A New Year Older, Oh La La…

OMG oh my God… a New Year  means I am a year older.  How did this happen ?  When I look in the mirror,  I am shocked by the reflection of the stranger in the glass.  My nose  enlarged, my chin recedes and my lips, barely visible, regress.  The corners of my mouth turn down. What is that goofy mask I am wearing ?  My jowls sag, my chin doubles, my eyes bag, my hair greys, my skin wrinkles.  Now I understand why women undergo the knife. Forget simple face lift, I need an entire body boost.  But once one starts nipping and tucking there is no end.  Face peels, botox injections, cosmetic surgeries.

I am lucky that due to my medical treatment, I have a great camouflage for aging. I have to wear big bulky dark glasses that a student once told me, « Looks like a dead animal covering your face ! »

My shades conveniently hide any imperfections.  Also since I see everything in dimmer mode, I assume people have trouble seeing me too.  But take off the dark glasses and look out.  My face has been ravaged by time….too many summer days under blazing suns life-guarding, too many hours teaching sports outdoors, too many year ignoring the natural elements and swearing off synthetic beauty products. Mary Kay be damned.

Cheer up. With age comes wisdom.  Smile.  Are you kidding me ?  I love The Color Purple, but not for teeth.  I look like I have mouth filled with blueberries.  Antioxidants and antibiotics do a number on the canines.

Teeth whiteners, brighteners lighteners.  Creams to regenerate, rejuvenate, to blend crows-feet, cover age spots. Make ups to hide, tint, color, and resurface the skin.  Consumers spend a small fortune pursing the foundation of youth in a bottle. Cover the mirrors, succumb to the battle, embrace growing old gracefully.  And take it from me, never, ever leave the house without the dark shades.

Like a lot of women, feeling slouchier, slumpier and frumpier in the new year, I rushed to the nearest department store for a little inexpensive pick me up for returning to teaching.  I tried on a pair of fitted, navy blue sweats in front of the mirror in the hallway of the dressing room, glaring at my reflection when I heard a voice behind me.

« Wow,  you look great – slender and long legged. That’s the build designers had in mind, when they invented that style , » the clerk said…  Check out your backside !

Now I have the perfect solution to ace the aging game, forget the face off, present the backside first.

11 Things to Focus on in 2011 for a New Year Filled With Contentment

1. Health- though it may seem self centered to focus on you first, especially to super moms, before we can save the world, we need to take care of our own ticker.

2. Family – appreciate your partners and kin at all stages and ages, from toddlers to teens to great grans, from siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, and families in all combinations, adopted, step, mixed, multi cultural, for the in-laws, and out-laws, who are with you for the long haul

3. Friends – random strangers whose lives magically intersect on crossroads of your journey and carve a niche in your heart

4. Freedom – to travel beyond one’s own backyard, to think, say and do whatever floats one’s boat

5. Faith – belief in one’s God, Great Spirit, higher power, or whatever it is that helps you endure tough times and trust better days lie ahead when all hope is lost

6. Dreams – whether it’s a new career, a trip abroad, a long awaited milestone, a joyous celebration, attainment of personal goal

7. Seasons – how can one truly appreciate the new birth of spring and splendor of summer without knowing the bleak, cold, dark days of late fall and winter

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8. Art –a beautiful melody, a powerful painting, a great game, a good read, simple pleasures in music, sports, and literature that sustain our soul

9. Purpose – work pays the rent, puts food on the table, makes ends meet, but purpose is a higher calling. It’s what we do without monetary remuneration or social recognition to make this world a better place whether it is bagging groceries at the food pantry, writing blogs, mentoring colleagues, coaching kids, consoling friends

10. Communication – from hugs to handshakes, letters to emails, postcards to phone calls, words, printed or pronounced, whatever ways we step outside ourselves to stay connected

11. Solitude – not loneliness, we all have days where we feel isolated, alone, misunderstood, but for those moments when separate self from the rat race and reflect on our inner lives. For in spite of all the people, places and experiences we encounter in a lifetime, we enter and exist earth alone. We must learn to like ourselves – sags, bags, wrinkles and all – before we can reach out to the human race.

Staying Connected at Christmas Always Worth the Trip

My sibling and I live 5,000 miles apart, away from our childhood home, yet in spite of the distance we remain close. It helped that we were a family born on wheels. In the sixties, at time when most people wouldn’t take four kids five years apart any further than the corner grocery store, my grandparents and parents loaded the station wagon with, nine bags, eight bodies and one big red ice chest and hit the road. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, we cruised the blue highways from sea to shining seas in our beat up old Rambler.


We grew up believing life was an endless road trip. Consequently we continue to spend an inordinate amount of time in our adult lives riding the rail, flying the sky, and pounding the pavement to remain connected.

Just last week over a span of 24 hours, my youngest sister, Karen, drove to my son’s college game in Minnesota, one evening, and dropped our daughter, Nathalie, off at the Minneapolis airport at 6 am the next morning. Then she drove 7 hours to Sterling to support my mom and middle sister, Sue, as my dad recovered from delicate hip reconstruction surgery in Sterling Rock Falls Hospital. Meanwhile my older brother, Doug, and sister in law, Julianne, picked up Nat at the airport in Cleveland and chauffeured her to her residency interview at Rainbow Baby and Children’s Hospital.

In the meantime, Rush Memorial called her for an interview, so my brother-in-law, Cliff in the Chicago suburbs, helped change her ticket and arranged her pick her up 0’Hare Airport. He will drive her to her appointment at Rush; she’ll take the train from there back to the airport to fly to Utah for another interview.

On December 17th, Gerald and I were supposed to fly from Geneva via Amsterdam to Minneapolis. Our son will pick us up in the car he borrows regularly from my brother-in-law Dick. Then after Nathalie arrives from Utah, we will drive back down to Sterling, via our cabin at Summit Lake, to celebrate my dad’s successful surgery.

“And that my dear,” Aunt Mary used to say, “is love in action.”

One wonders what do people do without family?

Every winter, the McKinzie clan will log miles in the air and on land, braving blizzards, airline strikes and flight delays because Christmas happens whenever, wherever and however we can get together.

Be sure to rejoice in the gift of family especially this holiday season. Safe travels to you wherever you gather. May your wheels keep spinning for another year.

Living in Darkness Without Losing Hope

On, December 21st, the earth tilts farthest from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere. Ah, the gloomy gray Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. No one knows as much about enduring dark days as my Norwegian relatives living on fjords by Narvik, near the North Pole. I, too, have learned how to live with limited light. For the past three years I have lived in darkness as I endure a medical treatment for a multi system, auto immune, inflammatory disease in which my body produces too much Vitamin D. I live in a house with lights off, my skin covered head to toe and hide behind thick black glasses. I lurk in the shadows, coming out at night like Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird.

In one of my greatest moments of despair, I came to terms with the idea that we are all dying. Get over it, girl. As soon as we are born, our cells begin to decay. When I lament that I cannot ski the Alps, run marathons, travel the world as I so hoped after I “retired” from basketball, I focus on what I can do. I can write letters, give pep talks, edit English papers, encourage students, and offer support to family, friends and newcomers to Switzerland.

Right now as I write this, I am flat on my back, listening to my iPod, and typing on a laptop while resting the spine. This is not the life I envisioned. Oh no, I was going to conquer the world straight up. Even though I am often limited to my four dark walls, in a house shuttered closed like Fort Knox, I am amazed at how far the mind can wander. I can brush up on my German or French, strum my guitar, watch Macbeth, (ugh) take an on-line course, and write a blog.

Like a rapper without the bling, I walk to school in my hoody, shades and tennis shoes. Sometimes I lose my footing. But if Stevie Wonder could compose, “ You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and insisted “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing,” in total darkness, I can make it through another day teaching with the lights turned low.

Everyday I gaze at the painting my dad made me of a lighthouse signaling safety from the stormy black sea. I focus on the pale reflection and pray for those struggling in the darkness; for my colleague suffering from depression, for my dad regaining use of his leg, for my buddy recovering from foot surgery, for a friend battling cancer, for all those people who are facing the loss of a limb, a life dream, a loved one, in moments of doubt and darkness.

Even though the blackness of longest night of the year seems interminable, I still have sunshine in my soul. And miraculously, the more I spread my light to others, the greater the hope, glows within me.

Downsizing Hurts the Heart

When I look out in our carport I am still shocked….”Honey, who shrunk the car!” Our new vehicle looks a fourth of the size of our old van, as if somebody waved a magic wand and turned it into a shiny compact model. Now my ride is so sporty and spotless, I am afraid to even turning the key in the ignition.

As empty nesters in a first painful step toward downsizing, we bid a fond farewell the 7-seater packed with memories of mountain drives, trips across France and basketball tournaments throughout Switzerland. But better to shrink the car than the house.

Even though in the absence of children, our home, small by American standards is too big. Our four floors, stacked like building blocks, house only two inhabitants, yet every closet is crammed and every shelf overflowing. I need the space to store all the memories.

My house begs for a major make over, a purge, a clean sweep, but I remain immobilized, as if parting with anything is like pitching a priceless heirloom. Shelves overflow with books marking each stage of childhood from Goodnight Moon to Bernstein Bears to Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings. I find it no easier to toss old board games like Candy Land to Life to Scrabble. Old sweatshirts and t-shirts representing every team my son and daughter ever played for – or even supported – line closets. Random basketballs, footballs, and soccer balls still bounce off shelves.

And the toys! How can I part with Nic’s pirate ship and electric train set or Nathalie’s Little Ponies and Beanies Babies, all 300, that she once so lovingly recorded by name and birth date, replacing the pets we never owned.

Alas even harder to part with are the papers, like my own Taj Mahal of colored binders filled with decades of anecdotes, stories and journals capturing first smiles to first spills from first races to braces, first cars to colleges, stacked from the floor to the ceiling recounting each age, every stage of our lives.

Even though I understand intellectually that my daughter, soon a medial resident, anywhere USA and my son, filled with American college coursework and commitments, have embarked on their own career paths thousands miles away. In my mind, I know they return home as temporary guests before embarking on their next adventure, yet in my heart, I am unable to part with the past.

In every room of the house fleeting reminders of ball games, art projects, research papers, road trips, and special occasions bombard me. As if by discarding anything, I would shatter that perfect illusion in the collective kaleidoscope of memorabilia that made our family unique and beautiful.

Solidarity with a Smile for the Computer Illiterate

I am an electronically handicapped loser with a capital L. Seriously, I would flunk out of Plug-It-In 101. Just looking at computers makes me break into a sweat. My mind is like that little icon going in circles when the network is lost. Yup, completement plantee, that is my brain. I feel so overwhelmed, ideas start spinning. I can never keep up.

First of all, I never follow directions and secondly, I never read to the end of messages.I never learned computerspeak or if I did it is a mishmash of franglais. (French/English) As soon as a warning pops up on the screen, « Time machine could not back up files, » I panic and run for cover. When messages like this flash across the screen, it makes me feel as if I have been thrown into another dimension.

I blame my incompetence on my French husband. Gerald is a tech whiz. He thinks in gigabytes. If he can’t figure out the problem, he has I.T. gurus in his company to help. Me, I have only one recourse, « GGGGGGeeeerrrrrrrraallllldddd ! Hheellpp ! The computer ate my paper. Again !»

The techno-speak terminology baffles me. Maybe if they called the toolbox, the gym bag, I would understand better. Tool bars, navigation panels, HTLM, hyperlink, book mark…how can you have a book mark without a book? Even those little pictures confuse me : guitar, camera, time machine, Adobe reader, toaster (toast Titanium) for Gods sake. I cannot visualize any of them. Where are the photographs, musical notes, movies? And where is the blinking mailbox I know they are out there somewhere, just invisible. I can’t get my head around it.

Organization? Forget it. Documents, files, sub files – I can’t see any of them. Out of sight out of mind. The only thing I can find on a regular basis is the blank document. Then as soon as I fill up the page it disappears in cyberspace, but I know I saved it somewhere !

Gerald makes me jump, shouting over my shoulder, « Pot, it ees seemple logic. »

LO-GIC. L-O-G-I-C. Find a system. Label, categorize, file. Must be rigorous. Must have a logical way of thinking. I don’t have one iota of either.

« First tip of advice, » Gerald insists, « Keep your desktop clear ! »

In our house, we have five wooden and four electronic desks, but no desktops, at least none that I can see. I no sooner clean off one, than another one piles up. I hear Gerald’s voice and I cringe, « It is unsupportable, your maniere of disorder. »

I blame it on an ADHD body and a creative mind. My limbs cannot stay still and my brain never remains idle.

If anyone is aware of a self help group for the technologically impaired, let me know. I would be the first to sign up. « Hello, iPat and i need an upgrade. »