Swimming Hope Laps for Serenity

When discouraged as a child I would play ball until my mood lifted. Now as an adult, as I face down demons and depression from a disease that threatens to defeat me and from alarming, discouraging world events, I swim in defiance. I swim hope laps for serenity. I can’t hurt myself in water. Without the pressure of gravity pulling on my knees, back, shoulders, I glide through the water weightlessly pain free. In my darkest moments, I swim. I would rather shoot hoops, climb mountains, run marathons, but illness and injury make those options impossible. Instead I swim. If I can still swim, I can hang onto hope for a better day.

I would much rather swim with sisters in open water than alone in public pools. It’s boring swimming from one end to the other, so instead of counting laps I say prayers. After a few times down and back, slapping the water in fury, fuming over my personal state and my trials, I shift my focus to others that I know are facing even greater challenges. Each length I think of someone else.

I backstroke down one lap focusing on my French sister-in-law and niece who are struggling, and my uncle who underwent emergency brain surgery after a fall. Then down a lap for my mom who is the caregiver and back one for my dad whose heart and legs grow weaker from neuropathy. Down a length for another uncle who lost his wife and back for my cousin who lost her mom.

I breaststroke for my brother-in-law who still suffers from a car accident that injured his neck. I breaststroke for my student whose mom battles cancer. I swim for my friend on dialysis, for my friend with leukemia, for my friend fighting depression.

Then my circle of thoughts widens to reflect on the world. I swim for the people caught in the crossfire of nature’s wrath. For the victims of wildfires in California, for the folks in Texas, Alabama, Florida, Puerto Rico, whose homes have been decimated by hurricanes, for the Mexicans suffering in the aftermath of earthquakes. And I freestyle harder and faster in frustration and despair for the innocent victims of man made violence, for the families whose lives were shattered instantly in the Las Vegas mass shooting and terrorist attacks in London, Paris, Brussels, Mogadishu and elsewhere around the globe.

I don’t have to look far to see someone far worse off facing even greater obstacles.

Swimming puts my problems in perspective.

I inhale serenity, exhale anger, inhale tranquility, exhale anxiety, inhale calm, exhale hostility.

Maybe we should all take to the water in prayer to sooth our troubled souls and focus on bringing serenity to mankind.

Breath in hope. Breath out hate.

May peace be with you today.

My Minnesota Lynx Win WNBA Championship

Minnesota Lynx Win WNBA ChampionshipHow do I put into words my emotions at being part of a packed arena of WNBA Minnesota Lynx fans cheering for women playing basketball? Almost 40 years after my teammates and I played ball with empty stomachs in empty arenas in the fledgling WBL, the first women’s pro league, I witnessed the first game of a WNBA final series between the nation’s 2 best teams.

The Lynx hosted the LA Sparks in front of 11,823 fans electrifying historic Williams Arena (University Minnesota) known as the “Barn.” Four league MVPs –Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Nneke Ogwumike – and Alana Beard, defensive MVP, matched up on the floor to compete.

From the moment I entered the arena, I felt like a star, as I pulled on my complimentary 2017 MVP Sylvia Fowles T-shirt draped over my seat. Before tip off as tradition, fans stood until the Lynx scored their first basket. Only they didn’t score.

The Lynx started the game with a 28-2 point deficit and clawed their way back into the game. In the final minutes, the score ricocheted back and back forth and noise reached a crescendo.

The Barn rocked. The roar deafened. The intensity grew. In the end, my Lynx lost by one point on a fade away jumper by Chelsea Gray in the last 3 seconds. My disappointment was short-lived; they were all winners in my book exemplifying what it means to be champions.

Using sport as a platform to bring about positive change, and in solidarity with the NFL, LA Sparks stayed in the locker room for the national anthem and the Lynx players stood and faced the American flag with their arms locked together in unity.

The athleticism of players like Maya Moore, hanging in the air with Jordanesque moves, or Sylvie Fowles ripping the ball off the glass was stunning; their ability to defy age was equally commendable. With a median age of 30.7 Lynx players, the oldest average in league, showed the young bloods, they still got game.Minnesota Lynx Win WNBA Championship

Nowhere I’d rather to be than Lynx home court. Where else are we offered such wholesome entertainment?

In “our house” we put our differences aside and people of every age, race, and religious affiliation share a moment of good, clean fun. We sang, we danced, we chanted, we waved rally towels, we held our breath in suspense.

For me seeing kids wearing Lynx jerseys emblazoned with favorite players’ names brought the greatest joy. In the children’s eyes dreams sparkled. Today no girl grows up feeling like a misfit, an oddball, or a loser for being big, strong, and athletic. She knows that she belongs on the court, in the classroom, and at the head of the company.

The subliminal girl power message was not lost on me a Title IX pioneer who fought so hard for the right to participate in “boys” games.

How fitting that I should watch the game with my little sister and my daughter. After each great play, Karen fist bumped me with her 1977 first ever girls’ Illinois state basketball championship ring. My daughter, who developed the perseverance playing ball to reach her dream to become a doctor, pumped her fist.Minnesota Lynx Win WNBA Championship

Dreams my generation made possible.

Nearly four decades after women’s pro basketball made its floundering debut and failed, we finally triumphed.

“You done good sister,” Karen said squeezing my hand. “Look what you started, what we started.”

In an epic series, the Lynx would go on to win game five of in front of a sold out crowd at the Barn making history as 4 time national champions.

Unbeknownst to all, I was with them every step of the way

Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car KeysMy dad loved to drive and ever the teacher, his road trips offered us a remarkable education. In a time when most American families rarely crossed the state line, Dad drove us cross country to see the sites and to visit cousins. The best schooling I received was from the smudged windows of our 1962 Rambler when we left our Midwestern flatlands for trips across the Wild West and sun-baked south as we crisscrossed America’s endless blue highways.

Dad instilled the wanderlust in each of us 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 racially divided Deep South left a far greater lasting impression than Disneyland or the Hollywood Studios.

Dad gave us rides to school and shuttled carloads of giggling girls to the pool, the gym, the dance. He drove me to track meets, basketball games, and gymnastic lessons. Later when my athletic body was crippled from injury and accidents, he drove me to doctors and chiropractors while I rested my aching back riding flat « in my crib » the back seat of the van.

For a time Dad taught Sterling High School freshman rules of Illinois’ roadway in behind the wheel driver’s ed. classes. But his children and grandchildren learned how to drive on the back roads of Wisconsin. He showed us how to parallel park, check that rear view mirror and drive defensively. Always.

Dad, a good driver, never received a citation. He was only stopped once when he swerved in traffic distracted by his darn back seat drivers shouting, « Stop, Dad- there’s a 7 Eleven. Slurpees! »

His only accident involved hitting a deer, which cheeseheads proclaim is a prerequisite for flatlanders to earn honorary Wisconsinite status. Oh yeah, and he once sideswiped a cow crossing the road. Cars have the right away, so the cow got the ticket and the farmer apologized.

Dad drove his aging father across country to visit relatives in Oklahoma, to the cabin  summer holidays and back and forth forth from Eureka to Sterling so he could share Thanksgiving and Christmas with family. He loyally drove beloved Coach Mac to every Northern Illinois University baseball reunion and to see his granddaughter’s Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keysbasketball games at Illinois State University.

When my dad failed his eye test just before his 86th birthday, his peripheral vision compromised, he returned to the parking lot, gave his daughter the thumbs down, handed over the keys and took his new place riding shotgun.

He did not grumble, complain, become cantankerous, argue with his children, or yell at the optometrist. Instead with a heavy heart, he hung up his keys.

In doing so, he showed us how to age with dignity.Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

This summer together we poured over the maps of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Tennessee and every other state he once visited. In a shaky hand, he traced lines across France, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway – all the places he once traveled. We reminisced about trips he took, roads he drove, and people he met.

Now it’s my turn to take the wheeI. Though I can’t read maps and confuse left and right, with Dad riding shotgun I will never get lost.

Happy Birthday Dad…it has been a heck of a ride.

Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

 

6 Lessons Learned From Old Inner Tube

Our single most valuable educational toy was an old inner tube tractor tire that taught 6 valuable lessons and helped raise kids on Summit Lake. Like my siblings and me, my children and their cousins drifted through every stage of childhood floating on that old black tube. Society keeps inventing more high-powered vehicles and electronic toys, but what kids really need is non-motorized, unstructured downtime to be bored and learn how to play.

Kids need non-micro managed moments to be kids. To sky gaze. To float. To doze. To drift. To dream.

That patched up piece of rubber provided endless hours of entertainment. It kept us adrift through the stormy waters of life by creating happy memories to sustain us during hard times. We passed on the art of living in the moment from one generation to the next.

On the water, we learned to share and take turns, balance and agility, team building and muscle making. Off the water that old tube taught us to slow down, relax, and savor stories. While grandma read a fairytales or grandpa recounted sagas of the Summit Lake ghost, kids perched on the side of the tube and learned to love stories.

Creativity. That old tire sparked their imagination. They once invented a new sport, Tubastics, which consisted of bouncing on a tube in the yard and jumping up off in perfect 10 point landing. That event inspired their first Summit Lake Olympics complete with an opening parade, special events, posters, prizes, and spectators.

Courage. Younger kids learned bravery by holding hands of an older cousin and jumping off the side of the tube into the dark, cold water.

Leadership. Older kids learned responsibilities by helping younger ones learn to jump, swim, and dive.

Balance. In a sequence of challenges, they tested their dexterity.

  • First step – standing alone on the tube.
  • Next test – balancing upright holding hands with a partner.
  • Add another cousin.
  • Plus a friend.
  • Grand finale – a big splash as the lake echoed with laughter.

As teens and young adults, their games required more skill. Pass and catch while standing on tube became a favorite. Then pass and catch in air while jumping off the tube was added to the repertoire.

Love of books. On windy days, when the tube absorbed heat from the sun it was warmest spot on the dock and perfect place to read. From Bernstein Bears, to Death on the Nile, from Harry Potter, to Lord of the Rings. Minds enlarged with one mystery after another. Story after story.

Peace of mind. Kids float through summers chilling out in quiet moments of stillness on a silvery lake that rocks in a crib of evergreen under powder blue skies.

Children grew up daydreaming about the doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, coaches, and counselors and high-spirited, nature loving, compassionate adults they would one day become. Every summer we drift back in time releasing that inner child in a state of mindfulness.

Yep, blissed out on that black inner tube.

Happy 4th of July!

Happy Father’s Day Man with Heart

Though a pacemaker helps your heart keep its beat, we know it needs no assistance in applying its love to being the generous, patient, empathetic, thoughtful, guiding, tolerant, worn out ol’ heart we call DAD. Even as your once strong stride has slowed somewhat, you continue to be an energetic guide through troubled times.

Generous. Your giving heart helped finance college education and provided emergency loans that were forgotten. You helped pay for trips – trains, planes, and automobiles – and seemed to have an endless supply of those $20 bills you referred to as “gas money.” Each year, you took the money you got back from your savings and reinvested it into your grandchildren’s savings. And then there were the presents. A cowboy hat, Barbie doll, microscope, basketball, bicycle… You derived greater pleasure in satisfying others’ material desires than your own minimal ones.

Your greatest gift, though, was time. Taking the time to make sure children grew up feeling loved; not just your children, but all children whose path stumbled across yours. You pitched whiffle balls to the whole neighborhood, rebounded basketballs for the entire team, providing support and counsel to students and players alike who didn’t always have another source for it. You welcomed friends to our cabin every summer and ignored the obvious logistical inefficiency of having to ferry them back and forth separately throughout the summer. In fact, you shuttled kids around until we were old enough to drive, at which point you simply taught us to do it for ourselves.

Patient. You spent hours perfecting our jump shot and bit your tongue to keep from yelling at noisy, teenage girls’ « slumber-less » parties in your basement.
When a student cried in practice or acted up in class, instead of cajoling or scolding you listened, easing the pain for generations of adolescents who discovered one adult they could trust.
You read the same storybook to a demanding 4-year-old granddaughter and balanced the same checkbook for an even more demanding 94-year-old father.

Empathetic. You captured emotions and moments of natural stillness in your paintings and then gave them away so that family could be surrounded by elegant reminders of your love.
You’d peek in at your daughters’ tearful talks behind closed doors, asking, « everything okay? »
Your tender heart gives bear hugs, knee pats, neck rubs, and handshakes. Every phone conversation ends with those 3 endearing words, « I love you, » so there is never any room for doubt.

Thoughtful. In a time when men never wrote more than their signatures, you drew home made cards, penned letters and mailed hundreds of manila envelopes filled with sports clipping to your daughter overseas.
You bought fun fruits, chocolate kisses, ice cream cones and other favorite treats for grandkids.

Guiding. You walked the talk by setting an example of self-discipline, perseverance and integrity – values you instilled in the young people you taught and coached. You counseled so many students, athletes, and friends of your kids that you became a « Papa Mac » to dozens.
You taught us how to save pennies as children and budget money as adults. You explained how to read maps, make terrariums, catch fish, shoot baskets, and throw curve balls.

Tolerant. You welcomed everyone of every race; nationality and walk of life into your home believing every human being should be treated equally. You showered everyone from janitors, to waitresses, to secretaries with kindness and good cheer. You respected your children’s choices from college and careers to dates and mates.

Loving. You loved unconditionally. You forgave our embarrassing affirmations of self, like when I wore pants to church as a teen and left the country to play a game as an adult.
You accepted without question when one daughter married a foreigner, the other married a Cornhusker, and the last broke off her first engagement. And if one of us decided to marry a divorced, ex con, you would learn to love him too and be there to help with the rehabilitation.

Thirty years ago we almost lost you when you had a heart attack. With exercise and clean living, faith and family, you recovered. Though your heart may be tired, your lungs weak and your legs weary, you keep fighting to get up and put one foot forward. In doing so, you inspire us to keep on a keeping on.

You have a great heart, Dad.

The best.

Playmobil Toys for Eternity

My son helped me clear out our attic and I managed give away my children’s Care Bears, Barbie dolls, Little People, Little Pony and Pet Shop toys, but I cannot part with Playmobil. Designed for children ages 4 to 12, kids never outgrow them. The way my memory is going, in a couple of years I will have regressed enough to enjoy playing with them again. Playmobil Toys for Eternity.

Hans Beck, (1929-2009) trained as a cabinet-maker, pitched his mobile airplanes to the Horst Brandstatter Company headquartered in Zirndorf Germany. Instead of planes, the owner asked him to develop figures for children. Beck, who became known as the « Father of Playmobil,» designed 3 inch tall human like figures along with buildings and vehicles made of hard plastic. In 1974 Playmobil launched the original series, which included sets of Native Americans, construction workers and knights.

If you are looking for a perfect gift for a child or grandchild, Playmobil fits the bill.

Though expensive, Playmobil are well worth the price because they last forever. Precise craftmanship developed hands that hold objects and pivot at the wrist. Detailed accessories fit to a theme and add authenticity to recognizable time periods. Knights snap on capes and hold shields, cavalry carry holsters and guns, skateboarders wear knee pads and elbow guards.

Playmobil themes include a school, a farm, a zoo, medieval castles and houses. Buses, airplanes, ambulances, cars, service trucks, cranes and boats come with fixtures, workers and passengers.

The intricate detail includes a hospital complete with an operating table and IV lines, a fort with artillery that project cannon balls, and a circus with a disappearing lady in a box.

As Nic and I emptied shoeboxes across the living room floor, my children’s youth flashed before my eyes. When my kids were little they spend hours weaving elaborate stories about the lives of the little figurines.

Nic’s favorite was the western fort with a stagecoach, wagons, and soldiers, and the Native Americans series with tepees and painted ponies.

Playmobil forever“These would be great for teaching history,” he said assembling the pirate ship.

Our daughter loved the hospital set. Who knows? Did Playmobil help motivate her to pursue a medical career?

After sorting and setting up Playmobil resurrecting our collection of memories, Nic filmed our handiwork for fun and send it to his sister. Instead of being amused, she texted back in alarm, “What are those toys doing out of their boxes? You aren’t selling our Playmobil?”

No, never, dear daughter. I could no more part with Playmobil than I could give up the priceless memories of your childhood. These magical toys inspired the stories that became your lives.