Bear Hunting at the Dump
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Image_copyWhen I was growing up one of my favorite activities was going to the dump to see bear. We filled the station wagon with excited children and parked at a landfill in the middle of the woods off Forest Road, where people dumped trash, old appliances, box springs, furniture, and just about everything.

Like witnessing meteor showers, sunsets or loon dances, bear watching was part of the entertainment Up North. We parked at the dump at dusk and waited with eager eyes for a glimpse of a bear lumbering in from the woods to gnaw at watermelon rinds and table scraps.

Long gone are the old dump days. Now garbage must be sorted into paper, plastics, and glass and hauled to dumpsters that are compressed and carted away by truck.

Garbage is no laughing matter in Europe either.

Switzerland, an ultra clean country, slaps on steep fines for littering. Even garbage disposals are verboten deemed a hazard to the environment.

The Swiss take tidiness to the extreme. Since January 2013, in addition to a local recycling tax, we pay for each sack of garbage. And only in Switzerland would civil servants actually be paid to go through “illegal” garbage bags to locate owners to be fined.

The Swiss are not big on second hand goods either. In fact, garage sales are illegal. Instead communities organize fall and spring event called “troc du village” where you can resell top-notch goods. During the rigorous triage, only the best quality hand me downs make the cut. Twenty percent of your profit from sales goes back to the city. Boy, those Swiss sure know how to make money.

Switzerland is also the only country where you will never see a dumpy car tooling down the road. Dented, rusted-out, old beaters are not allowed on the highway. After new cars are 5 years old, vehicles must past a stringent inspection by the “service des automobiles” every two years, before being allowed back on the motorway.

As unhygienic and pollutant as they were, I miss the dumps of yesteryear when Grandpa would load the kids in the back of the old truck with tin cans and bump along the beat up old back roads of Wisconsin.IMG_3772_copy

Though recycling was not vogue in the 60s and 70s, we learned as children to never waste resources and respect nature. We grew up learning to pick up cans and debris carelessly discarded along Wisconsin’s back-roads.

At the lake now, my dad rounds up the carefully sorted garbage making the dump runs religiously on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday during the hours that the recycle spot on highway 45 is open for business.

“Any takers for a ride to the dump?” he’ll ask.

With little hope of seeing a bear at the modern day recycling center, no one jumps at the opportunity. Good natured, Grandpa goes anyway, stopping along the way to reminisce with the gas station attendant, postal worker and maintenance man about the good ol’ days when a trip to the dump provided good, wholesome entertainment for the whole town.

Happy 80th Birthday to my Remarkable Mom
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IMG_3055_copyOn your 80th birthday, what can I offer you, Mom, you who has given me life? You fell asleep under my crib patting my back in infancy assuring me that you’d always be there. You stayed up until dawn holding my hand as I struggled with problems as a grown up.

You loved me unconditionally.

You created a happy childhood by inventing fun, like painting sidewalks with water, reading books by candlelight and playing restaurant at a card table. When money was scarce, you splurged on small treasures: a plastic boat, a jar of Play Doh, and a Highlights magazine. When you grew tired from the caretaking, you pulled me onto your lap for a moment’s peace and told stories and sang songs.

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You taught me to respect my elders in the tender way you cared for Grandpa Mac and Grandma Olson. You spoiled Grandpa with his favorites – chili and pie. You visited your mom in the nursing home every day finding joy in her company even as she aged.

You, a smart, soft-spoken Chicago girl from a modest family of Norwegian immigrants, worked your way through college earning a teaching degree. Then, you made your four children feel as special as an only child. When the last one started kindergarten, you started your teaching career, guiding other people’s kids.

All the while, you were encouraging me to develop my own skills and take those first painful steps toward reaching my potential. You overlooked my flaws – saw my best when I was at my worst – and knew I would outgrow my orneriness. To help us survive our awkward adolescence, you told your daughters that they were caterpillars blooming into butterflies. Okay, so I never developed that delicate beauty, but I did learn to fly.

You forgave me for the untold suffering I caused: the trips to the emergency room, the nights I came in late as a teen. All the anxieties I created with desperate phone calls: my hospitalization in Peoria, my pro team’s collapse, my car accident in France.

You sought miracles in everyday events. The spring an African violet appeared on the plant I gave you, you knew a life was blooming. Nine months later, I gave birth to your first grandchild. You became the greatest long distance grandma, sewing matching outfits, writing letters, making calls, taking drives and plane rides to visit grandchildren, living nine hours away by plane.

You put Band-Aids on skinned knees, made cookies for bake sales, sent cards to shut ins, and gave pep talks. You remembered anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations, and never missed ball games. You were the first to take the sting out of life’s hurts; the last to criticize mistakes. First up and the last to bed, you worked overtime and never went on strike.

You put your own life on hold to jump-start ours. You kept my world spinning in a zillion small ways that I overlooked everyday.

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You, the unsung hero, taught us to accept the differences in others by nurturing the differences in ourselves. While I was defying society, playing sports at a time in history when little girls were supposed to play house, you let me be a tomboy. When, instead of coveting Barbie dolls, I asked Santa for a basketball for Christmas, you made sure he heard my wishes.

You never made me wear hair bows, instead you cut my bangs short and let me march to my own beat. When I slid into home plate, swished hoops, and tackled the neighborhood boys in the backyard, you grinned and waved from the kitchen window. When I fell off bicycles and out of trees, you straightened the handlebars and brushed off the grass and said, “Off you go!”

Your heart grew as I grew, welcoming your French son-in-law into the fold even though you knew he’d whisk me off to live in a foreign country. You exemplified a good marriage, sharing sixty years of laughter and tears with my dear Dad.

You gave me wings and the gift of love. Though I can never repay you directly, I pay it forward daily in my work and family. Mom, because of you, I learned to love. I bought into the human race.

Swiss Chalets’ Unique Personality
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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.

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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
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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
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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.