A Très British Outing – Ze Pub

When my son married a beautiful British-Irish-Ukrainian woman, we were given an insiders peek into UK life, which begins and ends at the local pub. Going to the pub for a pint is as much a part of British life as a coca cola and Friday night football is to an American.

Dating back thousands of years to 43 AD when the Romans invaded the British Isles, the public house has been a cultural part of UK life for centuries. From the Roman drinking houses, called ‘tabernae’ to the Medieval ale houses offering lodging for travelers, to the ever popular pubs of today, the pub always served as the center of village life. Going to the pub remains a favorite British pastime.

Part of the adventure is getting there. A Saturday walk to the pub is as commonplace as a family heading to church on Sunday in the US.

Our fun multiplied when Larissa’s mom, her sister, brother-in-law, two nephews and their goodnatured labradoodle, Guinness, joined us for a walk across the British countryside.

We donned those quintessential British boots, aka wellies, and started walking through the fields right outside the door of their rental home known as the “barn.” The old chicken coop remodeled into an eclectic, modern, light-filled home had so many windows that it makes me feel like I on a farm for vacation.

“Don’t the farmers mind us trespassing on their land.” I asked Larissa as we tromped through the fields where sheep grazed.

“In the UK, the public has the right away,” she explained. “It is known as Public Bridle Way.”

“I don’t see any signs allowing us to hike on their property,” I said.

“It’s invisible!” she explained. “But you just know.”

“You have to be local enough to know or not know where it is acceptable,” Nic added.

Even without specifically labeled trails, the local farmers are accustomed to foot traffic.

Part of our hike included climbing over wooden stiles crossing the fences and hedgerow between the fields.

“A phone app indicates where it is okay to go,” said Larissa. “But it’s mostly common sense. You wouldn’t walk through field of donkeys or free range horses. It’s at your own risk if you try to cross a field of buffalo.”

Surprisingly, not only cattle, sheep and horses graze in Nic and Larissa’s neighborhood, but buffalo - African buffalo - also roam.

Walking in wellies on uneven terrain, included lumbering over six stiles like an obstacle course, I felt worn out by the time we made it to the pub.

The pub, an old brick home, divided into rooms, included a room where dogs were welcome guests. Guinness sat at attention, while the adults talked. Instead of ordering the usual hot drinks, after our hike, we were so thirsty, we opted for cokes, beer, and the local cider. The little boys sat politely at the table enjoying snacks.

Surprisingly, Guinness didn’t bother the other dogs tucked in at nearby tables while their owners sipped away the afternoon enjoying board games. At the table next to us, a couple played Jenga while their Irish hound stood guard. Near the pub entryway, a table of brawny locals spun tales as long as their beards.

One of the greatest features of pub life is that there is never any pressure to hurry up or to order another round. For the price of a drink, we could linger all day surrounded by charming English atmosphere.

Trying to Tackle “New” Sport Snowshoeing

If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Sure! Snowshoeing in the Swiss Mountains makes me feel like Donald Duck waddling on the side of an iceberg in webbed feet.

Forget CrossFit, yoga, and aerobics. The ultimate work out is snowshoeing. Each step forward feels like lifting a ton.

Though snowshoeing was invented in 6000BC, it was a brand new sport for me. In the old days, people made their own snowshoes - wooden-framed, rawhide-latticed wooden rackets with leather straps. I thought snowshoeing would be as simple as strapping a tennis racket to your shoe and heading out the door.

But today one needs a master’s degree to decipher how to affix the tubular aluminum-framed, neoprene-decked, state-of-the-art snowshoe to one’s foot. The “shoes,” designed for maximize efficiency, take me half a day to strap on. To prepare for my little snow “walk,” I balance on one leg while struggling to manipulate my other foot into the contraption.

Modern snowshoes have two styles of binding: fixed-rotation or"limited-rotation" and full-rotation or "pivot" bindings. In fixed-rotation, the bindings attach to the snowshoe with an elastic strap, bringing the tail of the snowshoe up with each step. In theory, the snowshoe moves with the foot and the tail does not drag, until you want to change direction.

Unlike Nike’s Air Jordans, Adidas’ The Kobe, and New Balance’s Coco Gauff CG1 tennis shoes, contemporary footwear has been designed to permit one to turn on a dime accommodating the mind-blowing moves of acrobatic athletes playing modern day ball games.

Alas, the snowshoe allows only one directional forward movement. To turn right or left or at a 180 degree angle requires the dexterity of an elite gymnast.

With my feet locked in waffle irons, turning becomes preposterous.

My body jerks one direction, while my feet remained locked in place. Even with the aid of trekking poles to help with balance, am I the only one who wiped out snowshoeing?

Walking skills may easily transfer to straightforward snowshoe travel, but this doesn’t apply when turning around. To change direction, I need enough space to walk in a semicircle. On a steep slope or in the close quarters of a forest, this is inconceivable!

My ever patient hubby, an avid skier, encourages me to execute a "kick turn" similar to the one employed on skis.

“Lift one foot high enough to keep the snowshoe in the air while planting the other,” he explains, “ then put your foot at a right angle to the other, stick it in the snow and quickly repeat the action with the other foot.”

Et voila!

With one foot pointing north and the other aimed south, my legs tangle, pitch me off balance and sling me into a snowbank.

I renamed the maneuver - “ze face plant”

After trudging along for hours, my legs shake and my back throbs. My arms tremble from clinging to toothpicks that are supposed to prevent me from toppling down the mountainside.

Fortunately in Switzerland, the view at the summit makes every painful step worthwhile.

I can’t wait to give it another go.






Farewell Tribute to My Friend Frannie

Back in Switzerland, still mourning my dad’s death, I weep for the loss of my friend Frannie. If I could attend Fran’s funeral service today, I would stand up and say what we all know, “Every family, every team, every community needs a Frannie. Her life was a gift to mankind.”

Frannie with her long wing span and big hands enfolded us all in her arms. Tall and graceful with a charismatic smile, Fran could have been a runway model, instead she bestowed inner beauty, strolling the streets of Sterling spreading her love. During her career as a social worker in her home town, she saved lives.

Born on May 17, 1960 the daughter of Jessie and Barbara (Hereford) Smith, Frances “Fran” Marie Smith-Riney, died September 13, 2022. She left behind 2 daughters, a son, 2 foster sons, 2 stepsons, 1 step daughter, 18 grandchildren, several nieces and nephews, one sister, three brothers and hundreds of friends, who would swear they were somehow related too.

“Fran skipped into 4th grade with an engaging grin, head held high, taller and darker than any of the other children,” one of her classmates recounted. “It’s as if she was saying even back then `C’mon, we’re in this together, let’s laugh and party and learn to get along.”

She was a catalyst uniting people from every race, ethnicity and walk of life.
Whether planning a reunion for her 1978 high school class, a 40th anniversary celebration for her 1st state championship basketball team, or a Herford - Smith family gathering that included all of Wallace Street too, Fran connected everybody.

Three years my junior, I considered her my little sister, but she ended up more often looking after me. As center on my basketball team her freshman years, she cleared the lane, so I could drive the baseline at Sterling High School and Illinois State University. Though I moved to Europe; she settled in Sterling, so I saw her when I visited my folks.

Frannie was family.

The Smith and McKinzie households were intricately intertwined at a time in US history when blacks and whites lived on opposite sides of the train track in small town America. Through education, friendship and teamwork, we built bridges in our community and broke barriers.

My dad coached and taught Frannie and her older brothers at SHS; her brother, Phil, coached me. Together we started the first girls basketball camp in northern Illinois. Over time it was hard to distinguish where one lesson ended and another began, but together we shattered gender and racial stereotypes.

In 1977, my little sister, Karen, and Frannie made Illinois history becoming the 1st high school girls state basketball champions, coached by my dad and her brother.

A month ago, Phil, like a second son, spoke at a my father’s Memorial Service sharing stories about his former teacher, coach, colleague, mentor and friend for nearly 60 years.

“I am sorry I cannot be there attend Papa Mac’s Celebration of Life,” Fran texted us at that time from her hospital bed, “but he knew I loved him and he loved me, so we're all good.”

No words can capture what Frannie meant to so many. To me, she was a loyal little sister, an everlasting friend, a basketball buddy, a part of my history, a piece of my heart.

I loved you Frannie; you loved me.

So we’re all good too.

But I will always miss your hugs.

Happy Father’s Day to Title IX Dads Who Helped Us Make History

Happy Father’s Day to Title IX Dads Who Helped Us Make History

“What was it like making history becoming the first athletic scholarship recipient at Illinois State University during the groundbreaking implementation of Title IX?” asked journalists from my alma mater.

“You can’t know you are making history,”I said, “while it’s being made.”

It felt like another day. No one noticed back then.

Fifty years ago, no one could fathom the impact the passage of Title IX made in opening doors. This June 23, we celebrate the profound changes this amendment provided by mandating equal opportunity for women in education and sport. We applaud the sacrifices of those who came before us.

We wouldn’t be here with out our dads, too. Many fathers of that era have passed on, but they were there when we needed them. They taught us how to throw balls, catch passes and get up after being knocked down at a time in society when girls were supposed to sit and cheer, not play on the field and fight back.

My dad shaped my life. When I see him, I remind him again of his impact.

“Dad, remember all those hours we spent at the gym, all the baskets you rebounded for me.”

Dad, easily distracted in old age, suddenly focused, raised his right hand, cocked his wrist and he repeated the litany I grew up with. “Elbow in, ball in fingertips, follow through. Bend knees. Remember your power comes from your legs…”

“You made me a great ball player,” I said. “We thought we were shooting hoops, but we were making history. You taught me how to shoot a lay up, fake and drive, and swish a jump shot; I was ahead of other girls of my time.”

I became a prolific shooter, the first female athletic scholarship recipient at Illinois State University, a draftee into the first women’s professional basketball league, and one of first Americans to star overseas on European teams.

“It started with you, Dad. Believing in me. A girl!”

“I bet I taught you how to play all the ball games,” Dad said and chuckled.

“Yep, you showed me how to throw a football, pitch a softball, spike a volleyball. You broke the rules and taught me all the things girls weren’t supposed to be doing back in the 60s and 70s. Because you did, I never doubted that I had the right to be there in the gym like the boys.”

“As a coach at Sterling High School, you also provided opportunities for the next generation of female athletes including your youngest daughter. You guided her Golden Girls basketball team to the first Illinois High School Association (IHSA) state championship in 1977.”

“When I could no longer play,” I reminded him, “I became a good coach, just like you. I coached daughters and sons of world leaders who went on to fight for social justice in their homelands as civil rights lawyers, international diplomats, and medical practitioners. One of those girls I coached was your granddaughter, who became the first doctor in our family, a pediatrician.”

A half of century is a long time. Attitudes change slower than laws. For decades, many women, coaches, and administrators fought for equal funding - equipment, uniforms, gym space - and a place at the table.

We have a ways to go, but we are getting closer. It began with dads, like you, who believed that little girls could, should and would play ball one day.

Happy Father’s Day, Title IX Dad.

Thanks for the game

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


Summer Storms Wreak Havoc in Wisconsin by McKinzie Cabin

Summer Storms Wreak Havoc in WisconsinSummer storm warnings in the midwest are so routine, we ignore them, but in the era of global warming look out. After a hot day on the lake, we sat on the dock of McKinzie cabin admiring the formation of mammatus clouds that looked like upside down dinner rolls. When the rain started, we headed up hill to the cabin. Just when my friend started her stand up comedy routine, the lights blinked out. We hee hawed to her jokes by candlelight while trees thrashed and waters churned outside.

While we were yucking it up, Mother Nature was having the last laugh. When we ventured outside the next morning, we witnessed the destruction. Fallen trees downed power lines blocking every route out leaving us stranded in a zone booby trapped by electrical wires.

We tried to walk to town, but power lines lying on the road blocked us at the boat landing where one of the lake’s oldest cabins dating 1911 miraculously stood intact.

I hollered over to Roger, who picked up debris from his uprooted trees.

« I was closing the windows when the big, tree fell inches from the house. Another tree crashed on the other side, » he told me. « When I heard the gas pipe sizzle, I thought I gotta get out of here. »Summer Storms Wreak Havoc in Wisconsin

Fortunately, we had little property damage on our side of the lake, but our neighbor lost twenty-two trees. However, without running water and electricity daily life became challenging. We carried up lake water to fill toilet tanks and hooked up a generator that rumbled like a tank truck to keep power running to the refrigerator.

Every evening, we lit the house with candles and savored the absolute silence of night without any sound of modern civilization.

But in the morning, we were annoyed by inconveniences. Without water, breakfast became a 10-step process. Fill gas in the generator. Quick open the refrigerator. Remove milk and butter. Switch on adaptor to run coffee machine. Unplug coffee machine. Hook up toaster. Switch back to frig. Eat cereal. Fill bowl with water to drink, which serves double duty rinsing the dish. Wash face and hands in the lake. Brush teeth with a mouthful of water.

By day three, mold grew on my teeth and my body smelled like the septic tank. To save resources, we bathed in the lake washing with biodegradable shampoo; the guys peed in the woods.

I wanted to go to any restaurant or store, where I could wash my face and hands in their restroom, but all the towns around us remained powerless too.

I couldn’t imagine being homeless or living in a Third World country where existence depends on finding the next drop of water and morsel of food.Summer Storms Wreak Havoc in Wisconsin

The next day, we stepped across the lines down on the road to walk to the public beach across the lake. There, off of highway 45, the Wisconsin National Guard had set up a non-potable water tank for citizens and promised tomorrow they would bring drinking water.

“Sixteen different tornadoes touched down and Langlade County declared a state of emergency,” the serviceman told me, “Elcho looks like a war zone.”

Like everyone else, after 3 days of isolation, we ignored the Road Closed signs, drove over the electrical wires that snaked across roads and headed to Elcho four miles away.

Evergreen, pine, deciduous trees of every kind stood uprooted or snapped in winds that reached over 100 mph. Along County road K to Post Lake century old trees toppled on cabins and barns.Summer Storms Wreak Havoc in Wisconsin

Our power outage lasted four days, but many homes in the north central Wisconsin remained without electricity for over a week.

But after 24 hours, I was tired of fetching water buckets and playing Little House on the Prairie.

We take so much for granted.

Mother Nature’s rampage made me cherish our most valuable resources air, water and land. It also reminded me of the resiliency of the human spirit to endure floods, storms, hurricanes, wildfires and nature’s wrath