French Mamie’s House in Trouville’s Historic Fishermen District

Mamie’s house overlooks the quay of Trouville, France, a fishing village where inhabitants exist in rhythm with the tides and the ebb and flow of tourists flooding her Normandy beach.

Mamie lives in the historic fishermen quarters on the Rue des Ecores, which dates from the mid 17th century when the quay was built. The houses once chiseled out of the cliff to accommodate fishermen reflected the maritime hierarchy. The sailors’ flats had one window and one floor, while the prosperous captains’ homes had windows on either side of the front door, and several floors.

The lower level of the building, filled with cafes, boutiques, and gift shops, opens to the bustling boulevard across from the open market on the Touques River. On the rue des Ecores up above, time froze; fishermen flats look the same as when they were first built. Wooden doors open to pencil-thin homes where rooms are stacked 6 stories high like building blocks.

On the narrow lane under number 55, the door opens into Mamie’s ground floor, which is actually the 3rd level of the building. On the left is her kitchen. Straight through the hallway to the dining/living area, French windows open to a balcony above the quay.

The windows on one side of the apartment face the colorful, lively, bright main street alongside the Touques River; the other side’s windows look onto the darker Rue des Ecores.

In the living room, a wooden dining table, the focus of any French home, consumes most of the space. A love seat, wedged next to the oak, Normand cupboard filled with Mamie’s old wedding china, faces the TV, perched in a corner. Though compact, the 10 x 14 foot room expanded to squeeze another chair around Mamie’s table where family and friends were always welcome to dine on Normandy’s finest fare from land and sea.

In between the two rooms, a steep, winding staircase, coils like a snake, from one floor to the next. The stairway is so tight that furniture had to be brought up by crane and passed through the windows.

On her second floor landing, there is a water closet and 2 bedrooms. In Mamie’s room stands a wardrobe of fine Normand craftsmanship passed down from ancestors. On the floor above that, are a bath and two more small bedrooms where we always stayed. Each morning I threw open the shutters savoring a birds eye view of the river, fish market, and casino. The very top floor under the mansard roof once held Papie’s old workbench and hanging tools.

Every nook and cranny remained filled with mementos triggering happy memories from Mamie’s giant dinner bell, to her French cartoon collection, to her lumpy, duvet covered beds. Artwork and photographs, showing the chronology of marriages, birthdays, baptisms, and graduations, covers every inch of wall space.

Whenever we left, driving away down Main Street, Mamie and Papie stood on the wrought iron balcony waving goodbye and blowing kisses.

The historic landmark, Rue des Ecores, endures as the center of the fishermen district, just as Mamie’s place remains forever as the heart of our French family.

Sterling High School Golden Sisters Celebrate Volleyball State Championship

SHS State Champion TeamLast weekend, amidst dismal news reports of natural disasters, mass shootings, and political divisiveness my alma mater, the Sterling High School Golden Warrior girls’ volleyball team, gave us something to celebrate by winning the state championship.  With a 40-1 record overall, they snatched the victory from defending champs Belleville Althoff 25-21, 25-22 in the final at Illinois State University Redbird Arena.

If you watch a few seconds of this video clip, you can see the intensity and unbridled joy that comes from the concentrated team effort needed to reach a state championship – the pinnacle of success in American high school sports.

Sterling’s volleyball program was a family affair. Take solid senior leader Josi Borum add her dynamic twin sisters, Bree and Brook, mix with smashing combo Gretchen and Grace Gould, toss in all-over-the-court libero, Lexi Rodriguez, and you have a recipe for success.

It’s been forty-one years since Sterling won a state championship. In 1977, the Sterling High School Golden Girls team made history by winning the first ever state basketball championship. My younger sister played guard on that team coached by my dad.

Most folks forget that prior to that time, girls weren’t allowed on any court. Without the passage of the 1972 Title IX amendment mandating equal opportunity and ending gender discrimination, girls would still be relegated to the sideline. Title IX gave girls access to athletic scholarships and higher education.

Not surprisingly the SHS volleyball team, like that first state basketball team, won the championship title at the tournament hosted by Illinois State University. In the early 1970s, ISU’s female administrators Dr. Phoebe Scott, Dr. Laura Mabry, coaches Jill Hutchison, and Linda Herman spearheaded committees pushing for legislation at the national level for the advancement of equal opportunities for women.

In the infancy of Title IX, SHS was ahead of its time too providing opportunities when most schools dragged their heels about giving girls a chance. Former SHS athletic director Bob Henard and basketball coaches like Jim McKinzie, Sue SHS 1977 State Champion TeamStrong, and Phil Smith picked up the ball and ran with it by making sure girls could compete on their own teams.

Since then, Sterling once fueled by the steel industry fell on economic hard times. Yet high school sports remained a source of pride and priority thanks to dynamic booster clubs and an altruistic donor by the name of Pete Dillon.

Championship teams are not made in a vacuum. They require the right mix of athletes, opportunity, coaches, community and infrastructure. Sterling provides that foundation.

So I raise my glass to Sterling’s state championship volleyball team. After endless hours of practice, countless road trips and off-season workouts, it’s time to celebrate. Here’s to the athletes, the coaches who trained them, and to their families who provided meals, rides, and emotional support.

Sterling High School Homer Fieldhouse

Sterling High School Homer Fieldhouse

“When we stepped in that 30-by-30 box (our half court in Redbird Arena,) we focused on what we needed to get done,” Sterling’s Coach Dale Dykeman said, “And that mentality of pulling up your bootstraps and going to work with your sisters, it’s a special thing.”

Unbeknownst to you, across the country your older warrior “siblings” are fist bumping and high fiving in solidarity over your success.

Going to work with your sisters

Is a Sterling thing.

It’s forever.

Golden.SHS 2018 State Champion Team

Fell into Jackson Hole for a Week of Fun

Jackson Hole

Mormon Row

When I was a kid I wanted to be a cowboy so badly that I wore saddle shoes until high school thinking they had something to do with horses and the Wild West. Last July 4th, I fell into Jackson Hole and landed in the cowboy country of my childhood dreams.

The name hole, which means valley, refers to a sumptuous valley 48 miles long and between 8 and 15 miles wide, surrounded by spectacular mountain ranges. The area in the northwest corner of Wyoming is known as “the last and best of the Old West.” And mercy be, I felt like cowgirl just being here.

Jackson Hole

Downtown Jackson Hole

Jackson, settled in 1894, was established when homesteaders staked out land and struggled to eek out a living in the rugged land. The town, retaining its old charm in wooden boardwalks along Western store fronts, boasts of 80 different eateries, bi-weekly rodeos, chuck wagon shows, shoot outs and a Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, but the land itself is the biggest draw.

Situated at the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks the local population of 23,000 expands during summer and winter ski season to accommodate 4 million visitors every year.

If you are a cowgirl at heart like me, you will want to check out the not so touristy spots that reveal the history of west like Mormon Row, where Mormons established homesteads in the late 1800s known as Gros Ventre.

Jackson Hole

Menor’s general store

Just inside Grand Teton park, you can visit Menor’s Ferry, the area homesteaded by Bill Menor in 1892-94. Menor ran a river ferry crossing the Snake River near the present-day Moose, Wyoming. You can visit the restored home, barn, store, and ice sheds. Stepping into the white washed log store with artifacts from the turn of the century like sarsaparilla bottles make you feel like you are stepping into the past century.

Jackson Hole

inside the Historical Society Museum

Another overlooked spot may be The Historical Society Museum in Jackson Hole, which shows small displays of artifacts from Jenny Leigh homesteaders’ settlers’ life and details of Native American history.

No trip to the Wild West would be complete without a Wrangler show and Bar J Chuckwagon supper show serves up a real treat re enacting the cattle drive chuck wagon tents of yesteryear. Bar J cowboys, who have performed nationwide, serenade guests and tell jokes while you dine on simple, wholesome fare – steaks, BBQ chicken and beef, baked potato, apple sauce, biscuit and sheet cake washed down with coffee or lemonade. Walking through the chow line while cowboys slap a steak on your tin tray makes you feel like you are dining at a cowboy camp.

Jackson Hole

Bar J cowboys performing

But by far the greatest drawing point is the park itself.

The true beauty of the land can be best seen by foot on the hundreds of miles of park trails that lope up and down and alongside the Grand Tetons.

So saddle up with me and hit the trail. Join me next week for a hike where we met up face to face with a bear and live to tell.

Grand Teton National Park One of America’s Jewels

If you listen to the pundits, a lot of US citizens are understandably upset with the political climate and frustrated by present lack of leadership. There is a lot to criticize about my birth land right now, and it makes me sad for my people, but there is one thing that America got right. The National Park system is something to boast about.

With clean facilities, well marked trails, interesting museums and well-trained, friendly rangers, any trip to a national park is well worth your time. Our visit to the Grand Tetons was no exception.

America’s National Parks fill with visitors not only from every state, but from around the world. We met one French couple that came back every vacation to hike in the Grand Teton.

My words fall short when it comes to describing the majesty of America’s national parks, so I will let the pictures do the talking.

Opening Up About Depression – Mental Illness Awareness Week

DepressionMillions of people suffer from mental illness and I am one of them. Millions more are affected because a friend or loved one suffers from a disease that may be difficult to diagnose, and even harder to endure. This October 7-13th, under the theme of Cure the Stigma, the National Alliance on Mental Illness urges everyone to get involved because whether we are willing to admit it or not everyone is involved.

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In the US alone, one out of five adults and children will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

Members of my extended family on both sides of the Atlantic have struggled with mental disorders. In addition to genetic factors, chronic illness, death of loved ones, natural disasters and traumatic stress, any extenuating circumstance can tip the fragile brain chemistry.

Mental IllnessThough anxiety and depression may be the most common disorders, there are dozens of others from personality disorders, PSTD, dissociative disorders, psychosis and schizophrenia to name just a few.

My maternal great grandfather, a Norwegian immigrant, lost his 8-year-old daughter, when she died from an illness 2 weeks after arriving on Ellis Island. Three months later, his wife died giving birth to my grandmother. Living in a new country with no support system, he sank into a depression and never recovered.

Though perhaps part of my genetic make up, my depression is more likely a result of living with a chronic illness. Clinical depression will be triggered in an estimated one third of people with serious medical conditions especially in those with a biological vulnerability to a mood disorder.

Depression becomes a common component of diabetes, heart disease, lupus, fibromyalgia, Parkinson, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and others illnesses where reoccurring symptoms wreak havoc with one’s life. Some illnesses like Lyme neuroborreliosis, MS and other inflammatory diseases attack brain tissue. With no cure in sight, the end result can be a spiral of despair.

Ever the athlete, I blamed myself. I thought that I should be mentally tougher and physically stronger to overcome the pain, illness and depression, but self-blame serves no purpose.

The toxic stigma associated with mental illness causes shame and fear. Many people continue to suffer in silence preventing them from seeking help.Mental Illness

Eventually through research, I finally found a doctor who could treat my medical condition, which greatly improved my mental state. I sought solace on-line in the words of strangers, who were coping with the same nightmare disease.

Even though chronic illness has no quick fix, knowledge can be empowering. The more I understand my disease, the better I was able to accept and learn to live within the limitations it puts on my life.

Society scorns vulnerability, so we hide our weaknesses and suffer in silence.

Many illnesses involve stigma and shame, especially mental illness. Don’t buy into it. The only people who truly know what you are going through are those people who suffer from or live with a loved one who is suffering from a mental disorder.

Pain, suffering, and a sense of hopeless zaps our energy, so take baby steps to bring you peace. If you are the caretaker give yourself a break. If you are the patient take a time-out. Walk in the woods, work in your garden, read a good book, watch a funny movie, stretch your limbs.

So many times I have felt like I cannot go on. When I can bear it no longer, I cry. Then I pick myself up off the floor and go back to battle. On my worst days, I don’t look too far ahead. I tell myself I only have to make it through the next few moments. Then minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, I survive.Mental Illness

You will too because you still have so much to offer your family, your friends, your community!

Reach out. Speak up. Help Cure Stigma.

You are not alone.

Fall Means Football Season in my Family

Sugar maple seeds flutter to the ground like mini helicopters and leaves tinged in red signal fall and football season. As soon as my hand grew big enough to grasp the pigskin, my dad taught me to throw and catch a perfect spiral. On cool autumn evenings, we ran passing patterns – the down and out, button hook and v-slant – under the waning street light until mom called for dinner.

Back in the late 60s, I was probably the only girl in town that knew that a Hail Mary had nothing to do with the Catholic Church. The daughter of a Sterling High School football coach and the granddaughter of a former Northern Illinois University and Eureka College football coach, no one told me girls couldn’t love football. Though it was almost 2 more decades before girls would be allowed to participate on America’s ball fields, nobody in my family discouraged me from playing a game designed to build the character of men.

Only a half a century later did I realized how unique my upbringing and how privileged I was to grow up in a coach’s family in a community that valued sports.

My alma mater Sterling High School stadium sparkles in the night like a major university field. Dating back to the 40s, the football program brought pride to the community. My dad, a DeKalb High School Barb, remembers the challenge of playing against Sterling when DuWayne Dietz starred as a running back.

“Our game plan was simple – tackle Dietz!” my dad recounted, “Only problem, we had to catch him first. We chased him up and down the field all night.”

Last year, at the recently renovated stadium, the team made it to the semi-finals of a state championship and this season remain undefeated.

I grew up admiring the Sterling warriors, memorizing plays and tracking yardage gained. For me the only thrill greater than Friday night lights of American high school football was watching my grandpa’s college team play on Saturdays. As children, we cherished each excursion to Eureka, Illinois to spend time with our grandparents.

Sitting on hard bleachers, my sisters and I cheered “Go Red Devils,” and chuckled in amusement that a Christian college team could carry such a dubious nickname. But we knew the history behind it and felt proud; my grandma gave them that name when she started the pep club back in the 1930s.

Several Sterling High School athletes would go on to shine at Eureka College. In fact while I was playing basketball for Illinois State University, two of my best high school buddies – Mike Wietlispach and Chris Baldwin – wore the maroon and gold onto McKinzie Field.

Team loyalties transcend from generation to generation. I loved the Sterling Golden Warriors, the Eureka Red Devils and the Greenbay Packers long before the Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers era because Greenbay was my grandpa’s favorite team.

In early adulthood, I moved to Europe in pursuit of my own passion to play professional basketball. I have remained in the land of soccer ever since. Though I would never see another football game live, the love remains.

When my children were young, my dad gave them a football. As soon as their fingers were big enough to spread across the white laces, I taught them to throw and run those passing patterns.

I still dream of attending an SHS football game and heading back down to McKinzie Field for a Red Devils’ game. But for now that goal remains on my bucket list because I am still coaching in Switzerland.

In the meantime, if I close my eyes I can hear my ancestors’ voices echoing across the gridiron. Memories of family, pep talks of inspiration and love of football are imprinted in my soul forever.