Happy Father’s Day June 21, 2020

Father’s DaySo many of our fathers have passed on, but the lessons they taught remain ingrained. I have been blessed to be surrounded by good men from my husband who has been a wonderful father to our 2 children, to Father’s Daymy big brother, Doug, to my brothers- in- law, Cliff and Dick, to the first man I ever loved, my dad. Papa Mac was a father figure to so many students and athletes who traversed the halls of Sterling high School.He was hard working, loyal, a strong leader and a role model in his community.

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, after a bad bike crash 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.swimming saved my life

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 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. 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.

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

As a child, my dad let go, so I could take my first strokes solo. As an adult I swam from one side of the lake to the other.
But after my serious accident this past April I am not sure when I will able to swim again. And I won’t be swimming in my beloved Summit Lake this summer because of the coronavirus Europeans are not allowed to fly to the USA.

Everyday as I struggle in physical therapy to squeeze my hand, raise my left arm over my head and regain the use of the left side of my body, I think of my dad and repeat the mantra he ingrained through hours spent correcting my jump shot, tweaking my swim stroke “Never give up.”

Though separated by the pandemic and my health issues, I can’t visit my dad in person right now, I look forward to seeing him every night when I call on face time and he says.“I sure am proud of you sweetie.You are a real warrior.”

With a twinkle in his blue eyes, he ends every conversation by saying, “I think of you everyday and love you more each minute.”

Father’s Day

Though many women will miss being with their daddies on this special day, may we all find comfort knowing a father’s love for a daughter lasts for eternity.

Happy 60th Birthday Baby Sis Little Miss Me Too

Happy 60th Birthday to my almost-born-on-leap-year baby sister Little Miss Me Too. The last in line in a family of 4 siblings born 5 years apart, Mom always said, “Karen raised herself.”
“She tagged along with the big kids and figured things out on her own.”
Born 3 years apart almost to the day, we celebrated birthdays together growing up. In our younger years, I made sure she never fell off the dock or crossed the street without looking both ways. In later years, she looked out for me by driving me to doctor appointments and hanging out with me in a dark room on bad days.
Karen was born cute from the tip of her perfect toes to her gorgeous toothpaste commercial smile.
Athletic, energetic, outgoing, to an outsider she made life look easy. She starred on her state championship basketball team, made friends with everybody she met and always saw the bright side of things.
But she worked hard.

DSC03104
Version 2
_DSC1335
MVPs052
IMG_6203
IMG_3216
IMG_0429
20170910_185022
previous arrow
next arrow

She reinvented herself midlife, returning to college to earn a master’s degree in education while working as a recreational therapist and raising family.
She’s never shied away from a challenge. Even today she courageously continues teaching kindergartners — pulling off 23 little pairs of boots 4 months of the year — in the snow belt of Minnesota.
An adored aunt, treasured wife, loving daughter, revered mother, cherished sister, she collects people as easily as others collect stamps. Church friends, high school friends, work friends, neighbor friends, family friends. Everybody loves Karen and her jovial partner in life Dick. She’s energetic, upbeat, easy-going and down right fun to be with on any occasion.
She raised 2 beautiful daughters, but also became a Mamá Dos to her niece and nephew who moved 4000 miles away from home in Switzerland to attend university in the Twin Cities.
My little sis and I shared a love of sports. She passed me the ball on the basketball court and long after my playing days were over, she took me to my first WNBA game. When I could no longer run, she ran for me completing her first half triathlon at 50something.
She works hard, but plays harder and never passes up an opportunity to celebrate life.
Her friends call her Care Bear, but to me she will always be The Babe, my beloved little sister, blessing my life the past 60 years.

Fighting Back After Chronic Illness Knock Out

chronic illness = shadows of dark cloudsApologies to my loyal readers, friends and family for being out of touch, off line, disconnected. Estranged from everyone, I shut down, closed off my heart and buried hope.

When you suffer from chronic illness, you exist in a parallel universe of pain. A pain that is magnified when so misunderstood by the medical community like in chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, environmental illness, Lyme disease and other conditions that are hard to diagnose and even harder to treat.

Awaiting answers we muddle along until flare ups knock us out again and again.

The earth tilts under my feet. My eyes roll back in my head. Shooting pains fire off like missiles in my muscles. Ants crawl under my skin. My stomach cramps. My joints throb. My throat aches. My lungs burn. My vision blurs. My head pounds.

My brain, an overinflated balloon, presses against my skull, like it will burst.

An old athlete, I can cope with physical pain, but enduring the tricks of my mind becomes unbearable. I forget what I just said. Phone numbers, street addresses, friends’ names elude me.

As bad bugs hijack my brain, I stare ahead like a deer in headlights unable to process thoughts. My tongue twists on the phrases that spew out sometimes in French, sometimes English. I repeat myself like a silly parrot, jumbling sentences, confusing words.

Trapped in bed, the walls close in. I reach for my survival kit — a Kindle, laptop, notebook, cell phone, water bottle. I calm my racing heart by counting blessings — family to cherish, food on the table, roof overhead.

Like a human guinea pig, I sign on for another drug trial, relying on an equally desperate Facebook group of strangers, who battle the same misunderstood multi-system inflammatory disease.

chronic illness = snowy lane When I can muster enough energy to go out, friends will say, « You don’t look sick, » and assume I am cured. All the while the invisible body snatchers eat away at my cells turning my brain to spaghetti, my muscles to mush.

On my worst days I enter the twilight zone of semi-consciousness suspended between life and death.

Don’t let me give up.

Hang on. Another second. Another minute. Another hour. A day. A week. A month. A year. A decade. A lifetime.

Trapped in a body that doesn’t work right, I know I am not alone. Millions suffer from invisible diseases. Do not forsake us. We are doing the best we can. When we say we are too tired/sick/weak to go out, prepare dinner, entertain guests, we are not making up excuses. We aren’t malingers; we are champions battling invisible enemies.

  • Commiserate with us.
  • Listen.
  • Let us repeat the same broken record of despair. Then repeat the same pep talk you gave last time.
  • During flare ups, we lose perspective. Remind us of happier times when we were able to participate.
  • Make dinner. We won’t be hungry, but coax us to the table.
  • Send emails, text messages or make calls. Voices uplift.
  • Hold us while we cry.

Click here, listen and be inspired

We are a society of doers until we are sidelined by injury or illness. Then we feel worthless, like dead weight, like burdens.chronic illness: Rainbow of hope

Remind us always of how much we are loved. And how maybe, just maybe, we inspire you to endure tough times because you look at us and know how hard we are trying.

Real warriors keep fighting.

Day by day.

Minute by minute.

Word by word.

I am back writing and I missed you.

Good Neighbors Add Allure to Summit Lake Wisconsin

Summit LakeWe used to be the only cabin on our side of the lake and I liked it that way, but when people built cottages next door, I discovered Summit Lake’s beauty magnifies when shared.

In 1952 my grandparents bought the log lodge peeking out from behind the pines on the point across from the island. They turned it into Camp Ney-A-Ti Boys’ Camp. The camp used to be the only sign of civilization on the western side of the lake.

In 1964, when my grandparents sold the camp and 40 acres, they had the foresight to save a 125 feet of lake front property on the far edge of their land. Then they built our little red cabin. On some else’s land. They were shocked to find out someone else owned that lot, so they lifted the wooden cottage and moved it over 50 feet.Summit Lake cabin

That landowner build a cottage on his land and generations later, we became friends with his grandchildren’s children. Then our children grew up together over lazy, fun-filled summers. The path through the woods between our cabins remains well worn. Instead of playing hide and seek of childhood, the “kids” sit on the screened in porch debating solutions to problems of the adult world.

We are the only flatlanders (Illinoisans) amongst the Wisconsinites; they accept us as long as we wear our Greenbay Packer caps.

A deputy sheriff lives on one side of us and a lawyer on the other. If we get in trouble with the lawman on our left, we could seek counsel with our neighbor on the right side to bail us out. But as grandchildren of Coach Mac, we would never consider breaking the rules.

Surprisingly, as much as I liked the idea of being alone in the woods, I discovered it is nice to have neighbors.

We hail from different cities and walks of life, but Up North no one cares where you come from or how much money you make, as long as you share the same values – respect for nature and community spirit.

kids of the lakeThe lake ‘hood children have grown up becoming doctors, nurses, plumbers, firemen and teachers. If the “kids” were ever Up North at that same time, we would have a “cabin” town of skilled professionals to cope with any illness, injury, wildfire, flooded basement, or backed up toilet.

With trees and foliage growing so thick, you don’t have to see your neighbors, who are never nosey, but if you do need anything they will be there.

At one time or other everyone has rescued my Frenchman when his catamaran capsized. All the neighbors have a story to tell about how they towed the yellow sailboat safely to shore behind their pontoon sailing Summit Lakeboat.sailing Summit Lake

Another time a neighbor helped jump-start my sister’s car at dawn in the dead of winter. And if you need to borrow a chainsaw, a shovel or a cup of sugar, just ask. Neighbors willingly share, sometimes even offering beds in their cabin when your own overflows with friends and relatives.

“You know the rule,” the guy next door says, “if my boat is out, and you want to ride or ski c’mon on over.”touring Summit Lake

Summer folks. Summer friends. Good neighbors. Good people.

Along with the wilderness and wildlife, human beings are part of the Northwood’s blessings too.Grandparents & kids

Meeting Mackenzie Clan Chief at Castle Leod

Castle Leod

Castle Leod

I trembled with excitement the day we visited Castle Leod, the Clan Mackenzie seat, located near the village of Strathpeffer in the east Ross Shire of the Highlands. In the Mackenzie’s’ hands for centuries, Leod remains one of the few castles where the original owners family descendants still live.

“For 500 years Leod was backdrop of the Mackenzie family whose dramatic and colorful lives were inextricably linked with the great events of Scottish history and the characters that shaped it, among them Queen Mary of Scots and Prince Charles Edward Stuart.”

Man lived on this land for centuries. An Iron Age vitrified fort can be seen on the hills of the Castle as well as Pictish Standing Stones.

After the Battle of Harlaw in 1411, the Mackenzie’s power expanded from the barren west coast of Kintail in Wester Ross to the fertile lands of Eastern Ross. Before the 12century,they built a crannog, a fortified stone hut, on the site.

After Mary Queen of Scots officially granted the land to the Mackenzie’s, John of Killen became the first Clan Chief to live in Castle Leod. By the late 15th century the tower looked much like it does today with further alterations. The Mackenzie’s currently live in the addition on the back wing.

Leod was also the inspiration behind Castle Leoch the seat and home of laird Mackenzie in Diana Gabaldon’s fictional series Outlander.

Castle Leod

Castle Leod

Castle Leod, open only a few days a year, has a less imposing stature and a more intimate feel. My heart skipped as we walked up the long, tree-lined avenue to the castle. Above the front door, I admired the marriage stone dating from 1605 commemorating the union of Margaret MacLeod with Sir Rory Mackenzie famous ‘Tutor of Kintail.

Imagine my surprise when we opened the door and our clan chief John Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Cromartie, welcomed us as warmly as banquet guests. He showed us the sword rack and a tapestry of the Mackenzie family tree, and then led us to a stone stairwell to the Great Hall.

“The fireplace, still used today, and the frieze above it are originals,” a guide, explained. “Of course, the wood replaced the straw floor used back in the day.”

Decorated with Regency period furniture, cabinets held family heirlooms – letters, jewelry, medals and other memorabilia. Paintings of former clan leaders hung on the walls.

“Be sure to notice the a prie-dieu, (praying table) a gift from Mary Queen of Scots,” the guide said pointing to a 2-foot- high, structure with 2 pillars, “ Unfortunately no one has figured out how you could actually use it to pray.”

Off of the Great Hall, an Edwardian style Billiard Room, contained its original wooden pool table. The room also holds century old books crumbling behind the glass-enclosed bookshelves. A map on the wall of the estate surveyed by John Leslie in 1763 remains accurate still today.

A narrow staircase wound around to the ground floor to a hall with servant’s bells and speaking tubes. Off of this, steps lowered to a tiny dungeon at one end and to a large vaulted kitchen in the other.

“My father used this as a wine cellar,” John wrote, “but by the time I inherited the estate the only thing left down here was ghosts.”

Like every good castle, Leod too has ghosts. Footsteps of the chief ghost, The Night Watchman, can be heard wandering guarding inhabitants. The Sad Ghost haunts the dungeon. After dark, soldier ghosts eerily hover at the front door. Perhaps, they date back to the time the castle was confiscated after George; The 3rd Earl of Cromartie’s fought for the Jacobites in the Rebellion.

Spanish Chestnut tree

Spanish Chestnut planted 1553, oldest tree in the UK

The castle’s gardens held natural treasures like the giant sequoia, the largest tree in the UK. Two ancient Spanish chestnut trees, planted in 1553 commemorated Queen Mary of Scot’s land grant, remain the oldest trees in Britain. On part of the estate’s extensive parkland, bordered by the Peffery River, prizewinning Aberdeen Angus cattle graze.

In previous centuries, the Highland Clan leaders held power over life or death. The Hanging Tree for male prisoners stood in front of the castle and to one side was the Drowning Pond, where female criminals met their fate.

Clan Chief John Mackenzie

Clan Chief John Mackenzie with the author

Today it is hard to imagine our present clan chief John Mackenzie wishing anyone ill will. Before we left, he graciously agreed to pose for a picture with me. With good cheer and humility, he even grinned for the camera. But my smile was even greater for this special moment will be etched in my family’s archives forever.

Happy Father’s Day to Dad Our McKinzie Clan Chief

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

In all of your trips to Europe to follow my exploits, I am sorry that I never took you to the Scottish Highlands to see the home of your Clan Mackenzie ancestors, so I traveled there for you.

Now your traveling days are over, so I will paint a word picture of Scotland just as you used to paint magnificent landscapes of the places you visited in Norway, France, Germany and Switzerland that fill our walls with memories.

Loch Duich, Western Scottish Highlands

Loch Duich, Western Scottish Highlands

But how can words ever describe the austere beauty of this rugged land?

Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands

A melancholy, capricious land of jagged sea lochs, sheer cliffs and intimidating mountains that inspires myths and legends. Close-shaved shrubs in muted tones -ocher, sienna, and charcoal – cover desolate heath that burst into color under blue skies. Rare sunbeams spotlight the raw grandeur of this roughhewn landscape. A place where ancient castles withstood centuries of battle and weather-beaten homes cling to steep hill sides where grazing sheep far outnumber humans.

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle; Loch Duich & Loch Alsch

Though you never ruled Eilean Donan Castle, where Clan Mackenzie’s story began, after having visited this land of shimmering lochs, I see a reflection of the powerful lords of Scotland in you.

Like Kenneth, Collin, Malcolm and our other mighty Mackenzie chiefs of yesteryear, you led our American clan, an honor bestowed from beloved Grandpa Mac. In Gaelic clan means children. At its best the chief held tribal lands on behalf of all ordinary clans people, who shared a relationship like adult children to a father. You, too, protected us and cared for our McKinzie “chateau,” a lakeside cabin, tucked in the woods, a deed generously gifted to future generations.

Jim McKinzieThough unlike our ancient clan chiefs, you never led your tribe in battle against the Munros, MacLeods, or MacDonalds, you inspired countless warriors on the playing fields of Sterling to conquer “enemies” in Dixon, Rock Falls and Rochelle.

Instead of swords, you gave each athlete a moral compass on how to live.

Dornie, on Loch Long

Dornie, on Loch Long

A traveler at heart, you instilled the wanderlust, driving us coast to coast across the highways of America. How you would have loved navigating Scotland’s endless back roads and exploring footpaths through purple heather, around misty lakes and along ragged seashores.

As an adventuresome outdoorsman, you taught us to read maps hiking in the wilderness of Wisconsin discovering lost lakes hidden in dense forests. You showed us how to identify moss and trees, to distinguish deer prints and chipmunk burrows, to find beaver dams and fox dens.

The Highland (Gaelic) culture was also filled with spellbinding, storytellers. Around campfires, you too spun fine tales about the Hodag, the mythical beast of the north woods, our American version of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster of Scotland.

As if clan bloodlines transcended generations, like your father and his forefathers, you became a leader of men and women. You taught us a code of honor, respect for our fellowman, and fierce loyalty toward family.

Perhaps our resilient constitution, strength of character, love of nature, and reverence for an honest days work were virtues passed on from our ancestry. Who knows?

But this I know is true.

Clan McKinzie , USA

Clan McKinzie , USA

As the head of our McKinzie clan, you set the finest example of what it means to be an honorable leader, a strong chief, and a benevolent father.

Even though you regret that you never set foot on the windswept moors of your ancestors, the Scottish Highlands have always been a part of you.

Happy Father’s Day Dad from Scotland