Sophie Giraffe Favorite French Toy Turns 60

The little red Radio Flyer wagon, Lincoln logs, Matchbox cars each generation had their favorite toys, but the all time favorite French toy is Sophie la giraffe

May 25th, 2021 on St.Sophie Day, Sophie La Girafe turns 60.

Vulli, a company based in Rumilly in the Haute-Savoie region of France, not far from where we live outside of Geneva, has kept the highly guarded secret of how Sopie la Girafe is made. The rubber, used by Vulli to make Sophie, comes exclusively from the hevea trees growing in Malaysia.

Surprisingly such a simple toy has a complex process of production. To create Sophie la girafe, Vulli first heats the latex using a special process involving a technique called "rotomoulding" and then performs a series of 14 manual operations, which are still used today..
Unlike modern toys, which do everything except cook dinner and change nappies, and may be too sophisticated to foster learning, Sophie, a teething toy, was designed to stimulate all 5 senses from the babies’ age of 3 months.

Though Sophie’s squeaker may drive parents crazy, the sound the giraffe makes when squeezed stimulates the baby’s hearing and helps him to understand the link between cause and effect.
The giraffe’s dark spots captures baby's eyesight, which is still limited in the early months, and can only make out high contrasts.

Developed from latex, made from the natural rubber of the Hevea tree, Sophie has a distinct scent which makes the giraffe easy for babies to identify amongst other toys.
At an age when baby puts everything in her mouth, Sophie, made of 100% natural rubber, was a toy designed to chew. Akin to the nipple of a feeding-bottle, Sophie’s soft textured, chewable ears, horns, and legs makes her perfect for soothing baby's sore gums during teething.

Sophie’s texture feels soft, like baby's mother's skin, which stimulates physiological and emotional responses that soothe the baby and promote healthy growth and well-being.
Her shape - long legs and neck and her size, 18cm - makes it easy for baby to grip.

When my children were babies, Sophie was their favorite toy, so when I gave one to my niece, Marie, when she was born and it became her beloved toy.

When Marie had her first baby, Hadley, I sent her a Sophie original from France. But Hadley’s grandma, my sister Karen, beat me to it. Sophie la Girafe is no longer found only in France, she can be purchased in 80 different countries and is sold at your nearest Target.

Sophie’s, popularity, which once spread by word of mouth, has now reached sales of over 50 million. She has become such a commercial success that she has her own brand, website and blog.

Like all celebrities, Sophie even joined a good cause and partnered with Girafe Conservation Foundation (GFS) to conserve the future for giraffes in Africa

Sophie la girafe, timeless and cross generational, loved by parents and children alike, still brings baby biggest smiles.

Walk in Nature – Rejuvenate Brain Power, Lift Mood, Improve Health

 

Remember when our mothers used to throw us out of the house commanding, “Go out and play!”: we spent the day climbing trees, making mud pies and inventing games.” Well, they were right all along. We grew strong, healthy and resilient.

Scientific research shows that you need to get back outside. Walking in nature may benefit not only your heart and lungs, but also your brain.

Studies back what humans once knew knew instinctively. Norman Doidge, MD, notes in his fascinating bestseller, The Brain that Changes Itself, that nature and staying active help the brain stave off dementia, ward off depression and heal from injury.

Physical exercise and learning work in complementary ways: the first to make new stem cells, the second to prolong their survival.

Not only does physical activity create new neurons, but exercise also strengthens the heart and blood vessels that supply oxygen to the brain helping you feel mentally alert.

Humans were not designed to live in a world of cement, artificial screens and sounds.

“This artificiality is draining our brains and damaging our health,” nature writer Professor David Gessner explains, “some scientists would say technology is slowly ruining our lives.

One US study by Harvard and Stanford researchers shows how workplace related stress can significantly reduce life expectancy. The link between low stress and longevity is well established.

The Swiss, the second most active people in Europe after the Swedish, have one of world’s longest life expectancy. Forty-four percent of Swiss exercise several times a week and 92% are motivated to move by getting in contact with nature.

Not everyone, like the Swiss, enjoy the privilege of living in a mountainous and lake regions. Nor can everyone be located on coastal sea areas.

But even the American Midwest offers accessibility to nature. Minnesota - land of 10,000 lakes - offers miles of paved trails. Minneapolis-St Paul is known as one of the nations best metropolitan areas for biking/hiking. Escape to Wisconsin lives up to it’s motto as being a great get away for its lakes and forests.

The Chicago Park District owns more than 8,800 acres of green space, making it the largest municipal park manager in the nation.

Anyone living in the Cleveland area should contact my brother, who could have 2nd career as tour guide. He can find you a beautiful walking, hiking and running areas within a 20 mile radius of the city and give you directions how to get there.

National and state parks and nature reserves abound across America. Even smaller communities boast of green space, like Sterling, Illinois where I grew up, which has 20 different parks, including a favorite Sinnissippi.

Unfortunately not all of us have the ability to walk. If that is no longer an option, ask your loved one to take you to a park where you can sit on a bench and benefit from listening to the wind in trees, watching the birds and feeling the sunshine on your face.

Those of us who can - must keep moving. My mom maintains her routine by taking steps for friends who no longer can. My dad keeps trudging along with his walker by setting daily goals to walk to the corner. And through diligent practice, I learned to regain balance, step forward without stumbling and swing my immobile left arm again after brain injury.

What’s holding you back? Get outside and shake that booty!

Inauguration Celebrating Best of American Story

Inauguration Celebrating Best of American Story

“Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart."

"The battle is perennial. Victory is never assured.Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World Wars, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our "better angels" have always prevailed.“

On Jan 20, President Biden’s inaugural speech offered hope signaling a new beginning in the American Story celebration. Just 2 weeks ago during one of the darkest days in our history, Trump denied election results and incited insurrection at our Capitol building to overthrow the government, threatening our 200 years old democracy, now we begin to heal and move forward.

After serving USA for 30 years as senator, 2 terms as VP alongside Obama, Biden took oath at age 78 to become our oldest President. His words, coherent and articulate, enflamed with passion and compassion, pleaded for unity and comprehension in a nation divided.

Kamala Harris, lost the democratic nomination but won the ticket as Biden’s VP and broke the glass ceiling by becoming the 1st female vice president, 1st African-American and 1st Asian-AmericanVP. She inspired young girls everywhere to dream.

And 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest ever national poet laureate, compensated for an auditory processing disorder and held nation spellbound with her lyrical words, as she recited “The Hill We Climb” to the world.

Oldest President, first ever African-Asian-American female VP and youngest poet laureate. Old, Young, Black, White. This is America. Land of opportunity. For all.

Gorman. who overcame a speech impediment, stood tall; her voice like a healing balm, rang steady in a soothing cadence and natural rhythm.

The Hill We Climb

“…Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn't mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose"

…/… (link to the full speech video)

America boasts of sports icons, movie stars, media moguls, but our real champions are these folks who fought the odds and overcame terrific personal losses to keep fighting.

On a smaller scale, heroes exist within our own families. Like my maternal grandparents who came to America for a better life. When my Norwegian grandpa Gustav lost his job during the Great Depression, he walked to the Chicago Public Library everyday to read books because he always wanted to be educated but never had the opportunity.

Or my paternal grandparents who lost 2 sons. Instead of becoming bitter, they dedicated their lives as teachers and college coaches guiding other people’s sons into adulthood.

Or my parents who spent their careers as educators in the same community not seeking praise, but finding peace knowing the value in helping a child read better, stand taller, be braver.

Or me. Losing everything. Beginning again. Not once. But twice. Learning to grip, walk, talk, read and write. Never giving up in spite of great physical pain and emotional despair, looking outside of self to encourage another to get up and go on too. To continue my mission inspiring courage, breaking barriers, creating connections internationally.

That is our American story. Perseverance. Pioneer spirit. Resiliency. Courage. Tolerance. To rise up again. To rebuild Together. Hand in hand. As Biden concluded in his speech:

Here we stand, in the shadow of a Capitol dome that was completed amid the Civil War, when the Union itself hung in the balance.
Yet we endured and we prevailed.
…/…
And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, and to drive us from this sacred ground.
That did not happen.
It will never happen.
…/…
And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear.
Of unity, not division.
Of light, not darkness.
An American story of decency and dignity.
…/…
May this be the story that guides us.
The story that inspires us.

Link to the full speech video

This is our America.

Ten Ways to Stay Uplifted and Connected This Christmas

Record highs in Covid-19 cases, hospitals across Europe overloaded, healthcare workers on their knees and hearts breaking from being torn apart from families during the holidays. Due to circumstances we should not travel, but must find unique ways to stay connected.

Virtual caroling: My daughter a doctor in Minneapolis area will be working over the holidays to help stem the tide, but she figured out a way to connect with her grandparents in Illinois. We are going caroling at their virtual doorstep. We practiced a list of Christmas songs on line; I played my guitar in Switzerland and she sang Silent Night, Drummer Boy, Winter Wonderland and other old favorites.

Phone calls have never been more comforting especially with WhatsApp era where we can see one another’s faces on the screen.

Christmas used to be like this

Read books like The Night Before Christmas, Polar Express and How The Grinch Stole Christmas together on Skype with grandchildren, who are quarantined thousands of miles apart from you.

Set up a zoom call where everyone gathers from their own living room. One friend’s family made the Sunday dinner Zoom call a weekly tradition to keep up on her kids in the Carolinas, Massachusetts and Minnesota. Or set up a family games night.

Write an old fashioned card with your own words or better yet a letter. When was the last time you received a real letter in the mail that could be read and reread and cherished forever?

Put up the Tannenbaum. Through the dreary dark days of winter, we wake up to the twinkle of the white lights on our tree.

Light a candle. Say the name out loud in honor of the memory of everyone you have lost this year. Give a word of thanks for each friend and loved one who remains a part of your life even though you may be separated by distance.

Bake cookies – sugar cookies, gingerbread, spritz. Fill the house with the aroma of warm frosting and melting butter.

Hang outdoor decorations. European villages have always put twinkling lights in the chateaus, town halls and corner cafe windows. This year even individual home owners are stringing outdoor lights in neighborhoods to bring joy during this time of darkness where people are confined to homes.

Hold a baby. My niece and nephew-in-law took Covid tests in order to travel safely from their home in Wisconsin to Illinois to introduce their new baby, Hadley Marie, to her great grandparents. My 86-year-old mom, who recently lost her brother to Covid-19, became teary eyed holding her first great grandchild in the circle of life.

In a year where it is especially difficult to feel gratitude, appreciating the giving spirit of the holidays and understanding the value of kind words, thoughtful gestures and strong connections year round has never been more important.

Like so many others, the pain of being apart at this season is especially acute, but it also reminds me of how lucky I am to be loved and to love so much that it hurts.

In the meantime, I focus on the memories of favorite foods, surprise gifts and special traditions from previous get together and practice my singing fa la la la la la la la until we can be reunited again.

Christmas 2018

Happy Thanksgiving 2020 – A Different Kind of Celebration With Same Meaning As Ever

ThanksgivingThis Thanksgiving will be a different kind of celebration with same meaning as ever. Traditionally Native Americans saved Pilgrims from starvation back in 1620 by teaching them to tap maple trees, plant corn and fertilize soil.

T-giving has always been a day of gathering bounty from fields, sharing with others, and giving thanks. However, this year, due to the pandemic, families should celebrate separately, which to Americans sort of defeats the whole purpose of T-day.

Ever since I moved to Europe forty years ago, I have been trying to thank my European hosts for accepting me into their countries. But not matter how I try to explain it, they remain bewildered by our Thanksgiving, a journée de remerciements. They think it is the only day of the year where Americans prepare a hot meal and eat slow food.

ThanksgivingMy first year abroad I invited French teammates and they ate the food in courses, one dish at a time. The next year in Germany, the team turnout was so great, there was standing room only; we never sat down to dine. Another year French relatives replaced the giant Tom Turkey with Chicken Little. Now living in Switzerland off I go again every November on the Great Turkey Hunt through the Swiss Alps.

ThanksgivingLast year I didn’t have to explain anything when Gerald and I celebrated our first extra special Thanksgiving in the states with our kids and sister and her family. My brother in law smoked a turkey, my son and daughter in law made a British speciality Yorkshire pudding, my niece added a broccoli salad. My sister brought the traditional pumpkin pie and my daughter contributed a gluten free apple crumble.

This year still in recovery from brain injury and like so many others dealing with Covid depression; I lament to my psychotherapist, “I am so sad, I can’t see family.”

“But isn’t the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday to give thanks?” she reminds me. “Can you reframe your perspective and focus on what you do have to be grateful for?”

“Even though you can’t see your family, are they safe? Healthy?” She asks. “Is your husband still with you? Are you recovering?”

So many people have lost cherished family members and dear friends. Thanksgiving 2020 must be marked in different ways. I will start by celebrating with my loved ones in a Zoom call to surprise my parents.

At a safe distance separated from each other one end of an extended to hold a dozen people we will social distance and share a simplified T-Day. We will lift our glasses with a neighbor couple, part of our pod here, and I will whisper thanks for :

1. Health care workers worldwide who continue to battle a devastating pandemic.
2. Family who remain steadfast and loving for the long haul.
3. Friendships that sustain my spirit in hard times.
4. Frenchman – my life partner who picks me and puts me together after every fall.
5. Internet that instantly connects me between continents, cultures and time zones.
6. Words- books, cards, emails, calls that keep us connected especially now when we cannot reach out physically,
7. Summit Lake a place to dream of returning one day where sacred waters restore my soul.

Thanksgiving

This year in our modified Thanksgiving, we won’t dine on a whole Tom Turkey, just a turkey breast and though it will be a small, subdued celebration unlike the big noisy gatherings of Thanksgivings growing up in America, the blessings will be the same. The bird is secondary. It’s the stuffing — family, friends and memories — sharing and caring — that sustains me.

Covid Fallout- Will We Ever See Our Kids Again?

As Covid rises around the globe, and holiday plans are derailed again, we wonder when we will be reunited with loved ones, but for expats living abroad, the pain of separation is magnified by distance. I ache to be with my family so much it feels like a limb is missing.

When the French talk about missing people, they say “Il me manque”, which means, “I miss him”. But literally translated, it’s “he is missing to me”, as though a crucial part of you has been removed. It has.

When my Norwegian ancestors left their fjords to sail across the seas in search of a better life in America, they knew they would never see their families again. As a young girl, my mom’s father always promised her he would take her back to the fjords when she was an adult. Unfortunately, they never made the trip. He died suddenly of cancer when she was only 18.

I have been lucky. I made countless flights across the Pond between Europe and USA to keep my American ties strong not only for me but also for my children. Yet when I first stepped on that Air France flight 40 years ago, my biggest anxiety was not  about playing basketball in France, a country where I knew no one and spoke not a word of the language, but the fear that I might not be able to come back to the US and see my loved ones again.

I have always been able to make the trip home until now when a global pandemic changed our lives in ways we never imagined possible. Now my adult children live there; we are stuck here.
Our situation is not unique.

When I saw my Swiss neighbor, she lamented, -“I don’t know when we will see our kids again. Our son is in Thailand, one daughter is in Canada, her twin in Paris. Their younger brother was expecting his first child this summer and they were all coming to Switzerland to celebrate the event – that reunion is postponed indefinitely.

My German friend Maria, who lives just across the border in France, has one daughter in Belgium, another in Scotland, a son in England and husband in Somaliland. They are separated by Covid between continents.

Even families living in the same country are unable to plan reunions due to risks.
Parents are separated from kids, grandparents from grandchildren, siblings from siblings. My best friend, a former xpat moved back to North Carolina, but her 3 daughters live in Minnesota, Massachusetts and South Carolina. She talks to me about renting an RV, so she could go see them keeping a safe distance in separate living quarters.

My former student, now teaching at the International school of Geneva, has a brother living in Canada, a sister in Australia and her mom in South Africa. Home was whatever continent she and her family could meet up on their destination holidays.

As expats the world is our world, but today that kind of global gathering is out of the question.

Rules between and within countries regarding Covid change daily. In the summer no flights from Europe were allowed to land on US soil. For the moment, we can land, but there are no direct flights. There are few options available and each one has constraints. On our usual Delta/KLM flight there is a risk for a 10 day quarantine in Amsterdam. As a U.S. citizen I would be allowed in the country, but my French husband would require a special visa. And then we aren’t sure if or when we could get back to Switzerland.

When will be able to plan trips again?

We wait and wonder and worry as the number of cases of infection reach alarming rates across Europe and the U.S. Our hearts ache with longing for things we once took for granted…sharing a meal, sitting around reminiscing, embracing in a hug.

In the meantime“Ils me manquent.”They are missing to me.” Pieces of my soul vanished.

I am grieving the loss.