The Great Thanksgiving Hunt Abroad

Ever since I moved to Europe thirty years ago, I have been hunting for Thanksgiving a l’américaine. My first year abroad I invited French teammates and they ate the food in courses, one dish at a time. The next year in Germany, the team turnout was so great, there was standing room only; we never sat down to dine. Another year French relatives replaced the turkey with chicken. Tom Turkey seemed gluttonous even for the hearty-eating French.

Thanksgiving in Normandy, 1984

Thanksgiving in Normandy, 1984

When I was living in Dijon, I invited a Franco American family for what turned into another Thanksgiving fiasco starting with the great turkey hunt. Local merchants explained that whole turkeys are obsolete until the official slaughtering date on December 8th. I finally found a black market butcher, who ordered me a clandestine turkey, smuggled from abroad. I was stuffing the bird when the family that I had invited called to cancel as their child had the flu. We postponed Thanksgiving until Tuesday night since French children have no school Wednesdays.Read more

Inspirational Blog Award

Bear with me as if I go off topic on my post this week. Four years ago, my Frenchman suggested I start a blog to replace my old newspaper column. Little did he know what he was getting into! I enrolled in Dan Blank’s Blogging 101 and How to Build An Author Platform and became a part of a Virtual writing group. My blogging buddy and cyberspace friend extraordinaire, Kathy Pooler of Memoir Writer’s Journey has nominated me for the Inspirational Blog Award.

Inspiring Blog Award

Nominees are asked to list seven little-known facts about themselves and then pass this prize on to seven other deserving bloggers.

  1. I was bit by rabid skunk when I was 18-months-old; I haven’t been quite right since.
  2. I never carry a purse because it hurts my back.
  3. I dropped out of creative writing class in college because I thought I couldn’t write.
  4. I have Ledderhose Disease, (my first German-named ailment), a rare disorder where nodules grow in the arches of the feet.
  5. I wore high heels only once on my wedding day.
  6. I became a globetrotter, yet still confuse my right from my left and can’t read a map.
  7. My little sisters and I used to prance in front of the picture window in pink nighties; we still dance together, only now we call it aerobics.

Here are 7 of my favorite blogs that I recommend.

1. Authentic Woman – with Clara Freeman, who keeps me real, challenging me to follow my passion and listen to the voice of my inner warrior

2. Life in the Expat Lane –with Missy Footloose, the Dutch ex-pat whose humorous perspective on living everywhere but her homeland, keeps me laughing

3. Du Jour  – with Delana, a Minnesotan who pitched everything to start over in Provence France, keeps me in tune with my Frenchness

4. Coach Dawn – with Dawn Redd, Beloit College women’s volleyball coach, who gives me great coaching tips that can also be applied to real life

5. Self righteous Housewife –with Judy Zimmerman, the Erma Bombeck of suburbia, who keeps me chuckling over her family’s antics in the Windy City

6. One Big Yodel – with Chantal Panozzo, a young writer, who left her home of deep dish pizza for the land of cheese and chocolate

7. I also love Any Shiny Thing by my Californian friend, Lynne Spreen. Lynne has introduced me to a new blog worth checking out. Vonnie Kennedy’s Bloomer Notes Blog to help me stay healthy in my Middle Ages

Thanks to my global sisterhood of blogging buddies that keep me inspired!

As the guidelines go:

  • Link back to X-pat Files From Overseas
  • Reveal seven little-known facts about yourself
  • Nominate 7 of your favorite bloggers for the “Inspiring Blog Award”, contact the nominees and give them the guidelines.

Write on!

Historic Cowsheds in the Alps Transformed to Contemporary Swiss Chalets

Midwesterners head up North to Wisconsin to escape. The Swiss just head up. Second home Swiss chalets tucked in alpine meadows are so common that there is a great migration upward every weekend. So when Cathy, a colleague, invited us to her chalet in the Vaudoises Alps, we couldn’t wait for Sunday.

meadows in the mountains

meadows in the mountains

The adventure begins with the drive to Les Ormonts, a village 1,200 meter high between Leysin, Les Diablerets, and Villars. We wind around hairpin curves carved into a mountainside, where hardy grapevines cling to the porous soil and cows appear to stand on two legs grazing on the sheer slopes.

Cathy and Jan’s chalet was tucked on a ledge in Les Vöettes, a hamlet of chocolate-colored cubes spill across the verdant valley like tossed dice. My friends bought the chalet in late 90s, but it dates back to 1755 when it was a herder’s shed sheltering livestock brought up for the summer. A historical landmark, like most of chalets in the area, any alteration must be approved by the Swiss government.

In the 1950s, the chalet was restored, renovated and expanded, yet retaining the original wood. The facade facing south across the valley from Leysin was a darker brown toasted by the sun. The faded red shutters, nearly 3 centuries old, were as light as cork and like the mushroom clinging under window ledge had turned to petrified wood.  In pots lining the balcony, red geraniums swayed in the late summer breeze.

geraniums on the front porch

geraniums on the front porch

Ducking into their front door was like stepping into a museum especially with Cathy’s antique decor. Three wood burning stoves heated the two-floor chalet in the winter. Even in summer the thick walls with small windows, maintained a temperature ten degrees below the one found outside. A cowbell, old farm implements, an ancient clock, and other antiques hung from the chalet walls. A four-poster bed, armoire, rocking chair like my grandma’s, and other family heirlooms, made me feel like I stepped back in time.

dining room

dining room

At a height of only 5’8, the doorways were made for the small statured people of yesteryear and only Cathy could enter the room without ducking. Both of our husbands had to stoop in the dining room.

On the veranda overlooking the valley, we enjoyed the picnic lunch that Cathy purchased in the village that morning. We savored the regional specialties: freshly baked, brown pull-apart rolls, sliced ham, aged sausage and cheeses, Tomme Vaudoise, a soft creamy cheese stuffed with garlic and a year old Etivaz, and a tangier 3 year old version. Dessert was a thick, creamy yogurt mixed with fresh raspberries.

From their chalet, we hiked up another 500 meters along a winding path. The woods opened up to green pastures where cows grazed savoring their last weekend in the mountains before the traditional désalpe, migration to lower lands. Back at the chalet, Cathy served apple struddle and Jan poured unpasteurized milk, compliments of the neighbor’s cows, from a silver milk jug of yesteryear.

hiking with friends

hiking with friends

The fresh cream, milk and cheeses were as good as those from his Normandy region, Gérald confessed, « But don’t tell anyone. The French maintain strict loyalty to their home regions. »

Then, as the sun began to sink behind the mountain, we bid farewell to Heidi land and followed the caravan of cars snaking down the mountainside toward modern civilization in the cities of Lausanne and Geneva.

World’s Apart Posh Grande Dame Genevoise and Plain Ol’ Midwestern Pat

sitting in a café

sitting in a café

The woman at the table next to me is in that indiscriminate decade we call middle aged. She is immaculately dressed and as the French say, bien coiffée, which belies her age.  She wears a smart looking custom made tailored suit, an overcoat of cashmere, and suede boots, so pointed she could endorse checks with the tip of her toe. Her perfectly styled and meticulously, colored golden hair hides the grey. Her manicured nails, painted ruby, match her silk scarf, which draped around her neck artistically, covers any neck folds. On one arm, a solid gold watch shines from her wrist, and on her other hand a diamond the size of a sugar cube gleams.

Meanwhile, I cross my feet under the booth to hide my well-worn, scruffy Asiacs.  I am wearing a pair of Kohl’s black yoga pants, a Target Cuddle Duds T-shirt and a pink, zip up hoodie with Chicago inscribed in cursive white letters. My entire outfit including silver earring posts costs $39. 99. Clasped to my wrist is a twenty-buck, black Ironman Timex that I have worn for the past decade; I still need my students’ expertise to reset it after I change time zones.

walking in style

walking in style

Plagued with a bad back, I never carry a handbag, instead I slip loose change, my French passport, Swiss residency papers and a 10 franc note on the inside pocket of my purple UW-Steven’s Point basketball jacket. I don’t get it. I never abused my body, keep my health care team in business (doctors, chiropractors, podiatrists) and retain my gluten free, low fat, no sugar regime, yet my body is kaput. How did I get so wrecked? I wear tennis shoes out of necessity, as it is the only cut of shoe that allows me to insert my clunky orthotic soles. I marvel at women my age and older, who scurry down streets balancing on stilettos, carrying LouisVuitton handbags bigger than shopping carts and weighting more than an electric car.

I hide my-desperately-in-need-of-a-trim-hair under a color-coordinated baseball cap. I put off a trip to the beauticians because it is so outrageously expensive and to be honest, a bit of a lost cause.

I wear a thin gold wedding band and safire ring to match the Norwegian eyes my husband fell in love with, but can no longer see because half my face is underneath my humongous dark movie star glasses. It is the only fashionable accessory I own; however, I don’t wear them to hide my « celebrity » status, but to protect my eyes from the light due to a medical treatment.

Even though I have been to Geneva hundreds of times, I stand on every street corner looking lost, because I am unable to distinguish left from right. I looked as bewildered as a refugee just off the boat and marvel that I never get picked up for vagrancy. My husband will be relieved to know, I have yet to pass around my baseball hat on the commuter train home.

If you saw me on the street, you would never know that I have lived in Europe for thirty years. Always wearing my trademark tennies, I still look more touristy than the tourists.

Unforgettable School Trips Across Europe During Fieldweek

Every student longs to hang on to summer just a little longer. At my school, the start to the school is every student’s dream. The 2nd week of September we head off on field week known as semaine verte.

wandering in an Alsacian village

wandering in an Alsacian village

Oh no, this is not just any school trip to the local museum. With Europe at our doorstep, our back-to-school adventure includes corralling bulls in southern France, climbing mountains in the Swiss Alps, and riding gondolas down the canals of Venice.

Jewish district in Venice

Jewish district in Venice

Each grade took off for a different destination. The 8th grade headed to the mountains, 9th grade bused to Provence’s paradise, the10th grade to visit concentration camp and cathedrals in Alsace, and 11thgrade flew to Barcelona, Edinburgh and Berlin.

strolling the streets of Strasbourg

strolling the streets of Strasbourg

In the past I traveled with my daughter’s 11thgrade to Venice,

Nat & friends waiting for the vaporetto

Nat & friends waiting for the vaporetto

and my son’s class to Provence.

field week in Camargue

field week in Camargue

When graduates look back, the favorite memories of high school revolve around their week of bonding in places most kids only dream of visiting.

Join me on our back to school extravaganza – education at its best in a room without walls.

Camargue's cowboys

Camargue’s cowboys

Back to School Keeps Me Young at Heart

Some of my old high school classmates retired from teaching this year and though I envy them, each fall I think ‘oh heck, I can make it one more year.’

international festival at school

international festival at school

My students keep me going.

Last spring a sixth grade student, who loves PE, raced from the primary building to the gym door.  She blurted out with enthusiasm. “You look just like my granny!”

Taken aback, for I never considered myself the age of a grandma, I asked incredulously.

“Really! How old is your granny?”

“She is 70. And just like you.  Tall and fit.  And she still plays basketball every week.”

I burst out laughing. Go, granny go.

Should I be insulted that she sees me old enough to be a granny or proud to know she considers me fit enough to still play my favorite ball game?

talking tactics at the alumni game

talking tactics at the alumni game

A graduating senior told me she remembered having me in first grade.  Ah yes, in my early days at our school I had to teach every grade between first and twelfth grade.

Until moving to Switzerland, I have never stayed in one place, but now I have been at my school long enough to be one of the elders. Students that I once had in class are returning to campus to teach!

Aging seems to be a popular theme with all my students. A favorite 10th grader gave me a homemade gift. On a Scandinavian Airline travel bag designed to carry official papers hanging on a strap around my neck he printed, “Old Timer coming through”.

“ It’s to help you keep from losing your dark glasses so much,” he told me.

But one of the most endearing compliments was a card made by my 6th grade PE class last June.

Dear Mrs. Mackenzie

You have been the best PE teacher we ever had. Whenever someone didn’t have a kit (PE uniform) instead of yelling at them, you would give them a job. You have helped everyone in our class improve stuff they couldn’t do. Everyone wants to have you as a PE teacher in secondary.  We are so attached to you that if you retire or go somewhere we would follow you. We did not expect to learn so much. But we actually learned something. We all learned millions of games.

When I ask what my colleagues miss most after retirement, their answer is unanimous, “The kids. And the buzz.”

Our school halls are definitely buzzing with the energy of bright minds from around the globe, eager to tackle the future challenges facing Planet Earth.

So every year, though my body creaks a little louder, my joints lock up a bit tighter and a part of me longs to retire from the relentless demands of teaching, the kids keep me young at heart and fill my days with joy and laughter. Yup, teaching is one big ball game.