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.

Special Appreciation for Grandmas on Mother’s Day

Though right now my only granny role comes as a basketball elder, many of my friends are enjoying the privileged status of grandma as they dote on grandbabies. During a time when warmth and support is especially critical, Grandma’s love fills in the empty spaces of childhood.

Both of my grandmothers impacted my life in lasting ways, and shaped who I am today. My “flying” Norwegian grandma came from her home on the east coast for extended visits in the Midwest, at a time when air travel was not yet the norm. She made my siblings and me feel special by making pancakes for breakfasts and chocolate chip cookies for afterschool snack. She taught me to find joy in simple pleasures – sampling a piece of fresh-baked pie, handwriting a letter, seeing the season’s first cardinal.

Grandma Betty, my paternal grandma, inspired me to write by giving me a blank notebook and encouraging me to record my experiences. She made a ten-year-old tomboy believe her life was important. Grandma Betty saved money to take 8 of us in car trips cross-country from Florida to California, from the Grand Canyon to the Everglades, from the Golden Gate to Mt. Rushmore.

She had the foresight to save a piece of land in Wisconsin and build a cabin where her grandchildren could grow up; developing an appreciation for nature untainted by industry while hiking in the woods, swimming in a lake and singing around a campfire. Like a fortuneteller she envisioned a magical place for future generations to forge memories over lazy Summit Lake summers and remain connected forever through shared experience.

Grandmothers remember anniversaries and birthdays. They never miss ball games, band performances and school graduations. Today, they also play catch, rebound basketballs and run marathons. Grandmas are the first to take the sting out of life’s hurts and the last to criticize mistakes.

With the advent of women’s rights and the obligations of both career and motherhood, the expectations of mothers are endless. With the impossible demands of being a mom, Grandmas’ role has never been greater.

When her first grandchild, our daughter, was born, my mom slipped into her grandmother shoes with ease. During summer holidays and school breaks she planned outings to plays and parades, parks and pools, movies and museums for all six of her grandchildren.

At times when I was exhausted with a mother’s mandate to give, give, give, my mom picked up the slack. She played cards, read stories, baked cookies. She offered that same selfless support to my son and daughter that she once gave me. She mastered the art of grand mothering long distance. She remained a steadfast part of my children’s lives, nurturing them in cheerful phone calls, newsy letters and inspirational trans-Atlantic trips. Her kindness and compassion are a foundation of their being. She has shaped them in countless ways, big and small.

Grandmothers will never truly grow old because their impact is timeless.

 

 

 

 

All About Eggs at Easter in Europe

In the past, I have spent Easter holiday on a farm in Germany where we collected eggs freshly laid in the hen house on Easter morning. I once cross-country skied on a mountaintop to enjoy a snow picnic of salmon and hard-boiled eggs at sunrise with my Norwegian cousins. I savored soufflé as light as air and leg of lamb with my French in-laws a table Normandy. And I struggled to color eggs, which were brown, not white with my children in Switzerland.

Easter traditions in Europe reflect the influence of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox religion with various symbols reflecting spring, rebirth and a time for celebration of life over death. Through time, the egg remains the most well known symbol of Easter.

The egg hunt originates from an ancient European tradition where eggs of different colors were taken from birds’ nests to make talismans; gradually, painted eggs replaced wild birds’ eggs. In Medieval Europe, eggs that were forbidden during Lent, became prized Easter gifts for children.

Germans also used to hang hollow, painted eggs on trees. Today branches laden with colored wooden eggs are centerpieces in homes during the Easter holiday.

In Eastern Europe, hollow eggs are still hand painted in elaborate designs and Poland and Ukraine eggs were often painted in silver and gold. Germans gave green eggs as gifts on Holy Thursday and even today friends will present one another with beautifully hand painted eggs. Specific patterns have been passed on for generations.

Around 1885, Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé created the Fabergé egg, the most famous egg of all times. This jewelry egg, filled with surprises of gold and gems inside, was especially designed for Czar Alexander III to give to his wife, Marie. Fabergé only created one egg each year and each was a masterpiece.

Eggs have been decorated, traded, devoured and have served as entertainment for centuries. Egg rolling, thought to symbolize the stones rolled away from the tomb, has varied slightly from Russia to England to Scotland. German immigrants brought the custom to America, which has been practiced on the White House lawn since James Madison’s presidency. Latvians invented the egg game where ends of eggs are tapped together until broken; the winner is the owner of the last remaining unbroken egg.

Although eggs have long symbolized springtime and renewal of life and strength, In France, bells, not bunnies, deliver eggs. As a token of mourning for crucified Christ, church bells remain silent from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. On Easter, when the chimes ring again children rush outside to see the bells fly home to Rome, while their parents hide chocolate Easter eggs spilling from the sky.

Somehow regardless of one’s nationality or religious belief, chocolate eggs have become the universal symbol of Easter in the Western world. In Switzerland, headquarters for world famous Nestle and Lindt, chocolate plays a predominate role in my Easter celebration.

Whatever your particular family tradition, whether you paint, roll, crack, or scramble your eggs à table, in the yard or on a mountaintop, as you celebrate renewal and new beginnings, reflect back on those traditions that your ancestors brought to the New World. Happy Easter!

Sterling Salutes Illinois’ First Girls’ State Basketball Champs

Forty years ago, my little sisters made history and on April 4, 1977 newspaper headlines read “Sterling High Girls win first ever-state title over 7,000 greet Illinois number one basketball team.” Five years after Title IX passed into legislation mandating equal opportunities for girls in all publicly funded schools, a new generation was born. While our country was struggling with civil rights and gender equity issues a small town team united blacks, whites and Hispanics in one dream – a state championship.

If I close my eyes, I can still see Marche Harris pumping her fist in air after a break away lay up, Fran Smith with her wicked ‘fro soaring at the jump circle, Dawn Smith grabbing weak side boards, Jojo Leseman, running the court like a platoon captain in fast forward, freshman, Amy Eshelman gliding the baseline. And my sister, Karen McKinzie, standing at the line swishing another free throw. Harris, Smith, Leseman, Eshelman and McKinzie names that have marked SHS record books for years.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-7JPSXcr2s[/embedyt]

An odd trio of coaches, Jim McKinzie a retired boys coach, Sue Strong a GAA coordinator and Phil Smith the first African American teacher in the conference fought behind the front line to make sure female athletes were granted equal rights at SHS in those crucial years after Title IX. Before anyone dared to utter words like racism or sexism in public, they shaped a team far ahead of its time indifferent to gender or race. That group of unassuming girls enchanted an entire community. Part of the magic was their cohesiveness. No divas, no superstars, no drama queens, just selfless teammates who knew that they were stronger together than they could ever be alone.

It was too late for me. A 1975 SHS graduate, I became a Redbird and moved to Illinois State University where the first girls state tournament was held on my new home court. I watched with pride from the bleachers of Horton Field house as my little sisters made history under my father’s tutelage.

“What stands out most was how this team brought the community together,” he said reminiscing, “Nothing like it before or since. The Golden Girls were goodwill ambassadors for Sterling, a place no one heard of before was thrown in the limelight. When we returned as state champions, we were wined and dined like celebrities.”

Forty years ago, we had no clue that the old Golden “Girls” would bear daughters who would one day be recognized as Golden Warriors. All we cared about was finally being allowed to play the game we loved. Do the girls that play today know how lucky they are to compete on center court wearing fashion’s latest apparel? To prepare before games in weight rooms and repair afterwards in training rooms? To be immortalized in a state of the art Hall of Fame room?

Stop by the open house at Woodlawn Arts Academy on Friday April 7 from 4:00-7:00 to salute that first state championship team and their coaches. Tip your hat to those pioneers who grew up in flimsy, canvas shoes and one piece gym suits, who played ball when no one was looking or worse yet when people looked and laughed. Pay tribute to those women who gave their heart and soul to dreams that no one understood, dreams that became our daughters’ reality.

When you sink a jumper and drive the baseline young blood, hear our stories whispered from the rafters. Walk tall, be strong, be brave. Be proud of your past, Golden “Girl”. After years of battle, it’s an honor and a privilege to be called a Warrior.

A chapter of my memoir is about the 1977 state championship team.