Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas 2017 greetings

December 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

May your Christmas and New Year be blessed.

The Braykos continue life in Hong Kong, now in our fourth year there and our eighth year abroad.  Adam is now a sophomore and 16.  Alec is 13 and in 8th grade.  Brenda continues teaching juniors and seniors English at 80%, working with Forensics and Theater clubs.  Brent continues as Associate Principal of Teaching and Learning and working on school accreditation teams.  We all travel with school events occasionally (more on that shortly).  Our dog Rigby, a fluffy rescue that resembles a bear, is now 8.  And our cat Jigs is 7.  Hong Kong has been good to us.  We love the beauty and quiet of the South side of Hong Kong island which resembles the French Riviera.  It’s just a half hour to get to the cityscape of Hong Kong, with its Time Square high end shopping and plethora of international restaurant choices and view of Victoria Harbor.

Travel this year took us hither and yon - Alec to Thailand, Brent to Morocco, Brenda to China, the whole family to Cancun, Mexico.  In the summer we headed back to the US where Adam went to Art Camp for the first time and worked with ceramics; Alec went to a more traditional camp with a friend from the Madison area, and we all spent a week in Minoqua at a lake cabin with Brent’s brothers and family.

The summer was busy with visits to family and friends, as usual.  We always count our blessings when we are welcomed home by loved ones.  This summer we knew it was time to reorganize our “stuff” which was stored in pods and loved ones basements.  We knew this would mean garage sales.  We didn’t know it would mean three garage sales and the purchase of a house in Green Bay!  But that is what happened.  When a house comes to you after seven years of living nomadic summers, you take it.  We closed on our three bedroom home near Lambeau field the end of September!  And we are in the process of moving in now as we are back in Wisconsin for the holidays.  The house is small and perfect for our needs.  It has been “like Christmas” opening boxes of our possessions that have been in storage for more than seven years.  Ah, memories!

Personal highlights includes the conclusion of Brenda’s “Year of Brenda” as she declared it - a time to reset her mental, spiritual, and physical Self for her next 50 years.  It was a phenomenal year of learning and growth.  Part of the growth took place at a three day Spiritual retreat at a retreat center in Hong Kong which both Brenda and Brent attended.  (I would recommend Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth and Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward for anyone wanting to explore their spirituality at a new level.)

Adam continues to embrace veganism, running, and the creative arts and has added writing short stories for public viewing to this list of achievements.  One of his stories online has surpassed 1300 views!  He also plays guitar.  By far, Adam’s biggest news is the furthering of his transition from female to male with top surgery, which took place just a few weeks ago in Madison, WI.  Recovery is going quite well but it will be months before we know the final results after healing.  After living through many ups and downs, Adam now finds himself counseling others through their own difficult paths.  We are proud of him.

Alec continues to enjoy gaming (especially Minecraft) and speaking in interesting accents (Russian, British, Aussie), but has also made clear strides in vocal music.  He has built confidence this past year, singing in the leadership team at church with his parents for example.  This has led to a fabulous debut at the recent choir concert singing in an acapella quartet (a Pentatonix song) and taking a lead role in the Christmas musical at church.  He also is taking a leadership role in the Pick the Lock club at school (a math-related club).  He is a level-headed young man who makes friends easily and knows how to maintain them.  We are proud of him.

Brent continues being a phenomenal leader at HKIS and is enjoying working with our new high school principal.  He works with a personal trainer to stay in shape.  He loves a good massage and good friends and food.  He keeps the family organized and is a great husband and father.

Christmas letters are good at providing the highlights of life (much like social media) and not so good at expressing the ups and downs that come with living the life of a human being.  But we’ve had our share of those too.  We welcome more intimate conversations with you anytime, those that invite not only smiles but tears as well.  

May you be well. May you be happy.  May you be peaceful.  May you be loved.

The Braykos

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

Wearing Fifty (a poem)

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 kid's 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.