Sisters Only A Heartbeat Apart

“What’s wrong? I whispered as my middle sister coaxed my little sister out from under the bed.“Grandpa yelled at her cause she didn’t finish her milk at dinner,” Sue, explained.

“Oh, Kar, he yelled at me too,” I said as I stuck my head under the bed. “C’mon, I got a great idea. We’ll dance in the living room.”

Together in our matching pink nighties we pranced in front the our reflection in the picture window to the beat of the Pink Panther until Karen’s tears turned to giggles.

From the time we were little children, our heartiest laughs and greatest tears were shared as sisters; three girls just four years apart.

I, being eldest set the example.  I taught them how to slide veggies off the dinner plate and onto the floor for the family dog and to sneak out of at bed night to watch The Honeymooners from behind the divider in the dining room.  I kept them in line by pretending to hit their face, then socking their stomach.

3 sisters

3 sisters

We shared childhood memories of vacations when we sat facing backwards in our nine seater wagon and smoked candy cigarettes, waved at truck drivers from behind plastic sun glasses and pretended to be ladies. When we tired of comic books and games, we argued, until Dad threatened.  “Quit squabbling or I’ll stop the car and you can walk home!”

In instant solidarity against the enemy, the almighty grown up, we held hands in silence for the remainder of the ride.

Together we survived the early adolescence “uglies”.  Our finest feature striking blue eyes, hidden behind thick brown cat eye framed glasses.  Sue developed too much up front, I, too little, and Karen, The Babe, Miss-Perfect-In-Between was just right. Our personalities were as different as our body types.  I, an aggressive brunette tomboy, thought kitchen was a four-letter word. Sue, an easy-going blonde homebody loved to bake and clean. Karen, a chestnut haired social butterfly, enjoyed the outdoors and domestics.

“Get off the phone blabber mouth,” I yelled at Karen.  “It’s my turn to have the car,” Sue yelled at me.  In high school we were selfish about the use of the phone and car, but generous with our clothes and friends.

We went to the same college, Illinois State, and majored in helping professions.  One summer, we even fought for the same beau.  Sue caught in the middle, shouted, “Never thought I’d see the day a guy tore you apart!”  When he dropped me for my baby sister, I thought the hurt would never heal.  Later when he tired of her, I helped her put back the pieces.  Now, we laugh about the jerk, who tried to come between us.

In high school and college, Karen and I played on the same basketball team.  Sue never missed a game.  When a car accident ended my career in France, the sound of their voices over the phone helped me heal faster than the ministrations of a hospital full of foreign doctors.

We were always together for the important moments.  When I got married in Normandy, Karen flew over and Sue helped pay for her ticket. When Kar married a year later, Sue was her maid of honor.  When Sue wed, I was the best gal.

Now every summer, we set aside a week to return to our family cabin in Wisconsin where we roast hot dogs over a crackling fire, float on inner tubes on a silver-blue lake, and take long walks in the woods. We still dance in the living room, now we call it aerobics.

For in between times, we write long letters and make short calls, “ I can’t afford this, but I wanted to hear your voice.”

We developed a sixth sense sisters’ share.  After my miscarriages, my sisters mourned, too.  The night my daughter was born in Paris, Sue dreamed,” it’s a girl!” in Chicago.

As children we shared a room, held hands before falling asleep and vowed we’d live in a triplex, so we could always be together.  As adults, we ended up living thousands of miles apart in different states and countries.  Yet, as sisters, we remain only a heartbeat away.

Sisterhood, motherhood and marathons

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Hannah & Karen

Hannah & Karen

When my professional basketball career ended, my goal was to start running marathons.  Accidents and illness thwarted that dream; I never ran again, so my little sister is competing in a sprint triathlon for me.

Karen was always a good athlete with a body built for competition. She had perfect teeth and toes, providing a good bite and great balance.

During thousands of dollars of treatment for a misaligned dental occlusion, my dentist explained, “The massetter is the strongest muscle in the body. You ever notice all the best athletes have beautiful teeth?”

Ditto for the toes. Whereas my sister polishes her beautiful toes, my crooked ones remain hidden in clunky orthopedic shoes. My podiatrist has told me I should retire from teaching because my feet are so bad. My ankles are pronated, my arches too high, my big toe too short, so my balance is bad. My second toe is too long and the other three are curled like claws to grip the ground to keep me upright. Leg aches plagued me since childhood, but never slowed me down.

So while Karen and her friends train for the Chaska River City Days Sprint Triathlon – a third-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 5K run, I cheer them on. After raising children and caretaking in helping professions, they decided to do something just for themselves and began training together for the event.

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Ever the competitor, I secretly train for my own triathlon – a walk, bike, swimathlon. Everyday I bike around the neighboring lake, walk to town, and swim to the island, each day pushing to go a little farther and a bit faster. It takes some ingenuity because I have to avoid the sunlight.

While my baby sister paints her nails and runs in preparation for the big event, I don full scuba gear, like the Loch Ness monster, to swim in a cold, purple lake.

When Karen finished the triathlon reaching her personal goal wearing the number 60, her birth year, she called me first.

“After the swim – my best event – I felt great,” Karen said, “But after the 16 mile bike, my legs turned to Jello on the run, then a guy ran by and offered me good advice – just put one foot in front of the other.”

My sister admires me for never giving up in spite of all my physical limitations, but she remains my hero, a younger, more refined, fitter version of myself.

Our competitive spirit spurs us on. If my baby sister, can finish her first sprint triathlon at the age of 51, I can darn well make it around the block again on my own two faulty feet.

Twelve Tips for Air Travel in the 21st Century

Sometimes, when when there are no glitches, Air Travel rocks. But most of the time, it has become a nightmare. Make the best out of it with a few tips:

1. Never trust what the airline say.

2. When airline staff  say« No problem » it really means « Don’t KNOW the problem. »

3. Fly at times when no one else wants to, for example Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, Easter Sunday.

4. Carry aboard prescription medicines for the duration of the trip vacation and a written explanation of one’s medical condition.

5. Pack snacks such as nuts, dried fruits, and cereal bars. Airlines may charge $3  for a small package of M & Ms or chips.

6. A small empty water bottle passes through security controls and can be refilled as needed.

7. Nowhere is Murphy’s Law (Sod’s Law in the UK) more prevalent than in air travel « accept that what can go wrong, will go worse than you would dream ».

8. Limit carry on baggage as courtesy to fellow passengers, so they won’t have to stow their luggage ten rows away from their assignments seats.

9. An electronic seat assignment does not guarantee a boarding pass, and a frequent flyer membership these days is nothing more than another plastic card in your pocket.

10. Wear comfortable, layered clothes, which make it easy to disrobe at security and to accommodate fluctuating temperature in the aircraft.

11. Forget cost cutting, book the direct flight whenever possible. In the end, it costs less than additional taxi fares, meals and hotel rooms when you miss your connecting flight.

12. Acknowledge that the skies are no longer friendly. Airline companies, even code sharing partners, are at war and passengers are in the line of fire. Accept what you are : at the best a user and very rarely a customer.

Eventually, get rich and fly First, it might do the trick…May be.

Help! I am becoming a social media junky

Okay, what started it all was this crazy desire to be a writer.  But nobody sits downs and writes anymore. They socialize, they connect, they advertise, they promote, they sell.  They pound the pavement on line to build a platform. Reminds me of selling potato chips door to door to raise money to attend Y Camp as a kid.

I naively signed up for blogging 101 and build your author platform with Dan Blank, our social media guru. http://wegrowmedia.com/ Before I knew it I was hooked.

First he encouraged us to blog.  Got that down.  Next step -Twitter.  Twitter scared me. I feared the CTA (Cyberspace Transit Authorities) would catch me smuggling words across borders.  Twitter feels like passing notes in class to strangers.  Twitter is like it sounds –  a bunch of magpies sitting on a telephone line gossiping.

Next Dan insisted,  «join Facebook. » What a tool. Daunting. The concept scared me.  I  avoid  mirrors. I don’t particularly enjoy looking at my face these days, so why  would anyone else ? Yet now, as if displaying the bulletin board of my childhood, my mug shot flashes on the « wall » of the world.

All these people are coming out of the woodwork.  It’s awesome reconnecting with my high school and college alumni, but also unsettling. I can’t get my head around it.  It’s like looking into a trick mirror – we look grey and paunchy. Yet I’m still sweet sixteen in my mind, a skinny thing in pig tails and skinned knees.

The worst part of my new social media gig, is that I no longer want to go to my real job interacting with real students and real colleagues.  It is more rewarding to catch up with former students and friends on line. They are so much smarter than me. English teachers are obsolete. Seriously, no one writes complete sentences anymore.  Even Shakespeare  looks like this – R & J in love 4ever. The downside of social media is that it makes me feel old, dumb, and ugly.

Yet for somebody living abroad, it is a way to link in with old classmates; to keep up with the youth,; to meet new people in a  writers group that shines from sea to shining sea.  Rebecca in San Fran and Barb in LA, Viki in Chicago (http://www.friendgrief.blogspot.com/), Porter in Atlanta (http://www.porterandersonmedia.com/), Kathy (http://krpooler.com/) and Jen in Virginia (http://jenhenderson.com/wordpress/ ) Judith in Italy (http://aromacucina.com/) and Dan in NYC.

To attract more followers, Dan says we need to host events, plan give aways, and create gimmicks.  It makes me feel more like the on-line Avon Lady than Virginia Woolf.  One thing I know for sure working with teens, social media is the future. Tomorrow we “boogie, “on their terms; my generation is on the way out! So suck it up, Pat, and get it on with it.  Tweet. Tweet.

Seven Spring Cleaning Tips from Small Countries

Switzerland could win awards as the tidiest nation on earth.  As a compact country, the Swiss are born with an extra chromosome, a clean gene, to help conserve space. The streets are so sanitary, you could  eat off the sidewalks. I have never been a neat freak, but I have adopted a few helpful spring cleaning tips from our European neighbors.

  1. No shoes in the house. Ever. The Swiss are trained at an early age to automatically remove footwear at the door.
  2. Commune rule. Divide heavy tasks with household members on a rotational basis.   When I lived in an apartment complex in Germany, the residents on each floor took turns mopping the stairwell.  Same rules should apply in a family.
  3. Cut down laundry. Throw bedding out the window for a weekly breather.  Europeans, great believers in the curative properties of fresh air,  hang duvets over wrought iron balconies and wooden framed window ledges.
  4. Recycle bread crumbs (another French custom) Shake table cloths out the window.  First make sure pigeons, not people, inhabit the balcony below.
  5. Eliminate dust. Triple stack books on the shelves, that way there is no shelf left to collect grime.
  6. Clean sweep.  Push-everything-under-the bed-trick.  It’s a great storage area for books, essays, newspapers, laptops, and used Kleenex. Technique also works well in the living room using space between the couch and floor as magic drawer. (another personal invention)
  7. If all else fails, follow my Norwegian mom’s wise advice – hide the incriminating evidence, (including children):
    • Move the messy kid to the basement
    • Close the door
    • Condemn the area as a natural disaster

That is how my parents and I co existed during my adolescence. Consequently, I grew up serenely in comfortable chaos as a cellar dweller and only had to clean my room semi annually when the basement flooded.

 

 

 

Homecoming, Always a Celebration

When the kids are little, you can’t wait for the day when they won’t distract you with demands for meals, rides, and errands.  Then bad-da-boom, they graduate and head off to college and onto careers and you long for an interruption – a call, a letter or an email – from that wayward daughter or son.

As they do their best to squeeze you into their busy lives, you find yourself crossing off days until their homecoming.  You bake childhood favorites and stock the pantry with the treats your child used to love when he or she was 6 or 12 or 20.  Suddenly the volume picks up. The screen door bangs; the refrigerator squeaks and the phone rings with their childhood friends wanting to reconnect.

In a flurry of joy, you attack the chores you hate with renewed vigor, you wash bedding, clean under furniture, and air out rooms filled with memories.  Some people remodel, changing bedrooms into bureaus when the kids move on, but I am unable to discard anything. Their rooms remain the same as the day they left, like shrines to their childhood.  Sport medals hang from bedposts, favorite books perch on shelves, stuffed animals sit on bedcovers, posters of athletes and pop artists cover walls and closets remain full of Beanie Babies, Little Ponies, and PlayMobile figures.  OMG! Am I the only mom that cannot part with my children’s keepsakes decades after they grow up? Each time I step into their rooms, memorabilia lets me stop time to relive that stage in their lives, which, in retrospect, blew past the first time around.

baking family favorites

baking family favorites

My parents, edging toward eighty, still spoil their adult children.  Mom fixes my brother’s favorite meal,  “Swiss” steak, a cheap cut of meat slow cooked in tomato sauce that has nothing to do with Switzerland.  (No one is really sure it ever was his favorite, but it has become part of our family lore.) They stock up on veggies for me, which makes them laugh, because as a kid I hightailed out of the kitchen when anything green showed up.  They tidy up before one sister visits; or add an extra bit of disorder for me, more comfortable in chaos.  They indulge in the same rituals for grandchildren, fixing favorite meals and stocking up on favorite brands: Yoplait Strawberry (only) Custard Yogurt, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Wisconsin Colby.

Homecoming is a universal ritual everywhere in the world. When we go to Normandy, my in-laws, nearing their nineties, will lay out the finest fare the land and the sea can offer. My mother-in –law still slings a basket over her arm to shop at the open market, preparing to serve five course meals with my husband’s favorites, from coquilles

traditional diner in Normandy

traditional diner in Normandy

St Jacques to strawberries in cream, while my father in law uncorks a bottle of his best burgundy.

My youngest sister recently returned home and said, “It was great.  I never cooked a meal!  Got to talk as much as I wanted.  I was the Babe again!”

Whatever your age you will always be somebody’s kid.  You are never too old to come home.