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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Slow Down to Savor the Holiday Season

After a tumultuous year, pause to take stock, and reflect on the true meaning of the season. Holidays are loaded with sugar and sentiment and sometimes sadness for losses are felt so much more greatly at Christmas time. Don’t let the holiday frenzy take hold make time for kindness. You never know what burden that impatient, grumpy, long-faced lady in the line in front of you carries in her heart.

Do not let the twinkle of lights, sprinkle of snowflakes, and razzmatazz glitter blind you to the season’s true blessing.

Take a deep breath. Remember in the big scheme of things does it really matter if the cookies burn, the packages arrive late, the cards never get mailed? The true beauty in the holiday is in its’ imperfections…the crooked tree, the lumpy potatoes, the mismatched socks.

For as much time as you spend shopping, baking, buying, be sure to also pause to express gratitude to people working behind the scenes to pull off the holiday extravaganza… the postman, sales clerk, special aunts, and selfless moms.

As people journey across the miles to gather with loved ones, be mindful of the snowplow drivers, airline pilots, policewomen, firemen and other folks who remain on the job. And doctors and nurses, like our daughter and niece, who forfeit holidays to remain on standby to care for sick kids.

Personally, I want to thank my readers for your loyal following. A writer’s mission can only be fulfilled by sharing ideas with others; you give my words meaning. I appreciate the time you take to reflect, comment, tweet, share and repost my musings.

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other special tradition -I wish you a merry, peace-filled gathering. Regardless of how or with whom you celebrate in your mixed, blended, adopted, foster, same-sex, cross-generational, cross-cultural or whatever other combo makes up your family tapestry, seize the moment and savor it. There is no such thing as a perfect holiday in a one-size-fit-all family.

Regardless of which deity you worship or not, what makes the holiday “holy” is not pretty packages, bright lights, fantastic foods – it is the fellowship. This holiday season cherish your time together and give thanks for one another.

The true value of the season is measured by our human connections.

Our lives are richer because of each other.

 

 

A gift to you from us, another French favorite – candied slow cook leg of lamb.

Idiosyncrasies in American Behavior Healthwise

putzfrauAmericans are OCD about germs. You’ll see hand sterilizers in dormitories, Clorox wipes in homes, and face masks in health clinics. They wash hands obsessively, shower daily, and do laundry compulsively. Yet after living abroad for decades, I cannot help but notice some idiosyncrasies in this behavior.

In Switzerland, guests remove shoes at the door and bring slippers to dinner parties. Even kids comply without question. The no shoe rule applies in some doctors’ offices. My children’s orthodontist provided blue, plastic booties for everyone in his office. Imagine sitting in a crowded waiting room wearing mini shower caps on your feet?

In Europe no one dares enter a sports club or steps on a gym floor without changing to a clean set of sneakers. In my school, kids flunked PE if they failed to leave their shoes on shelves in the corridor before entering the changing room.

Nowhere is the difference in standards more blatant than at health clubs. In France changing stalls are like magic boxes. You enter the stall from the outside fully clothed and abracadabra you step out on the other side in a swimsuit and flip-flops.

One of the biggest absurdities I saw even in the ultra health conscious, St. Paul- Minneapolis area was that people walk into the club wearing their sweats, t-shirts and tennis shoes. They pump iron, ride the bikes, run on treadmills, attend fitness class, and then dash right back out the door in the same sweaty attire to shop at Target.

Even more alarming, they step in the sauna straight from the gym in workout gear while I soak in my swimsuit, the odd man out so to speak. One young woman plopped down in the sauna fully clad in her jeans, sweater, and boots. It gets cold in Minnesota, but really.sauna

Most Americans are modest about their bodies except for that one girl wearing Gucci workout shorts and a halter-top. She turned her backside toward the mirror and snapped a selfie of her booty’s reflection.

But for the most part, the puritan ethic is deeply ingrained. No one undresses openly in public even within the safe confines of the same sex changing rooms. If women do change clothes, they hide behind shower curtains or underneath giant towels.

Bodies of all ages and stages of decline are more exposed on French beaches than in America’s fitness club changing rooms.

As an old athlete, I grew up in the days when the communal shower stall was the status quo. I became even more liberated living in Europe where people sit on towels buck naked in mixed saunas and women go topless on the public beaches

When did the Yankees become so uptight about their bodies?

sauna-2Loosen up, America. Let it all hang out. It is good for the girls to air out now and then. Nobody cares what you look like; people are too busy sneaking peaks at their iPhones.

Besides you can always wash your hands on the way out.

 

 

Thought we needed a lighter look at life this week to brighten our mood.
Now if you really want to lift the spirits try this classic family recipe (Boeuf Bourguignon) from our favorite French Chef.

American Election An Expat Perspective

12665885-silhouette-of-a-sad-politician-on-american-flag-background-with-vintage-look-stock-photoTo me it’s not about politics. It’s not about liberal or conservative or agreeing to disagree on what we each think is the best way to ensure that the US is a great place to live.

It’s about the values  I thought we held regardless of our political leanings.

After hearing the election results on November 9, I cried. I felt a gut wrenching fear and despair that knowing there was no turning back. I walked out the door and wanted to keep walking right off the planet. My disappointment was magnified thousand-fold with the heartbreaking knowledge that half of the nation believes in a leader whose platform was filled with empty slogans and derogatory rhetoric based on repression, intolerance, bigotry, misogyny and ignorance.

I know that realistically not all those who voted support those views and that they have very legitimate reasons for wanting change, I know that for many it was an act of anger, frustration and hopelessness, not racism or misogyny. But it’s hard for me to feel that in so-voting, those views, which I find so abhorrent and antithetical to the very rights we fought so hard for in the past, weren’t being endorsed. Regardless of what happens at a policy-level, I’m fearful of the message that has been sent, of the noxious sentiment that has been aroused, and of the no-longer unrealistic possibility that the rights we have fought for could be taken away, or at the very least not truly be guaranteed for all.

I understood why thousands of Americans took to the streets in protest chanting, « Not my President. »

Not my country either. Not the country I loved so dearly for defending the unalienable rights we hold so true … liberty, justice and freedom for all, not just those who shout the loudest or have the biggest bank accounts or have ancestors born in Western Europe and have less melanin in their skin.

Having lived in Europe for the past 37 years, perhaps I have no right to judge. I do not know what it feels like to be stopped in the street for the color of my skin. Or to be a working class man facing unemployment when my job was outsourced overseas. Or to be homeless waiting in line for a food pantry hand-out. Nor the despair of watching my child grow sicker and weaker due to an inability to afford health care.

But I do know the fear of standing in line in a French immigration office fearing that I will be deported. I do know the humility of depending on German teammates for a roof over my head. And I do know the gratitude of people – international friends and colleagues – who ignored where I came from and accepted me for who I was.

And I know what it feels like to be left out. In the early Title IX days, I left the USA to pursue a dream denied in my homeland. In 1979, I moved to Europe on the heels of the Vietnam War at the height of the Cold War, during the Reagan era.

While living abroad, I tried to mitigate the stereotype of the loud, arrogant, ethnocentric American by speaking softly and keeping a low profile. I demonstrated the ideals of tolerance on which my country was founded by showing respect for others who worshiped different deities, spoke different languages and practiced different customs. As a guest in others homelands, I discovered firsthand through friendship the beauty in our diversity.

I came back to a nation where people were more connected than ever on social media, yet profoundly divided in real life and unable to communicate in civil terms.

Recently retired from teaching abroad, I stayed in the states longer and followed the election with mounting alarm, stunned not just by how vitriolic it turned, but how easily we condoned it. When did the election in one of the greatest democracies become more about digging up dirt on one’s opponent than discussing critical policy issues?

I felt as if I’d been flung back in time to an era when women were objectified, Jim Crow Laws kept blacks in their place, and gays hid in the closet for safety. Trump gave free licence to discrimination. His dismissal of anyone who is not a white American male echoes an Aryan supremacist ideology that nearly destroyed us.

« Make American great again ! » Trump proclaims. What was great about America was that everyone had an opportunity to pursue the Dream.

« Build walls to keep out immigrants ! » America was built on the backbone of immigrants who came here for a better life.

On the heels of Brexit, Trump’s victory, following a campaign filled with disdain for women, minorities, immigrants, gays and the disabled only fuels the extreme right of the world. Marie Le Pen is kicking up her heels in France; Geert Wilders is dancing in Holland.               .

The nightmare I woke up to November 9 reverberates around the globe. We may only worry about what is happening in our neighbourhood, and I get that, but what we don’t realize is that, like it or not, any decision made in America affects the rest of world, environmentally, socially, and economically.

We need to remember that regardless of our political party, religious affiliation, national identity, race or gender, we don’t own this planet.

We cannot go back and change the outcome of the election, but that does not mean we should give up on those ideals. We can speak up for those who are victimized or do not have a voice. We can continue to teach our children to treat everyone with kindness and respect. We can encourage the many politicians in both parties who have condemned Trump’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric to continue to do so.

We can do better.

We must.

Happy Father’s Day Coach – Thanks for the Legacy

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

Coach “Mac” – Ralph McKinzie

On June 5, 1983, mere months after a car accident in France ended my career as professional athlete, I wrote this letter to my grandpa Coach ‘Mac’ Ralph McKinzie. a beloved college coach.

Today, I can address this same letter to my dad, who influenced just as many high school athletes as my grandpa did at the university level.

 

 

Dear Coach Mac,

I want to wish you a Happy Father’s Day, not as your granddaughter but as an athlete. Though I never had the opportunity to play football on your team (football is forbidden for girls, even tomboy girls) I still look to you as an example. As an athlete I know the impact you had as a coach, but as a woman I can express emotions more openly than a man. Today I am writing on behalf of all the boys you fathered on the football field who would wish you a Happy Dad’s Day if they could find the words.Jim & Grandpa

In our society men are not allowed to show feelings; it is uncharacteristic of the American male, especially husky football players, to write thank you letters, so you’ll never realize the number of lives you touched. Your influence on one boy, Ronald Reagan, who became President of the United States, is probably the most outstanding example of the far-reaching effects of your coaching. Many men, less acclaimed perhaps, but equally important, are fathering children and becoming productive citizens because of the impact you had as a coach, developing character. Many continue to hurdle life’s hardships because of the never-give-up attitude you instilled on McKinzie Field.

Coach Jim

Jim McKinzie – Eureka College

I am one of those former athletes. I never endured the duck walk, but I know enough of your coaching philosophies to have that iron will ingrained, a will that kept me alive this year. After the accident I thought I would never get out of bed, days passed from minute to minute enduring pain. When walking from one room to another seemed insurmountable, you were my inspiration. I thought of you pacing the football field. Not all your former athletes will have suffered the same trials as I, but each will have endured hard times, drawing on the strength you helped them develop off the field.

Since I can no longer compete, I feel useless. Again I look to you and see how you are still coaching, influencing lives even at the age of 89. So I think I will try to follow your example as a coach. Unfortunately, in organized sports today, coaches often must focus more on winning championships than on shaping individuals. However I intend to follow your philosophy and be a coach of life.

Perhaps you too are weary from life’s aches and pains. Many mornings you, a man that once kicked 50-yard field goals, has trouble pulling on his socks. Like me you wonder what your purpose is here now. But your very existence continues to be an inspiration to us all. Thanks Coach from all your athletes.

P & Nic-2My grandpa officially retired from coaching in 1962, and then was called back to the game a year later. My father retired from coaching boy’s football and basketball only to return to coaching girl’s basketball in the infancy of Title IX.

Looking back my letter reads like a prophecy; I went on to coach and teach internationally for 33 years. Together grandfather, father, and daughter have dedicated nearly a century and half to helping shape kids on the playing fields. Only days after my grandfather died in 1990, our son was born. Today that young man, Coach Mac’s great grandson, has become the fourth generation to go into teaching and coaching.

I think that is what you call a legacy.