My Bucket List for Midwest

I left the Midwest 43 yrs ago, but I didn’t move to the glamorous coasts - Boston, NYC, LA - nooo I flew across the Big Pond, landed in Paris and picked up a Frenchman.

Reading The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink and Eat…Everything With Ranch by Charlie Berens, a comedian and award winning journalist raised in a family of 12 kids in Wisconsin, brought back memories of my childhood. Though I’ve been back to the states many summers, some Midwestern things I have yet to experience.

Here is my bucket list.

  1. Ice fishing - My brother-in-law or nephew-in-law would let me to tag along and hang out in their ice hut, but I could not survive sitting through a snow storm on a frozen lake in a canvas tent without electrically heated long underwear.

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  2. Tailgating - It sounds about as much fun as partying in a “boot.” American trunks are bigger European homes, but why sit in a parking lot outside a stadium during miserable weather to grill hotdogs and drink beer if you can’t see the football game? I’d rather pull on my favorite team logo t-shirt, park my butt in a comfy recliner in front of 100 inch, high resolution TV screen and watch the game while my Frenchman serves a 5-course meal with a fine wine.
  3. Go to a State Fair - I could plan a visit to coincide with my summer stateside, but any state fair would set off panic attacks from sensory overload. The thought of noisy crowds, clashing colors, weird odors and tastes of inedible concoctions - chocolate covered bacon, cheese on a stick, or fried snicker bars, Oreos, pickles or deep fried anything - makes me nauseous. Even the classic corn dogs, funnel cakes, cotton candy sound dodgy.
  4. I would love to try Minnesota’s Sweet Martha’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, but why bother when my family has our own “Susie Sugar’s to-die-for-chocolate-chip treats”. Beloved Aunt Sue makes batches by the pound full and keeps them “hidden” in freezers. Her nieces and nephews grew up believing Midwestern ice boxes were magic because every time they opened the door, cookies tumbled out.
  5. I love American sports, but some games don’t appeal to me whatsoever such as corn bags, beer pong, or what Charlie Berens calls, testicle toss (ladder toss). Then again I have never taken an interest in the favorite French past time - giant marbles for adults - better known as boules.
  6. A traditional backyard bonfire sounds cool, but only "sans moustiques"!
  7. Seeing a Greenbay Packer’s football game at Lambeau Field tops my wish list. For better or worse, love ‘em or hate ‘em - no matter what you think of this year’s squad - no arena in the world can compare to the ambiance at Lambeau.

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    The Greenbay Packers, America’s third oldest franchise, founded in 1919 have won the most NFL championships, remain the last “small town team” and are the only team in the league owned by the fans. Imagine the thrill of sitting on that sacred frozen tundra with thousands of cheese-headed spectators screaming and catching players doing the Lambeau leap.

What is on your bucket list? With the dollar high as it is these days, never has the time been better to enjoy your dream travel to Europe. So come on over, but don’t put us only your stop over list yet. Our house building project has been put on hold again due to “snow season.” Duh, of course, it snows in the Swiss Mountains in winter.

If the Global Pandemic is Over Why Do I Still Have COVID?

Every action from brushing my teeth, to getting dressed, to sitting at the table wears me out. I have muscle aches, headaches, air hunger, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath. I force myself to walk everyday gasping for air at every incline as though I have run up the mountain.

My doctors surmised that I have lingering COVID or what is called long haul COVID. The illness also robbed me of my sense of taste and smell. How cruel, especially when I have the great fortune of being married to a French chef. Yet in comparison to others, my complaints are minor.

In August, our son contracted COVID and he suggested we test. My husband, who barely felt ill, tested positive. I had all the symptoms, but tested negative until 5 days later.

Luckily, I have an expert resource for up to date, accurate information about COVID. My friend, Jono Quick, is a public health specialist, who dedicated his career to focusing on global health security. An internationally known global health leader, Jonathan (“Jono”) D. Quick, MD, MPH wrote in 2018 The End of Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It that eerily forecasted this dreadful fallout of a pandemic. The former director of Essential Drugs and Medicines Policy for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva was part of Dr. Fauci’s think tank committee at the outbreak of the COVID epidemic.

In August, when I tested positive, I called him. “Over half the population has the virus and is asymptomatic,” he told me, “Or they mistakenly believe it is only the common cold.”

He emphasized the importance of isolation during the illness and protecting others. Misconceptions abound making this issue more confusing.There is so much we don’t understand yet, COVID has only been here for 2 years, which is a very short period for scientific knowledge.

How do we protect ourselves and others when the guidelines keep changing?

Dr. Quick stated that these recommendations still hold true.

  • Mask up! But only KN95 or N95 masks are efficient against Omicron.
  • Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate - the virus hangs around indoors.
  • Respect a safe a distance in public spaces
  • Remember that the risk is higher if your immune system is weaker. Even if you already had Omicron and have been vaccinated, you still risk getting it again, because immunity wanes over time.
  • Keep your vaccine updated. The good news is that the vaccine protects you against the most severe forms of the illness.

People are sick of COVID protocols. With lower viral levels during the summer months, European countries lifted flying bans and border entry restrictions. Everyone enjoyed more freedom to travel, but it has never been without risks. With winter approaching, experts sound alarms again. If the rising European rates are a forewarning, as they have been in the past, Americans could be next.

Omicron BA. 4/5 variants plagued us this summer, but the WHO has been continually tracking hundreds of new variants. An 8th wave of infections threatens the European continent. A new variant labeled Centaure, first discovered in India and recently identified here, could hit hard this winter

What about patients like me with immunocompromised systems that still suffer from symptoms?

A recent Scottish study, one of the largest on long COVID, found that nearly half of COVID cases had not fully recovered more than six months after the infection.

According to my neurologist and ENT in Switzerland, the low energy, loss of taste and smell can take up to 18 months to recover from.

Meanwhile the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control have noted rising COVID cases and hospitalization across Europe.

Pretending it doesn’t matter because cases are milder now than before is a lame excuse. COVID exposure is like playing Russian roulette. Depending on one’s age, immune system status and other extenuating health circumstances, the results of an infection can be catastrophic and even deadly.

Most members of my immediate family have had milder cases of COVID, but I have lost 2 uncles, (in the USA and France) to this horrible disease. I struggle to fully recover after 3 months; my French sister-in-law still battles complications of post COVID lung inflammation.

America prides itself on freedom, which we all value. But how can the right to carry a gun in public be more widely tolerated than accepting the “inconvenience” of wearing a mask to help prevent oneself and others from contracting a life threatening illness?

Please don’t criticize, belittle or judge anyone who chooses to adhere the guidelines that we cannot afford to ignore.

“Error on the side of caution,” Dr. Quick suggested. “Don’t take risks. Don’t compromise safety yourself or others.”

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

Cancer Stole My Friend Too Soon

My friend died last weekend. My heart is heavy. Christine was such a beautiful soul. Thoughtful, kind, warmhearted. Far too young to part already. She leaves behind 3 children - beautiful reflections of herself -whom I had the privilege of teaching.

Cancer crept up insidiously. She had shortness of breath. She felt run down.

Aren’t all dedicated teachers?

She left school one day for a doctor’s appointment; she never came back to class. Instead she went to war in the cancer ward. The diagnosis. The deception. The despair. The carnage. The crusade.

She fought her battle against leukemia so gallantly. After the first rounds of hospitalizations and chemotherapy, she went into remission. When cancer reared its ugly head again, she returned to battle. Her sister selflessly donated her bone marrow for a replacement. More hospitalizations. More isolation. More pain. More anxiety. More anguish.

How hard to believe you are getting better when your body weakens from the endless fight?

All that effort bought her a little more time before she succumbed to an infection that attacked her heart. Her heart. Her generous, loving heart.

Who among us has never lost a loved one to disease?

Cancer is especially cruel. It attacks the self. It can only be beat-sometimes just temporarily - by knocking out the immune system leaving the victim vulnerable to the very air breathed.

She left us with a bittersweet reminder we only have today. And treasured memories.

I have so many. She once baked my favorite carrot cake and brought it to our department meeting for my birthday. When I couldn’t drive, she picked me and took me to one of my retirement parties. Years later, wearing a knitted cap to hide her bald head, she swooped in to carry me off for coffee where we lamented our fight to survive.

After my brain surgery, I looked to her for inspiration. I saw how hard she fought with so much grace and dignity. I thought if she can prevail, so can I. And so we faced another day.

Until we didn’t.

Now she is no longer here. A good person gone too soon. I never had the chance to say goodbye.

She lent me books and lesson plans, shared smiles and stories, offered rides and meals. She gave me laughter and joy.

She brightened my days.

Now I mourn for her children, her husband, her sister, her parents, her colleagues and friends, all who feel her passing as an ache that will not subside.

I miss her already.

Rest in peace dear friend.

You left behind the best kind of legacy.

You were greatly loved.

"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.

 

 

Second Chance – One Year Anniversary Changes My Perspective

On the 1st year anniversary of my second life, I wonder where am I now? I still feel lost. A year ago, I remember standing in our living room, turning to my husband to ask a question, and then face planting on our tile floor.

Days later, I woke up in a hospital thrashing against my bed rail and shrieking “Let me out! What am I doing here?”

Second ChanceMy head hurt, my face hurt, my right side hurt. One side of my head was shaved. I reached up and traced the scar dissecting my skull from my forehead to my earlobe.

On the telephone, my husband tried to explain why my head was sliced open in a 5 hour surgery and why no one, not even him, was allowed to visit me due to the COVID pandemic.

And so began a long year filled with fear, self-doubt and hopelessness.

Recovery required a team effort - a neurologist, physical therapist, speech therapist, neuropsychiatrist, rheumatologist, chiropractor and psychiatrist.

But my front line family care team kept me going day to day.

At the same time 4,000 miles away, my 89-year-old dad fought a daily battle to keep moving.

Recently, he was released from the hospital after a series of health crises that created the perfect storm. Wearing a special therapeutic boot for an infected toe, he walked off balance, leading to sciatica. Unable to sleep due to excruciating pain, the combination of pain meds and lack of sleep led to hallucinations.

I relived my accident in hearing about his. Ever the coach, in his delusions, he called out, “Keep hustling team!” And shot a wadded up pillow at a wastebasket. Ever the athlete, in mine, I blamed the nurses for hiding my basketball shoes and stealing my uniform making late for the big game.

Second ChanceWith my daughter, nieces, siblings and dear mom, helping him regain mobility and self care, my determined dad learned how to push out of his chair and walk unassisted again. Just like I once I relearned how to tie my shoes, grasp utensils, and button my shirt.

When I got out of hospital, I couldn't walk 60 yards without sitting down, now I walk 6 miles a day.Second Chance

At first, I was so frustrated. I couldn’t grip my guitar and play chords with my left hand. My left arm hung limp like dead weight. Then Gerald told me about Melody Gardot, an American jazz singer, who was hit by a car while riding her bike at age 19.

She suffered severe brain injury, broke her back and pelvis and could no longer sit to play the piano, so she taught herself to play guitar lying in her hospital bed. Like me, hypersensitive to light, Gardot, still wears dark glasses too.

Without a voice, no longer able to sing, she hummed. Unable to remember words, she wrote them down. Eventually she composed and performed again.

After my accident, intubation during surgery and hours with a speech therapist, my voice was a whisper. On long distance phone calls, I asked my daughter to sing with me like she did when she was a child.

Inspired by Gardot’s story I picked up my old guitar, practiced in 5, 10, 15 minutes increments and hummed too. I dreamed of being able to strum and sing around a campfire with family this summer at Summit Lake.

Thinking about my dad and remembering my own accident, I am reminded of our vulnerability. No one knows how much time we have left. Or how long we will retain our capabilities.

The human condition is humbling.

Life offers no guarantees. Will I ever recover completely? Maybe not.

I may never drive again or ride a bike, but I can still play a song, type a blog, read a book, walk a mile and cherish a new day.