Do It Yourself Home Projects so Fun (Not)

Between our old furniture falling apart after three years in storage and builders mistakes, each day in our new house brings a challenge. One morning, I opened the closet and the hanging rod broke, burying me under an avalanche of clothes. The next day the drawers collapsed, stripped from the support rail.

Meanwhile, Gerald struggled to assemble the innovative Swedish do-it-yourself home furnishings and shelves. IKEA is like Lego for adults.

“I need more shelves,” I whine, “Move it higher. Lower. To the left. To the right.”

We nearly split up over the process of making do known as “bricolage,” which is derived from the French verb bricoler (“to putter about") and related to bricoleur, the French name for a jack-of-all-trades.

Bricolage projects can put any marriage at risk.

A trip to a Swiss equivalent of Menards or Home Depot does my head in with its rows of wood, tile, kitchen, bathroom and plumbing fixtures and endless racks of tools, clamps, brackets, bolts and shelving.

While Gerald headed down aisle five to find a specific size screw out of a billion choices, I meandered down thoroughfare where I’m sideswiped by a motorized vehicle hauling lumber across the store. To escape traffic, I ducked into aisle three where I breathed deep and touched my toes ten times.

Then I wandered over to the luminaires department where hundred of different light fixtures blink. Imagine the spectacular light show? There were suspension, platform, ceiling, wall, desk, and table lights in three categories - incandescent, fluorescent, and high intensity discharge - all with various strengths of bulbs to choose from.

We needed to buy twenty-two different light fixtures and I can’t decide one!

Home improvement retail stores are Candy Shops for the amateur bricoleur, but they make me feel discombobulated. It’s as if I am taking psychedelics and trapped in Disneyland. My brain short circuited from the sensory overload of bright lights and cacophony of voices and canned music.

Gerald, once a successful CEO, managing a big company, has a meltdown trying to figure out which hook to buy to hang one light fixture. He gave up and bought a dozen in different sizes.

I can distinguish between a classic nail and a screw, but there are 25 different kinds of nails and 26 different types of screws in dozens of sizes. Even worse, Swiss measurements are in the metric system (ie. centimeters, millimeters), but my poor brain is stuck in inches, feet, and yards.

I never ask for help. A French speaking salesman will tell me where items can be found, but I can’t translate his words to English. I have no clue what a “lathe” is in any language. I can differentiate a hammer from a screw driver, but I’d never know a Phillips from a flathead. Learning the lingo for DYI terminology is like trying to master Chinese.

Ever the good sport, back at the house, I tried to help Gerald put together shelves and hang light fixtures. All I learned was that “I hate bricolage!” But now I can appreciate why guys swear so much when doing home improvement projects.

I still have no idea when our house will be finished, but no worries. In the meantime, I am broadening my French vocabulary.

 

Living in a Construction Site Called Home

We officially moved a month ago, but we keep having to relocate within our walls. We continue to rotate tables, chairs, dishes, books and clothes from place to place, so builders can replace broken fixtures and access faucets covered by dry wall.

Instead of looking for Waldo, the cartoon character hidden in a crowd of people on the pages of “Where’s Waldo?” books, we hunt for the little artisan and mistakes concealed in our house!

From the get-go, an incompetent project manager created chaos, then made it worse by jumbling the order of jobs to be completed by subcontractors. For example, the dirt road up the steep incline to our building cannot be black topped until heavy trucks deliver boulders to construct the back wall.
The master bedroom had only 1 outlet because the dry wall person covered the others. For the electrician to access the wall to drill for a line, we had to move our furniture and belongings. Again.

The plumbers installed bathroom fixtures; water flowed into the pipes, but they forgot the shower doors. If we take a shower, we flood the bathroom! Water from the sink leaks into the vanity drawers. Cabinets had to be emptied again, so that electricians could separate wires between the overhead and the mirror light, which went on and off simultaneously.

In the meantime, new crews of craftsmen traipse in and out, drilling, dry walling, painting, plastering and pounding in an attempt to fix everything that was done wrong the first time around.

Our unfinished front terrace, built over the garage, has flooded, the outside stairs go nowhere near our door, and the retaining wall has not been started. Some walls slant; doors don’t close. Tile had to be ripped out to install electrical wiring. A workman chipped the sink mirror that had been moved umpteen times to access the wall for repairs. Fortunately, Gerald noticed the break when the new project manager was on site, so he reordered a mirror, along with shower stalls, remote controls and broken window replacements.

On a positive note, workers systematically remove shoes at the door and clean their work area. Naturlich, tidiness is a Swiss trademark. However, they still leave behind a trail of drywall dust, sanding dust, and other airborne particles.

Though gains have been made to the interior, our exterior premises should post warnings — attention toxic debris, danger falling rocks, beware avalanche risk.

And who ever heard of a new home with “provisional utilities?” (including heating and plumbing). Our room temperature fluctuates anywhere between 45 and 90 degrees.

provisional mailboxes

We also have a “temporary” mailbox - a leaky, tin box stuck on a post that vehicles keep hitting.

And what exactly is our new address?

We have an alphabet soup house identification. Originally, our building was designated number 1. Numbers 2 and 3 were attributed to the buildings below us. Then architects switched the timetable constructing our home last changing our building from number 1 to 3.

To complicate matters, the postal service labeled our complex as “3" to identify the street number. To distinguish the nine family dwellings, we became 3a, 3b, 3c… d, e, f, g, h, and i. After several calls, the Swiss national phone service discovered, “Aha! Your optic fiber line was connected to the 3 i, instead of 3 c.”

To add to the mess, it has rained for 40 days and 40 nights.

We are considering moving again.

Noah’s ark here we come!

a view from our neighborhood

Calamity House Move with COVID and a Fractured Sacrum

Everyone has a crazy moving house story to share, but can you top this?Changing a domicile, never easy in the best circumstances, becomes an even greater challenge when unforeseen complications arise.

Due to an accident, illness and life-coming-at-you, our long awaited relocation became extremely difficult.

The first snafu arose when our moving company insisted they had only one day available to move us in 2023. Even if the house wasn’t ready by mid October, who are we to argue? We rescheduled 8 previous moving dates. No wonder he wants us out of his storage space. We can’t complain. For two and a half years our mover even stored our car during holidays and shuttled us from the airport.

As the move-in date approached, our anxiety increased. To de-stress, a few days before moving day, I walked our usual trail next to our Airbnb. The path wound through the woods, then down a steep slope to the train track. Ba-da boom! Whoosh! My feet slipped out from under me; I landed smack on my tailbone, walking sticks flying.

Luckily, I had my phone, so I called Gerald for help. Poor guy! How many times has he rescued me?

After my first misadventure, he fished me out of a river! My former college teammate, who played ball with me in Germany, always introduced me as, “My friend, who jumped off the cliff with me in France.” (Referring to our career ending car accident cascading off a bridge over the La Meuse outside of Verdun.)

Now I can add skidding down a mountainside to my escapades.

After I picked loose gravel out of my shoulder and forearm, I limped down the mountainside whimpering. When the trailed leveled out by the track, I staggered alongside the little red, two-car train that shuttles commuters up and down the mountain.

In a flashback, I relived my first spinal injury, which my best friend and coach surmised was the onset of my back problems.

“I remember we were playing pick up ball. You stepped in front of a linebacker to take the charge,” Phil recounted, “and hit the court so hard, I heard the crack.”

“`I prayed stay down Pat, stay down,`” he said, “but you popped right back up like one of those inflatable clown, punching bags.”

Does my body have PSTD? Reverberations of the past injury shot through my spine.

At the trail head, Gerald helped me to the car insisting we rush to the emergency room. I refused. I have been in one too many hospitals one too many times.

“Let me call Nic,” I pleaded, crawling in the backseat and curling into the fetal position.

Back at our Airbnb, Gerald texted our son at his chiropractic office in Warwick, England. Nic called back and after I described my fall and the location of pain, he tried to reassure me, “ I can’t diagnose you over the phone. Hopefully it is just bruised. You can wait a day or so to see if the pain worsens; if it’s broken, the treatment is the same. It just takes longer to heal.”

I laid on an ice pack, then took a warm shower while Gerald rushed out to find a donut pillow for me to sit on like Nic suggested.

The next day, feeling worse for the wear, I finagled an urgent appointment with my doctor at a hospital nearby. This sport and rehabilitation specialist, aware of my history, was already treating me for chronic knee and back problems. She checked everything thoroughly and diagnosed, “Contusion et fissure du sacrum.”

As if my accident wasn’t enough was to deal with, Gerald was battling a cough, sore throat, headache and fatigue. We called our daughter for advice.

“I am pediatrician. I treat kids, not geriatrics,” she said and chuckled. “I’d recommend that you start by taking a home Covid test.”

Bingo. Positive. Gerald slept, coughed and moaned for the next three days. Though I tested negative, I plowed ahead with an ever increasingly sore throat, burning trachea, inflamed sinuses and tightness in my chest. Two days later, feeling worse, I retested for Covid. Positive. Again. (And the second time around was worse than the first!)

On moving day, I couldn’t get out of bed, so Gerald headed to the house solo to help the movers figure out where to put stuff.

Moral of this story: in crisis call adult kids for reassurance, regardless of their profession, hearing their voice will give you a lift. And never move a house under the influence of Covid especially with a busted butt!

Are We Home Yet? House Building Saga

Over the decades, I adjusted to dozens of relocations between three foreign countries. From a cot in a German teammate’s apartment, to a studio flat in Paris, to a rustic chalet in Switzerland, “Where Ever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home.)”

Once driven by adventure and dreams of youth, what happened to that gutsy girl?

Today, as a jaded sixty-something wreck of a woman with a busted spine, bad knees, and a wonky brain from one too many accidents, I wonder have I made one too many moves?

What were my husband and I thinking when we decided to reinvent our lives in retirement by building a new abode above the clouds in Switzerland?

After nearly three years of waiting, our triplex in the Jura Mountains remains under construction. Did we sign bogus contracts?

Eight prescheduled moving dates have come and gone since we prepared for our first move in June 2022. Then we were told October, then December, next January 2023. Oh surely by March. How about end of June? When this did not happen the boss himself stated that we could move September 28, but… oops it’s October, already.

Like the other eight families, our rentals ran out. Our Heidi Hut expired in June. When we moved out, our contractors promised, “Mais oui! Your triplex will be finished by September.”

So in July, we escaped to the US for summer vacation, where we were welcomed with open arms. Merci mille fois chère famille.

Our holiday was sublime, until mid September. Then our European neighbors-to-be sharing our building set up a zoom video call revealing our condo’s interior. Nothing was done inside since we left 3 months earlier. The only fixture in the shell of our house was a bathtub, now filled with worker’s cigarette stubs, empty bottles and other debris.

Our simplest, logical solution would be to stay stateside. Yet, after four decades of loyal marriage to a crazy American, ze lovable Frenchman, retains “foreigner” status. As usual, Gerald received a citation to leave the US territory within a week.

Kicked out of the US after his 3 month limit, we flew back in Switzerland with nowhere to go. We scrambled to find an Airbnb in Arzier, the nearest village from the house, and harassed the sub contractors daily.

We swore we’d never ever build a home in France, Italy, Spain or any other European country.

But Switzerland.

Ah Switzerland, a country with an impeccable reputation for organization, dependability and professionalism, what could go wrong?

Everything!

Builders undercut us on every corner trying to save money at our expense. The windows were too small to meet Swiss building requirements. The garage door was smaller than the frame. Insulation was half of what the code required. Plumbing in one bathroom was built outside the walls. The stairs were crooked. And the retaining wall to prevent the mountain from tumbling down on us hasn’t been started.

It could be worse. The Greek countryside is dotted with half-finished house frames without windows, doors, walls.

We learned valuable lessons. Never sell your old house before you have another ready-made home available. Think twice about relocating in your mid 60s. The wisest move — a stroll around your present dwelling. Head out the front door and then in the back entry. Voila! No stress. No drama. Home sweet home again.

Promises! Promises! A move-in date has been scheduled for next week. Stay tuned. But don’t hold your breath!

Endless Challenge Flying Internationally

For me, a seasoned traveler having lived abroad nearly half a century, air travel has never been more challenging. Especially internationally. Especially for mixed nationals.

I have lived in Europe so long, I may becoming one of those historic icons tourists love to visit!

 

With my savvy, I should be cool as a cucumber. Instead, I hyperventilate weeks before flying, knowing “what can go wrong will go wrong.” And more!

I have experienced every disruption possible except, thankfully, a plane crash.

Our latest travel saga started at the Delta counter at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport where we waited to check baggage for our return flight to Switzerland via Amsterdam. Due to a technological glitch between code sharing companies Delta (MSP hub), Air France (Paris hub) and KLM (Amsterdam hub), my husband’s luggage could not be registered even though we mastered check-in online 24 hours before without a hiccup.

“Sorry Mr. Lechault, our computer flagged your name in red with DO NOT ALLOW TO TRAVEL status”

The desk agent's colleague saw our distress and offered his assistance by staring at the screen another ten minutes.

“Call the manager,” he insisted.

The manager arrived repeated the identical process and demanded, “Call the supervisor.”

An hour later, a starting line up of aviation personnel glared at the computer in front of us, while behind us the line grew down the terminal and out the door.

I searched for more documentation to permit our authorization to board the plane. International travelers never go to a airport anywhere on the planet without the mandatory paperwork. (ie.birth certificate, marriage license,US tax payment proof, children’s birth records, COVID vaccination card)

Uh oh. Dual citizenship?

Bring French and American passport. Swiss residency card.

Do multi-nationals qualify for an extra carry-on bag to haul aboard aforementioned official documentation?

Whaaat? You want to see a valid driver’s permit?

In the event of unforeseeable, adverse circumstances, you want me to pilot this plane with a Minnesota vehicle license?

Finally we board. Seven hours later, our flight touches down on Schiphol tarmac “on schedule.”

“It took so long to reach the gate,” Gerald said. “It’s like we landed in Belgium and taxied across the border to the Netherlands.”

With only an hour to catch our KLM flight to Geneva, we anxiously fidgeted in line at the customs gate. At the booth, I presented my US passport.

“M’am how long will you be staying in Switzerland?”

“I live there,” I said.

“Then I must see a Swiss residency permit,” she said. I dug out the darn document, issued under my French citizenship, which aroused suspicion. “Where is your other passport?”

“Madame, enter only the US with American passport,” the Dutch border official stipulated,“When arriving in the Netherlands or any other European country (except the UK) you must present your European passport.”

Aiihh the last time, I was reprimanded for switching passports during transit. However, never argue with the official in front of you, even if you cannot understand rules that change overnight.

Starting in the near future (supposedly May 2025), American passport holders traveling to 30 European countries will need an authorization via the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).

This is similar to the ESTA requirement that the US has always demanded of European visitors. Tit for tat or part of the legitimate security regulations in ever increasing unsafe world.

We hurried to the boarding gate just before it closed. I flashed my ticket and French passport and slipped through the turnstile. As I headed down the tunnel, I heard,

“Pat, wait. I can’t fly!” my husband hollered on the other side of the gate. “My passport’s gone! I’m going back to see if I dropped it where we last stopped.”

Naturally traveling with me, our last stop was the ladies room.

As he sprinted back through the terminal, I searched the pouch of my old fashioned bum bag. (I know. Does anyone wear those anymore?)

Voila!

From my magic money belt, I retrieve not one, not two, but three passports.

How did Gerald’s passport jump in my fanny pack? I never carry his passport, credit cards, cell phone, wallet or keys. Never.

I dashed back through the terminal and smashed into my husband racing toward me.

“My passport is lost!”

“I found it!” I screamed, waving the priceless booklet like a billion dollar lottery ticket.

 

At last, we boarded the Geneva flight. Still, I wondered, what happens to the poor beleaguered passengers that lose passports in transit?

Could we apply for asylum in Amsterdam?

How long does it take to build a house in Holland?

International Family Reunion on the French Riviera

Family reunions across state lines may seem difficult, but imagine the complications trying to unite international ones like mine, living in 3 different countries. It is never easy for a French-Normand father and Norwegian-American mother sans home, in a mountain hut in Switzerland to meet up their Franco-American kids.

Our daughter settled in the land of 10,000 lakes. Our son married a pretty British-Irish-Ukrainian woman and moved to the countryside near Warwick, England. Recently, we united on the glamorous French Rivera. Whenever we gather, it is magical!

Our daughter flew to Europe for her spring vacation. We picked her up at the Geneva airport and drove south through France to La Croix-Valmer halfway between Le Lavandou and St. Tropez on the Cote D’Azur. Meanwhile, our son, Nic, and daughter-in-law, Larissa, flew to Nice from England to be with us.

Our Airbnb was perched on the cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea on the Blue Coast, one of the world’s most famous coastlines offering sunshine, blue skies and the sparkling sea.

We woke up in the morning to birds singing from flowering bushes and the famous umbrella trees so prolific in southern France and to a spectacular view of the Bay of Cavalaire and the islands.

Every day was a feast for the senses

Each meal was a party for the palate.

Every moment was a priceless celebration.

For breakfast, over coffee, we enjoyed pain au chocolat, pain au raisin and patisseries from the bakery down the hill. At lunch, we savored salads, while Nic scarfed down giant Dagwood sized sandwiches on fresh baguettes.

Every evening, Gerald, our favorite French chef, offered the region’s finest fare. One night, we savored succulent lamb with risotto, the next night we enjoyed a rib of beef with green beans and Lari’s rosemary baked potatoes. The last evening, we dined on a giant sea bass in white wine and lemon butter.

We started each dinner toasting one another with an aperitif of chilled Prosecco. We finished each meal with fresh fruits dipped in cream — currents, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, a go-go. One night we splurged and enjoy a rich chocolate lava cake. We are all confessed chocoholics.

How Nat endured sticking to gluten free diet everyday amazed me. Although, I am also gluten intolerant, I cheated every meal.

On sunny days, we hiked the rugged coastline, swam in the icy sea, read our Kindles and dozed on the beach.

On our last day, Nic hugged his big sister goodbye .

“See you soon,” he said. “Maybe this summer, maybe at Christmas, or maybe next year at this time?”

For us, family reunions can never be taken for granted. Surely, we must somehow make this first family trip a new tradition.

Who knows where or when we will meet up again? A Frenchman, Gerald, is only allowed to stay in the USA for 90 days, as a British citizen Lari, due to a quirk in rules had her ESTA revoked, will not be allowed to enter the states for a couple years.

I regret that we live so far apart in separate countries each with its’ own red tape. Yet, we are lucky to be open-minded enough to embrace one another cultures, to have the wherewithal to afford travel and the knowledge to navigate crazy rules limiting border crossing.

Even now with the conveniences of modern travel and connections of technology, many immigrants, like my Norwegian grandparents, never had the chance to return to their homelands, due to immigration status, political asylum rules, and economic constraints.

On the way to the airport, before flying back to England, our daughter-in-law, Larissa, bless her little cotton socks, insisted Gerald stop off to check out the local real estate, and begged him to buy a place in southern France for us to meet up regularly.

One way or another, in spite of the challenges, obstacles and inconveniences, we will gather together again, somewhere, some way, somehow.

I will move mountains to make it happen!

Because that’s what mom’s do.