Having Fun Hanging Out with Swiss cows

 

cows alongside a stone wall in the Jura mountainsHow do I survive autumn stuck in an unheated, mountain chalet the size of a doll house? I scoot out the door and head for the meadows to hang with the cows.

Cows are sacred in Switzerland. They are so revered that every year they get invited to summer camp in the Swiss Jura and Alps. Up in the mountains, the grass is greener offering a smorgasbord of over a hundred different herbs and grasses.

According to the Federal Office for Agriculture, 270,000 cows march from their valley farms to the mountains every summer, only to hike back down again in autumn.

cows pasture in the Jura mountainsCows make good neighbors. While their giant cowbells jangle with a comforting ring, they graze in mountain pastures creating that postcard alpine landscape that is so much a part of Swiss heritage.

Dairy farmers herd their cattle high with enticing incentives. They make better money from the 4,000 tons of aromatic “Alp cheese” produced annually from the milk of their livestock. The government also rewards farmers with a subsidy of around CHF 400 ($412) per cow to take their cattle up the mountain each summer.

Every year the desalpe draws crowds in the villages. This year from our window, we watched herds, decorated in flowered wreaths, parade down “main street,” the highway through La Givrine Mountain pass connecting France and Switzerland. Unfortunately, rain spoiled the mood and the cows misbehaved by breaking line to munch a last bite of grass before returning to the valley.

cows desalpe in Saint-Cergue, Jura mountains

I thought I was ultra fit from hiking up and down, but those Swiss cows have me beat. For their journey in our Jura region, they climb about 600 meters (1,900 feet) and cover 16.3 kilometers (10.1 miles) or more on steep, serpentine trails. In the Alps, some go twice as high.

cows stroll in the Jura

Tourists would be surprised to see cows meandering freely from one meadow to the next without enclosures. Cows have the priority. Hikers must heed way. Accidents rarely occur, as long as walkers don’t bother the animals or step between a mother and her calf.

In some areas, signs warn “Beware of Bulls.”

On one occasion, on one of our favorite walks, we faced off with an angry bull protecting his free roaming herd of mama cows and their newly born calves.

The beast squared off in front of us, snorting and swinging his giant balls, so we turned around and hightailed it back to the village.

The next day, we stopped a farmer to ask, “What should we do if we come cross a bull on the path?”

“Usually they are used to people, “ he told us. “For 5 months every summer, my wife and I come up here with our herd. In 25 cows offensive lineyears, we have never had one incident or complaint, but you never know for sure.”

That said, the animals can be intimidating.

Later on that same day, a herd of cows clustered in front of the gate we had to cross to get out. Like the farmer suggested, my fearless hubby prodded the cattle out of our way with my walking stick. Then we walked through the epic stone fence to reach the path.

But when I turned around, a fierce line of bell-clanging cows stood shoulder to should, glaring at us like an NFL front line.

Most of the time though, the cows are so tame, they graciously pose for photos and make me feel like a cow whisperer.star cows posing

What Can Go Wrong? Dream House Never Gets Built

So many people, who know of our dream to build a house in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland, keep asking, “How is the new house coming along?”

It’s not.

What could go wrong? A home that builders promised to finish last April that I called, “our plot” remains like it sounds - a hole in the ground (well in our case a chunk carved out of a mountainside).

The building area resembles a construction site with rocks, dirt, foundation, a crane, but no roof, no walls, no windows. The plans sold to us showed a beautiful complex of three triplex homes housing 9 different families.

Each of the 9 owners-to-be has been promised a June 2022 delivery at the very latest.We now have been given 3 floating dates depending on the buildings. The only positive outcome of this mess is that we have gotten to know our future neighbors. Over irate, disgruntled coffee klatches, we rant about the lies we’ve been told and the alarming lack of progress.

No one in their wildest dreams could fathom this kind of screw up in a country as well organized and efficient at Switzerland where hardly a train runs late.
Part of it may be due the international nature of living here.

To fill you in on the background, the property, owned by a Scotsman who lives in the chalet above the land, bought it for peanuts 40 years ago and sold it for a fortune. At first, he put a credible Swiss architect firm in charge with whom buyers signed contracts.

For unknown reasons, the Scotsman took the Swiss company off the project and put a small construction company in charge where everyone speaks Serbo-Croatian.

“You’re in trouble!” my Serbian friend laughed and explained, “They work on Serbian time, everything will always be late.”

The Scotsman signed a different deal with the original Swiss architect company to oversee the end result, but no longer have any role in the day to day operation. Consequently, the small builder oversees his own progress.

Yet the Swiss company, who retains a 15% cut on all additional costs, legally must assure that the project is completed. With 3 different entities involved in the deal, responsibility has been passed hand to hand like a hot potato. No one communicates to the buyers what is really going on.

The results: one building has siding and a roof, but no interior finishing, another building has a foundation, ground floor walls, and a third of the siding on the second floor, and our building remains a cement foundation.

We were supposed to be the first structure built until engineers decided that our home, on a level above the other two, must be constructed last to keep the mountain from collapsing on the other two.

See why we are worried?

By renting our rustic chalet in the same village, we can easily check on progress or lack there of. At the end of September, in a meeting with all 3 parties, they promised my husband that our home would be ready by the end of April 2023. Our neighbors, in building two, were told they would be in theirs by Christmas 2022, but winter is coming and when the first snow falls all work stops.

When we walked by the premises recently, we were alarmed to see partially finished buildings, an idle crane, but no workers or building supplies on site. We surmised that the builders ran into major delays in attaining the prefab wood siding panels ordered from a company in Slovenia.

How insane is this scenario?

A friendly Scotsman sells a piece of land to a reputable Swiss architect company with whom we signed contracts. Then the switcheroo - a Serbian building company, owned by a British firm in London, takes charge of construction with materials ordered from Slovenia. Global efficiency ?

As the clock ticks, the tab grows greater with owners paying more on all interior fixtures due to price increase. Owners are also paying rising interest rates on Swiss bank home loans. We paid extra American (as well as Swiss) taxes on our “virtual” home. We also pay a rent and storage fees for a full year longer than budgeted.

Right now, no ones lives in their “dream house” except a local gang of druggies, who discovered that the site is a great place to hang out and get high.

Stay tuned! Oh the joys of the ex-pat life.

Dancing Down Memory Lane to Mixed Tapes – Remember Those?

Dancing down memory lane through my eclectic collection of music, I revisit my past. When I was a kid, my sisters spend babysitting money on clothes, I saved my pennies to buy the latest Marvin Gaye album. Remember the old vinyl?

From turn tables, to Walkmans, to boom boxes, from albums to tapes to CDs, all replaced today by iPhones, blue tooth, sound box. Who could ever forget the old juke box? The delivery system may change, but no one can replace the hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Anyone else foolishly carry their life halfway around the world in a suitcase filled with mixed tapes?

Remember these artists? Teddy Pendergrass, Bill Withers, Grover Washington, Jr., Barry White, George Benson. How about the Temptations, the Supremes, the Isley Brothers? Can anyone surpass the smooth groove of Motown’s stars?

While I chased my hoop dreams, a bouncing ball became the background beat of my growing up years. Has any other game matched so well to music?

From my Illinois State University warm up songs like Le Freak C’est Chic and Give Me The Night, rhythm fueled my basketball dreams. My boom box followed me to French, German and Swiss sports halls.

My daughter laughs when she reminisced about how we used to dance around the living room in Paris to Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach.

“Mom did you ever questioned if it was appropriate to be singing about teenage pregnancy to a 7-year-old?”

Oh how we loved Kelly Rowland before and after Destiny’s Child split up.

My portable stereophonic sound system came to Europe. Each squad I played on or coached selected favorite warm up songs that became part of their identity. My tape collection included American soul, German rock, French pop. Listening to old tunes flooded me with memories me of players and coaches, friends and places.

During my coaching days in Paris and then in Geneva, Switzerland, athletes made me special CDs for each season. Later generations set up play lists on iPhones. Each summer in the states, my friend sent me off with homemade mixed tapes and introduced me to female vocalists like Patti LaBelle and Anita Baker.

R n B and soul - Alisha Keyes, Ella Mai, Janelle Monae, Mary J. Blige - remain my favorites today. Taste in music is a unique as one’s palette for food.

Influenced by friends on my journey, my best friend Phil taught me how to play guitar, a boyfriend in DC added rock n roll to my repertoire, I learned a bit of jazz from a French musician in Paris and folk songs from German buddies. The souvenirs of places, people and languages filled me with a warm glow of mellow vibes.

To relearn how to play guitar after my accident, I needed to listen to lessons I had preserved on “antique cassettes”. I ordered a Walkman on Amazon. Stock depleted! I was not the only one reliving musical flashbacks.

When my Walkman arrived in the mail, I felt like a kid at Christmas, but it took a half of day to figure out how to make sound come out of it. MP3 players? Have I been under a rock? What is a MP3 player?

Strolling along with my Walkman, I imitate the motion of dribbling a ball between my legs, spinning, and feigning a jump shot, remembering when my limbs moved effortlessly and my mind wandered aimlessly filled with dreams.

Favorite songs soothe the pain from injury, illness, and heartache.

Music magically transports us back in time and inspires us to keep moving forward.

Farewell to my First Coach – My Dad, My Hero

Dad was my lighthouse, guiding me ashore when lost in life’s stormy sea. He died on August 8, 2022 just nine days shy of his 91st birthday. Without him I drift bereft.

My dad and I shared a special bond made stronger through a love of sports and our fierce determination to overcome obstacles.

My athleticism was a genetic gift; my fighting spirit part of the McKinzie bloodline.

Growing up, I never appreciated his athletic talents. He never boasted about his own accolades, but was always the first to applaud others’ achievements.

As a college athlete at Northern Illinois State University, he was a 3 sport division I athlete and MVP in 2 major sports. He was inducted into the NIU hall of fame three times, as an individual player and as a team member in the 1951 football and baseball teams. He was part of the NIU Century Basketball Team and Decade “50’s” football team.  As a coach, he was also inducted into the Sterling High School Hall of Fame and the Illinois Basketball Coaches’ Association Hall of Fame.

But he remained humble. His passion lay in helping others achieve their goals. He impacted countless young lives in his role as an educator, coach, and mentor.

He will be remembered for his kindness, generosity, tolerance, humor and compassion for the underdog. He treated everyone equally regardless of class, age, ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliation or gender identity. He also advocated for women’s right to participate in sports in the infancy of Title IX.

Fondly remembered as ‘Papa Mac’ for leading his daughter Karen and her “Golden Girl” teammates to the first girls State Basketball Championship in 1977, he also guided the 1979 third place and 1980 Elite 8 girls state basketball teams.

And he coached me.

At a time when women’s sports was taboo, his guidance made me an outstanding pioneer basketball player — one of the 1st female athletic scholarship recipients at Illinois State University, professional players in the USA and American women to play in Europe.
In one of our last visits, we reminisced about the hours we spent shooting baskets. I re-enacted how he taught me to drop into 3 point football stance and run a v-slant pattern with my fingertips stretched to the sky, ready to catch his perfect spiral pass.

“You also taught me how to swing a baseball bat, serve a volleyball, swish a hook shot!”

“I betcha I taught you all the ball games,” dad said and chuckled.

“You also showed me how to balance a check book, change a flat tire, catch a fish, ride a bike, drive a car.”

“You were a good learner,” he told me.

“You were the best teacher.”

Just ask his former campers at Camp Neyati Wisconsin or the hundreds of students and athletes whose lives he touched in his 35 year teaching/coaching — basketball, football, baseball, track — career. He served as a pillar of the community, a brick in the foundation of Sterling High School.

My dad, a man of integrity, walked the talk. He saw the best in each of us and then coached it out of us.

How many of his former students and athletes went on to dedicate their lives to teaching and coaching?

Like my grandfather, and my father, when my playing career ended, I became an ambassador of the game. I guided athletes on the global arena teaching and coaching 33 yrs in Europe. I passed on not only dad’s basketball expertise, but also his philosophy of life.

In a ripple effect, my dad’s ethos — honesty, acceptance and fair play — echoed around the world when my former international players returned to their passport countries to advocate for social justice.

Dad, I wish I could play my guitar for you one last time.

“I can’t sing on key to save my life,” dad would say as he whistled along.

You may not have had a musical bone in your body, dad, but your life was a rhapsody. Your spirit united the chorus of humanity.

You were a gifted artist.

Whether teaching city boys to appreciate nature at Camp Neyati, counseling teens on the playing fields and in the classrooms, painting landscapes for loved ones, or writing a letters of encouragement, your work comforted us all.

A hug from you could lift a soul for a lifetime.

As I reflect back on how hard it was to stand after my accidents, I hear your voice inspiring me to walk again. Whenever I hike the Swiss mountains or wander Wisconsin’s Northwoods, I remember you.

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Every breath I take, every step I make, every word I speak, every kindness I share, I think of you.

Your light shines eternally as we offer our guidance to the next generation while whistling your song in our hearts.

You left the best kind of legacy.

Your love lives on.

A Memorial Service will be hosted on Sunday, August 28th at the Schilling Funeral Home in Sterling (visitation11-2 PM and service 2 PM.)   In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations be made in his name to Jim & Lenore McKinzie Scholarship Fund care of Sterling-Rock Falls Community Trust, (Midland States Bank, 302 1st Ave, Sterling, Il 61081) to help a deserving student going into education or to the  Sterling Schools Foundation (510 East Miller Rd, Sterling, Il 61081 www.sterlingschoolsfoundation.org

Cards to Lenore McKinzie 1424 W. 21st St. 61081 Sterling, IL USA

Illinois State University Celebrates Title IX 50th

As a girl, I was stuck on the sideline, watching boy’s basketball games, hoping that the ball would roll out of bounds so I could throw it back into play. I never fathomed girls would be allowed on center court one day.

50 years ago on June 23, 1972, Title IX passed. The federal civil rights law prohibited sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that received federal funding.

It opened doors to places I never knew existed.

Pillars of ISU Melinda Fischer, Linda Herman, Jill Hutchison

Illinois State University's legendary coaches, Linda Herman (30 plus years as esteemed volleyball coach and administrator) and Jill Hutchison (28 years at the helm of women’s basketball and also a successful international level coach) among others, played a major role in Title IX’s passage and assured its implementation for female athletes.

This June 25, 2022, ISU led the nation again by honoring the pioneers in its Title IX 50th Anniversary Celebration.

In 1976, I was one of the first females to be awarded an athletic scholarship to ISU. Back then, I didn’t even know what a scholarship was. No one realized the profound impact Title IX would have on our lives.

Today young female athletes grow up dreaming of being recruited and receiving athletic scholarships and all its perks just like their male counterparts.

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During my visit back to the ISU campus for the first time in decades, I was blown away by the accommodations for female Redbird athletes including the opportunity to prepare in the state of the art Jill Hutchison Women’s Basketball Locker Room and play in Redbird Arena, 10, 200 seat capacity.

Many athletes of the current generation never heard of Title IX nor appreciate how we got here. ISU reminded us of the sacrifices in our journey by honoring the pioneers who paved the way

Linda and Jill opened the event by narrating a video of outlining the development of women’s collegiate sport back from the days when women sewed their own uniforms and drove campus station wagons cross country to compete until present times.

We heard firsthand how Title IX shaped the lives of ISU alumni like basketball star Cathy Boswell, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, to Jaci McCormick, a Native American player from the Nez Perce Reservation. Jaci went on to co found Rise Above, an organization that uses basketball to promote wellness on reservations.

Speakers also included Melinda Fischer, a former 3 sport athlete, basketball and softball coach with the winningest record at ISU and in the Missouri Valley Conference and Angie Taylor, who after a record-setting career in track and field became an illustrious international and collegiate coach. She also developed programs for Nigerian track and field teams.

Still others on the panel shared how they took the foundation and philosophy built at ISU and passed it on as coaches and administrators.

I was humbled and honored to be invited to speak and the share the stage with these legends. Most of you who follow my column know my story.

Basketball took me from ISU, to the women’s first pro league (WBL), to France, Germany and Switzerland. In the late 70s, the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) failed, but we helped give birth to the WNBA in 1996.

After my American pro team went bankrupt, I flew to Paris as one of the 1st American women in European Basketball League, playing first in France and then in Germany.

When my player’s career ended instantly in a car accident abroad, I became a teacher and coach at international schools. For the next 3 decades I served as an ambassador of the game in Europe, guiding athletes from around the globe, first in France, then in Switzerland.

“No person in the United States shall,

on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in,

be denied the benefits of, or be subjected

to discrimination under any education program

or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Many of the players I coached pursued higher degrees before returning to their homelands to fight for social justice.

When I was a kid, women were banned from the playing fields. I didn’t know any female doctors, lawyers or CEOs.

We fought for the right to play ball and paved the way for our high-flying daughters today.

My own daughter, who I coached in Switzerland, came to USA where she played in a DIII Final 4 for UWSP, studied 11 years and reached her dream to become a pediatrician.

Many of our present day contemporaries never heard our history. I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball, to give a voice to the silent generation of women who battled so hard for the rights we have today.

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Jill and Linda and other dedicated pioneers put together an amazing weekend to celebrate our past, to educate, and to inspire the next generation.

We can’t know who we are if we don’t know where we came from.

We are indebted to women who came before us .

From the sideline to Showtime! Thanks to Title IX, a girl grows up never questioning her right to be all she can be.

Living in 1800s Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains Switzerland

Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains SwitzerlandSurviving in our rustic little chalet chiseled out of the side of the Jura Mountains, a few miles from the French border, is challenging as we adjust to living in the 1800s.

In the morning I shiver under my duvet, while Gerald cleans out ashes and then starts a fire in our burning stove, which holds two, foot long logs at a time and provides our main heat.Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains Switzerland

From the outside our chalet looks cute, but inside I feel like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Nothing fits. I bump into furniture and hit my head on low hanging beams. The Swiss were short especially at the turn of the century.

A stone wall divides the main room, the size of box car, into a kitchen and living area. Our refrigerator is the size of one like in a college dormitory. Ditto for the freezer squeezed under the stairwell.

Fortunately, we have indoor plumbing at least downstairs. Our water closet, the size of a telephone booth, is as cold as an out house. If you perch too long on the porcelain stool, which feels like squatting on a block of ice, you end up chiseling icicles from your bottom.

Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains SwitzerlandThe staircase, so steep and narrow, must be navigated sideways and leads to 2 bedrooms. In our bedroom, the antique armoires are too narrow to hang things, so I rolled up our clothes and stored them in baskets under our bed.

Knotty pine walls and a wood beamed ceiling make it cozy. Two shuttered windows overlook the little red train track, where a 2 car train shuttles workers, skiers, hikers up and down from the mountains to Nyon in the valley.

The other room upstairs, used as a make shift office, has a bunkbed piled with junk awaiting our move. Between the rooms an open area with a ladder, gives access to an attic that we never enter for fear of stirring up ghosts or wild animals.

Upstairs, lacks plumbing. I cannot safely navigate the stairs a dozen times a night to the bathroom. Instead, I use a porta potty balancing on a crate in the closet sized nook at the top of the stairs. The seat, sized to accommodate a toddler’s butt, is so tiny, I fear I’ll tumble head first down stairs every time I pee.

Like in Laura Ingall’s Little House on the Prairie, in order to survive the winter, a local lumberjack dropped a truckload of timber outside our door. We stack 3 cords, a ton and half, of wood in precise neat piles like Jenga blocks. Now I understand why Swiss make wood piles so tidy. It’s to keep them from rolling down the mountainside.

Chores are endless living in the past century. Like laundry. I wash 5 articles at a time in our miniature machine. Then like pancakes on a griddle, I flip socks, long johns and t-shirts on racks in front of the wood burning stove.

We don’t have a phone line or TV, but we can access Netflix - limited over here - so we watch any international series available. We followed Scandinavian murder mysteries, Spanish dramas, Italian comedies. Last night, so desperate for entertainment, we tuned into an Egyptian soap opera with French subtitles.

But when I wake up in the morning and throw open my shutters, the view of sun rising above the evergreen covered mountainside is inspiring.

Part of the reason for moving here was for this… to drop right down smack dab in nature when walk outside our door.

We are living in a scene from Heidi.

The only way we could get closer to nature would be by camping out. Sometimes I think we are.