 egg yolk
    • 1 teaspoon mirin
  • White poppy seeds (けしの実, keshi no mi) (If you can’t find these, normal poppy seeds should work fine; they’ll just look a bit different.)

Remove the chestnuts from the syrup, and remove excess syrup with a paper towel.

These are the store-bought stewed chestnuts.
These are the ones I made.
Divide the shiro an into 15 equal portions, and roll into little balls.

Measuring the shiro an
"Make sure it's chilled. Otherwise it's too sticky."

We actually made 16, so we split the shiro an into four equal balls, which we checked with the kitchen scale. After that, we did our best to divide each ball into 4 equal portions (didn't bother to weigh those.)

Spread out each ball to form a little pancake shape, and set a chestnut in the center. Wrap the shiro an around the chestnut; roll around in your hands until the outside is smooth. Cover in plastic wrap and set aside.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl; break up the butter with a wooden spoon and work it into the sugar. Add the egg and mix.

Put the bowl over a pot of simmering water (you can use a double-boiler if you have one). Stir continually until the sugar has melted somewhat.

Set the bowl in a larger bowl of cold water and chill it a bit.

Dissolve the baking soda in a bit of water; add to the butter-sugar-egg mix. Add the flour and blend. (It’s probably best not to over-work this dough.) When it’s just blended, wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Now it’s tea time! Go take a break.

We were joined by enthusiastic taste-testers, Mrs. Suzuki and Mrs. Aizawa (Mrs. Haga's younger sister and daughter)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F).

On a lightly-floured work surface, divide the dough into 15 equal portions. Roll each one into a ball; using your flour-covered fingertips, spread them out to little pancakes. You want the center to be thicker than the edges.

Put one of the chestnut-shiro an balls into the center, and wrap with the dough and pinch shut. Round the bun in the palms of your hands; the shape will somewhat depend on the shape of the chestnut, but generally you want to aim for an oval shape. Make sure the shiro an is completely covered.

Arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Brush with just a tiny bit of the glaze; really, just a little, since you want it only on the top, not the sides. Sprinkle with some white poppy seeds.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Now it’s tea time, again! Kuri manjū are delicious hot, or you can keep them for a couple weeks.

Sweet Stewed Chestnuts (栗の甘露煮)

If you want to make kuri manjū but can’t get stewed chestnuts, make them yourself! (Not at this time of year… they’re in season in fall.) I made them for kuri kinton which is a special New Year’s dish, but had lots left over. They are also an important part of chawan mushi (a savory steamed egg pudding).

Sweet Stewed Chestnuts (栗の甘露煮, kuri no kanroni)

  • 500g raw chestnuts in the shell
  • 300mL water
  • 300g light brown sugar
  • 40mL mirin
  • 1 tablespoon rum (or more, if you like rum flavor)
  • (I’ve seen some recipes call for くちなしの実 kuchinashi no mi, which colors the chestnuts bright yellow, but no worries if you can’t get it. I believe these are gardenia seed pods.)


Bring a pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, pierce the shell of each chestnut on the flat side with the tip of a knife. Add the chestnuts to the boiling water and simmer for 15 minutes.

Drain the chestnuts and let them cool a bit, until you can handle them. The outer shell is pretty easy to remove at this point; the problem is the inner skin, which you also have to peel off. I used the tip and edge of a (dull) knife to scrape it off. Rinse to remove any remaining peel and bits of shell. (The store-bought variety of stewed chestnuts are a lot more evenly shaped and bright yellow color; however, I imagine that a lot of chestnut gets lost when cutting them to that shape.)

Put the water and sugar into a pot over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is melted, then add the mirin, rum, and peeled chestnuts. (If you can get kuchinashi no mi, put one in a bit of cheesecloth or teabag and add that too.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool. (Remove the kuchinashi no mi.) Store the chestnuts in the stewing liquid in a glass jar in the refrigerator. They should keep for several months.

In case you were wondering, this is what the kuchinashi no mi looks like.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Date Pudding recipe

Happy Mother's Day! Cooking is one of my favorite ways to honor the legacy that my grandmothers and my mom have given me, so let's celebrate with a recipe.

Last night we had friends over for dinner. We had feijoada and the works and my grandmother's date pudding for dessert. Recently I discovered that I had forgotten about the Costco-sized carton of dates I bought a while ago, and a bag of black beans I had been saving for a special occasion. With 7 weeks left in this house, now is the time to use up all those hoarded "special occasion" foods.

When I discovered the dates in the pantry cupboard, I emailed my mom for recipes, and she sent me a scan of my grandmother's carefully handwritten recipe card. I ended up typing it out to make note of a few changes and clarifications, so why not post it here?

Date Pudding

(This 9x13 pan was too big. I would definitely suggest a smaller size.)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C)

Put in baking pan (around 8 or 9 inches square):
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ cups hot water
  • Butter (about 3 tablespoons) cut into small chunks
Stir to melt sugar and butter.

In a bowl, mix:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
Make a well in the center and add:
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix until smooth. Spoon batter into sugar-water-butter mix.

Bake 45 minutes-1 hour, until the pudding is set (shake it a bit, and make sure it doesn’t jiggle).

Here's the original recipe. Note that the amount of sugar has been reduced (by my mom). I reduced it again. It's still very sweet.

In case you are interested, here's pictures of last night's dinner:

With Kyoko and Tsubasa
Feijoada, farofa, Brazilian rice, vinaigrette, greens with garlic