Saturday, September 26, 2015

Vancouver and Victoria Trip, October 17-25

Guess what? We're going to Vancouver and Victoria! For those of you who live there, we can meet in person!

We'll be participating in the following events:

Heart for Asia Victoria conference (OMF)
Saturday, October 17, 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Saanich Community Church
4566 W. Saanich Rd., Victoria
We'll be leading worship and presenting briefly about our work.

Sunday Worship, Vancouver First Christian Reformed Church
Sunday, October 18, 10:30 a.m.
We'll be tag-teaming the sermon (mostly Celia)

Heart For Asia: Youth 2 Young Adult Night (OMF)
Friday, October 23, 7:15-9:30 p.m.
Evangelical Chinese Bible Church
5110 Marine Dr., Burnaby

Heart For Asia Vancouver (OMF)
Saturday, October 24, 9:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Evangelical Chinese Bible Church
5110 Marine Dr., Burnaby
We're presenting a seminar on some of the challenges to evangelism in Japan.

OMF 150 Years Anniversary Celebration
Sunday, October 25, 3:00-5:00 p.m.
Emmanuel Baptist Church
2121 Cedar Hill Crossroad, Victoria

Please come! (Or send us an email if you want to have coffee together or something...)

Listening (really)

Today’s coffee: Something from Costco, I think?

So, we’re settling into home assignment, I guess. Settling might be a bit of an overstatement, since no two days are the same, and no two weeks are the same. Earlier this month I was lulled into a false sense of not being busy… which was fine, to some extent, since I am still recovering from a nasty cold. But I’m starting to panic about preparations for various things we’re doing next month. This leads me to spend lots of time planning out what I have to do when, and then not doing anything, and then panicking. It’s a vicious cycle.

There’s also lots of food around here. I’ve been helping my mom deal with it all.

We canned applesauce, ginger pears, pear mincemeat, and apple jam. 3 types of salsa were already in the pantry...
In the middle of all of this, I am realizing that perhaps one of my most important “tasks” during these 10 months at home (or away from home, depending on how you look at it) could be to actually learn to listen to God’s voice. I’ve been talking about this for years, and encouraging others to do the same.

But my habit tends to look like this: scurry around like crazy doing what I think I’m supposed to be doing, so busy that I’m really not paying attention to my surroundings or my friends and family, and if God is trying to say something to me, he’d have to shout over all the noise… and then when something difficult or perplexing comes up, to suddenly try to shut off all that noise and strain my ears and try to ask God for help. But then, I’m rarely able to tell if what I’m hearing at that point is God’s voice or my own thoughts, since I’m not accustomed to listening.

We’re in the middle of discerning where in Japan we will return to next May, and what sort of work we will be doing then. We have more ideas about the sort of work than the place, but in any case, we are perplexed as we struggle to sort out our own thoughts and emotions and figure out what is God’s leading and what is our own desires getting in the way. (Thankfully we have many others thinking this through and praying with us, so we’re not alone.)

At the moment, however, we are taking a breather. We’ll get back to thinking seriously about our next placement shortly, but for now, there’s a bit of space to develop good habits of listening before we need to make a decision. A book I have been reading suggests that perhaps I would want to seek instruction from God first, then direction. I think that’s good advice. 2-hour quiet times? Why not? Bring it on. We’ll see how well I do with that given next month’s schedule. I’m praying that I can use my time wisely and protect a bit of margin so that I will have time to listen… and so that I won’t go crazy when everything takes longer than I think it will. (At least I’m writing and delivering talks in my native language these days…)

"'You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the Lord..."
   Jeremiah 29:13-14a

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

For my introverted friends

It was seven in the morning… and I’d been up all night, because we were having a party, and some of the guests just wouldn’t go home. I stared, bleary-eyed, at the clock, cringing at the thought of my 10 a.m. rehearsal. I knew I would be in no shape for that now. Just as I thought that our guests might finally be starting to think about going home, and that I might get a few hours of precious sleep, the doorbell rang. “Hey, is the party still going?” a voice rang out. I desperately wanted to lock the door and pretend to be asleep, but someone (I’m not naming names) opened the door and let them in. I sighed and pasted a cheery smile on my face, hoping no one would notice how bloodshot my eyes had become.

...And then I woke up. Thank God, it was only a dream. (It’s not like we’re in the habit of hosting all-night parties. I suppose I should have recognized the familiar “something’s not quite right here” feeling that goes along with weird dreams.)

Last week we had a lot of amazing times of food, fun, and fellowship with a whole lot of friends. If you were one of them, thank you! I loved every minute of it. 

But apparently my subconscious was starting to feel strained.

For the record, I’m not trying to say “leave me alone, I’m an introvert.” (Please picture me smiling as I write.) I’m writing this because I think my introverted colleagues and friends will find it funny. So please, dear friends and family, invite me over, come over to my place, or let’s go out for coffee… after I’ve recovered from last week.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Friendships and baby steps

I'm writing various stories this week. I just (re)wrote this one, even though it took place over 10 years ago. I hope the subject of this story isn't embarrassed by it... after all, she is awesome and I really wish she didn't live so far away.

We have found that people often want to know what motivated us to go to Japan, so I needed to write some stories on that subject. I've written a bit about this before, but I think God has put Japanese people in my life since childhood who have been treasured friends, mentors, and colleagues. These important friendships nudged me towards Japan one step at a time.

On the day of the first rehearsal for my cello recital at Boston University, harpsichordist, Akiko Sato greeted me at the door to her apartment and invited me to sit down for a cup of green tea. We’re not starting rehearsal right away? I thought to myself, surprised.

Akiko asked me how I was doing. We chatted about school and gigs I had done and pieces of music I liked. She told me stories about her own studies in Montreal, her family back in Japan, and her husband, Toshi.

An hour or so later, Akiko checked the tuning on her harpsichord while I got my cello out of its case. As we started playing, each piece came to life with Akiko’s rich accompaniment. Her insight and suggestions displayed an immense knowledge and love of Baroque music.

I didn’t notice that several hours had passed, except that I was starting to get hungry. “We’re having a special Japanese meal tonight; do you want to join us?” Akiko offered. I eagerly agreed, following her into the kitchen to help. We cut long, thin slices of vegetables and omelette and squares of seaweed. Toshi came home in time to help set the table. Akiko demonstrated how to spread seasoned sushi rice over the square of seaweed, pile on the vegetables and egg, roll, and eat the finished temakizushi with her hands. She watched me as I wolfed them down one after another. “Do you want me to take you to the Japanese grocery store?” she offered. I nodded, mouth full.

Toshi drove my cello and me home with Akiko beside him in the passenger seat. We argued about baseball and I laughed as Akiko explained that even though they lived in Boston, they were closet Yankees fans because of the Japanese players on the team.

In front of my apartment building, I thanked them again and again. “Don’t worry about it,” said Akiko. “I’m glad you were able to come over.”

Over the next two years, Akiko’s work ethic, expertise, generous hospitality, and most of all, friendship, grew my love for Japanese people and pushed me one small step closer to Japan.

One month later: my baroque cello recital, accompanied by Akiko on harpsichord and my teacher, Sarah Freiberg on cello

Friday, September 11, 2015

Reverse Culture Shock Moments

Today’s coffee: Trader Joe’s

For those of us who have lived overseas, “home” is a complicated subject. I’m back living at my parents’ house, and although in some ways it feels very much like home, in some ways it doesn’t. Having grown accustomed to my life in Japan, leaving our home there and coming back to the US for our “home assignment” of 10 months has been a mixed bag—joy of reunion with friends and family here in the US along with missing people and places we left behind.

Over the course of the last week, I’ve been writing down some of my reverse culture shock moments; like the overall experience of returning to my hometown, they’ve been a mix of joys and sorrows and surprises. Here are some of my experiences and observations.

This little guy (photographed at music camp last month) looks about like how I feel... 
My parents have almost the same Zojirushi (a Japanese brand) hot water pot and rice cooker as we do in Japan. The rice cooker even plays the same song when the rice is done. But the writing on the buttons is in English and the temperature on the hot water pot is in Fahrenheit. I found my eyes were drawn to the “押す” (push) labelled lever to open the water pot and I tried pressing that to get the hot water to come out rather than the English-labelled “dispense” button.

The milk comes in 2 and 4 liters… by which I mean half gallons and gallons. In Japan it comes in liters. But the American “whole milk” isn’t as creamy as the 2.5% we usually buy in Hokkaido.

Making eye contact: I’ve trained myself not to do that, since we often don’t in Japan. Now my lack of eye contact probably makes me look sketchy. (Sorry if I’ve weirded you out.)

Taking tea ceremony classes in Kirkland overlooking Lake Washington is pretty surreal. But outside of my circle of friends, no one knows what tea ceremony is. Or where Hokkaido is. Well, almost no one.

Spending $15 at Starbucks for 2 people: really? (To be fair, we have Starbucks in Japan, but we never went there, since it was far away from where we lived… and if I wanted a chain coffee shop, Doutor was just as good and a lot cheaper… and great sandwiches and cakes.)

Getting a cold: no one has asked me if I’ve been to the hospital yet.

Box springs: why do we even have them? They creak and make the bed too soft. Thankfully my resourceful dad and husband fixed our bed so it doesn’t sag in the middle any more.

No onsen. Sad face.

There is ramen in the Seattle area, but it’s not the same as Hokkaido ramen. (I’ll probably go eat it anyway, because I’m craving it like nothing else.) On the other hand, there’s a much larger selection of ethnic food to be enjoyed (MEXICAN FOOD), although we will miss our neighborhood Indian restaurant in Ishikari.

Free fruit! Cheap fruit! We have already harvested more apples and pears and plums than I could ever hope to eat right out of our yard. Some of them we have preserved in gigantic quart-sized canning jars, which we can’t get in Japan. We will make applesauce this year, and apple pie, which were prohibitively expensive in Japan (1 apple=$1). Also, I bought a melon for less than $3! (Cheap Hokkaido melon=$10)

Keith washes a sink full of apples
Pears and plums
I asked my mom to grow shiso in her garden. I forgot to tell her that shiso plants get quite large. She planted 5 rows.

Our shiso jungle
Seattle rush-hour (or not even rush-hour) is terrifying… especially when I went to make a quick lane change and turned on the wipers instead of the blinker.

We went to eat at Denny’s once and went home knowing more about our waitress’ family than we ever learned about Yasuda-san, who served us breakfast at the Royal Host almost every Monday for two years. Also, compared to booths at family restaurants in Japan, which are quite tall, I was surprised that I could have easily leaned over the back of the booth at Denny’s and started a conversation with the people at the next table. I guess that’s what we did on those late-night large-group Denny’s trips in high school. We ended up speaking Japanese so we could have a private conversation, whereas we spoke English at the Royal Host for the same reason. And the man at the next table over was speaking Chinese on the phone.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Tied for Last Place (Delicious) Green Chili

My chili is on the right, and my dad's (also delicious and tied for last place) is on the left.
As the title says, I tied (with my dad) for last place in the Easter Acres chili cook-off this year. We know this because there were only 4 "hot" chili entries, and we shared third prize. Mixed feelings.

Still, I know this chili is good, so I'm sharing the recipe. The first time I made it with green tomatoes and Hokkaido toramame (tiger beans), but as usual, chili is something I throw together with available ingredients... and there has been a bumper crop of tomatillos in Mom's garden this year.

Part 1: Chicken and Stock

  • Whole chicken
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Minced cilantro and oregano
  • Garlic powder
  • Vegetables for stock (onion, garlic, herbs, etc.)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Wash the chicken, rub with salt, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels. Rub olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro, oregano, and garlic powder over the whole chicken; place in an oven-safe stock pot.

Roast at 350 uncovered for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 300 and roast covered for 3 hours; allow to cool.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred the meat (I recommend using your fingers). Put the bones back into the stock pot (no need to wash it--that would be a waste) with some onion, garlic, herbs, or whatever vegetables you have on hand, and cover with water. Simmer for an hour, then strain out the solids.

Part 2: Beans

  • 3/4 lb dried cranberry beans or similar
  • Chicken stock (see part 1)
Cook the beans, according to package directions, until they are just tender, then drain. Marinate them in a little of the chicken stock and set aside.

Part 3: Chili

  • Olive oil (or bacon grease, if you have any)
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound bacon ends, diced (normal bacon is also okay)
  • 1 small leek, chopped fine
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups anaheim and bell peppers (green), or other mild green peppers
  • Green hot peppers to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 cup white wine
  • Chicken stock (see part 1)
  • 3 pounds tomatillos, chopped (green tomatoes are also okay, but you will need to peel them)
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 tablespoon oregano, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1 can corn
  • Chicken (see part 1)
  • Beans (see part 2)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Cayenne or other spicy chili powder, to taste
Clear any weird bits from your stock pot (No need to wash; that would waste the tastiness in the pot, right?) and put it back on the stove over medium-low heat. Warm up the oil (or bacon grease), then sauté the onions until they are beginning to turn caramel-brown. Add the bacon, leeks, garlic, and peppers in order as you cut them up and continue to cook until they are soft.

Turn up the heat to medium-high. Add cumin and coriander; stir to incorporate well, until spices are fragrant. Deglaze the pot with the wine, then add the tomatillos, pear, and enough chicken stock to cover everything. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Add the oregano, cilantro, corn, chicken, and beans. If necessary, add more chicken stock. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then season with salt, pepper, and chili powder, if it's not spicy enough for your taste.

Serve with cilantro and sour cream.

Chili and writing projects

Today there was no coffee. I’m sick. (Again.)

I’ve declared this week to be writing week in our house. My parents are on vacation, so the house is very quiet, making this an ideal time to work. And there’s not much on the schedule, and I’m recovering from a cold, which makes me not want to budge very far from “sitting in a comfortable chair wrapped in a quilt with a cup of herbal tea within reach.” Thankfully, my laptop is also nearby, so I’ll try to write something.

 I have lots of projects—liner notes for a CD, blog posts, bits for talks we’re giving various places this fall, and a sermon. I will perhaps post some other things that I write this week, but right now I feel like writing about recent happenings around home. Specifically, last Sunday, we had our annual neighborhood chili cook-off! (Our neighborhood is called Easter Acres, by the way.)

On August 19, less than two weeks before the big day, we residents of Easter Acres crammed around the table on my parents’ deck. Ostensibly, we were meeting to make plans for the annual chili cook-off, but there was little indication of any sort of “meeting” to be found within the lively conversation, loud laughter, and guests making multiple trips to the kitchen to refill their plates with salmon, steak, bread, and salad.

Over peach cobbler and ice cream, the conversation finally turned to the business at hand. This year would be the 27th chili cook-off, so making plans consisted of going through a well-organized to-do list and finding helpers for each task. I could see my dad inching backward from the table, hoping to avoid being asked to do too much. After some initial “Why do we do this every year? It’s too much work!” and other such complaints, each person cheerfully volunteered to take on a number of tasks. The one task remaining was managing the trash; my brother, who was not present, somehow found his name down for that task.

On August 28, two days before the chili cook-off, I came home from my tea-ceremony lesson (wearing a kimono) to find every surface on the kitchen counter covered with chili ingredients, and my parents both hard at work on their chilis. What, already? I thought to myself. After a quick trip to the store to get the few ingredients that weren’t available fresh from the garden, I started to prepare ingredients for my chili, but it was already dinner time. After dinner, I looked at the recipe again and discovered that the whole chicken I would shred and put in my chili needed to roast for three and a half hours. I groaned. This would be a late night.

On August 29, the day before the chili cook-off (and my dad’s birthday), I could hear the telltale sounds of moving furniture. As I went downstairs for breakfast, I found a large, white armchair halfway down on the landing. “It’s so no one spills chili on it,” my mom explained. All the downstairs furniture had been rearranged to accommodate the chili cook-off crowd, since the forecast called for rain. Keith headed off to our church to borrow some tables while I began to pull roasted chicken meat off the bones to prepare the shredded chicken and soup stock for my chili. Soon a pot of stock and a pot of cranberry beans simmered on the stove while I cut up onions, peppers, tomatillos and herbs. Mom moved anything unnecessary out of the kitchen; Dad, fighting a cold, avoided all unnecessary movements. I left a birthday card on my dad’s computer while he was napping, with a promise to make him a cake when all this craziness was finished.

On August 30, the day of the chili cook-off, we made a pact. After church, we were heading straight home: no talking to anyone, straight out the door. However: Keith ran off to get a snack (he hadn’t had breakfast); Mom and I followed him and started up a conversation with a friend. Meanwhile, Keith issued a last minute invitation to a person he had met recently. Then Mom realized: “We have to go! I still need to season my chili!” We hurried out the back door towards our car.

At home, Dad, who had stayed behind because of his cold, was heating up our chilis on the stove. I tasted my chili: too mild. I added salt and a tiny bit of the insanely hot chili powder my brother brought home from Mexico. I tasted again: still too mild. And something is missing. I added a drizzle of honey, some cooking wine, and more of my brother’s chili powder. Still too mild. I sprinkled the chili powder more liberally over the surface. By this time, our guests had started to arrive, so I cleaned up the kitchen while directing guests where to put their potluck contributions.

To my surprise, only three others brought hot chilis, while the rest brought mild chilis—about 12 pots. This year, I’ll win, I thought as I dished my chili up into little plastic cups for judging. What was there not to like? Shredded roast chicken and beautiful cranberry beans against a backdrop of sweet-sour tomatillos, peppers, and onions. The pear tree in the garden provided us with an abundance of fruit this year; I chopped one up and added it for sweetness. After all, you need something interesting to distinguish your chili from all the others. My friends, Hiromi and Chris made a chili with kabocha, shiitake, and gobo. I think that was the most interesting one.

Preparing sample cups for the judges
Hot chilis
Mild chilis
After the judges picked up their sample cups, I picked up a bowl and hovered around the chili table, sampling a bit of each chili and talking with guests about their impressions. As the results from the mild category were announced, I quickly snatched a mouthful of each of the winning chilis before they were devoured. Then we moved on to the hot category. Maybe this would be my year? There were only four hot chilis, after all. “Tied for third place: #13 and #27.” So, Dad and I tied for last place. (I thought it was good…)

Judging in progress
When the judging was over and most everyone had finished eating, in a weird cross-cultural moment, I got out my shamisen at the request of some of the guests, and played “Nasu to kabocha” (eggplant and kabocha squash) in honor of Hiromi and Chris’ unusual chili.