Celebrate Happy Feet Day

Hallmark has us hooked. We celebrate every Day from All Fools to Groundhog’s to Columbus, a real misnomer, showing gratitude for everything except what we take most for granted – our feet. I propose we give our tootsies a holiday and declare Happy Feet Day.

Imagine the pressure those little bones endure everyday hauling our carcass around, not to mention those extra pounds we’ve been lugging since last Thanksgiving.

Good feet are gifts from above. I should know; I was not gifted.

I used to tell friends that I wore baby casts on each toe after my feet got run over by a truck. One look at my crooked toes and they believed my harebrained story.

My feet plagued me from the day I took my first steps. I went to a podiatrist, long before anyone knew what a podiatrist was. Good ol’ Dr Heffelfinger or Heffle”toe,” as we fondly called him. He explained that my big toe was shorter than the rest of my toes. To avoid face planting every step forward, I clawed the ground with my toes.

My grandma told me that having a second toe longer than the first one is a sign of intelligence and insight. My dad, however, swore I’d hang from trees by my toes and threatened to prove it, if I broke another window playing ball in the yard.

To make matters worse, I developed Ledderhose Disease, a thickening of the deep connective tissue, leading to nodules in the arches of my feet. Though a nuisance, the disorder, named after a German surgeon, Dr. Georg Ledderhose, triggers fond memories of my time living in Germany.

Yep, those 26 bones, 33 joints, 12 tendons, and umpteen muscles stretch like a suspension bridge over our arches, but get no credit. Feet carry the weight of the world and live in shoes – the most uncomfortable homes on earth. Women’s footwear – back breaking, toe crushing, pointed high heels – keep doctors rolling in dough for life.

Born with bad feet, I swore off fashion in my teens and worn tennis shoes everyday since then. I also wear orthotics. To prevent blisters between my toes, I bandaged every one until my French podiatrist solved the problem. He molded toe separators out of pink silicone. Now I wear silly putty between my phalangies.

While studying my off-balance, barefoot gait he declared, “Madame, you have no feet; you are walking on another pair of hands.”

According to leading sport podiatrist Dr. Murray Weisenfeld in The Runner’s Repair Manual, feet were never designed for walking or running. Feet evolved out of the fin of fish designed for swimming and later developed for grasping to let creatures squat on branches without falling out.

Don’t believe me read Christopher McDougal’s fascinating bestseller Born to Run, where he studies a hidden tribe of the world’s fastest, long distance runners, who race barefoot or in sandals.

So, go on. Don’t feel guilty. Give your tootsies a holiday. Kick off the heels. Forgo weight bearing tasks. Doing dishes, a no no. Cooking, over a hot stove, out of the question. Standing in line to buy groceries, pay bills, pump gas – absolutely forbidden. Lying on a couch and wiggling toes to smooth jazz is highly recommended. Mud baths are fine. Hot tubs excellent. Swimming supreme.

You really want to show appreciation for your feet? Walk barefoot across the grass in a sunbeam’s shadow. A card of praise in the mail would be nice too.

25 Ways to Know If You Are A Cabin Person

You love to be on water, in water, underwater, treasuring the silky, smooth, feeling of cool velvet on your skin.

You can tolerate inconveniences. The toilet may back up, electricity may go off and bugs will bite for sure. But you roll with it.

You enjoy passing on traditions – first hike, first bike ride, first ghost walk, first snipe hunt, first fishing trip, first swim and first ski.

You find bliss simply lying on the dock watching the clouds drift by.

You hate mice, mosquitoes and flies as much as anybody, but you tolerate them for the chance to live as close to nature as possible without having to sleep in a tent.

You don’t mind sharing.

You love to read curled up with a good book in front of the lake, the woods and the fireplace.

You think daydreaming is a fine art.

You believe boats were made for towing skiers, catching fish, or circling the lake slowly admiring sights, not for speed racing.

You know that drunken boaters on a lake are as dangerous as intoxicated drivers on the road.

You can fall asleep on lumpy beds and doze off in those old aluminum, webbed lawn chairs.

You think everything tastes better grilled and eaten off a paper plate.

Your heart still skips a beat every time you spot an eagle soaring over the lake, a white tailed fawn leaping through the forest, or the rare glimpse of a bear lumbering across your front yard.

You appreciate everything wild – wild flowers, wild animals, wild berries and wild fishing fibs.

You can make a campfire better than a Boy Scout.

The wind in the trees sounds like music to your ears.

You can survive without Internet.

You know that tiny ticks hiding in tall grasses are more dangerous than big black bears in trees, but go outside anyway properly protected.

You can live quite happily in swimsuits and flip-flops.

You enjoy reminiscing in front of a fire.

You think playing word games with neighbors is perfect entertainment.

You still enjoy self-propelled water travel – kayaking, stand up paddling, canoeing, sailing, and swimming.

You love biking, hiking, walking, talking and eating.

You cherish family.

You can watch a sunset melt like orange lava behind the treeline and feel overwhelmed with gratitude for another day in paradise.

Thanks Dad for building, care taking and sharing our little red cottage. Because of you, generations of families and friends learned to love cabin life.

Happy Father’s Day!

France Names Gym After American Basketball Player, My Mentor

When a car accident in France ended my professional basketball career, I wanted to curl up and die. While struggling to rehabilitate, my physical therapist in Paris, saw my despair and said, “Don’t cry. Call Henry Fields. He’ll help you out.”

“McKinzie,” Henry said when I called. “Oh yeah, I remember you. Shot the eyes out of the basket. Need a job? Great. We need a coach.”

So I began coaching at American School of Paris under the tutelage of Henry Fields, dubbed the Father of French basketball, and one of the first Americans to play in Europe. After winning the military world championship while stationed in Orleans, France, in 1962 he was invited to stay on to play for Paris University Club for $50 a month. Not only did he rack up championship titles, he won over the heart of the entire country and paved the way for other American players to follow.

Though he earned accolades as a player, his greatest impact may have been as a coach, where he dedicated his life to developing ball skills in youth at the various clubs where he starred. As a teacher and coach, he built a dynasty at ASP, the first American school with an international community in Europe established in 1946.

After retirement, he and his lovely Norwegian wife, Ragna, resettled in Auterive, south of Toulouse (southwest France), to be closer to their daughters. When he found out that the community didn’t have a basketball program for kids, he built one for them.

From Hank, I learned international basketball rules and insider tips, like it’s okay to yell at a ref as long as you buy him a drink after the game. He showed me how to make sure that each player had a role and felt valued.

He exemplified the true spirit of the game. Basketball is more that X and 0s, back door cuts, and match-up zones, it’s about bringing people together from every race, nationality and walk of life.

A few days ago, when I saw on a Facebook post that the gym in Auterive, had been named Halle Henry Fields, I pumped my fist and cheered.

“Pat, I had no idea,” he said when he called to tell me about the surprise ceremony. “They told me to wear a tie and come coach a game. When I got there, they sang happy birthday and dedicated the gym to me. Friends from teams back in 60s and 70s came to join in the celebration.”

“Oh Hank,” I said. “I wish I could have been there.”

“You were. You’re a part of everything I do.”

I feel the same way; we share the magic of mentoring. Over time, the wisdom of mentors becomes part of the mentees’ psych.

In the highest level of sport, coaches give back, pass on, and pay forward, becoming immortalized in the hearts and minds of those players who shared their love of a game.

What greater tribute to offer an ambassador of the game than to name a gym in his honor?

Henry Fields, granddaddy of basketball in France, a man with all the connections, believes everyone who loves the game is related.

To me, he will always be family.

 

 

Are you a pitcher or a saver?

pitcher or a saver?Were we were born with a genetic propensity to be a pitcher or a saver, a hoarder or a heaver? Some people like my sister never let unnecessary items accumulate; others like me have trouble throwing away anything.

While spring cleaning, I finally parted with possessions that had been with me for most of my European life like a bottle of Chanel perfume that I received as a gift in 1979, my first year in France. With my Multiple Chemical Sensitivity I could never wear it, but every time I saw that bottle I was reminded of the kindness of strangers, those Parisians, who first welcomed me to their homeland.

I no longer have storage space for my coffee cup – gifts from family, pitcher or a saver?friends and students – an eclectic collection of ISU, UWSP, Manchester, London, and my all time favorite a cream-colored cup imprinted with a pitcher or a saver?sketch of the United Methodist Church, my dad designed. Some cups mean too much to me to use, so they decorate my mantel like the one with a photo of a former basketball team.

I also save baseball caps from every major sporting event I ever attended and every team I loved. Ditto for those team logo t-shirts.

My kids, young adults now living thousands of miles away, have no desire to keep old scrapbooks, school awards, sports medals, so why do I save them? Why keep the clay mold of a 5 year olds handprint, odd shaped vases, lumpy hand made pottery, a glazed chicken, and dozens of paintings. Silly me, hanging onto old toys like Playmobil and Beanie Babies for the memories they evoke.

pitcher or a saver?Dozens of picture albums clutter our home with old pages falling apart filled with photos of places I no longer remember and people whose names I have forgotten.

I have good intentions. Every time the urge to organize strikes, I buy another beautiful colored folder that then sits empty on a shelf like a heirloom.

But by far my worst vice of all is an obsession with words. I saved cards from my grade school BFF, sketches from college roommates and letters from grandparents. Books spill off my shelves. I have – yes I counted – 86 binders in shades of red, blue, green, purple and orange filled with half-baked story ideas, travel notes, family research, book drafts and kids’ essays. For a writer, words are the hardest possession to part with.

Call me a hoarder, but I am not materialistic driven to buy, buy, buy and accumulate more goods. It’s just that pitching out sentimental, memory-evoking possessions feels like sacrilege. Out, out, out. Gone the memories.

With the advent of technology and information updated every second – text messaging, Instagram, Snapchat – everything changes so fast, and is forgotten even faster.pitcher or a saver?

Could our brains intentionally be wired this way into pitchers and savers? Some minds are designed to discard and downsize to make room for the next generation, while others like me cling to the past to record our passage in time.

I am like the beekeeper tending the hive, honing the busy nest of our lives, gathering the honey of our collective memories.

American Struggles to Understand English in England

You would think that after living in non English speaking European countries for so long, I would feel at home in England, but I felt more foreign there than anywhere. Though technically Americans speak the same language, I had no clue what the Brits were saying. Times are tough when you resort to asking your Frenchman to interpret your native tongue.

“Pot, this is ridiculous!” Gerald said. “They are speaking your language not mine.”

True but in my language potatoes don’t wear jackets, children don’t wear jumpers and no one wears Wellies.

American Struggles to Understand English in EnglandTo clarify the vocabulary, English waiters will ask if you want a jacket (skin) on your potato. Seriously, do say yes because no one does jacket potatoes better than the English. Mine was stuffed with melted Brie, British bacon and cranberry sauce.

Sweaters are what British refer to as jumpers. Sweatshirts are hoodies. Uniforms are kits. And everyone owns a pair of Wellies.

Popularized by British aristocracy for hunting in the early 19th century the Wellington boot, fashioned after the Hessian boot and made of leather, was named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. With the advent of Charles Goodyear’s vulcanization process for natural rubber in the mid 1800s, waterproof rubber Wellies became standard even for the common class and replaced the farmers’ wooden American Struggles to Understand English in Englandclogs.

Ah, Wellies, those ill-fitting, formless, round-toed galoshes you hated wearing in grade school. I would give my right arm for a pair now. In England, it rains cats and dogs and puddles proliferate like rabbits. To be prepared like the English who carry Wellies in the boot of their cars, tourists should pack a pair of Wellies and a brellie (umbrella)on any visit to the UK.

I used to think my British colleagues in Switzerland were dumbing down their language with baby talk to help me understand. Apparently another idiosyncrasy is their tendency to chop off words by ending in ie.

Fortunately, my dear friend now living in Australia explained, “Pressie, (present) brekkie, (breakfast) and ciggie (cigarette) are all just lazy British ways of shortening words.”

It could be worse.

“The Aussies use the same abbreviations, and more besides!” she said. “My fave one is ‘arvo’ for afternoon. I use it all the time now, but with a British accent, which amuses the locals.”

American Struggles to Understand English in EnglandNo one does humor better than the British. The language is full of expressions that make me laugh out loud.

Who else says things like “have a nosy” for a look around or “don’t get your knickers in a knot” when someone is upset?

And can’t you picture a group of gossipy old women having a “chin wag”or a bunch of teens throwing their “knees up” (to party) on the weekend.

But my all time favorite is “fall arse over tit” meaning to tumble head over heels.

Now you understand why an American might need a French interpreter. Visiting England leaves me feeling totally discombobulated and stuck in one giant kerfuffle.

I am so disorientated I may never get home to Switzerland. With all those cars whizzing by on the “wrong” side of the road, I am afraid to cross the street.

La Maison Cailler -Switzerland Synonymous with Chocolate

Cailler chocolateSwitzerland is synonymous with chocolate and it comes as no surprise that the world’s oldest chocolate maker Cailler is arguably also the world’s best. In ancient times, chocolate, once considered the “elixir of the Gods,” was believed to have magical properties. I agree.

No trip to Switzerland is complete without sampling one the nation’s finest offerings, yet I never toured a chocolate factory until my niece came for a visit. Boy, was I missing out. A trip to a chocolate museum entertains all ages. It is worth it just for the free samples.

The most well known of Swiss chocolates, Cailler claims to be the oldest brand. Cailler produced chocolate in Vevey as far back as 1819 and since 1889 in neighboring Broc where today millions of tourists visit the La Maison Cailler du Chocolat. In 1929 Cailler became part of the Nestle group, but it still functions independently.

The Swiss consume the most chocolate in the world. 5% prefer white, 20% prefer dark and 80% prefer milk chocolate, which is made from treasured 200 year old Swiss secret recipe. In my opinion the darker the chocolate the better and apparently experts agree the higher the cocoa content the better it is for your health.

Cailler chocolateIn 1911 Alexandre-Louis Cailler developed a different process to manufacture a creamier, milky flavored chocolate. Instead of using powdered milk, he took condensed milk from Alpine milk in the Gruyère region to create a milk chocolate with an incomparably smooth, rich milky flavor. To this day, Cailler is the only Swiss chocolate manufacturer to use this method.

While you wait your turn to enter the museum, you can watch through windows where on the floor below the chef leads a class of visitors in making 5 different kinds of chocolate in the chocolate workshop.

For 12 Swiss francs, visitors enter the museum’s historical journey of chocolate’s development through time in multi sensory audiovisual tours. Chocolate originated in antiquity from Mexico’s cocoa bean. In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors brought chocolate to Europe where it was considered taboo until the pope declared it a wholesome drink. In the last century, the French considered it an aphrodisiac and savored tiny cups of divine chocolate silk while in bed.

As part of the Cailler chocolateMaison Cailler experience, you are allowed to touch the cocoa beans, butter, nuts and raw material used to make chocolate. A replica of the conveyor belt used in the factory shows the process of how Cailler’s signature Mini Branches – hazel nut filled logs – are made, cut and wrapped.

The highlight for any sweet tooth is the free sampling at the end. Just like at a chocolate shop, every sort of bar and cream filled chocolate align the glass counters for free sampling from the sweetest to the most bitter. I skipped the white and milk chocolate varieties and made a beeline for the end of the row to savor the dark chocolates. My niece and her friend tasted a piece of every kind of chocolate except the dark ones.

After the tour, you can savor chocolate-based drinks and desserts in the Cailler chocolatecafé. You can also shop for brand souvenirs and Cailler chocolate bars, pralines and famous brands of Femina, Ambassador, and Frigor.

The only problem with unlimited sampling, a gourmet may suffer from what the French call a “crise de fois,” a liver crisis brought on by too much rich food.