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!