Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mother's Day Tributes

It's Mother's Day.  So, of course I think about the fact that I am a mother - for 13 years now.  I also think about my mother and the mother figures in my life.  I have been blessed to have women who are my elders wherever I have gone.  These women have guided me and shown me through their example what it is to be a woman.  They have modeled love, joy, grace, relationship, health, spirituality, and generosity.

Mom.  Love.  I was blessed with a mother who has and does model love.  Mom's love manifests as giving.  Giving often and much. Mom taught me to love words and learning.  She enjoys contributing to her community - for many years as a teacher and still a worker-bee behind the scenes of various organizations to keep them running smoothly.  She is a planner and a list-maker.  She taught me the satisfaction of checking things off a list. But she also taught me to love the Lord and believe in that which is greater than things of this earthly existence.  She modeled self-advocacy and gracefulness in the face of adversity.  In her later years she tenaciously has maintained a routine to keep her physical body as healthy as it can be, stubbornly keeping several ailments at bay.  She laughs easily, cares for those who are underdogs, outsiders, outcasts, or "other".  She has modeled life-long learning, in part persistently engaging with technology as a Facebook, email, and Skype user.

Joan. Strength.  In life and in dying Joan was strong.  A quiet woman and joyous in much of her quiet endeavors, my mother-in-law always welcomed me into the family and into her life.  She was widowed twice and found the courage to seek love a third time.  She loved and accepted love.  She allowed life to be what it was going to be, the good and bad, the mundane and the miraculous.  Her life taught me to believe in miracles.

Kathy. Relationship.  It was through Kathy's motherly presence I was able to transition from a high school student to an independent college student.  Kathy was a working woman in charge of hormonal 17 - 21 year-olds in the cafeteria dishroom. She showed me through example what it was to be a leader in the workplace and what respect between supervisor and worker looked like.  Kathy provided the adult presence I longed for as I was acclimating to this thing called adulthood.  For many years after, I would always seek Kathy out when I would return to alumni events on campus.  I was always greeted with a big smile and a hug, no matter how busy she was with the new crew of young 'uns.

Bonnie. Connection.  I considered her a bit of a parental figure in my early 20's.  It may surprise you to know that Bonnie and Joe owned a bar that I frequented "back in the day."  Joe and Bonnie were always present in their little bar whenever my crew arrived to play pool and have a drink.  She kept a keen eye on me to make sure I was safe and smart in my encounters with the guys in the group.  I knew she had my back.

Karen and Lisa.  Respect.  Karen and Lisa  were mentors and friends throughout my teaching career. We met when I was a new teacher and they were about 7-10 years in.  I thought they were so wise and had it all together! And they did.  I admired their professionalism, interactions with students, and creative minds. They were and are still rare gems demonstrating true collegiality. I learned from Karen and Lisa what it was to be a professional of integrity.  They treated "the newbie" with as much respect as the "old guard."  Soon enough both were a good friends, too.  In that capacity I was especially drawn to observing Karen in the role of wife and mother.  She shared openly her journey as a mother of three.  I admired her relationship with her husband which is open, loving, full of music and able to handle the trials life set in their way.  Now I continue to cherish these wonderful ladies' friendship and watch their journeys in retirement.

Carolyn. Fun-loving. Carolyn is one of those larger-than-life master teachers who every student knows and loves.  "Mrs. Brown's brownies" were legendary at the school where I spent 17 years of my career. Carolyn blew in on a breeze from "Hoffman" Estates and changed the entire culture at our school with her vision, presence and stories.  I still think about Carolyn's interactions with students when I think about who I want to be. Her energy, compassion, interest, understanding, and joyous presence is a great example.

Maureen.  Healthy. When I went overseas after over 20 years of teaching, I landed in Korea.  There I found an amazing colleague just finishing her career.  A Canadian abroad, Maureen and her husband brought "home" with them wherever they went.  They hosted Christmas caroling parties and happily took us on hikes.  Maureen's eating habits were entirely different from others I had seen from her generation. She introduced me to things like quinoa, chia and hemp seeds, steel cut oats, and homemade energy balls.  She hiked, worked out regularly and generally took amazing care of herself. Maureen provided an example of what a balanced life could be.

Patricia. Spiritual. I'd never met anyone quite like Patricia.  Still teaching elementary music at 70, she had a spiritual center and meditative practice that spoke to me.  Patricia led a meditative yoga class for women that I attended.  She then introduced me to teaching to North Korean refugee women in Seoul.  In every session she would honor and love the women through song, word, encouragement and prayer. Patricia has served as a spiritual teacher through her example.

Janet. Energy.  Perhaps I thought that aging meant slowing down.  Janet refutes such a perception through her example.  She's still teaching in her 70's, providing wisdom, clarity, and humor to the craft.  She also is an inspiration in her health habits.  Eating well and exercising, including working out several times a week with a trainer in Primal.  She shows me up most of the time but also provided the inspiration to get started in the first place.  If she can be that healthy so can I.

I honor the women who have shown me the way.  Who will you guide with your good example? Who will I have influenced as a teacher, mentor and guide?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Fifty: A February reflection

"Year of Brenda" unfolding

Understanding . . .
the Dark and the Dark places
frequencies and the frequencies of Life
the power of Now and presence
honor, respect and Love one another in marriage
mental health and mental illness
nutrition and how food works
climate change

Being. . .
beautiful and adorning myself beautifully
strong and balanced

Knowing. . .
my Purpose
the truth of my Self
the truth of my God
the Truth, the Way, the Life
the Kingdom of God
the true Light
the Christ
the Word

Lessons from 1982

One of the lowest and transformative times of my life was the late summer and fall of 1982.  I had just spent the most amazing week in SanAntonio Texas at the Lutheran Youth Gathering with 16,000 young Christians and I had been on top of the world.  But as soon as I was finished with that amazing week, my family moved from a city in Wisconsin to our new community, a small town in Iowa - population 1600 - a place with two stop signs and no stop lights.  SMALL. And new.  And lonely.

It was the beginning of my sophomore year in high school.  I had left everything behind in Wisconsin - a strong group of girlfriends, a boyfriend, routines and customs and places that I knew intimately and loved dearly.  And I had arrived in new town where everyone knew everyone and had known everyone since birth. . . and no one knew me.  I was a novelty - a girl from "the city" and "the preacher's daughter".  I didn't know what maid-rites were or how to intone words the right way.  I had left a place where I had become known and respected for my academic achievements, my ability to sing, my laughter and joy, and my friendship and good counsel.  But here, no one knew me; I had no friends, no one to turn to me for counsel, no laughter, no joy, no desire to sing.

Going from the top to the bottom and back out of it again was tough.  Really tough.  But it shaped me in ways that I still value.

I discovered what it was to be an outsider and I gained compassion for outsiders.
To this day, I seek out those who are new and pour my heart into making them know they are welcomed.

I learned the desolation of loneliness but found my faith grew deeper in that place.
To this day, I know that no matter what the circumstance, I am loved by a Father God who carries me when I am unable to walk on my own.

I learned that to make friends I could reach out to others first and not wait for them to come to me.
To this day, I credit the courage and confidence that I have to those days of high school when I had to make new friends out of nothing at all.

I gained an understanding of my Self and my talents.  By having to start all over again with no reputation, I was able to discover that I COULD sing well, that I WAS a strong academic, that I DID love reading and writing and playing piano.  I DID believe in God.
To this day I still sing, learn, read, write, play and believe.

I learned to accept gifts from others.  It was hard being helpless - not knowing where something was, what the routine was, how to build a friendship, how to do the most basic of things.
But to this day, I realize that I can accept the graciousness of others, so I do not refuse what is offered.

I came to understand that distance does not mean anything but a physical separation; it doesn't have the power to sever the connection hearts make with one another.
To this day, I have maintained close friendships with people from high school, college, and several cities I have lived in over the years.  

I learned that wherever I go, I take family with me.
To this day, my parents and sister are a grounding force to me.

And I learned that sometimes life trials will hit me.  And they can hit hard.
But I get to decide how I will approach it: with fear or courage, despair or hope.

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.

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?