French Chef Comes to Your Kitchen

Version 2I met my Frenchman after losing in the semi finals of the European basketball championship, so I was in no mood for romance. But that clever man persuaded my teammates to drag me to his dinner party, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t fall in love at first bite. I still remember that meal a fondue bourguignonne.

On our first date, he invited me to dinner and served poulet aux pommes, a baked chicken with apples sauteed in fresh cream, a specialty from his Normandy region. I had never seen a chicken served whole let alone known a man who would cook one. So that pretty much sealed the deal, although it took me another year or so to make up my mind.

Since then, try as I might to pick up pointers in the art of cooking, me in the kitchen is like a bull in a china shop. I lack that French je ne sais quoi when it comes to timing, textures and flavors. I threw in the towel long ago and forfeited command of the kitchen. Why try to compete with ze French when it comes to cooking?

Gérald’s culinary expertise developed early on. He won his first cooking contest as a boy creating his omelet supreme over an open fire, no less, using the only ingredients available to scouts – eggs, potatoes, milk, salt, and pepper.

For decades, I have been spoiled by his vast repertoire of specialties. Our weekly fare varies from sole to trout, duck to quail, rabbit to lamb prepared in a variety of taste tantalizing ways. I could make a small fortune by renting out his services.

I am so spoiled; he cooks up a storm on a daily basis. Oh no, not burgers and dogs, but gourmet meals with hard to pronounce names like blanquette de dinde, agneau de 7 heures, and lapin en gibelotte as well as simple fare like salmon grilled in olive oil and herbs, sausage and lentils, beef and a carrot gratin.               .

But I have good news for you. I decided to share. In addition to my usual gamut of fav topics, we will “serve” food. Stay tuned as we share not only cross-cultural living, but also favorite French and European recipes.

Bon appetit!

And Happy Halloween.

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Why Me Syndrome

dsc01302Ever suffer from the why me syndrome? Those times you are immobilized by anger, frustration, and fatigue and wondering why you have to go through whatever it is you are enduring. Anyone who knows me knows that I have coped with an abundant amount of physical pain. Some of it was self-inflicted during my career as a pro athlete, but most of it accidental, random sh**.

I don’t have to look far for inspiration to find someone who is fighting an even greater challenge. Compared to others, my life is not so bad. I have lost friends to cancer, suicide, and bad, bad bugs like MSRA. I have friends who are coping with MS, diabetes, and depression.

I have friends enduring the crippling loss of a parent, child, sibling, spouse or friend. I know people facing surgery, dealing with dialysis, and going through chemo. I have friends who encounter each day without complaint, staring down each personal setback with dignity.

Early on, we must learn life is not fair. We don’t get to pick our opponents. Some obstacles are insurmountable. Some rivals are bigger, stronger, better. Some battles cannot be won, no matter how hard we fight.

I have cried a million tears, pounded my bed in despair and prayed to the heavens. Why am I here if only to suffer?

Because suffering is universal.

It is what makes us human.

img_0006Life is not fair. It is not fair that I was born into a stable, loving family. That as a child, I grew up with 3 of my 4 grandparents still living to help shape me. That my community was so safe I could play outside until the street lights came on. That doors opened for women in sports that had been forever closed offering me opportunities to travel and compete. That my father was a coach and I, an athlete, so I had a head start. That I met my soul mate half way across the globe. His family adopted me just as mine cherished him helping us to create a new cross cultural, bilingual family. That I had not only one, but two children that enrich my life. That I have loyal, steadfast friends and former students and athletes scattered around the globe cheering me on in my darkest moments.

img_1963Thanks to all of you who reached out to support me with calls, comments, text messages, FB shout outs and emails.

I have been blessed beyond measure. As I roll out of bed onto the floor and into the downward dog to stretch my limbs that lock up overnight, I toss-up a prayer.

To all of you grappling with the loss of loved ones, job insecurity, crazy bosses, growing older and the gamut of emotions ranging from rage to fear to anxiety that are an inherent part of the human condition, I hope you have the resiliency to weather the next storm.

As you face a new day, I wish you Bon Courage.

Be bold, be brave, believe.

Embrace life…a gift at any age.

Witnessing Wisconsin’s Breathtaking Autumn Foliage

dsc01272As an international teacher living in Europe, though I had spent summers Up North, I never had the opportunity to witness Wisconsin’s autumn foliage. Seeing the leaves turn colors was one of the first things on my “to do in retirement” bucket list.

From our cabin on a lake tucked in the woods of Central Wisconsin, nature offered an stunning show. Each day as leaves turned red, yellow, orange, amber, and gold I became more greatly enamored with the Northwoods.

“The trees are so beautiful!”

“Oh you haven’t seen anything yet,” my dad told me.

Then almost overnight, it was as if an artist spilled primary colors on a green canvas, creating a new panorama. Red sumac, orange maple, yellow birch, and fir, spruce and pine in every shade of green etched against a baby blue sky made me long to paint like my dad and grandma. No words could capture this radiant sight.

dsc01273Now I understand why people plan holidays around the peak foliage week. As I drove south on route 45 from my doctor’s office in Eagle River, I stopped the car to shoot photographs of lakes – Pelican, Otter, Townline – along my route. Then I finished my tour on foot hiking around the western shore of Summit Lake and to the end of the road towards Upper Clear Lake.

My favorite childhood haunts were transformed into a riot of color. The sun, peeking from behind the clouds, cast a spotlight as the leaves burst into flaming glory, fluttering to the ground in their final dance.

While the wind whistled through the pines, leaves like giant, colored snowflakes spilled out of the sky carpeting the dirt roads in calico.

I never dreamed that the event was such a drawing card. My neighbors had friends coming to see the colors, hoping they could time it just right. Every year, experts try to determine the dates of the peak foliage for tourists to map out; I followed the foolproof advice of the Wisconsinite next door.

“Never fails,” he said, “colors change around my birthday. End of September.”

As the days grew shorter and the weather turned cooler, I wanted to prolong the show by catching the leaves before they landed to magically hold them on the trees longer. But Mother Nature is a fickle friend with a mind of her own. Part of the nature’s majesty is her fleeting quality.dsc01277

As I walk in the woods, I gaze upward toward the treetops as the leaves snap, crackle and pop under foot. Or I sit on the dock watching the clouds swirl in the sky above while the trees reflection in the still, blue waters creates a multi-colored collage like an impressionist’s painting.

With the lighting and color changing every instant, I stare at an unfolding pageant, knowing that this beauty queen will strut her stuff, and then disappear in the blink of an eye.

But take my advice come next September; be sure to head north on Bob’s birthday.

Back from the Brink

dsc01139As if enduring chemo, without the cancer, I slipped off the planet into a free-fall spinning out of control. Out of commission, I disconnected from the real world incapable of answering email, writing blogs, telephoning friends. It was all I could do just to survive another day.

I feared going out in public because I could no longer trust my body. Dodging the throng of shoppers at Costco, I darted towards the nearest bin bag and doubled over heaving at the end of the fresh cut meat aisle.

At times my heart raced and I felt breathless. Other times I was dizzy and nauseous. In my worst moments I puked, barfing up breakfast or lunch. My entire existence became limited to timing my next medicine dosage and figuring out what I could eat, when and how to keep food inside.

As the days dragged on, my body shut down, so did my brain. Like a wounded, ol’dog, I wanted to drag my weary carcass off to a dark corner to lie down and die.

What precipitated this spiral of descent? In July I began a treatment to fight parasites in my blood, another evil component of my multi system inflammatory disease. Protozoa, unlike bacteria, are the same cell type as human cells. Antibiotics can differentiate better between your cells and bacteria cells, but anti-protozoan meds will also effect your own cells. Consequently, the most effective medications are extremely difficult to tolerate creating a chemo-like effect.

First came the shakes, queasiness, fatigue, disengagement, disassociation then the vertigo, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and severe orthostatic hypo-tension. Rising from a sitting position, made me faint. I was so winded going up the stairs I had to sit down every other step to catch my breath. Walking up a slight incline left me doubled over gasping as though I had just run a mile.

I knew something was seriously wrong for even in my favorite place among my favorite peeps, I felt despair. Mere communication required too much effort. I didn’t want my family to worry, so I tried fake it, but fooled no one.

“What is wrong mom?” my kids asked. “You aren’t talking and you always have something to say.”

The weird plethora of symptoms made me feel like I was going crazy, but I did not look sick until the weight dropped – 15 pounds off my lean 5’10 frame. I begged my doctor let me stop the meds for a few weeks, so that I could regain my strength and sanity in a mini break from the antibiotic, anti parasite, anti fungus regime.

Within a day the nausea subsided and I could take in calories. The level of fatigue and dys

pnea lessened, the depression lifted.

A part of me felt angry for the all the sublime summer days I’d lost while curled up in a dark room clinging to the sides of bed to keep me from spinning off earth.

But another part of me knew that there was no better place to heal than at the lake where the quiet woods and calm waters coupled with the love of family allowed me to endure one day at a time. Chronic illness is not for the feint hearted and I am a warrior. My fighting spirit is back; I am ready for the next battle.

 

Happy Father’s Day Coach – Thanks for the Legacy

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

Coach “Mac” – Ralph McKinzie

On June 5, 1983, mere months after a car accident in France ended my career as professional athlete, I wrote this letter to my grandpa Coach ‘Mac’ Ralph McKinzie. a beloved college coach.

Today, I can address this same letter to my dad, who influenced just as many high school athletes as my grandpa did at the university level.

 

 

Dear Coach Mac,

I want to wish you a Happy Father’s Day, not as your granddaughter but as an athlete. Though I never had the opportunity to play football on your team (football is forbidden for girls, even tomboy girls) I still look to you as an example. As an athlete I know the impact you had as a coach, but as a woman I can express emotions more openly than a man. Today I am writing on behalf of all the boys you fathered on the football field who would wish you a Happy Dad’s Day if they could find the words.Jim & Grandpa

In our society men are not allowed to show feelings; it is uncharacteristic of the American male, especially husky football players, to write thank you letters, so you’ll never realize the number of lives you touched. Your influence on one boy, Ronald Reagan, who became President of the United States, is probably the most outstanding example of the far-reaching effects of your coaching. Many men, less acclaimed perhaps, but equally important, are fathering children and becoming productive citizens because of the impact you had as a coach, developing character. Many continue to hurdle life’s hardships because of the never-give-up attitude you instilled on McKinzie Field.

Coach Jim

Jim McKinzie – Eureka College

I am one of those former athletes. I never endured the duck walk, but I know enough of your coaching philosophies to have that iron will ingrained, a will that kept me alive this year. After the accident I thought I would never get out of bed, days passed from minute to minute enduring pain. When walking from one room to another seemed insurmountable, you were my inspiration. I thought of you pacing the football field. Not all your former athletes will have suffered the same trials as I, but each will have endured hard times, drawing on the strength you helped them develop off the field.

Since I can no longer compete, I feel useless. Again I look to you and see how you are still coaching, influencing lives even at the age of 89. So I think I will try to follow your example as a coach. Unfortunately, in organized sports today, coaches often must focus more on winning championships than on shaping individuals. However I intend to follow your philosophy and be a coach of life.

Perhaps you too are weary from life’s aches and pains. Many mornings you, a man that once kicked 50-yard field goals, has trouble pulling on his socks. Like me you wonder what your purpose is here now. But your very existence continues to be an inspiration to us all. Thanks Coach from all your athletes.

P & Nic-2My grandpa officially retired from coaching in 1962, and then was called back to the game a year later. My father retired from coaching boy’s football and basketball only to return to coaching girl’s basketball in the infancy of Title IX.

Looking back my letter reads like a prophecy; I went on to coach and teach internationally for 33 years. Together grandfather, father, and daughter have dedicated nearly a century and half to helping shape kids on the playing fields. Only days after my grandfather died in 1990, our son was born. Today that young man, Coach Mac’s great grandson, has become the fourth generation to go into teaching and coaching.

I think that is what you call a legacy.

Speaker Graduation International School of Geneva

When I accepted the honor of speaking at the International School of Geneva’s graduation ceremony during my final year of teaching, I was filled with trepidation. Who was I to give advice to such a talented group of students and their families? How I could bid farewell to my community and career without bursting into tears?

I am uncomfortable being in the limelight. My story is only one of many of the stories of the trailblazers who fought for civil rights, but my message – the right to pursue one’s dream – is universal.

As I stood on stage in front of a packed gymnasium, I fixed my eyes on my husband, sister, brother-in-law, former athletes and students and my racing heart calmed. I entered the zone, knowing I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was destined to do.

 

Students, colleagues & parents congratulate the speaker

« You each have a gift. You all have a story. Share it. As I step back into the shadows, you go out and shine. Show up. Stand up. Speak up. Be the best you can be. Raise the roof for the class of 2016. Go out and rock the world. »

At the end of my speech, people hailing from every corner of the globe gave me a thundering standing ovation and I was deeply humbled. Due to illness and injury I can no longer do so many of the things I love, but in spite of pain I continued to show up even when I didn’t feel like it and focused on what I could do. I was bowled over by an outpouring of appreciation from the community that has sustained me for the past 2 decades. Though I can no longer run, jump and play, « I can still walk, talk, write, speak, and inspire. »

And maybe that is enough.