Thanks for Lifting My Spirit Staying Connected

Staying connectedAfter I fell off a mountain, I was overwhelmed by well wishes for a speedy recovery coming from around the globe. Once again, I was reminded that the true meaning in life comes from our connection with others.

You think I have a positive, kick-butt attitude, but this latest injury sent me into a tailspin. I cried for 48 hours from the pain, frustration and anger at myself for my stupidity in attempting to sail downhill on two skinny sticks aka skis. Yet that drive to seize the day and refuse to give into limitations put me up on that mountain in the first place.

I know all about the repercussions from accidents. This is not my first rodeo; a clavicle is not my first shattered bone. In college, I played basketball with a broken finger and in young adulthood learned to walk again after car accident busted my back and sternum.

After my latest mishap, I wallowed in my little-woe-is-me-self-pity mode for a few days feeling isolated and disconnected from others as I struggled to force my body to stay still. Out of respect for my loyal followers, I thought I would let readers know I was out of commission for a while never expecting such an outpouring of sympathy as a result.

Family members phoned regularly and uplifting words from childhood buddies, high school classmates, college friends, colleagues, teammates, and athletes I’ve coached poured in on Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook and email.

Staying connectedIncapacitated again, my husband became my right hand man so to speak. Like a kindergartner I asked for help tying my shoes, zipping my coat, cutting my meat. Humbled by my limitations, I realized our interdependence can never be underestimated. How powerful those simple acts of kindness can be especially when we are down and out.

Today I wanted to share my good news. As my collar-bone realigns and the pain recedes, my doc says I won’t need surgery IF I can sit still and behave for a few more weeks. No easy feat for ol’ daredevil of East 19th street.

I wish I could say after this latest exploit that I learned my lesson. That I have become a self-actualized, blissed-out human being happy just sucking air everyday. Instead I remain restless, anxious to get back in the game, and live life to the fullest even with all the risks.

My take away message from this misadventure – go on keep reaching for the stars – but never take for granted the value of our human connections and the healing power of words.

Grounded: Broken Wing After Skiing

Grounded: Broken Wing After SkiingDear friends and readers just wanted to let you know I have been grounded and won’t be flying around cyber space anytime soon. I broke a wing. I should have stayed in the save confines of the gym instead of sailing down the slopes. I wiped out cross-country skiing in the Jura Mountains trying to keep up with my Frenchman who defies gravity and age. One minute I felt on top on the world celebrating life soaring under a blue sky on a snow-covered mountaintop. The next moment, I was lying in a heap on the icy side of a treacherous incline with my head shoulders pointing east and my legs twisted west.

To make a long story short, after a bumpy rescue squad ride in a snow mobile, a curvy trip back down the mountaintop and a 5 hour wait in emergency room, a doc diagnosed what I already knew, “Broken collar bone.”Grounded: Broken Wing After Skiing

“It exploded,” he said pointing to the jagged edges on the computer screen, “looks like you will need surgery.”

But just before I fainted, he called his buddy the orthopedic surgeon who balked when he found out I didn’t have insurance. (Well, I have insurance but not the kind that covers this swanky private hospital where peasants move to the back of the long waiting line.) The doc strapped me in a sling to immobilize the shoulder and sent me home with instructions to stay off slopes and out of gyms. Next week I will return for another X-ray to assure that the bone is aligning properly on its own.

At least I am in good company. My buddy Aaron Rodgers busted his collarbone twice and still throws 70-yard touchdown passes. Ditto for Charles Woodson who broke his in the Packers 2011 Super Bowl victory and he still had a heck of a career. And according to my doctor daughter, who has seen her fair share of broken bones, the clavicle is the most common fracture in the human body.

My advice to all you skier wannabes, stick to the flatlands of the Midwest, and leave the European mountains to the foreigners.

Also never ski alone. To be extra safe, bring along your own favorite doctor.Grounded: Broken Wing After Skiing

In the meantime, if I you want to hear any of my tall tales in the near future, give me a ringy ding. Thank goodness for the old fashioned, one arm operated telephone.

Raclette Party Swiss Favorite Event and Food

When guests arrive at our house for the first time, we always throw a raclette party to give them an authentic taste of Switzerland. Raclette is not only a food; it is an event.

This popular mountain dish, made from the alpine raclette cheese, has been around for centuries. Raclette, recorded in texts from German Swiss convents in 1291, dates back to medieval times. Cow herders used to melt this cheese over campfires when moving cows to and from pastures in the mountains.

Originally for this hearty, peasant meal a large raclette cheese round was heated over the fireplace then poured over potatoes. Hotels and restaurants in the mountains still use this method. Most people living in our area own an electric, tabletop raclette grills, which makes preparing the meal easier.

I love raclette because guests cook their own meal by heating sliced cheese in individual metal trays. The cheese is scraped onto small potatoes. Or it may also be served on bread like we do. Dried meats cured in the mountainous regions, such as beef, Parma hams, and viande des Grisons, can be heated on the grill top and served also. Tiny vinegary pickles and onions always accompany the dish.

The French serve raclette with a Savoy white wine, a Riesling or a pinot gris. According to the locals, one should drink only wine with raclette because water will harden the cheese in the belly creating indigestion. However, I have yet to see someone get sick even from imbibing, bubbly Coca Cola with the raclette meal.

At our house, we never had a guest who disliked raclette; in fact most people love it.

“Oh raclette, love it! Best meal of my life!” said Charlotte, Larissa’s sister who clapped her hands in delight and marveled. “Takes potato skins to a whole new level.”

My family enjoyed this so much on visits to Switzerland that I once hauled a bulky raclette machine across the Atlantic, so they could savor the meal stateside. Fortunately this is no longer necessary. You can order the raclette cheese and the grill from where else but a shop in New Glarus, the mini Switzerland of Wisconsin..

Order from New Glarus.

Imported raclette cheese is expensive. So at our cabin in Wisconsin, we use the excellent local products, the Colby, cheddar, or Swiss from Mueller’s Cheese Factory outlet. Although my French husband would disagree, I find the American cheese also suitable for this dish.

Raclette makes the perfect convivial meal to share on a cold winter night. The piping hot potatoes, heat from the grill and wine will toast your toes and warm your hearts.

Bon appétit!

British Life Begins and Ends at the Pub

On a recent visit to England I discovered that British life begins and ends at the pub. The centuries old custom of pub going means more than frequenting the local watering hole where you can wet your whistle. The pub, a center of community life, is a place where social barriers break down, class distinctions disappear and everyone is treated equally. Even dogs.

Visiting a traditional pub with a native helps you interpret the pub going protocol. We would still be waiting to be served if it weren’t for Larissa our son’s British girlfriend. When she took us to her hometown favorite The Embankment, a trendy place in Bedford, she explained that you must go to the bar to order and pick up drinks.

This renovated, wood-timbered Victorian era pub built in 1891 across from the River Great Ouse down from the Rowing Club reflected its roots. Though it retains its old world charm, there is nothing stuffy about this place. Divided rooms cater for dinner parties and crowds, but the heart and soul of the establishment remains the front room’s long wooden bar.

A local patron, a jovial mate stood there reading a newspaper knocking back his first beer at 10 am. He greets the steady stream of clients by bending to pet every pooch that entered the premises while his own dog dozes in a stuffed chair by the door.

The family friendly pub welcomes kids and pets. Everyone can lounge around over breakfast, lunch or dinner on cozy banquettes and sofa chairs in front of a log fire. The din of adult’s chatter, children’s laughter, and dogs’ barking, creates a convivial carnival like atmosphere.

“It is the opposite of America,” my Frenchman quipped, “In England dogs are welcome, but no guns allowed.”

With people watching at a premium I reveled in the view. At the round table next to ours, a posh couple coddling a poodle ordered a morning whiskey and Baileys on ice with a side of coffee. I nudged my husband and whispered “They brought dog biscuits in a mini Tupperware.”

“That’s nothing,” Gérald said. “The local chap at the bar has a box of kibble that he hands out to visiting pets.”

For the price of a drink you can linger and savor the show all day.

After our morning coffee, as soon as a table freed up in front of the fire, Larissa ushered us to comfier seats where we ordered lunch. The menu? What else – fish and chips. In keeping with British tradition, we doused our thick-cut fries and fried cod with a dash of cider vinegar.

But by far the biggest celebrity to parade into the pub was Guinness, Larissa’s sister and brother-in-law’s dog. The fluffy, black labradoodle stole the show when he loped in on gangly legs while everyone cooed in delight.

Dining on fish and chips in a real pub made us feel ever so British. In addition to greeting new arrivals, the man at the front of the bar put a fresh log on the fire as soon as the flame grew low. As if we were royalty sitting in his front parlor, he shared a kind word with each of us on our way out.

We felt like honorary guests in a British private home… until it was time to pay the bill.

Flying Uneasy on Low Cost British Easy Jet

Easy Jet planeNothing easy about so called “Easy” Jet the low cost British carrier, which offers services on over 820 routes in more than 30 countries. For years my UK colleagues raved about the simplicity and affordability of Easy Jet. We wanted a quick, cheap ride across the English Channel from Geneva to London Luton Airport to visit our son who moved to the Bedfordshire area. After 4 decades of globetrotting, I have never had a worse flight. If all goes well the flight takes about an hour and 20 minutes. Alas if all goes wrong it can takes days.

Before leaving our house we saw on-line that the 20:15 flight was delayed an hour and 15 minutes, which for Easy Jet seems fairly standard. Nevertheless, the message from Easy Jet stated that we must come at the normal time to the airport to check-in.

Our family’s previous experience with Easy Jet made me shudder. One time our son’s flight was delayed twice, then finally cancelled at midnight. The Easy Jet personal told him, “So sorry mate. Can’t help. Give the airlines a call and they’ll sort you out in the morning.”

Eventually they stuck him on a flight from Zurich, which is two hours away by train. Then on his return flight he was stranded in Luton, which is ranked as the UKs worst airport in the city considered the “armpit of England.” When Easy Jet changed his booking, they canceled his return by mistake, so his ticket was no longer valid. He had to fight to get another ticket issued for free for the same day, but 10 hours later!

flight information boardBack to our own saga. By the time we arrived at the Geneva airport, our flight had been delayed another 25 minutes. Finally around 9:30 they announced our boarding gate, a bit earlier than the expected delayed time. From the gate they herded us into a bus like cattle off to slaughter. The bus lurched forward and backed into a terminal parking space a hundred yards from where we left. We stood in the bus waiting for another 15 minutes, then re-entered the terminal again to finally proceed to the boarding ramp. The plane finally took off 15 minutes later than the delayed time. Are you still following?

Departure from our home in Geneva – 6:45 pm; arrival hotel outside of Luton using the unreliable train system – 2 am. Travel time 7 hours. With a good tailwind, it would have been faster to fly to Chicago.

For our 6:15 am return flight on Monday morning, we left our hotel at 4:15 to arrive on time. A sign said that the boarding gate would be posted at 5:40. It was and they simultaneously announced “Last call boarding call Easy Jet Flight 2049 to Geneva; we will be closing the gate”

One minute we were sitting in Starbucks stalling and starring at the departure screen and the next instance we were racing through the terminal knocking over other frantic passengers rushing to catch the Geneva flight before it took off, which by the way left 5 minutes ahead of schedule.

Ah Easy Jet, the single class, high-density layout airbus, guarantees discomfort.

Imagine squeezing into an egg carton. You must fold your body into an egg shape for the duration of the journey. Seats, which feel like benches, won’t lean back even a centimeter; if you are tall tray tables rest on your knees.

To further curtail costs, Easy Jet discourages checked baggage by charging as much for a bag as you pay for your ticket. Nor does it offer complimentary food or beverages not even water. Purchases from Easy Jet Bistro buy on board will be expensive.

In spite of the inconveniences, Easy Jet fills 92% of its flights, so your plane will be packed even at 6:15 am. Oh those poor souls commuting to work via Easy Jet.

The cabin crew, the only saving grace, will be kind as if they spent a lifetime calming irate passengers who have missed connecting flights, important business meeting and special family occasions.

Saving money may not be worth the trade off due to the toll an Easy Jet flight takes on your body.

My recommendation: if you see bright orange Easy Jet label – run.

Unfortunately I cannot heed my own advice. If we want to visit our son and Larissa we have to fly Easy Jet. London Luton, 35 miles north-west of Central London, is Easy Jet headquarters and the airline is the only one offering a direct flight from Geneva.

Before I go back for another visit, I will consult my British friends and find out the insider secrets on the most painless way to survive a flight on the so called Easy Jet.

Explaining Thanksgiving to Europeans

Americans know the story of how Native Americans saved Pilgrims from starvation back in 1620 by teaching them to tap maple trees, plant corn and fertilize soil, but I have been trying to explain Thanksgiving to Europeans for decades. 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.

Decades ago when I moved to Europe, I was a pilgrim at the mercy of my French teammates who taught me their language and customs.

A year later, I became indebted to German friends who shared their homes and meals. Accepted by marriage into my French family, adopted into Swiss culture where I now live, I have always been a guest in someone else’s country.

Yet I remain loyal to my roots. Though every feast I have prepared has been a fiasco, Thanksgivings with my Franco American family has always been sacred.

“Are any European celebrations similar to Thanksgiving,” I once asked my husband. He looked at me incredulous.

“Of course not,” he said. “Native Americans are the only people on the planet gracious enough to thank their conquerors.”

No matter what the circumstances or who shows up at the table, T-day is one tradition I cherish.

My first year abroad I invited French teammates to dinner and much to my chagrin they ate the meal 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.

When I introduced the custom to my French family, my mother-in-law served raw oysters first and insisted a turkey was too big; chicken would suffice.

If left to their own devices, Europeans could butcher our day of thanks.

What American celebrates Thanksgiving by eating an seven-course meal standing up? Who replaces Tom Turkey with Chicken Little to eliminate leftovers? Leftovers are Thanksgiving.

Born in the Land of Lincoln, I consider it my patriotic duty to give thanks on the fourth Thursday of the month, the day Abe appointed as a national holiday in 1863 when he gave gratitude for an instrumental Union Army victory at Gettsyburg.

Expats everywhere create their own special ties to their heritage.

When my Norwegian grandfather immigrated to America, he insisted on keeping the Norwegian tradition of eating lutefisk and lingonberry on Christmas Eve.

“My dad brought strangers home to dinner,” my mom said. “He’d say ‘so many people helped me when I arrived in the United States, I want to return the favor.’”

Every Thanksgiving, I gather family, friends and “foreigners” in a feast honoring my Norwegian ancestors, my American homeland and my host country. To avoid offending guests, I whisper thanks to the Great Spirit who watches over all of us regardless of our religious, national, or ethic affinity.

Apparently, like our Native American friends, she sees the good in man, even in the conquistador.