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

 

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.

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.

Basketball Blues and Brotherhood: Remembering Mike Maloy

Mike MaloyEvery February, I celebrate Black History month in the lessons I teach. I know what a travesty it is to be left out the history books by the powers that be. I owe a lot to my African American teammates who overlooked my skin color during our time together. Shared passions, common goals and interdependence out weigh prejudice. But nowhere was the bond greater than when I moved to Paris and joined the expats ball club.

It doesn’t matter if you are blue, green, orange, purple or female when you are flying solo in the Euro basketball league. Only a fellow American can appreciate our love for the game and understand the isolation of living in a foreign land 4,000 miles away from home.

When I first started coaching high school ball at international schools, women coaches were rare, but my male contemporaries – players recruited to play in Europe and who stayed on – accepted me with open arms. At the American School of Paris, Henry Fields, dubbed the Father of French Basketball, took me under his wing in the international coaching “brotherhood.” Another mentor, Mike Maloy, like Henry broke down racial barriers, and left his mark in Austria.

Mike, a tall lean guy with an endearing personality, winning grin and a raspy, heartbreaking bluesy voice, never belied the bitterness that a lifetime of discrimination could create.

He was so non judgmental and unassuming. You would never know by talking to him that he put Davidson College on the map of the NCAA basketball, dominated in the Austrian pro league and sang lead with Boring Blues Band in the Viennese music scene.

Under the leadership of the legendary Coach Lefty Driesell, Mike became the first African American to play at the small southern, predominately white Davidson College where the New Yorker worked as hard to fit in as he did to rebound. In 1967 Mike also became the first African American to pledge SIGMA CHI fraternity, an action that created scandal within a system that had a long-standing tradition of discrimination.

In 1970 Mike was drafted by the Boston Celtics. In 1976 he became the first African American in the Austrian league. He again overcame intolerance and went on to win four national titles with UBSC Wien Basketball team before becoming a successful coach in the league.

In Austria, Mike admitted the he started to enjoy the game again. “It wasn’t about money. It was about chillin out and getting my head straight. I kept staying another year.”

That line echoes the sentiments of dozens of former American players that have befriended me during my decades of living abroad.

After his untimely passing, American International School of Vienna (AIS) named the high school basketball gym in his honor. And it was on his court that I remembered him best.

My fondest memories of Mike were seeing him at international tournaments, sitting at the bar sipping beer after a game, ever ready with a pep talk.

Once while lamenting getting beat out of the final, I asked, “What am I doing wrong?

“Wrong? With your tiny, lil’, raggedy team you got no business being in the same gym with goliath – I saw you coach your skinny butt off to get into the semis.”

When many seasons later, my lil’ raggedy team from Geneva snatched the Sport Council International School (SCIS) championship from the 7-time champion AIS on their home court, I thought I heard my old buddy laughing from the rafters.

“I told you so, girl.”

Thanks for believing in me, bro.

This one is for you.

Half Board and Silent Hotels A Good Combo

IMG_4443_copyIf you enjoy being away from the crowd and love fine dining, booking a night in the Hostellerie de L’Ardève is a win/win situation. Perched at 1350 meters, adjacent to Ovronnaz and Les Mayens de Chamoson, this hotel offers a stunning view overlooking the Rhone Valley and the Alps. The annex to the hotel, le Chalet de Kalbermatten, was built at the beginning of the 20th century and is IMG_4453_copyprotected as a historical landmark.

In 1968, several hoteliers, who believed noise is a social intrusion undermining our health and happiness, created the Relais de Silence. Hotels listed in this guide are often difficult to find, they are hidden in the countryside, by the sea, along the banks of a river, on an island, at the edge of a mountainside or along a side street in a busy city. They are known for their peace and quiet. Located in a natural environment, in comfortable buildings with unique character, Silent Hotels must offer a warm welcome stressing quality of life and gastronomy. Each is reflective of the unique style of the country where it is located.

It is usually a gamble, but to reserve a room with demi pension (half-board), a fixed rate that includes breakfast and the evening meal, is a better deal. Our hotel, a 3 star, also known for its gastronomy, was a good bet. We were not disappointed.

Friday we were served a Russian salad followed by sea bream in lemon sauce with mini potatoes and zucchini au gratin. Desert, an apricot cauflirori, an egg flan with a scoop of rhubard/honey ice cream was served on plates of ardoise, which looked like the old chalk slate we wrote on in grade school. On our walk the next day we found unfinished pieces of slate chipped off the mountain side.IMG_4433_copy

Saturday night, our starter was the traditional “assiette valaisane”, which is a plate of artistically arranged cold cuts – salami, dried beef, cured ham served with pinky sized pickles and baby white onions. The main course was chicken in cream sauce accompanied with risotto and scalped zucchini.

Dessert, a vanilla ice cream soufflé, was the house specialty. The Frenchman charmed the waitress into trading the menu fare for a wild blueberry tart. Why does your husband’s dessert always looks better than your own? Souffléd ice cream – not for me. It was tough and chewy, but Gerald’s tart was exquisite.

We were in the Leytron and Chamoson wine territory, so naturally a glass of Humagne Blanc or Johannisberg Grand Cru, local favorites, were recommended. Every spare inch of soil on the mountain ranges, southern flank was filled with vineyards.IMG_4480_copy

I am not sure what it is about that mountain air the wets your appetite, but, no matter how much you devoured the night before, the next morning you are hungry again.

IMG_4441_copyIn Europe breakfast is often included and in mountains it is usually copious. On a self-serve sideboard an enticing display of cereals, fresh fruits, paper thin slices of salami and ham, and thick chunks of cheese of local cheese as well as a choice of bakery fresh breads and croissants and homemade preserves awaited. All to be savored with piping hot coffee or tea.IMG_4442_copy

Over breakfast, from the brasserie we had a panoramic view of the mountains enticing us to go hiking, if only to work up our appetite for the next gourmet meal.

Call Me Coach – A March Madness Epiphany

IMG_4467_copyEver the misfit, I struggled to find my niche as an athletic girl on the cusp of Title IX. Even in adulthood, I continued to wonder what I was supposed to be doing with my life. During March Madness when I checked scores and brackets long distance, it dawned on me. I am a coach.

Last year, I had opportunity of a lifetime to speak at the DIII Final Four at UWSP. For the first time since moving abroad, I experienced March Madness firsthand. I marveled at the evolution of the woman’s game and realized the impact the pioneers had in paving the way.

Some children know what they want to be from the time they are five-years-old; I was in my fifth decade before I figured it out. In kindergarten, my dad announced that he wanted to coach like his dad, Coach Mac. But when I was growing up coaching never crossed my mind; girls weren’t allowed to play ball, so how could a woman make a career out of coaching.

I used to think that I was born to play basketball, but when that dream ended abruptly it took me decades to grow into my real calling.

I went on to coach middle school, junior varsity, and varsity girls’ and boys’ teams. I called La Chat boys teamplays in English, German, and French and learned to swear in a dozen different languages. When the opportunity arose, I humbly assisted coaching a wheelchair basketball team in Germany. I was equally inspired teaching kids with Down Syndrome how to shoot hoops.

As I helped athletes cope with divorce, depression, disappointment, academic pressure and the death of loved ones, we held it together with jump shots, high fives and team huddles. We created a bond that one cannot fathom unless having been a part of a team.

During hard times, sometimes the only difference between hope and despair was knowing that someone believes in you.

Coaching at an international school in an international league, every year the team composite is unique – with African, American, French, German, English, Indian, Japanese, Philippine, Puerto Rican, Scottish, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Uruguayan players– but the outcome remains the same. We put differences aside to become a tight knit group in pursuit of our goals. We shared our camaraderie, competitive drive and love of the game.

In a lifetime of seasons, coaches never really know how many lives they helped shape. La Chat teamRecently, one of my former players – who now runs marathons and the Wellness Program of entire city – honored me by calling me her mentor on the front page of the local newspaper.

Though I have won my share of championships, there is no greater testimony of success when working with kids, than seeing them as productive adults.

“It’s not about trophies,” Coach Mac said it best to the Chicago Tribune in 1985, “The important thing is how you develop your athletes, how you mold their hearts and minds. The real reward is being able to look at your athletes in later years and seeing how you’ve contributed to the development of their character, so that they can serve as leaders of their community.”

In college, I thought I would save the country, as a social worker instead I became an international coach guiding kids from ‘round the globe, to go out and save the world.

I never dreamed I’d see the day when one of the senior boys would stop me in the hall to say, “What’s up, Coach.”

I have arrived! Today even the guys address me with respect.

They call me coach.

riding the rails to another tournament

riding the rails to another tournament