FitBit – Tamagotchi for Adults

 

When our kids gave us a FitBit for Christmas, I had no clue what it was, but FitBit is like a Tamagotchi for adults. Remember those digital pets we babysat for our kids in the 90s? Well, FitbBit vibrates if you haven’t moved your butt in the past 30 minutes. A message flashes across the screen, “Wanna stroll?” And if you forget to feed FitBit with daily motion it will die. When I realized FitBit was another electronic gadget I was mortified because I am techno impaired. Alas, ze Frenchman to the rescue. Sure enough, he programmed that little wristband do everything except cook dinner.

Tamagotchi

For those not in the know, FitBit is a physical activity tracker designed to help you become more active,eat a more well-rounded diet, sleep better and live healthier. Or at the very the least, it can make you a more obsessive human being.

FitBit records time, measures motion, counts calories, steps, and stairs. It records pulse, tracks sleep, and differentiates between biking, hiking, skiing, climbing, strolling, and running.

FitBit data can be synced to an online account. You can track every breathing moment even while sleeping. Which may not be a good thing. Over morning coffee ze Frenchman checks my profile and scolds me, “Pot you did not sleep well. Only 4 hours and 18 minutes.”

“I know,” I grumbled. “Why do you think I wake up feeling like I’ve been run over by truck?”

For many FitBit is a great motivator. It collates data about your weekly fitness level and sends you virtual badges rewarding positive behavior.

London Underground Badge: You’ve walked 250 miles—as many as the world’s first underground railway.

My Frenchman, who is 62 going on 16, is really taken with it. Since retiring he never stops moving. He plays volleyball, lifts weights, skis, bikes, hikes and kayaks. With my bad feet, bad knees, and a bad back, I limp along a mile behind him.

“I am struggling to keep up with your dad,” I confessed to our daughter.

“Somebody needs to remind him he is retired.”

Good luck with that,” I said. “Your dad used to time his sisters when they walked to school. Now if FitBit shows we are not moving fast enough, he yells at me to hurry up.”

“Mom, what have we done?” Nat lamented, “FitBit will be the death of you.”

Ah, but for an old athlete I can’t think of any better way to go… on the move breaking records.

Is Your Passport Valid?

Once, my coaching buddy raced around Athens between basketball games to find an American Embassy when he realized his passport expired and he would be stuck in Greece. I would never let my passport lapse especially in our present political climate. I have feared my French husband will be denied entry into the United States, but I never dreamed that I wouldn’t be allowed out of the country.

On January 10, the ticket control attendant at the gate stopped me from boarding my flight to Amsterdam at the St.Paul/Minneapolis airport.[tagline_box backgroundcolor=”” shadow=”no” shadowopacity=”0.1″ border=”1px” bordercolor=”” highlightposition=”none” content_alignment=”left” link=”” linktarget=”_self” button_size=”small” button_shape=”square” button_type=”flat” buttoncolor=”” button=”” title=”” description=”« A problem? Me? I am American, » I said pointing to my husband. « He’s the foreigner. » « He can go, » the airline attendant barked. « You must stay. Your passport is expiring April 3. » « I know. I will go to the American consulate when I get back to Switzerland. » « M’am I’m sorry, you are not authorized to leave the country. » « But I don’t live here. » « You cannot fly internationally on an US passport if it is within 90 days of expiration. »” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][/tagline_box] The hostess called her supervisor, who called his manager, who called the next higher up in the chain of command. They reiterated the rule and stared at the computer screen.

«But I live in Switzerland,» I pleaded showing my residency permit. More mumbling, more phone calls, more computer gazing.

With a last warning, they finally let me board the plane.

I am a well-seasoned traveler, but rules can change quickly especially these days with heightened security. After having lived in 4 different countries, I fear losing my identity papers because I know the rigors involved in establishing legality as an alien. How could I be unaware of this 3-month stipulation?

To avoid making the same mistake, here are some tips concerning your passport. (For more information go to this page.)

International travel is denied if you passport is within 3 months before expiration. Other countries may deny entry if your passport expires within 6 months. Entry into any of the 26 European countries in the Schengen area requires a minimum of 3 months

US passport photographs are very specific – expats would find it easier and cheaper to take passport photos while in the states at the local DMV or Walgreens than overseas.

Beware, you cannot wear glasses in the photo and you must not smile. Please don’t argue with the photographer (like the lady in front of me at Walgreens did) and demand a retake because you don’t like the way you look. This isn’t a Glamour cover shoot; it’s a passport. Forget vanity. Think safety. Face recognition software works better identifying non-smiling, glasses free photographs.

An adult US passport costs – $140 (or $110 for renewal) but it is valid for 10 years. It packs a lot of punch for your dollar. That little blue book allows Americans free access to over 100 different countries as compared to passports for many Middle Eastern and African countries whose citizens can only enter 30 some countries without visas.

Once back home safely, I filled in the paperwork online, then went to consulate in Geneva and filed for a new passport, which arrived by mail two weeks later. As I admired my new blue book, I marveled at my fortune being born in Illinois instead of Uzbekistan.

All in all it was surprisingly simple especially compared to renewing my American driver’s license, which entailed procuring my French marriage license, finding a valid translator, and five trips to the DMV, but that is another story. Stay tuned.

For more information on traveling, working, and living abroad check this official site.

Idiosyncrasies in American Behavior Healthwise

putzfrauAmericans are OCD about germs. You’ll see hand sterilizers in dormitories, Clorox wipes in homes, and face masks in health clinics. They wash hands obsessively, shower daily, and do laundry compulsively. Yet after living abroad for decades, I cannot help but notice some idiosyncrasies in this behavior.

In Switzerland, guests remove shoes at the door and bring slippers to dinner parties. Even kids comply without question. The no shoe rule applies in some doctors’ offices. My children’s orthodontist provided blue, plastic booties for everyone in his office. Imagine sitting in a crowded waiting room wearing mini shower caps on your feet?

In Europe no one dares enter a sports club or steps on a gym floor without changing to a clean set of sneakers. In my school, kids flunked PE if they failed to leave their shoes on shelves in the corridor before entering the changing room.

Nowhere is the difference in standards more blatant than at health clubs. In France changing stalls are like magic boxes. You enter the stall from the outside fully clothed and abracadabra you step out on the other side in a swimsuit and flip-flops.

One of the biggest absurdities I saw even in the ultra health conscious, St. Paul- Minneapolis area was that people walk into the club wearing their sweats, t-shirts and tennis shoes. They pump iron, ride the bikes, run on treadmills, attend fitness class, and then dash right back out the door in the same sweaty attire to shop at Target.

Even more alarming, they step in the sauna straight from the gym in workout gear while I soak in my swimsuit, the odd man out so to speak. One young woman plopped down in the sauna fully clad in her jeans, sweater, and boots. It gets cold in Minnesota, but really.sauna

Most Americans are modest about their bodies except for that one girl wearing Gucci workout shorts and a halter-top. She turned her backside toward the mirror and snapped a selfie of her booty’s reflection.

But for the most part, the puritan ethic is deeply ingrained. No one undresses openly in public even within the safe confines of the same sex changing rooms. If women do change clothes, they hide behind shower curtains or underneath giant towels.

Bodies of all ages and stages of decline are more exposed on French beaches than in America’s fitness club changing rooms.

As an old athlete, I grew up in the days when the communal shower stall was the status quo. I became even more liberated living in Europe where people sit on towels buck naked in mixed saunas and women go topless on the public beaches

When did the Yankees become so uptight about their bodies?

sauna-2Loosen up, America. Let it all hang out. It is good for the girls to air out now and then. Nobody cares what you look like; people are too busy sneaking peaks at their iPhones.

Besides you can always wash your hands on the way out.

 

 

Thought we needed a lighter look at life this week to brighten our mood.
Now if you really want to lift the spirits try this classic family recipe (Boeuf Bourguignon) from our favorite French Chef.

Guest Post: Daughter Gives Mom Remedial IT Lessons

Disclaimer: This piece should not be used to judge the state of interpersonal relations in our family. My mom is a wonderful person, and I love and admire her. My parents have been happily married for 32 years, despite the fact they have owned a computer through most of their marriage.

I am not a tech-y person. My friends mocked me for refusing to upgrade to a smartphone until 2014. My approach to my computer woes is to shut it down, restart and cross my fingers that the problem will fix itself. So when I tell you that my mom makes me look like a computer genius, you can see the problem. Usually she asks my dad for help, but since his assistance is accompanied by a lesson in French expletives, I became her IT resource during my last trip home.

I realized she was having problems with Facebook Messenger when Nic’s girlfriend approached me about their communication difficulties: “Pat told Nic that I don’t answer my messages, but I do! She just never answers back”.

I opened Facebook and demonstrated the “complicated” process of clicking the message symbol in the upper right corner of the screen and we discovered that she had dozens of unread messages, dating back to early 2015. If you need to communicate with Mom, I recommend you email instead.

The next issue: Spotify, which I set up for her last time I was home. “It always plays the same songs,” she says, “Show me how to erase those and download new ones.”

“Mom, you didn’t download anything, Spotify is a streaming service. Just make a new playlist.”

Pause. Quizzical stare.

“What’s a playlist?”

Since I wasn’t making progress on the computer, we moved on to the iPhone. Unfortunately, she does not know any of her passwords, or where to find them, so setting up Facebook and Goodreads accounts was challenging. Luckily my dad, foreseeing this problem, installed the password manager, LastPass. Next, she wanted to learn to use the camera, which she grasped quickly. She was chuffed by her ability to take pictures at her retirement party, and indeed she took many. Some were of her finger, and most were too dark, but it was an accomplishment and I was proud of her.

That pride was short-lived, however, because at this party her English department colleagues gave her a Kindle, a thoughtful gift for my mom, who is an avid reader. I just wish they had thrown in a bottle of wine for Dad and I, who had to teach her how to use it. Dad set it up, and Mom browsed Goodreads trying to figure out what book to buy first. Then she screamed: “Help! I don’t know what happened, I was just browsing and suddenly the pages of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ popped up and now it’s stuck”. A lot of things ‘just happen’ on computers when Pat is around. I don’t believe in the occult, but who knows? Maybe she is the victim of a particularly mischievous poltergeist. That would explain how, a few years ago, she received emails about random men after she inadvertently signed up for a Swiss dating site (unless maybe my dad signed her on in hopes that she would find someone else to help her with her computer issues).

Returning to the Kindle saga, since nothing was stuck – she had merely opened a book sample – so I show her how to use the ‘back’ button. But when she opened the sample, a message was sent addressed to ‘Sarah’. My dad, in his haste to set up Kindle to get my mom out of his hair, connected her to someone else’s Amazon account. Surprisingly, once we connected the correct account the Kindle store switched to German (we are in Switzerland after all). Google search revealed that this is a common problem with a less-than-straightforward solution, so we navigated through10 different steps on the Amazon account in French, English, and, German, and managed to reset the country to ‘USA’. But it was too early to celebrate our victory. When trying to re-connect Goodreads after resetting the Kindle, we faced a new challenge: Pat has multiple accounts, and multiple incorrect passwords recorded in LastPass.

When she first joined Goodreads, my dad made her an account for her book, and a personal account. Now this makes perfect sense for someone who wants to use the site for marketing while retaining a second, more private online identity. It makes no sense for someone who already has accounts on a half a dozen other social networking sites and doesn’t know how to use any of them.

Finally, we got the Kindle set up and working. But we still don’t have a book on the thing though – Mom continues browsing and can’t decide what she wants to read.

Who Stole My Keys?

Everyone loses keys and teachers are notorious for it, but to prevent misplacing mine, I devised a foolproof plan. I wear them. Like charms on a necklace, my bike, car, house, locker, and school keys hang on a lanyard around my neck.

Since I literally run between three departments –English, PE and learning support – my keys open every gym, storage facility and classroom in 5 different buildings. I was dumbfounded when in the blink of an eye between unlocking the changing room door for the PE students and locking up equipment after class, my keys vanish into thin air.

Five teachers help retrace my steps on the great missing key caper. We empty wastebaskets and look behind toilets, under shower stalls, in sinks, on wall bars, under trampolines, on top of shelves and beneath ball bins.

When our search turns up empty, I deduce – someone grabbed my keys out of the door while I chatted with another student. I drag my burly colleague, a former rugby star, to the cafeteria to interrogate the suspects. The boys told us to check with the girls outside at the picnic table; the girls sent us to the smokers’ corner off campus. One guy took the cig out of his mouth long enough to say, “Pas moi, madame” and dump out his book bag as proof. He suggests I see the rest of his class that would be heading to history.

Panic set in. I made a mental, to-do checklist – empty locker, remove valuables from desk, see janitor to deactivate keys to the gyms, department offices, and equipment rooms. Frantically, I call my husband to explain insisting, “Change the house locks. Sell my car before it is stolen.”

“Why would you carry every key you own?” my husband asks.

“So, I won’t lose them.”

“But they are lost.”

“Not lost, stolen!”

I am hyperventilating when I walk into the history class and plead to the students, who I had just confronted in my PE lesson. “Don’t say anything now. No questions asked. Just bring my keys back; my life is on that key chain.”

Désolé Madame, we haven’t seen your keys.”

Dejected, I walk back to the gym where a younger colleague with better eyesight is locking the gym door and shaking his head. No luck. I urge him to search one more time.

So we repeat the process. While I peek under gym mats, Frederic strolls out of the storage room swinging a hook filled with red bibs. Low and behold, behind the bibs dangling from a black UWSP lanyard is a beautiful set of keys. I hug him and then take off.

“Hey,” he hollers. “Where are you going?”

“To apologize to those kids.”

“Wait! Don’t forget your keys!”

I grab my keys, race across campus, knock at the classroom door and eat humble pie as I appeal once again to the students asking for forgiveness.

Then I stroll back to the gym smiling. My faith in humanity is restored by my colleagues’ kindness and my students’ integrity. With my keys jingling ‘round my neck again, all is right with world.

Happy Halloween Shake Dem Bones

HalloweenHalloween is one of my favorite holidays. When I was a child, I ate bags full of candy in one sitting and then stole from my little sisters’ stashes. This year I plan to dress up as a skeleton. My limbs are aching, but I keep shaking cause dem bones were made for dancing.

Anyone who suffers from chronic illnesses and injury can relate to crushing bone, joint and muscle pain. This old carcass has carried me across the globe. Broken, bruised, battered, the bones on my slender frame have taken a beating. I hit a brick wall chasing a basketball, flipped off a bicycle careening downhill, and flew out of a car crashing out of control on an autoroute.

I can no longer remember a day without pain, but the secret to outsmarting the soreness is to keep moving. Anyone plagued by any of the myalgias knows that everywhere hurts. Joint pain in the knees, hips and shoulders reign, then migrate to the ankles, wrists, fingers, toes and infiltrate every spinal notch where muscles and ligaments attach to the vertebrae.

I don’t have a flexible cell in my body, but I dared to learn yoga in my fifties. I still can’t touch my toes, but I keep trying and that makes all the difference.

Jim's walking sticksI follow the examples set by my eighty-four year old dad who walks daily even though his legs are tingling and heavy from neuropathy and my Grandpa Coach Mac who defied the odds by continuing to help coach college football in his late 80s and early 90s.

As soon as my feet hit the ground in the morning, I start humming Dem Bones to keep me going.

As kids we sang Dem Bones, which we thought was a funny children’s song, designed to teach us the parts of the skeleton. However, Dem Bones, is actually a popular spiritual, composed by African American, James Weldon Johnson, and inspired by Ezekiel 37:1-14.

skeletonToe bone connected to the foot bone

Foot bone connected to the heel bone

Heel bone connected to the ankle bone

Ankle bone connected to the shin bone

Shin bone connected to the knee bone

Knee bone connected to the thigh bone

Thigh bone connected to the hip bone

Hip bone connected to the back bone

Back bone connected to the shoulder bone

Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone

Neck bone connected to the head bone

Now hear the word of the Lord.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Now hear the word of the Lord.

Boo! Now scare those old limbs into action. Celebrate the season. This Halloween put one foot in front of the other. Join those pint sized ghosts and goblins creeping and peeping around your neighborhood. Get up. Get moving. Shake your booty. Dem bones were made for jiving.

Happy Halloween to you and all the cute lil’ pumpkins in your life!