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.
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.
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.
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. »
Real men don’t just eat quiche, they make it too, at least in my kitchen. Early on in my marriage, after I burnt steak to a crisp, blew the lid off a pressure cooker and scorched eggs, my husband gave up on me and took over the stove. I am no fool. How could I begin to compete with a Frenchman, born with that refined aquiline nose. Betty Crocker beware! My personal chef prepared King’s Lamb, a menu that he claims is NOT difficult, even though he cooks the meat seven hours. I told him the definition of DIFFICULT is different in French than in English.
“Ah, zer is a difference between difficult and time consuming. It takes time, but it is not difficult.”
copyright Philippe Dols
Any working mother would disagree, but who am I too argue. Most women dream of sitting down to a five-course gourmet once in a lifetime, in my humble abode, I eat like a queen every weekend. Gerald says cooking is his creative outlet. My poor hubby, my creativity is depleted writing silly blogs and dreaming up ways to keep hyperactive kids focused in class.
His latest chef d’oeuvres, Tagine de porc Marrakech, Marinade de Lapin aux Epices, Porc au Caramel et au Lait de Coco. How can I compete with that? Gerald insists that the cookbook he follows, « Jules aux Fourneaux «( Jules at the oven,)with recipes written by everyday, run-of-the-mill Frenchmen, who enjoy cooking, is simple. Each dish must be accompanied with a specially chosen wine of a specific grape from a certain region. As a connoisseur of wine, my repertoire is limited to three selections – red,white or rose.
Tagine de Porc…Easy? Pork, garlic, onions, artichoke hearts, Agen prunes, olive oil, apple cidre, honey, Moroccan herbs, cumin, hot peppers, coriander, almonds!
It requires over a dozen different ingredients, not counting salt and pepper. A recipe with more than two parts and one pot is challenging in my book.
Marinade de Lapin needs 18 ingredients, not counting the bunny. It would be easier to go out and hunt meat with a bow and arrow than actually prepare the meal. Ladies, anytime you see the word, marinade, run! It means hours of pre preparation before you even turn on the stove.
No worries if your man is not French, my American brothers-in-law can cook my sisters into the ground. Gently remind your significant other that the best chefs in the world are of the male gender.
I tend to cook by my grandma’s old methods, a dash of this, a sprinkle of that, which is the opposite of precise French cuisine where meat must be tenderized, marinated, basted, rotated and pampered every minute from the market to the table.
My speciality takes a mere twenty seconds to prepare. Slice one fresh baguette, lightly butter and cover with cheese. France at it’s best! Voila le sandwich.
Alas, la cuisine francaise made easy a la Potreezia! Bon appetit.
Sixty five years after the anniversary of Anne Frank’s death in Bergen Belsen, the young girl remains a teenager forever, her memory kept alive by the millions who read her story.
My 9th grade English class try to comprehend the atrocity of world history. We not only analyze the Holocaust ; we also visit a concentration camp. « It is so depressing, » Invariably students say, « why do we have to study. This ? » Yet, painful as it may be a young minds, we must bear witness to the past.
I told the class that they could ever play a game by my rules or take a test. « The game starts when we walk outside this door. No talking. If you speak, you will be sent back to the class room. Bring your journal and a pen; leave everything else in the room. »
Single file, 18 students followed me down the hall, up two flights of stairs and down a narrow passageway under the sloping roof of the old building. I unlocked the door to an empty room, no bigger than a boxcar. When I close the shutters on the dormer windows, I say, »This is like the black out of houses during WWII bombings. We are in the secret attic of the school. Write a descriptive piece using all five senses. You can imagine you are writing a journal entry during the Holocaust, you can invent a story of the Swiss hiding from their French neighbors, former oppressors, or you can pretend the teachers turned against students and I am hiding you to save you from being taken away. You have to survive one class period in without a sound. »
Students slouched against the sloping walls.
A couple boys scuffled over the three wooden chairs. Others lay on the floor. Only the rustle
of paper and pens scratching across the lines breaks the eerie silence. No one spoke. Even my hyperactive drummer boy stopped tapping.
The air was hot and stuffy from too many bodies crowded into too small of space, squeezed
so close together our elbows touched. I felt like I was suffocating.
My thirteen-year old students were the same age as Anne Frank when she went into
hiding. How different their lives? Affluent kids from privileged backgrounds dressed in designer jeans and shirts, feet clad in various name brand of tennis shoes in rainbow colors. My six girls, a minority, stopped writing occasionally to brush their long, luxurious hair from their bright, inquisitive eyes.
I glanced around the room at my students -American, British, Czech, French, German, Guadamalean, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Scandinavian, Swiss , Trinidadian, -not long ago we were divided by ideology in a world war. Allies vs. Nazis, the axis of evil, set to annihilate all but the Aryan race. Today we are classmates and friends at an international school without walls in Switzerland, a neutral country without borders.
« I feel locked, not in a room, but within myself, » one Israeli student wrote. « Even though we are not alone without communication we’re not together. The intense atmosphere of silence can quickly make the toughest mind fragile. »
« I feel oppressed. » wrote another. « My back hurts from sitting on the floor.»
I cannot help but compare these kids to those of Anne Frank’s time or to my generation coming of age at the heels of the Civil Rights and Women’s movement. I pods, I pads, Internet, cell phones,
television, today’s teens connected 24/7 by instant messaging and the world wide web. When was the last time these children listened to silence, turned out the universe and tuned into the self ?
These multi cultured, multi ethnic, children are our future. They are the ones who will stop nuclear war, negotiate peace, end terrorism, prevent oil spills and contain other man made disasters with more cooperation, better technology, brighter minds.
And I the aging teacher will become a shadow of the past, a faded memory of an era when I
tried to change lives the old fashioned way, one idea at a time.