Did We Have A Good Time - Le Surely We Did!

In Japan, everything closes down over New Year's, so we were not able to go away for New Year's Eve, as we had hoped, but we did have a great time for one night at Le Sure Country House - a pension up in the hills behind Okazaki. Highlights of the stay - snow, soft couches, roaring fire, friends and fun! Watch the video for a 360 degree view of the cosy living room.

Review of The Year

I have just come back from a quick pound round the block. As I was walking I was mentally reviewing the year, and I realized just how much has happened this year and how good God has been to us.

For example, when Abigail was finishing her full-time job in the Junior Highs, we first thought that she would be able to work part-time in one of the Elementary Schools. That didn't work out when the school failed to take any action about an act of violence, which meant Abigail did not feel safe even with these little kids. We then hoped that she would be able to build up a portfolio of private English students whom she could teach at their homes but, apart from Noriko and her Friday ladies, no other students materialized - and we became frustrated. But all along God had prepared a copy-editing job with Multnomah Publishers that Abigail can do flexibly online from home. Not only is this job going to be great for fitting around the baby when he comes, but also it is the job that Abigail had always wanted - without even realizing it. It is just so her!

So as we go into this new year, with all its uncertainities, we are going to try to remember these kinds of events and how, even when things don't seem to be panning out positively, God is in control.

But, before we leave 2005, here is a quick review of some of the highlights of this year for us:

New Directions?

If you have been reading previous posts about my job situation, you will know that we have been starting to look for alternatives to my current position. Well, an interesting possibility has opened up at a company involved in the export of Japanese cars around the world. We are still thinking about this job, with one of the big issues being that taking it would involve moving to a place called Nishinomiya near Kobe and Osaka. To put it another way - well beyond commuting distance from here.

Anyway discussions have got to the point where we have decided to take advantage of the time off we have over New Year (the night of January 3rd) to go down there, meet people and think and pray about whether this is a good idea from God, or not. I'm glad that Abigail can go too, as this move would obviously affect her life at least as much as it would affect mine. In fact, I think she would be more affected than me, since I have at least lived in that general area before, and she definitely has more friends here than I do and therefore has more to lose.

Please pray for us to have wisdom to know what the plan is!

Week 27 -- Third Trimester Time

I had no idea I was already at the third trimester mark. Amazing! I knew time was buzzing on by, or as the Japanese say, "Flying like an arrow," but this is just unbelievable!

Here's the latest from pregnancy.about.com:

"Your baby's skin is very wrinkled from floating in water. This will stay this way until a few weeks after birth as your newborn fills out into a baby. Although take heart in the fact that your baby's looks are assuming the looks that they will have at birth! Baby has also hit the 2 pound mark (900 grams)."

Matthew's got that beat--last week he was 1,040 grams (but Doc said he's completely normal for his age). I did get the "wow, you're huge!" remarks yesterday when I had lunch with two pregnant Japanese friends who are due around the same time as me. Guess I am, but I'm proud of it! :) It's all Matthew. Way to go, son!

I wake up on the prowl for food. I have to have a pre-breakfast snack sometimes before my shower, and I was wondering about this. Then I realized: I'm not moving at night, but Baby is running marathons while I'm sleeping. No wonder. What will our food bills be like when he's a teenager? Stephen and Matthew both eating for ten. Whew. I'm glad God's the Great Provider, hey.

Matthew's First Christmas Presents Ever

Here are Ryosuke and his mom, Mrs. Saruwatari, our neighbors on the left. Last night we took a Christmas card over, and gave Ryosuke a pair of antlers (which he's proudly displaying).

We can't ever seem to do tiny things for our neighbors and friends in Japan without them reciprocating in some way. So the stuffed animals were a present to Matthew. I think they must've run out shopping today just so they could pay us back! This seems to be such an integral part of Japanese culture which I just can't get used to. I think one of my love languages is gift giving, and this Japanese system of giri might just start stunting my giving growth. It was so sweet of our neighbors to do this for Matthew, but now we're locked into a giri war!

Christmas Day Celebrations

We headed off to church this morning with Lucy and Naomi. What a super service! According to Stephen, it was like a British "Nine Lessons in Carols" time, with carols, Scripture readings, etc. On top of that, we had 4 people get baptized and a time of communion.

Came back and had Christmas lunch (though definitely not traditional), sharing of presents, and lots of laughter about the reindeer ears. It's been a fun, wacky day!

All you Mundays, Meltons, and Kuipers out there, we miss you, especially today.

Happy Merry Christmas Eve!

Stephen and I just surprised several of our neighbors by singing a carol when we took our Christmas cards around to them. (I really think they were bowled over by our professional voices.) We wore a Santa hat and red and green reindeer antlers as well, which everybody loved and wanted to take pictures of. Kani san, our favorite downstairs neighbor, had had a Christmas Eve party, which was still in half-swing, and invited us in for Japanese-style "Christmas cake" (soft white chiffon cake with strawberries and decorations on top) and English tea. And little Matthew started a-jumpin' with all the chatter, caffeine, and sugar. Whew. I'm still wired, and I think he is, too.

Anyway, we've really missed our families so far today. It's our first Christmas in Japan, but we do feel really blessed with good neighbors and friends.

When we took a card and carol to our neighbors on the right, the Itohs, Kotone (their little girl) came to the door holding a little toy that was playing the happy birthday song. Her mom said it's because it's Jesus' birthday today! I think Kotone must've remembered that from a set of word puzzles and games I gave her that I picked up at church, which described the real Christmas story.

We've treated ourselves to something like cable TV (but all the signals come over the Internet through ADSL, and we watch it on TV), and one of the channels we're now receiving is BBC Japan. So now it's time for our cunning plan--to watch the Blackadder Christmas Special...

Christmas Message 2005

Merry Christmas to you all! Along with the Queen, we have made a Christmas message. It is about two minutes and you can watch it by clicking here. (This is an 11MB file, so only attempt this if you have a high-speed connection. With dial-up, you will be waiting forever....)

White Christmas Video

As you can see from this video, snow here is a bit of a novelty!

Click here to see the video.

Winter Wonderland

Woke up this morning to a fairyland of white powder and lots of ice. Stephen's been downstairs for a while helping the neighbors de-ice the stairs and ramp down to the apartment parking lot. I realized he had been up to something else as well when he rushed in with a big smile on his cute face and told me to get the camera and go on the front balcony! Matthew and I were both touched by Stephen's icy (um, I mean sweet) message.

White Christmas?

Compare this shot with the one from this morning. When I went out this afternoon to meet a friend for a snack at Denny's (an "apple caramel sundae" that had more bananas and choco-puff cereal than anything else) and then grocery shopping, I had to wear my sunglasses. Then, a couple of hours later, I thought Narnia had landed. (BTW, that movie doesn't come out over here until spring, and I just bet Matthew won't be interested in seeing it with us. Darn. That would be one movie we'd be willing to each spend $18 on, too. The last movie we saw here was Mr. Incredible. Long time no see film.) Anyway, it took me over an hour to get home from the store, and believe me, it's not helpful for a pregnant woman to be stuck in Narnia-snow traffic, surrounded by precipitation.

Another Grace Gem

Take off the shoes from your feet!

(James W. Alexander, "Consolation" 1852)

The perfections and attributes of God afford
a refuge--and in time of trouble, faith resorts to
this refuge.

If God were ignorant or unwise, we might suffer
without His knowledge, or sink in waters which He
could not explore. We might be lost in mazes where
His eye could not follow us, or be carried away in
whirlwinds which He knew not how to quell.

If God were limited in power, we might groan under
the very burden which He could not lift off.

If God were afar off, in some pavilion beyond our solar
system, He could not be reached by our cry of anguish
when the deep waters went over our soul. And were
He not here this moment, it would be mockery to pray.

If God were not good, our happiness would be nothing
to Him, and we might have hellish pain forever and ever.

If God were not merciful, He would not care how
wretched we are.

If God were not gracious, we would sink in despair,
being sinners.

But because God is . . .
everywhere present,
everlasting, and
unchangeable in goodness, mercy and compassion;
we have in Him a refuge and stronghold, to which we
may continually resort. Raise your eyes towards the
loftiness of our stronghold. But take off the shoes
from your feet
--for the place is holy ground!

Week 26, but who's counting?

Here's the latest from pregnancy.about.com:

"Veins are visible through your baby's skin, although it is quickly changing from transparent to opaque. Your baby can hear you and those around you. Although we assume that the uterus is a quiet place, the baby has been surrounded by noise for a long time. Things like your heartbeat, digestion, and other body functions are heard by the baby as well as external noises. Now you may feel the baby jump at a sudden noise. My daughter would always jump when I clicked the bathtub lever. It became a game! The uterus also allows some light to be seen. So your baby is aware of lightness and darkness. S/he weighs 1 pound 12 ounces (794 grams) and measures 32.5 cms or 12.8 inches total length."

Speaking of jumping, yesterday Matthew surprised me with his leap when I turned on the hair dryer! I think I shocked him awake.

He's doing well, and yesterday at my (last) appointment with Dr. Hayashi, I was told that he now weighs 1,040 grams, which is apparently completely normal according to the Doc (he was also busily drinking amniotic fluid--yum yum). I've applied for the "introduction papers" from my current hospital to take to the new one I'll be transferring to as soon as I can. Can you believe they charged me about US $20 just for the paperwork? I guess they had to squeeze the last little bit of money out of me that they could since I'm leaving them for good.


Yes, that's something we need to do in our apartment, along with finishing our Christmas cards for Japanese friends, etc., but what I mean here is a light dusting of snow that we got last night. And I mean light. Can you even see it?

Good News

I'm not a smoker, but this article about chocolate certainly seemed worth considering. And we got a package from England today that I think just might have some artery-widening substances inside.

Patience, patience. Glad Christmas is only a few days away!

Let it snow!

Compared to other parts of Japan, where they've gotten two meters of snow in the past few days, our little flurries of yesterday and today are just a puny amount. But it's always exciting to me anyway. Stephen told me I could be the one to take Matthew out in it next year to play, since he's not enamored with the stuff one bit. Considering I didn't get to see snow for the first time until I was eighteen and away at college, I'm amazed at the very adult amount of restraint I do show when I see it start blowing around. I'm pretty darned proud of myself. I only stuck my tongue out twice to catch it as we took our after-lunch walk yesterday.

Happy Christmas!

Here we are at the Bankson's last night singing our little hearts out!

Click here to watch the video.

Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles

Every Sunday we have a sharing time in our church service, where people can tell of wonderful things happening in their lives, ask for prayer, etc. This morning, Aoyama san, a woman originally from Korea and married to a Japanese guy, whose Japanese is amazing, and who totally reminds me of my mom with her jokes and boundless supply of energy and laughter, told us about something that happened to her on Thursday at work. She has a part-time job at a restaurant, and usually ladles out boiling water for some purpose of which I'm unaware, but decided to save time and pour it instead. She spilled it all over her leg and foot and of course screamed in pain. She started praying and realized a young girl next to her had been totally spared, so she thanked God for that in the midst of her agony. Her leg and foot swelled up, the skin was in terrible shape, and she could hardly walk. She kept on praying, managed to get home, and the next morning when she woke up, her skin was completely healed. Not a trace of burn anywhere. She even lifted up her trouser leg and took off her sock in the middle of the service to show us. Just like baby skin.


BTW, BTW means by the way.

BTW, I'm not married to a male chauvinist pig. Stephen's earlier post, about pudgy penguins, included pregnant women at my suggestion. We laugh a lot when I go to checkups, and even though my weight gain is perfectly on target, the doctor gets huffy about it. I guess that's just a quirky quirk of the medical system here (though there are many reasons I'm glad I'm giving birth to Matthew in this country--one of which includes getting to lounge around at the hospital for a week after he's born while nurses and midwives wait on me and bring me food--I know you're jealous).

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

This is how the Banksons were greeted in song when Mike, Andrea, Lucy, Stephen, and I arrived at their spacious Western-style home last night for a Christmas potluck and candlelight caroling session. Oh, what fun it is to be in a comfy, cozy house with central heating in every room, filled with lots of gorgeous handmade quilts, and good friends to sing and chow down with!

Birthin' this baby

Finally. Stephen and I have been praying and thinking a lot lately about where to have Matthew, since the big hospital I've been going to for checkups (and maternity aerobics) totally burned us on the birth plan we wrote (which, by the way, they told us to write in the first place). Apparently the hospital's just too big and too bureaucratic, too many rules to adhere to, with no room for discussion. We tried to persuade the head midwife for an hour that we really have researched all this, and we really do have definite ideas about what we would like (such as a private room, Stephen able to stay with me, the baby staying in the room with me, pain medicine if I need it, etc.). She said no to pretty much everything on our two pages of A4.

So we decided to look around. We talked to Misako, our midwife friend in Nagoya who leads the Nagoya Foreign Parents' Group. She's got her own clinic in downtown Nagoya, but it's too far for us to go, especially if I'm in labor! She recommended we talk to her friend in Anjo (the city next to ours), who has her own midwife clinic. We visited yesterday morning, and something about it just didn't feel right.

Matthew's in the frank breech position all the time lately (although it is possible he will turn by himself later), so if I need a c-section, the midwife wouldn't be able to do it. She did say she could try to turn him at around 30 weeks or so, but there's no guarantee this would work.

She called a clinic in Nishio, where our church is, and asked the head midwife there if we could visit. We did, and it is absolutely everything we wanted in a birthing center. There are two doctors, 12 midwives, and 16 nurses on staff. It's not a huge place, but they can do natural or c-section deliveries on site. Plus I can have a private room, Stephen can stay with me, there are several private rooms for labor (at the hospital I've been going to I would've had to labor in a ward with other laboring women, and then stay in a ward after the birth with several other women as well), they have good birthing preparation classes, and I can labor and deliver in a Japanese-style room if I choose to (which has a birthing ball, and a cool chair from Australia in which Stephen can sit behind me and help me).

The head midwife who showed us around, Niimi san, is an absolute every-Grandma. She even took time out of her lunch break to give us a free, yes, free, 4D scan, just for fun. We've got the video to prove it.

Yamada Clinic even has a cool cafe downstairs off the lobby, and a hair salon if I'm feeling ugly-ducklingish after the birth. Imagine that. It was all so luxurious we thought the price would reflect this, but when we asked Niimi san about that, she said it's exactly the same price as having the baby at the big hospital I've been going to up to now.

We got to walk past a room with a couple of new babies the nurses were taking care of, and we said hello as we went by. The babies were so cute, and being the emotional preggo woman I am, I started boo-hooing, of course.

I think I was just so overwhelmed at God's goodness. We've been praying and wondering what to do since the failed birth plan meeting about two weeks ago, and there was our answer. It also gave us such encouragement that God will give exactly the right job to Stephen. He's such a Good Provider.

Forced Penguin March

"Asahiyama Zoo on the northern island of Hokkaido is taking its chubby King Penguins on a 500-metre (1/3 mile) walk twice a day to stop them getting too fat during the cold months. Spokesman Tetsuo Yamazaki said penguins gained weight in winter because they stood still to conserve energy." (BBC NEWS)

Leave them alone! Let them do what comes naturally! Pregnant women and pudgy pengiuns - two beings the Japanese won't let get fat.

US Vehicle Imports

After years of trying to force Japanese consumers to part with their hard earned yen to buy gigantic SUVs that end up knocking down buildings as they try to ease down winding side streets, a US company has finally come up with a vehicle for the Japanese roads: The Segway. Like a bicycle, but more expensive.

Mona Lisa smile

"A computer has been used to decipher the enigmatic smile of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, concluding that she was mainly happy.

The painting was analysed by a University of Amsterdam computer using 'emotion recognition' software.

It concluded that the subject was 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful and 2% angry, journal New Scientist was told." (BBC NEWS)

I wish I had the art appreciation skills of this computer so that I could really enjoy great masterpieces.

Jumping for joy

Matthew had great cause for elation today. He discovered he likes escalators (did gymnastics when I rode up and then down). I've decided after he's born, if he's fussy, I'll just strap him on, take him to Za Mall, dash onto the escalator, remind him of the fact that he really does love those puppies, and for goodness' sake, to chill out for a moment and enjoy the ride.

Mama was happy, too. My weekly Thursday haunt, Powers Big Live grocery store, decided to play actual Christmas music instead of the booooooooooooring muzak they run every time I'm there (and it's always the exact same songs). Sometimes I'm just going about my daily business and I find it sickeningly running through my head. I almost cried tears of relief when I heard the carols over the loudspeakers! I must tell you, I got a huge smile on my face as soon as I stepped in the door and wondered if my ears were deceiving me. They weren't, and I think all the shoppers were in a better mood because of this blessed change.

Out of the fire, and into blessings

Stephen and I have been going through a rough time the past week or so, as Stephen has found out the company he is currently working for has already-established clients consisting of at least two dodgy ones: a Buddhist altar-maker and a pornography company. Some of you have been praying for us and we really appreciate all your love and support. Stephen has pretty much decided to leave the company as soon as he has found another job (after giving the required one month's notice at his present workplace).

I was reading in 2 Chronicles 14 this morning (The Message version, which I love) and was profoundly encouraged by what King Asa went through as his army of 300,000 went up against an Ethiopian group of 1 million fighters. Asa was a good king in God's sight because he pulled down the shrines dedicated to false gods, and pushed the people of Judah to focus their lives on the one true God. I wanted to blog what I learned today in hopes that you would be blessed, too.

King Asa said, "'O God, you aren't impressed by numbers or intimidated by a show of force once you decide to help: Help us, O God; we have come out to meet this huge army because we trust in you and who you are."

After the Ethiopian army was soundly defeated and sent scampering away with their tails tucked between their legs, the end of the chapter says, "They [Asa's men] also attacked herdsmen and brought back a lot of sheep and camels to Jerusalem." God not only won the battle for them, but they ended up with even more blessings than before!

Whatever battles you are facing today, know that with God's help, you will come out not only victorious, but also with a cup running over with good things. May all our cups run over with the sweet wine of His love and care.

I can relate

I found this article (sent to me by our friend Andrea and written by a foreign woman who lived in Japan) really interesting. She felt "too tall" in this land, but my "big" difference lately is one of a frontwise nature.

Week 25

Here's the latest from pregnancy.about.com:

"Baby weighs 1 pound 9 ounces (709 grams). The bones are continuing their ossification process, meaning that they are becoming harder."

Matthew's advancing so quickly--I'm amazed at his powerful acrobatics! Had lunch yesterday with two friends from aerobics, and we all chatted about how these babies just thrill us to no end. One of the friends, Masako, is due March 2nd and is having a boy, and the other one, Ikuyo, is due the day after me, March 29th, and finds out today about the gender of her baby.

I keep telling this little one to kick me (which he really enjoys anyway), and I'm assuring him that his time in utero is the only time he'll ever hear me saying those two little words!

That's our boy!

Matthew James Munday, at week 24. (Double click on the pictures to have a better view.)

Quake survivor: two months later

Amazing story of a woman in Kashmir, pulled out of the wreckage that was her kitchen, two months after the big quake.

A-Pooh-Stick Guitar

(Haven't heard of Poohsticks? Click here.)

What's in a name?

By the way, "Matthew" means "gift of Yahweh," which he is.

Baby's Got A Name

Abigail and I found it very easy to think of girls' names, but we had great difficulty with boys' names. Anyway, there was one which took our fancy, and ever since we discovered that the baby is a boy, we had been trying to call it "he" (instead of "it" - oops!), but I found it easier to refer to him by this name - even though I also had said that we shouldn't use a name for the baby until we were sure that is what we would call him to avoid confusion (our confusion, not the baby's) later. What a hypocritical dad.

So there we were this morning talking about this and debating whether I should stop using this name and just call him "the baby" for the moment, or whether we had agreed on it and I could go ahead and call him by his new name. Well we are (at present at least) a very democratic family, so how better to decide than to ask the baby himself? So I asked him straight out - I would have looked him in the eye as well, if his eyes had not been unavailable for looking into - "Baby, kick mummy if you like the name 'Matthew'." At which point (and I am not making this up) he gave a massive kick, having been really quiet up till then.

So it's decided. Let's hear a big hand for baby Matthew!

Oh boy!!!

Yes, he is! He's Baby Munday, the Wonder Boy of Okazaki. We saw the proof Monday on the big screen. And it was big proof.

Week 24 is here already!

According to the website I always quote from:

"Your baby is almost completely formed, and is beginning to deposit brown fat on his or her body. The purpose of the brown fat is to retain body heat. Newborns are notoriously bad at regulating body temperature at first. This is particularly a problem for a baby born early.

Babies born at this point have some chances of survival with very special care. They will be in the Intensive Care Unit, probably for many weeks. Usually we say that you can expect them to stay in the NICU until their due date.

A major problem with premature babies is lung development. If preterm labor is detected early enough a steroid shot, called Betamethasone, can sometimes be given to enhance lung development.

S/he weighs in at 1 lb 5 ounces (595 grams) and 30 cms or 11.8 inches total length!"

Yesterday, the doctor guessed this baby is about 700 grams, and everything is normal, she said. I've been eating lots of fruit lately. Can honeydew melon make a baby grow that fast?

I've been warning little Bun Baby to stay in there for longer. Not done yet! But it is amazing that with modern technology as it is, this Bundle of Joy could possibly survive outside the womb, even at this tender age. When I saw Baby on the screen this week, my heart jumped with extra, extra love. Baby's growing so fast!

Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!

I was kind of worried this morning when Baby was still for ages. Usually right when I wake up, Baby wakes up with me, and exactly the same way I get moving in the morning: a twitch here and there when the alarm goes off, and then slow, random movements for a while before actually joining the real world (and then craving a nap not too long after). Like Mommy, like Baby.

But this morning, it was different. Baby didn't seem to be waking up, and it was a bit disconcerting. I kept waiting for the movement moment.

And it came at the most amazing time: We were in the Sunday morning church service, and Pastor Itoh was reading Luke 1:41 aloud to the congregation.

"And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leapt in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (emphasis mine).

No joke. I'm not lying. Baby Munday jumped with John.

I must admit I had to dab my eyes at that point. The Christmas story took on a whole new meaning for me.

And I had to marvel at the greatness of the Holy Spirit, who still works as mightily as He always has. This baby is living, leaping proof.

Little Shrimp

Our friends Geoff and Kristin found a funky new sushi restaurant in Seattle, Blue C Sushi, and sent us this adorable baby outfit they got there. I thought I'd try it on Baby and see how it fits, and it looks like it's just right.

The Wee Babe at Week 23

Look what's under the Christmas tree this year!

Early Christmas Present

While it seems like in the US and Britain you almost have to fight to stop companies giving you credit cards, in Japan it is a big deal to get one if you are a foreigner. When I lived in Kanazawa, my Japanese colleague had to sign documents to act as my guarantor, and it still took six months and huge quantities of paperwork.

This time, it has just taken two attempts: The first time, we were rejected quickly, so I just assumed it was because we were foreigners. This second time, I was actually surprised that it was taking longer, and shocked when Abigail told me that they had actually sent me the card.

So we no longer have to worry about sending money in advance to the US or Britain to mmake sure it is ready for using with our debit cards. What a relief! It also saves us money, as we used to get charged to send the money to Tokyo, charged again to have that bank send it overseas and then - and this really annoys me - charged by our own banks to receive the money. There will still be charges with using the credit card, but not nearly as much money lost due to this "friction".

In Japan, everything is miniaturized

What's on your mind?

'Tis the season for getting out those decorations!


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