Sun Is Out, Cows Moved Up, Spring is Here

After a arduous, cold, grey winter spring finally arrived in the mountains,
but it took its own sweet time getting here!

During our favorite mountain hike, the local farmer passed us on the dirt lane; he stopped and opened the back gate of his livestock truck. Then we watched spellbound, as a herd of cows raced across the verdant field in a moment of serendipity.

Have you ever seen cows run?

The herd acted as if they’d arrived at summer camp. The calves romped with joy like children let out of school for the holidays.

Rich grass, clean air, wide open spaces!

The desalpes, the famous folkloric parade of cows coming down the mountain in autumn is a well known Swiss celebration; however, few people witness the inalpes when cows come up to the Jura’s green pastures for the summer season of fine grazing.

As we hiked, we could see across to the far side of lake where the grey veil of winter lifted, revealing the majestic Alps etched against a heartbreaking sapphire sky. The mountains, in different shades of slate, appeared to bow down to Mont Blanc, the queen bejeweled in her sparkling white crown.

Daffodils waltzed in the wind, leaf buds popped open, buttercups shot up, forsythia burst into golden flame and dogwoods danced in their lacy, white petticoats. In valley below us, the lemon yellow rape seed contrasted with green wheat fields. Grape vines like gnarled, old arthritic hands reached toward the light. Pink and white blossoms exploded on the apple and cherry trees.

Under a splash of spring sunshine, blessings unfolded around me. Balancing with sticks, stumbling for footing, knees grinding like bad transmission, I was grateful to still be upright and walking. In my heart, I was dancing.

Hallelujah spring arrived!

Hiking in paradise

Rejoicing in the day.

Today…

Is always enough.

Why We Write

“The natural writer is the one who is always writing; if only in his head-sizing up a situation for material, collecting impressions.”

I seek out people to interview, new places to visit, stories to share, all the while feeling off balance and a bit loco.

“You develop an extra sense that partly excludes you from experience,” says Martin Amis. “Writers are not really experiencing things fully, 100%. They are always holding back and wondering what the significance is.”

“Every person who does serious time with the key board is attempting to translate his version of the world into words so that he might be understood. The great paradox of the writer’s life is how much time he spends alone trying to connect with other people.” (Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner p. 36)

That’s me in a nutshell. I struggle to experience everyday life in my various roles while capturing each milestone and new adventures on paper.

Looking back at my career, one reason I loved the game of basketball was because the fast pace and concentration needed to play prevented this dual existence. There was no time be an observer and participant. On the court, I had to be 100% engaged. The game demanded total focus of mind and body.

But off the court, stories pinged off my brain like pinballs.

In the car as a child on cross country vacations, I wrote stories about the plantations down south, the ranches out west and Victorian homes on the East coast. In college, I stretched out in the back of the campus station wagons on basketball road trips, and wrote character sketches of teammates in my mind. As a globetrotting, adult the sights outside the window of my plane, train, bus or car gave me ample material for stories.

As a student, I daydreamed so much, it’s a wonder I ever passed 1st grade.

Even during my teaching career, while standing in the field during PE lessons in Switzerland, my mind wandered to our mountain views where shepherds tended sheep in alpine meadows. Lost in reverie, I forgot to whistle off sides in soccer, out of bounds in field hockey or strikes in softball, until a student complained forcing me back to reality.

To be in the moment is hard for a writer.

I am torn between the different cultural, geographical and the physical worlds of Switzerland, France and the USA, and also from the emotional, imaginary one of living life and recording it simultaneously.

Writing keeps me grounded. I process life through words. During fleeting moments, my purpose becomes crystal clear as I search my path, stumbling over obstacles along the way. In writing, I lose myself. Like playing basketball, I enter “the zone,” without the euphoria.

After writing, I am spent. My fingers cramp. My shoulders ache. My back throbs. I need to stretch my limbs frozen to the chair.

Writing is a constant battle of wills between the creative brain and the logical one. Why spend so much time doing something that brings no financial rewards and few emotional ones?

I swear off practicing my art, stop typing, lock up in writer’s block. Inevitably, I eventually return to the blank page because not writing is even more excruciating.

My shelves are full of memoir, novel and screenplay drafts. Without writing my life seems meaningless. Only in the retelling, can I comprehend the raw experiences of my soul.

Writing unleashes the mystery in our human existence.

But damned if it doesn’t drive me crazy.

Boxes, crammed with thousands of pages of newspaper articles, unfinished manuscripts, half bake books and segments of stories, ferment like a compost pile under my bed.

Why bother?

Language links us. Writer friends, please continue to put your muse to paper; reader friends, thank you a thousand times for keeping connected. Without readers do I exist?

I write, therefore, I am.

Old Friends Forever Family

Girlfriends get us through tough times, celebrate our victories and always got our back.

In our senior year at Illinois State University, I shared a townhouse off campus with five friends. We called ourselves family.

Ever loyal fans, they supported me my final season of college basketball that began badly with a back injury. Frustrated by the setback, I limped in walking crooked. They welcomed me home by tilting the wall pictures sideways too.

When my younger sister needed a place to stay, they squeezed her in. I forfeited my spot in our triple, moved to the basement, slept on a mat on the floor and stored clothes in cardboard boxes. In the dungeon, I never heard my bunkmates’ early alarm clock with the darn dozer button. It never felt like a sacrifice until the basement flooded.

Only one housemate was my biological sibling, but we called each other sisters, except for the most responsible one in the group, who we nicknamed mom.

“The family” was always there for me.

Every happy occasion we played our theme song, “We are Family,” and danced our fool heads off.

They hugged me goodbye at the airport, when I chased my dream to play pro ball in Paris. After my career ending car accident in France, they flew abroad to urge me to keep fighting. They held my hand when I lost my first baby in an harrowing miscarriage at an isolated cabin in the woods. When our children were still young enough to drag around, we gathered for “family reunions” on my stateside visits.

When my dad died, they flew in from all over to attend his memorial service. The only one who could not be there sent her husband as a stand in.

Forty-five years after college graduation, during a bitter cold January, they drove six hours to Minneapolis to see me before I flew back home to Switzerland.

My husband, bless his little cotton socks, catered to us. Like a 5 star French chef, he served fine wine, "boeuf bourguignon", and "mousse au chocolat". Over champagne, we toasted to ISU, to friendship, to resiliency. We survived thyroid cancer, breast cancer, brain surgery, a car wreck and other calamities.

None of us followed the traditional script. We navigated divorce, death of a spouse, childbirth, adoption, step-children, cross cultural marriage and grandchildren.

We shared highlights and hardships, disappointments and disasters, triumphs and tragedies.

We attained lofty goals becoming a pro athlete, a physical therapist, teachers, coaches, and administrators. We raised families, nurtured aging parents, dedicated our careers to helping others.

We treasured memories of that special time as college students when we starred in our own life stories savoring lazy weekends, crazy keggers and Florida spring break.

Never again would we be so carefree or live under the same roof, but we knew we could count on each other forevermore. Always. Til death do us part.

Thankfully, we are all still here.

Dancing!

“We are Family. I got all my sisters with me!”

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.
  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.

    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.

Dancing Down Memory Lane to Mixed Tapes – Remember Those?

Dancing down memory lane through my eclectic collection of music, I revisit my past. When I was a kid, my sisters spend babysitting money on clothes, I saved my pennies to buy the latest Marvin Gaye album. Remember the old vinyl?

From turn tables, to Walkmans, to boom boxes, from albums to tapes to CDs, all replaced today by iPhones, blue tooth, sound box. Who could ever forget the old juke box? The delivery system may change, but no one can replace the hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Anyone else foolishly carry their life halfway around the world in a suitcase filled with mixed tapes?

Remember these artists? Teddy Pendergrass, Bill Withers, Grover Washington, Jr., Barry White, George Benson. How about the Temptations, the Supremes, the Isley Brothers? Can anyone surpass the smooth groove of Motown’s stars?

While I chased my hoop dreams, a bouncing ball became the background beat of my growing up years. Has any other game matched so well to music?

From my Illinois State University warm up songs like Le Freak C’est Chic and Give Me The Night, rhythm fueled my basketball dreams. My boom box followed me to French, German and Swiss sports halls.

My daughter laughs when she reminisced about how we used to dance around the living room in Paris to Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach.

“Mom did you ever questioned if it was appropriate to be singing about teenage pregnancy to a 7-year-old?”

Oh how we loved Kelly Rowland before and after Destiny’s Child split up.

My portable stereophonic sound system came to Europe. Each squad I played on or coached selected favorite warm up songs that became part of their identity. My tape collection included American soul, German rock, French pop. Listening to old tunes flooded me with memories me of players and coaches, friends and places.

During my coaching days in Paris and then in Geneva, Switzerland, athletes made me special CDs for each season. Later generations set up play lists on iPhones. Each summer in the states, my friend sent me off with homemade mixed tapes and introduced me to female vocalists like Patti LaBelle and Anita Baker.

R n B and soul - Alisha Keyes, Ella Mai, Janelle Monae, Mary J. Blige - remain my favorites today. Taste in music is a unique as one’s palette for food.

Influenced by friends on my journey, my best friend Phil taught me how to play guitar, a boyfriend in DC added rock n roll to my repertoire, I learned a bit of jazz from a French musician in Paris and folk songs from German buddies. The souvenirs of places, people and languages filled me with a warm glow of mellow vibes.

To relearn how to play guitar after my accident, I needed to listen to lessons I had preserved on “antique cassettes”. I ordered a Walkman on Amazon. Stock depleted! I was not the only one reliving musical flashbacks.

When my Walkman arrived in the mail, I felt like a kid at Christmas, but it took a half of day to figure out how to make sound come out of it. MP3 players? Have I been under a rock? What is a MP3 player?

Strolling along with my Walkman, I imitate the motion of dribbling a ball between my legs, spinning, and feigning a jump shot, remembering when my limbs moved effortlessly and my mind wandered aimlessly filled with dreams.

Favorite songs soothe the pain from injury, illness, and heartache.

Music magically transports us back in time and inspires us to keep moving forward.

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.

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