In Memoriam – Illinois State University Redbirds
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Redbird logoWhen you are recruited to play college basketball these days, the university welcomes you into the family. Though we never called it that during early infancy of the women’s game, we knew our college team had our back. A loyalty to Illinois State University basketball remains imprinted in my soul. Even though I did not personally know the victims of the tragic plane crash outside of Bloomington, my heart mourned for the lives lost – an ISU men’s basketball Associate Head Coach, Torrey Ward, a Deputy Director of Athletics, Aaron Leetch, and alumni Terry Stralow ’74 (co-owner of Pub II in Normal), Andy Butler ’96, and Jason Jones, M.S. ’93; and former student Scott Bittner.

All seven men who were on board the plane, including pilot Thomas Hileman, were “Redbird guys,” said Athletics Director Larry Lyons ’86.

How can I feel connected to a university of over 20,000 when I haven’t lived in the state or even the country for decades? The memories of the people at that place, where interstate 74, 59, and 39 intersect in the Corn Belt, left a lasting impression.

When I played in the late 70s, we had three women’s teams, a platoon of peeps to lean on in hard times. Coaches like Jill Hutchison, Linda Herman, and Melinda Fischer invested so much in me, not only as a player but also as a person, and Schnied (Kathy Schniedwind) taped me up for every battle in Horton Fieldhouse. Nor will I forget the teammates like Slate, Von, Char, Guppy, Apple, Woody and others or those who followed after me to leave their own mark like Bethie, Bos, and Vickie.

In addition to teammates, five friends called “the family” rented a townhouse together. We pulled all nighters to prepare for finals, wet our whistle at the ol’ Pub II watering hole and scarfed down Avanti’s pizzas.

Whenever I am back in the Chicago ‘burbs, we reunite. Our “cousins” another cohort of ISU alumni meet up annually. My ol’roomies from Dunn Barton Hall still wish me happy birthday every year.

Back then I had my own sorority – a gym full of sisters – including my own biological ones, also ISU grads. During my senior year my middle sister shared our house; my baby sister shared my Redbird locker.

When the news about that the fatal return flight from the Final Four celebration in Indianapolis reached Switzerland, I felt sick to my stomach.

After every tragedy we are reminded how fleeting life is. Our paths may only cross once, but the impact we have on others is everlasting.Redbird forever

In light of that, I wanted to give a shout out to my ISU family to thank you for your support, for keeping the ties across the miles, for having my back.

Everyone is vulnerable. Every. One. Every. Day. Always.

To those folks in the Bloomington-Normal area and the ISU community who grieve for their lost loved ones, I offer my deepest sympathy. It is not enough. No, I never met you, but I know where you come from and what you represent.

Your loss is a loss for all Redbirds.

We are family.

 

Spring into Easter with Joy
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flower wagonBombarded with bad news, it is hard to keep spirits high, so turn off the TV, Twitter feed, and iPhone and tune into the little reminders of blessings unfolding around us. Easter is the perfect time of year to think positively about rebirth and new beginnings. So throw open those shutters and take a peek.

Okay, so it is raining again in Switzerland, the clouds hang so heavy ne’er a mountain in sight. But outside my window the daffodils waltz in the wind, buds pop open on the beech tree and the grass grows greener with each raindrop. The forsythia bush in the backyard burst into a golden flame overnight while I wasn’t looking.

Right now anyone who knew the details would say my life sucks. I am stuck in another treatment plan without answers from a disease that keeps adding symptoms. My husband is locked into a dead end job. My Big Kids are living 4000 miles away. Ze Frenchman and I are riding solo for the Easter holiday. But no pity party for me!

“The secret to happiness is being joyful for good things happening in other people’s life.”

My mom taught me that. She has an innate ability, a gift from her Norwegian mother, to find delight in life’s simple pleasures.

Mom set such a good example of purposeful living that it is hard not to follow suit. She invested wholeheartedly in raising four kids, and when the last one entered kindergarten, she filled her own book bag and went back to school to teach.kids in giant egg

When she retired from teaching, she rolled down the halls in a shopping cart and banged on all the lockers with a wooden spoon.

She embraced retirement with equal aplomb filling her days with good deeds, volunteering at the food pantry and church circle. When she wasn’t busy gadding about to her clubs, she was sewing up a storm of finery to commemorate every rite of passage for her grandchildren and her friends’ grandkids.

Jealousy does not bode well in kind hearts. Take a tip from Mom. Step outside yourself.

When you’re feeling down in the dumps about your lot in life, focus on what is going right in someone else’s. Then lead the parade.

Dance when your nephew is accepted in his first choice college.

Laugh aloud when you hear your son enjoys coaching so much that as soon as one season ended he started another as an AAU coach.

Cry a few tears when a former student makes a surprise visit back to high school to bring you a purple jacket – your favorite color – from his British university.

I only need to look beyond my own window to see that plenty of goodness is going round.

When a college roommate’s daughter gets married, raise a glass in cheer instead of feeling sad that you live too far away to attend the wedding.

When a best friend from high school has her long awaited first grandbaby, send a special gift and enjoy the FB photos.

When a buddy lands a book deal, applaud her success as a victory for all writers.

finding eggs on the balcony

finding eggs on the balcony

If you can’t be with loved ones for the holiday, flip through those old-fashioned photo albums and savor the memories of past celebrations.

Attitude is about gratitude.

One never has to look far to feel grateful.

Happy Holiday!

Call Me Coach – A March Madness Epiphany
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IMG_4467_copyEver the misfit, I struggled to find my niche as an athletic girl on the cusp of Title IX. Even in adulthood, I continued to wonder what I was supposed to be doing with my life. During March Madness when I checked scores and brackets long distance, it dawned on me. I am a coach.

Last year, I had opportunity of a lifetime to speak at the DIII Final Four at UWSP. For the first time since moving abroad, I experienced March Madness firsthand. I marveled at the evolution of the woman’s game and realized the impact the pioneers had in paving the way.

Some children know what they want to be from the time they are five-years-old; I was in my fifth decade before I figured it out. In kindergarten, my dad announced that he wanted to coach like his dad, Coach Mac. But when I was growing up coaching never crossed my mind; girls weren’t allowed to play ball, so how could a woman make a career out of coaching.

I used to think that I was born to play basketball, but when that dream ended abruptly it took me decades to grow into my real calling.

I went on to coach middle school, junior varsity, and varsity girls’ and boys’ teams. I called La Chat boys teamplays in English, German, and French and learned to swear in a dozen different languages. When the opportunity arose, I humbly assisted coaching a wheelchair basketball team in Germany. I was equally inspired teaching kids with Down Syndrome how to shoot hoops.

As I helped athletes cope with divorce, depression, disappointment, academic pressure and the death of loved ones, we held it together with jump shots, high fives and team huddles. We created a bond that one cannot fathom unless having been a part of a team.

During hard times, sometimes the only difference between hope and despair was knowing that someone believes in you.

Coaching at an international school in an international league, every year the team composite is unique – with African, American, French, German, English, Indian, Japanese, Philippine, Puerto Rican, Scottish, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Uruguayan players– but the outcome remains the same. We put differences aside to become a tight knit group in pursuit of our goals. We shared our camaraderie, competitive drive and love of the game.

In a lifetime of seasons, coaches never really know how many lives they helped shape. La Chat teamRecently, one of my former players – who now runs marathons and the Wellness Program of entire city – honored me by calling me her mentor on the front page of the local newspaper.

Though I have won my share of championships, there is no greater testimony of success when working with kids, than seeing them as productive adults.

“It’s not about trophies,” Coach Mac said it best to the Chicago Tribune in 1985, “The important thing is how you develop your athletes, how you mold their hearts and minds. The real reward is being able to look at your athletes in later years and seeing how you’ve contributed to the development of their character, so that they can serve as leaders of their community.”

In college, I thought I would save the country, as a social worker instead I became an international coach guiding kids from ‘round the globe, to go out and save the world.

I never dreamed I’d see the day when one of the senior boys would stop me in the hall to say, “What’s up, Coach.”

I have arrived! Today even the guys address me with respect.

They call me coach.

riding the rails to another tournament

riding the rails to another tournament

Stitching a Memory Quilt Made of People
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images-1Though my mom is a quilting bee extraordinaire, I can’t sew a stitch to save my life. Not even a button. But I do have a knack for knitting folks together. The Internet made it easier to weave the people in my past and present into a wonderful patchwork.

I didn’t blog about my birthday so people would shower me with wishes; I certainly didn’t post it twice on Facebook to get more likes. That mistake was due to my technological ineptitude. But a neat thing happened anyway, especially after I posted birthday wishes to my baby sister born the day after me. Comments from literally around the world gave me a heartwarming lift.

Growing up with 3 siblings 5 years apart, we shared not only clothes and closet space, but also friends. School classmates multiplied by 4 gave me oodles of childhood chums. Sterling logoWithout any explanation, they understood what it was like to live for Friday Night Lights in Golden Warrior Territory. They grew up jerking burgers, selling pizzas and mowing lawns for pocket money with the taste of corn on the cob, Maid Rites and RC Cola imprinted in their minds forever. Each completed a piece of the mosaic of my roots growing up in Illinois.

Circles existed long before the advent of Google+. They were called family, school, church, community, and team. My college family, basketball buddies, summer friends – cabin dwellers sharing lake lore – form other squares.

Friendships from parts of the globe where I have spent time, as well as my Norwegian family up by the North Pole, create other patches. My international community of colleagues in Switzerland from Canada, France, England, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, and Trinidad add other block.

Teams representing different ages and stages of my life add a colorful motif of mascots: Sterling Golden Warriors, ISU Redbirds, UWSP purple Pointers, Paris blue Rebels, Geneva green Hawks.

My cyber friends, the writing buddies like Lynne in California, Debbie in Central Illinois, Kathy in New York, Clara in Chicago, Helene in New Jersey, Sharon and Anne on the Midlife Boulevard bringing me laughter and inspiration through their words, add their own Hoops quiltunique pattern.

Friends my folks age to my own former students, to the pals of now my grown children form other pieces of my multicultural, cross-generational comforter.

During February, I wallowed in misery with the duvet pulled up to my nose, lamenting my misfortune bedridden with illness, but only weeks later I was reminded how blessed I am.

Just like the piecework stitched lovingly by my mom, I wrapped up in my memory quilt of people to ward away cold, fend off sickness, and shield my soul from heartache.

I am the thread binding this colorful kaleidoscope of images-3humanity.

And so are you. And that is a beautiful thing.

Next time you are ill or down in the dumps, crawl under the covers and have a good cry, then draw that cozy comforter up to your chinny, chin, chin and image being wrapped in a patchwork of people making up your own life quilt.

Playing the On Line Dating Game By Accident
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stock-vector-vector-cartoon-of-swiss-man-walking-st-bernard-rescue-dog-in-mountains-230097001What have I done this time? With my technological ineptitude, I signed up for this crazy kind of online dating game, not once, not twice, but a half a dozen times.

Now Fritz, Gunther and Ueli want to meet me.

Geez, what will I do if one of these Swiss mountain men show up ringing my doorbell?

How do I get myself into these things?

The first time it happened and I starting receiving messages from handsome strangers, I pleaded to the techie sidekick I married to come to my rescue. “Help! Get me out of this!”

And he roared. “You got yourself into it, you get yourself out of it!”

So I appealed to my daughter, who laughed even louder. But she took pity on me and disabled the link to OKCupid with a word of warning, “Mom, quit clicking on every pop up that appears on your page!”

Now I have done it again! I am in even deeper doo doo.

When something pops up on my screen and I want to make it disappear, abracadabra, I click, click, click like a nervous tick. Before I know it I have subscribed to dozens of sites from around the globe. Now Jean-Marc, Paul-Henri, and Pierre-Andre are sending a big bonjour from villages across France. Jurgen, Helmet, and Ludwig are grüssen me from die Strasse of Germany. Juan, Santiago and Diego are shouting hola from the tabernas of german_previewSpain.

With organizations catering for every age and interest group in every language, the variety of combinations is endless. Check it out: Edarling. Meetic, Amoureux, France, Elite Partner, Friendscout.24, Parship, DatingCafe, Finya, OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Baboo….

Heck, I was never adept at real dating back in the day; I would be clueless navigating the cyber dating scene in 2015. Can you believe this? Sites members can upload photos and videos of themselves as well as browse the photos and videos of others. Sites also offer additional services, such as webcasts, online chat, telephone chat (VOIP), and message boards. Get out. Next step… virtual marriage.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking Internet relationships. I know an intelligent, lovely, young lady who met her future husband on-line and if that wasn’t a match made in heaven, they even had the same surname. When they wed years later, she didn’t have to change her name.

But holy cow, I am no spring chicken, I can barely keep up with this one Frenchmen, Lord knows I don’t need a houseful of yodelers.

Any advice out there from you techni- sauvé gurus in the cyberworld?

Eek! Eek! How do I disengage from the on line dating game merry go round?

imagesHey, BTW while I am busy untangling this virtual mating snafu, any avid storytellers out there may want to pop over to my friend Kathy Pooler’s Memoir Writing Journey blog on Monday and see my guest post, “All I Needed to Know about Writing I Learned Playing Ball.

See you next week unless Wilhelm drags me off to his cave.