How was your Summer Holiday?

IMG_4546Every September the favorite back to school topic is how was your summer holidays? Holiday? I spent my summer at our family cabin in Wisconsin running a resort and preparing meals for a dozens of hungry “campers” who thought they were at the Club Med of the Northwoods. It seemed like when we weren’t hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing, and eating we were recovering from hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing and eating.

We never saw the bear, but we sure had lots of other excitement: one sever allergic reaction, an episode of vertigo, a tick bite, an acute lumbar spine injury, a broken toe, 2 herniated disks, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis elbow, and an infected bite from an unidentified creature. Thankfully these ailments did not befall the same person.

We were so lucky to have access to free medical advice. When in doubt call Dr. Nat.

“I am a pediatrician,” she repeated, “and I hate to break it you, but you are all over the age of 18.”

Ah, the blessing of having a doc in the family. “I’ll tell you what I told you the last time you called. Go to urgent care or check with your general practitioner!”

So we learned that if you call 911 on one of those old-fashioned land phones, the rescue squad could locate a cabin hidden back in the woods with only a fire lane number.

Ze Frenchman, the only one who ignored the doctor’s advice, waited to seek treatment until the bite on his shoulder morphed into an abscess the size of a turnip requiring minor surgery and major antibiotic intervention.

We also had a lot of back injuries. Fortunately, we are blessed with a first rate chiropractor, Dr.Dave. Unfortunately, he moved his practice 50 miles further north to Eagle River.

It seemed like every day someone had a chiro appointment, so we switched in names of patients depending on whose pain was greatest.

“I twinged my back,” Nic said, “but right now my toe hurts worse. I dropped a weight on it.”

Dr. Dave was surprised to see our son, who lives in Minneapolis, limp through the door.

“Doc, you always know we’ll be bringing a bus load from Summit Lake,” I said. “You just never know who’ll be on the bus.”

In between our ambulance rides, urgent care visits and doctors appointments, we had a blast.

We had birthday celebrations for my dad, my sister, and my niece. We threw a wonderful party for my mom’s 80th. We toasted my sister’s retirement, my siblings wedding anniversaries and our daughter’s first official day on the job.

You know those Frenchman; they never pass up an opportunity to raise a glass in good cheer.

And surprisingly, on the coldest summer on record, we ran out of ice every day because we were nursing so many injuries.

But hey, no one is complaining. When friends and colleagues asked about our summer holidays we tell them, “It was great!”

When we look back on our Summit Lake summer, we forget the aches and pains; all we remember is the love and laughter.

So, do tell, how was your summer holiday?

Bear Hunting at the Dump

Image_copyWhen I was growing up one of my favorite activities was going to the dump to see bear. We filled the station wagon with excited children and parked at a landfill in the middle of the woods off Forest Road, where people dumped trash, old appliances, box springs, furniture, and just about everything.

Like witnessing meteor showers, sunsets or loon dances, bear watching was part of the entertainment Up North. We parked at the dump at dusk and waited with eager eyes for a glimpse of a bear lumbering in from the woods to gnaw at watermelon rinds and table scraps.

Long gone are the old dump days. Now garbage must be sorted into paper, plastics, and glass and hauled to dumpsters that are compressed and carted away by truck.

Garbage is no laughing matter in Europe either.

Switzerland, an ultra clean country, slaps on steep fines for littering. Even garbage disposals are verboten deemed a hazard to the environment.

The Swiss take tidiness to the extreme. Since January 2013, in addition to a local recycling tax, we pay for each sack of garbage. And only in Switzerland would civil servants actually be paid to go through “illegal” garbage bags to locate owners to be fined.

The Swiss are not big on second hand goods either. In fact, garage sales are illegal. Instead communities organize fall and spring event called “troc du village” where you can resell top-notch goods. During the rigorous triage, only the best quality hand me downs make the cut. Twenty percent of your profit from sales goes back to the city. Boy, those Swiss sure know how to make money.

Switzerland is also the only country where you will never see a dumpy car tooling down the road. Dented, rusted-out, old beaters are not allowed on the highway. After new cars are 5 years old, vehicles must past a stringent inspection by the “service des automobiles” every two years, before being allowed back on the motorway.

As unhygienic and pollutant as they were, I miss the dumps of yesteryear when Grandpa would load the kids in the back of the old truck with tin cans and bump along the beat up old back roads of Wisconsin.IMG_3772_copy

Though recycling was not vogue in the 60s and 70s, we learned as children to never waste resources and respect nature. We grew up learning to pick up cans and debris carelessly discarded along Wisconsin’s back-roads.

At the lake now, my dad rounds up the carefully sorted garbage making the dump runs religiously on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday during the hours that the recycle spot on highway 45 is open for business.

“Any takers for a ride to the dump?” he’ll ask.

With little hope of seeing a bear at the modern day recycling center, no one jumps at the opportunity. Good natured, Grandpa goes anyway, stopping along the way to reminisce with the gas station attendant, postal worker and maintenance man about the good ol’ days when a trip to the dump provided good, wholesome entertainment for the whole town.

Happy 80th Birthday to my Remarkable Mom

IMG_3055_copyOn your 80th birthday, what can I offer you, Mom, you who has given me life? You fell asleep under my crib patting my back in infancy assuring me that you’d always be there. You stayed up until dawn holding my hand as I struggled with problems as a grown up.

You loved me unconditionally.

You created a happy childhood by inventing fun, like painting sidewalks with water, reading books by candlelight and playing restaurant at a card table. When money was scarce, you splurged on small treasures: a plastic boat, a jar of Play Doh, and a Highlights magazine. When you grew tired from the caretaking, you pulled me onto your lap for a moment’s peace and told stories and sang songs.

You taught me to respect my elders in the tender way you cared for Grandpa Mac and Grandma Olson. You spoiled Grandpa with his favorites – chili and pie. You visited your mom in the nursing home every day finding joy in her company even as she aged.

You, a smart, soft-spoken Chicago girl from a modest family of Norwegian immigrants, worked your way through college earning a teaching degree. Then, you made your four children feel as special as an only child. When the last one started kindergarten, you started your teaching career, guiding other people’s kids.

All the while, you were encouraging me to develop my own skills and take those first painful steps toward reaching my potential. You overlooked my flaws – saw my best when I was at my worst – and knew I would outgrow my orneriness. To help us survive our awkward adolescence, you told your daughters that they were caterpillars blooming into butterflies. Okay, so I never developed that delicate beauty, but I did learn to fly.

You forgave me for the untold suffering I caused: the trips to the emergency room, the nights I came in late as a teen. All the anxieties I created with desperate phone calls: my hospitalization in Peoria, my pro team’s collapse, my car accident in France.

You sought miracles in everyday events. The spring an African violet appeared on the plant I gave you, you knew a life was blooming. Nine months later, I gave birth to your first grandchild. You became the greatest long distance grandma, sewing matching outfits, writing letters, making calls, taking drives and plane rides to visit grandchildren, living nine hours away by plane.

You put Band-Aids on skinned knees, made cookies for bake sales, sent cards to shut ins, and gave pep talks. You remembered anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations, and never missed ball games. You were the first to take the sting out of life’s hurts; the last to criticize mistakes. First up and the last to bed, you worked overtime and never went on strike.

You put your own life on hold to jump-start ours. You kept my world spinning in a zillion small ways that I overlooked everyday.

You, the unsung hero, taught us to accept the differences in others by nurturing the differences in ourselves. While I was defying society, playing sports at a time in history when little girls were supposed to play house, you let me be a tomboy. When, instead of coveting Barbie dolls, I asked Santa for a basketball for Christmas, you made sure he heard my wishes.

You never made me wear hair bows, instead you cut my bangs short and let me march to my own beat. When I slid into home plate, swished hoops, and tackled the neighborhood boys in the backyard, you grinned and waved from the kitchen window. When I fell off bicycles and out of trees, you straightened the handlebars and brushed off the grass and said, “Off you go!”

Your heart grew as I grew, welcoming your French son-in-law into the fold even though you knew he’d whisk me off to live in a foreign country. You exemplified a good marriage, sharing sixty years of laughter and tears with my dear Dad.

You gave me wings and the gift of love. Though I can never repay you directly, I pay it forward daily in my work and family. Mom, because of you, I learned to love. I bought into the human race.

Mix a French Printer and an American Writer and Watch the Fireworks Explode

IMG_4003_copyAfter 30 years, ze Frenchman said, “I am so sick of hearing about the damn book, publish it yourself.”

So I brushed off the dust of a manuscript I had worked on with 3 agents and a dozen different editors and started over again. Long before I felt that the 88th edition was ready, my other half gave me an ultimatum, “Now or never!”

Unite a pragmatic, logical, French, feet-on-the-ground-no-nonsense-businessman and a flighty, idealistic, touchy-feely artsy American writer and then watch the fireworks! I live in my dreams. He worries about reality – about spaces, margins, and quality of images.

Ze Frenchman, a CEO in printing, formerly headed a French book printing company; now he manages newspapers in Switzerland on a 24-hour deadline. However, I have worked on this memoir nearly half a century changing the content according to the whims of a regiment of editors.

“I hate WORD (the computer program)!”  I hear ze Frenchman scream from our attic office.

Ze American loves words. I am driven by words. Do they dance across the page delighting the reader?

“If your cover doesn’t catch the eye, no one will open your book.”

I worry about content; he focuses on form.

Meanwhile the website crashes. Spammers from outer space invaded the blog. Drafts are lost in cyberspace.

“Putain, vérole, bordel de merde!” he yells enriching my French vocabulary.

I learn new curse word every time something goes wrong upstairs in the attic. I jump, fearing his foot, slammed so hard, will smash through the floorboards.

What in the heck were we thinking publish a book? He wants it to be done; I want it to be perfect.IMG_3961_copy

His reputation is not at stake, he is the loving husband who endured three decades of his wife’s eccentricities: writer’s block, creative outbursts, artist angst.

I want to reread, revise, re edit, resubmit. The Frenchman says, “Non! Stop!”

I press forward, trying to sneak in one more rewrite quickly, so the Boss will get off my back! Fine for him to say “Just Do It,” he’s not the one standing on the high dive with acrophobia!

There is no hand holding, no coddling, no ego stroking, back patting, confidence boosting. It is just YOU and your idea flying solo through the universe on a wing and a prayer. Self-doubt is your sidekick.

I second-guess myself on every sentence. My English language fluency regresses daily. I live in a country with four national languages – none of which are English -and work in an international school where students speak in 84 different mother tongues.

Ze Frenchman adds a comma. I take it out. He questions the origins of a word. “You can’t use that word in English. It’s French.”

“No it is not.”

“Yes it is.”

We race to our respective language dictionaries.

“It’s not in Webster’s,” I lament.

“It is not in the French dictionary either. You can’t make up words with nice rhythms, just so they can dance!”

Oh la la…how is a marriage to survive.

What was I thinking?  Write a book.

Ta da boom! Three decades later, longer than it took to raise our doctor daughter, my dream, -his nightmare- takes shape.

Together we created a book baby, Home Sweet Hardwood, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball. I hope that my story inspires readers of all ages to never give up on their dreams. He hopes that after publication, I will quit writing.

I could never, ever have attempted to publish a book without my techie sidekick, to whom I am forever grateful for standing by me.

What advice would ze Frenchman offer anyone embarking on such an all-consuming endeavor?

“Never marry a writer!  Especially an American!”

 

 

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In High School Basketball Friendship Wins, Cancer Loses

I spent the first half of my life fighting to be allowed on the court and the second half learning to graciously cheer for others when I could no longer play the game I loved.

ISG teamEven though I can’t drive the baseline anymore, I get a kick out of seeing the players I coach at the International School of Geneva make a perfect pass, hit a jumper, and run a fast break.

Teamwork is a beautiful thing. I love watching well-balanced WNBA teams like the Minnesota Lynx run the floor or the precise passing of the UWSP college women. None of that coast-to-coast garbage.

But high school basketball is best. Players put their heart and soul on the line every week in front of the family, friends and community that shaped them. They play, not for money, or prestige, but for the camaraderie and love of the game. Most of these young athletes won’t make the college roster; even fewer will sign a pro contract. But the lessons learned on the hardwood during their chaotic, fleeting adolescence last forever.

Not a day goes by where I don’t wish I could still play basketball; not a minute passes where I don’t forget how lucky I am to be here wishing just that, because I could very well be 6 feet under. I am grateful to be in the game even if only from the sidelines. I love giving halftime talks, drawing up last second plays, and encouraging kids to gut it out in tough circumstances.

If I ever forget the gift of “overtime” on my own game clock, a twinge in my back, an ache in my shoulder, or a pain in my skull – repercussions from my accident – remind me of the other option. Life took on new meaning after I came so close to losing mine.

Fortunately, rarely is a young athlete confronted with his/her mortality.

Some win. Some lose. Some survive. Some die. Cancer, a formidable foe, strikes down opponents indiscriminately, but the loss is particularly painful when the disease steals the life of a child.

Hopefully most teenagers won’t be confronted with cancer, but they have all faced hard times which were made easier with the support of that special parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, teacher, coach or friend. When an innovative basketball coach at Bishop McGuinness High School in Greensboro suggested that his players dedicate the game to someone who had influenced their lives, he never expected his idea to go global.

One of his players, Spencer Wilson dedicated his game ball to an inspirational friend on the cancer ward, Josh Rominger.

On January 24th in that North Carolinian gym filled to capacity, a boy made a 50-foot last second shot to win the game in memory of a friend and found the courage to carry on.

Sooner or later, we will be faced with those defining moments when our best laid plans and deepest hopes are derailed by injury, illness, accidents and unforeseen disaster. Do we give up or go on?

We get one chance. To give it our best shot. To dedicate our game.

Bad stuff happens. So do miracles.

Friendship is eternal.

Keep fighting.

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Swiss Champions U21 – June 2008
Christoph Varidel,Paul Costello, Nicolas Lechault, Michael Shumbusho, Alex Gromadski

Together.

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Congratulations, Debbie! Your name was selected in a random drawing of commenters to receive a copy of my memoir, Home Sweet Hardwood: A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball.

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Best Teaching Tip – The Back Pocket Plan

Le_Chat_30April12_025_copyAfter teaching for years, I know to be prepared for the unexpected, so I always carry a spiral notebook in my back pocket. On it, I have a list activities for those times when the lesson does not go as planned due to faulty technology, essay eating hobgoblins and the never fail, « I can’t present today my group member is sick. »

Kids today are so clever. They must toss a virtual coin on Facebook the night before a group oral presentations are due to decide which member of the team should be absent the next day.

Teachers become adept at thinking off the top of their head, seat of their pants and back of their eyeballs. Since my students weren’t ready, I resorted to the pack pocket plan. I led a discussion about how the weather echoes human emotions in the text we were studying. Then I opened the blinds and told them to stare out the window and write for 10 minutes about this typical dreary fall day. Write about whatever comes to mind regarding weather, how you feel when looking out the window today, how the rainy autumn affects your mood, how you dream of escaping this dreary classroom.

Educational studies show that students learn best when they see the teacher looking at a book during reading time or writing along with them during a writing assignment. I pulled out my pocket notebook and began scribbling.

At the end of 10 minutes, a few brave souls timidly read their pieces of work. Then I think as a ploy to save unwilling classmates, they insisted I read mine. So I began…

« This weather stinks. Rainy. Cloudy. Cold. Old man winter is coming round cloaking us in a death vice. I am sick of the foggy gloom that is November. I am tired of seeing the faded, grey view from my dark tinted glasses. I am weary from too much work and too little time. I want to crawl under my soft, lumpy duvet and hibernate until spring, but I can’t. My students are waiting with eager, smiling faces, fidgety and restless, full of life. So I put on a happy face and greet my class with a grin. They bring me enough light and laughter to endure the autumn blues. »

Bless their generous little hearts, when I finished reading, the class burst into applause. Right on time one ginger-headed boy, deadpanned, « You must have been writing about your other class. »

We burst out laughing just as the dismissal bell rang ending the school day.Le_Chat_30April12_022_copy

And that is why I love teaching.

What is your best back pocket plan?