Sun Is Out, Cows Moved Up, Spring is Here

After a arduous, cold, grey winter spring finally arrived in the mountains,
but it took its own sweet time getting here!

During our favorite mountain hike, the local farmer passed us on the dirt lane; he stopped and opened the back gate of his livestock truck. Then we watched spellbound, as a herd of cows raced across the verdant field in a moment of serendipity.

Have you ever seen cows run?

The herd acted as if they’d arrived at summer camp. The calves romped with joy like children let out of school for the holidays.

Rich grass, clean air, wide open spaces!

The desalpes, the famous folkloric parade of cows coming down the mountain in autumn is a well known Swiss celebration; however, few people witness the inalpes when cows come up to the Jura’s green pastures for the summer season of fine grazing.

As we hiked, we could see across to the far side of lake where the grey veil of winter lifted, revealing the majestic Alps etched against a heartbreaking sapphire sky. The mountains, in different shades of slate, appeared to bow down to Mont Blanc, the queen bejeweled in her sparkling white crown.

Daffodils waltzed in the wind, leaf buds popped open, buttercups shot up, forsythia burst into golden flame and dogwoods danced in their lacy, white petticoats. In valley below us, the lemon yellow rape seed contrasted with green wheat fields. Grape vines like gnarled, old arthritic hands reached toward the light. Pink and white blossoms exploded on the apple and cherry trees.

Under a splash of spring sunshine, blessings unfolded around me. Balancing with sticks, stumbling for footing, knees grinding like bad transmission, I was grateful to still be upright and walking. In my heart, I was dancing.

Hallelujah spring arrived!

Hiking in paradise

Rejoicing in the day.

Today…

Is always enough.

Biarritz Coastal Resort Haven for Surfers

 

Biarritz Grande Plage

After living in Paris for years, I was well traveled to most parts of France, but I’d never set foot in her southwest, Biarritz topped my bucket list. Perched on the Atlantic cliff side near the Spanish border in the Basque Region, settlements around the city date back to prehistoric times. The Vikings invaded Gascony in 840 and created the first real village.

Economically dependent on the fishing trade, Biarritz was known for whaling from the 12th century. Napoleon III and his Spanish born wife, Eugenie, turned Biarritz into a popular seaside spot when they came for holidays starting in the mid 19th century.

Today, the ritzy coastal resort, with its elegant villas and epic Grand Palace glitter in Belle Epoque style, juxtaposes with the summer surfers crowd in their beach bum attire.

In the 1950’s, Biarritz became known as Europe’s surf capitol. Since then the city thrives on high tide when surfers from across the continent flock to the sea to ride the waves.

Fishing port

In the past, popular for its casinos, boutiques, bars, restaurants and golf courses, which catered to the rich, the surf community has now also invaded the coastline of Biarritz. Tucked along streets of early 1900s mansions, surfers live out of 60s style vans, cooking meals on electric coals set on the stone seawall, waiting for the water to rise and race to the sea.

overlooking La Côte des Basques

We rented an Airbnb apartment on the cliff-side above the Bay of Biscay and savored the panoramic view of the beach, the bay and the surfers that looked like shark fins from a distance.

As we meandered down narrow, winding streets that opened to La Cote Des Basques’ stunning overlook, we passed lithe surfers with boards slung under their arms or attached to their bikes. With their stereotypical trim builds and dreadlocks, wearing a dress-like coverups over their swim trunks, they were always ready to peel into wet-suits and hustle to the beach in time to hit high tide.

How they managed to ride the waves in winds so ferocious amazed me. I was knocked off my feet just wading along the beach.

All the outdoor exercise whet our appetites, and there was no end to eateries along the coast and in the village.

My husband, born on the coast of Normandy, adored the seafood platter including 5 different fish and prawns, mussels and clams in a saffron sauce served with a tasty, fruity local red wine. Food in the Basque Country is an explosion of flavors filled with spices from the inland.

Most eateries are a lively, colorful, warm reflection of the Basque people.

Biarritz's spectacular sea scenes combined with her succulent cuisine and welcoming ambiance will entice visitors to return.

Building Dream House Becomes Endless Nightmare

our building slowly going up

Ever suffered from anxiety when stuck in a plane circling above the airport unable to land at your final destination?

For the past two years, we’ve hovered in a holding pattern above our home-to-be, held hostage in our “virtual” plane.

Endless delays, countless lies, and pointless meetings have gone nowhere. So we wait and wonder, growing ever more alarmed about what could go wrong next.

If you remember our situation, we unwittingly became trapped in a quagmire. We signed a contract with a reputable Swiss Company, but the promoter then subcontracted to another smaller one. As a result, no one is fully in charge.

Doom foreshadowed our endeavor from the get go. Three triplex homes were to be built on the side of a mountain. Ours was the first home scheduled to be finished.

“There’s a slight problem,” the project manager confessed months later, “your building, on the higher level, has to go up last. Unfortunately, the civil engineer explained the mountain could collapse on the other two buildings without a restraining wall built first.”

Duh? Even I could have envisioned that scenario.

Next major problem; the prefab walls, ordered from Slovenia, took 18 months to start being delivered to Switzerland. The walls, finally installed late this February, lacked the roof. Nor was the building fully sealed.

Consequently, when snow melted and seeped in from the terrace, our living room turned into a pond. Water streaked the upstairs bedroom walls and puddles formed where the rain and snow leaked through the tarp, which blew off of the frame of the unfinished roof.

Even more incredible, the wrong staircase was installed in our unit. One of the workmen pointed out to us that each wooden plank step was clearly labeled 2C, which is the building below us. How did our house 1C end up with 2C’s stairs?

checking the floor plan

How can you screw up assembling a house that has step-by-step building instruction, like a paint by number kit!

Then there is the landscaping. Nine months ago, our neighbor met with local authorities to inspect the safety of the half a dozen trees that loomed over our building. At that time the authorities clearly marked the trees that were to be removed in red paint before the builders broke ground on the foundation.

Unfortunately those trees are still standing.The project manager, who failed to show up at the original meeting, now mandates that the $6000 removal cost must come out of our pocket because he wasn’t present (ie. failed to show up) at the said meeting when the decision was made.

We flipped out when one architect confessed the building was not up to code. All windows were 30% smaller than Swiss regulations required; consequently, none of the buildings would pass inspection.

Can you even replace windows cut within prefab walls made in Slovenia?

wrong size window

Sure, one can cope with smaller windows, but not when the resale value of the house is diminished by a couple hundred thousand dollars because a three bedroom house will be listed as one bedroom due undersized windows.

Finally, six months after asking for a costs’ summary, we received our proposed Excel spreadsheet. Half of the figures were wrong. Either fixtures were counted twice or calculated using the wrong unit prices in the formulas.

As we meet with co owners, builders, architects and lawyers, the nightmare continues. Impuissant and deceived, we lost all confidence in the builders and any hope of a positive solution.

If the building company minimized the window size by such an alarming margin, what else have they fleeced us on?

A lawyer wisely advised, “Drop it! Chances are if the case goes to court, which can take years, you would most likely lose because contracts are designed to protect builders.”

“Pick your battles!” another friend in the business told us. “At the end of day you want a place to live?”

We don’t give up!

We throw another log in the wood burning stove trying to heat our rustic Heidi Hut and keep fighting.

How Jump Shot Lessons Apply to Life

A few years ago, a coaching buddy, my son’s former club coach, asked me to work with his teenaged son to fix what he calls, “ Ugliest shot ever seen.”

I was humbled that a former pro player thought enough of my coaching ability to seek my input. His kid could dribble a ball left handed as well as right before he could tie his shoes. He became one of the best ball handling and passing point guards in Switzerland.

But somewhere along the way, some well-meaning instructor probably tried to teach him too early the cockamamie, off balance, fall away, game highlight shots of NBA players, who only mastered this move after practicing proper form for a billion hours.

Call me Old School, but fundamentals still matter especially when learning a new skill. I developed my shooting prowess because I learned the basics early on from Coach Dad, who passed down the protocol from his dad, Coach Mac.

Hour after hour, as dad rebounded my shots, he calmly repeated the same mantra, one-two step, load, lift, release, follow through.

I perfected my shooting form during endless practice until “eyes on the rim, elbow in, feet squared, body balanced, right foot forward, knees bent, wrist cocked, follow through” became branded into my muscle memory.

Kids never realize how much time it takes to learn a jump shot nor how much longer it takes to unlearn poor form once muscle memory takes over.

A jump shot is fine art.

Perfection takes practice.

But jump shot advice could apply to learning any new skill.

Keep your eye on the target.

Stay balanced. Feet, hips, shoulders, elbow, knee, ankle aligned.

Legs provide power, arms lift, fingertips guide.

Shoulders back. Chin up. Eyes forward. Soft touch. Stay focused.

When everything goes catawampus, start over.

Hum a song. Get a rhythm.

Snap the wrist.

Follow through.

Always finish.

Shoot. Rebound. Repeat.

Just like in life.

On your journey, step to meet the pass.
Whatever comes your way, don’t duck, rise to the challenge.
Read the defense and recognize obstacles blocking your way.
If you miss the goal, don’t give up, aim higher.

Never neglect to acknowledge the person who gave you the assist.
No one is alone in the game.

Why We Write

“The natural writer is the one who is always writing; if only in his head-sizing up a situation for material, collecting impressions.”

I seek out people to interview, new places to visit, stories to share, all the while feeling off balance and a bit loco.

“You develop an extra sense that partly excludes you from experience,” says Martin Amis. “Writers are not really experiencing things fully, 100%. They are always holding back and wondering what the significance is.”

“Every person who does serious time with the key board is attempting to translate his version of the world into words so that he might be understood. The great paradox of the writer’s life is how much time he spends alone trying to connect with other people.” (Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner p. 36)

That’s me in a nutshell. I struggle to experience everyday life in my various roles while capturing each milestone and new adventures on paper.

Looking back at my career, one reason I loved the game of basketball was because the fast pace and concentration needed to play prevented this dual existence. There was no time be an observer and participant. On the court, I had to be 100% engaged. The game demanded total focus of mind and body.

But off the court, stories pinged off my brain like pinballs.

In the car as a child on cross country vacations, I wrote stories about the plantations down south, the ranches out west and Victorian homes on the East coast. In college, I stretched out in the back of the campus station wagons on basketball road trips, and wrote character sketches of teammates in my mind. As a globetrotting, adult the sights outside the window of my plane, train, bus or car gave me ample material for stories.

As a student, I daydreamed so much, it’s a wonder I ever passed 1st grade.

Even during my teaching career, while standing in the field during PE lessons in Switzerland, my mind wandered to our mountain views where shepherds tended sheep in alpine meadows. Lost in reverie, I forgot to whistle off sides in soccer, out of bounds in field hockey or strikes in softball, until a student complained forcing me back to reality.

To be in the moment is hard for a writer.

I am torn between the different cultural, geographical and the physical worlds of Switzerland, France and the USA, and also from the emotional, imaginary one of living life and recording it simultaneously.

Writing keeps me grounded. I process life through words. During fleeting moments, my purpose becomes crystal clear as I search my path, stumbling over obstacles along the way. In writing, I lose myself. Like playing basketball, I enter “the zone,” without the euphoria.

After writing, I am spent. My fingers cramp. My shoulders ache. My back throbs. I need to stretch my limbs frozen to the chair.

Writing is a constant battle of wills between the creative brain and the logical one. Why spend so much time doing something that brings no financial rewards and few emotional ones?

I swear off practicing my art, stop typing, lock up in writer’s block. Inevitably, I eventually return to the blank page because not writing is even more excruciating.

My shelves are full of memoir, novel and screenplay drafts. Without writing my life seems meaningless. Only in the retelling, can I comprehend the raw experiences of my soul.

Writing unleashes the mystery in our human existence.

But damned if it doesn’t drive me crazy.

Boxes, crammed with thousands of pages of newspaper articles, unfinished manuscripts, half bake books and segments of stories, ferment like a compost pile under my bed.

Why bother?

Language links us. Writer friends, please continue to put your muse to paper; reader friends, thank you a thousand times for keeping connected. Without readers do I exist?

I write, therefore, I am.

Old Friends Forever Family

Girlfriends get us through tough times, celebrate our victories and always got our back.

In our senior year at Illinois State University, I shared a townhouse off campus with five friends. We called ourselves family.

Ever loyal fans, they supported me my final season of college basketball that began badly with a back injury. Frustrated by the setback, I limped in walking crooked. They welcomed me home by tilting the wall pictures sideways too.

When my younger sister needed a place to stay, they squeezed her in. I forfeited my spot in our triple, moved to the basement, slept on a mat on the floor and stored clothes in cardboard boxes. In the dungeon, I never heard my bunkmates’ early alarm clock with the darn dozer button. It never felt like a sacrifice until the basement flooded.

Only one housemate was my biological sibling, but we called each other sisters, except for the most responsible one in the group, who we nicknamed mom.

“The family” was always there for me.

Every happy occasion we played our theme song, “We are Family,” and danced our fool heads off.

They hugged me goodbye at the airport, when I chased my dream to play pro ball in Paris. After my career ending car accident in France, they flew abroad to urge me to keep fighting. They held my hand when I lost my first baby in an harrowing miscarriage at an isolated cabin in the woods. When our children were still young enough to drag around, we gathered for “family reunions” on my stateside visits.

When my dad died, they flew in from all over to attend his memorial service. The only one who could not be there sent her husband as a stand in.

Forty-five years after college graduation, during a bitter cold January, they drove six hours to Minneapolis to see me before I flew back home to Switzerland.

My husband, bless his little cotton socks, catered to us. Like a 5 star French chef, he served fine wine, "boeuf bourguignon", and "mousse au chocolat". Over champagne, we toasted to ISU, to friendship, to resiliency. We survived thyroid cancer, breast cancer, brain surgery, a car wreck and other calamities.

None of us followed the traditional script. We navigated divorce, death of a spouse, childbirth, adoption, step-children, cross cultural marriage and grandchildren.

We shared highlights and hardships, disappointments and disasters, triumphs and tragedies.

We attained lofty goals becoming a pro athlete, a physical therapist, teachers, coaches, and administrators. We raised families, nurtured aging parents, dedicated our careers to helping others.

We treasured memories of that special time as college students when we starred in our own life stories savoring lazy weekends, crazy keggers and Florida spring break.

Never again would we be so carefree or live under the same roof, but we knew we could count on each other forevermore. Always. Til death do us part.

Thankfully, we are all still here.

Dancing!

“We are Family. I got all my sisters with me!”