Savor the Holiday Season
avatar

imagesIn December we kick off the festivities with St. Nicholas Day on the 6th, St. Lucia Day on the 13th, Hanukkah on the 16th, Christmas the 25th and Kwanzaa the 26th. However your family celebrates the holidays, whether you are African, American, German, Dutch, Swedish or of another nationality or denomination, no matter which deity you chose to worship (or not) try to make amends with estranged family members, disgruntled neighbors, difficult colleagues. Build bridges not walls. Start the holiday season with a thankful heart.

Think less is more when baking, buying, and boxing up. Remember the greatest gift, especially in this fast paced modern society, is not gold, frankincense or myrrh but time together.

So hang on to those traditions that make your family unique. Frost those sugar cookies, bake those spritz, baste that turkey, decorate the halls, and find that special toy, but know the real significance of the season cannot be found on the table or under the tree. It is within us, in our actions, in the way we interact with others.gingerbreadhouse2008

Cherish friends and family members, near and far. Take a moment to honor the memories of loved ones who have passed on. Slow down. Hold your tongue. Bite your lip. Be patient. Be kind.

Keep in mind that the holidays are not always happy for everyone; real life doesn’t take time out to offer a reprieve from illness and accidents.

Savor this moment. So what if the cookies have burnt edges, the dog eats the ham, the new sweater is ugly, and the package arrives a day late.

We, especially we women, put so much pressure on ourselves to create the flawless holiday, but what makes the day perfect is not all the tra la la, it is simply being together.

Wherever you are, whomever you are with and however you choose to celebrate, remember to give thanks for one another.

Peace be with you and yours.

Sealed with a kiss from SwitzerlandIMG_0818

I’ll be back in 2 weeks.

King James Introduces Kate and William to his Court
avatar

LeBronWhat is it about the Royal Union and their heirs? At the risk of offending my colleagues and friends, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the British medias’ insinuation about those blundering Big Kids, the so called Americans. Apparently « we » made another faux pas when LeBron James innocently put his arm around The Duchess of Cambridge for the photo shoot after the December 8th game between the New York Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now what could be more natural when cheesing it for the camera than to offer an arm slung over a shoulder and a big smile especially at a good ol’ American ball game?

The British tabloids were even more offended when Our First Lady breached protocol and hugged the Queen in 2009. But hugs are as much a part of our culture as tea is a part of theirs. When in the USA, especially the Midwest, it is considered good manners, part of our warm hospitality, to welcome visitors with a hug or extra long hand shake.

However, LeBron inadvertently broke rules of royal etiquette. Who speaks first, what to say, how to stand and when to sit have been divinely ordained but aren’t they a little outmoded for the 21st century?

Apparently not. An insider, who worked for the British royal family or Her Majesty’s Household, offers these tips when encountering royalty.

  1. Do not speak unless spoken to or ask inappropriate questions.
  2. Never touch a royal. A handshake is the only exception and only when royalty initiate it. For heaven’s sake don’t dare keep holding on.
  3. Address the Queen, as “Your Majesty,” then “Ma’am” and the Duke and Duchess, as “Your Royal Highness,” then “Ma’am” or “Sir.”
  4. Stand when royalty enters a room. Men should bow and women should curtsy on introduction. Are you kidding me ? Curtsy ? In this day and age ?
  5. When the most senior royal in attendance finishes the meal, so do all the guests. Huh. What if you are still hungry ?

“From medieval times, monarchs were divinely appointed to rule by God, so they demanded to be treated as gods,” Dr Kate Williams, a historian at London’s Royal Holloway University explained.”They are treated as people set apart from the rest of us, creating distance and grandeur.”

Ironically, Americans really do like Kate and William, but oh, if only they could buck those pompous traditions.

Get over it already. Remember the bloody Revolution of 1812? We are the ones who dumped your tea in the harbor and refused to bow down to the British crown in sovereignty. The French beheaded their King and Queen.

I am not suggesting anything so radical, but I’d like to offer insight on how to behave in the ‘hood. If you hang out in our playground –what’s more American than a basketball game in Brooklyn– learn to play by our rules. A bit of down-to-earth, genuine appreciation for the common folk can go a long way in smoothing public relations.Prince William and_Kate_Middleton_Wedding_Pictures 2

People on the other side of the Atlantic wonder if it is time that royalty stopped putting on airs and stepped out of that glass castle. To make a difference, you have to relate to the downtrodden. To commiserate with the working class, it’s time to take off the white gloves, get down on the ground and roll in the dirt. Take a tip from our King James; human touch speaks louder than words. Put protocol aside, learn from the kids across the Pond, be real and hug.

Birthdays, Deaths and Miracles
avatar

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
avatar

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
avatar

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.