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.

 

 

Sophie Giraffe Favorite French Toy Turns 60

The little red Radio Flyer wagon, Lincoln logs, Matchbox cars each generation had their favorite toys, but the all time favorite French toy is Sophie la giraffe

May 25th, 2021 on St.Sophie Day, Sophie La Girafe turns 60.

Vulli, a company based in Rumilly in the Haute-Savoie region of France, not far from where we live outside of Geneva, has kept the highly guarded secret of how Sopie la Girafe is made. The rubber, used by Vulli to make Sophie, comes exclusively from the hevea trees growing in Malaysia.

Surprisingly such a simple toy has a complex process of production. To create Sophie la girafe, Vulli first heats the latex using a special process involving a technique called "rotomoulding" and then performs a series of 14 manual operations, which are still used today..
Unlike modern toys, which do everything except cook dinner and change nappies, and may be too sophisticated to foster learning, Sophie, a teething toy, was designed to stimulate all 5 senses from the babies’ age of 3 months.

Though Sophie’s squeaker may drive parents crazy, the sound the giraffe makes when squeezed stimulates the baby’s hearing and helps him to understand the link between cause and effect.
The giraffe’s dark spots captures baby's eyesight, which is still limited in the early months, and can only make out high contrasts.

Developed from latex, made from the natural rubber of the Hevea tree, Sophie has a distinct scent which makes the giraffe easy for babies to identify amongst other toys.
At an age when baby puts everything in her mouth, Sophie, made of 100% natural rubber, was a toy designed to chew. Akin to the nipple of a feeding-bottle, Sophie’s soft textured, chewable ears, horns, and legs makes her perfect for soothing baby's sore gums during teething.

Sophie’s texture feels soft, like baby's mother's skin, which stimulates physiological and emotional responses that soothe the baby and promote healthy growth and well-being.
Her shape - long legs and neck and her size, 18cm - makes it easy for baby to grip.

When my children were babies, Sophie was their favorite toy, so when I gave one to my niece, Marie, when she was born and it became her beloved toy.

When Marie had her first baby, Hadley, I sent her a Sophie original from France. But Hadley’s grandma, my sister Karen, beat me to it. Sophie la Girafe is no longer found only in France, she can be purchased in 80 different countries and is sold at your nearest Target.

Sophie’s, popularity, which once spread by word of mouth, has now reached sales of over 50 million. She has become such a commercial success that she has her own brand, website and blog.

Like all celebrities, Sophie even joined a good cause and partnered with Girafe Conservation Foundation (GFS) to conserve the future for giraffes in Africa

Sophie la girafe, timeless and cross generational, loved by parents and children alike, still brings baby biggest smiles.

Tools to Help Ease Bad Back Pain

For the past 55 years I have lived with back pain and I could write a book on how to cope since I have tried every self help tool available.

As a teenager, my right leg went numb from a herniated disk. In 1978 the standard treatment for ruptured disks was traction and surgery, but I argued my way out of the hospital, refused the knife and began chiropractic treatment.

I will swear my life on the benefit of chiropractic care, which has kept me mobile in spite of slipped lumbar disks, compressed dorsal disks, 2 whiplash injuries and the combined trauma of a professional basketball career, a car crash, a bike accident and a ski wipeout.

Chiropractic therapy, a team endeavor, requires the patient’s investment in following recommended strengthening and stretching exercises and a healthy diet. I advocate the physical therapist and chiropractor’s belief that one should exercise to help maintain health.

But in addition to keeping active to help ease the ache, I tried every gadget on the market.

Back pain is so universal, you may be interested in some of the tools I use.

The Thera Cane, a simple, inexpensive device is a hard cane with nodules that can be used to self-massage trigger points.

The Wet Vest allowed me to run again, but not on land. The vest that looks a bit like a life jacket keeps you afloat in deep water so that you can run without back or joint pain. http://www.hydrofit.com/wet-vest-ii/

The Swiss ball, a large, heavy-duty inflatable ball with a diameter of 18 to 30 inches can used for various exercises to strengthen and stretch muscles.

The heat lamp may be an old fashioned remedy, but lying under an infra-red lamp helps muscles relax.

My chiropractic memory foam sleep pillow allows me to rest with neck support and my body pillow gives leg support and helps me maintain proper alignment during the night. The only drawback is that with all the pillows, there may no longer be enough room for your partner.

Massage of any kind helps. I even have my own (used) massage table, however it only works well if you can actually enlist another person to give you the massage.

I call the Bemer, a magnetic therapy device, my magic carpet. This mat made of a pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) was designed to increase microcirculation and boost the blood flow which benefits the body’s cardiac system, regenerative abilities and mental acuity. The mat is attached to an electronic device that looks like a digital alarm clock. It's supposed to heal everything from your headache to your cat's depression (no kidding) by using a low magnetic field. Improvement of microcirculation and reducing fatigue have so far been confirmed, but I am not convinced.

Ice and hot packs, the ancient standby, can be alternated for acute injury. Hot baths in Epsom salts can be used at home for good old fashioned backaches. But if you have access to thermal baths with jacuzzi or any kind of water jets you can get even greater relief.

My Everstyl reclining chair, made by a French company specializing in ergonomic furniture, was designed to give proper support to the back. This deluxe lounge chair has multi positions including a full recline which alleviates pressure on the lumbar spine.

The Inversion Table is my new favorite. By hanging on a table upside down, gravity takes the weight off the vertebrae and disks.

A yoga mat is a must for stretching; it works best if used several times a day because the older you get the faster everything tightens up.

The Theragun, my husbands new favorite toy, is a percussive therapy device creating vibrations to offer a powerful deep muscle treatment.

As part of chiropractic care, I have tried TENS, massage, computerized traction and high intensity laser.

I also had a go with acupuncture, cupping, reflexology and sophrology, but I will save the explanation for my next post.

Am I totally pain free? No, but I am still upright, mobile and tracking 10,000 steps a day.

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.