Gratitude List Begins With Family
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IMG_3067_copy As a cloud cover settles over Switzerland and the old North winds blow across the Midwest of my birth land, it is time to hunker down and draw warm comfort from the gift of family. I am grateful for the people who shaped my life and stuck by me during transitions along the way.

I am thankful for my husband and children, my parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws and outlaws, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins in my extended Olson-McKinzie-Elie-Lechault family.

Families come in all shapes, sizes and combinations: traditional, mixed race, same sex, single parent, blended, or cross cultural like mine. No magic formula exists as to what works. What matters is not one’s religion, nationality or ethnicity, but one’s capacity to invest in another. The love binds us – a love that is tolerant, that forgives mistakes, overlooks shortcomings, endures over time, and stands strong in the face of hardships. Families stick with you during the tough times like unemployment, illnesses, deaths and celebrates the good times like weddings, birthdays and milestones.

Like a patchwork quilt, my family is an eclectic mix of athletically inclined, musically gifted, hard-working American, French, German, Norwegian and Scottish, stitched together with old-fashioned values – loyalty, dependability, and integrity.

We spread across different countries, yet remain connected. We travel thousands of miles to share 48 hours of holiday magic. No matter how great the distance between us, our annual family reunion at our cabin in the Wisconsin Northwoods remains sacred.

Like this priceless lake property – a gift from my ancestors – family values have been passed down through generations. My parents showed us respect for our elders making sure they were a part of every event, and shared stories of the past, so I grew up valuing my heritage. My grandparents were such an integral part of my life that classmates still remember my Grandma’s oatmeal cookies and my Grandpa’s (Coach Mac) grumbling over bad passes at my ball games.

Families learn to accommodate different schedules, so we celebrate whenever we can get together instead of on the actual holidays. We make the traditional pork roasts, bake favorite cookies, and cater to gluten free, low fat, no sugar, healthy heart diets.

When members stumble due to bad diagnoses, professional setbacks or personal disappointments, someone else catches them before they fall.

Families share a sixth sense. My sisters know when I am at the breaking point and call out of the blue when I most need to hear their voices. My husband reads my face like an open book and knows when we need to leave the party or restaurant ASAP, so I can crash in quiet, dark room.

By hand holding, card writing, email sending, text messaging, and phone calling, families find little ways to stay connected. They sustain us through heart surgeries, cancer treatments, broken engagements, painful miscarriages, job losses, challenging relocations and unexpected emergencies.IMG_3712_copy

Families help pack boxes, plan parties, support dreams and give us hope. They stand in the rain to watch marathons and marching band performances. They sit on hard bleachers to see countless baseball, basketball, football, soccer and rugby games. They attend concerts, recitals and graduations. They support mission trips, help fund college education, offer opportunities to learn and grow and share each other’s talents with the world.

They drive us to doctors’ offices, listen to a million complaints, wipe away oceans of tears, but most of all, they believe in us even when we doubt ourselves.IMG_3945_copy

Good families got your back. Always.

And I am, oh so, grateful.

 

 

Celebrate Long Distance Reader’s Favorite Book Awards and Miami Book Fair
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booksWith one foot in two worlds and that Big Ol’Pond in between, I regret I can never be two places at once, so I won’t be partying in Miami, strutting my stuff on the red carpet at the Readers Favorite Book Awards Ceremony on Saturday November 22. Still, I am honored to announce that Home Sweet Hardwood won honorable mention in the non-fiction: sport category.

Hoop-a-la aside anyone who aspires to write can tell you it is a long, lonely journey. Millions of people know they have a story worth sharing, but few are driven enough to put pen to paper and fewer still to throw it out to the world.

Writing contests are one way for writers to connect with like minded people and potential readers. Over the years, Readers’ Favorite Book Awards has earned the respect of the industry giants such as Random House, Penguin, and Harper Collins and previous winners include New York Times bestselling authors J.A. Jance, James Rollins, and Daniel Silva.

Though I won’t be there in person to celebrate, my book will be there as part of the display at the awards winners’ booth at the Miami Books Fair Nov. 16-23. The eight-day literary party takes to the streets on that weekend.

To kick off the awards ceremony, the Miami Book Fair and the 2014-2015 basketball season, I am offering a discount of HSH through December if ordered on this link with this code YEYGSSZD.

As long as we’re celebrating, I’d like to give a special shout out to a couple of my cyberwriting buddies, who were also winners.

Woo hoo to Sonia Marsh, who didn’t just write her own gold medal memoir, From Freeways to Flip-Flops, but she encouraged others to write theirs by creating her own publishing company Gutsy Living. I am proud to be featured in My Gutsy Story: An Anthology.

Carol Bodensteiner won the silver in historical fiction for her novel Go Away Home, a coming of age story set in rural Iowa. She blogs about writing inspired by the people, places, culture and history of the Midwest and she recently featured Home Sweet Hardwood. She has also written a memoir, Growing Up Country, which folks back home in farm rich Illinois would surely enjoy.

I raise my glass in gratitude to everyone who had taken the time to read Home Sweet Hardwood, write reviews, send emails and offer opportunities to share the voice of the pioneers in women’s sports in national arenas such as speaking at UWSP for the DIII NCAA Final Four last March and for the NSWBA at the Senior National Games.

Alors, merci mille fois! (Thank you a thousand times)

Read on, dear friends!

 

Armistice Day & 100 Year Anniversary of WWI – 1914-1918
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WWI 3Since 1919, Armistice Day, as it is still called in France, has been celebrated on November 11, symbolizing the end of WWI. In 1954, the US changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor US veterans and victims of all wars. Commonwealth countries refer to it as Poppy Day in association with the red poppies that flowered over the churned up battlefields and trenches of Belgium and France. The image was immortalized In Flanders Field, one of the most memorable war poems of all time.

Written by the Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, as he watched his friend die in the horrible fighting around Ypres in the Belgium Flanders.

 

The line resonates still today.« If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep.”

The armistice, signed by Germany and the Allies, brought an end to World War I and went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. Though hostilities continued in some areas, Nov. 11, 1918, is regarded the date commemorating the end of “the war to end all wars.” A two minute silence is traditionally held at 11 o’clock on both Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday.

On June 28, 1919, what is known as « The Great War” officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles at the Palace of Versailles in Versailles, France.

This week as I helped my international students prepare for their history exam about the intricacies of Treaty of Versailles, I understood the challenge facing leaders – Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George – as they attempted to draw up a fair plan to assure future peace. Of course, in hindsight, most historians agree that the reparations for Germany were too harsh and lead to the emergence of Nazism and WWII.

It is hard for anyone today to comprehend the magnitude of WWI.

  • More than 65,000 million men from 30 different countries fought on land, air, and sea in the first world war, which took place predominantly in Europe.
  • On the Western Front, men fought in nearly 100,000 kilometers of trenches where the average life expectancy was 6 weeks.WWI
  • 11% of French population was killed or wounded.
  • Although the US was only in the war for about 7 months, 116,000 Americans died.
  • With over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded, WWI ranks among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

The last surviving veterans of WWI died two years ago at the age of 110. My grandfather, Ralph McKinzie, was drafted and shipped to Cherbourg, France where he marched to Germany. While he was abroad the Armistice was signed, though the fighting continued until the spring.

Today living in a Europe without borders, I cannot to fathom how countries, now allies, could have been so embattled. In the early eighties, I was welcomed into the homes and hearts of Germans when I lived in Marburg. Today I work with and teach students hailing from countries of all sides of many conflicts.

The war to end all wars, Did. Not. End. All. Wars.WWI 2

Whether you call November 11th as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Poppy Day or Veterans Day, take a moment to reflect on those who served or continue to serve to assure our democratic freedoms.

As individuals, we may not have the power to end the fighting in the Middle East, stop the genocides in Africa and curtail the violence in Ukraine, but we can bring peace to our own table. Forget that family vengeance, put aside that feud with neighbors, and resolve that conflict in the community. Wherever you live, lay down your guns, open the lines of communication and promote peace. Take time today to consider the human cost of violence and war.

How can you promote peace in your neighborhood?

 

 

 

Technologically Impaired
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P7100476I am so far behind the times it isn’t funny. Case in point. Computer skills. I know how to push the button to turn on the machine and open Word to a blank page. I have absolutely no trouble filling that page with ruminations. I can touch type standing on my head on an American, French and German keyboard, but organizing a filing system and using PowerPoint, Excel, Access, Entourage, Firefox, Google +, Google.docs, Google anything, Presi, Outlook Express, and American Express leaves me baffled.

I’ve lost countless emails in cyberspace and have folders full of columns floating over the Atlantic. I have thousands of pages of articles, letters, and journal entries that I can no longer locate. My computer is a wild beast that eats my words for breakfast.

My husband has a computer brain, wired with its own set of megas and watts.

My brain has no wires. He tells me, “Use logic!”

Logic? I am perpetually lost. I was born directionally handicapped, devoid of reasoning skill. I am computer illiterate.

“Create a filing system to organize your work,” he insists.

“I do.”

“Everything you’ve written in the last quarter of century is filed under the heading LETTER,” he laments. “No wonder you can’t find anything.”

He clicks on LETTER. Up pops the heading– TOOTHPASTE.

“You need to keep a note written to Colgate for a rebate on a purchase that you made back in 1985?”

“I liked the way it was worded.”

“Think of your computer as a storage closet. Would you keep old clothes forever?”

Yes! Yes! Yes! My closet, like my computer, is jam-packed with memories. I have cupboards filled with t-shirts collected over the past half century. To throw one out would be like discarding an old friend

I have even more trouble tossing out word. Alas, words pile up faster than clothes. I cannot process day-to-day events unless I write it down. Like a photographer, I capture events, feelings and people in word pictures freezing time. I am memory maker, a dream catcher for soul.

It breaks my heart to know that after hours of searching for the perfect combination of words, my a blog will be read in a rush over coffee and then deleted before the day is over. I can no more pitch my columns into the trash bin at the bottom of my page than I could discard the drawing my son made in 1st grade.

I am a historian, a time collector. To throw out parts of my past would be sacrilege.   Consequently, I spend even more hours perusing my files with the FIND button than I do digging through my closet for my favorite old Illinois State University T-shirt.

To make matters worse, every second, a new electronic device is created. Computers are outdated as soon as they roll off the assembly line. Every time I turn around, my husband insists its time to upgrade and get the latest mega watt machine arguing that the old one is no longer powerful enough to hold all my musings.

The nightmare begins again. I struggle to learn codes wired to male model brains. Logic? If a female mind created the computer the delete button would be a blinking red light with a siren, so nothing would be trashed by accident.

I ‘ve mastered one maneuver. SAVE. SAVE. SAVE.

Beware. Any reader who discards this message within the next century may be subject to unforeseen catastrophe. Abracadabra. Cyberspace voodoo on you!

How to Take A Break From Your Body
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11582865-hospital-patient-with-a-dropper-vector-illustrationOfficially, my school closed for a one-week autumn holiday, but ironically I don’t need time away from my students; the only break I need is from my body. If you battle chronic illness, you are never ever really on vacation.

For the past decades, I have suffered from an invisible illness. The name doesn’t matter, nor do the symptoms, although it frustrates the heck out me to be unable to identify it clearly. Suffice to say that just when I think I have beat the odds, it comes back to bite me in the butt, knock the wind out of my sails, slay me to the ground and wipe out hope.

Those suffering from chronic illness call it a flare up; those fighting cancer say they are no longer in remission.

I am not alone. I am one of the millions of patients that seek solutions to complaints of nondescript symptoms – headaches, pain, fatigue – that drive doctors mad.

How do you find treatment for “invisible” diseases when the evidence-based science of medicine wants proof? My bacteria, the clever little buggers, change forms to evade the very antibiotics geared to kill them.

When I am down for the count, I think of others who are fighting their own battles with cancer, leukemia, MS, diabetes, neuropathy, lupus, arthritis, crohns…the list is endless. Like my immunologist once told me, “Eventually humans lose the battle. Either the cancer cells take over or the body turns on itself in an auto immune illness.”

Next time you are knocked out, here are a dozen tips to help you cope.

  1. Call a sister or a sistah friend; women know how to listen and validate one another’s feelings.DSCN2359_copy
  2. Walk. Even on my worst days, I try to get up and meander even if only to the end of the block. Then at the end of the day when I seemed to have done nothing more than drag from the recliner to the couch, I remind myself that at least I walked today.
  3. Do NOT compare yourself to others in your friendship circle, work sphere, family network. They do not carry your burden. Only you know what an accomplishment it is to put one foot forward day after day.
  4. Listen to music, strum a guitar, sing a lullaby.
  5. Pray or meditate. Get down on your hands and knees in child pose which BTW is also a good stretching position.
  6. Watch a movie.
  7. If your eyes can focus read a funny book, an intriguing mystery, a trashy love story, anything that helps you escape your own four walls.
  8. Eat healthy. Avoid sugar. Bacteria feeds on sugar.
  9. Hit pillows. Kick walls. Break plates. You have the right to be angry. Get it out, but don’t let the anger win.
  10. Cry. Hard. Wail. Tears cleanse the soul.
  11. Let that special someone hold you.
  12. Then cut yourself some slack. Give into the pain and fatigue. Throw away the to do list. Turn off. Tune out. Rest. Rest some more.

Remember LIFE isn’t a race, it is a journey. Your contribution to society is no less valuable because you take longer to finish a task.IMG_4119_copy

How do you cope when your body lets you down again?