March Madness My Way

Though I miss the basketball frenzy in America especially at this time of year, I learned to celebrate March Madness my way. As an expat in Europe for the past 35 years, the only March Madness I experienced was in 2014 when I traveled to the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point to be the keynote speaker at the DIII Final Four banquet in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Fortunately after my international playing career ended, I joined a collect of coaches – many former players – who brought a taste of March Madness to the international schools in international and national competitions.

I have had my fair share of championship teams and though I am every bit as competitive as my cohorts across the Atlantic, over here the stakes are not as high. My players don’t perform in front of sell out crowds and my job is not dependent on the number of wins.

So though I retired from teaching in June, no one who knows me will be surprised that after medical treatments in the States, I came back to coaching in Switzerland to finish the season with my high school team.

At our international tournament in Basel, my team felt like they let me down when they lost their defending title to Zurich in the SCIS.

“I didn’t come back to watch you play basketball,” I said in the locker-room after the game. “I came to be with you. To help you get your international baccalaureate degree and to remind you that I believe in you. Always. Even in defeat. Especially in defeat.”

No one goes through life beating every opponent. It is what you do when the chips are down that builds character. Second effort is the difference between, well, going on and giving up. So after that disappointing defeat, we went back to gym and practiced. A month later we beat that same Zurich team to win the Swiss championship SGIS.

We can beat ourselves up reliving our errors. Forget the mistakes. The game goes so fast no one else will remember that you dribbled off your toe, threw the ball out of bounds or shot an air ball, what they will remember is that you hustled back down court on defense and played tough until the final buzzer.

The emphasis in international schools is less about winning and more about learning, so academics always play the biggest role.

No doubt I have book smart players. But playing basketball teaches self-discipline and perseverance and other valuable lessons that can’t be learned in a classroom.

This year one of my star basketball players is heading to Stanford and another one is off to Oxford; they won’t be going on athletic scholarships. They play hard, but study harder. And maybe that is how it should be.

Basketball basics 101 – a valuable part of any curriculum. It’s a throw back to the good old days in the early infancy of Title IX when we played for love of the game and to get a good education.

March Madness my way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skiing Above the Clouds

When I first moved to Switzerland 20 years ago, I was sick every winter and friends told me, “Go above the clouds to breath.” Sure enough if you drive up into the mountains the cloud curtain opens revealing blue skies. Though we live in a picture perfect country with pristine views of the lake and mountains, we are surrounded by smog and fog, which becomes locked in over the basin every winter. That’s why each weekend people here fasten skis on their car hoods and head up.

Without access to mountains when I was growing up, I never learned to alpine ski. The only descent I conquered was the bunny hill at the golf course. Even though I am still wobbly sliding on 2 sticks, I love cross country skiing. To a flatlander from Illinois, cross country skiing in the mountains is every bit as challenging as downhill skiing due to the steep inclines.

Although I can only ski for no more that an hour or so, for 9 euros ($9) you can spend an entire day on groomed trails with spectacular mountain views. Our favorite spot, only a half hour away is La Vattay, on the plateau between the Valserine and Menthières in the Jura mountains.

Over 90 miles of trails wind through the pine filled forests and onto the open plateau where cows graze in the summer. Though I have skied the same route many times, I still get stymied because I am unable to navigate the 60 foot drop offs that end in sharp turns.

Luckily strategically placed gym mats are propped against trees at the bottom of curving slopes. To me those bright red mats are like STOP signs, so whenever I see one I pop off my skis and proceed by foot to the bottom of the steep incline. The only “snow plowing” I learned as a kid involved my back and a shovel, not my legs and skis.

If you grow up in this area, skiing is like riding a bike. You learn at an early age and never forget. Schools here take kids on ski day outings and across Europe people plan vacations around the sacred “ski week” holiday, a mandatory February break from school.

Depending on weather conditions ski stations are open from the end of mid December to end of March. Alas each year the ski season is shortened due to lack of snow. Global warming is wreaking havoc on the lower level of ski resorts.

But until the day snow becomes extinct, I will keep heading up going above the rim where I breathe, glide, breathe, slide, and savor life above the clouds.

Celebrating You on my 60th Birthday

I dream of throwing a big birthday bash bringing together the people from around the globe who have touched my life. Since that is not possible, you are invited to my virtual 60th birthday celebration. The guest of honor is not me but you. You who have stood by me during the hard times. You who have shared my highs and carried me during the lows. You who have given sense to my existence.

Today I am whooping it up for those people who have sustained me at different ages and stages during my past 6 decades.

I raise my glass to my family of birth, my parents and siblings. You have seen me at my worst and loved me unconditionally. You forgave my sharp words, ignored my flaws and overlooked my shortcomings.

Skål, to the nieces, nephews and cousins from coast to coast Oklahoma to Maryland and as far away as Norway who welcome me with open arms just because we shared the same ancestry.

Santé to my family by love, to the Frenchman who helped me transition to coach when injury ended my playing career, who wiped away tears after another health setback, who believed in me always especially when I most doubted myself.

Cheers to my children, who filled my mommy days with joy and adventure and now as young adults bring comfort and companionship. My daughter sensing my despair wraps me in a warm hug. My son seeing discouragement in my eyes offers to walk and talk. Each one reciprocating those simple acts of love that nourish our soul.

Prost to friends scattered across the world, who shared snippets of my life from my Sterling High School classmates, to my Illinois State University teammates and roommates, to my American, British, French, German, Swiss and other friends. To those folks who I may not have seen for years, but whose memory still makes me smile and fills my heart with happiness.

Salud to the members of my international community – colleagues, students, athletes – who taught me so much about tolerance for other cultures and customs. Your enthusiasm for learning fueled my weary soul through dark days of illness where our next lesson, practice, game was the only motivation dragging me out of bed.

Hail to my healthcare professionals specialists from Eagle River to Minong from Minnetonka to Geneva who believed me and kept searching outside the box for answers to help ease my pain.

Cin cin to members of my writing community who share the burning desire to communicate the old fashioned way, word-by-word. And to my faithful readers who give my writing meaning and whose comments offer inspiration.

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February 28th may commemorate the date of my birth, but today I raise my glass to you, you who shaped my life. Because of your support, your loyalty, your love, I am still here raising Cain, full of « piss and vinegar » in my 60th year.

Is Your Passport Valid?

Once, my coaching buddy raced around Athens between basketball games to find an American Embassy when he realized his passport expired and he would be stuck in Greece. I would never let my passport lapse especially in our present political climate. I have feared my French husband will be denied entry into the United States, but I never dreamed that I wouldn’t be allowed out of the country.

On January 10, the ticket control attendant at the gate stopped me from boarding my flight to Amsterdam at the St.Paul/Minneapolis airport.

« A problem? Me? I am American, » I said pointing to my husband. « He’s the foreigner. » « He can go, » the airline attendant barked. « You must stay. Your passport is expiring April 3. » « I know. I will go to the American consulate when I get back to Switzerland. » « M’am I’m sorry, you are not authorized to leave the country. » « But I don’t live here. » « You cannot fly internationally on an US passport if it is within 90 days of expiration. »

The hostess called her supervisor, who called his manager, who called the next higher up in the chain of command. They reiterated the rule and stared at the computer screen.

«But I live in Switzerland,» I pleaded showing my residency permit. More mumbling, more phone calls, more computer gazing.

With a last warning, they finally let me board the plane.

I am a well-seasoned traveler, but rules can change quickly especially these days with heightened security. After having lived in 4 different countries, I fear losing my identity papers because I know the rigors involved in establishing legality as an alien. How could I be unaware of this 3-month stipulation?

To avoid making the same mistake, here are some tips concerning your passport. (For more information go to this page.)

International travel is denied if you passport is within 3 months before expiration. Other countries may deny entry if your passport expires within 6 months. Entry into any of the 26 European countries in the Schengen area requires a minimum of 3 months

US passport photographs are very specific – expats would find it easier and cheaper to take passport photos while in the states at the local DMV or Walgreens than overseas.

Beware, you cannot wear glasses in the photo and you must not smile. Please don’t argue with the photographer (like the lady in front of me at Walgreens did) and demand a retake because you don’t like the way you look. This isn’t a Glamour cover shoot; it’s a passport. Forget vanity. Think safety. Face recognition software works better identifying non-smiling, glasses free photographs.

An adult US passport costs – $140 (or $110 for renewal) but it is valid for 10 years. It packs a lot of punch for your dollar. That little blue book allows Americans free access to over 100 different countries as compared to passports for many Middle Eastern and African countries whose citizens can only enter 30 some countries without visas.

Once back home safely, I filled in the paperwork online, then went to consulate in Geneva and filed for a new passport, which arrived by mail two weeks later. As I admired my new blue book, I marveled at my fortune being born in Illinois instead of Uzbekistan.

All in all it was surprisingly simple especially compared to renewing my American driver’s license, which entailed procuring my French marriage license, finding a valid translator, and five trips to the DMV, but that is another story. Stay tuned.

For more information on traveling, working, and living abroad check this official site.

We Are All Immigrants

Our President’s executive order suspending refugee resettlement and issuing a travel ban and entry into US of people from 7 predominately Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen – was deeply unsettling and a violation of core American values.

The United States of America was founded by people who fled their own homelands in pursuit of religious freedom and economic opportunity.

Research your own ancestry. You may be surprised to discover the genetic origins of « skeletons » in your closet. With the exception of the Native Americans, we all came from elsewhere or worse yet were stripped from our homelands and sold into slavery. Don’t believe me. Check the records of genealogy registries like Ancestry.com. Different nationalities and ethnicities have been mixed for generations.

We all share a history of sacrifices. In 1902 my Norwegian great grandmother, Eugenie and her young daughter, set sail for America to join my great grandfather, Johan Rosholt, who arrived earlier. A fortnight after landing on Ellis Island, her daughter succumbed to illness. Three months later Eugenie died giving birth to my grandma, Martha. Johan sunk into deep depression; Martha became a ward of the state, and at the age of four was adopted by a Norwegian couple. Years later, Martha married Gustav Olson, another Norwegian emigrant, who died at age 47. He left behind my grandma, two sons and a daughter, my mom.

On my paternal side, the McKinzie lineage can be traced back to Scotland to the Mackenzie Clan of Kintail. In 1655 Collin McKenzie settled in Maryland as one America’s first founding families.

My paternal grandfather, son of a tenet farmer, coached into his 80s contributing his salary to help others receive the college education he so greatly valued. Every step of his long career, he defended human rights as a staunch Republican supporter of Ronald Reagan, his former football player and lifelong friend. My grandmother never complained about her inauspicious debut or hard life, instead she spread good cheer with a welcoming smile and twinkling blue eyes.

The survival spirit of my ancestors flows through my veins. Like for so many Americans, the Ellis Island immigrant story remains etched in my family history, like a badge of courage.

In the past, emigrants hailed from predominately white European countries. Our present day refugees come from farther south nearer the equator line where due to climate skin colors can be darker.

Our stories as descendants of refugees, immigrants and slaves are one’s of perseverance and resiliency surviving the hardships of poverty and surmounting the evils of bondage.

Our people were not born on easy street with silver spoons in their mouth. The European, Asian and African immigrants, refugees and former slaves served in the military, paid taxes, and honored our flag. They worked hard at low paying jobs laying roads, planting fields and building schools. They suffered human losses greater than we can imagine.

Before we mandate measures with such far-reaching consequences as travel bans, we must be sure to have our « alternate facts » straight too.

« The list of countries banned makes no sense, » said Hasni Abidi, a Swiss specialist of the Arab world. According to the New-York based Soufan Group, ISIS recruits primarily from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, and Jordan, countries not listed in the ban and with close ties to the US for most of them.

Chechen brothers committed the Boston Marathon attack, a man of Afghan origin (born in USA) committed the Orlando shoot out, and Pakistanis opened fire in San Bernardino.

Within days of taking office, in a violation of our most fundamental rights on which our country was founded, our President’s nationalistic rhetoric and actions have already alarmed and estranged our strongest allies.

Before we go imposing orders, building walls, and creating more barriers, keep in mind our nation was founded on the principals of religious freedom and built on the backs of « foreigners » slaves, refugees and immigrants.