Pockets Full of Friends Make Every Day Special

Quicks at SLI was so bowled over by well wishes for my birthday that I decided to add an extra day to the calendar in February just to celebrate longer. Having been around for nearly six decades and having moved often I accumulated a lot of acquaintances. Though I hate the impersonal nature of the Internet, it miraculously allows me to reconnect with friends from past lives.

I never carry a purse (too hard on the back) instead I wear pockets. Though I may forget to carry cash or identity papers (Americans struggle to develop the habit of toting passports), I never leave behind valuables. Instead of money, I stash friendships in my pouches and pull out memories of each to help me through tough times.

My pocketbook may be empty, but my pockets are overflowing. And birthdays, as reluctant as we are to have them in midlife, give us a time to reconnect and reflect on the wonderful people in our lives. Those reminders are especially valuable when facing isolation due to pain, loss or health setbacks like I did recently.

We all belong to circles. And we don’t need Google+ to remind us.

neighbourhood's gangGrowing up as one of 4 siblings only 5 years apart, we shared cars, clothes and playmates. When I need a lift, I think of my old neighborhood gang back in the day when it was safe to play outside even after the streetlights came on.

How could I ever forget my college roomies, the family, who happy bdayshared that magical time transitioning from childhood and adulthood when all dreams seemed possible. One of whom sketched cards to pick me up in tough times and made me laugh everyday with her creative zest for life. Or the teammates, who picked off pesky defenders, set up perfect plays and had my back literally every time I drove to the hoop.

Or my international friends from the Land Down Under, to the City of Lights, to Berlin to my peeps here in Geneva. And all those basketball buddies – coaches, teammates, players throughout the decades – whose lives intersected mine in gymnasiums around the globe.

How could I forget my writer friends who reach out through their words? Those women on the Midlife Boulevard whose wisdom helps me navigate the perils of middle age. And to my reader friends that make this blog buzz.

Long ago I pitched my purses, but I keep my homies close by tucked in my hoody. They understand my past growing up on main street in the Heartland.

In my front jacket pocket, I tote new friends; in my back jeans pocket I carry old pals. And in my breast pocket, close to my heart, I hold loved ones who have been with me every step of the way, those sisters and brothers who held me up through tragedy. And triumph.

Thanks for filling my pockets with memories, for touching my life. Your birthday wishes reminded me how blessed I am to be around for another year.

My mom taught me early on that even though every day can’t be my own birthday, each day is a gift. The secret to a happy life is learning to share in other people’s joy. Join in someone else’s celebration. Share the laughter. Spread the love.

Cheers! Here’s to all of you!

Sharing My Story at the International Women’s Day Celebration

2014-03-20 05.50.16As someone who grew up in a time period when women, like children, should be seen, not heard, I grew up without a voice. I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood, a Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball to tell the story of the pioneers. Since its publication, I have been invited to speak at dozens of functions including ironically those hosted by organizations like the Rotary, Kiwanis and NCAA, who for years denied access to women. I never passed up a chance to share our story and felt especially privileged to be invited to speak to the next generation at the International School of Zurich (ZIS) for their International Women’s Day March 8th celebration.

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

Coincidentally, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) as part of the International Women’s Year 1975, which was the same year the groundbreaking Title IX (June 23, 1972) was to be in regulation. This year, the IWD theme “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up For Gender Equality” focuses on women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.

As a misfit in an era when female athletes (especially in team sport) were ostracized from society, I grew up on the fringes of girl groups, hanging out as one of the boys. In adulthood, as a basketball coach in a field dominated by male coaches, officials, and athletic directors, I often felt like the odd “man” out. It has been a pleasure to see more women joining the ranks in sports and to offer a tribute to the women and men who contributed to women’s rights advancement in my homeland.

Gradually, Title IX revolutionized women’s lives in America by opening doors to education and athletics. Though we may be growing closer to gender parity in the West, women lag far behind in many parts of the world. Women are subject to sex abuse and domestic violence and continue to be denied access to health care, education and equal opportunity in the work place.

The need to celebrate women’s day remains crucial.

Step It Up Highlight“Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly and each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to help include and advance women.”

Change begins with one voice, one dream, one step.

On March 8th, I will be speaking in a room filled with girls from around the globe, movers and shakers of the next era, who will go on to become doctors, lawyers, diplomats, and leaders in their own countries. It dawned on me, maybe, my role all along was not to play ball, but to share my experience to inspire, to light the fire, and pass the torch to a younger generation who can use their talents to make this a better world.

I finally know who I am… an international woman.

Please join us in the party. Take time to celebrate the women in your life and make a pledge for parity.

Timeline: Women's Footprint in History

fascinating timeline – be patient, takes long to upload, but it is worth waiting

Basketball Blues and Brotherhood: Remembering Mike Maloy

Mike MaloyEvery February, I celebrate Black History month in the lessons I teach. I know what a travesty it is to be left out the history books by the powers that be. I owe a lot to my African American teammates who overlooked my skin color during our time together. Shared passions, common goals and interdependence out weigh prejudice. But nowhere was the bond greater than when I moved to Paris and joined the expats ball club.

It doesn’t matter if you are blue, green, orange, purple or female when you are flying solo in the Euro basketball league. Only a fellow American can appreciate our love for the game and understand the isolation of living in a foreign land 4,000 miles away from home.

When I first started coaching high school ball at international schools, women coaches were rare, but my male contemporaries – players recruited to play in Europe and who stayed on – accepted me with open arms. At the American School of Paris, Henry Fields, dubbed the Father of French Basketball, took me under his wing in the international coaching “brotherhood.” Another mentor, Mike Maloy, like Henry broke down racial barriers, and left his mark in Austria.

Mike, a tall lean guy with an endearing personality, winning grin and a raspy, heartbreaking bluesy voice, never belied the bitterness that a lifetime of discrimination could create.

He was so non judgmental and unassuming. You would never know by talking to him that he put Davidson College on the map of the NCAA basketball, dominated in the Austrian pro league and sang lead with Boring Blues Band in the Viennese music scene.

Under the leadership of the legendary Coach Lefty Driesell, Mike became the first African American to play at the small southern, predominately white Davidson College where the New Yorker worked as hard to fit in as he did to rebound. In 1967 Mike also became the first African American to pledge SIGMA CHI fraternity, an action that created scandal within a system that had a long-standing tradition of discrimination.

In 1970 Mike was drafted by the Boston Celtics. In 1976 he became the first African American in the Austrian league. He again overcame intolerance and went on to win four national titles with UBSC Wien Basketball team before becoming a successful coach in the league.

In Austria, Mike admitted the he started to enjoy the game again. “It wasn’t about money. It was about chillin out and getting my head straight. I kept staying another year.”

That line echoes the sentiments of dozens of former American players that have befriended me during my decades of living abroad.

After his untimely passing, American International School of Vienna (AIS) named the high school basketball gym in his honor. And it was on his court that I remembered him best.

My fondest memories of Mike were seeing him at international tournaments, sitting at the bar sipping beer after a game, ever ready with a pep talk.

Once while lamenting getting beat out of the final, I asked, “What am I doing wrong?

“Wrong? With your tiny, lil’, raggedy team you got no business being in the same gym with goliath – I saw you coach your skinny butt off to get into the semis.”

When many seasons later, my lil’ raggedy team from Geneva snatched the Sport Council International School (SCIS) championship from the 7-time champion AIS on their home court, I thought I heard my old buddy laughing from the rafters.

“I told you so, girl.”

Thanks for believing in me, bro.

This one is for you.

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.