Happy 60th Birthday to my Extraordinary Sister

Happy 60th birthday to my extraordinary sister, Sue, aka the family glue. Born 16 months ahead of her, I was the big sis, but only in terms of birth date. She has spent most of her adulthood looking out for me as well as others within her wide circle of love.

A born peacekeeper, as a middle sister, she resolved conflicts beginning training early in childhood with her squabbling siblings.

She dedicated her life to helping the underdog. Like a magician, abracadabra she unlocked the unique minds of students who learned differently and created individualized recipes for success.

After teaching for 34 years at Yorkville High School, she retired 4 years ago, but you would never know it. She never slowed down. She pours that extra energy into taking care of those she loves – care-taking for parents, watching grandchildren’s events, and shuttling people to and from the cabin, airport, and doctor’s appointments.

A cancer survivor, she also suffers from fibromyalgia, but that hasn’t stopped her. She overlooks her own aches and pains to put others first. Taking care of family and friends has become a life mission. Whether running errands for aging parents, or picking out presents for grandkids, nieces, nephews, and siblings, she elevated the art of giving to the highest form.

To those within her sphere of friendship, no occasion goes unnoticed. She doesn’t just send a card of congratulation, condolence or celebration, she writes a personalized note of inspiration.

Always the first person everyone calls for support, she is a source of thoughtful, measured advice free of judgment. An exceptional listener, Sue will lend her ear and then help you brainstorm solutions.

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As the only McKinzie to inherit Dad’s penchant for organization, she keeps the family up to date on every event. Then records the highlights on a holiday family photograph calendar, which she offers as a Christmas gift.

Her skill in packing is second to none. She helped parents downsize and nieces, nephews and friends cart from one place to another. She sorted, packed, labeled and loaded entire households and then stayed around to help reassemble pieces in the new abode.

Though she laments that she cannot cook, she could put a bakery out of business with her desserts -carrot cake, Oreo cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies and gluten free treats. Yes, another trait she caters to everyone’s whims and dietary needs.

With an eye for detail, color and style, her house, beautifully decorated, looks like a page out of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. She graciously hosts family gatherings for birthdays, holidays and special events.

Larissa, who recently joined the family, summed it up best, “Being around Su-su is uplifting; she creates an aura of peace.”

Sue always has everyone else’s best interests at heart.

Desperately, we all look for the ideal present, a figurine for her beautiful angel collection, to offer her as a token of gratitude.

But we all know the search is futile, for the real gift is ours. The precious angel in our family is our beloved Sue.

Celebrate Happy Feet Day

Hallmark has us hooked. We celebrate every Day from All Fools to Groundhog’s to Columbus, a real misnomer, showing gratitude for everything except what we take most for granted – our feet. I propose we give our tootsies a holiday and declare Happy Feet Day.

Imagine the pressure those little bones endure everyday hauling our carcass around, not to mention those extra pounds we’ve been lugging since last Thanksgiving.

Good feet are gifts from above. I should know; I was not gifted.

I used to tell friends that I wore baby casts on each toe after my feet got run over by a truck. One look at my crooked toes and they believed my harebrained story.

My feet plagued me from the day I took my first steps. I went to a podiatrist, long before anyone knew what a podiatrist was. Good ol’ Dr Heffelfinger or Heffle”toe,” as we fondly called him. He explained that my big toe was shorter than the rest of my toes. To avoid face planting every step forward, I clawed the ground with my toes.

My grandma told me that having a second toe longer than the first one is a sign of intelligence and insight. My dad, however, swore I’d hang from trees by my toes and threatened to prove it, if I broke another window playing ball in the yard.

To make matters worse, I developed Ledderhose Disease, a thickening of the deep connective tissue, leading to nodules in the arches of my feet. Though a nuisance, the disorder, named after a German surgeon, Dr. Georg Ledderhose, triggers fond memories of my time living in Germany.

Yep, those 26 bones, 33 joints, 12 tendons, and umpteen muscles stretch like a suspension bridge over our arches, but get no credit. Feet carry the weight of the world and live in shoes – the most uncomfortable homes on earth. Women’s footwear – back breaking, toe crushing, pointed high heels – keep doctors rolling in dough for life.

Born with bad feet, I swore off fashion in my teens and worn tennis shoes everyday since then. I also wear orthotics. To prevent blisters between my toes, I bandaged every one until my French podiatrist solved the problem. He molded toe separators out of pink silicone. Now I wear silly putty between my phalangies.

While studying my off-balance, barefoot gait he declared, “Madame, you have no feet; you are walking on another pair of hands.”

According to leading sport podiatrist Dr. Murray Weisenfeld in The Runner’s Repair Manual, feet were never designed for walking or running. Feet evolved out of the fin of fish designed for swimming and later developed for grasping to let creatures squat on branches without falling out.

Don’t believe me read Christopher McDougal’s fascinating bestseller Born to Run, where he studies a hidden tribe of the world’s fastest, long distance runners, who race barefoot or in sandals.

So, go on. Don’t feel guilty. Give your tootsies a holiday. Kick off the heels. Forgo weight bearing tasks. Doing dishes, a no no. Cooking, over a hot stove, out of the question. Standing in line to buy groceries, pay bills, pump gas – absolutely forbidden. Lying on a couch and wiggling toes to smooth jazz is highly recommended. Mud baths are fine. Hot tubs excellent. Swimming supreme.

You really want to show appreciation for your feet? Walk barefoot across the grass in a sunbeam’s shadow. A card of praise in the mail would be nice too.

25 Ways to Know If You Are A Cabin Person

You love to be on water, in water, underwater, treasuring the silky, smooth, feeling of cool velvet on your skin.

You can tolerate inconveniences. The toilet may back up, electricity may go off and bugs will bite for sure. But you roll with it.

You enjoy passing on traditions – first hike, first bike ride, first ghost walk, first snipe hunt, first fishing trip, first swim and first ski.

You find bliss simply lying on the dock watching the clouds drift by.

You hate mice, mosquitoes and flies as much as anybody, but you tolerate them for the chance to live as close to nature as possible without having to sleep in a tent.

You don’t mind sharing.

You love to read curled up with a good book in front of the lake, the woods and the fireplace.

You think daydreaming is a fine art.

You believe boats were made for towing skiers, catching fish, or circling the lake slowly admiring sights, not for speed racing.

You know that drunken boaters on a lake are as dangerous as intoxicated drivers on the road.

You can fall asleep on lumpy beds and doze off in those old aluminum, webbed lawn chairs.

You think everything tastes better grilled and eaten off a paper plate.

Your heart still skips a beat every time you spot an eagle soaring over the lake, a white tailed fawn leaping through the forest, or the rare glimpse of a bear lumbering across your front yard.

You appreciate everything wild – wild flowers, wild animals, wild berries and wild fishing fibs.

You can make a campfire better than a Boy Scout.

The wind in the trees sounds like music to your ears.

You can survive without Internet.

You know that tiny ticks hiding in tall grasses are more dangerous than big black bears in trees, but go outside anyway properly protected.

You can live quite happily in swimsuits and flip-flops.

You enjoy reminiscing in front of a fire.

You think playing word games with neighbors is perfect entertainment.

You still enjoy self-propelled water travel – kayaking, stand up paddling, canoeing, sailing, and swimming.

You love biking, hiking, walking, talking and eating.

You cherish family.

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You can watch a sunset melt like orange lava behind the treeline and feel overwhelmed with gratitude for another day in paradise.

Thanks Dad for building, care taking and sharing our little red cottage. Because of you, generations of families and friends learned to love cabin life.

Happy Father’s Day!

France Names Gym After American Basketball Player, My Mentor

When a car accident in France ended my professional basketball career, I wanted to curl up and die. While struggling to rehabilitate, my physical therapist in Paris, saw my despair and said, “Don’t cry. Call Henry Fields. He’ll help you out.”

“McKinzie,” Henry said when I called. “Oh yeah, I remember you. Shot the eyes out of the basket. Need a job? Great. We need a coach.”

So I began coaching at American School of Paris under the tutelage of Henry Fields, dubbed the Father of French basketball, and one of the first Americans to play in Europe. After winning the military world championship while stationed in Orleans, France, in 1962 he was invited to stay on to play for Paris University Club for $50 a month. Not only did he rack up championship titles, he won over the heart of the entire country and paved the way for other American players to follow.

Though he earned accolades as a player, his greatest impact may have been as a coach, where he dedicated his life to developing ball skills in youth at the various clubs where he starred. As a teacher and coach, he built a dynasty at ASP, the first American school with an international community in Europe established in 1946.

After retirement, he and his lovely Norwegian wife, Ragna, resettled in Auterive, south of Toulouse (southwest France), to be closer to their daughters. When he found out that the community didn’t have a basketball program for kids, he built one for them.

From Hank, I learned international basketball rules and insider tips, like it’s okay to yell at a ref as long as you buy him a drink after the game. He showed me how to make sure that each player had a role and felt valued.

He exemplified the true spirit of the game. Basketball is more that X and 0s, back door cuts, and match-up zones, it’s about bringing people together from every race, nationality and walk of life.

A few days ago, when I saw on a Facebook post that the gym in Auterive, had been named Halle Henry Fields, I pumped my fist and cheered.

“Pat, I had no idea,” he said when he called to tell me about the surprise ceremony. “They told me to wear a tie and come coach a game. When I got there, they sang happy birthday and dedicated the gym to me. Friends from teams back in 60s and 70s came to join in the celebration.”

“Oh Hank,” I said. “I wish I could have been there.”

“You were. You’re a part of everything I do.”

I feel the same way; we share the magic of mentoring. Over time, the wisdom of mentors becomes part of the mentees’ psych.

In the highest level of sport, coaches give back, pass on, and pay forward, becoming immortalized in the hearts and minds of those players who shared their love of a game.

What greater tribute to offer an ambassador of the game than to name a gym in his honor?

Henry Fields, granddaddy of basketball in France, a man with all the connections, believes everyone who loves the game is related.

To me, he will always be family.

 

 

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the International Baccalaureate

In a recent blog, I boasted about Sterling High School where I studied in my youth, but I am equally proud of the International School of Geneva Switzerland, where I taught for years as an adult. The world’s oldest international school, started in 1924, became a co-founder of the International Baccalaureate, which is marking it’s 50th anniversary this year.

As the daughter and granddaughter of teachers, I came from a family that valued equality and education. Joining the teaching ranks at ECOLINT, a school founded on the principles of respect and tolerance, felt like an honor and a privilege. It is no surprise that my school helped create the IB in 1968 and established its headquarters in Geneva.

“The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through inter-cultural understanding and respect.”International Baccalaureate

Designed for international students, whose parents were part of global diplomacy and multinational organizations, to meet qualifications for curriculum in home countries, the IB is accepted worldwide in over 2000 universities in 75 different countries.

The demanding academic program, emphasizing personal development, is offered in English, French or Spanish at 4775 schools in 153 different countries where 70,000 educators teach 1.4 million students, which at one time included my son and daughter.

The IB offers an international education that devInternational Baccalaureateelops the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, and work in a rapidly globalizing world.

In addition to the six subject requirement, the IB candidate must also write a 4000 word investigative research essay, attend a Theory of Knowledge course, and fulfill countless hours of work as part of the creativity, activity, and service (CAS) components.

Many former IB students go forward to make a mark in art, business, government, education, science and global affairs.

“Beyond intellectual rigor and high academic standards, strong emphasis is placed on the ideals of international understanding and responsible citizenship, to the end that IB students may become critical and compassionate thinkers, lifelong learners and informed participants in local and world affairs, conscious of the shared humanity that binds all people together, while respecting the variety of cultures and attitudes that makes for the richness of life.”

I only wish some of our present day world leaders had taken the IB and become conscious of our shared humanity, developed an international understanding and adopted our ethos for tolerance.

As another graduating class steps up to receive their IB diplomas at the International School of Geneva’s commencement ceremony, I tip my hat to these multi talented youth in hopes that they will use their knowledge and experience for a greater good to bring about a safer, saner, better world.

International Baccalaureate

 

If you have a Facebook account, once logged in, copy this link to see a video about the International School of Geneva and the IB.

https://www.facebook.com/ecolint/videos/10155476600988692/

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Discovering Family History With DNA TestingSince childhood when my maternal grandma put a diary in my hand and encouraged me to write my story, I wondered, “Who am I?” Spending my adult life abroad, where one has to forge a new identity, only magnified that question and made me more curious to find out where I come from. Using DNA testing and search tools like Ancestry.com digging up the family history and skeletons from the past has never been easier.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

my family’s geographical origins

To begin, I bought my parents a DNA kit and had them to spit in a test tube. We found out that my mom, on the Olson side, is 95% Norwegian, with a touch of Swedish and English. The McKinzie line on my dad’s side is primarily of Scottish descent, but his maternal lineage also can be traced to England, Ireland and Wales.

I discovered I am the great, great grand daughter of a Civil War veteran and a ship captain lost at sea off the Norwegian coast. My forefathers were teachers, statesmen, merchants, pioneer preachers and Scottish Lords. Long ago as clan chiefs, they owned castles as wealthy landowners; centuries later after immigrating to America, they lost land when crops failed and were forced to rent land as poor tenet farmers.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Eilean Donan Castle – Scotland Highlands

I can claim lineage as one of the First Colonial Families to settle on America soil on the Potomac in Maryland. My family once ruled Scotland’s famous castles – Eilean Donan, Leod, Kincoy, Kinkell and RedCastle – when the Mackenzie Clan reigned as far back as the 13th century. Once the most powerful clan in Northern Scotland, they own land from Ross on the east coast to the Island of Lewis in the west.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Grandpa Mac – 1922

Maps show the McKinzie migration ever westward. In the United States, as primarily farmers, they moved from New England to Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa and finally Oklahoma where my paternal great grandfather became a sharecropper outside of Blackwell. My grandfather broke tradition following his dream to play college football in Illinois, and then became a successful coach at Eureka College and Northern Illinois University.

Though I traced my father’s paternal side back 25 generations, my mother’s side is more complicated. In Scandinavian countries, they traditionally add son or dottar to the father’s name. For example, Ole’s son becomes Olson as a surname. I remain stuck in the 17 century a bit muddled up with Olson, Rosholt, Jacobson lines.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

My grandma – Martha Olson

To make things even more complicated, when immigrants became naturalized, they often changed their names. My maternal grandfather arrived in America in 1926 as Gustav Andreas Johansen, but changed his name to Gustav Andrew Olson when he became a US citizen. My maternal grandmother, adopted as a child, adds yet another dimension to my search.

My family history is filled with stories. My father’s maternal great great grandfather, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, hosted Lincoln during his campaign at the family home in Augusta Illinois. According to legend, Lincoln once sat on the same piano stool that I loved to spin on as a child at my grandma’s house.Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Another of my forefathers fought with French Allies to defeat the British in the Revolutionary War. My great, great grandpa Aaron McKinzie witnessed General Lee’s surrender ending the Civil War when he fought for the Union’s Iowa’s 39th Infantry Regiment.

When I trace my lineage, one thread stands out. My ancestors were resilient. They endured tribal assaults, Spanish flu epidemics, world wars, Nazi Occupation, independence from oppressors and countless clan battles over territory in Scotland. From my hardy Norwegian relatives living above the Arctic Circle to the Mackenzie Clan reigning in the Scottish Highlands, my people had a fighting spirit and will to survive.

Perseverance became part of my bloodline. On bad days, when life feels like a struggle, I look to the stories of my ancestors for strength. Knowing who I am and where I come from gives me courage to keep fighting too. I only wish my grandma was still alive, so I could tell her our story, but her spirit lives on in me.