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.

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!

Sterling Salutes Illinois’ First Girls’ State Basketball Champs

Forty years ago, my little sisters made history and on April 4, 1977 newspaper headlines read “Sterling High Girls win first ever-state title over 7,000 greet Illinois number one basketball team.” Five years after Title IX passed into legislation mandating equal opportunities for girls in all publicly funded schools, a new generation was born. While our country was struggling with civil rights and gender equity issues a small town team united blacks, whites and Hispanics in one dream – a state championship.

If I close my eyes, I can still see Marche Harris pumping her fist in air after a break away lay up, Fran Smith with her wicked ‘fro soaring at the jump circle, Dawn Smith grabbing weak side boards, Jojo Leseman, running the court like a platoon captain in fast forward, freshman, Amy Eshelman gliding the baseline. And my sister, Karen McKinzie, standing at the line swishing another free throw. Harris, Smith, Leseman, Eshelman and McKinzie names that have marked SHS record books for years.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-7JPSXcr2s[/embedyt]

An odd trio of coaches, Jim McKinzie a retired boys coach, Sue Strong a GAA coordinator and Phil Smith the first African American teacher in the conference fought behind the front line to make sure female athletes were granted equal rights at SHS in those crucial years after Title IX. Before anyone dared to utter words like racism or sexism in public, they shaped a team far ahead of its time indifferent to gender or race. That group of unassuming girls enchanted an entire community. Part of the magic was their cohesiveness. No divas, no superstars, no drama queens, just selfless teammates who knew that they were stronger together than they could ever be alone.

It was too late for me. A 1975 SHS graduate, I became a Redbird and moved to Illinois State University where the first girls state tournament was held on my new home court. I watched with pride from the bleachers of Horton Field house as my little sisters made history under my father’s tutelage.

“What stands out most was how this team brought the community together,” he said reminiscing, “Nothing like it before or since. The Golden Girls were goodwill ambassadors for Sterling, a place no one heard of before was thrown in the limelight. When we returned as state champions, we were wined and dined like celebrities.”

Forty years ago, we had no clue that the old Golden “Girls” would bear daughters who would one day be recognized as Golden Warriors. All we cared about was finally being allowed to play the game we loved. Do the girls that play today know how lucky they are to compete on center court wearing fashion’s latest apparel? To prepare before games in weight rooms and repair afterwards in training rooms? To be immortalized in a state of the art Hall of Fame room?

Stop by the open house at Woodlawn Arts Academy on Friday April 7 from 4:00-7:00 to salute that first state championship team and their coaches. Tip your hat to those pioneers who grew up in flimsy, canvas shoes and one piece gym suits, who played ball when no one was looking or worse yet when people looked and laughed. Pay tribute to those women who gave their heart and soul to dreams that no one understood, dreams that became our daughters’ reality.

When you sink a jumper and drive the baseline young blood, hear our stories whispered from the rafters. Walk tall, be strong, be brave. Be proud of your past, Golden “Girl”. After years of battle, it’s an honor and a privilege to be called a Warrior.

A chapter of my memoir is about the 1977 state championship team.

Terror Strikes the Heart of London

My son landed in London on March 22, the same day that another mad terrorist drove a car into pedestrians walking across the Westminster Bridge leaving 40 wounded and 4 dead including an American. Fortunately our son called before the attack to say he that he arrived at his British girlfriend’s home where her family too was safe. But my relief was short-lived, replaced by a sickening dread that I have come to know too well.

Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Paris, now London capitals of long standing democracies are targets of terrorism again. Each time it happens I feel a renewed sense of horror.

When will one of my friends or loved ones be caught in the crossfire of evil by innocently standing at the wrong place at the wrong time?

When you are part of an international community living abroad you will have friends in nations’ capitals that are in closer proximity than my families homes in Chicago, Cleveland, and Minneapolis.

A year to the day of Brussels’ airport and metro bombings, terror strikes the heart of a western democracy again. A group of French high school students- 3 of the injured – were among the tourists admiring the Westminster Abbey housing English parliament, one of the oldest symbols of democracy in the world. I have visited European capitals with students on similar educational field trips that teach art, history, language and culture far better than any textbook could. I can imagine the shock and fear of the students and their families.

Even as nations beef up security, the task seems insurmountable. Mere days prior to the London attack, pandemonium broke out in Paris’ Orly airport when a French born terrorist held a gun to a soldier’s head inside the terminal. The gunman was killed before any civilians were injured, but as the airport’s south terminal was evacuated, terrified travelers were left stranded outside in the rain.

Governments issue states of emergency, heighten vigilance and tighter security, but how can anyone prevent an attack in a free society?

Each time another assault happens, we grow more hardened. But I will never resign to a world of terror. Though each attack leaves me a more saddened and anxious, outraged and impotent, I will continue to leave my house, walk in public places, visit capitals and travel by plane.

So I can offer no easy answers to curb the reign of terror of the 21st century, but I do know what doesn’t help.

Our leaders must stop spewing invidious words and taking discriminatory actions against our own citizens by revoking hard fought laws that guarantee civil rights. We must foster mutual respect with our allies and open the doors to dialogue with our enemies by keeping the lines of communication open between countries. And we must do more at home to integrate our alienated youth in society.

There are no easy answers and I am not sure how to accomplish this daunting task, but I do know it begins with tolerance with respect for other countries and cultures. Terror will only escalate by having leaders whose rhetoric fuels fear and hatred.

We must reach out in solidarity. Violence – whether in the streets of Chicago or Baghdad, London or Berlin, Istanbul or Brussels – destroy a piece of all of us.

To ensure the future of humanity we must stand on higher moral ground. Always.

London my heart mourns with you.

March Madness My Way

Though I miss the basketball frenzy in America especially at this time of year, I learned to celebrate March Madness my way. As an expat in Europe for the past 35 years, the only March Madness I experienced was in 2014 when I traveled to the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point to be the keynote speaker at the DIII Final Four banquet in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Fortunately after my international playing career ended, I joined a collect of coaches – many former players – who brought a taste of March Madness to the international schools in international and national competitions.

I have had my fair share of championship teams and though I am every bit as competitive as my cohorts across the Atlantic, over here the stakes are not as high. My players don’t perform in front of sell out crowds and my job is not dependent on the number of wins.

So though I retired from teaching in June, no one who knows me will be surprised that after medical treatments in the States, I came back to coaching in Switzerland to finish the season with my high school team.

At our international tournament in Basel, my team felt like they let me down when they lost their defending title to Zurich in the SCIS.

“I didn’t come back to watch you play basketball,” I said in the locker-room after the game. “I came to be with you. To help you get your international baccalaureate degree and to remind you that I believe in you. Always. Even in defeat. Especially in defeat.”

No one goes through life beating every opponent. It is what you do when the chips are down that builds character. Second effort is the difference between, well, going on and giving up. So after that disappointing defeat, we went back to gym and practiced. A month later we beat that same Zurich team to win the Swiss championship SGIS.

We can beat ourselves up reliving our errors. Forget the mistakes. The game goes so fast no one else will remember that you dribbled off your toe, threw the ball out of bounds or shot an air ball, what they will remember is that you hustled back down court on defense and played tough until the final buzzer.

The emphasis in international schools is less about winning and more about learning, so academics always play the biggest role.

No doubt I have book smart players. But playing basketball teaches self-discipline and perseverance and other valuable lessons that can’t be learned in a classroom.

This year one of my star basketball players is heading to Stanford and another one is off to Oxford; they won’t be going on athletic scholarships. They play hard, but study harder. And maybe that is how it should be.

Basketball basics 101 – a valuable part of any curriculum. It’s a throw back to the good old days in the early infancy of Title IX when we played for love of the game and to get a good education.

March Madness my way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.