How was your Summer Holiday?

IMG_4546Every September the favorite back to school topic is how was your summer holidays? Holiday? I spent my summer at our family cabin in Wisconsin running a resort and preparing meals for a dozens of hungry “campers” who thought they were at the Club Med of the Northwoods. It seemed like when we weren’t hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing, and eating we were recovering from hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing and eating.

We never saw the bear, but we sure had lots of other excitement: one sever allergic reaction, an episode of vertigo, a tick bite, an acute lumbar spine injury, a broken toe, 2 herniated disks, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis elbow, and an infected bite from an unidentified creature. Thankfully these ailments did not befall the same person.

We were so lucky to have access to free medical advice. When in doubt call Dr. Nat.

“I am a pediatrician,” she repeated, “and I hate to break it you, but you are all over the age of 18.”

Ah, the blessing of having a doc in the family. “I’ll tell you what I told you the last time you called. Go to urgent care or check with your general practitioner!”

So we learned that if you call 911 on one of those old-fashioned land phones, the rescue squad could locate a cabin hidden back in the woods with only a fire lane number.

Ze Frenchman, the only one who ignored the doctor’s advice, waited to seek treatment until the bite on his shoulder morphed into an abscess the size of a turnip requiring minor surgery and major antibiotic intervention.

We also had a lot of back injuries. Fortunately, we are blessed with a first rate chiropractor, Dr.Dave. Unfortunately, he moved his practice 50 miles further north to Eagle River.

It seemed like every day someone had a chiro appointment, so we switched in names of patients depending on whose pain was greatest.

“I twinged my back,” Nic said, “but right now my toe hurts worse. I dropped a weight on it.”

Dr. Dave was surprised to see our son, who lives in Minneapolis, limp through the door.

“Doc, you always know we’ll be bringing a bus load from Summit Lake,” I said. “You just never know who’ll be on the bus.”

In between our ambulance rides, urgent care visits and doctors appointments, we had a blast.

We had birthday celebrations for my dad, my sister, and my niece. We threw a wonderful party for my mom’s 80th. We toasted my sister’s retirement, my siblings wedding anniversaries and our daughter’s first official day on the job.

You know those Frenchman; they never pass up an opportunity to raise a glass in good cheer.

And surprisingly, on the coldest summer on record, we ran out of ice every day because we were nursing so many injuries.

But hey, no one is complaining. When friends and colleagues asked about our summer holidays we tell them, “It was great!”

When we look back on our Summit Lake summer, we forget the aches and pains; all we remember is the love and laughter.

So, do tell, how was your summer holiday?

Step into Wellness with Walking Sticks

IMG_0191_copyMy dad, a former All American athlete, teacher and coach, has always maintained an active lifestyle and tried to stay in shape. In the past, he recovered from heart and hip surgery by walking regularly. Though his neuropathy has gotten progressively worse, he is not one to sit still, so I gave him walking sticks for his 83rd birthday and told him to set the trend in Sterling.

Since the 1930s, Nordic walking has been used as a means for cross country skiers to train during the summer months because it closely simulated the same movement. However it wasn’t until the late 90’s that pole walking or ski walking took off around the world.

When the activity first originated in Finland, people called it “dementia walking” because people thought walkers forgot their skis. The craze once laughed off as foolish nonsense has gone global. An estimated 3 million people practice pole walking regularly. Since 2004 over a fifth of the Finish population take part in the sport. http://www.onwf.org/

Now doctors are aboard, agreeing that it is one of the best forms of cardiovascular workout because it uses all muscle groups. They also recommend that it is ideal for those in cardiac recovery.

  • Engages 90% of your body’s muscle
  • Increases heart rate
  • Burns more calories than ordinary walking
  • Trims the waistline
  • Improves posture
  • Takes pressure off the feet, knees and back
  • Proven to lower Body Mass Index in 12 weeks

Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning forms the core of the workout. Nordic walking requires muscular endurance, balance, range of motion, agility, coordination, efficiency of movement, and visual acuity. Pole walkers must focus forward not down, which helps improve posture. Some experts argue that ski walking provides more health benefits than walking, biking, jogging or running.

According to an article in American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2013, “studies conducted by NCBI National Library of Medicine show that Nordic walking exerts beneficial effects on resting heart rate, blood pressure, exercise capacity, maximal oxygen consumption, and quality of life in patients with various diseases and can thus be recommended to a wide range of people as primary and secondary prevention.”IMG_0189_copy

In the mountain villages one can see hikers of all ages using walking sticks. In our fitness courses, we teach Nordic walking to our high school students. It is particularly popular with long distance athletes whose joints can no longer take the pounding. When I told my friend Tina, an x runner, about it she immediately joined the movement.

Accolades aside, Nordic walking’s best health benefit is helping maintain a long, active life.

So, what are you waiting for? What better way to invest in your future?IMG_20140816_162919_901_copy

Join Grandpa Jim and get fit.

Viva La French Diet- Live to Eat and Lose Weight

15999751-french-iconssetAmerican women have long envied svelte, sophisticated French women who indulge in forbidden culinary pleasures yet remain slender. The French, who savor high fat chocolates, high cholesterol cheeses and high priced wine, to boot, should be role models for the rest of the world. Ironically, the society that lives to eat could set health trends. French focus wholeheartedly on food.

A French dinner party conversation is a lesson in verb conjugation. The discussion revolves around what is being eaten in present tense, what was eaten in the past and what will be eaten at the next millennium. Mealtime is still sacred. So much emphasis on food makes one less likely to eat anything, any time of day. Snacking is limited to once a day at 4 pm sharp. La gouter, which means taste, not gobble, not gorge, gives one permission to sample a sweet or savory treat.

French females remain lean by running the country, flitting from one chore to another, while balancing precariously on high heels. Not only do they work full-time, they collect the children from school, buy baguettes daily, and pick up fresh produce in open markets. They take time to fondle tomatoes, pummel melons, and squeeze nectarines testing for ripeness. They wait in line to order fresh cut chops, but butchers beware. No wrath is greater than that of a French woman’s who has been sold poor quality cuts of meat. French women are never more demanding than during transactions dealing with food.

The French savor foods with full flavor that pack a punch, pungent cheese that singe nose hair, Dijon mustard that puts hair on the chest, and coffee, so strong, that hair spikes straight up.10127676-cheese-composition

It is not so much what the French eat, but what they don’t eat. Deep-fried meats and fish, chips and crackers and our beloved sandwich are taboo overseas. Serving size does matter. Crackers, sold in tiny, palm-sized mini boxes are nibbled, but only at the aperitif. Petit fours, pinky sized tarts, éclairs and cakes are served in bite-sized pieces for dessert.

Petit aptly describes the French and their serving sizes. Food is served in mini courses on plates ascending in size from doll-sized saucers to starters to entries on full size dinnerware. Then the plates shrink again up to the grand finale, a sculpted dessert that leaves most of the plate empty for artistic effect.

Serving food in courses forces the diner to slow down. The traditional French meal lasts hours. A dozen plates will have been used for each place setting. By the time the first courses have been eaten, the brain will have hit the snooze button and no longer send those subliminal messages calling for cookies, cakes and ice cream.

The French are also major producers and consumers of yogurt and milk based products. Laitage is a standard dessert and there are 100 different varieties of puddings and yogurt products. The French got it right again. Recent studies prove calcium consumption reduces weight.

Chocolate, too, has gotten a bum rap in the past. Now the propensities of chocolate are being tooted for health benefits. The darker the chocolate, the fewer calories and more of those mood-boosting endorphins. French women adore chocolate, but rather than devouring the whole bar, they only indulge in one piece of rich, high calorie, ultra dark chocolate from a fancy box that costs more than my mortgage.

Another anomaly, whereas beer-guzzling Americans put on beer bellies, French wine drinkers remain lean and studies show that imbibing improves health. Red wine is beneficial for the heart, helps lower cholesterol and aids digestion.7992041-assortment-of-baked-bread-on-wood-table

Darned if those cultivated, French connoisseurs haven’t gotten the best of us of again.

Their savoir-faire and appetite for pleasure “à une bonne table” created a lifestyle where wellness is assured by living to eat right.

Loving Football – Catching Brazil’s World Cup Fever

brazilian-soccer-fans-commemorating-group-happy-victory-flag-background-34849799Born in the U.S.A., the only football I knew growing up was the one where men wearing girdles wrestled over an oval pigskin on the gridiron in a sport that excluded girls. The game Americans refer to as soccer and the rest of the world calls football was not popular in the States.

But when I moved abroad, I fell in love with the other football. My German basketball club teammates taught me how to play. I loved chasing the round ball down an open field as my appreciation and understanding of the game evolved. In international schools where I worked, I even officiated PE class games where students “explained” in no uncertain terms how to call offside.

Whether I was living in France, Germany or Switzerland, once every four years, the planet stopped spinning on its axis during the World Cup Football Championship. Shops close early, giant screens light up, and riots break out as world cup frenzy hits the streets. In Switzerland roadways are blocked because the game is on the big screen in Geneva’s central square, in France traffic halts for merrymakers spilling onto the Champs-Elysées and in Germany a 100,000 fans erupt in joy by the Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.football fans

With 3.3 -3.5 billion fans and played by 250 million players around the globe, football is the world’s most popular sport. Requiring virtually no equipment, football can be played anywhere from the favellas of Rio de Janeiro to the slums of India.

At its inception in 1930, the 1st world cup, held in Uruguay, included only 13 invited teams. Today, teams battle across every continent to qualify for the 32-team tournament.

National victories become political statements reflecting global tensions. The World Cup was not held in 1942 during WWII or in its devastating aftermath in 1946.The 1954 world cup, held in Switzerland, was the first to be televised, which brought unprecedented marketing opportunities.

Brazil estimates to bring home $11 billion from 600,000 tourists and 3 million Brazilians in attendance, however financial experts are skeptical. South Africa showed a reverse effect where countries are harmed economically from hosting the event. Brazil’s hosting has been controversial from the get go with protests breaking out daily. Should a country with such a great poverty level be hosting a billion dollar event making stadiums that cost hundreds of million dollars?

As with any sporting event involving big bucks, controversy follows suit. Rumors of official bribes and FIFAs questionable tactics abound. And for the first time ever, a player was suspended for biting an opponent when in the heat of battle Uruguay’s Louis Suarez chomped down on the shoulder his Italian opponent. Seriously?

National pride escalates with each victory, boosting ratings of the leadership in countries that advance to the next round. Team affinity becomes extreme, but with my own personal ties to several countries, I am content when USA, France, Germany, Switzerland, or any Scandinavian country wins. Though I would never admit to my French family, I was the only one who wasn’t too disappointed when France lost to Germany in the quarterfinals. With fond memories of my time in living in Marburg, I still feel loyalty to the country that once hosted me.

With youth soccer clubs booming, I am tickled to see that America finally caught the football bug. Germany's Mueller challenges goalkeeper Howard of the U.S. during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match at the Pernambuco arena in RecifeUSA advancement to the final sixteen and goalie Tim Howard’s stellar performance versus Belgium put USA on the map in world football scene.

Politics, money and fan violence aside, football at its purest level, is good, clean fun. During the tournament, boys and girls around the globe fill sandlots, dead end streets, and empty fields, running around, kicking balls, juggling their own World Cup dreams.

Confessions of a T-shirt Junky

IMG_4503_copySpring cleaning forced me to fess up. I am an addict. My vice – T-shirts. Think I am kidding? I cleared out my cupboards and counted 92 cotton shirts.  I hoard them, savoring the memories they evoke.

My collection includes styles with or without collars, long, short or no sleeve, light shirts, tight shirts, baggy shirts, depending on the era representing colors of every season. Not only the standard, red, white, blue, oh no, my stock includes magenta, turquoise, olive, plum, aquamarine, cornflower, cerise, burnt sienna, pink sherbet, electric lime, shirts in more shades than found in a giant box of Crayolas.

I lack fashion sense, yet my shirt assemblage rivals Imelda Marco’s shoe collection.

I am loath to part these treasures; T-shirts tell the story of my life.

In my closet, I found shirts labeled McKinzie-Smith Basketball Camp, dating back to the early 80’s when Phil and I started the first girls’ basketball camp in the Sauk Valley area. I also have my favorite college basketball T-shirt designed by the point guard who helped me break scoring records with her right-on-the-money passes.IMG_4505_copy

In the attic, I discovered the family heirlooms – my dad’s old gray Sterling High School Phys Ed shirt and my grandpa’s gold and maroon Eureka College Football Staff polo shirt.  I have T-shirts with photographs commemorating my son’s Swiss National Championship team and my daughter’s All-Star high school team. I’ve never worn them because I didn’t want the pictures to fade. Who could pitch those?

I uncovered decade’s worth of T-shirts from the various International Sport Schools Tournaments. Each shirt listed participating teams from Athens, Frankfurt, Brussels and Paris to other cosmopolitan cities across Europe. As a coach, I traveled to destinations most people only dream of. Every shirt reminded me not only the championship games, but of the landmarks visited: Manneken Pis Statue (Boy Peeing Statue) in Brussels, Hofbrau Haus in Munich, Acropolis in Athens, boardwalks in The Hague, canals of Venice. I still have t-shirts from the teams I played on in France and Germany.

On another shelf, I uncovered souvenir shirts from family vacations to the Badlands and the Grand Canyon and from the tag-a-long trips when we followed our kids’ teams competing at Daytona Beach, in San Diego’s Surf & Slam and up and down the mountains in the Swiss Championship.

I still faithfully wear one of the dozen UWSP basketball t-shirts on game day, even though my daughter graduated from there nearly a decade ago.

Another series of T-shirts bear the emblems of the American School of Paris and International School of Geneva where I have taught for the past decades.

No one helps me kick the habit. My two Big Kids, taller and buffer, feed my obsession by giving me their out grown, hand-me-downs to add to my stockpile.

A college teammate used to proclaim a dessert of the year; well I have a shirt of the year. The 2014 award winner is a mesh, white Nike T-shirt inscribed with the women’s basketball Redbird logo that my coach gave me when she drove UWSP to hear me speak at the NCAA Final Four banquet.

My lil’ sis once promised, “when I retire I will make you a quilt out of all your favorite T-shirts.”IMG_4502_copy

Well, Karen, could you hurry up and retire. We are running out of storage space.

From Athlete to Doctor: Congratulations Nat

Nat's white coat ceremony  11-17-07 010

with cousin Marie

Over a decade after embarking on this journey, my daughter celebrated her official end to residency. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there. Nor was I there when she graduated with honors from UWSP or for her White Coat Ceremony. She was only 5-years-old, the last time that I could help her with anything science related; I read aloud for the umpteenth time her favorite book about blood cells. Even her high school bio and chemistry was over my head. Where did the interest in science come from? There are no doctors in the family.

Yet she moved 4,000 miles away from home and stepped up to each challenge the medical field threw at her: MCAT exams, med school applications, interviews, boards. Do the math: 4 years undergrad, 4 years medical school, 3 years residency, rotating between dozens of different departments in a dozen different hospitals and clinics. What kind of commitment and resiliency sees one through such a grueling ordeal?

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the wild bunch

When I was growing up, I didn’t know any female doctors, lawyers or pro basketball players.
I carved my own path to become a pro athlete, then raised my daughter to believe she could do anything she put her mind to. When I was invited to UWSP to speak about women’s sports, they also asked Nat to share how Title IX and her experiences as a student athlete impacted her academic career.

“In 1970, less than 8% of physicians were women,” Nat said when she spoke with me at UWSP’s celebration hosting the 2014 NCAA Basketball Final Four Tournament. “My med school class at the University of Minnesota was about 50% female. Though I’ve faced sexism, both as an athlete and as a physician, I’m privileged to have grown up at a time where my gender was not a major handicap to pursuing my dreams. Title IX played a big part.”

I’d like to think that I taught her something worthwhile in the gym. Teams teach people skills. Yet none of her athletic experiences could prepare her for 70-80 hour weeks often caring for critically and sometimes terminally ill children.

“The theme of my personal statement for residency was coaching, and how it taught me to interact with kids and speak their language, a skill that I use every day as a pediatrician,” Nat said. “I use my history as an athlete to build rapport with my patients, whether it’s commiserating with an overachieving high school senior about the difficulties of balancing sport and school, or challenging the child who’s stuck in the hospital waiting for a transplant to a game of H.O.R.S.E. on a plastic hoop in his room.”

“Today, I’m still part of a team working towards a common goal, but instead of a
point guard and a post player, my teammates are nurses and doctors and patients’
parents,” she added. “The stakes are a lot higher, the losses so much greater. My job is incredibly rewarding, but it is also difficult.”

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that collegiate athletics prepared me for the challenges of residency; there’s no way it could have. Staying up for 30 hours straight managing critically ill patients makes preseason look easy. The pressure of trying to make a free throw at the end of the game is nothing compared to the pressure of trying to make the right decision when you have a life in your hands. And no experience, on or off the court,
can prepare you to sit down with the parents of the child you’ve been fighting to keep
alive and tell them that there’s nothing more you can do.”

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with supporting team: uncle Dick and aunt Karen

“But what I do credit sports for, is teaching me to persevere. It’s on the basketball
court that I first learned that you don’t quit when things get tough. That when you’ve
made a commitment to your teammates, you owe it to them to follow through. That
when someone knocks you down, you better get right back up and keep playing.”

Right on. Doctors have to persist in the face of the greatest loss.

Though I regretted I wasn’t able to attend the U of M class of 2014s celebratory dinner, I was grateful her Mama Dos was standing in. With a hot meal, my sister, Karen, and brother-in- law, Dick, transplanted Minnesotans, helped restore her broken spirit after every set back.

As Nat concluded, “Those lessons learned on the playing field are valuable to every girl, whether she grows up to be a professional athlete or a doctor or a teacher or a stay-at-home mom, because regardless of what she chooses to do with her life, there will be challenges. And, to quote Nelson Mandela, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

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“little” brother Nic and cousin Hannah

Stand up and stand tall as you embark on your medical career. A pediatrics clinic in the Minneapolis area is gaining one extraordinary doctor.  And, from afar, your dad and I raised our glass to one extraordinary daughter.