Friday, February 17, 2017

Fifty: A September reflection

I've been wearing 50 for a week now.
It feels the same as 49
but not exactly.

Fifty+1 week is not
"Do I have more gray?" or
"Why does my body not work the way it used to."

It is more
"I have fewer years to live than I have lived" and
"What do I want my health to be 10 years from now" and
"Am I making the difference that I dreamed I would make?"

Fifty is
12000 steps a day
3x a week at Primal

wrestling with a vegan lifestyle
Rehydrating chickpeas and making hummus every other day.
Learning what to do with winter melon.

checking on the physical and mental health of my children
counseling my husband on career possibilities
starting a Facebook conversation to activate an intervention for a friend
back home whose alcoholism is damaging her whole life

seeing a spiritual counselor for my soul and shoulder
reading Eckhart Tolle a second time to re-center on the Power of Now
writing a poem about fifty, because I like poetry and want to like 50
understanding my dad just that much more as he turned 80

trying to help a hurt street kitten,
and knowing the best thing for it is to be with its feral mom
seeing a college acquaintance in the semi-finals of Americas Got Talent
staying in touch with family through Skype on the weekends

worrying about climate change and pollution levels in Hong Kong
then reminding myself not to worry - stay PRESENT
valuing mindfulness

loving teaching "Where are you going? Where have you been?"
to seniors who get just as creeped out as I do by the story.

Finding Cat Street antique market on a family outing.
Living in freakin' Hong Kong!  How am I in Hong Kong?
That's so crazy!

Realizing that I don't have a clue what life will bring.
Surrender.
Acceptance.
Being.

Dialogue in the Dark

Last week at this time I was with Mr. Kersten’s freshman Humanities in Action class at Dialogue in the Dark in Hong Kong.  There we were led by someone who is blind - our guide was Andrew - through a completely dark simulation of Hong Kong.

In my small group of six people we walked through a park, through an intersection to a store, past recycle bins and a car, onto a boat for a boat ride, then to a theater, and finally to a cafe where we could order a drink and take it to our table.  It all sounds so simple.  Or maybe it sounds too hard.  I don’t know which.  But we were given a white cane and a guide to take us through the experience kindly.

What I learned that I thought I knew already: It’s dark in the dark!  You have to use other senses like touch and hearing more.  The cane is helpful for letting you know where to go.  The beeping sound in the crosswalk is for the blind to know when to cross.  The corrugated tiles indicate where you are on the sidewalk. 

What I learned that I didn’t already know: You can tell where people are in relation to you, just by their voice.  You can tell if they are standing or seated.  It’s easy to bump into someone even if you have the cane.  You can tell where you are by a combination of sensations (grass under your feet, birds singing, gentle breeze, people talking in the distance).  You can tell which way you are going when you are on a boat, due to the direction of the wind.  Hearing a movie sparks your imagination.  You can give and receive money fairly easily when purchasing.  You can easily drink from a bottle without spilling.  You can keep your balance on something rickety.  You can tell which fruit is which just by touch and smell and size.  You can identify objects by touch - like a life preserver, a car, a bicycle, or a rope.  You can feel the presence of others and enjoy conversation, no differently from the sighted. You can hear the landscape change - like going from a street to grass. 


We spent 67 minutes in the dark with Andrew.  He always would ask where each of us was and then he knew where we were and where we were in relation to our surroundings.  For example, he warned me about a wastebasket nearby.  When we finished, he entertained questions in the light.  We could see him, but he was still living in the dark.  Amazing.   

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Dog named Rigby, formerly known as Bill

Rigby, the dog formerly known as Bill, is now seven.  He's a chow muttt who is cinnamon brown from top to bottom, including his eyes and nose.  We adopted him a year ago from Hong Kong dog rescue where he had been a resident for three years.  We could tell he was a sweetheart with a gentle disposition, so that and a high recommendation for him as an adoptee who could easily adjust to a cat were enough for us.

I find it ironic that the most well-behaved dog we've owned had lived outside of a family situation for three years.  I don't know why he's so good, but he is.  Mostly.

First of all, Rigby knows how to walk.  He walks beside me without pulling.  He can be let off the leash and will stay close by, come when called, and stand still to have the leash reapplied.  He is attentive and eager to please.  He's easy around other dogs who are in good balance, and defers to my "alpha-ness" around dogs who are too hyper or aggressive.  So he is always a pleasure to walk.

He doesn't bark.  He doesn't enter rooms that he shouldn't enter.  He doesn't jump up on beds or couches.  He doesn't steal food off the counter.  He doesn't snap at anyone or get upset when you are near his dish.  He doesn't wake you up in the middle of the night needing to go out.  (Although he does snore.)  He also doesn't lick you, though that part I wish he would do.  He's just an all around great companion.

He has been learning over the course of this last year to "be a dog", that is to say, to play.  It took him quite awhile to play with Jigs our cat, but now he chases or bats playfully at Jigs almost every day.  At first he didn't know what to do with a kong, but he has now figured out it is fun to try to get the treat out.  He still doesn't have a clue about what to do with a ball.

For a long time I thought he was a bit stupid because he would always stop at the wrong floor of our apartment building when we would return from a walk.  I couldn't imagine why he couldn't figure out we live two floors up, not one.  But my understanding of his intelligence quotient increased dramatically when he started having separation anxiety and proceeded to figure out how to escape from our apartment.  Somehow - and I still have not witnessed this in person - he manages to pull the handle down and in just enough to wiggle the door open and escape.  From there he pushes a second door and takes the flight of steps leading to either outside or more flights of stairs which take him to the apartment of a dog-friend of his.

Once he started escaping, we had to figure out how to stop him and change his behavior.  It took months, literally.  We were at our wits end, really, days away from taking him back to the rescue center, when something finally worked!  Pheromones.   I bought a diffuser that secretes mommy-dog pheromones which keep puppies calm.  After attempts at crate training, noise training, tying him to a door handle indoors, and I don't know what-all, these invisible pheromones seem to have done the trick.

I'm quite grateful for that.  Yes, we have a two damaged doors and one damaged piece of furniture from Rigby's days of insanity, but hopefully that is all behind us now.  I'm hoping we have him around for many years to come.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Hong Kong DMV: You decide

Well, I got my license.  In Hong Kong.  Actually I now have valid licenses in the US, Korea, and Hong Kong.  My Hong Kong license required no driver's test nor even a picture, but it did require MUCH patience.

Trip 1:  Brent was hot to go get our licenses so we could begin driving our new used car.  It was about one week before summer vacation would begin and I had a late afternoon class that day.  "Let's go at 10 AM; I'm sure we can get back before your 1:50 class," he said optimistically.  It's the DMV, I thought, highly unlikely that we will be able to do this.  But against my better judgment I went.  Brent had filled out all my paperwork and made sure I had my Wisconsin license and HKID card along so everything would go smoothly.  We rode the half hour to the city and to the government building in Admiralty.  We wound our way up escalators and down long hallways following signs until we landed on floor 3: licensing for motor vehicles.  Here we were ushered into a line of about 20 people all waiting to do the same thing.  Not bad, until I timed the people going up to few open windows for this task, about 9 minutes each.  I did the math and determined there was no way I would make it to the front of the line AND back to class in time.  Brent convinced me to stay as long as I could, which I did.  But after about two hours of standing in line and little progress, I told him, "You stay and see if you can process my information for me.  I gotta go."  I took a taxi back.  Brent later reported he was there four hours and another trip still needed to be made.  I said I would do it.

Tally: 2 hours total at the DMV.

Trip 2: Four days later.  I headed into the city at 10 AM with a few errands and a 3 PM massage scheduled back in Stanley.  I thought I had plenty of time.  But no!  After a quick lunch I headed to the DMV.  Back down the winding white hallway and into the expansive space.  This time my line was 60 people long.  Truth!  I did the math.  Three minutes each, a few windows open.  Things were moving along and I had everything I needed with me so it should be about an hour to get through the line and out, I figured.  Wrong!  Yes, the line moved along at a good pace; I hadn't been too far off in my prediction.  Fifty minutes in line waiting.  The problem began when I got to the window and the lady there wasn't satisfied with my paperwork - again - because I needed a government statement with our names and addresses or a bank statement with names and address.  And they needed to be recent!  My document of proof was too old and I could therefore not pick up our licenses.  Could I find my bank statement on my phone?  I tried at the window for about 10 minutes, then exited the line and desperately called Brent to find it and email it my way.  He cursed on the other end and said he would try.  The woman had given me a ticket that would get me in the short line at window 43 when I was ready.  Soon enough Brent emailed me what I needed, so I proceeded to the line at window 43 where everyone was a "special case".  We were going on 2:15 about now.  I needed to get out of here by 2:30 to make my massage appointment, which I was feeling more desperate for as each moment passed.  Finally I made it to the window, phone in hand with my bank statement on the screen.  "I guess I need this to complete getting our licenses," I told the woman.  She took a look at it and said, "Can you print this?"  You have got to be kidding me!  "I don't have access to a printer," I said, stating the obvious.  "There is a Photomax on the second floor. Try them," she said to me, dismissing me and giving eye contact to the next person in line.  I took a deep breath and headed for the Photomax I remembered from a previous escapade in this building when I needed to come to the Indian Embassy three times before getting my entry Visa.  So, I waited in line at the Photomax for my turn to ask the question.  Time was ticking and I was getting real fed up.  "Can you print something from email?" I asked the woman working.  "No, sorry," she said," I would need it on a USB stick."  A man in the shop, who had also been sent down from the DMV line 43 said, "I believe there is a print shop elsewhere in the building.  Should be easy to find."  "Thanks," I said and left.  From there I knew it was hopeless, there was no way I was going to find this print shop, get back up to the DMV and get our licenses and still make my appointment.  Screw it!  I need the massage more than ever now!  So I left, determined to come back a third time to finish the job.

Tally: 4 hours total at the DMV.

Trip 3: Well, Brent had had to leave for London, but I had assured him I would go back to the DMV and get both his license and mine before I left for the summer.  He had made copies of his passport and HKID and printed the proof of address that we had needed.  And so I set out again, on the half hour taxi ride, up the escalator to the third floor and down the winding white hallway to THE ROOM. Well, let's see.  I still have the ticket that gets me in the short line for "special cases."  I asked a guard if I could use it and he said yes.  That's good luck.  Maybe today is my day!  I waited in the line for only 20 minutes this time and made it to the window documents in order.  "Hi," I said.  "I'm here to pick up a license for my husband and me," I added thrusting the documents in her direction.  She looked through them with a stoic face.  "And where is your letter with original signature?" she inquired.  "What do you mean?"  "Well, you have copies of your husband's HKID and passport.  You need a letter with his original signature giving you permission to pick up his license.  See, here, on the instructions [in the fine print]?"  "I see," I said, defeated.  There was no fighting it.  There was simply NO HOPE I was going to get Brent's license for him.  And by the time we would get back from the summer, he wouldn't have valid documents anymore and would need to start over from the beginning.  "Okay.  Just give me my license then, please."  "Sure.  You just need to wait over there for an hour for it to process."  "Right."

One hour and a half hours later. . .  "Brenda Brayko?"  My license didn't even have my picture on it!

Tally: 6 total hours at the DMV and one out of two licenses received.

Post script: It turns out Brent had much better luck than I on his last and final trip to the DMV upon arriving back in Hong Kong.  He did fill all the paperwork out again in anticipation of starting over from scratch.  But, upon telling the teller that he is the "Associate Principal for Teaching and Learning at HKIS" and that he "cannot take another day off of work waiting for my license."  The woman actually spoke to her supervisor who expedited matters, getting him his license in one hour!  So, the lesson is. . . make yourself sound important to get things done.  Or is it, be male?  Or both?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Just Walking the Dog . . . in Hong Kong!

In Hong Kong there are a few places I can walk our dog Rigby.  The most frequent route is a 25-30 minute walk around Red Hill, a one-mile road that is one big circle.  The sidewalks shift from narrow to wide and the view shifts from sloped and maintained mountain, to beautiful distant mountains with inlet ocean water dotted with bobbing yachts, to 20 story blond brick apartments with a view of the mountains and water where some colleagues live, to 5 story pastel condos that cost $10,000 per month to rent, minimum.  On this route we meet many other dogs being walked on leash by their owner's helpers, mostly Philippina women who are likely to greet us "Hello, Mom."  The dogs range in size from golden retriever to jack russell and are either guided to the opposite side or take a moment to sniff each other in choice areas.  The women pick up droppings with newspaper and put it in the bins along the road designated specifically for dog poo.  Rigby, a milk-chocolate chow mongrel rescued from Hong Kong Dog Rescue, walks with a spring in his 6 year-old step and sniffs as often as I will let him.  He likes to back up against the slope on grassy areas to do his business.  Depending on the time of year we may come home wet from the humidity even though the route is leisurely.

Another, and even more breath-taking route I like to take, but less often, goes down to Tai Tam village.  First Rigby and I take the elevator from 7th to the 5th floor exit of our building, then down a series of four flights of stairs past the middle school campus, the track, the landscaped flowers, and the guard off of the grounds.  From there we wind down a paved country-road until we reach the water's edge.  This is a bay off of the ocean.  It is dotted with yachts to fishing boats floating equidistance from one another on the dark blue, quiet water.  We go left on the road with the sea inlet on our right and jungle underbrush and trees and a bit of trash on our left.  After a few more minutes we will hit the edge of Tai Tam village.  When I am alone I like to walk through the village and look at the gardens, the banana trees, the stone homes stacked up into the hillside with cemented in windows on the street level and signs of interesting water sports gear like kayaks and paddle boards.  But when I'm with Rigby we turn back here because there are a few street dogs that are quite territorial and Rigby is afraid of them.  They bark too loud and tend to growl or follow you, making you uncomfortable.

A third route is to take Country Road Park. This is the most beautiful of all.  This one begins just a few minutes past the middle school guarded gate where the guard always smiles and says hello.  We walk up an incline past drivers in Mercedes and Cadillac vans waiting for school kids when the day is done.  They are parked all along and on the sidewalk so that we are forced to walk on the road instead.  After crossing busy Tai Tam Road we reach the entrance of the Park.  Here there is a waterfall on the left, (really it's the run-off from rain and mountain water cascading down a cement stair from the catchment above).  On the right there is an amazing view of a 100 year old one-and-a-half lane bridge straddling a freshwater reservoir which begins where we are and ends below a dam just on the other side of Tai Tam village.  The reservoir reminds me of a Wisconsin lake, except because it is a reservoir the capacity ebbs and flows with seasonal rain and runoff and there are humans allows on or in the water.  Recently, with all the rain, the reservoir is filling again, so there is maybe only one meter of exposed red clay sloped beneath the jungle trees which line the water and seem to go on forever, turning into misty mountains stacked on top one another.    On a very ambitious day, Rigby and I could walk all the way over the mountain and into the city of Hong Kong.  The entire route would be paved black and wide and we would see dozens of people along the way making the long trek up or down the mountain.  But usually we just walk one hour; this takes us past three different BBQ picnic areas, over several bridges with the view of the pristine reservoir, and through the tree-lined, spider infested jungle.  Here large dogs are usually off leash, well-behaved as they greet each other and Rigby.  Singles, couples, families, expats, Cantonese, Chinese all come here to enjoy the walk, the hike, the picnic spots, or the view.  We might run into a bride and groom on a wedding shoot.  If we are ambitious there are many off-shoot trails we could take, some paved, some not.

Finally, there is the catchment trail.  This is a trail that takes about 5 minutes to reach.  It's entrance lies across Tai Tam Road just past our public bus stop.  One must climb up like a child (and on the return, jump down) to get to the long narrow stairs which take you to the catchment.  Turn left and you will eventually arrive at Stanley, our nearest town.  Turn right, and you will reach a stair leading down to Country Road Park and next to that waterfall I spoke of.  The catchment is a concrete ditch designed to catch the water run-off from the mountain.  Along one side is the sloped mountain rising twice to three times as high as the Southwestern hills of Wisconsin.  On the other side the concrete continues as a narrow sidewalk meant for repair workers to easily reach the catchment.  We use it to walk.  The views are beautiful up there.  At points the view overlooks the ocean and our nearby local Turtle Cove beach.  At points it overlooks the school and nearby Red Hill Plaza.  At points all you see is bushes, trees, flowers, butterflies, and huge spiders pressing in on you.  Much of the time there are metal railings, sometimes there are not.  Such a trail is perfect for letting your dog off leash to sniff and walk or trot as he pleases.  Here we spend about 30 minutes walking and enjoying the smells and the view, but NOT the spiderwebs that invisibly crisscross the trail and which cling to my arms and legs as I pass by.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Kids stories

As always, having kids can mean heartwarming moments and hair pulling moments.  I've got one of each to share.

First, the heartwarming one.

My fifth grader and I made sugar cookies recently.  He enjoys baking sometimes and was thrilled when there were enough cookies to share with his classmate.  "Mom, can I take cookies to school for my classmates?"  Me: Sure.  Just check with your teacher.  Him: I know!  I could pack little cookie snacks for our class walk-about in two days.  Me: Perfect!  My son proceeded to package ziplock bags of three cookies each and each labeled with the student group names for the walk-about.  He did this all on his own without any help from me.  He put all the bags into his backpack for the next day.  I was so proud of him.

Upon returning from school the next day I inquired about how his classmates enjoyed the cookies.  With just a hint of a downcast face he said, "I never gave them to them."  "Why?"  "Because they all got crushed in my backpack."  And with that, he took out the Ziplocks.  Oh!  Such a sad, sad sight, all those crumbs.  I felt so bad!  He was so thoughtful and giving and spent time and care preparing the snack packs, all to no avail.  But he didn't seem too phased, he shrugged, sat down on the couch and logged onto his computer to play a game.

I was very proud of my thoughtful, independent, kind son that day.

Second, the hair-pulling one.

So, my daughter decided that her passion project for school would be to create an auquaponics system similar to one her science class had made last year.  Over the course of several weeks we collected all the needed components like a plastic bin, gold fish, clay beads, net pots, styrofoam slab and plants. The day came for her assemble it all.  I happened to step out when she decided to move forward with the potting the plants phases.  This happened to involve removing the plants from soil pots to replant them in the clay beads. Sounds easy enough and logical enough, but to a thirteen year old brain. . . Not so much.  Her logic told her to loosen the roots from the soil by soaking them in water. . . In the bathtub!

I arrived home to a tornadic disaster in her bathroom which involved a gazillion little styrofoam beads and potting soil over everything.  But the best moment was when I pulled back the shower curtain (mom, we have a little problem).  The bathtub was full of black water deep enough for a luxurious mud bath.  That was the point where she handed me the drain stopper with, "For some reason it's not draining."

(Deep breath.  Count to ten.) 

What are you thinking, Mom?  Say something.

These are going to be the most expensive green peppers I have ever eaten.   Okay,  let's get a pail and you can start bailing over the balcony.

And that's what she did.

Two hours, sixty trips to the balcony,and a gallon of liquid plumber later the bathroom was good as new.


Repotting 101:  don't soak roots in the bathtub to remove soil. 




"My husband is Otterbox"

June 12th

An anecdote.

I am on my usual morning walk around Red Hill.  I have my phone in hand, earbuds in listening to a book.  During my walk I leave our lovely 3 bedroom apartment to stroll past much larger and expensive condominiums overlooking the South China Sea on the southern part of Hong Kong Island.  Perhaps it is only here in this neighborhood that my story can take place.

As I said, I was walking with my phone in hand when a black Mercedes past me, slowed and stopped.  Seeing a Mercedes is not unusual, but seeing one stop and having a woman get out and approach me is.  She wore expensive yoga clothes and carried a small box in her hand.

"Hello," she began.  "I noticed you are carrying your phone and don't have an armband."  

"That's true," I said, puzzled.

"Oh.  Have you heard of Otterbox?"

"Sure." 

"Well," she said, "my husband is Otterbox and we are promoting our latest product, an armband for phones and iPods.  Would you like one?"  She held out the small box.

"Sure!  Thank you very much," I stuttered.

"No problem," she finished, turned and walked to her car to drive away.

My phone is Otterbox?  Only in Hong Kong!