Ten Ways to Stay Uplifted and Connected This Christmas

Record highs in Covid-19 cases, hospitals across Europe overloaded, healthcare workers on their knees and hearts breaking from being torn apart from families during the holidays. Due to circumstances we should not travel, but must find unique ways to stay connected.

Virtual caroling: My daughter a doctor in Minneapolis area will be working over the holidays to help stem the tide, but she figured out a way to connect with her grandparents in Illinois. We are going caroling at their virtual doorstep. We practiced a list of Christmas songs on line; I played my guitar in Switzerland and she sang Silent Night, Drummer Boy, Winter Wonderland and other old favorites.

Phone calls have never been more comforting especially with WhatsApp era where we can see one another’s faces on the screen.

Christmas used to be like this

Read books like The Night Before Christmas, Polar Express and How The Grinch Stole Christmas together on Skype with grandchildren, who are quarantined thousands of miles apart from you.

Set up a zoom call where everyone gathers from their own living room. One friend’s family made the Sunday dinner Zoom call a weekly tradition to keep up on her kids in the Carolinas, Massachusetts and Minnesota. Or set up a family games night.

Write an old fashioned card with your own words or better yet a letter. When was the last time you received a real letter in the mail that could be read and reread and cherished forever?

Put up the Tannenbaum. Through the dreary dark days of winter, we wake up to the twinkle of the white lights on our tree.

Light a candle. Say the name out loud in honor of the memory of everyone you have lost this year. Give a word of thanks for each friend and loved one who remains a part of your life even though you may be separated by distance.

Bake cookies – sugar cookies, gingerbread, spritz. Fill the house with the aroma of warm frosting and melting butter.

Hang outdoor decorations. European villages have always put twinkling lights in the chateaus, town halls and corner cafe windows. This year even individual home owners are stringing outdoor lights in neighborhoods to bring joy during this time of darkness where people are confined to homes.

Hold a baby. My niece and nephew-in-law took Covid tests in order to travel safely from their home in Wisconsin to Illinois to introduce their new baby, Hadley Marie, to her great grandparents. My 86-year-old mom, who recently lost her brother to Covid-19, became teary eyed holding her first great grandchild in the circle of life.

In a year where it is especially difficult to feel gratitude, appreciating the giving spirit of the holidays and understanding the value of kind words, thoughtful gestures and strong connections year round has never been more important.

Like so many others, the pain of being apart at this season is especially acute, but it also reminds me of how lucky I am to be loved and to love so much that it hurts.

In the meantime, I focus on the memories of favorite foods, surprise gifts and special traditions from previous get together and practice my singing fa la la la la la la la until we can be reunited again.

Christmas 2018

Happy Thanksgiving 2020 – A Different Kind of Celebration With Same Meaning As Ever

ThanksgivingThis Thanksgiving will be a different kind of celebration with same meaning as ever. Traditionally Native Americans saved Pilgrims from starvation back in 1620 by teaching them to tap maple trees, plant corn and fertilize soil.

T-giving has always been a day of gathering bounty from fields, sharing with others, and giving thanks. However, this year, due to the pandemic, families should celebrate separately, which to Americans sort of defeats the whole purpose of T-day.

Ever since I moved to Europe forty years ago, I have been trying to thank my European hosts for accepting me into their countries. But not matter how I try to explain it, they remain bewildered by our Thanksgiving, a journée de remerciements. They think it is the only day of the year where Americans prepare a hot meal and eat slow food.

ThanksgivingMy first year abroad I invited French teammates and they ate the food in courses, one dish at a time. The next year in Germany, the team turnout was so great, there was standing room only; we never sat down to dine. Another year French relatives replaced the giant Tom Turkey with Chicken Little. Now living in Switzerland off I go again every November on the Great Turkey Hunt through the Swiss Alps.

ThanksgivingLast year I didn’t have to explain anything when Gerald and I celebrated our first extra special Thanksgiving in the states with our kids and sister and her family. My brother in law smoked a turkey, my son and daughter in law made a British speciality Yorkshire pudding, my niece added a broccoli salad. My sister brought the traditional pumpkin pie and my daughter contributed a gluten free apple crumble.

This year still in recovery from brain injury and like so many others dealing with Covid depression; I lament to my psychotherapist, “I am so sad, I can’t see family.”

“But isn’t the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday to give thanks?” she reminds me. “Can you reframe your perspective and focus on what you do have to be grateful for?”

“Even though you can’t see your family, are they safe? Healthy?” She asks. “Is your husband still with you? Are you recovering?”

So many people have lost cherished family members and dear friends. Thanksgiving 2020 must be marked in different ways. I will start by celebrating with my loved ones in a Zoom call to surprise my parents.

At a safe distance separated from each other one end of an extended to hold a dozen people we will social distance and share a simplified T-Day. We will lift our glasses with a neighbor couple, part of our pod here, and I will whisper thanks for :

1. Health care workers worldwide who continue to battle a devastating pandemic.
2. Family who remain steadfast and loving for the long haul.
3. Friendships that sustain my spirit in hard times.
5. Frenchman – my life partner who picks me and puts me together after every fall.
6. Internet that instantly connects me between continents, cultures and time zones.
7. Words- books, cards, emails, calls that keep us connected especially now when we cannot reach out physically,
8. Summit Lake a place to dream of returning one day where sacred waters restore my soul.

Thanksgiving

This year in our modified Thanksgiving, we won’t dine on a whole Tom Turkey, just a turkey breast and though it will be a small, subdued celebration unlike the big noisy gatherings of Thanksgivings growing up in America, the blessings will be the same. The bird is secondary. It’s the stuffing — family, friends and memories — sharing and caring — that sustains me.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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

https://pattymackz.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Jirai-revoir-ma-Nomandie-2.mov

86th Birthday Mom’s Child raising Advice Still Spot On

Even though I have lived abroad for nearly 4 decades, due to covid making travel from Europe impossible, I couldn’t be with my mom at the family cabin to celebrate her birthday for the first time ever.

Fortunately, last Christmas before we heard of social distancing and couldn’t begin to imagine a pandemic separating us from loved ones, my daughter gave her gift called, Storyworth, a computer program to record photographs and memories. My mom, Lenore, is having fun recapturing wonderful memories, recording history of days gone by and creating a priceless treasure for generations to come. Every week, Storyworth sends a question to trigger her memories and she writes her answer and sends it back to them to be published into a book. https://welcome.storyworth.com/

With the covid epidemic and no timeline for when we will be able see loved ones again, discovering family history, recording historical events and reconnecting with long distance relatives reminds us we need our stories more than ever to suture those connections between generations .

Lenore was only 19 years old and just graduating with her elementary education degree, when she began raising a family, 4 children within a span of 6 years. This was back in the day before child raising gurus and the self help motherhood books were popular. When her last little one went off to school, l my mom went back to the classroom, too, where she taught kindergarten for 25 years.

Lenore instilled the love of stories in me. First she read storybooks to me and later passed on that love to her grandchildren

As we reminisce on the phone and my mom tells her stories, I realize that although I flew far from the nest long ago, her philosophy of life has always been a part of me. Today, her reflections on raising children are still spot on, so I wanted to share her answer to the Storyworth question of this week.

“What is the best advice you would give about raising children?”

“The best advice I would give about raising children would be to love your child unconditionally, appreciate their uniqueness and know there is NO such thing as a “perfect parent”. The best parents are always willing to learn, change and improve their skills as well as allow their child to take small risks and let them make decisions on their own. That means there will be falls, scrapes and injuries”.

“Let your parent strategies build on mutual respect and a natural drive to get through the day smoothly. Be patient and persuade your child to calm down and cooperate. Work toward self discipline and allow them failure because a child will learn from his/her mistakes. Think of yourself as your child’s trusted and effective guide, not their dictator. Learn what is age appropriate so you won’t be expecting too much or too little.”

”Let them know how very precious he/she is to you and how much you love them. Tell them what it is you love about them. Enjoy every stage because time goes very fast. Encourage and praise and when very young (toddler age) try using distraction to avoid always saying No! Be playful and especially loving when (the child is) having a “meltdown” if possible. Remember you will make mistakes and that is OK. It is best if both parents agree and stand firm.”

My sister, who is a kindergarten teacher, wants to share this with her parents. My daughter, a pediatrician, imparts that message to the families she works with and in my role as a mother, teacher and coach it was the principles with which I tried to guide my charges.

As a young mother, my mom was wise beyond her years and even now on her 86th birthday she is sharp enough to continue imparting that wisdom. Her message is timeless. It shaped my life. It shaped the lives of my children. And it will probably continue to influence the way my eldest niece raises my mom’s first great grandchild.

Happy Father’s Day June 21, 2020

Father’s DaySo many of our fathers have passed on, but the lessons they taught remain ingrained. I have been blessed to be surrounded by good men from my husband who has been a wonderful father to our 2 children, to Father’s Daymy big brother, Doug, to my brothers- in- law, Cliff and Dick, to the first man I ever loved, my dad. Papa Mac was a father figure to so many students and athletes who traversed the halls of Sterling high School.He was hard working, loyal, a strong leader and a role model in his community.

My dad taught me to drive a car, shoot hoops, catch frogs, paddle a canoe, and swim laps. When I was just a hyperactive little kid, he tired of shooing me off the “dangerous” dock. Finally, he reasoned it would safer to teach me to swim than to keep track of my free spirited meanderings near the lake and in the woods.

He held my hand as I stepped off the sandy beach into the icy lake. Together we walked out over my head. While my dad’s strong arms held me afloat, I put my face in the water and blew bubbles. He taught me the crawl stroke, flutter kick and to cup my hands. “Reach forward, pull back.” He helped me master the trickiest part – how to breathe without swallowing half the lake.

Though I never had a near drowning experience, after a bad bike crash and later a debilitating car accident, I became trapped in a body that no longer worked quite right. My hoop dreams disintegrated. My aspirations of skiing down mountainsides and running marathons dissolved. I hung up my high tops, tennis racket, baseball glove; I set aside my football, basketball, volleyball.swimming saved my life

I was condemned to the pool where the buoyancy of the water kept me from further injuring my spine and joints. Early on, I became a has-been athlete plagued with bad feet, bad knees and a broken back. The scars of my past calamities never really left me; the sharp twinges and shooting, throbbing, stabbing aches remained.

But weightless in water, I became pain free.

To an athlete being confined to a pool seemed like a death sentence. Yet, after every misfortune, I retreated to the healing waters. Swimming became my solace, my meditation, my prayer.

As a child I learned to swim at my grandparents Camp Ney-A-Ti on Summit Lake. In my teens, I swam through summers at the old Emerald Hill pool. In adulthood, when pregnant – and ordered to bed rest for 3 months to prevent premature births – I begged the doctor to let me swim. In a Parisian pool, I bonded with my unborn child, gliding in sync alongside the baby kicking inside me.

Over the years, I even saved a few lives as a lifeguard. And I once dragged the semi conscious high school quarterback from the pump room when he became asphyxiated from the chlorine. But the real hero of my swimming story was my dad. He taught me to believe that no matter how rough the seas or how high the waters, I would never sink.

With each stroke of my arm and kick of my leg,Dad thought he was showing me the frog kick, freestyle, and breaststroke, but really he was teaching me how to survive.

As a child, my dad let go, so I could take my first strokes solo. As an adult I swam from one side of the lake to the other.
But after my serious accident this past April I am not sure when I will able to swim again. And I won’t be swimming in my beloved Summit Lake this summer because of the coronavirus Europeans are not allowed to fly to the USA.

Everyday as I struggle in physical therapy to squeeze my hand, raise my left arm over my head and regain the use of the left side of my body, I think of my dad and repeat the mantra he ingrained through hours spent correcting my jump shot, tweaking my swim stroke “Never give up.”

Though separated by the pandemic and my health issues, I can’t visit my dad in person right now, I look forward to seeing him every night when I call on face time and he says.“I sure am proud of you sweetie.You are a real warrior.”

With a twinkle in his blue eyes, he ends every conversation by saying, “I think of you everyday and love you more each minute.”

Father’s Day

Though many women will miss being with their daddies on this special day, may we all find comfort knowing a father’s love for a daughter lasts for eternity.