Happy New’s Year Eve 40th Wedding Anniversary

Forty years ago on New Year’s Eve 1983, I said, “I do,” in a seventeenth century chapel in France, not far from the famous WWII Landing beaches. What are the odds of a small town girl from the cornfields of Illinois meeting a French boy raised by the sea in Normandy?

 

 

Where else could we have fallen in love at first sight?
At a basketball game in Paris, of course!

We had just lost the finals of the French championship by one point. I met Gerald in the aftermath, so he witnessed my storm after a big game loss. He asked me out anyway.

Our wedding feast, so French, pheasant pate, fish in cream sauce, "trou Normand" sorbet, leg of lamb and pastries, with different wines and alcohols went on for hours. When the clock struck midnight the crazy uncles handed out party hats and pea shooters and turned the event into a New Year Eve party.

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We had no clue what we were getting into.

Challenges await across cultural marriage…endless official legal paperwork, les faux pas, the misunderstandings, the sacrifices, the compromises.

Opposites do attract. Gerald was a steady, pragmatic, realistic businessman with his feet planted firmly on the ground; I was an intuitive, impetuous, irrational dreamer living in the clouds.

But we were so alike in other ways. Both of us are ultra competitive, hyper-intense Type A’s. Our arguments could rock the roof off our old apartments in Paris, but though we do disagree at times, we are also fiercely protective and supportive of one another’s goals.

Together we endured heartbreaking losses — my career ending car accident, my miscarriages, my brain injury.

But our rewards were great; none greater than watching a bright, adventuresome daughter and a clever, witty son grow strong on basketball courts across Switzerland and go onto become doctors.

Gerald is so dependable, loyal, trustworthy, a man of integrity, but equally intimidating with his French sarcasm and quick temper. I am an overly emotional writer type that wears her heart on her sleeve.

Gerald, not a big talker, is the strong silent type. I compensate for his lack of verbosity by babbling nonstop.

I stood by his side when we laid his parents (our dear Papie & Mamie) to rest; he cradled my heart the day my dad died. As the years go by, we appreciate even more how much grandparents enriched our children’s lives and our own.

Though getting from one continent to the other has never been easy, we shared the best of both worlds. I learned to savor his French family dinners that went on for hours, he grew to appreciate my Midwest America at its best — corn on the cob and backyard BBQs.

We learned to compromise. He’ll never love burgers, but found a recipe for meatballs with ground beef that he enjoys too. I’ll never appreciate fois gras and raw oysters, but I savor the French art of savoir-faire when it comes to fine dining.

Over the years our love grew stronger strolling the beaches of his homeland Normandy and walking through the woods of our family cabin in Wisconsin, traveling throughout the Old World and sharing the bench on basketball courts, cheering on many kids, our own and others.

Whenever I crawled in despair, ready to give up, he pulled me back up on feet and encouraged me to keep fighting. When my book, represented by 3 agents couldn’t find a home, he made sure my story got published. When the school where I taught and coached wanted me to be a keynote speaker at graduation, he persuaded me to rise to the challenge. After my brain surgery, when I feared my words would jumble, he urged me to speak at Illinois State University’s Title XI celebration as a part of US women’s athletic history.

I supported him through seven different moves from assistant director to CEO, helping our kids readjust and remaking our lives.

He applauded my success as a coach and supported our children by volunteering as a score table official and team chauffeur.

On our wedding night, we united different generations of American, French and Germans, once enemies, to a shared table in Normandy, in the very land where their countries had fought each other. In our marriage, raising two bicultural, international kids as global ambassadors, we always strived to bring people together.

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Gerald made me a better me. After forty years of triumphs and tribulations, I helped bring out the best in him. We became more together, than we could ever be alone.

I raise my glass to us, and to our family and friends around the globe!

Happy New Year!

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!

Happy Mother’s Day to my Pioneer Mom

With Title IX Mom would've have been an NIU athlete

 

As we say in French “merci mille fois” thank you a million times for being my mom!
Greeting card companies remind us to mark this day, but I think of you every day.

I have been so fortunate to have been born to you — a generous, kindhearted, intelligent Norwegian-American mom, who guided me through tough transitions with my identity intact during the tumultuous 60s and 70s. Because of you, I became adventurous, courageous and tenacious.

I hate to imagine what my life would have been like growing up at that time period without a mom like you. You let me be me, warts and all. As if you knew that one day this hellbent, stubborn, ornery child would grow up to be a curious, compassionate, tolerant human being.

You nurtured me as a baby, cheered on my first shaky steps as a toddler and applauded even when those bold footsteps led me across the globe.

A family of four by age 26

I could have never navigated my role as a trailblazer without a forward thinking mom encouraging me to overcome setbacks, supporting me through the trials of being a first, and nursing me back from injuries in my rough and tumble life as a female athlete.

You never forced me to sit pretty on the sideline in dainty dresses, instead you let me mix it up and play ball with boys in my grassed-stained dungarees.

Because you accepted me early on, I learned to like myself long before society willingly let girls in the game.

I often credit Dad as my coach, but you were my counselor!

If I became a Title IX pioneer, it was because from day one, my loving, patient, pioneer mom believed in me.

Four generations

So many of our mothers no longer walk this earth, but their impact in our lives abides forever.

I am grateful that you are still here as such a cherished part of my life. Sometimes I wish I lived right next door, so I could check up on you, the way you’ve have watched over me, but thanks to modern technology, we remain only a phone call apart.

How I treasure our conversations! We discuss everything from ancestors, to books, to history, to politics, to human rights. As a teenager, I ignored your suggestions, but as an adult I turned to you for advice. Today I listen carefully to your words, sometimes, even taking notes when you impart your pearls of wisdom.

First grandchild in the family

Today I truly appreciate your selflessness. As you once told me, we offer our babies as a gift to the world the moment they leave our wombs.

Because of your example, I learned how to live a kinder, calmer, more generous life filled with gratitude.

In turn, I passed on that grace, not only to my own two biological children, but to hundreds of others that I coached and taught.

You taught me how to love unconditionally and then let go. Though, now we too live far apart, my daughter, a pediatrician in the USA and my son, a chiropractor in England fulfill their own destiny helping others through their chosen professions.

You showed me how to be a strong, resilient woman, how to bridge the distances between us and strengthen the bonds between cultures, countries and generations.

Sadly, our mothers cannot live eternally, but we carry their love with us always, forevermore.

 

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