Flying Up Front

For the past thirty-some years, I dreamed of being bumped to first class and riding in the front of plane instead of squeezing into the sardine section of economy at the back.

Twenty-four hours before take off, when we logged on to Delta/KLM/Air France website for our seat assignments, we found out our return flight to Switzerland was overbooked. We were offered the “unique opportunity” to upgrade our tickets to for a relatively “small fee.”

We bit the bullet and bought it and let me tell you, nothing beats flying biz on long haul flight.

Once you wave the Business Elite ticket, airline personnel roll out the red carpet. Talk about celebrity status. I felt like Lady Gaga, Princess Kate and First Lady Obama all rolled in one. Check in is a breeze. First class never waits in line- first on the plane, first off, first served and no queue at the lavatory.

We received perks a ga ga from the get go, from the 20 extra pounds luggage allowance to complimentary toiletry bag filled with contraband toothpaste and lotion, to fluffy down pillows and comforters. For the first time ever, instead of pacing up and down the plane to keep my legs from going numb, I flew in comfort.

Pampered from the moment we were welcomed aboard; champagne flowed before the plane even began to taxi to the runway. Just after take off, the stewardesses whip through the aisles with tablecloths and dishes of warm almonds and cashews and cocktails.

No picnic fare in front of the plane: real cutlery, linens, glassware and our own individual salt and pepper shakers. Five-course first class cuisine is so fine it makes economy class fare look like dog food. No waiting until the end of the flight for your tray table to be finally cleared, as soon as one course is finished, plates are whisked away. Service rated right up there with a four star restaurant. No wonder, according to my Frenchman, four flight attendants served the 36 people in business class and that included half dozen kids, whose feet still didn’t touch floor, which seemed like a waste of precious space.

The best part of flying at the front of the plane was the legroom and the remote control recliner seat, plusher than my favorite chair back home.  I kid you not; the seat had a dozen different buttons. The footrests raised, backrest reclined, lumbar roll relieved low back pressure and the headrest actually rests the head.  After a glass of Mercurey, one of Burgundies best, and death by chocolate cheesecake, I was out for the count.

I can get into this fine art of flying at the front of the plane. For anyone with a bad back or past the half a century mark, elite class takes the pain out of a nine-hour ride. The only drawback, jet lag still hits the next day.

One and Only New Year’s Resolution

  1. Get organized.

I made only one vow this New Year. That way I figure I would succeed. I started early before the holidays. But it is not going to be easy. My sister, Sue, was born with all the organizing genes in the family, so I got short changed in the tidy up department.

Never mind. I do try. Like the experts suggest, change doesn’t happen overnight. Start simple.  Clean one drawer.

I start with the kitchen drawer. What really precipitated the resolution was my husband coming home  from work yelling when he sets off the burglar alarm, « Where did you put the alarm deactivator. »

A decade ago, after being burglarized twice, we bought a sensorized sound system. We once had four alarm deactivator buttons the size of erasers ; we now have one. Every time the alarm goes off, DAILY, we conduct a « scream and search. »

My husband says he changed the battery months ago and swears he put it in the kitchen drawer. Thus my quest for self actualization through organization begins there. Most people store eating utensils in kitchen drawers.  Not me. I find  twenty pens, ten pencils, five highlighters, three board markers, two whistles and one sticky piece of bubble gum. See my priorities. In addition to writing tools, I discover pocket notebooks, Post-Its, a card from my daughter written in 1990, and a party list for my son’s fifth birthday. But that’s not all. I also uncover a Swiss army knife, a bottle opener, a pack of Kleenex, a glue stick, a scissors, a piece of chocolate, band-aides, pain killer, anti acids, matches, a mini flashlight, my cell phone, gym keys and cash in five different currencies.

No need for me to pack a safety kit to store in the car for inclement winter weather, I’ll just carry my kitchen drawer along every time I go out the door.

When my husband comes home from work, he doesn’t say, « Honey, I’m home how was your day ? »

No. When the siren starts screeching, It’s the usual, « Pot ! (Pat in French) WTF did you put the alarm? »

The trouble is that as all women know, one magic drawer exists in every household. Whatever you put in it, disappears. My new year’s resolution is doomed to fail. How can I get organized, whenever I am not looking, the drawer fairy strikes again. Somewhere in the house, my little leprechaun has a stash of treasures.

Yet get this, FYI, the Frenchman found the alarm in his camera bag where he left it after our last trip to the states, so much for tidy kitchen drawers and New Year’s Resolutions!

Happy Thanksgiving sans Turkey from Cow Country

Though Europeans love a party, Thanksgiving is truly a unique North American celebration. Since it is not a holiday here, it was just another day for me to lecture students, grade papers and attend unproductive meetings.

On T-day, I arrived home from school after eight to an empty house, so no turkey this year, but no pity party for Patty. I am filled with gratitude! With a live in French chef I eat well all year round.

Every November with or without the big bird, I take time to count my blessings.

1. Family – remain loyal for the long haul

2. Friendship- sustains the spirit in hard times

3. Frenchman – my life partner keeps me grounded in reality

4. Freedom- to speak my mind, wear what I want and circulate without restraint

5. Airlines –despite glitches in air travel, flying allows me to soar between worlds

6. Internet- instantly connects me between continents, cultures and time zones

7. Children – offer hope for the future and fill my heart with joy

8. Readers – follow along, offer comments and give my musings meaning

9. Ball games – basketball, football, volleyball, handball, tether-ball, love ‘em all

10. Books- hardcover, paperback, e-books…books in any shape or form

11. Summit Lake- where sacred waters restore my soul

Summit Lake, Wis.

Summit Lake, Wis.

 

Happy Thanksgiving weekend.  Safe travels. Slow down. Reflect in gratitude.

What tops your Blessing List this season?

Happy 21st Birthday, Pay It Forward, Son !

From the moment, I knew « it’s a boy, » he filled my life with joy and trepidation.  Ten days later, the  boy born on the go acquired his first passport. He made his first trans Atlantic trip as  a 1 month old. He climbed out of his crib as at 8 months, walked at 9, kicked a ball at 10. As a hyper active, never-nap toddler he banged off the walls of our tiny Parisian apartment.

smiling toddler

smiling toddler

Insisting on doing everything himself, calamity followed in his wake.  While trying to « help » me clean house, he broke the reclining chair, the remote control and the vacuum cleaner.  His Aunt Karen insisted, « Send Nic over  to help me tidy up.  We need a new vacuum too. »

One Christmas, overjoyed to see his Aunt Sue, he gave her a flying, head-butt hug and broke her nose !

As a five-year-old, his body was so strong, we called him Bam Bam, yet his heart was as tender as a poem. When we moved to Switzerland, he told us, « Les nuages font un calin a la montagne. »  (The clouds are hugging the mountains.) At age seven, perceptive, beyond his years, he lamented, « Mom, we’re growing up too fast.  In five more years, Nathalie won’t live here anymore. »

As a kamikaze kid, he slit open his palm at age two, split his head at four, shattered his right ankle at fifteen.  Each time the doctor stitched him up, I prayed, « Please keep my boy in one piece. »

always a high flyer !

always a high flyer !

The only time he sat still was when I read him storybooks. A friend once told me, « Nicolas is too cute for his britches. » He was.  He dumped cereal or yogurt on the floor, then insisted, « Me clean ! » and made a bigger mess. But I could never stay mad. When he looked up at me with a mischievous grin, his turquoise eyes twinkling, all I could do was sigh and love him a little more.

I taught him to speak English, to drive the baseline and to write essays; he taught me patience. In the push- pull, anguish-awe of parenthood, I wondered whether I was saying too much or too little.

From his first footsteps, to first jump shot, to first Swiss national championship, in my role as teacher, coach, mom, I applauded each milestone. Whether he was skiing down the slopes of the Swiss Alps, or wake-boarding the waters of Summit Lake, I admired his balance and agility.

jumping yougster

jumping youngster

With his strong sense of injustice, he intervened when children picked on smaller boys. He gave up open shots to pass off to teammates who never scored. He helped classmates write French essays and rework math problems.

Due to conflict with an uncomprehending teacher and unruly class, we took him out of French public school when he was four-years-old. Yet his love of learning remained intact. At university, he pursues a teaching degree following in the footsteps of his mom, aunts, grandparents and great grandparents. Though teaching these days is a tough sale due to educational cutbacks and job shortages, he signed on to help out underprivileged children in the St. Paul school district and understands the attention problems of our cyber generation kids.

He has been a dedicated teammate, loyal friend, fun loving cousin, adored little brother and cherished son, admired for his witty sense of humor and courage to stand up for his convictions.

In today’s society,  we honor boys for toughness, yet the world needs more tenderhearted men. Raising a son has been a wild ride, but I treasured every moment of the journey.

with sister and cousins

with sister and cousins

Though I will never again be on center stage of his life –  bandaging skinned knees, reading nursery rhymes, or chauffeuring to activities – I will beam from the shadows back stage, as I watch my son pay it forward as a young man.

 

Divine Wine in Burgundy

Every October I see migrant workers with baskets laden with fruit strapped to their backs, crouching low to pick grapes. Though Switzerland may boast of some fine crus, nowhere is wine more divine than on the rolling hillside outside of Dijon where we lived for two years.

vines and a village in Burgundy

vines and a village in Burgundy

American children in Illinois, my home state, ,detassle corn as a rights of passage,  whereas, French kids in the burgundy region of France pick grapes. Years ago,  I accompanied my daughter’s fifth grade  class, the day they helped harvest the grapes during the vendange. We weren’t picking just any old grapes – these were  the world famous ones on Nuit-St. Georges domaine.

The vineyards on the Côte de Nuits on the outskirts of Dijon extending to Corgolion are 20K long and a few 100 meters wide. This strip of land,  known as the Champs Elysées of Burgundy and Nuit-St. Georges, is the la crème de la crème of the Grand Crus Reds.

Originally, the vines grew wild and were pressed into wine by accident before 312 A.D. Image if the knotted ancient vines could talk the stories they would tell ?

Generations of French children will have their own tales of the harvest to pass on. The students skipped along the rows of perfectly aligned green vines that burst out of the dry, sandy soil and spilled down the slope toward the stone walls of the red-roofed village. Their small hands deftly clipped the vines that held the tight bunches of Pinot Noir grapes, while I struggled to bend low with an aching back.

les vendanges !

les vendanges !

While the winemaker explains the intricate process, kids couldn’t resist popping the tart, purple grapes into their mouths.  Though I love grapes, these were thick skinned and sour and inedible.  The wine grape differs form the table grape in that they are smaller and tarter.

Most French wine growers still hire help to pick the grapes by hand. I will certainly never forget my sole back-breaking, grape-picking stint.  After spending a sun-kissed autumn day with wine growers, witnessing first hand their art, I will never again carelessly gulp a cheap red.  Instead  I savored each sip and appreciated the complexity between the vine and land, the wine and the winemaker.

As my French husband likes to remind me, « Life is too short to drink bad wine. »

Weather Predictions From the Front Porch

Weather is a safe topic in social circles unless you are a meteorologist. The weather journalist has a no win gig. If he/she warns viewers of the upcoming tornado, hurricane, cyclone, blizzard,  we lament they are sensationalizing the news when the weather pattern changes direction/velocity/impact. Case in point Hurricane Irene. With an estimated 65 million people from the Carolinas to Cape Cod at risk of being in Irene’s projected path,  governments declared a state of emergency. Yet afterwards  journalists’ interviewed irate New Yorkers and tourists from abroad (all male) who cursed the evacuation warning and felt the stay indoors policy was over the top. I am sure the people in areas harder hit like North Carolina or Vermont were grateful for the warning.  If the meteorologist neglects to alert viewers to dangers lurking in the clouds, then he/she is at bigger fault.  Case in point, Hurricane Katrina.

I  know only one weatherman who is right all the time. My dad. He inherited the weather forecasting gene from my grandpa. As soon as inclement weather is forecast anywhere within a 500 mile vicinity, he turns on his storm buster box, a static sounding, battery-run weather radio. Then just like his dad used to do,  he’ll stand on the porch admiring the clouds and yelling at family, « Take cover. Now !»  This may be a guy thing.  One brother-in-law chases  tornadoes on bike in Minneapolis. The other one, who farms in Illinois, can read the clouds like the back of his hand.

Unless you grew up in the Midwest though, you can’t fathom how fast storms can roll across the plains. This summer my folks were at a picnic at the other side of the lake, when a guy there saw storm warning on his Blackberry. My parents hopped in the car and drove a  mile back to our cabin on the other side of the lake.

canoeing in front of torn up shoreline

canoeing in front of torn up shoreline

«Bat down the hatches !» my dad hollered from the driveway just as my French husband was heading out to sea on his toy boat, a catamaran.

The Frenchman had no sooner lowered the sails, when the winds hit. My son saw  the tarp over the motorboat go air born, raced down to the waterfront to fix it and came back up the hill yelling, « the sailboat is gone. »

Oops, there goes the brains of the family – the doc, the professor, the business exec –  out into the torrential rain on a rescue mission to catch the runaway sailboat. While they dashed into the churning black water in 60mph winds, I paced in front of the picture window thinking OMG,  « My family is going down! »

The storm lasted less than 10 minutes, yet wiped out a wide swath of forest 20 yards from us.  The sun came out as if nothing had happened, but the straight line wind peeled bark from elms, uprooted cedars on the shoreline and toppled thousand year old trees onto rooftops. Nearby areas looked like a bombed out war zone.

uprooted trees

uprooted trees

If a strong wind can wreak that much devastation in an isolated forest, imagine the fall out from a hurricane hitting the the urbanized, densely populated east coast. My thoughts and prayers go out to people caught in Hurricane Irene’s path.

We are so quick to blame the meteorologists for misreading storms and creating false alarms, yet with global warming,  the weather has gone crazy.  The adage- better safe than sorry – applies especially in storm season. If you question your local meteorologist’s predication, take my advice.  Have the man of the house to stand on the porch  and give you a play by play of the cloud action.