Living in 1800s Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains Switzerland

Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains SwitzerlandSurviving in our rustic little chalet chiseled out of the side of the Jura Mountains, a few miles from the French border, is challenging as we adjust to living in the 1800s.

In the morning I shiver under my duvet, while Gerald cleans out ashes and then starts a fire in our burning stove, which holds two, foot long logs at a time and provides our main heat.Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains Switzerland

From the outside our chalet looks cute, but inside I feel like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Nothing fits. I bump into furniture and hit my head on low hanging beams. The Swiss were short especially at the turn of the century.

A stone wall divides the main room, the size of box car, into a kitchen and living area. Our refrigerator is the size of one like in a college dormitory. Ditto for the freezer squeezed under the stairwell.

Fortunately, we have indoor plumbing at least downstairs. Our water closet, the size of a telephone booth, is as cold as an out house. If you perch too long on the porcelain stool, which feels like squatting on a block of ice, you end up chiseling icicles from your bottom.

Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains SwitzerlandThe staircase, so steep and narrow, must be navigated sideways and leads to 2 bedrooms. In our bedroom, the antique armoires are too narrow to hang things, so I rolled up our clothes and stored them in baskets under our bed.

Knotty pine walls and a wood beamed ceiling make it cozy. Two shuttered windows overlook the little red train track, where a 2 car train shuttles workers, skiers, hikers up and down from the mountains to Nyon in the valley.

The other room upstairs, used as a make shift office, has a bunkbed piled with junk awaiting our move. Between the rooms an open area with a ladder, gives access to an attic that we never enter for fear of stirring up ghosts or wild animals.

Upstairs, lacks plumbing. I cannot safely navigate the stairs a dozen times a night to the bathroom. Instead, I use a porta potty balancing on a crate in the closet sized nook at the top of the stairs. The seat, sized to accommodate a toddler’s butt, is so tiny, I fear I’ll tumble head first down stairs every time I pee.

Like in Laura Ingall’s Little House on the Prairie, in order to survive the winter, a local lumberjack dropped a truckload of timber outside our door. We stack 3 cords, a ton and half, of wood in precise neat piles like Jenga blocks. Now I understand why Swiss make wood piles so tidy. It’s to keep them from rolling down the mountainside.

Chores are endless living in the past century. Like laundry. I wash 5 articles at a time in our miniature machine. Then like pancakes on a griddle, I flip socks, long johns and t-shirts on racks in front of the wood burning stove.

We don’t have a phone line or TV, but we can access Netflix - limited over here - so we watch any international series available. We followed Scandinavian murder mysteries, Spanish dramas, Italian comedies. Last night, so desperate for entertainment, we tuned into an Egyptian soap opera with French subtitles.

But when I wake up in the morning and throw open my shutters, the view of sun rising above the evergreen covered mountainside is inspiring.

Part of the reason for moving here was for this… to drop right down smack dab in nature when walk outside our door.

We are living in a scene from Heidi.

The only way we could get closer to nature would be by camping out. Sometimes I think we are.

Bittersweet Pain Saying Goodbye to Family Home

How do you say goodbye to the house you fell in love with at first sight, where you raised a family, enjoyed a career, and appreciated the view outside each window?

We watched the sun rise over the Alps from the bedroom and living room and saw it set behind the Jura Mountains from the guest room and kitchen.

Here, we endured a quarter of a century of job pressures, personal losses, individual triumphs, petty arguments, home improvement projects.

We watched our children grow up shooting baskets in front of the carport and throwing footballs in the backyard across from golden rape seed fields. We commemorated birthdays and holidays, celebrated championships and graduations, and turned every visit from family and friends into a party.

We savored French favorites dining in front of winter fires and relished summer backyard barbecues, watching sailboats drift across the lake and the clouds float over the mountain range in the ever changing light.

Like our son said, “if only you could take the view with you.”

We sang and danced and played our way through our children’s growing up years. We read the Bernstein Bears, BoxCar Children, and Babysitter Club with grade schoolers, listened to Backstreet Boys and Beyonce with preteens, and watched Friends and The Wire with high schoolers.

When the kids went outside to play on the paved paths intersecting the farmers’ fields, we knew they could ride scooters, bikes and roller blade safely without the danger of speeding cars and deadly guns.

Many years ago, we boxed up the Electric Train Set, Play Mobile Toys, and Beanie Babies to donate. Instead they gathered dust under the stairwell because we could not bear to part with them.

In the process of packing up, we discovered memories tucked away in every attic nook, closet shelf and basement cupboards.

Our house, a compact twin, built on 3 levels, was big enough to store them all.

It was a quirky place. The master bathroom, bigger than the kitchen, had purple bathroom tiles and a tub big enough to swim in. Fifteen stairs between each flight kept us so fit, we never needed to join a health club. The hallway upstairs, which held 3 book shelves, was wide enough for a dining table

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We never interior decorated. Yet each photograph and painting held special significance. Dad’s clown face paintings brightened the kids room and his landscapes enlightened the living room. Mom’s cross stitched wall hanging and homemade curtains made us think of family far away.

Cutlery, wine glasses and cooking-ware from Gerald’s folks, along with traditional French recipes, reminded us that the kitchen is the heart of the home.

I’ll never forget walking down the stairs from our bedroom and greeting Mt. Blanc every morning or seeing our son sliding across the hallway in his stocking feet every night.

I will always remember hollering downstairs to wake up our teenage daughter, who adored the independence of a basement room, like I once did.

The sound of a basketball bouncing outside my kitchen window became the background beat measuring our days.

We bid farewell not only to a house, but to our neighborhood, to our international school, to the time of our lives when so much happened, so fast, we wish could turn back time for a moment just once to sit the bench for one more ball game.

It’s been a good house.

It sheltered our souls from crushing setbacks, helped us endure painful transitions, warmed our hearts with good times and gave us the space to learn to forgive and go forward.

Here, we survived heartbreaks and disappointments. We healed from a broken collar bone, an ankle, 2 fingers and umpteen sprains, and recovered illness - pneumonia, mononucleous,viruses. We recovered from accidents, learned to get back up and to keep going.

Our house offered comfort and warmth, shelter and shade.

How do you say goodbye to the home that shaped you?

You don’t. You take it with you.

Every memory, every souvenir, every remembrance.

"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.

First Step Fighting Depression and Anxiety Seek Mental Health Help

Most people may need counseling especially these days due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Including me. One-third of the people suffering from brain injuries, like mine, develop major depression. Depression may be precipitated by genetics, circumstances, illnesses or unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. For example, the current world pandemic affects our mental health in ways we could never have imagined.

Anxiety, too, is at an all time high worldwide. We are scared of going to school and work and contracting Covid-19, or staying home for safety and falling behind. We fear our ability to pay mortgages, medical bills, rents. We worry about losing our homes, our businesses, our loved ones, about finding jobs or keeping jobs.

We are cracking up.

US cases of depression tripled from 8.5% before Covid to 27.8% now.
One in three people in the States are anxious or depressed.

Statistics in Switzerland, rated the top place in world to live for the quality of life, are alarming. Adults suffering from mental health issues before Covid were 3% and that number climbed to 18% in November 2020. Today, one out three people under the age of 24 suffer from depression or anxiety.

“The person who needs help is often times the last to realize it,” says my husband who encouraged me to get professional help after my accident and brain surgery.

If you know someone who is struggling encourage them to seek help or even better help them find it.

A good therapist can’t give you the magic solution, but they can help you find coping strategies and the right tools to move forward. They can help YOU create an action plan and locate resources — the right medications, support groups, community services or books to read to help you. They can motivate, cheerlead, validate your feelings, listen without judging, and help restore hope.

But the first step is admitting you need assistance. We never waver when we need to seek medical health for broken bones, cancer, or illness, but we balk when it comes to caring for our mental health. There is a stigma to admitting your brain is suffering, but like any of the organ can go haywire.

Would it encourage you to take action if you knew that nine people in my hard-working, high-functioning, “normal” family have at one time or other sought professional mental health care in the form of a psychiatric, psychologist or counselor? None of us are crazy.

The cause of mental illnesses are varied as the kinds. They can be caused by brain disease, genetics, chemical imbalances, injuries, PTSD, CBT (i.e.getting one’s bells rung one too many times on the football fields, hockey rings, soccer pitches.)

But due to Covid-19, no time in modern history have the levels of depression and anxiety been greater.

“The distress in the pandemic probably stems from people’s limited social interactions, tensions among families in lockdown together and fear of illness,” says psychiatrist Marcella Rietschel at the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany.

The finding that women are more likely to experience psychological distress than men is consistent with other global studies that have shown that anxiety and depression are more common in women.
“The lower social status of women and less preferential access to healthcare compared to men could potentially be responsible for the exaggerated adverse psycho-social impact on women,” the researchers suggest.
Mental health professionals can help, but the work must be done by the individual.

Here is some steps that helped me:

  • Walk. Go outside. Be in nature.
  • Call a mom, daughter, sister, friend, another female.
  • Make a to do list. Set a goal. Start a project.
  • Declutter one shelf, one drawer, one cupboard.
  • Make that difficult decision to seek professional help, many provide services on line through Syke or on the phone.
  • Escape - watch Netflix. Read fiction. Look at old photographs.
  • Learn something new.
  • Share your story.

End the stigma. Stop suffering in silence.

Don’t Give Up

ISUOne moment I was living my dream as a professional basketball player in Europe, driving past my opponent with perfect body control releasing the ball so gently it kissed the backboard. The next instance, I was spinning weightlessly through air when our car flipped off a 100 foot embankment into France’s La Meuse River leaving me clawing against an icy current.

The impact of the crash, broke me in half - cracked my sternum, compressed vertebrae in my rib cage, concussed my brain, blocked my intestines and ended my career instantly.

I was only 26 years old. I thought life was over.

In the long days of therapy I slowly regained use of my limbs while living 4,000 miles away from home. I wanted to give up. I had no purpose.

In pain and despair, I hung on, an hour, a minute, a second at a time.Lechaults on the Wolf river

I never ran or played basketball again, but I persisted and went onto to lead a fulfilling life.

I married the Frenchman, who stood by me as I struggled to carve a new identity in a foreign land. Together we raised 2 bilingual, bi-cultural kids, who grew strong, trained hard and entered helping professions, one as a pediatrician, the other as a chiropractor.

Swiss AlpsEilan Doran Castle. ScotlandI lived near the Eiffel Tower in Paris and at the foothills of the Alps on Lake Geneva. I stood on Mt. Blanc and the Acropolis in Athens. I rode horses on the beach in the Camargue and floated down the canals of Venice. I walked in the shadows of my forefathers at Scotland’s McKinzie Castle and along the Norwegian fjords of my Olson ancestors above the Arctic Circle.

When I could no longer play basketball, I thought I would never adjust to sitting the bench, but found my calling as a coach. In three decades of coaching and teaching I had the privilege of working with sons and daughters of diplomats and world leaders from around the globe from whom I learned as much as I taught.

NCAAI wrote a book that led to an invitation to speak at the U.S. Senior National Games, an NCAA Final Four basketball banquet and commencement at the prestigious International School of Geneva, founder of international baccalaureate.

During my lowest point, I thought I had nothing left to give, but I never gave up. In retrospect, I see that I had a lot left to offer and even more to learn.

Nearly 4 decades later, after another life threatening accident last spring, I struggled again to tie my shoes, walk the fields, write a paragraph, repeating lessons learned years ago. I wonder why am I here? I grapple with finding a purpose to continue.

At age 63, I am too young to put out to pasture.

Each day I lift dumbbells, walk the block, play memory games coaxing my body and mind to grow stronger in preparation for the next calling.

Coaching in SwitzerlandIn the meantime, I keep fighting to go on, pulling up someone else, pushing another forward. After all my struggles, this much I know to be true. We are in the game together.

No one gets this far on their journey without the love of family and friends, the kindness of acquaintances and the helping hand of a fellow man.

In this endless season of sadness, during one of world’s deadliest pandemics, we want to throw in the towel and call it quits. Our bones ache from the cold, grey winter, our spirits break from living in isolation and mourning lost loved ones, our minds spin with anxiety facing future uncertainties. We are each struggling with something.

Let my crazy odyssey serve as an example of hope. Take it from the kid who thought her life ended in an accident at age 26 and is still standing today. Don’t give up yet.

Better things lie ahead.

Hope. Have faith. Hang on.

Put one foot forward.

The sun will rise again.

Sunrise on Summit Lake, Wisonsin