Swiss Chalets’ Unique Personality
avatar

IMG_4455_copyFrom a distance, the Swiss chalets dotting the Alps look uniform, but on closer inspection, you will see that each one has its own distinct personality and its own name. Native to the alpine region of Europe, these homes are traditionally made of wood with wide, sloping roofs that have eaves set at right angles to the front of the house.

On an overnight jaunt to Ovronnaz, Gerald and I explore winding roads in the Valais region and hike through tiny villages like Les Mayens de Chamoson where homes cling precariously onto every nook and cranny.

Some chalets, dating back to the 1800s, which you have to duck to enter, are little more than sheds once used as seasonal homes for shepherds, sites for making cheese and butter when cows or sheep were brought up from the lowlands for summer grazing. Mazots, the small, windowless huts once used for storing valuables, can be seen near the eldest properties.

Engraved abovIMG_4444_copye the chalet’s front door is the date it was built. The old huts were remodeled to make mountain homes. As historical landmarks, any alteration must be approved by the Swiss government. Many have been restored, renovated and expanded, yet retain the original wood.

We traipse past chalets named after mountain wildlife, like Chalet de Chamois, Marmotte, Aigle, Bergeronnette, Merle, or local places like Le P’tit Cry, La Cordee. Other homes bear the family name, many ending in az typical of this area.

The biggest, most modern chalets are closed up, catering to rich folk who invade the region during ski season. However, the smaller, cozier places look lived in. Shutters have been flung open, duvets hang out to air, flowers bloom on window ledges, and Swiss flags wave in the wind.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I wish I could explore a few to see the decor, but the closest we come to the locals is seeing the old timers enjoying a pint at the bar in the evening or morning coffee at our hotel. A local couple comes in for Sunday breakfast. The Valaisan, a short, stout man with legs like tree stumps from climbing the rugged terrain, wears a plaid flannel shirt, dress pants, and suspenders with metal clasps designed in the shape of the eidelweiss flower. He chats with his wife in the Valaisan patois. Though this is technically the French speaking part of Switzerland, Gerald and I can’t understand a word they said.IMG_4442_copy

Whereas Midwesterners head North to Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota to escape, the Swiss just head up. Chalets tucked in alpine meadows are so commonplace that there is a great migration upward every weekend. I could certainly see why. The closer one gets to heaven, the more spectacular the beauty, the purer the air, and the more profound the tranquility.

Loving Football – Catching Brazil’s World Cup Fever
avatar

brazilian-soccer-fans-commemorating-group-happy-victory-flag-background-34849799Born in the U.S.A., the only football I knew growing up was the one where men wearing girdles wrestled over an oval pigskin on the gridiron in a sport that excluded girls. The game Americans refer to as soccer and the rest of the world calls football was not popular in the States.

But when I moved abroad, I fell in love with the other football. My German basketball club teammates taught me how to play. I loved chasing the round ball down an open field as my appreciation and understanding of the game evolved. In international schools where I worked, I even officiated PE class games where students “explained” in no uncertain terms how to call offside.

Whether I was living in France, Germany or Switzerland, once every four years, the planet stopped spinning on its axis during the World Cup Football Championship. Shops close early, giant screens light up, and riots break out as world cup frenzy hits the streets. In Switzerland roadways are blocked because the game is on the big screen in Geneva’s central square, in France traffic halts for merrymakers spilling onto the Champs-Elysées and in Germany a 100,000 fans erupt in joy by the Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.football fans

With 3.3 -3.5 billion fans and played by 250 million players around the globe, football is the world’s most popular sport. Requiring virtually no equipment, football can be played anywhere from the favellas of Rio de Janeiro to the slums of India.

At its inception in 1930, the 1st world cup, held in Uruguay, included only 13 invited teams. Today, teams battle across every continent to qualify for the 32-team tournament.

National victories become political statements reflecting global tensions. The World Cup was not held in 1942 during WWII or in its devastating aftermath in 1946.The 1954 world cup, held in Switzerland, was the first to be televised, which brought unprecedented marketing opportunities.

Brazil estimates to bring home $11 billion from 600,000 tourists and 3 million Brazilians in attendance, however financial experts are skeptical. South Africa showed a reverse effect where countries are harmed economically from hosting the event. Brazil’s hosting has been controversial from the get go with protests breaking out daily. Should a country with such a great poverty level be hosting a billion dollar event making stadiums that cost hundreds of million dollars?

As with any sporting event involving big bucks, controversy follows suit. Rumors of official bribes and FIFAs questionable tactics abound. And for the first time ever, a player was suspended for biting an opponent when in the heat of battle Uruguay’s Louis Suarez chomped down on the shoulder his Italian opponent. Seriously?

National pride escalates with each victory, boosting ratings of the leadership in countries that advance to the next round. Team affinity becomes extreme, but with my own personal ties to several countries, I am content when USA, France, Germany, Switzerland, or any Scandinavian country wins. Though I would never admit to my French family, I was the only one who wasn’t too disappointed when France lost to Germany in the quarterfinals. With fond memories of my time in living in Marburg, I still feel loyalty to the country that once hosted me.

With youth soccer clubs booming, I am tickled to see that America finally caught the football bug. Germany's Mueller challenges goalkeeper Howard of the U.S. during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match at the Pernambuco arena in RecifeUSA advancement to the final sixteen and goalie Tim Howard’s stellar performance versus Belgium put USA on the map in world football scene.

Politics, money and fan violence aside, football at its purest level, is good, clean fun. During the tournament, boys and girls around the globe fill sandlots, dead end streets, and empty fields, running around, kicking balls, juggling their own World Cup dreams.

Confessions of a T-shirt Junky
avatar

IMG_4503_copySpring cleaning forced me to fess up. I am an addict. My vice – T-shirts. Think I am kidding? I cleared out my cupboards and counted 92 cotton shirts.  I hoard them, savoring the memories they evoke.

My collection includes styles with or without collars, long, short or no sleeve, light shirts, tight shirts, baggy shirts, depending on the era representing colors of every season. Not only the standard, red, white, blue, oh no, my stock includes magenta, turquoise, olive, plum, aquamarine, cornflower, cerise, burnt sienna, pink sherbet, electric lime, shirts in more shades than found in a giant box of Crayolas.

I lack fashion sense, yet my shirt assemblage rivals Imelda Marco’s shoe collection.

I am loath to part these treasures; T-shirts tell the story of my life.

In my closet, I found shirts labeled McKinzie-Smith Basketball Camp, dating back to the early 80’s when Phil and I started the first girls’ basketball camp in the Sauk Valley area. I also have my favorite college basketball T-shirt designed by the point guard who helped me break scoring records with her right-on-the-money passes.IMG_4505_copy

In the attic, I discovered the family heirlooms – my dad’s old gray Sterling High School Phys Ed shirt and my grandpa’s gold and maroon Eureka College Football Staff polo shirt.  I have T-shirts with photographs commemorating my son’s Swiss National Championship team and my daughter’s All-Star high school team. I’ve never worn them because I didn’t want the pictures to fade. Who could pitch those?

I uncovered decade’s worth of T-shirts from the various International Sport Schools Tournaments. Each shirt listed participating teams from Athens, Frankfurt, Brussels and Paris to other cosmopolitan cities across Europe. As a coach, I traveled to destinations most people only dream of. Every shirt reminded me not only the championship games, but of the landmarks visited: Manneken Pis Statue (Boy Peeing Statue) in Brussels, Hofbrau Haus in Munich, Acropolis in Athens, boardwalks in The Hague, canals of Venice. I still have t-shirts from the teams I played on in France and Germany.

On another shelf, I uncovered souvenir shirts from family vacations to the Badlands and the Grand Canyon and from the tag-a-long trips when we followed our kids’ teams competing at Daytona Beach, in San Diego’s Surf & Slam and up and down the mountains in the Swiss Championship.

I still faithfully wear one of the dozen UWSP basketball t-shirts on game day, even though my daughter graduated from there nearly a decade ago.

Another series of T-shirts bear the emblems of the American School of Paris and International School of Geneva where I have taught for the past decades.

No one helps me kick the habit. My two Big Kids, taller and buffer, feed my obsession by giving me their out grown, hand-me-downs to add to my stockpile.

A college teammate used to proclaim a dessert of the year; well I have a shirt of the year. The 2014 award winner is a mesh, white Nike T-shirt inscribed with the women’s basketball Redbird logo that my coach gave me when she drove UWSP to hear me speak at the NCAA Final Four banquet.

My lil’ sis once promised, “when I retire I will make you a quilt out of all your favorite T-shirts.”IMG_4502_copy

Well, Karen, could you hurry up and retire. We are running out of storage space.

From Athlete to Doctor: Congratulations Nat
avatar

Nat's white coat ceremony  11-17-07 010

with cousin Marie

Over a decade after embarking on this journey, my daughter celebrated her official end to residency. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there. Nor was I there when she graduated with honors from UWSP or for her White Coat Ceremony. She was only 5-years-old, the last time that I could help her with anything science related; I read aloud for the umpteenth time her favorite book about blood cells. Even her high school bio and chemistry was over my head. Where did the interest in science come from? There are no doctors in the family.

Yet she moved 4,000 miles away from home and stepped up to each challenge the medical field threw at her: MCAT exams, med school applications, interviews, boards. Do the math: 4 years undergrad, 4 years medical school, 3 years residency, rotating between dozens of different departments in a dozen different hospitals and clinics. What kind of commitment and resiliency sees one through such a grueling ordeal?

IMG_0307_copy

the wild bunch

When I was growing up, I didn’t know any female doctors, lawyers or pro basketball players.
I carved my own path to become a pro athlete, then raised my daughter to believe she could do anything she put her mind to. When I was invited to UWSP to speak about women’s sports, they also asked Nat to share how Title IX and her experiences as a student athlete impacted her academic career.

“In 1970, less than 8% of physicians were women,” Nat said when she spoke with me at UWSP’s celebration hosting the 2014 NCAA Basketball Final Four Tournament. “My med school class at the University of Minnesota was about 50% female. Though I’ve faced sexism, both as an athlete and as a physician, I’m privileged to have grown up at a time where my gender was not a major handicap to pursuing my dreams. Title IX played a big part.”

I’d like to think that I taught her something worthwhile in the gym. Teams teach people skills. Yet none of her athletic experiences could prepare her for 70-80 hour weeks often caring for critically and sometimes terminally ill children.

“The theme of my personal statement for residency was coaching, and how it taught me to interact with kids and speak their language, a skill that I use every day as a pediatrician,” Nat said. “I use my history as an athlete to build rapport with my patients, whether it’s commiserating with an overachieving high school senior about the difficulties of balancing sport and school, or challenging the child who’s stuck in the hospital waiting for a transplant to a game of H.O.R.S.E. on a plastic hoop in his room.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Today, I’m still part of a team working towards a common goal, but instead of a
point guard and a post player, my teammates are nurses and doctors and patients’
parents,” she added. “The stakes are a lot higher, the losses so much greater. My job is incredibly rewarding, but it is also difficult.”

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that collegiate athletics prepared me for the challenges of residency; there’s no way it could have. Staying up for 30 hours straight managing critically ill patients makes preseason look easy. The pressure of trying to make a free throw at the end of the game is nothing compared to the pressure of trying to make the right decision when you have a life in your hands. And no experience, on or off the court,
can prepare you to sit down with the parents of the child you’ve been fighting to keep
alive and tell them that there’s nothing more you can do.”

IMG_0280_copy

with supporting team: uncle Dick and aunt Karen

“But what I do credit sports for, is teaching me to persevere. It’s on the basketball
court that I first learned that you don’t quit when things get tough. That when you’ve
made a commitment to your teammates, you owe it to them to follow through. That
when someone knocks you down, you better get right back up and keep playing.”

Right on. Doctors have to persist in the face of the greatest loss.

Though I regretted I wasn’t able to attend the U of M class of 2014s celebratory dinner, I was grateful her Mama Dos was standing in. With a hot meal, my sister, Karen, and brother-in- law, Dick, transplanted Minnesotans, helped restore her broken spirit after every set back.

As Nat concluded, “Those lessons learned on the playing field are valuable to every girl, whether she grows up to be a professional athlete or a doctor or a teacher or a stay-at-home mom, because regardless of what she chooses to do with her life, there will be challenges. And, to quote Nelson Mandela, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

IMG_0279_copy

“little” brother Nic and cousin Hannah

Stand up and stand tall as you embark on your medical career. A pediatrics clinic in the Minneapolis area is gaining one extraordinary doctor.  And, from afar, your dad and I raised our glass to one extraordinary daughter.

Normandy Today
avatar

IMG_3372_copy

the beach in winter.
Photo credit Gérald Lechault

I have seen Normandy at it’s best and worst. I married a Norman. On stormy days, like June 6, 1944, waves crash the shoreline, icy winds whip off a black sea, rain falls in sheets and every joint aches with the cold. But in a ray of sunshine, Normandy is as beautiful as an Impressionist’s painting.

Orange cliffs along the coast drop off into purple waters. Inland, reddish brown Norman cows and pink apple blossoms dot a velvet green hillsides under powder blue skies. Soft light whitewashes the gabled, half-timbered houses and solid stone farms that remain as they were centuries ago. It was on one of those perfect days, over three decades ago that I pedaled a bicycle through red poppy fields behind my new beau. Later a table with authentic Normans in a Trouvillais fisherman’s flat, somewhere between courses of scallops and roast, cheese and salad, strawberries in cream, I fell in love with a Frenchman.

Millions debark on the beaches to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day following the circuit du débarquement and traipsing through the museums. But in my opinion the countryside, itself, is even more inspiring than any landmark.

The narrow, winding back roads, shaded by a canopy of trees, run into the “route du cidre” which intersects the Calvados region, my favorite part of Normandy. It is famous for history, art, architecture, seafood, smelly old cheeses, (Pont l’Eveque dates from the 13th century and Camembert from the 19th), and Calvados, a strong apple brandy. I love the area not so much for its regional specialties, but for the special family that lives in the region. They embraced me like lineage, when I, the foreigner with the funny accent, married their very French son.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Normandy, a feast for senses, is best appreciated at mealtime when land and sea are perfectly marinated. After a platter of seafood served so fresh it look like the crabs could crawl off the plate, Mamie presents la pièce de résistance, leg of lamb. Papie carves the tender meat of a newborn that was romping on the rolling green hillside only days before. A garden of vegetables -beans, broccoli, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes – sprout out of the linen tablecloth.

IMG_3361_copy

Trouville’s fishmarket
Photo credit Gérald Lechault

Trouville, the seaside resort of my in-laws, retains a sense of timelessness. Sea gulls swoop and dive above the fishing boats bobbing in the waves under azure skies. Daffodils dance on iron wrought balconies in the briny, spring breeze. As I walk on the beach, lined by 17thcentury mansions, I am overwhelmed with nostalgia. Young couples stroll the boardwalk with their arms intertwined. Parents with toddlers in tow pick up seashells; small children dig castles in the fine, white sand, school age kids race the waves as they crash the shoreline.

Thanks to yesterdays’ heroes, throughout time’s passage, nothing changes. Normandy, like memories it holds, just grows older and more beautiful. And I thank my lucky, fate-filled stars that crossed paths with my Norman.

fishermen's wharf

fishermen’s wharf
Photo credit Gérald Lechault

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta