Teaching Tolerance in the Age of Terror

le_chat_14sept11_223I began and ended my holidays with a moment of silence, a solemn reminder that the threat of terrorism lurked on every street corner, in every train station and every international airport. Just before our winter break, 7 militants from the Pakistani Taliban entered an army-run, public school in Peshawar and fired at random killing 132 students and 9 teachers during 8 hours of terror.

In solidarity, the next day, our Swiss and International School of Geneva flags flew at half-mast; otherwise we resumed our regular school day. That evening we had a basketball game at another large international school where I looked forward to seeing the opposing coach, my American friend, and my son’s former coach.

Instead of being greeted with his usual bear hug, when I walked in the gym he raised a finger to his lip, and apologized, “Sorry, Pat, we are in lock-down.” He urged us to duck behind a pile of gym mats where his team crouched low.

Overhead the loud speaker blared, “Le train ne s’arrête pas à Lausanne.” (The train doesn’t stop in Lausanne). The code was repeated over and over again heightening our anxiety. Teenagers in hiding whispered nervously, while I wondered why would they “practice” a lock-down drill after school hours.

The following morning, back on my own campus, students from the age of thirteen to eighteen gathered in an assembly to sing, dance, and perform. One was a world champion tap dancer, another played the piano and sang a piece he composed, two students from my home room class, co presidents of our school, spoke eloquently. I marveled at such talented kids, such bright minds.

From the balcony, I overlooked our gym floor covered with chairs lined in rows representing 6 classes in each year group from grade 7 to 13. In a sea of joy, heads bobbed and arms, representing 135 nationalities, waved in rhythm to the jazz band. So young, innocent, so earnest.

Then our principal spoke breaking the festive atmosphere.

“In an international school about our size, terrorists wiped out an entire year group in an unimaginably, appalling attack. Some students were finishing exams; others were in first aid class or in normal lessons. All the children were just trying to learn, trying to better themselves through education.”

Our principal asked us to observe a moment of silence in memory of the victims. The stark contrast between the previous noisy, frivolities to absolute stillness was eerie. Though we practiced lock-down procedures, Switzerland seemed unrealistically safe. A safety we take for granted.

At the world’s oldest and largest international schools, we remained one of the few campuses left unguarded and unenclosed. Teachers, students, parents and visitors come and go freely admiring the bucolic countryside and spectacular view of Lake Geneva surrounded by the Alps.

I left school that day deep in thought. Three weeks later, after our holiday, I returned to school with an even heavier heart. As the sun rose over the Alps, I walked to campus and contemplated the lessons I had prepared for that day. Reeling from barbaric terrorists attacks in he heart of Paris on January 7th; I contemplated how to discuss the events in a school composed of students representing so many different nationalities, ethnicities and religions.

While across Europe, leaders debated ways to assure safety in light of the recent attacks, my school hosted a joint Education for Peace Conference at Palais des Nations to celebrate our 90 years of international education and 70 years of the United Nations. We joined forces around our common values of peace, tolerance, respect and diversity upon which we were founded.

I am an educator, but what information should I impart?

How can we teach vigilance without invoking fear?

How do we protect our citizens without infringing on personal rights?

How do we practice tolerance in the face of terrorism and impart an understanding that terror is not synonymous with Islam?

How do we safeguard intellectual freedom is such gifted, promising, malleable young minds?

Gratitude List Begins With Family

IMG_3067_copy As a cloud cover settles over Switzerland and the old North winds blow across the Midwest of my birth land, it is time to hunker down and draw warm comfort from the gift of family. I am grateful for the people who shaped my life and stuck by me during transitions along the way.

I am thankful for my husband and children, my parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws and outlaws, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins in my extended Olson-McKinzie-Elie-Lechault family.

Families come in all shapes, sizes and combinations: traditional, mixed race, same sex, single parent, blended, or cross cultural like mine. No magic formula exists as to what works. What matters is not one’s religion, nationality or ethnicity, but one’s capacity to invest in another. The love binds us – a love that is tolerant, that forgives mistakes, overlooks shortcomings, endures over time, and stands strong in the face of hardships. Families stick with you during the tough times like unemployment, illnesses, deaths and celebrates the good times like weddings, birthdays and milestones.

Like a patchwork quilt, my family is an eclectic mix of athletically inclined, musically gifted, hard-working American, French, German, Norwegian and Scottish, stitched together with old-fashioned values – loyalty, dependability, and integrity.

We spread across different countries, yet remain connected. We travel thousands of miles to share 48 hours of holiday magic. No matter how great the distance between us, our annual family reunion at our cabin in the Wisconsin Northwoods remains sacred.

Like this priceless lake property – a gift from my ancestors – family values have been passed down through generations. My parents showed us respect for our elders making sure they were a part of every event, and shared stories of the past, so I grew up valuing my heritage. My grandparents were such an integral part of my life that classmates still remember my Grandma’s oatmeal cookies and my Grandpa’s (Coach Mac) grumbling over bad passes at my ball games.

Families learn to accommodate different schedules, so we celebrate whenever we can get together instead of on the actual holidays. We make the traditional pork roasts, bake favorite cookies, and cater to gluten free, low fat, no sugar, healthy heart diets.

When members stumble due to bad diagnoses, professional setbacks or personal disappointments, someone else catches them before they fall.

Families share a sixth sense. My sisters know when I am at the breaking point and call out of the blue when I most need to hear their voices. My husband reads my face like an open book and knows when we need to leave the party or restaurant ASAP, so I can crash in quiet, dark room.

By hand holding, card writing, email sending, text messaging, and phone calling, families find little ways to stay connected. They sustain us through heart surgeries, cancer treatments, broken engagements, painful miscarriages, job losses, challenging relocations and unexpected emergencies.IMG_3712_copy

Families help pack boxes, plan parties, support dreams and give us hope. They stand in the rain to watch marathons and marching band performances. They sit on hard bleachers to see countless baseball, basketball, football, soccer and rugby games. They attend concerts, recitals and graduations. They support mission trips, help fund college education, offer opportunities to learn and grow and share each other’s talents with the world.

They drive us to doctors’ offices, listen to a million complaints, wipe away oceans of tears, but most of all, they believe in us even when we doubt ourselves.IMG_3945_copy

Good families got your back. Always.

And I am, oh so, grateful.

 

 

Gratitude List Begins With Family

IMG_3067_copy As a cloud cover settles over Switzerland and the old North winds blow across the Midwest of my birth land, it is time to hunker down and draw warm comfort from the gift of family. I am grateful for the people who shaped my life and stuck by me during transitions along the way.

I am thankful for my husband and children, my parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws and outlaws, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins in my extended Olson-McKinzie-Elie-Lechault family.

Families come in all shapes, sizes and combinations: traditional, mixed race, same sex, single parent, blended, or cross cultural like mine. No magic formula exists as to what works. What matters is not one’s religion, nationality or ethnicity, but one’s capacity to invest in another. The love binds us – a love that is tolerant, that forgives mistakes, overlooks shortcomings, endures over time, and stands strong in the face of hardships. Families stick with you during the tough times like unemployment, illnesses, deaths and celebrates the good times like weddings, birthdays and milestones.

Like a patchwork quilt, my family is an eclectic mix of athletically inclined, musically gifted, hard-working American, French, German, Norwegian and Scottish, stitched together with old-fashioned values – loyalty, dependability, and integrity.

We spread across different countries, yet remain connected. We travel thousands of miles to share 48 hours of holiday magic. No matter how great the distance between us, our annual family reunion at our cabin in the Wisconsin Northwoods remains sacred.

Like this priceless lake property – a gift from my ancestors – family values have been passed down through generations. My parents showed us respect for our elders making sure they were a part of every event, and shared stories of the past, so I grew up valuing my heritage. My grandparents were such an integral part of my life that classmates still remember my Grandma’s oatmeal cookies and my Grandpa’s (Coach Mac) grumbling over bad passes at my ball games.

Families learn to accommodate different schedules, so we celebrate whenever we can get together instead of on the actual holidays. We make the traditional pork roasts, bake favorite cookies, and cater to gluten free, low fat, no sugar, healthy heart diets.

When members stumble due to bad diagnoses, professional setbacks or personal disappointments, someone else catches them before they fall.

Families share a sixth sense. My sisters know when I am at the breaking point and call out of the blue when I most need to hear their voices. My husband reads my face like an open book and knows when we need to leave the party or restaurant ASAP, so I can crash in quiet, dark room.

By hand holding, card writing, email sending, text messaging, and phone calling, families find little ways to stay connected. They sustain us through heart surgeries, cancer treatments, broken engagements, painful miscarriages, job losses, challenging relocations and unexpected emergencies.IMG_3712_copy

Families help pack boxes, plan parties, support dreams and give us hope. They stand in the rain to watch marathons and marching band performances. They sit on hard bleachers to see countless baseball, basketball, football, soccer and rugby games. They attend concerts, recitals and graduations. They support mission trips, help fund college education, offer opportunities to learn and grow and share each other’s talents with the world.

They drive us to doctors’ offices, listen to a million complaints, wipe away oceans of tears, but most of all, they believe in us even when we doubt ourselves.IMG_3945_copy

Good families got your back. Always.

And I am, oh so, grateful.

 

 

Technologically Impaired

P7100476I am so far behind the times it isn’t funny. Case in point. Computer skills. I know how to push the button to turn on the machine and open Word to a blank page. I have absolutely no trouble filling that page with ruminations. I can touch type standing on my head on an American, French and German keyboard, but organizing a filing system and using PowerPoint, Excel, Access, Entourage, Firefox, Google +, Google.docs, Google anything, Presi, Outlook Express, and American Express leaves me baffled.

I’ve lost countless emails in cyberspace and have folders full of columns floating over the Atlantic. I have thousands of pages of articles, letters, and journal entries that I can no longer locate. My computer is a wild beast that eats my words for breakfast.

My husband has a computer brain, wired with its own set of megas and watts.

My brain has no wires. He tells me, “Use logic!”

Logic? I am perpetually lost. I was born directionally handicapped, devoid of reasoning skill. I am computer illiterate.

“Create a filing system to organize your work,” he insists.

“I do.”

“Everything you’ve written in the last quarter of century is filed under the heading LETTER,” he laments. “No wonder you can’t find anything.”

He clicks on LETTER. Up pops the heading– TOOTHPASTE.

“You need to keep a note written to Colgate for a rebate on a purchase that you made back in 1985?”

“I liked the way it was worded.”

“Think of your computer as a storage closet. Would you keep old clothes forever?”

Yes! Yes! Yes! My closet, like my computer, is jam-packed with memories. I have cupboards filled with t-shirts collected over the past half century. To throw one out would be like discarding an old friend

I have even more trouble tossing out word. Alas, words pile up faster than clothes. I cannot process day-to-day events unless I write it down. Like a photographer, I capture events, feelings and people in word pictures freezing time. I am memory maker, a dream catcher for soul.

It breaks my heart to know that after hours of searching for the perfect combination of words, my a blog will be read in a rush over coffee and then deleted before the day is over. I can no more pitch my columns into the trash bin at the bottom of my page than I could discard the drawing my son made in 1st grade.

I am a historian, a time collector. To throw out parts of my past would be sacrilege.   Consequently, I spend even more hours perusing my files with the FIND button than I do digging through my closet for my favorite old Illinois State University T-shirt.

To make matters worse, every second, a new electronic device is created. Computers are outdated as soon as they roll off the assembly line. Every time I turn around, my husband insists its time to upgrade and get the latest mega watt machine arguing that the old one is no longer powerful enough to hold all my musings.

The nightmare begins again. I struggle to learn codes wired to male model brains. Logic? If a female mind created the computer the delete button would be a blinking red light with a siren, so nothing would be trashed by accident.

I ‘ve mastered one maneuver. SAVE. SAVE. SAVE.

Beware. Any reader who discards this message within the next century may be subject to unforeseen catastrophe. Abracadabra. Cyberspace voodoo on you!

Social Media Wears Me Out

social mediaI am tired of the rat race. Unfortunately modern life allows for little down time and if we do take a break, we feel like we are getting behind. Where are we running to anyway? Social media only increases the pace and makes it feel like we are always missing out on something, somewhere.

Everybody has been to or is going to Paris, London, Cancun or Maui and have posted photos about every step of their glorious vacation. Their grand kids are the cutest, their beaus handsomest, their marriage the longest lasting, their children are merit scholars and championship athletes. Gosh, even their pets win prizes.

Oh yes, everyone on Facebook also possesses the culinary expertise of five star chefs. They post pictures of the gourmet meals they whipped up while speed reading novels and writing bestselling books. And they lose weight to boot. All while garnering the highest awards in their field and looking dazzling. Even on holiday, they keep winning. They always caught the biggest fish in the Atlantic, hit the greatest jackpot at Vegas, or captured the most gorgeous sunset in the world. They swim with dolphins in the Bahamas, ride the waves on Bondi Beach and sip champagne on the Champs Elysées.

The biggest problem with social media is that it makes me feel like my life sucks.

If I were to post the truth on social media, this is what it would look like

S.O.S. All alert bulletin! HELP lost my glasses again. And I can’t see to find them.

Yikes, while checking out at the grocery store, I couldn’t remember my credit card code for the life of me, so I walked out empty handed and we went hungry for the night.

I wore my shirt inside out to work; no one told me until 9th period.band wagon

I’d tweet stuff like, uh oh, stepped in dog doo on my way to school.

Major meltdown. Locked out of house. Lost keys.

19:00 hours. S*** burnt the steaks AGAIN.

I want to slow down, sip a glass of wine and enjoy the view of the Alps from my backyard, but no, no, no… my phone is beeping, a message dinged, no time to be idle. I have to Tweet, blog, check my stats, recommend a book on Goodreads, update on FB, edit my profile, contact my Google+ circles, post on in interest, text message my friend, answer 91 emails for work, and check in with 10,987 virtual friends.

As I try to measure up, against the ever-changing, impossible standards of super woman in cyber-world, I have to stop to remind myself that I am NOT what I do,

I am. Full stop.

Instead of going on-line, this week I am going retro. I will meet a friend for coffee, go for a walk with ze Frenchman and read an old-fashioned paper book.IMG_4375

I will turn off the electronics, tune out social media and tune into my own reality show.

And Live.

Life. Be. In. It.

What do you think? Is social media taking its toll on your well-being?

Farewell to Papie

photos Guy Lechault-1Impeccably dressed and coiffed, cher Papie, Guy Lechault, was a dapper, hardworking, upstanding French citizen. Born in Rouen on Dec. 1, 1926 to Robert Lechault and Jeanne Ducreux, he was raised during hard times between two world wars.

During WWII in Occupied France, like all able-bodied French boys, he was carted off to work for the enemy. Fortunately, he wound up with a German farm family where he was treated justly during unjust times. A few years later back on home soil, he was drafted and sent back to Germany with the Allied forces.

In 1951, he married the love of his life, Francoise Elie. His eleven-year-old granddaughter will tell you, “He met Mamie in a boîte de nuit (night club)!”photos Guy Lechault-9

They actually met at a tea dance popular after the war. Papie sure could heel turn across the parquet; he twirled me around the tables at our wedding. When my German teammates came to celebrate, without missing a beat, Papie raised his glass to them in cheer, “Prost.

Together Guy and Francoise raised three children. Two lovely daughters and one fine son, who became my husband.

photos Guy Lechault-7Before the days that Grand Hotelier schools turned out perfectly trained servers and sommeliers, Guy was a self-taught man learning the trade in bars, restaurants and then at Trouville’s seaside casino. In addition to impeccable table etiquette, he cajoled with the customers in rudimentary English, German, and Dutch. In later years, when guests arrived at Le Grande Bec hotel/restaurant, perched on cliffs above the English Channel, Papie welcomed them to France by serving Normandy’s finest fare from land and sea.

Papie loved sports and could recite the scores of his favorite teams. Once an avid football player, he enjoyed kicking a soccer ball on the beach with his 3 grandsons.

His first granddaughter was the apple of his eye until his adopted granddaughter stole his heart with her infectious laughter and mischievous brown eyes.IMG_1975_copy

Papie was a bricoleur (fixer upper) extraordinaire. He painted homes with the precision of a professional and there wasn’t an appliance that he couldn’t repair. While tinkering, he was also what the French call a râleur (grumbler). I learned a lot of new French words listening to him swear while hammering, chiseling, and drilling away.

In his profession, obliged to work impossibly long hours, family time was precious.

He saved tips to take his children across the country for one week of ski holidays in the Alps. After we moved to Switzerland, and then well into his 70s, he carved the slopes of Mt. Blanc with his son and grandson. Three generations of Lechaults etched life long memories in perfect powder.

His work ethic was so deeply ingrained, he never missed a day on the job putting in 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. In his free time, he remained active fishing and biking until the last few years, when his heart weakened.

IMG_3393_copyNon-judgmental, Papie welcomed me wholeheartedly into the Normand clan with his warm heart. On my first visit to Trouville, he offered me Coca Cola to make me feel at home. Once I developed an appreciation for wine, he served grand crus from his cellar knowing I favored the Burgundies of his mother’s home region.

Though he could command the timely serving of entire restaurant, there was no table he preferred to reign over than the one in his own home where he poured wine, carved roasts and shared the lively repartee that is so very French. After enjoying a 5-course family meal, he would doze off in his favorite chair in front of a football match.

Papie had an infectious smile and an engaging style; he was movie star handsome and as charming as a politician, but without the BS.

Kind, tolerant, industrious, a self made man of humble origins, a loyal husband, loving father, and proud grandfather.

Guy Lechault would have turned 88 this December, but in our hearts, vibrant Papie will remain forty-something forever.IMG_2675_copy

1 December 1926   –   25 September 2014