December 26, 2008

"Christmas Bells"

I know I'm a bit late for Christmas with this but I've been enjoying family and friends and hope that you have too. Here is Longfellow's poem, "Christmas Bells." It's over 150 years old, but speaks as well in these times as it did then.

"Christmas Bells"
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said:
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

December 14, 2008

Parenting Conference Videos Online

I just watched the first of five videos from a Ted Tripp parenting conference and I can't wait to watch the other four. Tripp is a parenting expert and the author of Shepherding a Child's Heart, which has just shot up high on my to-read list. In the first video, he gives an overview of parenting that focuses on "formative instruction," based on Deuteronomy 6. Discipline during crisis times is no replacement for formative instruction, both planned and spontaneous times of imparting our "culture" to the next generation. What you see below is cut and pasted from this page. There are lots of other good resources to be found there so click over and have a look.

Media from the Conference

Session 1: The Call to Formative Instruction

Session 2: Giving Kids a Vision for God's Glory

Session 3: Helping Kids Understand Authority

  • Session 4: Helping Kids Understand the Heart

    Session 5: Overview of Corrective Discipline

    Everyone wants to be a great parent—the biggest responsibility of parenthood is teaching your children to love Jesus with all of their heart, soul, and strength. For parents with children of any age, Dr. Tripp's insightful, biblical teaching provides perspectives and procedures for shepherding your child's heart into the paths of life.

    "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates."
    Deuteronomy 6:5-9

    About Dr. Tripp

    In writing Shepherding A Child's Heart, Dr. Tripp drew on his 30+ years of experience as a pastor, counselor, school administrator, and father. He now also includes 10 years of insights from teaching this material in his conferences offered around the world. In addition to speaking at conferences, Dr. Tripp is the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Hazleton, PA.
    The things your child does and says flow from the heart, and Dr. Tripp's Shepherding A Child's Heart conference is about how to speak to and engage with the heart of children.

    "God is concerned with the heart - the well-spring of life"
    Proverbs 4:23

    "Parents tend to focus on the externals of behavior rather than the internal overflow of the heart. We tend to worry more about the "what" of behavior than the "why." Accordingly, most of us spend an enormous amount of energy in controlling and constraining behavior. To the degree and extent to which our focus is on behavior, we miss the heart."
    Tedd Tripp, Senior Pastor
    Grace Fellowship Church, Hazelton, PA

  • December 10, 2008

    Aussie Educational Online Games

    I just came across an Australian web site with lots of educational flash games for children. On the "Early Years" page, linked to here, there are games that teach math, business, Australian history, civics (by solving common playground problems), and science. There are several other games for different age groups and subjects. Use the sidebar on the left to navigate. The games seem to be just a few of many more that are available only to schools in Australia and New Zealand.

    November 28, 2008

    The First Thanksgiving

    Here's a good Thanksgiving web site to check out with your kids while you eat turkey sandwiches and leftover pie. T, R, and I just spent some time looking around and learning things like "each pilgrim family was allotted around 800 square feet--about the size of a small apartment." (But a couple hundred square feet bigger than our apartment in Tokyo. Hmmm.)

    (Scholastic Thanksgiving)

    November 15, 2008

    Know Your Audience

    Yesterday in Bible time at preschool I was teaching this story:
    People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. -Mark 10:13-16
    As I taught and the children asked questions, one thing led to another and I found myself trying to explain childlike faith. I was getting blank looks and realized that it was a pointless and impossible task, like trying to teach a fish to swim. Children don't need to be taught how to have faith. They have it already.

    November 12, 2008

    Dusting Off the Cobwebs

    No, I haven't abandoned this blog. Other things, mostly good things, have gotten in the way. This is my first post since June. I won't try to catch up on everything but here are a few highlights.

    Summer vacation with grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins on both sides of the family was great! The kids ended up having about six birthday celebrations among all the traveling.

    Our children continue to delight us. Every day when D goes to preschool with Tomomi to drop off R, he walks right up to the easel, puts a piece of paper on it, and paints something colorful. The painting only takes up the bottom third of the paper because that's as high as he can reach.

    T is learning multiplication. Here is a conversation he and R had this afternoon.

    T: Thirteen times one is thirteen. Know what sixteen times one is?
    R: Um, sixteen?
    T: No way! How do you know all about multiplication?!?!

    I've been reading a lot recently. Here's a sampling:
    • The Chronicles of Narnia (because T's reading them and his excitement reignited something in me). This time around Puddleglum in The Silver Chair was my favorite character. Lewis made him so heroic and so comical. He's like a cross between Eeyore and Lieutenant Dan with a touch of what Lucas tried but failed to do with Jar Jar Binks.
    • George MacDonald: An Anthology compiled and edited by C. S. Lewis. There are 365 brief, yet rich readings. Here's an example. "While a satisfied justice is an unavoidable eternal event, a satisfied revenge is an eternal impossibility."
    • Several books on preschool and elementary education like The Schools Our Children Deserve, Any Child Can Write, Teach a Child to Read with Children's Books, Writing with Ease, and How to Teach Any Child to Spell. I've been trying to understand the debate between phonics proponents and whole language proponents. Like most issues where intelligent, well-meaning people disagree hotly, it looks like both approaches have their merits. They can be combined effectively and much depends individual teaching and learning styles. If I have time, I'll write more later about specific things I'm applying to my teaching.
    I've recently started using facebook as a way to stay in touch. It seems like a more appropriate place than this to share family events and photos. This blog will be more of a journal of what I'm reading, thinking about, and experimenting with. It won't be updated very frequently so if you want to see what I write, I recommend mousing to the upper right corner of this page and subscribing either for email updates or rss. If you use facebook and we know each other "in real life," let's connect there.

    June 6, 2008

    The Next Generation

    This is something that hit my inbox recently and was originally published in "Our Daily Bread." As a preschool teacher and a guy with great Christian parents, it's obvious why this story touches me.

    A man who played double-bass in the Mexico City Philharmonic told me that the finest instruments are made of wood that has been allowed to age naturally to remove the moisture. “You must age the wood for 80 years, then play the instrument for 80 years before it reaches its best sound,” said Luis Antonio Rojas. “A craftsman must use wood cut and aged by someone else, and he will never see any instrument reach its peak during his own lifetime.”

    Many important things in life are “next generation” matters—teaching, training, and parenting are among them. The apostle Paul invested himself in people whose spiritual influence would continue long after he was gone. He wrote to Timothy: “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul, Timothy, “faithful men,” and “others” represent four spiritual generations built on the enduring foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Are we living only for today and the short term, or are we giving ourselves to others who will continue the faith after our race is run? Living for Christ and making disciples are all about the next generation.

    May 22, 2008

    Passports and other Travel Documents: Cheap and Easy

    With a trip back to the US planned this summer, we have been busy getting travel documents together. It's no small task. In our family of five (with three dual citizens), we have six five-year passports, two ten-year passports, a five-year alien registration card, and a three-year re-entry permit to deal with. Over the years we have come up with some good practices for making sure we keep these documents up to date and spend as little time and money on them as possible. Here's how we do it.

    1. Set reminders.

    Enter expiration dates into an online calendar or reminder application. (I use google calendar.) Then have reminders sent to you two months, one month, and two weeks before the documents expire. You can do this for other things too like drivers' licenses, prescriptions, insurance policies, and big bills that you want a heads-up on. For those who organize with pen and paper, put these important dates on the last page of your calendar, even if they are years away, then transfer them whenever you get a new calendar.

    2. Consolidate into fewer trips.

    We let T's American passport expire and didn't get him a new one until R and D also needed them (He had a Japanese passport so traveling wasn't a problem). Now all three children's passports expire at the same time so it's just one trip to the embassy every five years for the kids. Getting their cycles in sync saves days off from work as well as time and money on the train. Plus, once I'm in the groove, it's easy to do the necessary paperwork and get photos together for all three kids at once.

    3. Take your own passport photos.

    With digital cameras, high quality home printers, and free sites like, there's no reason to waste money at a studio. Just snap several shots of your subject in front of a white wall (or if it's a small child lay him on a white sheet and shoot from above), choose the best one (keeping in mind that there shouldn't be shadows, that the eyes should be open and facing the camera, and that the mouth should be closed), and upload your photo to the site linked to above. Choose which country's passport you are applying for and the site will walk you through the cropping process. Print out the photos and you are good to go. Be sure to print the photos at actual size; don't let your printer software shrink or expand the photos to fit the page. We've had no problems applying for American or Japanese passports with DIY passport photos.

    Traveling with children comes with hassles and expenses, but with good planning and initiative, having the proper documents doesn't have to be so bad.

    May 19, 2008

    Volcano in Chile

    This volcano erupted for the first time in 9000 years. Let's hope Mt. Fuji (a still active volcano) doesn't do this any time soon. It would affect lot more than 4000 people.

    May 17, 2008

    Ogose Hike

    We hiked around in Ogose today with Ed and Naomi, friends from church. Here are some photos.

    The Rock Climbers.

    Going Strong.

    Maybe not so strong. (Click the start button and make sure the volume is up.)

    Countries and US States Visited

    I stumbled upon a site where you check off boxes of places you've visited and end up with highlighted maps. These are mine.

    I've been in twelve countries but only nine US states (not including airport transit). My shortest foreign trip was about an hour and a half to China with a dufflebag of Bibles. My longest was, of course, Japan (most of my adult life and still counting). I wonder when I'll get significantly east of the Rockies or across the equator.

    If you want to try, go to the page of countries or states. Post a link to your map in the comments or just let me know where you've been.

    May 16, 2008

    Who are these kids?

    Watching this made me feel really old. Bono still has a big mouth but he's sure come a long way to become the statesman for Africa that he is today. Edge has wisely concentrated on his guitar-playing and not worried so much about his interviewing skills.

    The clip is from the Tom Snider show in June 1981. U2 was on their first American tour.


    Every day (ideally), I read a passage from the Bible and write down what I think God is telling me through it. Here's a recent entry from my Bible journal when I read Luke 6. I changed a few things to make it more suitable to share. (It's not a recent entry any more. I just found this unposted draft in my blogger account.)

    I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. Luke 6:47-48

    If I want to be like the one who build on a rock and whose house withstood the flood, then Jesus says I need to do three things.

    Come to me. This means Bible reading and contemplation, prayer, worship, listening to and reading sermons, reading other edifying books, and seeking out godly advice. My heart and mind are being influenced somewhere; if not by Jesus, then by whatever I give my attention to. There is no way hear his words, much less put them into practice if I don't first come to him.

    Hear my words. Coming to Jesus isn't enough. I can set aside the time for devotions each morning and even "read" my Bible, but somehow my mind has developed the ability to wander far and wide even while my eyeballs are scanning the page. Or I can be sitting in church "listening" to a message while thinking, "I need to talk with that guy before he leaves" or "That curry smells good. I hope the portions are big." Truly hearing Jesus' words takes thoughtful, concentrated effort. It helps me to tease sentences apart, rephrase them in my mind, compare them with others. Like this in Luke 6:

    Why does Jesus say "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets"? Just two chapters earlier, "all spoke well of him [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips." (Luke 4:22) Hmmm, but then just after speaking well of Jesus, "all the people in the synagogue were furious [with him]." (4:28) Maybe he means I shouldn't let the way others think count for much, especially the way they "all" (the mob) think. What God thinks of me counts for so much more.

    Put my words into practice. The hardest of all. It's easy for me right now, alone with my Bible open, enjoying the sight of the morning sun playing on the trees, a hot mug of coffee in my hand, not to care what others think. But as soon as I am surrounded by people, it's like a reset button is pushed and I switch back to people-pleasing default. The words I heard when I came to Jesus this morning become a misty, muffled echo. How can I act on them when they are so easily swallowed up in the workaday din?

    A few possible ways to act on Jesus' words:
    1. Preview the day. Of course each day brings surprises but I can anticipate situations when I will need to put into practice the words I've been given. There's a person who tends to tick me off. I can imagine a concrete way to "do good . . . without expecting to get anything back" (Luke 6:35) and determine in advance to do it.
    2. Write things down. I'm doing it now. Writing focuses the mind and brings swirling, unorganized thoughts into concrete order.
    3. Jingle it. The professionals who create slogans and and catchy tunes are experts at getting their commercial message stuck in our heads. Why not put their work to better use? To keep a key point from today' reading in my mind, I took M&Ms' old jingle, "The milk chocolate melts in you mouth, not in your hands!*" and gave it these words: "Do good to everyone, not just your friends!" This will be in my head all day.
    4. Share it. Again, it's what I'm doing now. Some things aren't real until we share them. The accountability helps too.
    5. Review the day. Take a moment at night to reflect. Give thanks for the victories, deal graciously with failures and commit to going to Jesus again for fresh words to act on the next day.
    * Of course the milk chocolate doesn't melt in your hands. It's got the candy shell around it. The candy shell melts in your hands quite easily. What a stupid slogan!

    March 22, 2008

    Dragons and God's Sovereignty

    It's Holy Week. If you are thinking, like many are this week, about God's role in human actions, here is a nice analogy I just came across. It's called Dragon's and God's Sovereignty. Enjoy.

    March 11, 2008

    Climbing Mount Kuratake

    On Saturday, a couple friends from church, T and I climbed Mount Kuratake in Yanamashi. This is one of my favorite hikes because it offers great views of several ranges and Mount Fuji; it's easily accessible by train (no bus ride!) on the Chuo line; and there aren't many other hikers. This was T's biggest hike by far and he was like a mountain goat up there, sometimes even telling us big guys to hurry up. It's great to be able to share a hobby with my son.

    Here's a map. Not sure if it's zoomable.Oops. Never mind. Just click this link if you want to see a map.

    And some photos.

    If anyone has ideas for other good hikes around Tokyo or would like to join sometime, let me know.

    March 8, 2008

    Tips on Raising Bilingual Children

    I just read a good article called "Raising a Bilingual Child" (it's a pdf) by Julia Gariel and Jo Bristow. It gives good, common-sense tips, many of which we follow with our own children and those at the preschool.

    Here's an excerpt.
    For language learning to be successful it is essential that all exposure provides positive experience. There is no room for destructive criticism or negative comments. What the child needs is praise for effort, celebration of success, joy and laughter. Don't worry if he makes mistakes in grammar or pronunciation. Try to avoid correcting negatively. Just repeat the sentence back to him accurately, model it for him. In time he will automatically use the right structure which the language-learning area of his brain will have stored away for future use. For example:

    Child: "Want go now park."

    Adult Solution A:
    "That's not the right way to ask. If you want to go to the park learn to ask properly. Say it like this . . . No, like this . . . ."

    Result A:
    Child feels wrong, gets bored repeating words, loses interest in going to the park, loses confidence in his ability to make his needs known. A learning opportunity is lost.

    Adult Solution B:
    "You want to go to the park now? I want to go to the park now, too. We'll go when we're ready."

    Result B:
    Child hears his sentence modeled correctly and stores it away. His needs are acknowledged, he feels good about the communication. Further language learning opportunities will take place in the park.
    There are several other articles too. Check them out here.

    March 4, 2008

    Parking Lot Game

    Here's an online game I just stumbled across. The higher levels will make your brain hurt. Make sure you have several minutes to kill before starting.


    Or if you want to play without looking at a screen, you can get the atoms not bits version at amazon.

    [Edited to add the link to amazon]

    March 2, 2008

    Fun Food

    We made a couple different kinds of bread in the preschool last week and I found out that tortillas are really easy to make. Mexican food is something I miss in Japan so I took my newfound tortilla-making skills and made fresh tacos for the family last night. They were muy rico!

    Tomomi had to fix the dough for me after I made it way too sticky by using a mix of metric and "normal" measuring devices.

    And here is a picture of the chocolate gorilla I got for Valentine's Day from a student last month. Everyone gets chocolate gorillas, right?

    I didn't think to take a picture until I had eaten the foot.

    February 18, 2008

    Team Hoyt

    I'm not usually one for tear-jerker, human interest stories, but as a runner and a father, this video had me blubbering.

    If you want to read more about them, here is their web site and a wikipedia article.

    February 10, 2008

    C. S. Lewis quotes

    Here are a couple C. S. Lewis quotes from an essay called "The Seeing Eye" in a collection called Christian Reflections. The first is advice on how to avoid God.

    Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on [were he writing today I'm sure he would replace radio with TV]. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. if you must read books, select them very carefully. But you'd be safer to stick to the papers [and even better, the internet]. You'll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or snobbish appeal.
    And here's one that made me chuckle. Remember that the British Lewis wrote this in 1963.

    [I am not] much concerned about the "space race" between America and Russia. The more money, time, skill and zeal they both spend on that rivalry, the less, we may hope, they will have to spend on armaments. Great powers might be more usefully, but are seldom less dangerously, employed than in fabricating costly objects and flinging them, as you might say, overboard. Good luck to it! It is an excellent way of letting off steam.


    It has snowed a few times recently. I wonder how children can play happily in the snow for so long with their hands red and chapped.

    View from our living room window (photo by T)

    Snowman and Sunday School friends

    Blurry but fun

    January 3, 2008

    Beware New Clothes

    In this season of New Year's resolutions, I came across a timely quote from Thoreau's Walden.
    I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles. Our moulting season, like that of the fowls, must be a crisis in our lives. (via 43 Folders)
    My "new clothes" tend to be organization systems: software, gadgets, and even paper calenders and such. This year is the first time in quite a while that I sticking with the same system, a pocket calendar/notebook for personal things and an online calendar/task list for work. Maybe I'll spend less time "getting organized" and more time doing real stuff. Here's hoping anyway.

    What kind of "new clothes" lure you?

    January 1, 2008

    "The Mother Tongue"

    I just finished reading "The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way" by Bill Bryson (thanks Molly!). He writes knowledgeably and hilariously about the history of the language from the Indo-European roots to Cockney rhyming slang and everything in between. As a teacher in Japan, I was particularly interested in the passages that explain why English is so tough to pick up as a second language. He writes of how "no other language in the world has more words spelled the same way and yet pronounced so differently," giving the following list of paired words as an example. Phonics can only take a student so far.
    Here's another list that illustrates the difficulty of English spelling. "See if you can tell which of the following words are mispelled."

    Click the comments link below to check your answer.

    And here's a list of British and American synonyms. Cover the column of the country you are most familiar with and see how many words you know. (The list was designed for Americans so British will probably have an easier time of it. And sorry if the table looks weird; I can't get it to look quite right.)




    Baby’s crib

    Cotton (for sewing)

    Thread (for sewing)



    To skive

    To loaf

    Candy floss

    Cotton candy

    Full stop (punctuation)

    Period (punctuation)

    Inverted commas

    Quotation marks


    Idiot, boor


    Skilled carpenter


    Worn out

    Number plate

    License plate

    Old Bill



    Run away

    To chivvy

    To hurry along


    Pedestrian underpass


    Furniture removal truck


    Vehicle overpass

    Leading article

    Newspaper editorial

    Fruit machine

    One-armed bandit


    Ladies’ underwear


    Long-distance bus


    Petty thief

    To grizzle

    To whine

    To hump

    To carry a heavy load

    Despite having a degree in English literature and having worked with British colleagues for several years, I only knew eight of the British words.

    Just to show how Bryson combines scholarship and humor, here is what he writes near the end of a section about how the 60-million-word Oxford English dictionary came into being:

    But perhaps the most notable of all the OED's minor quirks is its inistence that Shakespeare should be spelled Shakspere. After explaining at some length why this is the only correct spelling, it grudgingly acknowledges that the commonest spelling "is perh. Shakespeare." (To which we might add, it cert. is.)

    If you're interested in this book, check it out on amazon with this link. And don't forget to check the comments below to see how many of those words were spelled incorrectly.