December 29, 2010

Benefits of Sudoku

We're on a sudoku kick at the moment. I spent a couple hours today on a really tough one and messed it up twice. T, R, Tomomi and her parents are all in on the action. Besides being fun, addictive, and sometimes frustrating, sudoku helps development in the following areas.

  • logic
  • problem solving
  • working memory
  • concentration
  • perseverance
  • pattern recognition
  • creativity
  • confidence
  • dealing with frustration
by jen_maiser
Of course it's important to start children out with easy puzzles so they don't get too frustrated right away and give up. You can model solving a puzzle and talk your way through it, but once your child has the basic concept, don't help too much. A big part of what makes sudoku fun is the satisfaction of completing a puzzle "all by myself!"

You can find easy printable sudoku puzzles beginning with 4x4 grids.

Here is a link to the more typical 9x9 sudoku grids with various levels of difficulty. 

If you'd rather work with words than numbers, there are lots of logic puzzles that are more like story problems. Here is a collection of 12 printable logic puzzles with grids.

December 28, 2010

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Single-Disc Edition)I watched "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" today with my kids. What a fun and wacky movie! Like many of the other animated movies that come out these days, it touched on several important themes without being too heavy handed.
  • Generation and communication gap between fathers and sons. "Not every sardine was meant to swim, son."" I don't understand fishing metaphors!" 
  • Large food portions and obesity. "Bigger is better!"
  • Smart girls/women who act dumb to be accepted. "It's a solid, it's a liquid, it's a viscoelastic polymer made out of polypeptide chains but you eat it! I mean, it tastes good! "
  • Living on past glories. "I'm Baby Brent!"
  • Redeeming past failures. Spray-on shoes
  • Unintended consequences of messing with nature.
I also loved the voice casting, especially these two guys. Know who they are? The first one is easy.

Ice Skating at Hirakata Park in Osaka

It has become a winter family tradition for us to skate at the Hirakata Park ice rink in Osaka. This year D had grown into the smallest size of rental skates so he came with us and had his first ice skating experience. He got tired of skating after about one minute ("It's fun but the ice is too slippery") and went to play in the fake snow for a while.

He came back later and gave it another go. This time he was able to keep his feet under him and skate around the rink several times (with help). He was the littlest guy on the rink and had quite the fan club of junior-high girls. "Soooo cuuute!"

R and T somehow improved a lot even though we hadn't been skating in a year. Between hauling D back and forth to and from the snow area and helping him skate, Tomomi and I even had a little time to hold hands and skate around like teenageers.

Hirakata Park is a nice place for ice skating in the Osaka area but it's a little pricey. If you go by train, you can save quite a bit of money by purchasing a combination train/park entrance/skate rink entrance ticket from any Keihan railway ticket office. This year they are calling it the HiraPa Go!Go! Ticket. If the link is broken, search google for ひらパーGo!Go!チケット.

December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Join Johnny and June Cash as they visit with Billy Graham and sing my favorite Christmas song, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." (RSS or email readers, you may need to click through to see the video.) I featured this song two years ago at Christmas, but it's worth sharing again.

The lyrics are from a poem that Longfellow wrote during the Civil War shortly after his son had been severely wounded and his wife had died in a fire. If he could proclaim the last stanza in those times, then we certainly can in these times too.

"Christmas Bells"
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 23, 2010

My Bible Reading Plan for 2011

"Bible, Notebook, & Pen" by chunghow33
About this time every year I select a Bible reading plan for the following year. In 2010 I've used the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan (pdf). It features selections from four book of the Bible each day and gets you through the whole Bible in one year. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It gives good balance between wisdom literature, other Old Testament books, gospels, and other New Testament books. Another great point about the plan is that it only offers selections for 25 days each month--great for catch-up or review.

The one quibble I have with the plan is that some books take so long to read through, that you can lose sight of the big picture. Several of the books take a month to read, the gospels even longer. That's why in 2011, I'm going with Discipleship Journal's Book-at-a-Time Bible Reading plan (pdf). Here's how they describe it.
The book-at-a-time Bible reading plan provides two readings for each day. The first reading alternates between Old and New Testament books, giving you three or four chapters a day. The Gospels are spread throughout the year.

The second reading takes you through a chapter or so of the wisdom literature and Isaiah. Combined,these readings will take you through the entire Bible in one year. 
To prevent the frustration of falling behind and to provide some reflection time, each month consists of only 25 readings. You’ll have several days each month to meditate more deeply on something that was significant to you in the past week, to catch up on missed readings, or to revisit favorite passages.
Discipleship Journal also offers the 5x5x5 Bible Reading Plan (pdf), which they describe this way:
5 minutes per day, 5 days per week, 5 ways to dig deeper. Takes you through one chapter each day. Read the New Testament in one year.
All three of these reading plans, with an overview of each and links to printable versions in English and Spanish are on the Navigators' Discipleship Journal website.

If none of these plans suits your, check out this extensive collection of other reading plans. The main thing is to stick with the reading and allow God's Word to do its thing in your heart. Like the old song says, "Read your Bible, pray every day, and you'll grow, grow, grow!"

If you liked this post, you might also like my post about a 31-day prayer calendar to help you pray for your children.

Turboboost your Bible reading in 2011 with the ESV Study Bible, my favorite study Bible by far.

December 22, 2010

Remainders (12/22)

T and I came to Kyoto today on the bullet train. We had a great view of snow covered Mount Fuji, but almost missed it because I was reading and T was playing chess on my iPod.  It won't be long before he's beating me consistently. The changing of the guard has begun.

Back up your bookmarks. Yahoo has announced that they are getting rid of delicious. They say they want to sell it, not shut it down, but it wouldn't hurt to make contingency plans.

Wastebook 2010. Senator Coburn has put together a list of 100 of the most wasteful projects that federal money is spent on including $1.5 million to demold buildings just before tearing them down and $600,000 to develop an online video game called Wolfquest. (Ever heard of it? Me neither.)

You can't multitask so stop trying. The Harvard Business Review reminds us that the ability to multitask is a myth. The online equivalent of closing your office door is to turn off your email and instant message clients and let the phone go to voice mail.

December 21, 2010

Father-Son Day

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince CaspianTomomi, R., and D. took off for Kyoto today. Today was my last day of classes so I can't leave until tomorrow. T. decided to stay back and hang out with me. There's no telling how long he'll be into spending time with Dad so I made the most of it. We played some chess, cooked together (reheated together is more like it I guess), and watched Prince Caspian.

What an excellent movie! I liked everything about it except the Susan-Caspian romance stuff which was nowhere in Lewis's original book. I also thought that the disagreements between Caspian and Peter were overdone.

Edmund was just cool, especially when he stopped the necromancy session and when he popped Peter's arm back into place while Peter was beginning to get sentimental.

After the movie, T. asked why Aslan didn't just come and help from the beginning. That led to a short, yet meaningful discussion about why God allows evil to continue. Gotta love C. S. Lewis.

December 20, 2010

Proto-Website for New Hope International School

I blogged earlier this month about New Hope Preschool's plans to expand into an elementary school and beyond. Well, we now have a location for the school, at least on the internet. We have acquired a domain and put up some information on a rudimentary website. Please check it out.

December 19, 2010

Christmas and "The Little Prince"

I'm reading The Little Prince with T and R at bedtime these days and I want to share a passage from what we read last night. Christmas is a great time to slow down and focus on the important things in life. Sometimes though, I start to feel more like the lamplighter whose world is spinning faster and faster. Read on and see if you identify too.
When the little prince reached this planet, he greeted the lamplighter respectfully. "Good morning. Why have you just put out your lamp?"

"Orders," the lamplighter answered. "Good morning."

"What orders are those?"

"To put out my streetlamp. Good evening." And he lit his lamp again.

"But why have you just lit your lamp again?"


"I don't understand," said the little prince.

"There's nothing to understand," said the lamplighter. "Orders are orders. Good morning." And he put out his lamp. Then he wiped his forehead with a red-checked handkerchief. "It's a terrible job I have. It used to be reasonable enough. I put the lamp out mornings and lit it after dark. I had the rest of the day for my own affairs, and the rest of the night for sleeping."

"And since then orders have changed?"

"Orders haven't changed," the lamplighter said. "That's just the trouble! Year by year the planet is turning faster and faster, and orders haven't changed!"

"Which means?"

"Which means that now that the planet revolves once a minute, I don't have an instant's rest. I light my lamp and turn it out once every minute!"

"That's funny! Your days here are one minute long."

"It's not funny at all," the lamplighter said. "You and I have already been talking to each other for a month."

"A month?"

"Yes. Thirty minutes. Thirty days! Good evening." And he lit his lamp."

Christmas is a time to decide if we want to buy into the idea that we have to keep up with the whirling society around us. A time to question "orders," that leave us exhausted and always behind. A time to rediscover the place that is Silent and Holy, Calm and Bright. A time to be in the presence of Jesus.

December 18, 2010

New Hope Narimasu Kids' Christmas Party

Today was New Hope Narimasu's annual Kids' Christmas party. Several wonderful volunteers from the church and the preschool put together a fun day for 150 kids in the community.

Kids fished for candy canes,

made silver bell ornaments,

got their faces and hands painted,

 tossed rings for juice,

and stuck the nose on a snowman.

They saw and heard the Christmas story,

and blew out a candle on Jesus' birthday cake.

The big guy even came to celebrate with us.

A big thank you to everyone who served!

December 17, 2010

Preschool Christmas Party

The preschool's Christmas party was today. The kids had made decorations and candy cane cookies.

We played Christmas bingo. R helped D while T read a book.

Everyone made graham cracker cookie houses.

Here's how D's turned out, with some help from R.

 Looking good!

From these pictures, it looks like my kids were the only ones at the party. There were actually about twenty others.  I'll post pictures of the other kids and more about what we did on the preschool blog later.

December 16, 2010

Olmec and Maya Exhibition in Tokyo

There's an exhibition of Olmec and Mayan artifacts in Sunshine City, Ikebukuro running just until this Sunday. It's not my typical thing, but we just studied about those civilizations a couple weeks ago in homeschool. If we're done with church early enough, we may go, if only to see the giant Olmec head, which is not to be confused with the Easter Island head from  Night at the Museum. (Hey Dum Dum! You give me gum gum!)
Olmec Head
Easter Island Head

December 15, 2010

Remainders (12/15)

The ESV Study Bible (read about why it's my favorite) is coming out in a smaller version in January 2011. Good news for those of us who aren't professional weight-lifters.

Not only can you now be signed in to multiple google accounts simultaneously (work and personal for example), but now you can also grant one account access to another.

Go figure! A New York Times article says, "Teachers whose students described them as skillful. . . are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores" That study cost $45 million. At least it wasn't tax money.

Pastor Mark Driscoll shares in the Washington Post how he and his wife talk to their children about Santa Claus. Same ideas as Tomomi's and mine, but he says it much better.

Do you know how to tie your shoes?

There's a 50-50 chance that you don't tie your shoes correctly. So which knot do you tie--the reef knot (yay) or the granny knot (boo)? Read more on my page about how to tie shoes.

reef knot
granny knot

December 14, 2010

Giant Whale Photo Exhibition in Tokyo

This exhibition of life-size whale photos looks amazing. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll make it by the time it ends on December 18, but if anyone goes, please let me know what you think.

'Eye to Eye With The Whale: New Tales About Whales' is an exhibition featuring life-size photographs of whales taken by California photographer Bryant Austin. Austin’s photographs will be accompanied by an audio element – the songs of whales. The exhibition will also feature the stunning animations of Kawai Haruyoshi, the foremost Japanese illustrator of marine mammals. There will be exciting video footage of whales from whale watching communities around Japan.

Details at

December 12, 2010

New Hope Yokohama

Pastor Toru Majima gave a great message at New Hope Narimasu this morning. He and his wife, Kozue, were our first friends in Tokyo. They put us for a few weeks when we arrived until we found our own apartment. He was one of the founding Pastors of New Hope Tokyo eleven years ago. six years ago he was sent out to plant New Hope Yokohama, a church that began with ten members and has now grown to about 250. Toru and Kozue love God and serve their church faithfully.

Our families don't see each other much any more, but we can always pick up right where we left off. If you are looking for a great international church in Yokohama, check out New Hope Yokohama.

December 11, 2010

Ballet Recital

R's first ballet recital was today. She danced beautifully and I am really proud of her.

Her teacher is a wonderful Japanese woman who is married to a French chef. After the recital, he served a meal for the parents. I had foie gras for the first time. It was delicious but I'm kind of glad I didn't know what was in it before I ate it.

December 10, 2010

Remainders (12/10)

Why is X Used when it Replaces Christ in Christmas? by R. C. Sproul. (Hint. It's not to blot Jesus from the holiday.)

Is Christmas Worth Defending? Bethany Keeley-Jonker writes, "The more I think about Christmas traditions, the more I discover a strange amalgam of silly (but fun) cultural traditions, Christian symbolism, and unbridled consumerism. . . ."

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges is free in the kindle version for a while. You don't need the kindle; just download kindle software to your mac, pc, or just about any other device. I downloaded the book and am looking forward to reading it. I really liked his The Crisis of Caring.

A Wikileaks Society Tim Challies muses, "My fear is that the Wikileaks mentality may just seep out into all of society so we become a society that delights in exposing one another, in which we are all seeking to bring to light not just what we’ve done, but the motives behind what we’ve done."

Children Around the World Celebrate Christmas is a book we have been enjoying at the preschool.

December 8, 2010

Daddy Breakfast: Egyptian One-Eyes

Egyptian One-Eyes (photo by Scott D. Feldstein)
I recently posted on facebook that R and I had made Egyptian One-Eyes for breakfast. Some people asked what they were or how to make them, so I thought I'd share here.

Egyptian One-Eyes have been a weekend breakfast tradition in my family as long as I can remember. They're usually made on Daddy breakfast day because they are simple yet fun. In researching this post, I found that they are called, among many other names*, "egg in the basket," which is more politically correct but a lot less fun. Without further ado, the recipe for Egyptian One-Eyes:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 slice of bread
  • butter
  • salt
  • pepper

  1. Cut a round hole through the center of the bread. (I usually use the lid from a spice container).
  2. Butter both sides of the bread and both sides of the "hole."
  3. Put the buttered bread and hole in a buttered frying pan on medium heat.
  4. Crack the egg into the hole in the bread.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Turn the bread-egg combination over when the egg white in the hole has turned from clear to white. (Don't forget to turn over the hole too!)
  7. When egg is cooked, remove the One-Eye and hole from the frying pan.
  8. Serve and enjoy!
(Low cholesterol version: Leave out the egg, butter, salt, and pepper. Just cut a hole in a piece of bread and eat it. Toasting is optional.)

Other names for the Egyptian One-Eye are  "egg in a basket," "egg in a blanket," "egg in a window," "egg in a frame," "egg in a bed," "toad in the hole," "Rocky Mountain toast," square egg," Popeye" or a "one-eyed Egyptian sandwich," "spit in the eye," "Tiger's eye,"camel's eye," "midnight sun," "peekaboo eggs,"and "one-eyed jacks." These names and more are in the Wikipedia article, "Fried Egg."

December 7, 2010

New Hope School Expanding

You may know that I'm the director of New Hope International Preschool in Tokyo, a school that has been around for about five years. We've always dreamed of expanding into older grades. Recently we have been pursuing that dream. Now it looks likes we will be opening our school to elementary school children as early as next fall.

We have been planning behind the scenes for over a year. In October we held our first public meeting. The turnout was big, and there was more interest and support than we had thought. Since then, we've been working hard, choosing curriculum, visiting other schools, seeking advice, and talking to potential teachers and students' families.

New Hope International School will be unique: Christian, unit-based, multiage, and bilingual (more English than Japanese). I look forward to working with children and their families from preschool right through the school years.

If you want to learn more or are interested in helping out, please leave a comment on this blog post or contact us through the New Hope Preschool website. We appreciate your prayers, ideas, and any other support you can offer!

December 6, 2010

New Grammar Text - Easy Grammar

T finished with four years' worth of First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mindand we started a new grammar curriculum with him called Easy Grammar. So far, we like it. Other than a few differences in terminology, the transition has been smooth.  It's fairly rigorous without being overwhelming. Unlike First Language Lessons, Easy Grammar isn't scripted for the teacher. That makes it easier for T to do on his own so we can spend our together time on subjects that need more input from me.

We've only been using Easy Grammar for a couple weeks now, so I can't say too much about it from experience. If my impressions change as we continue to use the curriculum, I'll come back and update this post. For a comparison of Easy Grammar and First Language Lessons from someone who has used them both more than I have, see "Easy Grammar Vs. First Language Lessons" at the wonderfully named blog, "Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

December 5, 2010

I Love My Church!

Today was another beautiful Sunday in Tokyo and my family and I enjoyed ourselves at New Hope Narimasu, our local church. This season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a great time to list up the top 10 reasons I am thankful for my church.

  1. God-honoring praise and worship. We have a wonderful worship team that consistently leads us in worship. The focus is always on God, and even when we sing songs I've been singing for years, the worship leaders somehow make them new again.
  2. Practical, biblical sermons. Shintaro Watanabe, our lead pastor, and the other New Hope pastors preach challenging sermons that are simple, applicable, and faithful to scripture.
  3. Friends. Many of my friends at church are people I wouldn't have made friends with except at church. At first, I didn't have much in common with them except our mutual faith, but getting to know them has been a great pleasure.
  4. Friends for my kids. My children's best friends are their church friends. Our church isn't all that big--50-70 people in attendance each week--but we have a LOT of kids. (And more all the time; five babies were born to church members this year.)
  5. Many new Christians. I've been a Christian for most of my life, so I take certain things for granted and tend to fall into predicable churchy patterns of thought, speech and action. The constant influx of new Christians in our church is refreshing and challenges me to think about what I do and why.
  6. The location. 10-minute walk or 5-minute bike ride. We still arrive late sometimes.
  7. Bilingual. This is important to us as a family with two languages.
  8. International. I think there are always at least five nations represented. A taste of heaven where every tribe and tongue will be gathered before God's throne.
  9. Teens. Amazing kids that love Jesus, serve cheerfully, and are great role models for my kids.
  10. Pot-lucks. New Hopers go all out with food.
Doing Church as a Team: The Miracle of Teamwork and How It Transforms Churches
A book by the senior pastor of New Hope Oahu, our church's grandmother church.

December 4, 2010

Pray Daily for Your Children - A 31 Day Prayer Calendar

I've been wanting to pray more regularly and purposefully for my children.  Recently I came across a list of "31 Ways to Pray for Your Children" by Bob Hostetler. I'm going to use the list to pray for my children every day.

Here are the first five days' entries:
  1. salvation "Lord, let salvation spring up within my children, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory" (Isaiah 45:8, 2 Timothy 2:10).
  2. growth in grace "I pray that they may 'grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ'" (2 Peter 3:18).
  3. love "Grant, Lord, that my children may learn to 'live a life of love,' through the Spirit who dwells in them" (Ephesians 5:2, Galatians 5:22).
  4. honesty and integrity "May integrity and honesty be their virtue and their protection" (Psalm 25:21, NLT).
  5. self-control "Father, help my children not to be like many others around them, but let them be 'alert and self-controlled' in all they do" (1 Thessalonians 5:6)

Mr. Hostetler said to feel free to duplicate or improve on his prayer list. I can't improve on it, but I did duplicate it as a calendar in the iCal format. You can view it in your browser with this link. You can add this calendar to any calendar software that supports the iCal format (most do) with this link. I'm having my calendar send me an email every day with that day's pray topic so I remember to pray for my children.

And here is a daily agenda view. It should refresh automatically.

Please let me know in the comments if you find this helpful or if you need help getting the data in a format you can use.

The Power of a Praying® Parent Deluxe Edition

Looking for a Bible reading plan? Here is how I am reading God's word this year.

December 3, 2010

Math Help Online

The web is full of great resources for supplementing our children's regular math curriculum. For example, one of my kids was struggling a bit with place value. Japanese is different from English in that there are words for ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, AND ten-thousands. Then it goes to ten ten-thousands (10,0000), a hundred ten-thousands (100,0000), a thousand ten-thousands (1000,0000), then another word for a hundred million (1,0000,0000), and so on. Add to that the fact that yen are two orders of magnitude different from dollars in value, and you've got guaranteed place value confusion for kids growing up bilingual (and their parents)!

All that to say why we needed extra math help, and how we found some wonderful math resources online. Sal Khan has hundreds of excellent, concise math video lessons, all for free at the Khan Academy. He begins with 1+1=2 and goes right through linear algebra. He has even branched out and done some videos on science, history, finance, and test prep. Here is his first place value video and links to his others. (Click the video to start it. Click it again to see it in a larger size on youtube.)

I'm all for teaching math through fun games like UNO, but sometimes you've just got to crank through a worksheet or two to solidify mastery. has help for several subjects including free math worksheets to cover subjects from pre-K through middle school. I like that you can set the minimum and maximum number of digits. Here are the ones I used for place value.
These are just two of the many, many resources out there. Please share your favorites in the comments.

December 2, 2010

Jewish Feasts and Crafts

In our first nine weeks of homeschooling this year, the kids learned about ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations. They also studied the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) and learned about creation, the calling of the Patriarchs and the Exodus. They learned about the Israelites' wanderings in the wilderness and the institution of the Law through Moses (including fun and meaning-filled feasts). Here are some pictures from the unit.

R's cereal-box ziggurat (the corn meal was meant to be mixed into the paint to add texture. She forgot, then sprinkled it over the top like snow).
A shelter for the Feast of Booths.
A shofar for the Feast of Trumpets.

The kids made a display about Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur.

Breaking unleavened bread (made by T and R) at our Passover feast.

Broken bread at Passover.

T made challah, a bread that is eaten at Sabbath and feasts other than Passover.