Raise Your Glass to a Safer, Saner New Year

Everyone everywhere agrees that 2020 has been a bad year in so many ways, so don’t look back, focus on the future, bring it on 2021!

With one foot in 2 continents my heart always aches with longings, but when I said goodbye to one country to fly to the other, I endure the tug at my heartstrings by keeping my eyes looking forward.

When I arrive at a new destination, I leave my luggage at the door. No one reaches middle age without accumulating baggage — regrets, disappointments, resentment, misgivings, mistakes, misunderstandings, and misfortunes. Let it go.

The grass is not greener on the other side. Skies are not bluer. Life is not easier. All expats play this mental game thinking maybe things would be better if they lived in my their passport country, in the land where they grew up understanding the language, customs and culture by osmosis as a birthright. But no matter where in the world one resides storms prevail. Turbulence is an inherent part of the human existence

In the artificial world of FB, instagram and social media it looks like everyone is having a great time all the time - winning championships, getting married, traveling the world, having babies. In reality, low moments that we don’t post about, weigh heavy between those highs. We endure hardships blinking back tears with gritted teeth.

In this journey, no one gets a free ride. We each face our own lifetime of physical pain, emotional despair, spiritual crisis, devastating loss and unbearable deception.

At the end of the day we must choose peace. As my yoga teacher repeats on-line in her calming voice, “Stretch. Breathe. Accept. Allow. Release. Let go. Namastè.”

“We are all divine and we are all ultimately connected.”

Forgive. Absolve. Free.

Do not blame yourself. Women especially tend to be self critical. After all of my accidents, I berated myself.

If only I had stopped that seizure, broken that fall, ridden in a different car, taken another route at some other time.

If only I had been more careful, more cautious, more fearful. But noooo! I threw myself into the whirlwind of life chasing new experiences, traveling to unchartered territories, and competing in sports at the highest level with the most intensity.

If only I had protected my body back then would I be in less pain now? How do you save your body from life? The act of living is being fully engaged.

Forgiveness starts with the self, but ultimately must extend to others. Do not blame. Do not condemn. Do not judge. We all act in ways and say things, intentionally or not, that are hurtful. All feelings matter. To harbor ill will and hatred toward others leads to our own destruction by eating away at our thoughts and energy.

“ To learn to forgive is one of God’s greatest lessons,” says my mom, who has great faith and even greater wisdom. “ It liberates your soul.”

2020 has been a long, unbearable year. We are restless, ready to move on. We want to go where we want, when we want, with whoever we want. We long to travel freely. We patiently waited to gather in groups, to celebrate together, to see loved ones again. We ache with longing.

Take an extra dose of patience heading into the new year. Keep wearing a mask, maintain social distancing, get the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it is available. Our individual rights to regain our freedom depends on respecting others rights to remain safe.

Believe brighter days lie ahead. Hold onto hope. Spread kindness. Share inspiration. Bring it on 2021. We await with open arms.

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.
5. Frenchman – my life partner who picks me and puts me together after every fall.
6. Internet that instantly connects me between continents, cultures and time zones.
7. Words- books, cards, emails, calls that keep us connected especially now when we cannot reach out physically,
8. 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.

First Time Voting

Even though Biden was officially announced the 46th President of the United States, I remain suspended in space. The free floating anxiety I have felt since the Covid outbreak last March lingers because Trump refuses to concede. In our democracy! Instead he demands vote recounts, shouts election fraud and continues to give free license to supremacist white groups and other dangerous organizations. Militias pop up across the country, protests break out and even though I live 4,000 miles away, I am not sleeping.

Every national news channel here covers the US election in the UK, France, Switzerland and others. As if addicted, I read and reread the headlines - NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, USA Today. Tracking results is even more stressful than listening to my daughter’s former college basketball games on the radio with leads changing back and forth. The stakes are so much higher. My stomach roils. I feel nauseated. I wait. I pace. I WhatsApp family. I hold my breath.

“Biden won, but I am not celebrating until Jan 20 when he actually takes office,” my son says, “cause Trump is acting crazy dangerous and making everybody nervous.”

The election’s result makes me feel proud to be American and especially proud to be a woman.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” said Kamala Harris, an African American and Indian American, when she made history becoming the first female VP, "Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities."

"And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they've never seen it before. And we will applaud you every step of the way.”

I was once one of those little girls growing up in a sea of white males trying to do something girls never did before, facing discrimination every step of my journey as a pioneer in women’s basketball. When I moved to Europe to pursue a career as a female pro, I was accepted in Europe but not my homeland. I never overcame the feelings of being shunned.

That was no excuse, but it was a great part of the reason I never registered to vote as an American citizen living abroad. I felt left out of the dream. Still I defended my country every time it was criticized and criticized we were, but never so greatly as in the last 4 years when Trump destroyed international relations with European Allies, pulled out of international organization and destroyed everything that represented the very foundation of US democracy, human decency, world health care and respect for our fellow men. I felt ashamed.

But in 2020, I knew that I could no longer feign indifference and abstain. I had to register and vote. As I went through the necessary paperwork, I applauded those suffragettes who came before me and fought so hard to earn the right to vote.

With great trepidation I marked my ballot with the proper pen, checked and rechecked addresses and mailed it to the Whiteside County Courthouse listing my childhood home as the last place I lived in the USA 40 years ago.

On election day, I woke up at 2 am European time to look at the polls. For the next 72 hours I switched between news channels all day checking the results while my husband crunched numbers and tried to assure me Biden would win.

When Biden’s victory was announced, family in the states called me on WhatsApp, their eyes filled with tears, their faces evoking joy.

All around the globe world leaders sighed with relief expressing congratulations to Biden and anticipating stability back in the White House.

Paris mayor summed it up best: “Welcome back USA.”

During this unsettled time of global pandemic spinning out of control, the change of American leadership has restored hope not just for Americans but also all Europeans.

And Biden’s victory and the election of the first female Vice President gave this little girl a voice after all these years.

Sète

Visiting France’s Occitanie Region

Sète- OccitanieLiving in Switzerland, all of Europe beckons from our backdoor, but any travel with my bad back remains challenging. So for our vacation, we narrowed our choice to a short (by American standards) four and half hour drive to discover Occitanie Region, a gem in south central France.

We booked an Airbnb in Sète, a fishing port on the Mediterranean Sea and headed south. I settled in my “crib” folded sideways knees tucked to chin on my yoga mat in the back seat.

As he drove, my live in French chauffeur/chef and guide gave me a brief history and geography of the area, known as Languedoc, which referred to langue d’oc today is known as Catalan a language evolved from Vulgar Latin in the Middle Ages around the eastern Pyrénées.

“Occitanie encompasses the Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées regions, which includes the western Mediterranean coast,” Gérald said. “It stretches from the Rhone valley in the east, to the Spanish border in the south west and lies between the Pyrénées and the Cevennes mountain ranges.”

“What is it known for?”

“Everything! It’s coastline, Medieval history, Roman architecture, cuisine and, of course, wine.”Sète- Occitanie

At regular intervals, I popped up to admire the landscape as we crossed France diagonally from Geneva to Sète. Closer to our destination, I saw vineyards, fields, and the arid, rocky Mediterranean hills with scrub vegetation where shepherds tended goats and sheep for making meat and cheese. Wheat, olives, fruits and vegetables are also produced in the area, but it is best known for its wines.

We arrived in Sète – a city built in the 17th century at the mouth of the Canal du Midi on the lower slopes of the isolated Mont Saint-Clair, a hill between the sea and the large marshy Thau Lagoon. Touted as Venice of Languedoc, a network of canals intersects Sète, the town with the lagoon, the docks, and the harbor basins.Sète - Occitanie

Sète is also known for its fierce winds; we nearly blew off the cliff while watching surfers ride the waves before the storm.

Over the week, we would break our Fitbit personal bests climbing up to our nest, a flat overlooking the sea perched high above the harbor on the Mont Saint Clair where homes clung to the hillside like in Santa Monica. A must see chapel of Notre Dame de la Salette, requires a hike up the hill (400 steps, rising 183 metres) but the views from the top of city and the Etang de Thau promised to be stunning.

Sète- OccitanieHigh above the gritty working port, we overlooked the red tile rooftops and admired the restless sea. We felt we’d found the best spot in town to discover the city and surroundings. That evening while winds rattled our shutters, and cicadas serenaded us to sleep, we couldn’t wait to throw open our shutters on a new day and begin exploring.

Removing Tons of Litter from Lake Geneva on Global Clean Up Day

From a childhood growing up in a river town, to summers spent on a Wisconsin lake, to weekends of young adulthood walking Normand beaches to raising a family in a Switzerland with a view of Lake Geneva, no matter where I have lived, water has been my solace bringing comfort, inspiration and peace.

When you are lucky enough to grow up near water you learn to never take it for granted. We were raised with an appreciation of our lakes, rivers and seas. Even as kids we walked around Summit Lake picking up discarded beer cans to take to the local dump.

Now every morning when I see my jaw dropping view of Lake Geneva surrounded by snow capped Mt Blanc, I feel blessed. Lake Geneva, on the north side of Alps nestled between France and Switzerland, is the largest lake on the Rhone River and one of the largest lake in western Europe (It’s northern shore is 95 km (59 mi), the southern shore 72 km (45 mi) in length)

A pearl of the region, Lake Geneva is of indescribable beauty, so for me it is hard to imagine why anyone would carelessly pollute this national treasure.

As part of Global Day of garbage clean up, my husband volunteered to join Aqua Diving’s club in their 28th year of cleaning only a mile long shoreline in Geneva. This year, due to the pandemic, participation was limited to 150 people in each region ,but over 1000 people helped out across the nation.

Wearing masks and gloves volunteers lined the shore of Lake Geneva’s right bank. Divers hauled mesh bags filled with champagne bottles, beer cans, plastic waste and handed them to strong workers like my husband who dragged them up on shore and sorted them into categories of waste.

“How was it?” I asked when he came home six hours later.

“Exhausting,” he said as he collapsed on the couch, “and disgusting”. Divers found discarded bikes, tires, wagons, weapons and even an entire grill. Last year they hauled 1.5 tons; this year we collected twice the amount.”

In the 1980s the lake was too polluted with waste and chemicals to swim in, so a French- Swiss transnational effort was implemented. Today water-treatment plants recycle waste water around the lake; now the water is almost too clean because there is not enough nutrients going into the lake for the fish to grow. That hasn’t stopped human littering.

Yet even in Switzerland, a pristine country where citizens value cleanliness, people still discard trash everywhere including into lakes and rivers.

I grew up appreciating our natural resources and water is one of the most precious ones.

How can anyone spoil water that we are so lucky to have access to? I love the taste of water, the feel of water, the sound of water rushing over rocks and ocean tides lapping on the shores. I adore the sight of water reflecting in the shimmering sun and changing colors with the winds.

“Every piece of litter discarded carelessly” Gerald laments “eventually ends up in our rivers, lakes and seas.”

What can you do to tidy up the bodies of water near you?