Chez Mamie -To Grandma’s House We Go
avatar

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
avatar

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.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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
avatar

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Inspiring Voice of Dancing Feet from Down Under
avatar

CSUprofile_picYou might be getting tired of hearing my stories, so today I bring you the voice of my dear friend, Rachael Jefferson-Buchanan, a.k.a. Dancing Feet from Down Under. As head of the physical education department when I first arrived in Switzerland, Rachael taught me dance, aerobics, and yoga.

Like many women today caught in the fast track proving one’s worth in the workplace and home, this educator/writer/mom shares how she unshackled the cloak of superwoman and found peace in just being.

 

Being and becoming woman

A long time ago someone asked me who Rachael was and who she willed herself to be. I thought it strange that at the early stages of our relationship I was asked such deep, meaningful questions. They resonated deep inside of me and I have asked myself those same questions time and again across the last eight years or so.

I have been called ‘superwoman’ by friends and acquaintances wherever I go, and yet I never felt that I deserved such a title. I was, after all, merely doing what other women had done for centuries before me – juggling family, work and domestics. But there was something that drove me further and faster at every turn of life’s journey, taking me on detours and then guiding me to park up and stay a while. I did not realise at the time that this was my inner friend, my intuition, my unconscious voice, my mindful self who was longing to lead the way.

photo(1)So I kept spinning those plates, took on a head of physical education post, raised two children – for the most part singlehandedly, completed an MA, moved from Switzerland to England, secured a new lecturing role, wrote a book for teachers, began a PhD, worked as an international educational consultant, moved from England to Australia to begin a lecturing-research post, and… and… and…

I look back on all these domestic and professional milestones and take a deep breath, releasing it with the realisation that these are akin to the very same trappings of ‘superwoman’ that I had been denying for so long.

It was time to drop some plates and watch them smash down to the ground to find out who Rachael was and who she willed herself to be…

I needed to become aware of why I was driven to over-perform in the workplace…

I needed to learn to wrestle with those deadline demons and pin them to the ground, holding them there until Rachael felt able to wrestle again…

I needed to recognise that my hamster wheel of busy-ness was making me dizzy and footsore…

And above all, I needed to put myself first for once… something that I have always found so difficult as a mother, daughter, sister and woman. But something inside my very core knew that these other roles would fall into place as long as I was centered and felt ‘safe’.

This journey, which I believe is one of mindfulness, has not been an easy one. There have been moments when I have been called selfish and moments when I have felt that I was. It is a relentless balancing act of ego versus selflessness. Indeed, each and every day – and sometimes each and every hour – I know I am still learning the ropes of being and becoming the woman I wish and will to be.

On a bad day, Rachael can be cantankerous and sloth-like, dropping those spinning plates and subsequently picking her way cautiously through the broken pieces to reach a clear space when she again feels ready to continue. But there is no longer any guilt about this – for this is Rachael; love me, ignore me or become irritated by me – I do not feel the need to change for you, only for me.

On a good day, Rachael can fly high on the success of her professional or domestic accomplishments, secure in the knowledge that these were for Rachael and not to prove anything to anyone else. Look on me then with envy or appreciation, and I will bear you no grudges nor talk loudly about my triumphs.

photoThis Rachael is no superwoman, she is woman.

Embodied and mindful, she is a healthier model for her teenage daughters.

No more the dutiful wife.

No more the doormat for others to walk on as they please.

No more striving to be the perfect mum.

No more the workaholic.

This woman is instead engaged in a daily search of self-improvement and self-love.

This is a woman who can, finally, just be…. on a good day! 

 

 Rachael’s book, Fundamental Fun: 132 Activities for developing Fundamental Movement Skills is available from her directly by e-mail: dancingfeet65@hotmail.com

GBP 20 plus p&p.

This book has been written as a resource to support generalist primary teachers and book cover fundamental funothers who assist and lead in the teaching of primary physical education. It provides a range of creative, cross-curricular, holistic activities that serve as the building blocks of successful fundamental movement skills (FMS) experiences. I began to develop ideas for this book, by reviewing and reinventing old favourites such as ‘Simon Says’ and ‘What’s the Time Mr. Wolf’, and then combining these with new physical education activities of my own creation.

I subsequently explored ways of individualising the child’s activity experiences. The link between all the activities presented in the book is the explicit means by which they each aim to promote one FMS; whilst not excluding the development of other FMS, this allows the teacher of primary physical education to hone one FMS at a time. I hope, therefore, that this book will be a useful practical guide to the teaching of specific FMS through generic primary physical education activities that include elements of dance, gymnastics, games, outdoor and adventurous activities and athletics.

In Memoriam – Illinois State University Redbirds
avatar

Redbird logoWhen you are recruited to play college basketball these days, the university welcomes you into the family. Though we never called it that during early infancy of the women’s game, we knew our college team had our back. A loyalty to Illinois State University basketball remains imprinted in my soul. Even though I did not personally know the victims of the tragic plane crash outside of Bloomington, my heart mourned for the lives lost – an ISU men’s basketball Associate Head Coach, Torrey Ward, a Deputy Director of Athletics, Aaron Leetch, and alumni Terry Stralow ’74 (co-owner of Pub II in Normal), Andy Butler ’96, and Jason Jones, M.S. ’93; and former student Scott Bittner.

All seven men who were on board the plane, including pilot Thomas Hileman, were “Redbird guys,” said Athletics Director Larry Lyons ’86.

How can I feel connected to a university of over 20,000 when I haven’t lived in the state or even the country for decades? The memories of the people at that place, where interstate 74, 59, and 39 intersect in the Corn Belt, left a lasting impression.

When I played in the late 70s, we had three women’s teams, a platoon of peeps to lean on in hard times. Coaches like Jill Hutchison, Linda Herman, and Melinda Fischer invested so much in me, not only as a player but also as a person, and Schnied (Kathy Schniedwind) taped me up for every battle in Horton Fieldhouse. Nor will I forget the teammates like Slate, Von, Char, Guppy, Apple, Woody and others or those who followed after me to leave their own mark like Bethie, Bos, and Vickie.

In addition to teammates, five friends called “the family” rented a townhouse together. We pulled all nighters to prepare for finals, wet our whistle at the ol’ Pub II watering hole and scarfed down Avanti’s pizzas.

Whenever I am back in the Chicago ‘burbs, we reunite. Our “cousins” another cohort of ISU alumni meet up annually. My ol’roomies from Dunn Barton Hall still wish me happy birthday every year.

Back then I had my own sorority – a gym full of sisters – including my own biological ones, also ISU grads. During my senior year my middle sister shared our house; my baby sister shared my Redbird locker.

When the news about that the fatal return flight from the Final Four celebration in Indianapolis reached Switzerland, I felt sick to my stomach.

After every tragedy we are reminded how fleeting life is. Our paths may only cross once, but the impact we have on others is everlasting.Redbird forever

In light of that, I wanted to give a shout out to my ISU family to thank you for your support, for keeping the ties across the miles, for having my back.

Everyone is vulnerable. Every. One. Every. Day. Always.

To those folks in the Bloomington-Normal area and the ISU community who grieve for their lost loved ones, I offer my deepest sympathy. It is not enough. No, I never met you, but I know where you come from and what you represent.

Your loss is a loss for all Redbirds.

We are family.