Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car KeysMy dad loved to drive and ever the teacher, his road trips offered us a remarkable education. In a time when most American families rarely crossed the state line, Dad drove us cross country to see the sites and to visit cousins. The best schooling I received was from the smudged windows of our 1962 Rambler when we left our Midwestern flatlands for trips across the Wild West and sun-baked south as we crisscrossed America’s endless blue highways.

Dad instilled the wanderlust in each of us and though I missed the significance of Mt. Rushmore and Cape Canaveral, I understood more about my country than the textbooks divulged. Our trip to the racially divided Deep South left a far greater lasting impression than Disneyland or the Hollywood Studios.

Dad gave us rides to school and shuttled carloads of giggling girls to the pool, the gym, the dance. He drove me to track meets, basketball games, and gymnastic lessons. Later when my athletic body was crippled from injury and accidents, he drove me to doctors and chiropractors while I rested my aching back riding flat « in my crib » the back seat of the van.

For a time Dad taught Sterling High School freshman rules of Illinois’ roadway in behind the wheel driver’s ed. classes. But his children and grandchildren learned how to drive on the back roads of Wisconsin. He showed us how to parallel park, check that rear view mirror and drive defensively. Always.

Dad, a good driver, never received a citation. He was only stopped once when he swerved in traffic distracted by his darn back seat drivers shouting, « Stop, Dad- there’s a 7 Eleven. Slurpees! »

His only accident involved hitting a deer, which cheeseheads proclaim is a prerequisite for flatlanders to earn honorary Wisconsinite status. Oh yeah, and he once sideswiped a cow crossing the road. Cars have the right away, so the cow got the ticket and the farmer apologized.

Dad drove his aging father across country to visit relatives in Oklahoma, to the cabin  summer holidays and back and forth forth from Eureka to Sterling so he could share Thanksgiving and Christmas with family. He loyally drove beloved Coach Mac to every Northern Illinois University baseball reunion and to see his granddaughter’s Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keysbasketball games at Illinois State University.

When my dad failed his eye test just before his 86th birthday, his peripheral vision compromised, he returned to the parking lot, gave his daughter the thumbs down, handed over the keys and took his new place riding shotgun.

He did not grumble, complain, become cantankerous, argue with his children, or yell at the optometrist. Instead with a heavy heart, he hung up his keys.

In doing so, he showed us how to age with dignity.Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

This summer together we poured over the maps of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Tennessee and every other state he once visited. In a shaky hand, he traced lines across France, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway – all the places he once traveled. We reminisced about trips he took, roads he drove, and people he met.

Now it’s my turn to take the wheeI. Though I can’t read maps and confuse left and right, with Dad riding shotgun I will never get lost.

Happy Birthday Dad…it has been a heck of a ride.

Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

 

All About Eggs at Easter in Europe

In the past, I have spent Easter holiday on a farm in Germany where we collected eggs freshly laid in the hen house on Easter morning. I once cross-country skied on a mountaintop to enjoy a snow picnic of salmon and hard-boiled eggs at sunrise with my Norwegian cousins. I savored soufflé as light as air and leg of lamb with my French in-laws a table Normandy. And I struggled to color eggs, which were brown, not white with my children in Switzerland.

Easter traditions in Europe reflect the influence of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox religion with various symbols reflecting spring, rebirth and a time for celebration of life over death. Through time, the egg remains the most well known symbol of Easter.

The egg hunt originates from an ancient European tradition where eggs of different colors were taken from birds’ nests to make talismans; gradually, painted eggs replaced wild birds’ eggs. In Medieval Europe, eggs that were forbidden during Lent, became prized Easter gifts for children.

Germans also used to hang hollow, painted eggs on trees. Today branches laden with colored wooden eggs are centerpieces in homes during the Easter holiday.

In Eastern Europe, hollow eggs are still hand painted in elaborate designs and Poland and Ukraine eggs were often painted in silver and gold. Germans gave green eggs as gifts on Holy Thursday and even today friends will present one another with beautifully hand painted eggs. Specific patterns have been passed on for generations.

Around 1885, Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé created the Fabergé egg, the most famous egg of all times. This jewelry egg, filled with surprises of gold and gems inside, was especially designed for Czar Alexander III to give to his wife, Marie. Fabergé only created one egg each year and each was a masterpiece.

Eggs have been decorated, traded, devoured and have served as entertainment for centuries. Egg rolling, thought to symbolize the stones rolled away from the tomb, has varied slightly from Russia to England to Scotland. German immigrants brought the custom to America, which has been practiced on the White House lawn since James Madison’s presidency. Latvians invented the egg game where ends of eggs are tapped together until broken; the winner is the owner of the last remaining unbroken egg.

Although eggs have long symbolized springtime and renewal of life and strength, In France, bells, not bunnies, deliver eggs. As a token of mourning for crucified Christ, church bells remain silent from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. On Easter, when the chimes ring again children rush outside to see the bells fly home to Rome, while their parents hide chocolate Easter eggs spilling from the sky.

Somehow regardless of one’s nationality or religious belief, chocolate eggs have become the universal symbol of Easter in the Western world. In Switzerland, headquarters for world famous Nestle and Lindt, chocolate plays a predominate role in my Easter celebration.

Whatever your particular family tradition, whether you paint, roll, crack, or scramble your eggs à table, in the yard or on a mountaintop, as you celebrate renewal and new beginnings, reflect back on those traditions that your ancestors brought to the New World. Happy Easter!

Skiing Above the Clouds

When I first moved to Switzerland 20 years ago, I was sick every winter and friends told me, “Go above the clouds to breath.” Sure enough if you drive up into the mountains the cloud curtain opens revealing blue skies. Though we live in a picture perfect country with pristine views of the lake and mountains, we are surrounded by smog and fog, which becomes locked in over the basin every winter. That’s why each weekend people here fasten skis on their car hoods and head up.

Without access to mountains when I was growing up, I never learned to alpine ski. The only descent I conquered was the bunny hill at the golf course. Even though I am still wobbly sliding on 2 sticks, I love cross country skiing. To a flatlander from Illinois, cross country skiing in the mountains is every bit as challenging as downhill skiing due to the steep inclines.

Although I can only ski for no more that an hour or so, for 9 euros ($9) you can spend an entire day on groomed trails with spectacular mountain views. Our favorite spot, only a half hour away is La Vattay, on the plateau between the Valserine and Menthières in the Jura mountains.

Over 90 miles of trails wind through the pine filled forests and onto the open plateau where cows graze in the summer. Though I have skied the same route many times, I still get stymied because I am unable to navigate the 60 foot drop offs that end in sharp turns.

Luckily strategically placed gym mats are propped against trees at the bottom of curving slopes. To me those bright red mats are like STOP signs, so whenever I see one I pop off my skis and proceed by foot to the bottom of the steep incline. The only “snow plowing” I learned as a kid involved my back and a shovel, not my legs and skis.

If you grow up in this area, skiing is like riding a bike. You learn at an early age and never forget. Schools here take kids on ski day outings and across Europe people plan vacations around the sacred “ski week” holiday, a mandatory February break from school.

Depending on weather conditions ski stations are open from the end of mid December to end of March. Alas each year the ski season is shortened due to lack of snow. Global warming is wreaking havoc on the lower level of ski resorts.

But until the day snow becomes extinct, I will keep heading up going above the rim where I breathe, glide, breathe, slide, and savor life above the clouds.

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.

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.

Annecy The Best Place to Live in France

DSCN3365“If I could live anywhere, I would pick Annecy, the best place in the world. Ahh Annecy,” My friend in Paris would say rolling her eyes and swooning about this city, as though she were talking about a lover. When I visited the Gallo Roman Village in Savoy region of France on beautiful Lake Annecy, I finally understood her infatuation.

Combine water, mountains and historical buildings, throw in a 12th century castle and you have the perfect making of a tourist trap. Yet, there are no lines in this open air museum. Footpaths and walkways absorb the crowds and excursions and sites fulfill every interest.

In the Old Annecy, narrow winding cobblestone streets beckon tourists to step into the past. Lake Annecy’s natural spillway flows through the heart of the city. Artists paint along the Thiou canal in what’s known as the “Savoyard Venise.”

Lake Annecy surrounded by gray cliffs and white peeked Alps is the cleanest lake in Europe, so clear you can see the bottom. The waterfront, lined with parks, benches and boardwalks, is ideal for strolling and lounging. Steamboats excursions offer birds eye views into ports of call on the lake.

DSCN3334Above the lake, the medieval city is wrapped around a cliff where the 15th century castle overlooks the red roofed village. But what I liked the best was wandering the streets lined with arcades. Entering the St. Claire gate with its worn hinges, machicolations and bell turret, was like stepping into another century. I followed the rue St. Claire, a sinuous winding cobblestone lane, which takes the shape of the rock base on which the castle stands, and dates to the origins of the town.

On the pedestrian streets lined with open air cafes, visitors can dine on lake perch and fondue. Even more tempting are the ice cream shops boasting of homemade ices. Each tiny scoop costs $3, but one bite of the fuchsia sorbet will send you to raspberry heaven.

Like the other tourists, I snapped a family picture in front of one of France’s most photographed spots, the Isle Palace, a well known French monument. The Isle Palace’s triangular form in the shape of a ship’s bow evokes a galley anchored in the river whose water it divides. The governor of Annecy lived here in the 12th century, then it became a seat of the justice, the mint, the prison and now it has retired to status of historical monument and houses exhibitions.

Dogs and cats doze in the sunlight. Colorful cafes filled with the clatter of plates and chatter of voices speaking different languages mingle with the sound of street musicians strumming guitars turning this lively street scene into a live film blending modern times with yesteryear.

No wonder, Annecy rates number one in France for the quality of life. It expanded economically, yet despite the influence of industry, it retains its old world charm. Annecy –ever faithful to nature and her past — may hold the secret to the future, a way in which modern technology can exist harmoniously with an ancient village.