Let the Hope Shine

About a year ago, on the way to visit my 90-year old uncle in the hospital, I stopped at a coffee shop. While waiting for my mocha, I glanced at the shop’s bulletin board and saw a flyer from The Spread Sunshine Gang with the invitation to take what I needed: COURAGE, KINDNESS, HOPE, GRATITUDE, HUMOR, JOY or PEACE.

I chose HOPE.

When I got to the hospital, I passed it on to my aunt even though I knew she didn’t really need it because she—a lifelong Catholic—has her faith.

But me? I’m always seeking reasons to hope.

So, when I got home I signed up for the Spread Sunshine Gang’s newsletter. It now arrives in my inbox every few weeks, a welcome reminder that our Land of 10,000 Lakes is filled with people eager to share their goodness in creative ways and inspire others to do the same.  

In addition to their coffee shop flyers, the group’s recent acts of kindness include hosting a holiday party for seniors, participating in a Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics and decorating Loring Park with warm, colorful (and free-for-the-taking!) hats, scarves and mittens.

Their “sunshine” has inspired me to spread my own. Here are three lessons I’ve learned along the way:

Lesson No. 1: Small gestures can have a big impact. Take a smile, for instance. It costs me nothing to give yet can brighten a complete stranger’s day.

Lesson No. 2: Kindness comes in all shapes and sizes. One day it may arrive as a bouquet of bright orange tulips. On another as a warm hug from a friend, an out-of-the-blue postcard from a relative or an unexpected compliment from a colleague.

Lesson No. 3: Communicating love doesn’t require words. This afternoon, I’ll be visiting my uncle and aunt once again. He has recovered enough to be living back at home but spends most afternoons sitting beside my aunt at the assisted-living facility where she now lives after having suffered a stroke.

She won’t be able to say more than a few words, but the way her eyes light up when she sees me fills the room with sunshine and my heart with hope.

Je M’appelle Frisque

My grandparents’ families came from places like Walhain-St. Paul, Incourt, Nievelles, Tourinne-St. Lambert, and Huldenberg in Walloon Brabant, Belgium. Impacted by the same potato famine that brought many Irish to the United States, the Belgians made their way to Wisconsin communities with names like Brussels, Tonet, Namur, Luxemburg, and Walhain. The homes they left had been clustered in an area about forty miles wide. The farm towns they carved out of tree-covered land, almost four thousand miles across an ocean and half a continent, were about the same distance apart.

When I was a child I spoke some Walloon, a nearly forgotten language, with my Belgian-American great-grandmother and her friends as they quilted in our living room. We ate Belgian farm food like jut, a boiled cabbage side dish, stoemp, a mashed potato and cabbage dish, trippe, a bratwurst-type sausage, booyah, a chicken-based soup with many ingredients, and Belgian pie, a sweet dough tart filled with prunes and a cream cheese style top. Our Catholic church held a Kermis celebration in autumn. Beyond jokes about how much Belgians sweat or drank or were short, maybe stout, that’s about what I knew of our heritage. All the amazing accomplishments of the Belgians or their art or chocolates were from a different socio-economic part of the country.

My mother’s cousin and my father’s cousin researched family trees. Through the Frisque genealogy I discovered that my family was related to many, many people in Luxemburg, Wisconsin, the small town where my father grew up and we lived through part of my childhood. The Nockaert family information uncovered that my mother was mostly Belgian although she believed she was German. Names, dates, locations, relations fill pages. That’s it. The Belgian Heritage Center in Namur, Wisconsin may provide information to further the cousins’ research.

The histories of these people, who permanently left all they knew for 40 acres of land and a better future, are probably lost forever. But this summer we are going to visit Belgium, specifically Walloon Brabant, and trace what is left of our Cravillion, Frisque, Nockaert, and VanderKelen ancestors. They were all small farmers who left Belgium in the mid 1850s so there is probably little left of their lives beyond cemetery headstones.

We have nothing physical from their lives in Belgium and little expectation of connecting with other great-great-great grandchildren of the original immigrants. But one can always hope.

Genealogy

 

 

 

 

 

Beth Does Yoga sortof

One-Legged downward facing dog

I’m a shadow of my former self is my first thought. I correct myself. No, Beth. You’ve never been graceful, subtle or smoothly moving. You are more of a lumbering sort, moving in a slow, heavy awkward way.

Class members are in an Eagle pose. Instead

of looking like the king of the birds, I have my hand reaching out to the beam support to keep my posture upright and my foot touching the ground, so I won’t fall over. Even with that help I am in danger of tipping.

Balance and Flex Together at the YMCA incorporates Yoga, Pilates and athletic training for balance, mobility, flexibility and core.

Sunday morning and I’m here with a mix of men and women. By the end of class, many will wonder why I’m here. I’m doing them a service as it will become clear that I’m the worst in the class.

My goal is to make it 55 minutes to the end part where we lay on our mat and meditate.

The class moves to a lotus pose. I stretch my legs straight. I’m not able to sit cross-legged due to my inflexibility. Class members don’t know that I’ve have had both of my knees replaced. The only hint is my yoga pants with Twin City Orthopedics stitched to the front. Who knew that you would get swag with a knee replacement?

Maybe class members think that I just don’t like following directions. That’s true too. But, once on the floor it will take me some time to figure how to get back up and it will not be graceful.

The class moves to a cat pose. Since this entails being on your knees, I move to the dolphin plank pose instead. Fluidly the group shifts from one pose to another. I alternate between the plank and downward-facing dog. Eventually, the class will meet me there.

I’m a lesson to others that they don’t have to follow along with the instructor and that they can make this class into anything they want. Indeed, it will at times look like I’m in a totally different class than them.

I’m also an example of how not to be embarrassed but a demonstration of positive thinking that anyone can strive to develop harmony in the body and mind.

On Monday, I will take my lumbering self to a Pilates reformer class. Overall strength, flexibility, coordination and balance are my goals. As well as not hurting myself.

Gracefulness is not on the list.

 

Still Winter (Don’t Read This Cranky Blog)

Let’s see. It’s still winter. I’m done with it, but it’s not done with us. No use complaining (but that’s not stopping me). Weather isn’t personal. The same rain/snow/slush falls on all of us. The same ice clumps chunk off our tires. We drive the same roads that are scabby with ice or as slippery as Crisco.

Impeachment rages on and on. We know how this will end but the players must follow the script anyway.

No wonder I obsess about clay. I revel in the small personal thrill of throwing porcelain for the first time in years. Voilà! A small vessel I hope to make into an old-fashioned perfume bottle. Not to hold perfume. Just because I like the idea of them.

Maybe I’ll make stoneware wine goblets next. The sturdy kind without stems. Or stoneware tumblers for iced tea and mojitos with fresh mint. Mint that I’ll pinch from a plant in next summer’s garden.

Why not stoneware flower pots? That’s genius! When I’m not a potter, I’m a gardener. I could bring together two of my passions.

What about platters and bowls with sayings? Hmmm. I hate art that exhorts me to Live! Love! Laugh! Shut up, I think, even though I do want to live, love, and laugh. Isn’t stamping Ellen-isms into clay at odds with that? Too bad. I’m doing it.

 

I’ve been holed up in the pottery studio with my potter’s wheel spinning fast. It corkscrews my focus tighter and tighter until all I see is the lump of clay that I’m forcing to be centered. Even though it resists, throwing off stray blobs and splashes of watery clay.

Hours pass. My back and shoulders ache.

Weeks pass.

Now when I leave the studio at 5:15, it’s light out. The big wheel of the seasons is also turning. Slowly, slowly, but turning. Bringing me back to center.

 

When Your Kids’ Bucket List Becomes Yours

Nihongo wa hanasemasen (I don’t speak Japanese).

Japan was not on my bucket list. It wasn’t a longing. If someone would have said to me, “Are you ever going to travel to Japan?” I probably would have responded with, “Why would I do that?”

Now that plane tickets have been purchased and dates marked off our calendar, Juan and Crystel argue about who brought up the idea of traveling to Japan first.

Regardless of who did, Crystel gets the credit for selling the idea. She used a PowerPoint presentation to further promote her position. Crystel titled her demo, “What to Do on Our Japan Trip,” as if we had already bought the goods. She meticulously moved through each of her 29 slides, and many had links for further description. Such as, the pros and cons of staying in a Capsule hotel, hostel, or Ryokan. She could be a tour guide, I thought, as she described how she separated Japan into four destinations: city side, country side, Juan’s animé side, and beach side.

Japan is an island country that is seventy percent mountainous. Mountains and valleys split the land. It was her photos of Japan’s stunning coastal scenery and untouched countryside landscapes that began to sway me. She was easily making Japan an attractive destination. A hankering began to flicker.

It wasn’t long before Crystel and I were on the couch, side by side, researching the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. She would plan our day to day activities, and I would secure the lodgings. You might think that I would be scared about letting a teen plan our pursuits. I admit to some trepidation. My unease fell away after I saw her ensuing PowerPoint presentation: an itinerary for Tokyo, Mount Fuji, and Gero. She had our schedule mapped from place to place. Each locale more beautiful than the last. She even planned an alternate choice for Jody and me while she and Juan visited Akihabara, the center of gaming, manga and animé culture in Tokyo.

Our three-week trip to Japan will close with seven days in the tiny fishing village of Asobi on the Tango peninsula. The peninsula is located on the Japan sea coast, allowing us to take day trips to Kyoto and the surrounding area. Crystel will enjoy planning trips to beaches, hot springs, and Kyoto. I’ve already downloaded the paperwork for an international driver’s license as Tango is most easily explored by car.

Crystel said she wanted to visit Japan because of the culture, Juan because of animé, and Jody because she didn’t want to be left at home. That’s not the all of it, she enjoys adventure as I do, and I stack them up when I plan our exploits. Now we have a daughter who is eager to explore as well.

Traveling together, enjoying new experiences together, that’s the best kind of bucket list.