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.

What Can Go Wrong? Dream House Never Gets Built

So many people, who know of our dream to build a house in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland, keep asking, “How is the new house coming along?”

It’s not.

What could go wrong? A home that builders promised to finish last April that I called, “our plot” remains like it sounds - a hole in the ground (well in our case a chunk carved out of a mountainside).

The building area resembles a construction site with rocks, dirt, foundation, a crane, but no roof, no walls, no windows. The plans sold to us showed a beautiful complex of three triplex homes housing 9 different families.

Each of the 9 owners-to-be has been promised a June 2022 delivery at the very latest.We now have been given 3 floating dates depending on the buildings. The only positive outcome of this mess is that we have gotten to know our future neighbors. Over irate, disgruntled coffee klatches, we rant about the lies we’ve been told and the alarming lack of progress.

No one in their wildest dreams could fathom this kind of screw up in a country as well organized and efficient at Switzerland where hardly a train runs late.
Part of it may be due the international nature of living here.

To fill you in on the background, the property, owned by a Scotsman who lives in the chalet above the land, bought it for peanuts 40 years ago and sold it for a fortune. At first, he put a credible Swiss architect firm in charge with whom buyers signed contracts.

For unknown reasons, the Scotsman took the Swiss company off the project and put a small construction company in charge where everyone speaks Serbo-Croatian.

“You’re in trouble!” my Serbian friend laughed and explained, “They work on Serbian time, everything will always be late.”

The Scotsman signed a different deal with the original Swiss architect company to oversee the end result, but no longer have any role in the day to day operation. Consequently, the small builder oversees his own progress.

Yet the Swiss company, who retains a 15% cut on all additional costs, legally must assure that the project is completed. With 3 different entities involved in the deal, responsibility has been passed hand to hand like a hot potato. No one communicates to the buyers what is really going on.

The results: one building has siding and a roof, but no interior finishing, another building has a foundation, ground floor walls, and a third of the siding on the second floor, and our building remains a cement foundation.

We were supposed to be the first structure built until engineers decided that our home, on a level above the other two, must be constructed last to keep the mountain from collapsing on the other two.

See why we are worried?

By renting our rustic chalet in the same village, we can easily check on progress or lack there of. At the end of September, in a meeting with all 3 parties, they promised my husband that our home would be ready by the end of April 2023. Our neighbors, in building two, were told they would be in theirs by Christmas 2022, but winter is coming and when the first snow falls all work stops.

When we walked by the premises recently, we were alarmed to see partially finished buildings, an idle crane, but no workers or building supplies on site. We surmised that the builders ran into major delays in attaining the prefab wood siding panels ordered from a company in Slovenia.

How insane is this scenario?

A friendly Scotsman sells a piece of land to a reputable Swiss architect company with whom we signed contracts. Then the switcheroo - a Serbian building company, owned by a British firm in London, takes charge of construction with materials ordered from Slovenia. Global efficiency ?

As the clock ticks, the tab grows greater with owners paying more on all interior fixtures due to price increase. Owners are also paying rising interest rates on Swiss bank home loans. We paid extra American (as well as Swiss) taxes on our “virtual” home. We also pay a rent and storage fees for a full year longer than budgeted.

Right now, no ones lives in their “dream house” except a local gang of druggies, who discovered that the site is a great place to hang out and get high.

Stay tuned! Oh the joys of the ex-pat life.

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!

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.

4th of July 2020 – A Time of Reflection

4th of July 2020 - A Time of ReflectionOn our nation’s birthday I want to wish everyone a Happy 4th of July, but I don’t feel happy. I am deeply troubled about our future.

This is the first 4th of July since I moved to Europe 4 decades ago that I am not in my homeland celebrating the American holiday with family. Due to the present situation, I am not welcome there nor is my French husband or anyone else from Europe. No planes from abroad are allowed to land on American soil due to the Covid epidemic, but the great irony is that European leaders have done a much better job of handling the crisis than. Trump. The pandemic is under control here especially where we live in Switzerland.

The US has the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the world.

Americans are not allowed in Europe either, which is sad for European business.

“In 2019 around 18 billion Americans came to Europe spending 70 billion Euros (about 78 $billion dollars), “says Tom Jenkins CEO of the European Tourism Association.““

Europe’s borders have reopened to Europeans and 14 other countries – no one knows for how long— but they won’t be open to Americans anytime soon. Long haul flights and exchanges between Europeans and Americans look even more doubtful.

The financial fall out from lack of international trade between Europe and the US is massive; the emotional toll on families even greater.

I don’t know when I will see my children in the States again. My British daughter- in- law does not know when her family will be allowed to visit. My niece’s Chinese boyfriend has no idea when he will see his parents. And my eldest niece, who will be a new mother in two months, wonders what kind of a world awaits her baby.

Like most Americans living abroad, I am ashamed of our country’s leadership. I am alarmed by our President’s incompetence, his total lack of diplomacy, compassion and integrity.

I am worried for my daughter and niece who work in the medical health field in the States at a time when people show lack of respect for human life, refusing to do something as simple and innocuous as wearing a mask.

I am troubled by social unrest created from years of blatant inequality and lack of tolerance

I am horrified by the anti woman, anti gay, anti black, anti European rhetoric that fuels hatred and gives free license to bigotry.

Families may not be as international as mine, but so many of us can trace our ancestry to other parts of the world and so much of our nation was built on the backs of immigrants and slaves. To ignore the role of the African Americans, Asians and Europeans in the making of our country is a travesty, to sever the ties to our motherlands is a crime.

But I hope there are still pockets of America where the old values I grew up with still remain. Places like Summit Lake where time stands still, where hope runs eternal ,where nature heals our broken hearts. A place where the 4th of July is a celebration of a forgotten way of life of what is good about Americans, their childlike optimism and joie de vivre.

4th of July 2020 - A Time of Reflection

 

A place remarkable in its simplicity. Every 4th of July people dressed in costumes ride in decorated pontoon boats that circle the lake waving flags and throwing out candy and icees to people sitting on their docks. Later in the evening fire works explode from the public beach across the lake rivals any big city display. On the dock, wrapped in blankets, we swat mosquitoes while admiring the burst of sparkly colors illuminating the black waters and believe in childhood dreams again.
4th of July 2020 - A Time of Reflection

This year though I am sad for my country, I am thinking of happier 4th of July memories. Still my heart aches for family, for the lake and for a simpler time when we weren’t isolated and separated by a pandemic.

Good Neighbors Add Allure to Summit Lake Wisconsin

Summit LakeWe used to be the only cabin on our side of the lake and I liked it that way, but when people built cottages next door, I discovered Summit Lake’s beauty magnifies when shared.

In 1952 my grandparents bought the log lodge peeking out from behind the pines on the point across from the island. They turned it into Camp Ney-A-Ti Boys’ Camp. The camp used to be the only sign of civilization on the western side of the lake.

In 1964, when my grandparents sold the camp and 40 acres, they had the foresight to save a 125 feet of lake front property on the far edge of their land. Then they built our little red cabin. On some else’s land. They were shocked to find out someone else owned that lot, so they lifted the wooden cottage and moved it over 50 feet.Summit Lake cabin

That landowner build a cottage on his land and generations later, we became friends with his grandchildren’s children. Then our children grew up together over lazy, fun-filled summers. The path through the woods between our cabins remains well worn. Instead of playing hide and seek of childhood, the “kids” sit on the screened in porch debating solutions to problems of the adult world.

We are the only flatlanders (Illinoisans) amongst the Wisconsinites; they accept us as long as we wear our Greenbay Packer caps.

A deputy sheriff lives on one side of us and a lawyer on the other. If we get in trouble with the lawman on our left, we could seek counsel with our neighbor on the right side to bail us out. But as grandchildren of Coach Mac, we would never consider breaking the rules.

Surprisingly, as much as I liked the idea of being alone in the woods, I discovered it is nice to have neighbors.

We hail from different cities and walks of life, but Up North no one cares where you come from or how much money you make, as long as you share the same values – respect for nature and community spirit.

kids of the lakeThe lake ‘hood children have grown up becoming doctors, nurses, plumbers, firemen and teachers. If the “kids” were ever Up North at that same time, we would have a “cabin” town of skilled professionals to cope with any illness, injury, wildfire, flooded basement, or backed up toilet.

With trees and foliage growing so thick, you don’t have to see your neighbors, who are never nosey, but if you do need anything they will be there.

At one time or other everyone has rescued my Frenchman when his catamaran capsized. All the neighbors have a story to tell about how they towed the yellow sailboat safely to shore behind their pontoon sailing Summit Lakeboat.sailing Summit Lake

Another time a neighbor helped jump-start my sister’s car at dawn in the dead of winter. And if you need to borrow a chainsaw, a shovel or a cup of sugar, just ask. Neighbors willingly share, sometimes even offering beds in their cabin when your own overflows with friends and relatives.

“You know the rule,” the guy next door says, “if my boat is out, and you want to ride or ski c’mon on over.”touring Summit Lake

Summer folks. Summer friends. Good neighbors. Good people.

Along with the wilderness and wildlife, human beings are part of the Northwood’s blessings too.Grandparents & kids