First Time Voting

Even though Biden was officially announced the 46th President of the United States, I remain suspended in space. The free floating anxiety I have felt since the Covid outbreak last March lingers because Trump refuses to concede. In our democracy! Instead he demands vote recounts, shouts election fraud and continues to give free license to supremacist white groups and other dangerous organizations. Militias pop up across the country, protests break out and even though I live 4,000 miles away, I am not sleeping.

Every national news channel here covers the US election in the UK, France, Switzerland and others. As if addicted, I read and reread the headlines - NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, USA Today. Tracking results is even more stressful than listening to my daughter’s former college basketball games on the radio with leads changing back and forth. The stakes are so much higher. My stomach roils. I feel nauseated. I wait. I pace. I WhatsApp family. I hold my breath.

“Biden won, but I am not celebrating until Jan 20 when he actually takes office,” my son says, “cause Trump is acting crazy dangerous and making everybody nervous.”

The election’s result makes me feel proud to be American and especially proud to be a woman.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” said Kamala Harris, an African American and Indian American, when she made history becoming the first female VP, "Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities."

"And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they've never seen it before. And we will applaud you every step of the way.”

I was once one of those little girls growing up in a sea of white males trying to do something girls never did before, facing discrimination every step of my journey as a pioneer in women’s basketball. When I moved to Europe to pursue a career as a female pro, I was accepted in Europe but not my homeland. I never overcame the feelings of being shunned.

That was no excuse, but it was a great part of the reason I never registered to vote as an American citizen living abroad. I felt left out of the dream. Still I defended my country every time it was criticized and criticized we were, but never so greatly as in the last 4 years when Trump destroyed international relations with European Allies, pulled out of international organization and destroyed everything that represented the very foundation of US democracy, human decency, world health care and respect for our fellow men. I felt ashamed.

But in 2020, I knew that I could no longer feign indifference and abstain. I had to register and vote. As I went through the necessary paperwork, I applauded those suffragettes who came before me and fought so hard to earn the right to vote.

With great trepidation I marked my ballot with the proper pen, checked and rechecked addresses and mailed it to the Whiteside County Courthouse listing my childhood home as the last place I lived in the USA 40 years ago.

On election day, I woke up at 2 am European time to look at the polls. For the next 72 hours I switched between news channels all day checking the results while my husband crunched numbers and tried to assure me Biden would win.

When Biden’s victory was announced, family in the states called me on WhatsApp, their eyes filled with tears, their faces evoking joy.

All around the globe world leaders sighed with relief expressing congratulations to Biden and anticipating stability back in the White House.

Paris mayor summed it up best: “Welcome back USA.”

During this unsettled time of global pandemic spinning out of control, the change of American leadership has restored hope not just for Americans but also all Europeans.

And Biden’s victory and the election of the first female Vice President gave this little girl a voice after all these years.

Sète

Visiting France’s Occitanie Region

Sète- OccitanieLiving in Switzerland, all of Europe beckons from our backdoor, but any travel with my bad back remains challenging. So for our vacation, we narrowed our choice to a short (by American standards) four and half hour drive to discover Occitanie Region, a gem in south central France.

We booked an Airbnb in Sète, a fishing port on the Mediterranean Sea and headed south. I settled in my “crib” folded sideways knees tucked to chin on my yoga mat in the back seat.

As he drove, my live in French chauffeur/chef and guide gave me a brief history and geography of the area, known as Languedoc, which referred to langue d’oc today is known as Catalan a language evolved from Vulgar Latin in the Middle Ages around the eastern Pyrénées.

“Occitanie encompasses the Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées regions, which includes the western Mediterranean coast,” Gérald said. “It stretches from the Rhone valley in the east, to the Spanish border in the south west and lies between the Pyrénées and the Cevennes mountain ranges.”

“What is it known for?”

“Everything! It’s coastline, Medieval history, Roman architecture, cuisine and, of course, wine.”Sète- Occitanie

At regular intervals, I popped up to admire the landscape as we crossed France diagonally from Geneva to Sète. Closer to our destination, I saw vineyards, fields, and the arid, rocky Mediterranean hills with scrub vegetation where shepherds tended goats and sheep for making meat and cheese. Wheat, olives, fruits and vegetables are also produced in the area, but it is best known for its wines.

We arrived in Sète – a city built in the 17th century at the mouth of the Canal du Midi on the lower slopes of the isolated Mont Saint-Clair, a hill between the sea and the large marshy Thau Lagoon. Touted as Venice of Languedoc, a network of canals intersects Sète, the town with the lagoon, the docks, and the harbor basins.Sète - Occitanie

Sète is also known for its fierce winds; we nearly blew off the cliff while watching surfers ride the waves before the storm.

Over the week, we would break our Fitbit personal bests climbing up to our nest, a flat overlooking the sea perched high above the harbor on the Mont Saint Clair where homes clung to the hillside like in Santa Monica. A must see chapel of Notre Dame de la Salette, requires a hike up the hill (400 steps, rising 183 metres) but the views from the top of city and the Etang de Thau promised to be stunning.

Sète- OccitanieHigh above the gritty working port, we overlooked the red tile rooftops and admired the restless sea. We felt we’d found the best spot in town to discover the city and surroundings. That evening while winds rattled our shutters, and cicadas serenaded us to sleep, we couldn’t wait to throw open our shutters on a new day and begin exploring.

Covid Fallout- Will We Ever See Our Kids Again?

As Covid rises around the globe, and holiday plans are derailed again, we wonder when we will be reunited with loved ones, but for expats living abroad, the pain of separation is magnified by distance. I ache to be with my family so much it feels like a limb is missing.

When the French talk about missing people, they say “Il me manque”, which means, “I miss him”. But literally translated, it’s “he is missing to me”, as though a crucial part of you has been removed. It has.

When my Norwegian ancestors left their fjords to sail across the seas in search of a better life in America, they knew they would never see their families again. As a young girl, my mom’s father always promised her he would take her back to the fjords when she was an adult. Unfortunately, they never made the trip. He died suddenly of cancer when she was only 18.

I have been lucky. I made countless flights across the Pond between Europe and USA to keep my American ties strong not only for me but also for my children. Yet when I first stepped on that Air France flight 40 years ago, my biggest anxiety was not  about playing basketball in France, a country where I knew no one and spoke not a word of the language, but the fear that I might not be able to come back to the US and see my loved ones again.

I have always been able to make the trip home until now when a global pandemic changed our lives in ways we never imagined possible. Now my adult children live there; we are stuck here.
Our situation is not unique.

When I saw my Swiss neighbor, she lamented, -“I don’t know when we will see our kids again. Our son is in Thailand, one daughter is in Canada, her twin in Paris. Their younger brother was expecting his first child this summer and they were all coming to Switzerland to celebrate the event – that reunion is postponed indefinitely.

My German friend Maria, who lives just across the border in France, has one daughter in Belgium, another in Scotland, a son in England and husband in Somaliland. They are separated by Covid between continents.

Even families living in the same country are unable to plan reunions due to risks.
Parents are separated from kids, grandparents from grandchildren, siblings from siblings. My best friend, a former xpat moved back to North Carolina, but her 3 daughters live in Minnesota, Massachusetts and South Carolina. She talks to me about renting an RV, so she could go see them keeping a safe distance in separate living quarters.

My former student, now teaching at the International school of Geneva, has a brother living in Canada, a sister in Australia and her mom in South Africa. Home was whatever continent she and her family could meet up on their destination holidays.

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As expats the world is our world, but today that kind of global gathering is out of the question.

Rules between and within countries regarding Covid change daily. In the summer no flights from Europe were allowed to land on US soil. For the moment, we can land, but there are no direct flights. There are few options available and each one has constraints. On our usual Delta/KLM flight there is a risk for a 10 day quarantine in Amsterdam. As a U.S. citizen I would be allowed in the country, but my French husband would require a special visa. And then we aren’t sure if or when we could get back to Switzerland.

When will be able to plan trips again?

We wait and wonder and worry as the number of cases of infection reach alarming rates across Europe and the U.S. Our hearts ache with longing for things we once took for granted…sharing a meal, sitting around reminiscing, embracing in a hug.

In the meantime“Ils me manquent.”They are missing to me.” Pieces of my soul vanished.

I am grieving the loss.

Removing Tons of Litter from Lake Geneva on Global Clean Up Day

From a childhood growing up in a river town, to summers spent on a Wisconsin lake, to weekends of young adulthood walking Normand beaches to raising a family in a Switzerland with a view of Lake Geneva, no matter where I have lived, water has been my solace bringing comfort, inspiration and peace.

When you are lucky enough to grow up near water you learn to never take it for granted. We were raised with an appreciation of our lakes, rivers and seas. Even as kids we walked around Summit Lake picking up discarded beer cans to take to the local dump.

Now every morning when I see my jaw dropping view of Lake Geneva surrounded by snow capped Mt Blanc, I feel blessed. Lake Geneva, on the north side of Alps nestled between France and Switzerland, is the largest lake on the Rhone River and one of the largest lake in western Europe (It’s northern shore is 95 km (59 mi), the southern shore 72 km (45 mi) in length)

A pearl of the region, Lake Geneva is of indescribable beauty, so for me it is hard to imagine why anyone would carelessly pollute this national treasure.

As part of Global Day of garbage clean up, my husband volunteered to join Aqua Diving’s club in their 28th year of cleaning only a mile long shoreline in Geneva. This year, due to the pandemic, participation was limited to 150 people in each region ,but over 1000 people helped out across the nation.

Wearing masks and gloves volunteers lined the shore of Lake Geneva’s right bank. Divers hauled mesh bags filled with champagne bottles, beer cans, plastic waste and handed them to strong workers like my husband who dragged them up on shore and sorted them into categories of waste.

“How was it?” I asked when he came home six hours later.

“Exhausting,” he said as he collapsed on the couch, “and disgusting”. Divers found discarded bikes, tires, wagons, weapons and even an entire grill. Last year they hauled 1.5 tons; this year we collected twice the amount.”

In the 1980s the lake was too polluted with waste and chemicals to swim in, so a French- Swiss transnational effort was implemented. Today water-treatment plants recycle waste water around the lake; now the water is almost too clean because there is not enough nutrients going into the lake for the fish to grow. That hasn’t stopped human littering.

Yet even in Switzerland, a pristine country where citizens value cleanliness, people still discard trash everywhere including into lakes and rivers.

I grew up appreciating our natural resources and water is one of the most precious ones.

How can anyone spoil water that we are so lucky to have access to? I love the taste of water, the feel of water, the sound of water rushing over rocks and ocean tides lapping on the shores. I adore the sight of water reflecting in the shimmering sun and changing colors with the winds.

“Every piece of litter discarded carelessly” Gerald laments “eventually ends up in our rivers, lakes and seas.”

What can you do to tidy up the bodies of water near you?








Long Road To Recovery

Recovery from an illness, injury or accident can be derailed by feeling hopeless so keeping a positive attitude is imperative.

After brain surgery and 6 weeks in the hospital, my focus was on leaving as soon as possible. When Gerald drove me home, I hung my head out the window and howled with joy. But getting out of the hospital was only the beginning of a long journey.

But after a few days of being home, my euphoria was replaced by reality. I still had a long way to go.

How easily we forget how much we have to be grateful for? Not  long ago I couldn’t walk, talk, move my left arm, read a book, follow a conversation.

Though I am frustrated that I may never run, ride a bike or drive, I am still in the game. I am lucky to have been an athlete raised in a coach’s family. From an early age, training became a way of life.

I work out as if my life depended on it. It does. I set mini goals to walk a little farther, a little faster each day. I continued physical therapy until I had memorized all the exercises I needed to do.

“With your self discipline,” my chiropractor and physical therapist said, “you of anybody doesn’t need PT, just continue the exercises on your own.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qWX-BJGyjQ

I walk everyday, lift baby dumbbells and practice online “yoga with Adrienne” as she talks me through the postures and breathing techniques while teaching me mindfulness.

Setbacks are part of the recovery process.

My neurologists explained that my recent EEG showed abnormal brain wave activity in the frontal lobes indicating the potential for another epileptic episode.

“Don’t even think about driving yet, or even doing anything involving balance or risk of falling” he said and added, “A full recovery from brain injury takes up to a couple years.”

Years? I fight off disappointment. Getting released from the hospital was only the first step of my journey to recovery.

Progress can be slow and indiscernible.

“Maybe recovery won’t be as fast as you’d like, but you have gotten so much stronger, made so much progress” my daughter reminds me.

“Reframe your expectations. It might take longer than you hoped, but you are getting there. Don’t give up!”

Look for an inspiring role model. Mine is my 89-year-old dad who slide steps holding onto the kitchen counter, lifts weights from his reclining chair and walks around the block everyday.

Depend on a loyal teammate. When I wake up with tears in my eyes wondering how to push through another day, my husband drags me out the door. We walk the fields across from our sublime view of Lake Geneva and the Alps and I chide myself. What am I pouting about?

Surrounded by people who believe wholeheartedly in my ability to recover, when my hope wavers theirs lift me up. So I face each new day whispering my mantra.


“Get up. Get moving. Reframe. Go forward. One step at a time.”

Farewell to our beloved French Mamie (Feb 13,1926 – Aug.22,2020)

Though she was 94 and ready to go, we are never prepared to say that final farewell to our mothers. On the day we buried our beloved Mamie, we were overcome with waves of sadness that come and go like the tide crashing the shores of Trouville by the Sea where she lived for over 6 decades. Fleeting memories of her emerged like rays of sunshine poking through the dark clouds.

Mamie cut the quintessential image of a traditional French woman, “toujours bien coiffée”, scarf wrapped around her neck, wicker basket swinging on her arm, bustling off to market to banter with the local merchants for the best cuts of meat and finest cream. No one would dare try to pull one over on Mamie when it came to selling second rate fruits and vegetables, only the finest for serving her family.

Though she had a difficult childhood, she was never bitter about her lot in life. After meeting at a tea dance popular after the war, she married Guy Lechault in 1951. She had 2 beautiful daughters and one fine son, who became my loyal, loving husband.

Growing up during the hard times between two world wars, she dedicated her life to raising her family making sure her children never had need for naught. Family was the center of life and her 5 grandchildren were the apples of her eye. She was so proud of them; they were so fortunate to have had her as part of their lives during their growing up years. 

Nathalie her eldest grandchild remembers when she was old enough to drink alcohol and had her first glass of wine à table with her French family,

“Mamie was so delighted,” Nat says, “it was as if the messiah came!”

Mamie made everyone’s  favorites dishes, often serving 5 different menus when the kids were little, but they all grew up appreciating healthy food and mealtime remained sacred-a time to gather round the table to tell stories, talk about food and savor the tastes.

As soon as we finished one meal, Mamie, a woman who never served a sandwich in her life, would ask, “What would you like for lunch tomorrow?”

Lunch meant dinner in the old-fashioned sense — a five-course meal with a starter, main course, cheese platter, dessert and coffee with chocolates that she had hidden for special occasions. Then she would set out thimble sized glasses and poured “just a taste” of her homemade plum liquor.
We had barely cleared the table before Mamie started preparing for the next feast, scurrying back around to the village shops filling her wicker basket with fresh supplies from the butcher, the baker and the creamery.
She lived in a 17th century fisherman’s flat chiseled into the falaise on the quay of Trouville. The small rooms were stacked on top of each other like building blocks connected by a creaky, winding wooden staircase.Her home was her castle; the dinner table her throne, although she never sat down; she was always so busy serving others.
No matter how crowded the 12” by 14” living room, there was always space to squeeze in around the big wooden table that could always accommodate one more.

Mamie could be stormy with a sharp tongue that you never wanted to cross, but she was also sunshine filled with warmth and the first to offer consoling words in times of trouble. Ever since my car accident in France 40 years ago, like a mother hen she welcomed into her family nest and watched over me as if I were a baby chick with a broken leg.

Mamie was the sun and the sea, the wind and the rain, the beach, the boardwalk, the open market, the fish sold fresh off the boat on the quay. She was Camembert, strawberries and cream, chocolate mousse, apple tart and homemade red current jelly.

She may be gone, but she will never ever be forgotten. Our every memory of Normandy is a memory of Mamie, the matriarch, the heart of our French family.

 

Trouville sur Mer, Normandy, France

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