Fell into Jackson Hole for a Week of Fun

Jackson Hole

Mormon Row

When I was a kid I wanted to be a cowboy so badly that I wore saddle shoes until high school thinking they had something to do with horses and the Wild West. Last July 4th, I fell into Jackson Hole and landed in the cowboy country of my childhood dreams.

The name hole, which means valley, refers to a sumptuous valley 48 miles long and between 8 and 15 miles wide, surrounded by spectacular mountain ranges. The area in the northwest corner of Wyoming is known as “the last and best of the Old West.” And mercy be, I felt like cowgirl just being here.

Jackson Hole

Downtown Jackson Hole

Jackson, settled in 1894, was established when homesteaders staked out land and struggled to eek out a living in the rugged land. The town, retaining its old charm in wooden boardwalks along Western store fronts, boasts of 80 different eateries, bi-weekly rodeos, chuck wagon shows, shoot outs and a Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, but the land itself is the biggest draw.

Situated at the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks the local population of 23,000 expands during summer and winter ski season to accommodate 4 million visitors every year.

If you are a cowgirl at heart like me, you will want to check out the not so touristy spots that reveal the history of west like Mormon Row, where Mormons established homesteads in the late 1800s known as Gros Ventre.

Jackson Hole

Menor’s general store

Just inside Grand Teton park, you can visit Menor’s Ferry, the area homesteaded by Bill Menor in 1892-94. Menor ran a river ferry crossing the Snake River near the present-day Moose, Wyoming. You can visit the restored home, barn, store, and ice sheds. Stepping into the white washed log store with artifacts from the turn of the century like sarsaparilla bottles make you feel like you are stepping into the past century.

Jackson Hole

inside the Historical Society Museum

Another overlooked spot may be The Historical Society Museum in Jackson Hole, which shows small displays of artifacts from Jenny Leigh homesteaders’ settlers’ life and details of Native American history.

No trip to the Wild West would be complete without a Wrangler show and Bar J Chuckwagon supper show serves up a real treat re enacting the cattle drive chuck wagon tents of yesteryear. Bar J cowboys, who have performed nationwide, serenade guests and tell jokes while you dine on simple, wholesome fare – steaks, BBQ chicken and beef, baked potato, apple sauce, biscuit and sheet cake washed down with coffee or lemonade. Walking through the chow line while cowboys slap a steak on your tin tray makes you feel like you are dining at a cowboy camp.

Jackson Hole

Bar J cowboys performing

But by far the greatest drawing point is the park itself.

The true beauty of the land can be best seen by foot on the hundreds of miles of park trails that lope up and down and alongside the Grand Tetons.

So saddle up with me and hit the trail. Join me next week for a hike where we met up face to face with a bear and live to tell.

Grand Teton National Park One of America’s Jewels

If you listen to the pundits, a lot of US citizens are understandably upset with the political climate and frustrated by present lack of leadership. There is a lot to criticize about my birth land right now, and it makes me sad for my people, but there is one thing that America got right. The National Park system is something to boast about.

With clean facilities, well marked trails, interesting museums and well-trained, friendly rangers, any trip to a national park is well worth your time. Our visit to the Grand Tetons was no exception.

America’s National Parks fill with visitors not only from every state, but from around the world. We met one French couple that came back every vacation to hike in the Grand Teton.

My words fall short when it comes to describing the majesty of America’s national parks, so I will let the pictures do the talking.

Opening Up About Depression – Mental Illness Awareness Week

DepressionMillions of people suffer from mental illness and I am one of them. Millions more are affected because a friend or loved one suffers from a disease that may be difficult to diagnose, and even harder to endure. This October 7-13th, under the theme of Cure the Stigma, the National Alliance on Mental Illness urges everyone to get involved because whether we are willing to admit it or not everyone is involved.

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In the US alone, one out of five adults and children will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

Members of my extended family on both sides of the Atlantic have struggled with mental disorders. In addition to genetic factors, chronic illness, death of loved ones, natural disasters and traumatic stress, any extenuating circumstance can tip the fragile brain chemistry.

Mental IllnessThough anxiety and depression may be the most common disorders, there are dozens of others from personality disorders, PSTD, dissociative disorders, psychosis and schizophrenia to name just a few.

My maternal great grandfather, a Norwegian immigrant, lost his 8-year-old daughter, when she died from an illness 2 weeks after arriving on Ellis Island. Three months later, his wife died giving birth to my grandmother. Living in a new country with no support system, he sank into a depression and never recovered.

Though perhaps part of my genetic make up, my depression is more likely a result of living with a chronic illness. Clinical depression will be triggered in an estimated one third of people with serious medical conditions especially in those with a biological vulnerability to a mood disorder.

Depression becomes a common component of diabetes, heart disease, lupus, fibromyalgia, Parkinson, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and others illnesses where reoccurring symptoms wreak havoc with one’s life. Some illnesses like Lyme neuroborreliosis, MS and other inflammatory diseases attack brain tissue. With no cure in sight, the end result can be a spiral of despair.

Ever the athlete, I blamed myself. I thought that I should be mentally tougher and physically stronger to overcome the pain, illness and depression, but self-blame serves no purpose.

The toxic stigma associated with mental illness causes shame and fear. Many people continue to suffer in silence preventing them from seeking help.Mental Illness

Eventually through research, I finally found a doctor who could treat my medical condition, which greatly improved my mental state. I sought solace on-line in the words of strangers, who were coping with the same nightmare disease.

Even though chronic illness has no quick fix, knowledge can be empowering. The more I understand my disease, the better I was able to accept and learn to live within the limitations it puts on my life.

Society scorns vulnerability, so we hide our weaknesses and suffer in silence.

Many illnesses involve stigma and shame, especially mental illness. Don’t buy into it. The only people who truly know what you are going through are those people who suffer from or live with a loved one who is suffering from a mental disorder.

Pain, suffering, and a sense of hopeless zaps our energy, so take baby steps to bring you peace. If you are the caretaker give yourself a break. If you are the patient take a time-out. Walk in the woods, work in your garden, read a good book, watch a funny movie, stretch your limbs.

So many times I have felt like I cannot go on. When I can bear it no longer, I cry. Then I pick myself up off the floor and go back to battle. On my worst days, I don’t look too far ahead. I tell myself I only have to make it through the next few moments. Then minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, I survive.Mental Illness

You will too because you still have so much to offer your family, your friends, your community!

Reach out. Speak up. Help Cure Stigma.

You are not alone.

Fall Means Football Season in my Family

Sugar maple seeds flutter to the ground like mini helicopters and leaves tinged in red signal fall and football season. As soon as my hand grew big enough to grasp the pigskin, my dad taught me to throw and catch a perfect spiral. On cool autumn evenings, we ran passing patterns – the down and out, button hook and v-slant – under the waning street light until mom called for dinner.

Back in the late 60s, I was probably the only girl in town that knew that a Hail Mary had nothing to do with the Catholic Church. The daughter of a Sterling High School football coach and the granddaughter of a former Northern Illinois University and Eureka College football coach, no one told me girls couldn’t love football. Though it was almost 2 more decades before girls would be allowed to participate on America’s ball fields, nobody in my family discouraged me from playing a game designed to build the character of men.

Only a half a century later did I realized how unique my upbringing and how privileged I was to grow up in a coach’s family in a community that valued sports.

My alma mater Sterling High School stadium sparkles in the night like a major university field. Dating back to the 40s, the football program brought pride to the community. My dad, a DeKalb High School Barb, remembers the challenge of playing against Sterling when DuWayne Dietz starred as a running back.

“Our game plan was simple – tackle Dietz!” my dad recounted, “Only problem, we had to catch him first. We chased him up and down the field all night.”

Last year, at the recently renovated stadium, the team made it to the semi-finals of a state championship and this season remain undefeated.

I grew up admiring the Sterling warriors, memorizing plays and tracking yardage gained. For me the only thrill greater than Friday night lights of American high school football was watching my grandpa’s college team play on Saturdays. As children, we cherished each excursion to Eureka, Illinois to spend time with our grandparents.

Sitting on hard bleachers, my sisters and I cheered “Go Red Devils,” and chuckled in amusement that a Christian college team could carry such a dubious nickname. But we knew the history behind it and felt proud; my grandma gave them that name when she started the pep club back in the 1930s.

Several Sterling High School athletes would go on to shine at Eureka College. In fact while I was playing basketball for Illinois State University, two of my best high school buddies – Mike Wietlispach and Chris Baldwin – wore the maroon and gold onto McKinzie Field.

Team loyalties transcend from generation to generation. I loved the Sterling Golden Warriors, the Eureka Red Devils and the Greenbay Packers long before the Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers era because Greenbay was my grandpa’s favorite team.

In early adulthood, I moved to Europe in pursuit of my own passion to play professional basketball. I have remained in the land of soccer ever since. Though I would never see another football game live, the love remains.

When my children were young, my dad gave them a football. As soon as their fingers were big enough to spread across the white laces, I taught them to throw and run those passing patterns.

I still dream of attending an SHS football game and heading back down to McKinzie Field for a Red Devils’ game. But for now that goal remains on my bucket list because I am still coaching in Switzerland.

In the meantime, if I close my eyes I can hear my ancestors’ voices echoing across the gridiron. Memories of family, pep talks of inspiration and love of football are imprinted in my soul forever.

Nostalgia for Teaching and Things Kids Say

Nostalgia for Teaching After retiring two years ago, the thing I miss most about teaching is the kids especially in September when it’s back to school time. Even on my worst days, students would say or do something to make me smile.

Once my adult daughter came to help me at basketball practice and when I introduced her to my young athletes one of them exclaimed, “Wow, you look just like your sister!”

Another time years before the age of retirement, my sixth grade student ran from the primary building to the gym. She loved PE.

“You look just like my grandma!” she blurted out with a huge smile of enthusiasm

Taken aback for I never considered myself the age of a grandma, I foolishly asked,

“Really? How old is your grandma?”

“Seventy-five like you. Tall and fit. And she still plays basketball every week.”

Go, granny go.

I burst out laughing. Should I be insulted that she saw me as old enough to be a granny or proud to know she considers me fit enough to still play my favorite game?

Another day a graduating student told me she remembers having me in first grade PE. Ah yes, in my early days at our school I had to teach every grade between year one and twelve.

I taught long enough to be one of the elders. When students I had in class returned to our campus to for student teacher training, I felt proud. This year one of my best student/athletes returned to school to teach and now coaches with me.

Nostalgia for Teaching Students also offer some of the sweetest gifts of appreciation.

One of my favorites was handmade – sort of. A boy gave me a plastic Scandinavian Airline travel pouch used by under age children when traveling unaccompagnied. In permanent black marker he wrote on the front of it – Old Timer Comin’ Through. Now every time I fly I carry my passport, glasses and blindfold in that bag on a lanyard around my neck. As I wait in the endless security check lines, I think of my former student – now at Cambridge – and chuckle.

Chalkboards are obsolete now replaced by white boards, electronic tablets and laptop computers. Over the years the means of communication changed immensely.

This one was one of the funniest notes from a student that I worked with in the learning support department, which became a safe haven for so many including me.

The way we connect may change, but the message remains the same. Teachers do make a difference. Every. Day.

65 Years Ago Dad Married His College Sweetheart

On August 29th sixty-five years ago, my dad married his college sweetheart in Chicago, Illinois and from that day forth Jim and Lenore vowed to commit their lives to one another. For six and a half decades they walked the walk and exemplified what makes a good marriage.

Their love story started at Northern Illinois University, when my dad saw my mom strolling across campus and fell head over heels. Though Lenore was more vigilant, her girl friends swooned and told her « Jim is the catch of the campus. » He wooed her with poems and sketches showing a tender side to this tough, All-American athlete.

After they married, family became the focus of their lives.

Despite busy careers as teachers, they found time to foster each of their 4 children’s interests. They never missed choral performances, basketball games and track meets.

Even more remarkably, they had love left over to share with other people’s children – the countless number of neighborhood kids, school friends and teammates that tramped through the homestead on E. 19th street.

Though on occasion they squabbled like any married couple, they rarely fought.

However Lenore refereed many arguments between Jim and his feisty eldest daughter who inherited his intensity and temperament.

They shared a love of travel and enjoyed many trips to visit their children and grandchildren in Germany, France, Switzerland and Australia. On visits abroad, they also reconnected with Norwegian relatives living above the Arctic Circle. In retirement, as snow bunnies, they enjoyed several years wintering in Arizona.

They both have a creative streak – my mom an exceptional seamstress; dad a gifted athlete and skilled artist of landscape paintings. They passed onto their children a love of music, books, and sports.

But their real art was in education, whether they were showing campers how to swim, kindergarteners how to write their names, or high school athletes how to shoot a perfect jump shot.

After a rewarding career teaching Sterling’s youth, they remained a part of the community by raising money in church bazaars and quilt auctions, and by volunteering at food pantries.

Throughout their union, they supported each others passions. Lenore shivered on hard bleachers through countless cold football seasons cheering for Jim, first as an athlete and then as a coach.

Jim couldn’t sew a stitch to save his life, but he patiently drove Lenore across the Midwest to visit quilt shops. While she filled her shopping basket with new sewing projects, he sat in the car reading detective novels.

The best testimony to their love is its resiliency. Instead of tearing them apart, crisis only strengthened their bond. Dad helped mom endure the loss of her own father at age 18. They comforted one another when their daughter fought to recover from a life threatening car accident in a foreign country 4,000 miles away. They supported each other as they cared for aging parents, and later, as they faced their own health challenges.

They rejoiced in celebrations – weddings, graduations, and grandchildren’s births.

Through their actions and deeds, they passed on to their children respect for others and the value of integrity.

They sent countless letters, made umpteen phone calls, drove endless miles, and flew across time zones to stay connected. Though family extended across 3 continents and 4 different states lines, they remained a part of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

During sixty-five Summit Lake summers at Camp Ney-a-ti and the little red cabin in Wisconsin, they carved time out of busy schedules to slow down and appreciate nature’s splendor, renew vows for one other and nurture their love of family.

By their example, they gave everyone who knew them a blue print of how to create a marriage filled of kindness, compromise, tolerance, generosity and trust.

By opening their home and hearts over the years, their union taught us that true love is gift. The more you give it away, the greater your own blessings.

I should know. I had the good fortune to be born an Olson-McKinzie.

Happy 65th Anniversary Mom and Dad

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