November 28, 2010

Disclaimer: When I’m excited, my writing can be incoherent.

I really wanted to write this blog as a story with lots of suspense leading up to the ending, but since I really struggle to remember details of games accurately, in order, or at all, AND I'm too excited to not spill the beans, I'm going to start with the day's result...WE GOT OUR FIRST CONFERENCE WIN!

Let me be clear, the game was not perfect by any means. Actually, after wins and losses I usually go back over each play and think about what I could have done better. In any sport, there are always ways to pick apart your play and tear yourself to shreds. Believe me, I made some mistakes in this game, but for the sake of celebration I am going to try really hard to solely focus on the positive! Okay, so the third-to-last play of the game the other team's forward drove to the basket getting by my teammate, I rotated across the lane (‘help-side defense’), picked up my teammate’s player, and blocked her shot! Blocking shots is amazing, mostly because you don’t even give the offensive player the satisfaction to see whether or not they could make a game-tying or game-winning shot, but also because it looks cool :P. The other team fouled me after I grabbed the ball, putting me on the free throw line. After I was fouled I heard my coach say "Hill! Come here!" I have to digress; the first time I heard my coach say, "Come on Hill!" I thought I was in some serious dog poo. It turns out that because the French language emphasizes the first syllable of their words that I am, in fact, NOT always in serious dog poo, but she is actually cheering me on. Okay, so after she called me over (and I realized I was NOT in trouble) she told me, “It's now or never!" and gave me a high five. I stepped to the line and said to myself, “Here we go Hill, you can do this,” did my routine, and breathed out as I released the ball for one of the most glorious sights a basketball player longs to see...a SWISH! Okay, so I missed my second free throw, but we went up by three, forcing the other team to re-think the possible shots they would have to take to stay in the game. The other team grabbed the rebound and one of our guards fouled her with about eight seconds left, putting them on the free throw line. In hindsight this was a really good play; our guard fouled out, but she also took away the other team’s option of seeing whether or not they could make a game tying 3-pointer (kind of like blocking a shot ;)). Their player made her first free throw and missed her second (I’m sensing a pattern here). After the missed free throw, our other forward had a textbook box out and grabbed the rebound, forcing the other team to foul. My teammate stepped to the line encouraged with high-fives and “allez’s”, and made both of her free throws (yay pattern broken!), putting us up by four!

The last play of the game the other team came down the court headed full speed towards their basket while our guards did a great job pressuring the ball. As their guard tried to pass to the player I was guarding, I stole the ball. As the clock ticked to zero and I realized I had the ball in my hands, I started frantically jumped up and down, relishing in the fact that we had won our first conference game! I heard cheers and screaming coming from my teammates (who I don't think have seen me so happy since coming to Switzerland). I joined them in their hugging and cheering and told them with a smile on my face stretched from ear to ear, "This is what winning feels like!" 

There is NOTHING quite like winning a hard-fought game with a group of people you've really come to enjoy going to battle with. It really is indescribable, but I CAN tell you I felt my heart fill with happiness (I worried at one point if it might possibly burst) and tears of joy may have made their way to my eyes ;). I know I’m an incredibly emotional person, but I think this moment warranted my happy tears. As the game ended I realized: we'd won, it wasn't a dream, and my teammates were all smiling and embracing each other. I flashed back to all the moments we were so close to victory but had fallen just short. I thought about the teammates that go to school all day and then come to practice at night as well as the teammates who travel an hour to and from practice each day. Then I thought about all the hours we'd spent in the gym together, and all the frustrated tears I've cried after our losses. Getting this win reminded me instantly that all these experiences are worth the pain and frustration that also comes with playing the game.

You know how sometimes you feel like the stars aligned perfectly to make something happen in your life? I really feel like everything that happened yesterday took its part in making the day such a success. For instance, I woke up to a blanket of snow on the ground (our first snowfall of the season)! I immediately lifted my blinds (quicker than a kid runs down the stairs on Christmas morning) and I smiled while I cracked open the window and smelled the fresh, snowy, air. There is something magical about the first real snowfall, and I knew that it was going to be a special day. One of the problems with having teammates who travel significant amounts of time to get to the gym is that when it snows, busses can get a little backed up, and scheduled departure times can change. We ended up leaving half an hour later than planned because a couple of our teammates had to walk to the train station (instead of taking their usual bus). While we were waiting parked outside the train station we saw an old couple walking, and the man slipped in the snow and fell (yes, this too made me tear up), but our driver (a teammate’s mom) got out to help him up (who says that karma doesn’t exist?). The trip to Lucern was a mess, we hit traffic at every tunnel, the roads were slippery, and we had a close encounter with a snowplow. We thought we would be late because the roads were bad, and we even tried rescheduling the game. The head of the league told us that we couldn’t reschedule, we had to try to get there. They were willing to push the game back an hour, but there was a possibility that we would get there and be sent back home if we arrived after 5:30pm (I've been getting a little car sick on our bus rides and really didn't want to imagine our three hour ride turning into a six hour ride (there and back) without a significant break where I could plant my feet on non-moving ground). Even so, hearing that our game might end up being postponed I first thought that I'd get to put something else on my calendar to look forward to. After more thought I realized how much I didn't want them to postpone the game because that could mean we'd have two games in one week (which I'd already told you doing in the past had left my body bruised and beaten and the thought of which made my body flinch), or that they could possibly postpone the game past that sacred December 17th date where I'm flying back to the U.S. to spend two weeks with my family and friends. So the negatives outweighed the positives here. Good thing we got there just in time (5:15pm) to play the game! All of these little quirks added to aforementioned perfect alignment.

I know I’ve been a little babbly, but overall it was such a great day, AND it even ended with black forest cake and hot chocolate :) (THAT in and of itself is reason to win more often). The snow was still coming down as we drove our three hours home and that ear to ear smile was still on my face…

November 17, 2010

America's Favorite Past Time...

Swiss Karaoke!!
This past week I’ve had a chance to enjoy some more Swiss culture. I guess I should start by talking about karaoke night. We all met at my coach’s house and engaged in a number of games, one of which was karaoke. First of all, I have to protest, the BEST songs we can send to Switzerland to put on their karaoke games are “Roxanne” by the Police and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” by Boy George? I mean, sure, they’re good songs, but they are not something I would typically sing karaoke to…and of course my teammates wanted to give me the courtesy of singing American songs! Maybe I should study up on Police lyrics; it was painful for ALL parties involved. Needless to say I was happy when my coach interrupted me about a quarter of the way through Boy George’s hit to put back on French songs. Now, if they had “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey I would have pulled out my dance moves and really shaken up the place!

We unfortunately lost our game in the Swiss Cup (of the Triwizard Tournament) against Fribourg. I had hoped that because it wasn’t a regular conference game we’d have an extra spark and REALLY surprise ourselves. We didn’t play badly, actually a number of us had pretty good games, but again the other team was just too strong for us to pull out a win. I’ve already talked about how different the rules are over here, but I guess I forgot to mention how TERRIBLE the refs are (and I don’t just mean the lack of calling over the backs). It’s not that I personally don’t like the refs, I just have no clue what is a foul and what isn’t (and I’m very vigilant on the court, I pay attention), they are just SO INCONSISTENT. There were a couple times in the game last night where it was blatantly obvious that the other center was locked up on my left arm, forcing me to pull down a rebound or grab a pass with solely my right – and there would be no call. However, if one of our guards so much as touched someone on the other team, it was a foul. I’ll even confess, one possession I literally just stuck out my leg because I knew I was beat; in America it would have MOST CERTAINLY been a foul, but my knee forced my opponent out of bounds and then we got the ball back! I thought ‘wow, that sucks, that was definitely a foul,’ and even felt guilty about it. I guess I still need to learn a few more tricks about how to play in Europe. 

When you’re an athlete you don’t think about pain during a game, it’s pointless. You keep on plugging away and leave your heart and soul on the floor. I left everything on the floor during our game last night, so much in fact that as soon as the game was over and all the adrenaline rushed out of my body, I realized how much pain I was in. It’s weird to think about how much adrenaline can push you through, and then actually recognizing the instant it leaves your body. Really the only things left to do are shower, ice, and pray for a quick recovery period. I’m sure there are other athletes out there who can vouch for me when I say that after two grueling games in a row, your body sometimes has an upchuck reaction to seeing what made it feel that way. I kind of felt that way walking to practice tonight.

When I got to practice however, it seemed like my coach had read my mind. She had out two dodge balls, a soccer ball, and a softball bat. We spent tonight’s practice playing. Now, there is a reason I picked basketball, I’m good at it. I STINK at soccer and my dodgeball skills are not anything to write home about. I never played softball either, and only realized tonight how complicated Americans make games. Trying to explain the rules of softball to my teammates was so incomprehensible for them that we ended up making our own rules; rules that I ended up not understanding, but somehow still made the game more fun! Earlier in the year our coach pulled out an American football and said, “We play American football tonight!” Naturally when I caught the football I started sprinting into the end-zone; I guess she meant American-Swiss football, because all my teammates started laughing when I took off running and got all excited when I thought I scored a touchdown (I guess they play that you can’t run with the ball here – I am still not certain though :P) . Well, tonight I saw how funny it was to see my teammates look around paranoid not knowing whether or not they were ‘out’ after stepping on a base (which happened to be a hula-hoop). Finally I knew the rules of a game and was actually consulted about how to play. I love rules; I’m a stickler for rules. I walk the line when it comes to rules. Of course by the end of the night we changed the rules and I had no idea what was going on again. Even so, I hit a home run! I guess that’s not the point; by the time we were done playing these other games, I was ready to pick up a basketball again. And just like that I’m looking forward to BASKETBALL practice tomorrow!

November 16, 2010

I saw the BIGGEST dog EVER yesterday!

That green tree has lights on it, and a star on top!
Christmas lights are up in town! I know Thanksgiving hasn't happened at home yet, but the Swiss don't celebrate American Thanksgiving, or any Thanksgiving as far as I know, and tomorrow will officially be one month until I get to go home for a couple of weeks for Christmas. Needless to say, when I saw that the town had decorated their streets with the North Star I got incredibly excited this afternoon.

A couple other things are happening that are also exciting me. We still have yet to win a regular conference game, BUT we were beating the #1 team in the league 24-21 after the first quarter this past Saturday. I told you we'd surprise some people! They were not expecting it to be a game at all; in the end I suppose it wasn't, we did lose by 39, but I felt like we gained a little respect in that game and sent the message that even though we have not won a game, we will not roll over and let other teams trample us. Personally, I finally had a game I am proud of. I didn't do anything too spectacular or dazzling, but I had 17 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals, 4 blocks, and -what I'm most proud of- shot 8 of 10 from the floor (2 of which were outside shots)! I had another good shoot-around practice this morning; I worked on going both right and left from both sides of the floor. We play Fribourg tonight in the Swiss Cup, a very good team, with a very good couple of Americans.

So other than bubble baths, secrets, and wine, I should also add that I love oranges. When I was growing up I used to come home from practice and CRAVE orange juice, and down a couple glasses within a few minutes (does orange juice make you tall?). Okay, I found out a few years ago that so much juice is REALLY not good for you - too much sugar, and since then I've cut back significantly on my orange juice intake. When I have orange juice now I fill my glass half-way with orange juice and fill the other half with water. Regardless (I'm getting off track here), I'm especially excited because wintertime is clementine season, and I bought a box of clementines today :P. I promise to only eat a MAX of three a day, maybe. :).

November 12, 2010

You know you're American when the laundry machine tells you to 'loosen up.'

Since I’ve come back to Nyon after my trip home, I’ve fallen right back into my Swiss routine. I know some people have been wondering how I spend my days over here, and I guess now is as good a time as any to ‘give all my secrets away’ (Thanks One Republic for that catchy song).

My Lifting Gym
My teammates often question how I spend my days, I guess last year the Americans on the team slept all day. I can’t do that…I’m not nocturnal; I like to sleep at night and be up during the day. And although I like being up and able to talk to my friends from home (6 hour time difference remember) I have been trying my best to get on Swiss time. My days here are pretty simple, which for those of you who knew me back home know is a BIG relief. Going to school full-time last year and working two jobs while trying to maintain a long distance relationship was, well, maybe a little too chaotic for me. Breathing is nice for a change, even if I do get a little stir crazy sometimes. Anyways, here goes:

Right now I am waking up around ten a.m.. Since I never have practice before noon, I can deal with this (I typically go to sleep around two a.m. – getting a solid eight hours :)). I take my time getting up and preparing for the day. I pack a gym bag and head into town. I do some kind of workout at noon; some days we have shoot-arounds / strength training with the team, but sometimes I just go to the gym by myself, lift, run, stretch, lay in a sauna, look at the Jacuzzi (I haven’t actually ventured in the Jacuzzi yet), shower, and head to lunch. My club set it up so that I eat at different places during the week: The Sunset Restaurant, La Puccia, or get this – Cactus Jack. I take my time eating; after all there is no rush for me to get anywhere after my meal. Sometimes I bring a book to get lost in and other times I just people watch; all of the restaurants I eat at have great views where I can watch people hustling around (La Puccia is across from the castle, and The Sunset and Cactus Jack are across from the train station).
View from La Puccia

My afternoons consist of my ‘free time’ (as if all of my time here isn’t ‘free?’). Depending on my mood I’ll paint, practice French, watch movies, read, take a bubble bath (I’m getting a little addicted to the tub), clean, meditate, or here it is: just sit. It’s fascinating to me how much time I spend ‘just sitting.’ I know it sounds a little ridiculous, but sometimes just sitting is my favorite part of the day, and you know why? I never had time to just sit at home, or rather, I never made time to just sit at home. I’ll admit, that sometimes my over-achiever, need-to-be-doing-something-at-all-times personality comes out and I think, “Wow Hill, three hours just went by…WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” but then I take what I call are “tummy breaths” (deep breaths that make your tummy puff out and force you to relax) and think, “This is okay, I deserve to just sit.” Since a friend helped me pick out the title of my blog and I hadn’t actually read Eat Pray Love before coming to Switzerland, I figured that it would only be right if it was one of the first books I'd conquer over here. Quite honestly, Eat Pray Love was a perfect fit for me, and now I’m about to be super cliché and quote it because it helped me realize that my not doing anything is actually okay. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book, “Americans don’t really know how to do nothing. This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype – the over-stressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax.” I wasn’t quite that bad yet, but I know my employers, teachers, family, and friends last year knew how much (or in this case how little) free time I made for myself. So yes, some days before practice I just sit. It’s actually pretty nice to just hang out with me :).

Laundry Banter
I will mention that Tuesdays are a little different. Tuesday is LAUNDRY DAY! I’ve come to both loathe and love laundry day. A little background: there is a key to the laundry room that gets passed around my building; you have a few hours on one day a week to do your laundry. If you miss your slot, you are out of luck. After battling for weeks with the laundry machines (they would eat my coins, lock my clothes in the washer, refuse to dry my clothes, etc.) I finally won the battle. After the washing machine told me to loosen up (see right), I decided, “Hell, I’m going to make the most of laundry day.” This week I made a pot of coffee, brought down my dirty clothes and book with me, locked myself in the laundry room, and curled up on the dryer drinking my coffee and reading my book. Laundry day can actually be kind of fun.

We have full team practices at night. So after my ‘free time’ I pack another gym bag, put on practice clothes, get my game face on, and head back into town. I should probably add that ‘town’ is maybe ¾ of a mile from my apartment; the gyms are probably a mile. When I am speed walking it takes me 13 minutes to get from my apartment to the gym or from the gym to my apartment. When I leisurely walk, it can take me all of 25 minutes!  So on any given day I spend anywhere from an hour to two hours a day just walking.

I think by now everyone who reads my blog knows what I do after practice: BUBBLE BATH! Okay, if I took a bubble bath during the day I usually don’t take another one. And also I’m not super dirty, I shower after practice at the gym so I get off the sweat and basketball debris before I come home and lounge in some soapy warm water with bath salts (thanks to my other three wheels). Then there’s dinner (I’ve been learning to cook new things), some tv / internet time (although I sporadically do this during the day too), and then bed!

Now, I know what you’re thinking: my routine is unbelievably exciting. And yes, I think so too. But my body has never felt so relaxed, and I have never enjoyed my own company so much. I wonder how much of this I can bring home with me when the time comes…

November 3, 2010

My plane neighbor was legally blind two years ago, and now has 20/20 vision...

I am back in Nyon! My Dad's surgery went well, and he actually came home Monday night. He was doing remarkably better each day after the surgery. I'm really glad I went home, I know my family really appreciated having me there and it was good getting to see them.

Going home actually opened my eyes to a couple things: I REALLY like it in Switzerland, and I missed my life here for the few days I was home. I'm going to list things I really like here in a second, but the other thing I realized is that right now is the perfect opportunity to be whole and fully invest in what I'm doing here; there's nothing pulling me in different directions anymore...what a weird, and incredibly relieving feeling.

Nothing too drastic physically changed in Nyon while I was gone (the leaves have fallen off the trees and they are doing more construction around the apartment buildings), but I did notice that I have changed. I felt very different when my plane touched down coming back this time than I did when I first came over in August. I feel like not only do I fit in here, but that this is the only place in the world I want to be right now. Imagine that.

Okay, now for the things I really like here. It's a short list right now, but these things are so important to me and are such a big part of my life. I guess I'll recommend you read it slowly for dramatic effect ;).

Bubble baths.

My French speaking teammates. "I will squat in your flat!" They are SO cute sometimes.

The luxury of time.

Getting in two really good work-outs a day.

Walking everywhere.

Learning how to cook new things.

The dogs.

My little apartment.

Watching the sun set over my mountain.

My waiter and his contagious smile.

The Sunset's food, "meat or fish."

The Coop.

Wine with dinner.

Thinking about ridiculous things.

The cat elevator (believe it or not Macaroon was laying in the hall when I came in and welcomed me back).

That's all for now folks! I'm jet-lagged and going to nap before practice.