My First UK Walk in Wellies

I was excited as a two-year-old to take my first walk in wellies across the beautiful British countryside (I am easily amused.) Wellies, the symbol of British culture, reflect the lasting legacy of the Duke of Wellington and the term carries a sense of tradition, practicality, and British identity.

Wellies, aka. Wellington boots, date back to the 18th century. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, enlisted his shoemaker to modify a military Hessian boot. Originally designed for battle, wellies were later used by farmers and outdoorsmen.

In the early 19th century, they became a staple of practical foot wear for the British aristocracy and middle class and a popular choice for various occasions, including evenings out.

“Everyone in England has a pair of wellies, “Larissa explained. “In the UK, the public has the right away to cross the fields. It’s known as Public Bridle Way.”

When our son, Nic, bought me a pair, I thought they looked so chic that I could wear them as dress boots, which many people do these days. Wellies evolved from being purely functional to becoming fashionable accessories with many brands offering trendy designs, colors and styles.

“Don’t you have wellies in the US?” my British daughter- in-law asked surprised at my exuberance.

“In the Midwest, we swap out tennis shoes directly for winter boots,” I said, “Only thing close to your wellies was the clunky, buckle up galoshes we wrestled on over shoes in grade school.”

The British waterproof gumboots are usually made from rubber or PVC. Traditionally Wellies come in black, olive green, tan color or print and hit just below knee level.

Walking in wellies looks simple, but it takes dexterity. Larissa’s family maneuvered the rough terrain far better than me or Gerald. Could advancing in gumboots be skill passed down from one generation to the next?

Fortunately, before we left home, Larissa advised, “Wear heavy socks to prevent blisters.”

“Slip your orthopedics inserts in the boots,” Nic, the chiropractor added. “It may help your back.”

Nothing helped my spine; I winced every step forward. The UK family, even Lari’s sister lugging her ten-month-old child in a baby carrier, glided across the uneven terrain gracefully. I lumbered along behind, as if on two left feet, stumbling every step of the way.

Wellies, designed to protect feet from getting muddy or wet in damp environments, are the quintessential symbol of British footwear. To the non native, they feel awkward and offer little support for someone with like me with crooked toes, poor balance and a bad back.

Today's wellies, with varied color options and patterns, permit people to add personal style to functional footwear. They can be paired to match every outfit and occasion.

But no one wears wellies with greater style and aplomb than five-year-olds. Larissa and Nic’s nephew mastered the skill. In his “dinosaur” wellies, with a jagged flap along the spine of boot, he galloped ahead, circled back and jumped in every puddle along the way.

For me, slipping on a pair of “wellies,” sloshing along the sublime English countryside and singing with our UK side of the family made me feel like a kid again.

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.

 

Endless Challenge Flying Internationally

For me, a seasoned traveler having lived abroad nearly half a century, air travel has never been more challenging. Especially internationally. Especially for mixed nationals.

I have lived in Europe so long, I may becoming one of those historic icons tourists love to visit!

 

With my savvy, I should be cool as a cucumber. Instead, I hyperventilate weeks before flying, knowing “what can go wrong will go wrong.” And more!

I have experienced every disruption possible except, thankfully, a plane crash.

Our latest travel saga started at the Delta counter at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport where we waited to check baggage for our return flight to Switzerland via Amsterdam. Due to a technological glitch between code sharing companies Delta (MSP hub), Air France (Paris hub) and KLM (Amsterdam hub), my husband’s luggage could not be registered even though we mastered check-in online 24 hours before without a hiccup.

“Sorry Mr. Lechault, our computer flagged your name in red with DO NOT ALLOW TO TRAVEL status”

The desk agent's colleague saw our distress and offered his assistance by staring at the screen another ten minutes.

“Call the manager,” he insisted.

The manager arrived repeated the identical process and demanded, “Call the supervisor.”

An hour later, a starting line up of aviation personnel glared at the computer in front of us, while behind us the line grew down the terminal and out the door.

I searched for more documentation to permit our authorization to board the plane. International travelers never go to a airport anywhere on the planet without the mandatory paperwork. (ie.birth certificate, marriage license,US tax payment proof, children’s birth records, COVID vaccination card)

Uh oh. Dual citizenship?

Bring French and American passport. Swiss residency card.

Do multi-nationals qualify for an extra carry-on bag to haul aboard aforementioned official documentation?

Whaaat? You want to see a valid driver’s permit?

In the event of unforeseeable, adverse circumstances, you want me to pilot this plane with a Minnesota vehicle license?

Finally we board. Seven hours later, our flight touches down on Schiphol tarmac “on schedule.”

“It took so long to reach the gate,” Gerald said. “It’s like we landed in Belgium and taxied across the border to the Netherlands.”

With only an hour to catch our KLM flight to Geneva, we anxiously fidgeted in line at the customs gate. At the booth, I presented my US passport.

“M’am how long will you be staying in Switzerland?”

“I live there,” I said.

“Then I must see a Swiss residency permit,” she said. I dug out the darn document, issued under my French citizenship, which aroused suspicion. “Where is your other passport?”

“Madame, enter only the US with American passport,” the Dutch border official stipulated,“When arriving in the Netherlands or any other European country (except the UK) you must present your European passport.”

Aiihh the last time, I was reprimanded for switching passports during transit. However, never argue with the official in front of you, even if you cannot understand rules that change overnight.

Starting in the near future (supposedly May 2025), American passport holders traveling to 30 European countries will need an authorization via the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).

This is similar to the ESTA requirement that the US has always demanded of European visitors. Tit for tat or part of the legitimate security regulations in ever increasing unsafe world.

We hurried to the boarding gate just before it closed. I flashed my ticket and French passport and slipped through the turnstile. As I headed down the tunnel, I heard,

“Pat, wait. I can’t fly!” my husband hollered on the other side of the gate. “My passport’s gone! I’m going back to see if I dropped it where we last stopped.”

Naturally traveling with me, our last stop was the ladies room.

As he sprinted back through the terminal, I searched the pouch of my old fashioned bum bag. (I know. Does anyone wear those anymore?)

Voila!

From my magic money belt, I retrieve not one, not two, but three passports.

How did Gerald’s passport jump in my fanny pack? I never carry his passport, credit cards, cell phone, wallet or keys. Never.

I dashed back through the terminal and smashed into my husband racing toward me.

“My passport is lost!”

“I found it!” I screamed, waving the priceless booklet like a billion dollar lottery ticket.

 

At last, we boarded the Geneva flight. Still, I wondered, what happens to the poor beleaguered passengers that lose passports in transit?

Could we apply for asylum in Amsterdam?

How long does it take to build a house in Holland?

International Family Reunion on the French Riviera

Family reunions across state lines may seem difficult, but imagine the complications trying to unite international ones like mine, living in 3 different countries. It is never easy for a French-Normand father and Norwegian-American mother sans home, in a mountain hut in Switzerland to meet up their Franco-American kids.

Our daughter settled in the land of 10,000 lakes. Our son married a pretty British-Irish-Ukrainian woman and moved to the countryside near Warwick, England. Recently, we united on the glamorous French Rivera. Whenever we gather, it is magical!

Our daughter flew to Europe for her spring vacation. We picked her up at the Geneva airport and drove south through France to La Croix-Valmer halfway between Le Lavandou and St. Tropez on the Cote D’Azur. Meanwhile, our son, Nic, and daughter-in-law, Larissa, flew to Nice from England to be with us.

Our Airbnb was perched on the cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea on the Blue Coast, one of the world’s most famous coastlines offering sunshine, blue skies and the sparkling sea.

We woke up in the morning to birds singing from flowering bushes and the famous umbrella trees so prolific in southern France and to a spectacular view of the Bay of Cavalaire and the islands.

Every day was a feast for the senses

Each meal was a party for the palate.

Every moment was a priceless celebration.

For breakfast, over coffee, we enjoyed pain au chocolat, pain au raisin and patisseries from the bakery down the hill. At lunch, we savored salads, while Nic scarfed down giant Dagwood sized sandwiches on fresh baguettes.

Every evening, Gerald, our favorite French chef, offered the region’s finest fare. One night, we savored succulent lamb with risotto, the next night we enjoyed a rib of beef with green beans and Lari’s rosemary baked potatoes. The last evening, we dined on a giant sea bass in white wine and lemon butter.

We started each dinner toasting one another with an aperitif of chilled Prosecco. We finished each meal with fresh fruits dipped in cream — currents, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, a go-go. One night we splurged and enjoy a rich chocolate lava cake. We are all confessed chocoholics.

How Nat endured sticking to gluten free diet everyday amazed me. Although, I am also gluten intolerant, I cheated every meal.

On sunny days, we hiked the rugged coastline, swam in the icy sea, read our Kindles and dozed on the beach.

On our last day, Nic hugged his big sister goodbye .

“See you soon,” he said. “Maybe this summer, maybe at Christmas, or maybe next year at this time?”

For us, family reunions can never be taken for granted. Surely, we must somehow make this first family trip a new tradition.

Who knows where or when we will meet up again? A Frenchman, Gerald, is only allowed to stay in the USA for 90 days, as a British citizen Lari, due to a quirk in rules had her ESTA revoked, will not be allowed to enter the states for a couple years.

I regret that we live so far apart in separate countries each with its’ own red tape. Yet, we are lucky to be open-minded enough to embrace one another cultures, to have the wherewithal to afford travel and the knowledge to navigate crazy rules limiting border crossing.

Even now with the conveniences of modern travel and connections of technology, many immigrants, like my Norwegian grandparents, never had the chance to return to their homelands, due to immigration status, political asylum rules, and economic constraints.

On the way to the airport, before flying back to England, our daughter-in-law, Larissa, bless her little cotton socks, insisted Gerald stop off to check out the local real estate, and begged him to buy a place in southern France for us to meet up regularly.

One way or another, in spite of the challenges, obstacles and inconveniences, we will gather together again, somewhere, some way, somehow.

I will move mountains to make it happen!

Because that’s what mom’s do.

Biarritz Coastal Resort Haven for Surfers

 

Biarritz Grande Plage

After living in Paris for years, I was well traveled to most parts of France, but I’d never set foot in her southwest, Biarritz topped my bucket list. Perched on the Atlantic cliff side near the Spanish border in the Basque Region, settlements around the city date back to prehistoric times. The Vikings invaded Gascony in 840 and created the first real village.

Economically dependent on the fishing trade, Biarritz was known for whaling from the 12th century. Napoleon III and his Spanish born wife, Eugenie, turned Biarritz into a popular seaside spot when they came for holidays starting in the mid 19th century.

Today, the ritzy coastal resort, with its elegant villas and epic Grand Palace glitter in Belle Epoque style, juxtaposes with the summer surfers crowd in their beach bum attire.

In the 1950’s, Biarritz became known as Europe’s surf capitol. Since then the city thrives on high tide when surfers from across the continent flock to the sea to ride the waves.

Fishing port

In the past, popular for its casinos, boutiques, bars, restaurants and golf courses, which catered to the rich, the surf community has now also invaded the coastline of Biarritz. Tucked along streets of early 1900s mansions, surfers live out of 60s style vans, cooking meals on electric coals set on the stone seawall, waiting for the water to rise and race to the sea.

overlooking La Côte des Basques

We rented an Airbnb apartment on the cliff-side above the Bay of Biscay and savored the panoramic view of the beach, the bay and the surfers that looked like shark fins from a distance.

As we meandered down narrow, winding streets that opened to La Cote Des Basques’ stunning overlook, we passed lithe surfers with boards slung under their arms or attached to their bikes. With their stereotypical trim builds and dreadlocks, wearing a dress-like coverups over their swim trunks, they were always ready to peel into wet-suits and hustle to the beach in time to hit high tide.

How they managed to ride the waves in winds so ferocious amazed me. I was knocked off my feet just wading along the beach.

All the outdoor exercise whet our appetites, and there was no end to eateries along the coast and in the village.

My husband, born on the coast of Normandy, adored the seafood platter including 5 different fish and prawns, mussels and clams in a saffron sauce served with a tasty, fruity local red wine. Food in the Basque Country is an explosion of flavors filled with spices from the inland.

Most eateries are a lively, colorful, warm reflection of the Basque people.

Biarritz's spectacular sea scenes combined with her succulent cuisine and welcoming ambiance will entice visitors to return.