Terrorism and Refugee Crisis Separate Issues

3200As part of a French-American family living in Switzerland, I recently wrote about the impact deadly attacks in Paris had on my family and friends. My heart was equally shattered after the latest assault on my homeland, the San Bernardino massacre.

Each day new stories evolved about terror in the streets. As France entered a state of emergency and Brussels shut down, our worries escalated. In Europe where everything is a stone’s throw away, we fear for families and friends living in the nations’ capitals.

After the recent attacks, the backlash against the refugees is alarming. European countries build higher fences. American governors refuse Syrian refugees in their states. Do they even know a Syrian? Do they understand that the basic tenets of the Muslim religion, are based on the same beliefs as those of Christianity or Judaism?

Muslim does not mean radical. Syrian is not synonymous with terror.

The FBI insists the biggest threat is not immigrants: it is homegrown extremists. The majority of terrorist’s attacks are not conducted by “refugees from afar,” but by disillusioned youth from within our cities who fall prey to malevolent manipulations of jihadist leaders.

Europeans wonder why American states would forbid “foreign” refugees, yet support the right of any US citizen to carry weapons purchased at the nearest corner shop. Are our fears rational? Why would Americans worry more about being blown up by radical suicide bombers, when they are more likely to be gunned down in the crossfire of gangs, or murdered by deranged lone wolves? We no longer live in the Wild West. Do we really need AR-15 semi automatic assault weapons in our daily lives? And if so, what does that say about our society?

As we gathered in cozy homes, around the soft lights of our Thanksgiving table filled with enough food to feed an army, did we stop to think what it would mean to flee for our lives? Exhausted, starving, hopeless, and helpless.

We all live in fear knowing that somewhere, at any time, another attack will happen. But we must NOT let our fears override compassion and supersede tolerance.

In a blind attempt to thwart the next attack, we beef up security in public places. In this invisible war, we feel vulnerable. We are vulnerable. But in our vulnerability, should we fall prey to prejudging people?

Our daughter, who grew up in an international environment, said it best:

“Like everyone, I was shocked and horrified by the Paris attacks. I am French, I was born in Paris and we lived there till I was 9. My dad’s side of the family is all still living in France, so I will admit that the news hit me differently than reports of other disasters; it felt more personal. But the suicide bombings in Beirut, Baghdad, Nigeria (and so many other before these) were no less evil, the loss of lives no less tragic.The suffering of hundreds of thousands of people, forced to flee their country and finding they have nowhere to go, is no less real and no less deserving of our attention, just because they have brown skin or wear a hijab. When we cannot show compassion across borders, be they national, religious or racial, then we are letting the terrorists win.”

My prayers go out to the families of the victims of the attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and other places, from the streets of Chicago to the cafes in Cairo, to the hotels in Mali or the villages in Nigeria where lives have been shattered by violence.

Yet I plead for peace. Our biggest challenge today is to remain openhearted. Most refugees are victims, not perpetrators. They are often the first victims of terrorism.

Centuries ago when our ancestors, fleeing for freedom from persecution, settled in the New World, the Natives Americans saved us from starvation by sharing the first Thanksgiving feast.

RegugeesWe are all immigrants.

Happy Halloween Shake Dem Bones

HalloweenHalloween is one of my favorite holidays. When I was a child, I ate bags full of candy in one sitting and then stole from my little sisters’ stashes. This year I plan to dress up as a skeleton. My limbs are aching, but I keep shaking cause dem bones were made for dancing.

Anyone who suffers from chronic illnesses and injury can relate to crushing bone, joint and muscle pain. This old carcass has carried me across the globe. Broken, bruised, battered, the bones on my slender frame have taken a beating. I hit a brick wall chasing a basketball, flipped off a bicycle careening downhill, and flew out of a car crashing out of control on an autoroute.

I can no longer remember a day without pain, but the secret to outsmarting the soreness is to keep moving. Anyone plagued by any of the myalgias knows that everywhere hurts. Joint pain in the knees, hips and shoulders reign, then migrate to the ankles, wrists, fingers, toes and infiltrate every spinal notch where muscles and ligaments attach to the vertebrae.

I don’t have a flexible cell in my body, but I dared to learn yoga in my fifties. I still can’t touch my toes, but I keep trying and that makes all the difference.

Jim's walking sticksI follow the examples set by my eighty-four year old dad who walks daily even though his legs are tingling and heavy from neuropathy and my Grandpa Coach Mac who defied the odds by continuing to help coach college football in his late 80s and early 90s.

As soon as my feet hit the ground in the morning, I start humming Dem Bones to keep me going.

As kids we sang Dem Bones, which we thought was a funny children’s song, designed to teach us the parts of the skeleton. However, Dem Bones, is actually a popular spiritual, composed by African American, James Weldon Johnson, and inspired by Ezekiel 37:1-14.

skeletonToe bone connected to the foot bone

Foot bone connected to the heel bone

Heel bone connected to the ankle bone

Ankle bone connected to the shin bone

Shin bone connected to the knee bone

Knee bone connected to the thigh bone

Thigh bone connected to the hip bone

Hip bone connected to the back bone

Back bone connected to the shoulder bone

Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone

Neck bone connected to the head bone

Now hear the word of the Lord.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Now hear the word of the Lord.

Boo! Now scare those old limbs into action. Celebrate the season. This Halloween put one foot in front of the other. Join those pint sized ghosts and goblins creeping and peeping around your neighborhood. Get up. Get moving. Shake your booty. Dem bones were made for jiving.

Happy Halloween to you and all the cute lil’ pumpkins in your life!

Sneaker Chic Fashion Finally Catches On

thumb_IMG_0322_1024When you stand nearly 6 feet tall, and suffer from sciatica, jumpers knee, and hammertoes, sneakers are your best friends. I wore high heels once in my life- at my wedding. Big mistake! At the aisle just before exchanging vows, the Frenchman hissed, “If you complain about your aching back once more, I am out of here.”

I’ve always been a trend setting, do-it-myself, kick butt kind of girl marching to my own beat.

Fashion finally caught up with me. Sneakers made a comeback and top models, movie stars and celebrities are wearing them down the red carpet.

Sneakers aka athletic shoes, trainers, kicks, tackies come in umpteen designs – low top, high top, slip-ons, wedges, air soled – and are made out of every kind of fabric: synthetic, leather, and textile like canvas.

In a mind-boggling selection, you can pick from Vans perforated black, Steve Madden leopard print, or retro look Nike Vintage Waffles, platforms and wedges. Big heels stuck on sneakers? Not for me, but then I never needed that extra leg length.

In the sixties, we had two choices – black or white, canvas Converse All-Star Hi-Tops, or those flimsy PFlyers. Now Converse All Stars come in every color of the rainbow.

Today you can pick from the top-selling classic brand names to every kind of cool from Vans slip-ons to Nike florals. All are guaranteed to make you jump higher, run faster, and hike longer. A sneaker design exists for every activity under the sun: biking, boating, walking, cross training, skate boarding, basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, tennis, aerobics, and others. One day I bet a weight loss shoe will help you drop pounds by just tying up the laces.

I don’t own a pair of dress shoes; I have kicks for every occasion. My collection consists of twenty some pairs spread across two continents. Most of which I never wear because they make my back hurt due to tender toes and high arches. On a whim when I tried to switch brands, I bought purple trimmed Nike’s, turquoise Adidas, and fuchsia Reeboks. They always ended up at the back of the closet. I am most at home in ASICS.

At last, fashionable footwear made for comfort can be paired with leggings, jeans and even skirts. Black and white Adidas, Sketchers Sweet Spots, Forever 21 Floral Slip On and Converse All Star Plaids are the rage. Top independent shoes companies with names like IPath, SeaVees, Pointer Footwear, Newton, Scora, Supra, Black Spot, Under Armour, Etnies, Superga, Visvim, and Clae are in vogue. Don’t feel bad, the only ones I’ve heard of are New Balance and Under Armour.final four

Since Michael Jordan’s signature epic Air Jordan, elite athletes have elevated the tennis shoes to lofty levels. Finally in 1996, much to my joy, Nike launched Air Swoopes, named after the female basketball star Sheryl Swoopes. National sports heroes in every country have their signature shoe. Switzerland’s Roger Federer’s Zoom Vapor has long been a favorite of tennis players. For a retro look, designers also brought back tennis shoe models from Arthur Ash and Yannick Noah’s (French father of Chicago Bulls star center, Joakim Noah) playing days.

Countless brands lead the global scene. ETQ Amsterdam, the Netherlands footwear, is at the peak of the luxury sneaker culture. Kahru, which means bear in Finnish, makes original and running shoes. Fred Perry, an English menswear brand, turns the sneaker into high fashion. Norman Walsh Made in England has the British flag as a logo. Le Coq Sportif, founded 1888, is one of the oldest brands. It’s named for the French national team symbol, a rooster. Diadora’s Italian brand and Etonic’s, founded in 1876, are also making a comeback.

But I am a simple gal, my go to shoe – ASICS 180 gel cross trainers. With my funky feet finding a shoe to fit is as likely as seeing an elephant hanging out in the North Woods.

High heels take a hike. Give me my tennie kicks any day.

Smart Phones For Dummies

smartphone-junkie-man-49871925While most people have been using smartphones for ages, I finally inherited a hand-me-down iPhone 5 from my husband’s secretary. At long last, I possessed that amazing little gadget that can do everything but wipe my backside. I can get organized, share FaceTime with family (here is an explanation on how to use it on any Android machine), text message friends and dance my heart out to iTunes. Just one problem, they don’t make smart phones for dummies.

Case in point ME. When I went to phone store center to trade in my antique Nokia, the clerk laughed out loud. “Wow, it’s been eons since I have seen one of these.”

Within 48 hours of activating my phone chip, I made so many gaffs the Frenchman threatened to confiscate it.

While walking home from school, I tried calling the hubby at his printing office in Lausanne; instead I rang my daughter at her pediatric clinic in Minneapolis. That went down real well.

In PE class, I thought I was recording students’ lap times; instead I was setting the alarm clock.

“Who’s calling?” I screamed waking up that night.

“You!” the hubby grumbled. “You set your phone to ring at two a.m.!”

When it comes to technology, I am one step behind and a term or two off beat. When my students told me about that instant messaging thing, I said, “Cool! I need to get what’s up.”

They laughed me out of the classroom.

“It’s not what’s up,” a student said, ‘it’s Whatsapp` an application for free messaging.”

Application? One uses an application to seek employment, to enter university, and to do calculus. What does “application” have to do with finding out, “What’s up, bro?”

It gets worse. During a staff meeting my sweatshirt pouch burst out singing in Janet Jackson’s voice. I swore I turned off my walking-to-school music. Savvy colleagues explained that moving around with an iPhone in your pocket could turn on iTunes.

Texting is a whole other ball game. Seriously, how can anyone text and drive? It’s like diving off a cliff with your hands tied to your feet. Even at my desk with both hands on my device, I have yet to text without falling off my chair. Besides by the time I punch in the correct letters, my brain’s faulty memory bank has already forgotten the message. Even my 81-year-old, nimble-fingered mom can text faster than me.

Stranger things keep happening. Yesterday all by itself my little iPhone burst into song and dance, playing Walk the Line by Johnny Cash…. I don’t even like Johnny Cash. Next thing I know Sandra Beckwith, a marketing guru, is telling me how to sell more books – from a class I took five years ago. My husband, who was watching Netflix on TV downstairs, explained that sometimes it sets off iTunes when the computer nearby is on the same network. Well, how dumb is that?

Worse yet, every time he receives a call for another crisis at work, my phone rings too.

And if these phones are so smart, how come they get lost all the time? Mine has little electronic legs and never stays where I put it. When I misplaced it at school, I stayed up all night worrying that a techie teen would crack my code and access my top-secret contact list.

But you know me; I am always willing to give it a go. So send me your cell number and I’ll ring you the next time I’m in your neighborhood, if can catch that darn phone that keeps running away from home.

Meanwhile my brain becomes more muddled; numbers scramble, fingers freeze on the keyboard, … applications, smapplications, crapplications…will I ever understand that mumble jumble tech speak?

I am convinced my iPhone 5 is possessed, so I am upgrading as soon as they invent that smart phone for dummies.

Freedom to Read How to Get Kids On Board

kids reading-2_copyThe right to read is often taken for granted. Not everyone grows up having free access to information. Not every child will have the chance be educated. Just ask Malalia Yousafzai what it cost her. When the Taliban took over part of Pakistan, forbidding girls from getting an education, Malalia fought for the right to attend school. When she was shot on the bus, no one expected her to survive. Yet, she recovered and wrote her memoir, I am Malalia, How One Girl Stood Up For Education and Changed the World inspiring others to take a stand, too.

Even in the United States where education is valued, books can be challenged. At the end of September, The American Library Association promotes Banned Books Week to foster the freedom to express one’s opinion and help make students aware that opportunity to read is not a given. Find out more about it in my previous post Celebrate Books the Memory of Mankind.

At my international school, we line the halls of our English floor with bookshelves filled with paperbacks, so our students can “grab and go.” We also celebrate the Reading Challenge during winter and summer term using every effort to promote reading.IMG_0272

I love that Free Little Reading Libraries movement has gone global. I found one in front of the fitness center in Divonnes-les-Bains,France where I swim. To promote the initiative, students painted old dressers and filled the drawers with free books. These bright-colored chests were placed around town where kids hang out: beside the lake, on the village square, in front the skate park and by public schools.

For someone raised in a family where the love of reading was passed down through the generations, I find it hard to fathom why anyone would not want to read. But not everyone grows up surrounded by tomes in a houseful of educators.

With all the other distractions today, it is becoming more difficult to interest kids in reading. Consequently, the number one question parents ask me at our teacher conferences is, “What can I do to get my child to read?”

“Do you read?” I ask.

When they tell me, “No,” I am not surprised that books are not their children’s priority either.

Here are few suggestions I offer parents to entice kids to crack open books.

  1. Take time out of your own busy schedule to read. Kids model adult behaviors.
  1. Make reading material readily available. Buy one of those old-fashioned bookshelves and fill it.
  1. Newsprint may be dying, but until then, let magazines and newspapers lounge around the house.
  1. Read to young children. No time? Too tired? Enlist the help of older siblings and other family members. Ask a grandparent if there is any greater joy than reading a favorite tale to that little body curled up in their lap?kids reading_copy
  1. Connect with kids on their turf. If they hate the schools’ recommended reading list, create a new one. Taper it to tap into their interests. For example, if they love sports, pick up an autobiography penned by one of their favorite athletes.
  1. If your child has difficulty reading, give them audio books. Or have them read stories at a lower grade level.
  1. Get a library card. And use it. Going to the library is a great, fat-free, low cost, healthy habit.

Of course, reading off Kindles, iPads and other devices is okay; however, in our hyper fast-paced, electronic-laden lifestyles, is there any better way to escape the rat race than by losing oneself in the pages of a good book?kids reading-3_copy

Be a rebel. Buy a book. Log off and read.

What are you reading today? Do you have any recommendations for a read-a-maniac like me or for any of the young adult readers that I teach?

Our Engineer Off to Carnegie Mellon

mark CMI thought no one in the world could be smarter than my big brother until his son was born. Mark McKinzie astounded us from an early age.

Years ago when my sister was driving Doug and Julianne’s children to our family’s cabin, she suggested they play name the states game to pass time. Not only could five-year-old Mark label the states, but he also listed them in the time order that they became part of the union.

You would never know he was such a brainiac for like his dad he is so unpretentious. Like most high school teens, he was involved in extra curricular activities, but what set him apart was that he spent summers at elite academic and engineering camps at Hiram College, Purdue, and Ohio State University. In school he excelled so greatly in math that by his senior year he was taking courses at CASE Western University.

An avid sports fan, he played baseball growing up and could recite the stats of every team and player, not only in baseball, but in basketball and football too. I once asked Mark to help me recall the name of the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and then chuckled overhearing our son and Mark proceed to name every major player on every team in the NFL.Summit Lake w kids & Rachel's grad June 2013 060

At Shaker Heights High School, Mark played Wind Ensemble as principal clarinet, and tenor saxophone in the Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Band and Shaker Heights Marching Band as well as the church bell choir. He was awarded best musician in school his senior year.

Mark exemplifies what can happen when nature and nurture meet in the best of circumstances. His parents, who enhanced his education with lots of hands on learning at home, can be credited with helping foster such a bright mind. They traveled abroad. They visited every state, and countless museums and historical sites with Mark leading the way for like his dad, he could read a map like the back of his hand.

In early childhood, Julianne home schooled him enriching his program with trips to the library, theathre, and concerts. Then they lived in Australia for 2 years. When they returned to the States, they bought a house in Cleveland’s best school district so he could attend Shaker Heights High School where he thrived. Mark continued globe- trotting by traveling to Europe on two SHHS marching band tours and as part of the summer exchange program in Goslar, Germany.

Yet he still found time to give back to the community as a volunteer tutor of at-risk elementary students, a youth basketball and baseball league coach, a vacation Bible school and Shaker Heights band camp counselor. On a youth mission trip, he helped construct houses.

He aced the ACT and was awarded a Merit Scholarship for his stellar results in the SAT. Whereas top college programs recruit high school star athletes, Mark received offers from USAs finest engineering school. Torn between Cornell, Purdue, and Carnegie Mellon, the latter sealed the deal awarding a four-year Presidential academic scholarship.

Mark graduated with a boatload of honors: National Merit Scholar Finalist, American Mathematics Competition Top Scorer for SHHS, AP Scholar with Distinction, Michelson-Morley Award (Case Western Reserve University) for his outstanding achievement in math and science.

Yet he is an all around good kid, sensitive and insightful with a dry sense of humor.In spite of all his accolades, he remains humble and unassuming. He could calculate any logistical problem in a snap, yet never made me feel foolish for being bewildered by numbers. With a sly grin, he’d produce the answer as if it were as easy as breathing.

 

Hertzlichen Glückwunsch dear nephew. Go out and rock the world!