Volunteer Nurse’s Mission Trip to the Dominican Republic

Image 2_copyMy niece, Hannah, a nurse in training at Creighton University, joined a medical service project in Dominican Republic where she dedicated 5 weeks to helping treat impoverished Dominicans as part of Institute for Latin American Concern Program (ILAC). During the week volunteers from the center in Santiago went to work in campos where they were housed by locals and treated like royalty. Host families insisted on providing the best they could offer and showed their gratitude in countless ways by making special treats and cleaning their guests’ clothes.

My niece’s host family, Madeline, and her husband, Chico, niece Saira 9, and daughters Maireli 4 and Mailesi 3 months lived in a tiny house smaller than Hannah’s two car garage back home in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

“The living room was tiny with a small TV. Curtains separated three small bedrooms. The bathroom, connected to the house, had a toilet that didn’t flush, and the shower was a bucket of water with a drain,” Hannah explained, “The kitchen has a mini fridge, counter and stove. The dining room had a table, chairs and a china cabinet, but no china.”

Hannah, who studied at a Spanish Immersion School in the Minneapolis area until high school, found that her background in Spanish was invaluable. She interacted with the locals and took medical histories, urinary samples and treated minor illnesses with minimum equipment in rudimentary facilities.

“While another nursing student took vitals, I did the intake form, figured out the chief complaint and symptoms and did any other translating. We saw lots of skin rashes, kidney infections, colds and body aches from all the work the Dominicans do.”Image 5_copy

The most striking difference was the extent of poverty and lack of modern health care and medicine.

“Even in the best hospital in the country, everything is open – doors, windows (without screens,) and the units in ER (diabetes, labor, trauma.) There are no monitors except for ICU/NICU. Restraints are by rope and heavy weights.” Hannah wrote in her journal. “Patients were pushed around ER with entire families following and holding medical supplies. (If a patient needs medicine, a family member must purchase it outside the hospital.) Floors were torn up, paint chipped off and I never saw a nurse in a patients room.”

There were many cultural differences from diet to lifestyle. The volunteers joked about the leisurely pace of Dominican time – which meant a few hours late.

“Beautiful girls with model figures came into the clinic asking for ways to gain weight,” Hannah said. “In their culture being overweight is a sign of wealth, but we tried to tell them they were perfect as they were.”

Biggest challenges that volunteers faced included communicating with the language barrier, feeling comfortable in a different culture, and adjusting to living with lower standard of hygiene.

“Even though I never felt clean,” Hannah said, “I learned how to co-exist with spiders the size of my hands and lizards in my bed, how to throw rocks at trees to get mangoes down and how to take a bucket shower with 3 small scoops of water.”

I felt privileged that Hannah shared her journal of events with me. Even reading it made me feel ashamed. I was spoiled with riches that I no longer noticed or appreciated like indoor plumbing, running water and electricity.

Life, when stripped to bare necessities, seemed purer. Good health, family, and community matters more than material goods.Image_copy

After meeting a prosperous land owner and visiting his rice plantation, Hannah, unimpressed, wrote in her journal, “I hope that as times change and technology advances in the DR that the people will stay the same: doors are always open, people are always outside talking with neighbors, the community is your family and sometimes you sleep at your neighbors because it is just like sleeping at your grandmas.”

“All the Dominicans were so hospitable, they would do absolutely anything to make us feel comfortable and happy,” Hannah said. “They showed me how to appreciate time with people rather than things, how to slow down and how to make the most of each day.”

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Summer Memories Last A Lifetime

It is that bittersweet time of year when school starts and we must bid a fond farewell to summer. 2013 will be marked as one of the finest even though I am exhausted from the whirlwind of festivities.

  • Book tour in my hometown where I saw old neighbors, teachers, friends who touched my life at each stage of my childhood.
  • The wedding of my best friend’s daughter, a cosmopolitan girl that I taught, coached and mentored, the beautiful, marathon running, Community Wellness Director who married a charming dairy farmer in Winona Minnesota.
  • Special guest of the McKinzie family in Shaker Heights – my brother provided fascinating tours of Cleveland as he chauffeured me to my Senior National Games speaking engagements.
  • Connecting with basketball playing and promoting aficionados across the continents – NSWBA, NOVA United, NSAA – and the chance to be a part of the Senior National Games even though I am no longer physically able to compete.
  • The craziness of running a B & B on Summit Lake that caters to special diets, erratic schedules and the idiosyncrasies of 5 families, 3 generations and their various friends.
  • Endless hours swapping stories around a campfire, floating on the raft, sharing meals, laughing at Kizzie’s antics, reconnecting with loved ones and creating lifelong memories.
  • Swimming to the island with my 22 year-old-son and his college mates. Woo hoo, I can still keep up with the kids!
  • Commemorating passages, the loss of a dear family friend, a carpenter extraordinaire, who bought my grandparents ol’ boys camp preserving its history with every log.
  • Enduring ze Frenchman’s middle age crisis – the purchase of a new (used) boat, so he can ski with the kids. You go, G-Man.
  • Sixtieth wedding celebration of Jim and Lenore, a remarkable couple who I am blessed to have as parents.
  • The 50th anniversary of Little Camp Ney-A-Ti, our family cabin, a magical playground in the Northwoods where we put aside our problems to share the beauty of nature, the bond of family and the blessing of friendships.

As I look back on an extraordinary summer, I want to shout out my gratitude to family, friends, and folks who went out of their way to make my stay in the States so special.

The best part about living between worlds is that even though my heart is filled with sadness as I say farewell to folks back home, I can hear the mountains calling, see my students smiling, and feel my international community’s warm embrace. Welcome back to Switzerland, Missy Ex-Pat.

Granny’s Got Game

The real reward in speaking at the National Senior Games in Cleveland on behalf of the National Senior Basketball Association was not the chance to tell my tale, but to hear everyone else’s story.

One of the other speakers also was Angela Gorsica Alford, who played for the top-ranked women’s basketball team at Vanderbilt (1994-1997) and represented USA Basketball in international tournaments. She began her career as a software engineer for Motorola & Sony-Ericsson, and re invented herself after her children’s births by starting her own video production company in 2007.  A year ago, she launched Granny’s Got Game an inspiring documentary about the Fabulous 70s, a competitive senior women’s basketball team in North Carolina that battles physical limitations and social stigma to keep doing what they love. Who says girls can’t play ball? These grandmas defy age and gender stereotypes by dishing and driving into their seventies all the while racking up medals every step of the way. Liz still has an unstoppable, quick first step and Mary’s mastered a deadly left-handed hook.

“Just like so many younger sports teams, this one includes a bossy captain, a guard who never runs the plays correctly, a tentative post-player, and a bench warmer who wants to play more than anyone. As teammates and friends, they support each other off the court through the difficulties that accompany aging, such as breast cancer and widowhood.”

100_1965

Rose Boyd, Marilyn Asay, Bev Beck,Mary Ellen Philen, Brenda Taylor, Linda Burke

But the ladies I found most enchanting were the North Carolina women in the 65-69 category whose claim to fame was that they served as practice dummies for the fabulous 70s team featured in Granny’s Got Game.

« We helped them get good, » forward/center Marilyn Asay said.

In the gym, I watched the Scrappy Swishers from Raleigh fight. They had to be scrappy; they had no height.

The Swishers battled it out with the best of them even though one player (also the Fabulous 70s team coach) missed part of the basketball competition because she was off placing 3rd, the bronze medal in 65+ golf this year at the national games.

Members of the Swishers attended high school from 1958-62 (pre Title IX) and played 6-aside, 3 on each end of half court and were limited to only had 2 dribbles before they had to pass or shoot. A player was designated either a guard (defense) or forward (offense.)

« We resumed our basketball career after retirement at age 65 years. We hadn’t played for approximately 40 years, » Marilyn explained. «We are geographically ecumenical- Swishers recruited 2 players from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, who play with the team at local and state competitions. »

And get this.

« Two teammates host the team’s BBC (Beach Basketball Camp) twice each year, » Marilyn says with the enthusiasm of a teenager at a rock concert. « Our motto is fun, food, fellowship. Oh, and also practice, sun, sand, and surf.

During one of the Swishers games against the powerful Maine team, I watched Bev Beck all of 5-foot-2, 100 lbs. set a pick on a center twice her size for 72-year-old Marilyn who cut backdoor to the basket. The ladies huddled around Coach Angela at the time out and the referee gave also offered pointers. Every action reflected the spirit of the games. Fun, fitness, friendship, competition, comraderie, community.

While our present day sport stars are making the front page for domestic disputes, betting scandals and alleged homicides, our real heroes are playing ball in the shadows after having contributed to society as mothers, educators, hard workers, and beloved community members.

Like the filmy subtitle claims, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

Give me five, Granny. You may be wearing support hose, knee braces and platinum hips, but you still got game!

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Happy 60th Wedding Anniversary Jim and Lenore McKinzie

Six decades ago, what started as a simple wedding in Chicago between a man and woman created a circle of love that goes round the world. J&L wedding

Your love taught us to honor our elders. As children we watched how you helped your parents age with dignity. Together, you kept the Wisconsin retreat a lasting legacy of Grandpa Mac and Grandma Betty McKinzie’s love of nature and people by welcoming family and friends. You made Grandma Olson part of your community when she moved from the East coast. Together, you rediscovered our missing Norwegian heritage on trips to Norway and connected us to fjords filled with cousins and a rich ancestory. IMG_2014_copy

Your example of love showed tolerance for the differences in others. You were the first to acknowledge and accept my uniqueness. When my unusual talents drove me overseas in pursuit of a professional basketball career, instead of disowning me, your love followed. You opened your home and heart to guests of every nationality and all walks of life including accepting your French son-in-law as your own.

Your love was selfless in time and money. Though as children, we drank powdered milk and shared rooms, we never went without hugs and praise. You forfeited expensive dinners and extravagant presents in order to save for children’s college educations. When your four children became self- sufficient, you started bank accounts for your six grand children. You shower your grandkids with gifts – the greatest being time. Time to read books, play games, toss balls and create memories.

Your love is resilient. You withstood the trials of demanding teaching careers, rose to the challenge of raising four children five years apart, coped with aging parents, fulfilled community obligations, adjusted to changes invoked by illness.

Though your love for one another always came first, there was always enough left over to give to others. Those around you bloomed in the warm glow your love effused.

Your grown children looked to your relationship for inspiration in their own marriages and child rearing. As adults, we appreciated even more the power of your love. A love that never gave up when times were hard. A love that never turned away when money was short. A love that never wavered in life’s transitions. If I have been able to overcome the obstacles of living in a foreign country, raising two children abroad, while struggling with chronic health problems, it is in great part because of your love. A love that made me respectful, tolerant, selfless, resilient, compassionate and, most of all, strong. IMG_3067_copy

Through your children, grandchildren, countless friends you supported and all the “adopted” others that you nurtured, your love now spans two continents and four generations. We, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, American and European – the links to the circle you started together 60 years ago today – celebrate your love, a love that graced our lives.

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Inspirational Speaker Humbled by Dynamic Participants at the Senior National Games

Pat with Shellie Pfohl Executive Director President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, Angela Gorsica Alford, film maker Granny's Got Game

Pat with Shellie Pfohl, Executive Director President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, Angela Gorsica Alford, film maker Granny’s Got Game

 

 

In July, I was invited to speak at the Senior National Games about my memoir Home Sweet Hardwood, the story of a woman’s struggle to fit in society and play basketball in college, professionally and overseas at a time in America’s history when women’s sports was  taboo. My intent was to motivate the participants, but I was the one that left feeling inspired.

As a guest of the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association, I met the lively participants in the women’s over 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s competing in the 3 on 3 basketball competition in Cleveland, Ohio, home of Rock n’ Roll. But I was taken aback when I found out I would be speaking at their socials held at the Hard Rock Cafe. Hard Rock Cafe, a venue for geriatrics? Pitch out whatever preconceived notion you once held of senior citizens.These ladies could play and party with the best of ‘em.

They weren’t just feting basketball, and competition, they were embracing life. They cheered, chanted and celebrated just being together.

Unlike addressing the quietly attentive business-suited businessmen and civic leaders at the Rotary as I did earlier in July, this event required hollering over the din of  a crowd like during the « 3rd half » of a rugby match where opposing teams put rivalry aside, shared a meal and tossed back a beer together.

I tweaked my speech to hold their interest, opening with a few phrases in French. They glanced up from their meals.

« We grew up listening to a language as foreign as French, » I said and they set down forks. « In our hearts, we heard run, jump, play, compete.»

« When society was telling us, cook, clean, cheer, sit, sew, smile, bake, be mommy’s lil’ helper, daddy’s lil’ princess, when what we really wanted to be was fighting warriors on competing America’s playing fields. »

The rowdy crowd stopped socializing.

« WE grew up hearing a language so foreign, no one understood it yet. But they do now! Women can be doctors, lawyers, CEO’s even Secretary of State. »

Cheers erupted. I strode from table to table shouting into the microphone like a union leader as the audience clapped and roared. When I saluted them for staying in the game, they humbled me by rising in a standing ovation.

As a first generation Title IX athlete, I came of age in the infancy of women’s rights to participate in sport and benefited from the controversial bill mandating equal opportunities for women in all public institutes. Many women at the Senior Games grew up pre Title IX and never had the opportunity to compete, or played the old-fashioned 6-a side game where you broke your toes stopping at center court, limited to playing only one half side on defense or offense.

A lady on the Chicago Hot Shots, a 65+ team, told me, “I started playing at age 66.”

Another spunky guard, Carol Strickler, on the Memphis team drawled, “I survived cancer twice and just had hip replacement. Basketball keeps me mobile.”

They endured personal setbacks, career changes, job losses, and family crisises. They recovered from cancers, heart surgeries and joint replacements. Many, like me, stared down death, and refused to quit, “No! I ain’t done living yet.” They found not only a way to remain active, but to be competitive.

100_2021Basketball has become a way of life defining their days. They may have admired me for blazing a trail, but my awe of them was greater. My career ended at the age of 26 in a car accident that should have taken my life. Here were gyms full of women, past the half-century mark, who refused to give up. They were setting picks, blocking shots, knocking down jumpers, taking the charge and still walking off the court upright.

Against all odds, they found a way to stay in the game.

“Never again will we question our right to belong on the Home Sweet Hardwood,” I said.

East Cost players still got game

East Coast players still got game

« I came here to share my uplifting story and encourage you to read my book, » I told them,  « but I am the one leaving the Cleveland Senior Games 2013 feeling inspired. I raise my glass. »

« You rock, ladies. Fitness for Life. Basketball Forever. »

We’ve come a long way, baby !

Amen, sister, amen !

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Transformative Travel- Kids’ Greatest Education Family Road Trip 1962

My parents and grandparents, all teachers, believed in education, but the best schooling I received was from the smudged windowpanes of our used 1962 Rambler station wagon when we left our Midwestern flatlands for the summer trips across the Wild West and sun-baked south. The best book I ever read was the one I wrote in my mind, as we crisscrossed the endless blue highways of America.

Most families would never attempt to take four children five years apart anywhere in the car, but my parents loved to travel and my grandparents, having survived the Depression, developed a habit of saving money only to indulge their grandchildren.

“Turn left at the next intersection,” Dad would say.

“Reckon it’s right,” Grandpa would argue.

“I’d go straight,” my nine-year-old brother said, studying the map as navigator. My sisters and I thought he was spoiled because he got the front seat.

We turned left. Then hung a U and turned right. Finally we followed my brother’s suggestion and got back on track. While my brother resolved arguments in the front seat, my sisters and I  bickered in the back seat that faced backwards until dad yelled, “Stop that squabbling or I’ll make you walk home.”

Four thousand miles forced us to be creative. We smoked candy cigarettes behind our plastic sunglasses and waved at truck drivers. We invented names for the inhabitants of the houses we passed, told knock-knock jokes and made up songs.

We learned to survive without air conditioning by sucking ice cubes and sticking our bare feet out the back window and how to hold our needs by crossing our legs.

Like all children we had an innate curiosity until an adult interfered. Whenever we passed a famous site, Dad would command, “Sit up and look girls, we are passing Mt. Everest (Lake Tahoe or whatever.)” That is how I missed seeing most of America’s greatest wonders. Out of simple rebellion at authority, I refused to look up from my Archie comic books.

After we completed our 300-mile daily quota, Dad let us study the Mobile Guide Book and find the cheapest motel with a swimming pool. The next day, like little tin soldiers, we were dressed, packed and in the car by the 8:00 hour departure time. Lunch was a soggy baloney and cheese sandwich from the big, red ice chest. Dinner, a hamburger and fries, in a family diner.

Later as adults, we would forget the impact of seeing the Grand Canyon or the Great Sequoias, but we remembered the color of the underwear that flew across the highway when our luggage fell off the rack and the name of the town where we accidentally left Susie in the gas station restroom.

My grandparents instilled a wanderlust and though I missed the significance of Mt. Rushmore and Cape Canaveral, I understood more about my country than the textbooks divulged. Our trip to the Deep South left a far greater lasting impression than Disneyland or the Hollywood Studios.

“How come the Negroes live in shacks?” I asked with the innocence of a seven-year-old.

“Because they are so poor.”

“Why are they so poor?”

“Because they don’t have any land.”

“Hey, I see lots of land,” I said pointing towards a sprawling plantation with stately white pillars. “The whole town could fit in that house; it’s bigger than a hotel!”

At Piney Woods School, where my grandparents volunteered to teach after their retirement, my brother and I played basketball with the black boys on a dirt court in a sun-baked paradise surrounded by pine and honey-scented pink and white magnolias. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

“Isn’t it great how well they get along?” my dad asked.

“If only we could remain children in our hearts,” my grandma replied.

As we piled suitcases on top of the Rambler to head back North, a young girl peeked behind her big sister’s cotton skirt to stare at the first white family she’d ever seen.

sisters-at-Piney-Woods

sisters and new friends at Piney-Woods

“Schootch together,” Grandma said, “so I can take your picture.”

I stood by my new friend and beamed as the camera clicked.  Then I reached over and took her soft, brown hand in mine. It fit just perfect.

Photographs of my childhood remain etched in my soul forever.  Just as my grandma had hoped, I remained a child in my heart, befriending people from all four corners of the globe in my international community in Switzerland where I now teach.

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