Happy Father’s Day – Thanks for the Swimming Lesson
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IMG_1690_copyMy dad taught me to drive a car, shoot hoops, catch frogs, paddle a canoe, and swim laps. When I was just a hyperactive little kid, he tired of shooing me off the “dangerous” dock. Finally, he reasoned it would safer to teach me to swim than to keep track of my free spirited meanderings near the lake and in the woods.

He held my hand as I stepped off the sandy beach into the icy lake. Together we walked out over my head. While my dad’s strong arms held me afloat, I put my face in the water and blew bubbles. He taught me the crawl stroke, flutter kick and to cup my hands. “Reach forward, pull back.” He helped me master the trickiest part – how to breathe without swallowing half the lake.

Though I never had a near drowning experience, swimming saved my life. After a bad bike IMG_2175_copycrash and later a debilitating car accident, I became trapped in a body that no longer worked quite right. My hoop dreams disintegrated. My aspirations of skiing down mountainsides and running marathons dissolved. I hung up my high tops, tennis racket, baseball glove; I set aside my football, basketball, volleyball.

I was condemned to the pool where the buoyancy of the water kept me from further injuring my spine and joints. Early on, I became a has-been athlete plagued with bad feet, bad knees and a broken back. The scars of my past calamities never really left me; the sharp twinges and shooting, throbbing, stabbing aches remained. But magically, weightless in water, I became pain free.

To an athlete being confined to a pool seemed like a death sentence. Yet, after every misfortune, I retreated to the healing waters. Gradually, it seemed like my savior; swimming became my solace, my meditation, my prayer.

As a child I learned to swim at my grandparents Camp Ney-A-Ti on Summit Lake. In my teens, I swam through summers at the old Emerald Hill pool. In adulthood, when pregnant – and ordered to bed rest for 3 months to prevent premature births – I begged the doctor to let me swim. In a Parisian pool, I bonded with my unborn child, gliding in sync alongside the baby kicking inside me.swimming at SL

Over the years, I even saved a few lives as a lifeguard. And I once dragged the semi conscious high school quarterback from the pump room when he became asphyxiated from the chlorine. But the real hero of my swimming story was my dad. He taught me to believe that no matter how rough the seas or how high the waters, I would never sink.

With each stroke of my arm and kick of my leg, I repeated the mantra he ingrained, “Never give up.”

Dad thought he was showing me the frog kick, freestyle, and breaststroke, but really he was teaching me how to survive.

IMG_0999_copyAs a child, my dad let go, so I could take my first strokes solo. IMG_1693_copyNow as an adult I swim in bliss from one side of the lake to the other. Dad, like a lifeguard, sits on the dock, observing each stroke as if he could save me should a boat comes crashing into my path, or a leg cramp pull me under.

We have come full circle. We both know there is no way that my 83-year-old father could rescue me especially when I am swimming 150 feet from shore at the far end of the lake. But I feel safer, just knowing he is there, watching over me with his benevolent eyes.

Strolling the Trouville-Deauville Boardwalk
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IMG_3313Strolling down the boardwalk in Trouville on the beach in Normandy is like stepping back in time. On June 6, 1944 the Normandy beaches were ravaged during the famous D-Day Landing, yet fortunately for my French family, pockets of the coastline were spared from the bombings. La Promenade des Planches, built in 1876 of an exotic wood that resists heat and cold, endures another kind of beating. The faded, grey boardwalk has withstood the tantrums of the skies, tempest of the sea, and the trampling feet of millions of tourists.

From the boardwalk, on your left, the ocean calls. White foaming waves wash onto a beach DSCN1474_copywhere children build sandcastles and fly kites while young adults shoot across the sand on colorful char sails. Children and adults alike kick footballs into faded nets, dive after volleyballs in the sand and smack tennis balls on the red clay courts. Proud owners of the beach houses lean against the white huts trimmed in blue and bake in the afternoon sun like gingerbread in an oven.

Queues form in front of the ice cream, crepes and waffle stands. Tables from the outdoor cafés spill onto the walkway. Gold, magenta, and turquoise kites dance across the skies. The steady rhythm of the waves crashes against the horizon, where only the bravest souls dare to wade in the frigid water. The beach is a beehive of activity.

DSCN1441_copyIf you look to the right, it’s as if time stood still. Imposing half-gabled, eighteenth century mansions line the seafront, casting shadows, looming as if guarding the coast from another invasion. My dream is to be able to walk through one, to creep up the spiral staircases and peek into the alcoves and corner niches.

The juxtaposition of past and present creates a stunning contrast. I cringe when tourists pull out iPhones. Why would anyone want to connect in artificial cyberspace, when the reality of the beach offers a feast for one’s senses?

DSCN1471_copyBenches beckon beach goers to sit for a spell, to people-watch and admire the ocean. I used to identify the passersby nationality by their fashion choices. Svelte Parisian women wore tight fitting designer skirts and even skinnier stilettos. The British donned bonnets and cardigans with sturdy footwear. Americans sported baseball caps and tennis shoes.

Now that the old-fashioned, canvas Converse high top has made a comeback worldwide, national identity is harder to decipher. Styles of dress have blended, at least with the younger generations.IMG_0340_copy

A stroll down the walkway fills me with a sense of timelessness. Long after I am gone, the next generations will continue to promenade on the boardwalk of Trouville-Deauville.

Chez Mamie -To Grandma’s House We Go
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DSCN1477_copyEven though I knew the 7 hour drive from Geneva to Trouville would be arduous, I am glad I went. Our bittersweet trip down memory lane was made all the more meaningful because our daughter was along.

Mamie answered the doorbell at midnight wringing her hands with worry that it took us so long. We fell into the lumpy old beds and slept, the sleep of the dead. The next morning, we threw open the shutters of our attic nest for a bird’s eye view of the cloud-covered sky, casting melancholy shadows over the spindly old village. Trouville was built where the Touques River meets the English Channel.

Mamie lived in the gangly, 18th century fisherman’s flat chiseled on the side of the cliff that DSCN1453_copyopened onto the Quais Fernand Moureaux. Her front door – three stories up – was on the rue des Ecores on the street above. Underneath her house was a clothing boutique, Blanc de Nil, which sold only white clothes.

Baby yellow rose buds and purple pansies grew in flower pots behind the wrought iron balcony railing where Mamie and Papie stood in their robes waving goodbye as we began the long trek to Switzerland with wind burned faces and stuffed bellies. On that very same balcony our children and their cousins searched for eggs falling from the skies when the Easter bells rang on their way to Rome. In France the Easter bells delivered chocolates instead of the Easter bunny.

DSCN1449_copyOn sunny days, we opened the French doors and let the warmth seep into the small sitting room/dining room. An oak table with folding leaves expands for family was squeezed into that 12” by 14” space. A love seat and matching chair faced the TV screen. An antique Normand armoire, storing Mamie’s wine glasses and wedding china dating back 64 years, was tucked against one wall. Every spare inch of wall space was covered with photographs of her 3 children and her 5 grandchildren.

The focal point of any French home was the dinner table, where families shared meals over a lively repartee of word play, heated debates, biting sarcasm, and endless discussions about food: what we ate yesterday, what we are eating today and what will eat tomorrow.

DSCN1476_copyIn Normandy where the land meets the sea, dining was of the finest quality in France. On the wharf, fishermen sell mackerel, sole and bar – caught the night before.

At the open market, the locals offer free-range chicken, as well as lamb and veal that romped on lush green pastures only days before. Tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, artichokes, asparagus – all locally grown – looked as if they sprouted out of the ocean blue tablecloth.

Mamie, a woman who never served a sandwich in her life, will ask, “What would you like for lunch?”

Lunch meant dinner in the old-fashioned sense – a five-course meal with a starter, main course, cheese platter, dessert and coffee with chocolates that she had hidden for special occasions. Then she would set out thimble sized glasses and poured “just a taste” of her homemade plum liquor. As soon as one meal over, Mamie started preparing for the next DSCN1482_copyone, scurrying around the village filling her wicker basket with fresh supplies from the butchers, the bakers and the creamery.

Like Trouville, Mamie lived in rhythm with the tides and seasons. She served tart apples and blackberries in the fall, fresh scallops and oysters in the winter, succulent strawberries and melons in the spring and lush peaches and cherries in the summer. Once again Mamie filled our stomachs with local specialties and our hearts with happy memories making us always feel welcome back home in Normandy.

 Happy Mother’s Day Honoring Our Best Work Force
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moth's day-8You trained hard for the position. You endured nine months with a fat belly and aching back and read every child development book ever written. You accepted labor pains without complaint. When a 7-pound baby landed in your life, you dropped everything to accommodate the needs of that squealing, precious bundle of joy.

You washed, sterilized, and heated formula bottles until you felt like you had turned into a milk machine. You pushed a stroller  dozens of miles. You dressed your little one hundreds of times. You changed thousands of soggy, stinky diapers. Resentful? Never. Grateful? Forever. Praise the Lord for modern conveniences like disposable diapers.

You debated the pacifier dilemma, gave in and bought a dozen.

You made mistakes. You left clean laundry in the washer until it got moldy. You misplaced a bottle under the bed until it turned green. You left the faucet running, the phone off the hook and the refrigerator door open. You did all the “don’ts.” You shouted, you screamed, you kicked, you cried. Behind closed doors you had your own meltdowns. But still carried on.

You reprimanded yourself incessantly. Yet you coped. You learned to live with eighteen years of constant interruption. When your child got hungry, you put down your pen. When your child grew bored, you put down your book. When your child got hurt, you dropped everything and rushed to the ER. Again.

You bravely boarded trains, planes, buses and metros with your squealing, wiggling, live piece of luggage.

 

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You worked long hours, including weekends, and were always on call. You never got paid, nor praised. Yet you shared your child’s first smile, first words, first steps.

You became a maid, nurse, nanny, cook, chauffeur, counselor, coach, activity director, teacher … And number one detective finding favorite shoes, socks, T-shirts, and misplaced homework, books, and toys.

You felt indispensable, overworked, underpaid, unappreciated and forever grateful for your job.

Each morning as your tasks accumulated, you looked at your own mother with renewed admiration, thinking she was the greatest.

Every night when you finished chores, your child looked at you with same adoration, at least until the trying, moth's dayteens.

You felt proud knowing that one day your children would raise their own kids. And you could retire with the honorable status of grandma.

Though your work often goes unrecognized today, the world will be grateful tomorrow.

You created the link between the past and the future.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Welcome to the world’s most important work force.

Start Spring Cleaning Sorting Book Shelves
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kids readingSome women collect jewelry, shoes, home décor: my tastes are simple – I hoard books. Shelves line the hallways, living room, bedrooms, basement and attic. My house is so chock a block full of books stacked triple deep, I posted a warning for visitors. “Danger Falling Books!”

When my friend told me she was collecting books to donate towards a library in Somaliland, I set a goal to reduce my collection. Like a librarian, I went back into the stacks.

As I shuffled through the shelves, my children’s lives unfolded from “Good Night Moon,” to “The Runaway Bunny,” to the Bernstein Bears, the Boxcar Children, Babysitter Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and Thoroughbred series. And oh my, the childhood classics like Nancy Drew, Hardy Brothers, and Jack London. Who could imagine we would one day live in “Heidi” land?

I relived the memories of curling up on the bed with a tow headed boy tucked under my arm and dark haired girl under the other as we read, “The Pain and the Great One.” We recovered from ear infections, sore throats, and stomach bugs by rereading, “ Mrs. Bunny’s Get Well Soup” and “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

I can’t imagine a home without books. In my family, reading was a gift passed down from one generation to the next. My kids learned to love books by osmosis. They grew up reading under the bed covers, in the bathtub, and à table. During dinner, they sneaked peeks at their books hidden under the table to avoid their father’s scowling eyes.

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Books marked the rites of passages. How could anyone my age ever forget Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road?” Not to mention the works of Margaret Atwood, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, or Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the wonderful classics from “To Kill A Mockingbird,” to “The Diary of Anne Frank” to “Huckleberry Finn.”

As I sorted, I rediscovered some favorite authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and Jane Hamilton. “Beloved” was so good and I had to read “The Book of Ruth” again too.

Other selections marked stages of our lives from raising kids cross culturally and bilingually to enduring teens to letting go. One shelf holds a collection of green Michelin travel guides for every region of France and canton of Switzerland. Another section houses writers’ tips a go-go with books on how to write humor, travel, sports, memoir, and fiction and develop action, dialogue, and character.

I used to be a sucker for self-help books guaranteed to cure everything from chronic fatigue to back pain to headaches, as well as every mystery disease that fell under the “syndrome” category for lack of a better, more believable term. Fitness guides like “Yoga for Dummies” and “Pilates for Beginners” come out of retirement at regular intervals.

One shelf holds a ridiculously large collection of every basketball biography ever written in hard back, no less. Others are filled with the family’s favorite mysteries, Agatha Christie, Jack Higgins, John Grisham, David Baldacci, and Tony Hillerman.

We also have a collection of French authors. Hardback comic books, an integral part of French culture, were big hits in our home where our children learned history through the Les Aventures de Tintin, the misadventures of Asterix & Obelix, and the gaffs of Gaston.

Certainly our son’s deadpan humor was also honed from the pages of Calvin & Hobbes and that crazy fat cat Garfield.kids reading-3

We accumulated more books than the local library. Parting with any created a major dilemma; each page held a treasured memory of a visit from family. Over the years, grandparents, siblings and friends brought oodles of books tucked in suitcase corners to help foster our children’s love of language and learning. Our home became a lending library for guests crisscrossing the Atlantic. Bring a book over; take a book back.

I’ll be the first to admit my obsession is out of hand; I haven’t gotten far pruning those bookshelves. Each time I peruse a title, I get caught back up in the action on the page.

Spring-cleaning shelves fell by the wayside; I set a new goal – reread all my favorites.