Birthday All Day Party in Celebration of Life

Last Saturday, I wrote about a mountain hike in celebration of my friends’ birthday, not mine. Like most people of a certain age, I dreaded another birthday, a reminder that I was aging. Frankly, I don’t need reminders. My knees creak, my jowls drop, my muscles sag, and gravity drags me one step closer to the underground. I wanted to sneak into my 56th year without any hoop a la. But the word got out!

birthday 2013

The night before my birthday at basketball practice, right on cue, when my point guard threw the ball out of bounds on a fast break, the team burst into song. The players brought out juice and homemade cupcakes and cookies in my honor, but I toasted them – for what is a coach without a team?

In homeroom, my 12th grade students insisted I call an emergency meeting Thursday morning, which I did, not realizing that I was the emergency. Students baked one cake for me and another one for a new boy in our group, whose birthday was the same day.

In the English department at morning break, my colleagues raised their coffee cups in cheer and passed around a chocolate cake.

Students in my freshman English class whispered in front of the multimedia center where we met to watch To Kill a Mockingbird. To distract me, a student dragged me to the back of the library to help her find a book. When I entered the assembly room, the class burst into song and a smorgasbord of baked goods magically appeared along with a homemade card, the best kind.

During lunch at my learning support department meeting, another friend made a frosted, pumpkin cake with American flag candles. This time round, a colleague sang the birthday song in Dutch.

.

.

I haven’t had so much fun on a birthday since I was five years old and my mom baked me a white-frosted bunny cake covered in coconut.

When I arrived home after parent-teacher conferences, a bouquet of tulips sat on my doorstep. Inside, my Frenchman poured wine at a candle lit table and served leftovers on wedding china, but not just any ol’ leftovers!  Baby goat, simmered in wine sauce in a garden of carrots, zucchini and peppers, was a meal fit for a queen that tasted even better the second time around.

Just before falling asleep, I turned on my laptop and was bowled over with messages from family and friends scattered around the globe from Seattle to Boston, Paris to Berlin, London to Sydney and everywhere in between.

The fanfare was unexpected, especially from the college kids, like the surprise call from my son in St. Paul, who carried the conversation for a change, and an old-fashioned handwritten letter from my niece in Omaha.

GenFab writers, Gutsy Indie Publishers, blogging buddies, former classmates and teammates posted messages and feted me on facebook.

Ever since my professional basketball career ended in an accident 3 decades ago, I have wondered why I survived.

Now, I know.

In simple, heartfelt ways people took time to draw cards, write messages, bake cakes and make me feel special.

I wanted to skip my birthday; you assured me that my life –sags, bags, wrinkles and all-is still worth celebrating!

Riding on a sugar high from too much cake and so many well wishes, overwhelmed by the  ways people connected and confirmed my existence, my heart is filled with gratitude.

Every day a gift!

Merci mille fois (thanks a thousand times) for the reminder.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Night Birthday Celebration in the Swiss Jura Mountains

One snowy February night, members of my department gathered at the Jura mountain pass Col de Givrine (1320 meters) connecting Switzerland and France for a “midnight balade” to celebrate one colleagues 50th and another’s 40th birthday.

In French, balade means an excursion for distraction to relax and get fresh air. One of the benefits of living in Europe is that people slow down from equally frantic lives and take time out to recharge their batteries with fun and exercise.

An eclectic group of British ladies, 3 Frenchmen, two Americans, a woman from Marseilles, a Canadian, a Swiss, and a gregarious Scotsman gathered together on a snow bank, bundled in parkas, snow pants, and snowshoes. Designated scouts wore helmets with flashlights to guide us on the trail under inky black skies.

Due to my health issues I rarely go outdoors to play, but they insisted that the dark conditions were ideal for me, so I wouldn’t have to wear my sun-blocking, movie star shades. My friends swore it was a short, flat walk; it ended up being a one-hour steady climb uphill. But I couldn’t turn back without getting lost.

I used ski poles for balance; if I veered off the path, I sunk up to my knees in snow. My Frenchman moaned the whole way because his knee hurt; I was too short-winded to moan. When I thought I couldn’t take another step, one of the birthday girls announced, “Time for the aperitif.” She pulled a bottle from her packback and stuck it the in the snow. She dug out cup holders in the snow bank and filled cups with the white wine creating an open-air mini bar. When the stragglers caught up, we toasted to the birthday girls in a clearing surrounded by white, velvet-covered evergreen.

birthday toast in the Jura mountains

birthday toast in the Jura mountains

We forged ahead around the next bend to the “restaurant,” La Vermeilley, technically, a reconverted herders shed. We parked our snowshoes on the snow-covered picnic tables at the entryway. Inside red and white tablecloths covered wooden tables lined with benches. A finger-thawing fire crackled from the fireplace. A waiter set plates of viande des grison (dried beef) and bowls of pickles on the table. Then the owner brought out steaming fondue pots filled with the special 3-cheese blend mixed with wine. We dipped chunks of thick, white, country bread into the pot and ate with gusto.

birthday girls

birthday girls

Several of my colleagues, former rugby players, chanted, engaging the participation of the other half a dozen tables filled with hearty, physically fit men and women. When we got up to leave, my head of department, a fun loving Scotsman, started singing a rendition of Patricia, the best stripper in town, so I pseudo danced tossing off my mittens and scarf to the applause of the merrymaking partiers. The ambiance all evening was exceptional with strangers joining in our shouting, “Hip, hip hurrah!”

The hike back down the mountains was equally enchanting. Snow-covered pines loomed in the foreground, while  stars twinkled overhead. I felt as if I were in another world. I stumbled down the path, savoring nature’s austere elegance. Then my Frenchman drove us back down the mountain. When we arrived home, I peeled off 5 layers of clothes and collapsed into bed. I woke up early the next morning, cloaked in warm memories and smelling of barn animals and cheese.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tall American Squeezes into Small Country

Whenever I step aboard the return flight to Switzerland, I feel like Alice in Wonderland falling through the hole into the land of miniature. I have an 8-hour flight to transition to what awaits on the other side of the Atlantic. I squeeze my 5’10” frame into compact seats designed for dwarfs. I eat baby-sized servings with doll-sized spoons on a mini tray.

In the Geneva airport, I tower above Europeans while lugging baggage twice as big as and three times heavier than theirs. Not all expats are hoarders, but like many of my compatriots living overseas, I bring back as much of the homeland as possible, hence my bags are laden with Tootsie Pops, cake mixes, chocolate chips and other American staples.

When the taxi pulls up in front of our twin house, my husband leans out the window to announce, “Oops, honey, I shrunk the house.”

Switzerland is a “petite” country; the price of real estate is premium. There are no sprawling ranch homes or suburban mansions here. Our yard is the size of a postage stamp. Surface wise our ground floor is no bigger than an American garage. But we are lucky we have four floors stacked like baby’s colored building blocks. It’s great! This way I don’t need a gym membership; my home is a StairMaster.

kitchen

kitchen

Our kitchen is three-square meters. The refrigerator is smaller than the mini bars in most American hotels. The fridge, stove, and sink are within an arm’s length, so I can remove foodstuff, sauté veggies and wash dishes simultaneously. But I rarely do any one of the three. It is a one-butt kitchen, and I am always the first volunteer to butt out.

Europe has a different scale of measurement and I am not talking metric here. Cupboards are more like the size of American drawers. Walk in closets? Forget it. My sister’s Barbie wardrobe was bigger. Appliances are also more compact. Our microwave fits in a kitchen cupboard. The washing machine holds five articles of clothing or the equivalent of two American sweatshirts.Read more

Confession of Social Media Phobia to Facebook Friends

I confess I am a fraud. My fancy, dancy website…didn’t touch it. Don’t understand a thing about the technological aspect of social media. Nada! As my live-in techie, aka Frenchman, develops more skill at troubleshooting problems, the less adept I become.

soul sisters

soul sisters

I am able to log onto facebook only because my Frenchman set an automatic entry; I can’t remember any passwords. [div]When my home page pops up and I see the little bubble space under update status with the the question, « How are you feeling, Pat ? » I honestly thought the whole world was worried about my health status.

I would write back, « Not so good today- sore throat, backache, migraine, thanks for asking,» until my daughter, complained, « Mom stop facebooking about how you feel, no one cares. I don’t care and I am a doctor! That question pops up automatically everytime.»

Ditto for the grey comment box with my mug shot – I thought it meant that I was supposed to comment on every posting on the running page.

Actually facebook terrifies me because I understand so little about it. I am not sure how it works, where it goes and who sees it. As a writer I am used to exposing my ideas, but people know stuff about me that I’d rather forget. Like my birthday.

But friends, that is not why I have never answered your request to add birthday to your calendar. The real reason I haven’t responded is  because I don’t know how.

college pals

college pals

Sorry, if I haven’t accepted your offers to play games. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like you, it just means I don’t like games (unless they include a ball.) If I am honest, I’ll admit I don’t know how to play online games. So I won’t be joining the other 41 million enjoying FarmVille, Lucky Slots or Zynga Slingo.

FB’s popularity is a bit superficial like the old autograph hounds we carried in 6th grade where you run around begging everyone to sign your stuffed dog or little book of blank pages. For what? Or the high school yearbook signing – I’ll sign yours if you sign mine.Read more

New Year Resolutions – What I am NOT Going To Do in 2013

  • I am not going to get sick. No sore throat, flu, sniffles.
  • Not going to moan about getting older, even on my birthday.
  • Or groan about going to work, when fortunate to have a job.
  • Complain about cleaning a house that I am lucky enough to co own. (along with the bank)
  • Get organized. Realistically my number one resolution for past decades…ain’t gonna happen.
  • Make eggnog (have never made eggnog)
  • Write another book…The Frenchman would kill me!
  • I am definitely not joining a health club to keep fit since studies show health club joiners drop out within three weeks.

According to experts most resolutions fail within the month. They recommend that for the greatest chance of success make only one resolution and stick to it. Which brings me back to my number one goal, stay healthy, cause if you are in good health you can handle all the rest of the crap life throws at you.

During my break, I flew to Chicago and shopped til I dropped my first day back. On day 2, I woke up with a sore throat that morphed into a sinus infection. But I was not going to let illness interfere with my holiday, so we headed north to the cabin in Wisconsin. Ten days later, my brain still felt like marshmallow, my teeth ached, my nose burned, and my lungs constricted. No way could I get back on a plane for a nine-hour flight with my head full of muck, so I went to Urgent Care.

I was not alone.Read more

French Wedding Is All About the Food

family with the groom

family with the groom

A French wedding is less about the pomp and ceremony and more about the food, especially in Normandy, the northeastern region of France that offers land and seas finest fare.

A cold, grey weekend in December, we attended my nephew Ben and Lea’s wedding at the mayor’s office in Le Havre, an industrial city dominated by oil refineries and shipping docks. Bombed and destroyed during WWII, it was rebuilt in a Stalinistic style of cement cubes. The civil ceremony held at the Hotel de Ville was a bit carnivalesque especially since a display of Christmas toys and giant ferries wheel added color to the somber architect of town hall. At the imposing entryway, a petite, meticulously coiffed blond woman, mother of the bride, greeted us with air kisses and ushered us up the red carpeted stairs where people waited around like at a bus stop. At precisely 14:25, another wedding party exited one door of a main hall and we entered.

My handsome nephew, Ben, dressed in a tux, stood at the front and guests filled the seating area. Then the wedding march played for 25 seconds, while bride’s stepfather walked her to the altar. Lea wore a white ivory wedding dress with a bodice and long trail. I marveled that the balconette stayed in place throughout the festivity, though obviously she was more well endowed than I.

IMG_3879

newweds with their cake

The mayor’s assistant conducted the ceremony in a friendly, fast food style service. After citing constitutional acts, she announced that Ben and Lea were joining in matrimony for the republic. During the ring exchange, she invited the proud, « paparrazzi » parents behind the pulpit to snap photos. Then she announced that they would repeat their vows on the top of the Ferris wheel, which at first I thought was a joke. The witnesses, a young blonde women in a black dress with an oval opening revealing a tattooed spine and a slender punk haired young man in black suit, stepped forward to sign the official papers. In less than 10 minutes, we were whisked out of the room and the next wedding party wave entered.Read more