Birthdays, Deaths and Miracles
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P & Nic-1_copyBirthdays and death anniversary dates give us a way to cherish those still with us and to honor the memories of those we love who are no longer here. On December 7, 1990, my beloved grandpa, Ralph McKinzie “Coach Mac” died at the age of 96. I was fortunate to have him as a guiding influence throughout the first 3 decades of my life. I was especially blessed since my grandfather and I survived miracles when we were 25-year-olds. In the winter of 1918 and 1983, at an interval of 75 years, we were nursed back to health by kind strangers in hospitals on foreign soil.

On the 100th anniversary of WWI, a war that caused millions of casualties, I reflect back in gratitude that my grandfather survived a one in a million shot. In a freak accident in Germany, a stray bullet from a drunk infantryman entered a window and hit my grandpa in the back. The shot was deflected off a rib, and instead of going through him it followed the path around his rib and exited within a quarter of an inch of his heart.

Northern - bb champions 1940_copyMy grandpa recovered and went on to contribute greatly to society. Though only one of his three sons survived, Coach Mac helped shape the lives of hundreds of men in a college coaching career spanning 7 decades. His son, my dad, went on to teach and coach and raise four children, one who went on to become a professional athlete.Jim & Grandpa_copy

At the peak of my career as a basketball player, I survived a car accident that should have killed me. When our vehicle traveling at 80 miles an hour, flipped off the French autoroute and landed in an icy river during a snowy February, what were the odds of survival? From my hospital window in Verdun, I gazed out at the famous battlegrounds and graveyards of WWI heroes and wondered would I ever walk again.

Even though I still suffer from pain and repercussions of the injuries sustained, I went on to marry a cher Frenchman, raise 2 children, teach, coach, write and lead a productive life.

I adhere to the hand-me-down lessons of life that my grandfather instilled in my father who then passed on to me and I later shared with my own son and daughter. Cherish family. Give back to the community. Set a good example. Do the right thing even when no one is looking. I think they call it integrity.

Jim tossing the coin on McKinzie Football Eureka College

Jim tossing the coin on McKinzie Football Eureka College

If my grandfather were still alive he would have been 110 today. Even though he no longer walks the earth, he lives on in the hearts and minds of the family he left behind.

On November 18, 1990, his first great grandson was born in Paris; three weeks later, Grandpa died. Four thousand miles away I mourned his passing, my family comforted me saying he hung on until Nicolas arrived safely, then he left a space for our newborn son. At the time I felt guilty, as if my son’s birth facilitated my grandfather’s death, but when I see the kind young man my son has become, I understand the divinity of the life cycle. Following in his great grandpa, grandfather, and mom’s footsteps, Nic became the fourth generation to dedicate his life to teaching and coaching our youth.P & Nic-3_copy

Time and again, when plagued by pain and seemingly incurable illness, I question my purpose. The Great War of 1914-1918 took over 16 million lives and destroyed millions of others; why did my grandpa survive and thrive? Worldwide a P & Nic-2person is killed every 25 seconds in a traffic related death. Why was my life spared in that horrific accident in 1983?

Life seems like a crapshoot; each day another roll of the dice.

But one has to wonder, is our existence a coincidence? Or fate?

And miracles.

Kathy Pooler Advocating Awareness: International Day to End Violence Against Women
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UN picOne in three women worldwide have experienced domestic violence.

The UN designated November 25 as the day to Orange Your Neighborhood and unite to end violence against women,    kicking off a 16 day campaign of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence leading up to December 10 Human Rights Day.

Violence against women occurs in every country across all racial, religious and social- economic strata. The implications of such a complex issue cannot be addressed in a single blog post, but I wanted to take a closer look at one facet. Does the fact that American women now are able to compete in sport make them better equipped to combat abuse?

I asked my friend Kathy Pooler, who recently barnstormed the country promoting her KathyPoolermemoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, speaking out for awareness and understanding of domestic violence. How do good girls from loving families, like Kathy, get trapped by bad men? Kathy came of age before the passage of Title IX, and though naturally athletic, never had the opportunity to participate in competitive sport.

My question to Kathy is “do you think if they had competitive team sports when you were growing up that it would have made a difference in the choices you made for partners?”

“Absolutely! I could have benefited from playing competitive sports because I watched my daughter develop life skills from playing sports. I lived vicariously through her as I watched her steal a ball and dribble down the court for the game winning basket. She overcame challenges working within a team and gained confidence in her ability to take charge of her life. She’s a team player and can play with the big boys in every aspect of her life. I love it!

I remember playing basketball in gym in 1962. I loved the swish of the net when I nailed a basket and that little act alone filled me with confidence. Unfortunately in the 60s, girls were deemed unfit for a full court game. I often wonder how my life may have turned out had I been allowed to play on “real” basketball team. Would I have been more assertive in choosing a partner who was right for me? Would I have had more confidence in making the right life decisions? Yes, I do think playing a competitive sport would have prepared me to take charge of my life sooner.

In my memoir, I show how I eventually tap into my inner strength to find freedom from abuse and live the life I want and deserve. I can’t change what happened but I can say that finding my inner strength, which I discovered had been there all along, was like nailing that game winning basket.

Sport teaches lessons of confidence and empowerment, of how to be a team player and learn to take defeat gracefully and embrace victory. Competitive sport provides a toughening process that will render athletes the capability to navigate their life’s path with a strong sense of who they are, their strengths, their position on the “team” and their contributions to the overall game.”

Kathy was the product of a time period when a woman’s number one goal was to marry, in spite of that she courageously escaped those constraints not once, but twice. Yet throughout her dysfunctional marriage and the ensuing divorce, her fighting spirit prevailed as she completes a master’s degree and worked outside the home while raising small children.

As I read her memoir, I found myself cheering her on every step of the way and rejoicing when she triumphed in the end. I highly recommend Ever Faithful to His Lead to all women and can’t wait to read her sequel Hope Matters: A Memoir of Faith coming out in 2015.

Ever faithfullKathy, a retired family nurse practitioner, inspires others through her writing on her blog. Her book Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse, is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Thanks Kathy for sharing your thoughts.

In support of women and the UN initiative, I will be wearing orange today. How about you? Have you taken steps to Orange Your Neighborhood? Has participation in team sport raised your self-esteem?

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?