Family That Boats Together Floats Together

IMG_3747_copyBack in the good old days when my grandparents ran Ney-A-Ti Boys Camp in the 50s and early 60s, the only way a boat would propel forward was by our own manpower. The camp was sold, but luckily they had the foresight to build a cabin on the property for generations to enjoy. We kept camp hand me downs -a rowboat and an Old Town wooden canoe – tied to the dock. But over the decades the McKinzie family grew and each new member added another boat to the mix.

In his first visit to America, ze Frenchman fell in love with water skiing and twenty years later purchased our first used motorboat, so he could to share his passion with his kids, nieces and nephew. The boat that never started on the first try became the bane of our existence.Image 14_copy

Born and raised by the sea in Normandy, Gerald also loved sailing. His little Butterfly was traded in for bigger 445 sailboat and finally the Hobby 16 catamaran. No one other than Nathalie, and my brother-in-law Cliff, a veteran of the US Coast Guard, has a clue how to maneuver it so it only sails 3 weeks a year. But oh boy, ze Frenchman is the talk of the town when locals see his tail hanging in the wind, his sail soaring like a giant yellow bird.

My brother-in-law, Dick, an avid outdoors man, living in the fitness capital of the country, bought a kayak and got us into that sport. Then Cliff added a couple mini kayaks for his grand kids to tool around in.

In 2014, a pedal boat was a parting retirement gift from my sister’s Yorkville High School teacher friends. Darn it all if we didn’t throw our backs out carrying it down the hill to the water for its first launch.

Poor Grandpa used to love to putz around the garage when the cabin was invaded with noisy grand kids. But he lost his garage. It turned into a dry dock boat storage: 4 kayaks, 2 canoes, (no one can part with the Old Town, which hangs from the rafters) a pedal boat, a rowboat and the new used Glastron GT185 motorboat.

But what goes round comes round back to “man”powered watercraft. Rumors have it that Dick bought a used stand up paddle board, the latest sport.

lakes pics-2The inflated tractor tire was the all time favorite floating device. The finest activity of summer was standing on the inner tube while balancing by holding arms and seeing who would be the first to teeter off into the icy water.

One thing led to another, as our family grew, so did our state of the art dock. We kept adding sections to accommodate our toys. At this rate, our dock will soon be called the McKinzie Bridge linking one side of the lake to the other.

From our earliest memories of rowing the boat with Grandma, to taking children for a maiden voyage in the tippy canoe, to balancing a kayak with Kizzie (family dog) aboard, to watching kids learn to ski, our memories of floating and boating on beautiful Summit Lake bind us together.

 

Every summer we travel thousands of miles just to float together.

Happy Father’s Day – Thanks for the Swimming Lesson

My dad taught me to drive a car, shoot hoops, catch frogs, paddle a canoe, and swim laps. When I was just a hyperactive little kid, he tired of shooing me off the “dangerous” dock. Finally, he reasoned it would safer to teach me to swim than to keep track of my free spirited meanderings near the lake and in the woods.

He held my hand as I stepped off the sandy beach into the icy lake. Together we walked out over my head. While my dad’s strong arms held me afloat, I put my face in the water and blew bubbles. He taught me the crawl stroke, flutter kick and to cup my hands. “Reach forward, pull back.” He helped me master the trickiest part – how to breathe without swallowing half the lake.

Though I never had a near drowning experience, swimming saved my life. After a bad bike IMG_2175_copycrash and later a debilitating car accident, I became trapped in a body that no longer worked quite right. My hoop dreams disintegrated. My aspirations of skiing down mountainsides and running marathons dissolved. I hung up my high tops, tennis racket, baseball glove; I set aside my football, basketball, volleyball.

I was condemned to the pool where the buoyancy of the water kept me from further injuring my spine and joints. Early on, I became a has-been athlete plagued with bad feet, bad knees and a broken back. The scars of my past calamities never really left me; the sharp twinges and shooting, throbbing, stabbing aches remained. But magically, weightless in water, I became pain free.

To an athlete being confined to a pool seemed like a death sentence. Yet, after every misfortune, I retreated to the healing waters. Gradually, it seemed like my savior; swimming became my solace, my meditation, my prayer.

As a child I learned to swim at my grandparents Camp Ney-A-Ti on Summit Lake. In my teens, I swam through summers at the old Emerald Hill pool. In adulthood, when pregnant – and ordered to bed rest for 3 months to prevent premature births – I begged the doctor to let me swim. In a Parisian pool, I bonded with my unborn child, gliding in sync alongside the baby kicking inside me.swimming at SL

Over the years, I even saved a few lives as a lifeguard. And I once dragged the semi conscious high school quarterback from the pump room when he became asphyxiated from the chlorine. But the real hero of my swimming story was my dad. He taught me to believe that no matter how rough the seas or how high the waters, I would never sink.

With each stroke of my arm and kick of my leg, I repeated the mantra he ingrained, “Never give up.”

Dad thought he was showing me the frog kick, freestyle, and breaststroke, but really he was teaching me how to survive.

IMG_0999_copyAs a child, my dad let go, so I could take my first strokes solo. IMG_1693_copyNow as an adult I swim in bliss from one side of the lake to the other. Dad, like a lifeguard, sits on the dock, observing each stroke as if he could save me should a boat comes crashing into my path, or a leg cramp pull me under.

We have come full circle. We both know there is no way that my 83-year-old father could rescue me especially when I am swimming 150 feet from shore at the far end of the lake. But I feel safer, just knowing he is there, watching over me with his benevolent eyes.

 Happy Mother’s Day Honoring Our Best Work Force

moth's day-8You trained hard for the position. You endured nine months with a fat belly and aching back and read every child development book ever written. You accepted labor pains without complaint. When a 7-pound baby landed in your life, you dropped everything to accommodate the needs of that squealing, precious bundle of joy.

You washed, sterilized, and heated formula bottles until you felt like you had turned into a milk machine. You pushed a stroller  dozens of miles. You dressed your little one hundreds of times. You changed thousands of soggy, stinky diapers. Resentful? Never. Grateful? Forever. Praise the Lord for modern conveniences like disposable diapers.

You debated the pacifier dilemma, gave in and bought a dozen.

You made mistakes. You left clean laundry in the washer until it got moldy. You misplaced a bottle under the bed until it turned green. You left the faucet running, the phone off the hook and the refrigerator door open. You did all the “don’ts.” You shouted, you screamed, you kicked, you cried. Behind closed doors you had your own meltdowns. But still carried on.

You reprimanded yourself incessantly. Yet you coped. You learned to live with eighteen years of constant interruption. When your child got hungry, you put down your pen. When your child grew bored, you put down your book. When your child got hurt, you dropped everything and rushed to the ER. Again.

You bravely boarded trains, planes, buses and metros with your squealing, wiggling, live piece of luggage.

 

You worked long hours, including weekends, and were always on call. You never got paid, nor praised. Yet you shared your child’s first smile, first words, first steps.

You became a maid, nurse, nanny, cook, chauffeur, counselor, coach, activity director, teacher … And number one detective finding favorite shoes, socks, T-shirts, and misplaced homework, books, and toys.

You felt indispensable, overworked, underpaid, unappreciated and forever grateful for your job.

Each morning as your tasks accumulated, you looked at your own mother with renewed admiration, thinking she was the greatest.

Every night when you finished chores, your child looked at you with same adoration, at least until the trying, moth's dayteens.

You felt proud knowing that one day your children would raise their own kids. And you could retire with the honorable status of grandma.

Though your work often goes unrecognized today, the world will be grateful tomorrow.

You created the link between the past and the future.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Welcome to the world’s most important work force.

Start Spring Cleaning Sorting Book Shelves

kids readingSome women collect jewelry, shoes, home décor: my tastes are simple – I hoard books. Shelves line the hallways, living room, bedrooms, basement and attic. My house is so chock a block full of books stacked triple deep, I posted a warning for visitors. “Danger Falling Books!”

When my friend told me she was collecting books to donate towards a library in Somaliland, I set a goal to reduce my collection. Like a librarian, I went back into the stacks.

As I shuffled through the shelves, my children’s lives unfolded from “Good Night Moon,” to “The Runaway Bunny,” to the Bernstein Bears, the Boxcar Children, Babysitter Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and Thoroughbred series. And oh my, the childhood classics like Nancy Drew, Hardy Brothers, and Jack London. Who could imagine we would one day live in “Heidi” land?

I relived the memories of curling up on the bed with a tow headed boy tucked under my arm and dark haired girl under the other as we read, “The Pain and the Great One.” We recovered from ear infections, sore throats, and stomach bugs by rereading, “ Mrs. Bunny’s Get Well Soup” and “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

I can’t imagine a home without books. In my family, reading was a gift passed down from one generation to the next. My kids learned to love books by osmosis. They grew up reading under the bed covers, in the bathtub, and à table. During dinner, they sneaked peeks at their books hidden under the table to avoid their father’s scowling eyes.

Books marked the rites of passages. How could anyone my age ever forget Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road?” Not to mention the works of Margaret Atwood, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, or Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the wonderful classics from “To Kill A Mockingbird,” to “The Diary of Anne Frank” to “Huckleberry Finn.”

As I sorted, I rediscovered some favorite authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and Jane Hamilton. “Beloved” was so good and I had to read “The Book of Ruth” again too.

Other selections marked stages of our lives from raising kids cross culturally and bilingually to enduring teens to letting go. One shelf holds a collection of green Michelin travel guides for every region of France and canton of Switzerland. Another section houses writers’ tips a go-go with books on how to write humor, travel, sports, memoir, and fiction and develop action, dialogue, and character.

I used to be a sucker for self-help books guaranteed to cure everything from chronic fatigue to back pain to headaches, as well as every mystery disease that fell under the “syndrome” category for lack of a better, more believable term. Fitness guides like “Yoga for Dummies” and “Pilates for Beginners” come out of retirement at regular intervals.

One shelf holds a ridiculously large collection of every basketball biography ever written in hard back, no less. Others are filled with the family’s favorite mysteries, Agatha Christie, Jack Higgins, John Grisham, David Baldacci, and Tony Hillerman.

We also have a collection of French authors. Hardback comic books, an integral part of French culture, were big hits in our home where our children learned history through the Les Aventures de Tintin, the misadventures of Asterix & Obelix, and the gaffs of Gaston.

Certainly our son’s deadpan humor was also honed from the pages of Calvin & Hobbes and that crazy fat cat Garfield.kids reading-3

We accumulated more books than the local library. Parting with any created a major dilemma; each page held a treasured memory of a visit from family. Over the years, grandparents, siblings and friends brought oodles of books tucked in suitcase corners to help foster our children’s love of language and learning. Our home became a lending library for guests crisscrossing the Atlantic. Bring a book over; take a book back.

I’ll be the first to admit my obsession is out of hand; I haven’t gotten far pruning those bookshelves. Each time I peruse a title, I get caught back up in the action on the page.

Spring-cleaning shelves fell by the wayside; I set a new goal – reread all my favorites.

Call Me Coach – A March Madness Epiphany

IMG_4467_copyEver the misfit, I struggled to find my niche as an athletic girl on the cusp of Title IX. Even in adulthood, I continued to wonder what I was supposed to be doing with my life. During March Madness when I checked scores and brackets long distance, it dawned on me. I am a coach.

Last year, I had opportunity of a lifetime to speak at the DIII Final Four at UWSP. For the first time since moving abroad, I experienced March Madness firsthand. I marveled at the evolution of the woman’s game and realized the impact the pioneers had in paving the way.

Some children know what they want to be from the time they are five-years-old; I was in my fifth decade before I figured it out. In kindergarten, my dad announced that he wanted to coach like his dad, Coach Mac. But when I was growing up coaching never crossed my mind; girls weren’t allowed to play ball, so how could a woman make a career out of coaching.

I used to think that I was born to play basketball, but when that dream ended abruptly it took me decades to grow into my real calling.

I went on to coach middle school, junior varsity, and varsity girls’ and boys’ teams. I called La Chat boys teamplays in English, German, and French and learned to swear in a dozen different languages. When the opportunity arose, I humbly assisted coaching a wheelchair basketball team in Germany. I was equally inspired teaching kids with Down Syndrome how to shoot hoops.

As I helped athletes cope with divorce, depression, disappointment, academic pressure and the death of loved ones, we held it together with jump shots, high fives and team huddles. We created a bond that one cannot fathom unless having been a part of a team.

During hard times, sometimes the only difference between hope and despair was knowing that someone believes in you.

Coaching at an international school in an international league, every year the team composite is unique – with African, American, French, German, English, Indian, Japanese, Philippine, Puerto Rican, Scottish, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Uruguayan players– but the outcome remains the same. We put differences aside to become a tight knit group in pursuit of our goals. We shared our camaraderie, competitive drive and love of the game.

In a lifetime of seasons, coaches never really know how many lives they helped shape. La Chat teamRecently, one of my former players – who now runs marathons and the Wellness Program of entire city – honored me by calling me her mentor on the front page of the local newspaper.

Though I have won my share of championships, there is no greater testimony of success when working with kids, than seeing them as productive adults.

“It’s not about trophies,” Coach Mac said it best to the Chicago Tribune in 1985, “The important thing is how you develop your athletes, how you mold their hearts and minds. The real reward is being able to look at your athletes in later years and seeing how you’ve contributed to the development of their character, so that they can serve as leaders of their community.”

In college, I thought I would save the country, as a social worker instead I became an international coach guiding kids from ‘round the globe, to go out and save the world.

I never dreamed I’d see the day when one of the senior boys would stop me in the hall to say, “What’s up, Coach.”

I have arrived! Today even the guys address me with respect.

They call me coach.

riding the rails to another tournament

riding the rails to another tournament

Playing the On Line Dating Game By Accident

stock-vector-vector-cartoon-of-swiss-man-walking-st-bernard-rescue-dog-in-mountains-230097001What have I done this time? With my technological ineptitude, I signed up for this crazy kind of online dating game, not once, not twice, but a half a dozen times.

Now Fritz, Gunther and Ueli want to meet me.

Geez, what will I do if one of these Swiss mountain men show up ringing my doorbell?

How do I get myself into these things?

The first time it happened and I starting receiving messages from handsome strangers, I pleaded to the techie sidekick I married to come to my rescue. “Help! Get me out of this!”

And he roared. “You got yourself into it, you get yourself out of it!”

So I appealed to my daughter, who laughed even louder. But she took pity on me and disabled the link to OKCupid with a word of warning, “Mom, quit clicking on every pop up that appears on your page!”

Now I have done it again! I am in even deeper doo doo.

When something pops up on my screen and I want to make it disappear, abracadabra, I click, click, click like a nervous tick. Before I know it I have subscribed to dozens of sites from around the globe. Now Jean-Marc, Paul-Henri, and Pierre-Andre are sending a big bonjour from villages across France. Jurgen, Helmet, and Ludwig are grüssen me from die Strasse of Germany. Juan, Santiago and Diego are shouting hola from the tabernas of german_previewSpain.

With organizations catering for every age and interest group in every language, the variety of combinations is endless. Check it out: Edarling. Meetic, Amoureux, France, Elite Partner, Friendscout.24, Parship, DatingCafe, Finya, OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Baboo….

Heck, I was never adept at real dating back in the day; I would be clueless navigating the cyber dating scene in 2015. Can you believe this? Sites members can upload photos and videos of themselves as well as browse the photos and videos of others. Sites also offer additional services, such as webcasts, online chat, telephone chat (VOIP), and message boards. Get out. Next step… virtual marriage.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking Internet relationships. I know an intelligent, lovely, young lady who met her future husband on-line and if that wasn’t a match made in heaven, they even had the same surname. When they wed years later, she didn’t have to change her name.

But holy cow, I am no spring chicken, I can barely keep up with this one Frenchmen, Lord knows I don’t need a houseful of yodelers.

Any advice out there from you techni- sauvé gurus in the cyberworld?

Eek! Eek! How do I disengage from the on line dating game merry go round?

imagesHey, BTW while I am busy untangling this virtual mating snafu, any avid storytellers out there may want to pop over to my friend Kathy Pooler’s Memoir Writing Journey blog on Monday and see my guest post, “All I Needed to Know about Writing I Learned Playing Ball.

See you next week unless Wilhelm drags me off to his cave.