Sold Our House in Two Days

A year ago, after our realtor sent photos of our place to his client list, we sold our house in two days, before it even went on the market. Of course, it sold immediately! It is the perfect house, which makes me wonder why we decided to leave it.

We found another place just as fast. After visiting only three houses and talking to two builders, my husband announced, “We must decide. I hate shopping! I don’t like dithering around.”

“Gerald we aren’t talking about buying a pair of shoes! This is a house. We need to be sure what we are doing?”

But when was I ever sure what I was doing? Our reasons for moving from our old house… too big, too many stairs, too much yard. So what do we do? Build as big of house, with as many stairs, in the middle of a mountain.

We signed on a new place, not yet built in St. Cergue, Switzerland in the Jura mountains. Since our new house, a triplex like apartment, will not be ready until July 2022, we are living like vagabonds.

To make thing more complicated, we are guests in this country. I am American, Gerald French. We scramble to figure out details like how many days we could spend in the states without losing our C residency permit allowing us to live in Switzerland. Even harder to negotiate was how long we could hang out in America, especially since Gerald as a “foreigner” is required to leave the US within 90 days of entering.

What started almost as a whim, snowballed into a major life change and my head is spinning, still unstable from my brain surgery almost 2 years ago.

Is it from brain injury or circumstantial, from trying to pack 23 years of living into a dozen boxes and start over again on a mountaintop in my mid 60’s?

Where has my common sense gone? How did I get so caught up in my husband’s middle life crisis? Does everyone my age feel this urgency that time is running out that we must rush to do all the things we dreamed in our youth.

Nothing is working out as planned.

What can I be thinking moving into the mountains with my bad back and worn out knees, where every step out the door requires going up or down? There’s no pain-free level ground here.

Fortunately my husband, like a little kid with a new project, is in his element dealing with the architecs, builders, bankers, realtors and notaries. His enthusiasm and expertise keeps me going, because I am lost.

Our biggest mistake was buying a “virtual” home, which builders promised would be ready by June 2022. Last fall, the project manager met with my husband and told him that our house would be finished earlier, by April or May 2022. Then in December, we received an alarming email saying that we wouldn’t get the key until probably the end of December 2022 but June 2023 at the latest. Or if you read the contract’s fine print, it “clearly” states that the very latest deadline would be 14 months from finishing the foundations date, which could mean June 2023 as they started several month later than expected. Anyone following here ???

What went wrong?

In the meantime, we stack another load of wood to heat our “temporary” rental place, a medieval chalet the size of a trailer. To keep from going crazy, we go out everyday. We wander our around our new village, walk by our “plot” and worry.

Why haven’t they broke ground the foundation of our building yet?

I am turning 65, still alive and skiing again

After my car accident at age 25 doctors feared I’d never walk again, after brain surgery nearly 40 years later, they thought I would be lucky to use my limbs properly.

After countless hours of medical treatments, therapy and hard work, I cross-country skied again. I fell in love with the sport, inspired by my Scandinavians ancestors, who invented cross-country skiing centuries ago to circulate across mountains in winter. It reminds me of my forefathers born on the fjords in Northern Norway where reindeer run wild and Laplanders reign, where nature and its preservation is a God given right and obligation.

I was never an adept skier. I am even worse now. From a distance I look more like a wobbly stork than a Scandinavian savant. I huff and puff around each bend. I remove my skis when I can non longer duck waddle up the steep incline. My fear of falling defeats the fun of gliding downhill. I also take my skiis off to walk down any incline. At sharp bends at the end of slopes, I collapse sideways halfway down the slope. Better to fall gently, but awkwardly on my own terms, then crashing out of control.

I spend a lot of time putting on and taking off skiis. But that is the beauty of cross country. Everyone can go at their own pace.

When I moved to Switzerland, the land of ski, no one believed me when I told them, I don’t know how to ski. I have reached an age where I am afraid to try downhill, not so much due to my numerical age, but to my spinal age from years of abusing my body on a basketball court, a bike accident, a car accident left me ever feisty, yet fragile.

I can still remember the first time I went skiing with a teammate on the golf course of Illinois State University. I’ll never forget the wrath of my coach when I came to practice with a twisted knee after tumbling down the slope on the 9th hole.

Skiing for a DI basketball players may be taboo in Illinois, but not in Switzerland. The basketball season takes a back seat to ski season. When my star Swedish center insisted on hitting the slopes a week before our European championship, I went ballistic.

“Don’t worry Coach, “ she assured, patting me on the back, “I never get hurt. I was born on skiis. To me it is as natural as breathing.”

That maybe true for some Scandinavians, but to those ancestors of immigrants, it is still a challenge.

Yet, when I glide around another hairpin turn, my shoulders pull on poles propelling me forward, mountains whiz past in my peripheral vision, and I feel euphoric. As I weave through the fresh powder in forests full of snow sprinkled evergreen, I hear the call of a coyote and inhale the crisp, clear mountain air.

And I feel lucky to be alive.

Never mind that an hour later, my muscles will lock up from the pain of fibromyalgia. Knots will form in shoulders. My neck, hips and low back will ache. Knifes will stab my knees every step I take. I will lie flat - a hot water bottle on my upper back and ice packs on my knees - and close my eyes. I see a sheer, jagged mountain peek pointing toward turquoise skies, icicles hanging from the rooftops of red shuttered wooden chalets in an incredibly beautiful tableau of whiteness. I am blessed to be here in the land of mountains and water where the skies meet the heavens in Switzerland.

Fixing A Crooked Spine, Fighting Chronic Pain

After a 5 hour brain surgery, 6 weeks of hopitalization and 15 months of therapy, I started over again retraining my muscle memory to better spine aligment. Swiss neurosurgeons successfully treated my major brain injury, but had no clue how to help me with my back. Fifteen months later, due to COVID constraints, I was finally allowed to enter the USA. I began intensive therapy to treat injury my body incurred in that bad, bad fall that cracked my skull.

I began treatment with Dr. David Draeger, my guru, a gifted chiropractor in northern Wisconsin. A full set of back x-ray revealed what could not be seen with naked eye, but helped clarify why I couldn’t walk without pain between my shoulder blades, low back, right hip, knee, and heel.

Dr. Dave worked with me to ameliorate bilateral shoulder impingement, scapula dysfunction, rib dislocation, compressed thoracic disks on top of a longstanding chronic low back pain. Chiropractic adjustments included a half dozen on the wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and heels. The physical manipulation helped restore mobility to joints whose motion was restricted by tissue injury caused by a traumatic event.

“I feel awful,” I complained to him.

“No wonder,” Dr. Dave said. “We are restructuring your skeletal system.”

To move forward, I had to go backwards, and forgo any swimming, guitar playing, blog writing, and movements with my arms. Then step by step, I retrained my muscle memory by walking.

Determined to keep moving, I resorted to water walking. I’d wade out above my waist up to neck in the cold lake and pace back and forth out beyond our raft. While the water iced my muscles, the tranquil view of the lake and woods inspired me and an eagle soaring overhead rooted me on.

Additional therapy with Dr. D, included a combination of intense treatments; electrical impulse therapy to help break up scar tissue, high intensity heat therapy and AtlasPROfilax therapy to improve posture and shoulder alignment and help alleviate chronic pain.

AtlasPROfilax, a neuromuscular massage technique, which applies vibro pressure and massages the short neck muscles, remains an effective way to treat C1 (atlas) cervical vertebra. Unfortunately, although developed in 1995 by a Swiss Doctor, René C. Schümperli, I am unable to find a practitioner in the part of Switzerland where we live.

High Intensity Laser Therapy (HILT) delivers healing light energy to the cells of the body that penetrates through bone, soft tissue, and muscle. HILT can reduce pain, minimize swelling, soften scar tissue, and reset the chronic pain cycle – all while healing damaged tissues at the cellular level.

None of this is a quick fix. It requires a long term commitment and a dedicated doctor. Willingness to accept pain as part of the healing process and acknowledging my own role in recovery is paramount.

Recovery became a team effort. I followed Dr. D’s orders to the letter and did whatever was possible to build strength within parameters he set. Restoring good posture required retraining muscle memory one step at a time.

Dr. Dave credits his older brother, Curt, with encouraging him to enter the chiropractor profession and with teaching him new techniques. Known for working with elite Olympian athletes and Greenbay Packer football stars, Dr. Curt also worked with physicists to develop the latest generation of high intensity lasers that are much stronger and penetrate tissue at deeper levels.

Dr. Dave’s clinic is tucked away deep in the Northwoods of Wisconsin at Eagle River. There he is surrounded by a loyal, hardworking staff and technicians creating a formidable team who exemplify his belief in helping people by trying to accommodate every patient in his overbooked schedule.

Dr. Dave is not only a gifted healer with a warm, engaging, positive personality, but his genuine desire to help people is second to none. I know of no other doctor who makes house calls. Once, he showed up at our summer cabin in the woods, popped out his portable table and adjusted the entire family. For free.

To Dr. Dave, chiropractic care in not just a career, it’s a calling. He makes the world a better place by helping alleviate pain and inspiring hope one spine at a time.

Finding a New Path – Beginning Again

The past 6 months have been a blur of pain, disappointment, anxiety, uncertainty and ongoing rehabilitation. I have been off line, out of touch, and unable to write due to doctors orders. I had to refrain from using my upper body while retraining muscle memory.

I am lost. Unbalanced mentally and physically.

My sister will remind me I have been in an existential crisis since age 13, but this time I am really floundering. The parameters measuring my identity disappeared. Studies by Bruce Feiler in his book “Life is in the Transitions, Mastering Change at Any Age,” upended previous beliefs that defined age in stages as popularized by Gail Sheehy 1970s best seller “Passages.”

Transitions never existed in a linear, set pattern, but our chaotic lives are more like a kaleidoscope of constant change. We go through 20 or more transitions in a lifetime and major ones every 3 to 4 years.

For stability we all need to have at least one of three things.

  • Purpose
  • Connection
  • Community

I lack all three. My purpose used to be teaching, coaching, writing, raising a family. My basketball teams and family were my connections; the international school was my community. But my children outgrew me, as they should, I retired from teaching/coaching and my family remains 4,000 miles away.

This summer, though I was so grateful to see loved ones, I felt as displaced as ever, at odds with my body, emotions running rampant due to the lingering after effects of brain injury.

As with any long term recovery process, setbacks, disappointments and false starts prevailed.

The skills I once performed effortlessly disappeared. I relearned how to do things for myself - drive long distances, pack the car, buy groceries, fill the tank, mow the lawn.

Finding a New PathI have been working so hard to recover from traumatic brain injury after a bad fall that wreaked as much havoc with my spine as it did my brain. Once stateside, I spent 6 months, moving between families’ homes in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin and underwent intensive therapy for my back and shoulders.

Back track 9 months. Last April, we sold our house outside Geneva Switzerland and bought a place in St. Cergue in the Jura Mountains. The only problem - the new virtual house was not built yet. No worries, realtors assured us only a few months delay. Further snafus in building means we will remain without fixed domicile for another year.

Finding a New PathMid January we returned to Switzerland and landed back in time in our “Heidi hut.” a rented, rustic chalet, chiseled out of the mountainside and heated only by wood burning stove.

I feel completely uprooted, a stranger in my body, living in a foreign place, surrounded by people I don’t know.

Without a permanent address it is hard to feel grounded.

During my lowest point, at age 26 after my career ending car accident abroad, I thought I had nothing left to give, but I never gave up believing and went on to teach and coach and raise a family. In retrospect, I can see that I still had a lot left to offer and learn from others.

But now what?

This time around, in a later stage of my life without a real home, our rootlessness existence makes it so much harder to reinvent myself, accept my limited options and admit my loss of autonomy.

Yet, every morning when I throw open the shutters, the sun sparkles over the snow-covered mountain top daring me to step out the door on the next adventure.Finding a New Path

So here we go…

“One day at a time…remember all that lies behind you,
Believe in all that lies ahead”

Happy 90th Birthday to my Pioneer Dad

If I pursued a career unheard of for women, moved abroad and rewrote my script after my dream collapsed in an accident, it is because of you, my pioneer dad, who believed in me every step of the way.

I inherited the McKinzie iron will, a drive to pursue lofty ideals in spite of obstacles.

In the controversial years of Title IX’s infancy, when girls and ball games were non compatible entities, your adamant belief in women’s right to participate in sports would empower all your daughters. Especially me.

Fifty years ago, dads teaching daughters jump shots were anomalies. Fathers discouraged daughters from playing ball games society deemed unladylike.

Yet, you fought for equal rights and shaped values in the athletes you mentored during your 33-year career at Sterling High School where you earned the affectionate title of Papa Mac while racking up Illinois’ 1st ever girls state basketball championship title, a 3rd place finish and an Elite Eight appearance. But what made you proudest was seeing how your athletic “daughters” grew up to contribute to society as principals, teachers and leading members of their communities.

No one felt your influence more greatly than me. When my slender frame took a beating on basketball courts at ever elite levels, you never said, “You’re too small to go pro.” Instead you helped develop my potential. When my American pro team folded, I stated, “I’m going to France to play.”

“What if you get hurt?” You tried your darnest to dissuade me. Then after the shock subsided, you offered your support and returned to the gym to rebound.

When I announced, “I’m engaged to a Frenchman,” you were the first to accept a foreigner into the family and remained my most faithful correspondent, sending manila envelopes to Europe. Rather than disowning me, you sacrificed time and money to make 18 trips across the Atlantic to be part of your gandchildren’s lives.

Though you never visited Scotland, the home of your fore-bearers, it is as if clan bloodlines transcended generations. Like your father and forefathers, you became a leader of men and women. You taught us a code of honor, respect for our fellowman, and fierce loyalty toward family.

Our resilient constitution, strength of character, love of nature, and reverence for honest work may have been virtues passed on from our ancestry, but we developed them by modeling your behavior in a life where you treated everyone equal.

As the head of our McKinzie clan, you set the finest example of what it means to be an honorable leader, a strong chief, and a benevolent father.

I grew up during an era when athletic girls felt shunned without role models. You encouraged me to be myself even when it meant being different and pursuing a career usually sought by men.

It was not easy being a modern day daughter, marrying a Frenchman and raising children abroad. Nor was it easy to be an up-to-date dad, whose dedicated coaching developed the talent that took his daughter away.

I was a selfish, smart-aleck kid; you were too overprotective. You grew up under the “work ethic” when it was a man’s world, only, yet you learned to accept a modern, do-it-herself daughter who lived by the “experience ethic.”

You leaned right; I left. Too much alike in temperament and too different in ideologies to always get along, yet our differences, spurred growth. I loved you enough to let you be a blundering father. You let me be a belligerent daughter. Through headstrong outbursts, we learned to compromise, to live modern dreams without losing old-fashioned values.

You were not a perfect dad, nor I, a perfect daughter. But our love was.

You taught me to shoot a jump shot, swim a lake, drive a car, balance a checkbook, but the greatest lesson I learned from you was “never give up!”

Thirty-five years ago, that fighting spirit helped me recover from a career ending, near fatal car accident 4,000 miles away from home. More recently that same resiliency helped me survive a life altering fall that resulted in a broken cheek bone, eye socket, jaw, nose and skull that led to a 5 hour brain surgery and over a year of rehabilitation. With no end in sight.

I may never play my guitar, type a blog post or swim again pain free.

Everyday as I struggled in physical therapy to squeeze my hand, raise my left arm, and walk without stumbling I think of you and repeat the mantra you ingrained through hours of practice spent correcting my jump shot, “Keep fighting!”

Every night when I called you reminded me,“I am proud of you sweetie.”

And you ended every conversation with these words,

“I think of you everyday and love you more each minute.”

Me too, dad, me too.

Happy Birthday to my 90 year old hero!

"Dump" in Switzerland

Can Tidiness Be Part of National Heritage

You would think after living in the world’s Most Tidy Country I would have adopted some of their clutter free lifestyle. Alas after residing in the same house in Switzerland for over 2 decades I have amassed a truck load of artifacts, books, T-shirts, photographs, medals, basketballs and other memorabilia.

As a history collector, a memory keeper, how do I part with boxes of stuff.

Am I missing the clean gene?

Or can tidiness be part of a national identity inherent in small countries where space is at a premium?

I do not have any messy Swiss friends, nor has a “native” ever entered my home without automatically taking off his/her footwear. Even the children are trained to park their shoes at the door.

Marie Kondo, a Japanese woman, created a global movement of mindfulness to organize space and eliminate the vicious cycle of clutter. She would love Switzerland.

The Swiss must instinctively adhere to her number selection criteria – “does it spark joy?”

She insists: keep only those things that speak to your heart. Do Beanie Babies, books and bags count?

Am I the only one who finds joy in preserving plastic bags triggering memories of special people, places and events? Yes, I have bags labeled NBA store in NYC, Nathalie’s Boutique in southern France and Nicolas Wine Shop in Paris.

According to Kondo when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.

I suffer from both making it doubly hard.

Another tip she stresses, don’t let your family see what you are doing. They will inevitably want to keep everything you want to pitch.

“People have trouble discarding things that they could still use (functional value), that contain helpful information (informational value), and that have sentimental ties (emotional value). When these things are hard to obtain or replace (rarity), they become even harder to part with.”

When you were raised in the American midwest where garages are bigger than European homes and filled with more junk than a Dollar Store, downsizing stuff does not come naturally. It so much easier to just chuck it in the garage.

After living in a country so clean you could eat off the street, where wood piles are stacked as neatly as Jenga blocks and spotless garages contain nothing more than shiny new cars, I still wonder where the Swiss store junk?

Chalet like style outbuildings are surrounded by gardens of flowers and shubbery.

At some, like ours, secondhand wares are tidily diplayed as gift shops. Since garage sales do not exist here, people can browse the local recycle centers that look more like lending libraries.

In a country as wealthy as Switzerland even junk is topnotch quality. Unfortunately I am no longer allowed to go to the dump here. I always bring back home more stuff than I threw away.