Happy Memories and Halloween Dreams

countryside by Geneva

countryside by Geneva

Ever a kid at heart, every October 31st, as the fields turn from emerald to autumn hues of auburn, I watch the bold sun bleed crimson as it sets over the gray-blue Jura Mountains. As the sky changes from gold to pink, purple to black, I can picture witches flying over the treetops, goblins dancing through the apple orchards and ghosts floating out of the mist above the vineyard.  Halloween fills even old hearts with a sense of mystery and excitement.  It’s a night where even adults can imagine anything is possible.

Every Baby Boomer remembers a favorite Halloween costume of childhood.  Mine was the time; I wore a football helmet, shoulder pads and a blue and gold jersey that my dad borrowed from his high school team. I swaggered down East 19th street ringing doorbells as a proud Sterling Warrior.

When we lived in Paris, I tried to celebrate the American holiday with my children without much success. The kids decided trick or treating at only one house – your own – is not fun.  But when we moved to an in Switzerland, the All Saints Eve was celebrated with aplomb.  Parents even bussed kids in to trick or treat in my international neighborhood.

Swiss farm with pumpkins

Swiss farm with pumpkins

Halloween has always been sacred in my house.  Late October, years ago after a full moon, our daughter Nathalie was born.  She has long outgrown her nickname “pumpkin,” but I still buy a jack-o-lantern every autumn.     A candle in an orange gourd, once thought to frighten evil spirits, now represents my hopes for my Norwegian-Scotch, Franco-American children.

halloween kids

halloween kids

That little girl who once trick or treated disguised as a doctor, now dons a white coat daily as she makes hospital rounds giving baby wellness visits as a pediatrician.

Alas though I never became an American football star, today, truly all things are possible. Wonders never cease.  Times do change. My niece became a state rugby champion, not once but twice!

What favorite Halloween memories haunt your household?

Divine Wine in Burgundy

Every October I see migrant workers with baskets laden with fruit strapped to their backs, crouching low to pick grapes. Though Switzerland may boast of some fine crus, nowhere is wine more divine than on the rolling hillside outside of Dijon where we lived for two years.

vines and a village in Burgundy

vines and a village in Burgundy

American children in Illinois, my home state, ,detassle corn as a rights of passage,  whereas, French kids in the burgundy region of France pick grapes. Years ago,  I accompanied my daughter’s fifth grade  class, the day they helped harvest the grapes during the vendange. We weren’t picking just any old grapes – these were  the world famous ones on Nuit-St. Georges domaine.

The vineyards on the Côte de Nuits on the outskirts of Dijon extending to Corgolion are 20K long and a few 100 meters wide. This strip of land,  known as the Champs Elysées of Burgundy and Nuit-St. Georges, is the la crème de la crème of the Grand Crus Reds.

Originally, the vines grew wild and were pressed into wine by accident before 312 A.D. Image if the knotted ancient vines could talk the stories they would tell ?

Generations of French children will have their own tales of the harvest to pass on. The students skipped along the rows of perfectly aligned green vines that burst out of the dry, sandy soil and spilled down the slope toward the stone walls of the red-roofed village. Their small hands deftly clipped the vines that held the tight bunches of Pinot Noir grapes, while I struggled to bend low with an aching back.

les vendanges !

les vendanges !

While the winemaker explains the intricate process, kids couldn’t resist popping the tart, purple grapes into their mouths.  Though I love grapes, these were thick skinned and sour and inedible.  The wine grape differs form the table grape in that they are smaller and tarter.

Most French wine growers still hire help to pick the grapes by hand. I will certainly never forget my sole back-breaking, grape-picking stint.  After spending a sun-kissed autumn day with wine growers, witnessing first hand their art, I will never again carelessly gulp a cheap red.  Instead  I savored each sip and appreciated the complexity between the vine and land, the wine and the winemaker.

As my French husband likes to remind me, « Life is too short to drink bad wine. »

Minnesota Lynx First WNBA Championship-One of Many Firsts

On Oct 7, 11,543 fans watched the Minnesota Lynx win their first WNBA Championship by sweeping the Atlanta Dream. And over 15,000 lined the streets of Minneapolis to welcome them back home to the Target Center. http://www.wnba.com/lynx/

It was a celebration of many firsts starting with the first win for a Minnesotan professional team in 20 years. The first time in WNBA history  that two women coaches met in the final. Lynx Coach of the Year, Cheryl Reeve, faced off against Marynell Meadors who led the Atlanta Dream to back to back final appearances (Only once before has a woman head coach won the finals when in 2004, Anne Donovan coached the championship Seattle Storm).

Laurel Richie, the first African American woman to be president of  U.S. professional league, presented the championship trophy to a team that hadn’t won a play off game since its inception in 1999.

I am a long distance Lynx fan, not only because half of my family live in Minneapolis-St.Paul, but also because the first WNBA game I saw was in 2003 at the Target Center where my daughter caught a T-shirt, printed with Lynx logo, New Game in Town. I was thrilled to see Lisa Leslie, LA Sparks, smooth moves to the hoop. But what made the greatest lasting imprint was the image of my thirteen-year-old son, waiting in line for five-time Olympian, Theresa Edwards’ autograph. I never thought I’d see the day a boy would request a female basketball player’s signature.

This past summer, Nathalie and I saw the Lynx play LA again. This time, the Lynx dominated, in large part due, to their  depth. Whether it was Whalen or Wiggings dishing assists at point, Seimone Augustus (MVP) or Maya Moore (Rookie of the Year) flying at wing, or Taj McWilliams-Franklin or Rebekka Brunsen clearing the boards at center, no matter who was on the court, they jelled.

Fans don’t realize that it has taken decades for women to be accepted in the macho world of pro basketball. However, in Minneapolis, women’s pro basketball is not a new game in town. Three decades ago, in the first women’s professional basketball league (WBL), my franchise, Washington D.C. Metros, went bust mid season, but the Minnesota Fillies were one of only three teams to last the span of the WBL 1978-1981. Unfortunately, back then, the media found women’s basketball newsworthy only when linked to scandal. In 1981, the Fillies became the talk of town when a player was murdered, and when the team promised paychecks that never materialized, walked off the court ten minutes before tip off  before a full house in Chicago.

The contemporary player that impressed me most was Mama Taj, a steady, calm, solid presence. My daughter, beat up in the paint in college ball, wonders how could a post player survive the banging on the boards for over a decade?  Like Theresa Edwards role in the foundation of the league, Mama Taj, with 12 years experience in the league could be called the grand dame of the game.

Minnesotans, ever loyal, love their Twins, Vikings, and Timberwolves, but it was the ladies that put the Twin Cities back on the map.  The greatest appeal about the women’s game is not the slam dunking, showboating of the NBA, but the passing, teamwork and cohesiveness.  Families -mothers and sons, fathers and daughters -bond over basketball.

The WNBA promotes fitness, families, and education, the same values advocated in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area with their abundance of lakes, bike trails, walking paths, and family- orientated communities.

Thumbs up to the first African American pro league  president, a first WNBA championship for Minnesota, and a first all female coaching final. It’s all good!

What really blew my mind was that for the first time the women were feted at the Vikings football game in front of a crowd of 60,000, including my son and brother-in-law.  In a gesture so frequent in the women’s game, the Lynx wearing purple jerseys, cheered the Vikings to their first victory of the season!  The Lynx have arrived… New Game In Town… No More!

Brain Glitches, Genealogy and Grandpa

How do you get anything done with a brain that short-circuits like mine does? To prepare my English class lesson plans, I googled celebratory dates and found out American Indian Heritage Month is coming up in November, which reminds me of our trip to the Badlands and visit to the Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota. That enticed me to read about the Battle of Wounded Knee. While admiring photographs of famous Native American Chiefs, I kept seeing images of my grandfather’s weather-beaten, chiseled face with his high cheekbones and prominent nose. Convinced that we have some degree of Indian blood, I am off on a wild goose chasing missing links to my ancestry.

One thing led to another. In the online census report of Madison County Iowa, I discovered my great grandfather, John, was part of a family of 14 children. John’s grandfather, Aaron was born in Osage Indian Territory of what later became Kentucky. His first cousin also named Aaron later lived on the Osage and Kaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma, a stone’s throw from where my grandpa grew up when great grandfather moved his family West. Naturally, I filled in the gaps of history with my imagination, convinced mighty warriors are part of my ancestry.

Sound crazy? Not if you knew my grandpa, a.k.a. Coach Mac. If Coach Mac took off his glasses, folded his arms across his chest and replaced his baseball cap with a headdress, he ‘d look just like the Indian American, Afraid of Bear – proud, sage, ageless.  How many white folks do you know with 40 second resting heart rate, like grandpa? And he was afraid of bears, too!

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

One fact is sure. The census report answered a question that has perplexed my family for years. My grandpa, never sure of his birth date, thought he was born in early October. Well I found proof  – Ralph Clyde McKinzie born Oct. 1, 1894. He had a middle name, which he never knew about either. No wonder. Imagine having the nickname R.C? Like the cola. If I had a middle name like Clyde I might tend to forget it, too.

As if working for the missing persons bureau, I spent a weekend cruising the web genealogy files. On Monday morning, when the class bell rang, I wondered where the heck did I put my lesson plan? I’ll have to confess to class that I got lost navigating the Internet looking for my McKinzie lineage.

My Grandpa Mac defied age by remaining active by coaching college football in his nineties.  He died at the age of 96. He would’ve been 117 years old today; I still celebrate his life.

Have you discovered  skeletons in your family closet? Do you have any links to genealogy search engines that you could share with readers?

A Fond Farewell to Summer

On a steamy night in Chicago at the end of August, a symphony of crickets and katydids announce summer’s end.  In a blink the hazy, lazy barefoot days of summer are over. Gone are morning sleep-ins, afternoon swims and evening backyard barbeques. School started with its frenzy of class lists, timetable changes, book buying, shoe tying and out-the-door-flying.

And I am back in the land of cheese and chocolate.  From my back patio as the last rays of Indian summer sunshine shimmer over the white-peaked hood of Mt. Blanc, the end of the season melancholy hits me.

So how about a non-toxic, calorie-free pick me up? Nobody blasts away the blues better than the American saxophonist Grover Washington Jr’s window-shaking, horn blowing.  R.I.P. Grover, your music lives on.

Thank you to the father of the smooth jazz genre for lifting up our spirits with the sounds of seventies. For a bit of nostalgia, kick back to a time when it was safe for children to play in the street after dusk, when neighbors helped raise all the kids in the hood and « drive by » was no more harmful than a McDonald’s lunch run.

TGIF from Switzerland!

Sending sunshine in a song!

Summer Song from the album Live at the Bijou (1977)

« Sing that Summer Song,
soon it will gone,
get that fever now,
come we’ll show you how,
sing it in the street »

September 11, 2001 – September 11, 2011 In Remembrance of 9/11

Ten years ago today, our sense of security was shattered instantly – the time it took passenger jets controlled by suicide bombers to crash into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

It was one of the moments in history where you will always remember what you were doing when you heard the news.  When I arrived home from class, a friend was standing in my living room, her eyes glued to the TV screen. “Oh my God!” she cried, “The world is ending.”

I stared at replay of the film footage of planes crashing into the World Trade Center disintegrating 110-floors of metal and concrete, leaving 3051 children without a parent, and destroying the lives of thousands of families.

Terrorism. Live. Direct. In our homeland. At our hearth. In a heartbeat.

Suddenly we are all thrown into a real life horror show.

Yet no matter how many times we heard and saw the televised broadcast, we remained frozen in disbelief.

Even though, I lived far away in Geneva, home of world’s greatest peacekeeping organizations, and in a safe environment in a neutral country, the news stunned my international community of globetrotters. That year, my English class students at a Swiss international school wrote to the children of the UN school in New York, whose students lost family in the bombing.

Today, a decade after 9/11, my new students can’t remember a world without terror. They all know someone who knows someone, who was at the wrong spot at the wrong time in Bali, Jakarta, London, Paris, New York.

Today, even the most seasoned travelers step on the plane with trepidation. And anyone with a conscience wonders, what kind of world are we leaving our children? A world where commercial flights become deadly human missiles, where buildings dissolve like sand castles in the storm, and where innocent lives are annihilated in the blink of an eye.

The Ground Zero monuments, museum and 10th anniversary commemorations offer a tribute to the families of victims of 9/11 and to the American spirit of resiliency. As we take a moment of silence to reflect and honor the men and women who perished during the attack or rescue mission, may be we also say a prayer for those people of other lands who have also lost loved ones in the fall out of terrorism.

One of my former students was 12-years-old when her mom died in the bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi. She wrote about it in class.

“When they told me, I was so upset I tried to run through a glass door. Now I write until my fingers bleed.”

Alone at night we still shake, terrified and powerless to curtail the madness of our 21st century world; together in the light of day, we stand tall and reach out in small steps. Healing begins in our homeland, at our hearth, in a heartbeat.