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.

 

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.

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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Sun Is Out, Cows Moved Up, Spring is Here

After a arduous, cold, grey winter spring finally arrived in the mountains,
but it took its own sweet time getting here!

During our favorite mountain hike, the local farmer passed us on the dirt lane; he stopped and opened the back gate of his livestock truck. Then we watched spellbound, as a herd of cows raced across the verdant field in a moment of serendipity.

Have you ever seen cows run?

The herd acted as if they’d arrived at summer camp. The calves romped with joy like children let out of school for the holidays.

Rich grass, clean air, wide open spaces!

The desalpes, the famous folkloric parade of cows coming down the mountain in autumn is a well known Swiss celebration; however, few people witness the inalpes when cows come up to the Jura’s green pastures for the summer season of fine grazing.

As we hiked, we could see across to the far side of lake where the grey veil of winter lifted, revealing the majestic Alps etched against a heartbreaking sapphire sky. The mountains, in different shades of slate, appeared to bow down to Mont Blanc, the queen bejeweled in her sparkling white crown.

Daffodils waltzed in the wind, leaf buds popped open, buttercups shot up, forsythia burst into golden flame and dogwoods danced in their lacy, white petticoats. In valley below us, the lemon yellow rape seed contrasted with green wheat fields. Grape vines like gnarled, old arthritic hands reached toward the light. Pink and white blossoms exploded on the apple and cherry trees.

Under a splash of spring sunshine, blessings unfolded around me. Balancing with sticks, stumbling for footing, knees grinding like bad transmission, I was grateful to still be upright and walking. In my heart, I was dancing.

Hallelujah spring arrived!

Hiking in paradise

Rejoicing in the day.

Today…

Is always enough.

Why We Write

“The natural writer is the one who is always writing; if only in his head-sizing up a situation for material, collecting impressions.”

I seek out people to interview, new places to visit, stories to share, all the while feeling off balance and a bit loco.

“You develop an extra sense that partly excludes you from experience,” says Martin Amis. “Writers are not really experiencing things fully, 100%. They are always holding back and wondering what the significance is.”

“Every person who does serious time with the key board is attempting to translate his version of the world into words so that he might be understood. The great paradox of the writer’s life is how much time he spends alone trying to connect with other people.” (Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner p. 36)

That’s me in a nutshell. I struggle to experience everyday life in my various roles while capturing each milestone and new adventures on paper.

Looking back at my career, one reason I loved the game of basketball was because the fast pace and concentration needed to play prevented this dual existence. There was no time be an observer and participant. On the court, I had to be 100% engaged. The game demanded total focus of mind and body.

But off the court, stories pinged off my brain like pinballs.

In the car as a child on cross country vacations, I wrote stories about the plantations down south, the ranches out west and Victorian homes on the East coast. In college, I stretched out in the back of the campus station wagons on basketball road trips, and wrote character sketches of teammates in my mind. As a globetrotting, adult the sights outside the window of my plane, train, bus or car gave me ample material for stories.

As a student, I daydreamed so much, it’s a wonder I ever passed 1st grade.

Even during my teaching career, while standing in the field during PE lessons in Switzerland, my mind wandered to our mountain views where shepherds tended sheep in alpine meadows. Lost in reverie, I forgot to whistle off sides in soccer, out of bounds in field hockey or strikes in softball, until a student complained forcing me back to reality.

To be in the moment is hard for a writer.

I am torn between the different cultural, geographical and the physical worlds of Switzerland, France and the USA, and also from the emotional, imaginary one of living life and recording it simultaneously.

Writing keeps me grounded. I process life through words. During fleeting moments, my purpose becomes crystal clear as I search my path, stumbling over obstacles along the way. In writing, I lose myself. Like playing basketball, I enter “the zone,” without the euphoria.

After writing, I am spent. My fingers cramp. My shoulders ache. My back throbs. I need to stretch my limbs frozen to the chair.

Writing is a constant battle of wills between the creative brain and the logical one. Why spend so much time doing something that brings no financial rewards and few emotional ones?

I swear off practicing my art, stop typing, lock up in writer’s block. Inevitably, I eventually return to the blank page because not writing is even more excruciating.

My shelves are full of memoir, novel and screenplay drafts. Without writing my life seems meaningless. Only in the retelling, can I comprehend the raw experiences of my soul.

Writing unleashes the mystery in our human existence.

But damned if it doesn’t drive me crazy.

Boxes, crammed with thousands of pages of newspaper articles, unfinished manuscripts, half bake books and segments of stories, ferment like a compost pile under my bed.

Why bother?

Language links us. Writer friends, please continue to put your muse to paper; reader friends, thank you a thousand times for keeping connected. Without readers do I exist?

I write, therefore, I am.