Weather Predictions From the Front Porch

Weather is a safe topic in social circles unless you are a meteorologist. The weather journalist has a no win gig. If he/she warns viewers of the upcoming tornado, hurricane, cyclone, blizzard,  we lament they are sensationalizing the news when the weather pattern changes direction/velocity/impact. Case in point Hurricane Irene. With an estimated 65 million people from the Carolinas to Cape Cod at risk of being in Irene’s projected path,  governments declared a state of emergency. Yet afterwards  journalists’ interviewed irate New Yorkers and tourists from abroad (all male) who cursed the evacuation warning and felt the stay indoors policy was over the top. I am sure the people in areas harder hit like North Carolina or Vermont were grateful for the warning.  If the meteorologist neglects to alert viewers to dangers lurking in the clouds, then he/she is at bigger fault.  Case in point, Hurricane Katrina.

I  know only one weatherman who is right all the time. My dad. He inherited the weather forecasting gene from my grandpa. As soon as inclement weather is forecast anywhere within a 500 mile vicinity, he turns on his storm buster box, a static sounding, battery-run weather radio. Then just like his dad used to do,  he’ll stand on the porch admiring the clouds and yelling at family, « Take cover. Now !»  This may be a guy thing.  One brother-in-law chases  tornadoes on bike in Minneapolis. The other one, who farms in Illinois, can read the clouds like the back of his hand.

Unless you grew up in the Midwest though, you can’t fathom how fast storms can roll across the plains. This summer my folks were at a picnic at the other side of the lake, when a guy there saw storm warning on his Blackberry. My parents hopped in the car and drove a  mile back to our cabin on the other side of the lake.

canoeing in front of torn up shoreline

canoeing in front of torn up shoreline

«Bat down the hatches !» my dad hollered from the driveway just as my French husband was heading out to sea on his toy boat, a catamaran.

The Frenchman had no sooner lowered the sails, when the winds hit. My son saw  the tarp over the motorboat go air born, raced down to the waterfront to fix it and came back up the hill yelling, « the sailboat is gone. »

Oops, there goes the brains of the family – the doc, the professor, the business exec –  out into the torrential rain on a rescue mission to catch the runaway sailboat. While they dashed into the churning black water in 60mph winds, I paced in front of the picture window thinking OMG,  « My family is going down! »

The storm lasted less than 10 minutes, yet wiped out a wide swath of forest 20 yards from us.  The sun came out as if nothing had happened, but the straight line wind peeled bark from elms, uprooted cedars on the shoreline and toppled thousand year old trees onto rooftops. Nearby areas looked like a bombed out war zone.

uprooted trees

uprooted trees

If a strong wind can wreak that much devastation in an isolated forest, imagine the fall out from a hurricane hitting the the urbanized, densely populated east coast. My thoughts and prayers go out to people caught in Hurricane Irene’s path.

We are so quick to blame the meteorologists for misreading storms and creating false alarms, yet with global warming,  the weather has gone crazy.  The adage- better safe than sorry – applies especially in storm season. If you question your local meteorologist’s predication, take my advice.  Have the man of the house to stand on the porch  and give you a play by play of the cloud action.

Happy 80th Birthday Dad – Celebrating friendship, fatherhood and family

From pine lined point of ol’ Camp Neyati and back to Beaver Bay, I glide through a silver blue lake, stroke after stroke, while you sit on an wrought iron chair under the elms on shore, watching to assure my safety.  If I were in danger of drowning, you could never reach me, but I am confident knowing you are there ever watchful, a benevolent eye, just as you have watched over me for the past 54 years.

During my journey filled with adversity, you offer encouraging words from the background to keep me steady.  You admire my courage fighting in the face of pain, commending the discipline that drives me to swim in an icy lake on a rainy day.  You marvel that I traveled half way across the world in pursuit of a dream to play basketball and now in adulthood wonder how I can endure another teaching day with my health limitations.  For me it doesn’t seem that extraordinary; after all, I am my father’s daughter.

If I was able to pioneer a career unheard of for women, move abroad and rewrite my script after my dream collapsed, it is because of you.  I inherited the McKinzie iron will, a drive to pursue lofty ideals in spite of obstacles.

Though you still worry about your adult children and grandchildren, the tables have turned; now dozens of eyes watch over you.  After your heart incident 25 years ago, I postponed my trip back to France to stay by your side. I witnessed how you changed your habits to accommodate a condition that altered your life, but never slowed you down.  This year I supported you long distance as you recovered from 4 different surgeries.  You still attained your goals: to stand up as your eldest granddaughter walked to take her Hippocratic Oath and to sit down at a middle granddaughter’s high school graduation party. Now a day never passes where I am not grateful that you are still with us to cheer us on.

Jim McKinzie (80th birthday) with Lenore and kids

Jim McKinzie (80th birthday) with Lenore and kids

Bad arteries, good heart.  The best. It touched the lives of all whose paths you crossed. From Dekalb High classmates to Northern Illinois University teammates to Sterling High School colleagues to the Mighty Warriors and the Golden Girls, for decades, you were the marker to which so many students and fellow teachers measured their worth. Your words still inspire many athletes; your letters became treasured keepsakes.

Your generous heart helped finance college education, provide pocket change and gas money for grandkids. You helped perfect jump shots, spiral passes and line drives. Your patient heart read Good Night Moon to a demanding grandchild and balanced a checkbook for an even more demanding father.  Your intuitive heart painted canvases, counseled female athletes, and recognized a child’s distress in the sound of a voice during a long distance phone call. Though you set extremely high standards for yourself, your accepting heart was the first to welcome a foreigner into the family, to treat people of all walks of life as equal, and to understand others who are different.

As the son of Coach Mac, integrity was deeply ingrained. As McKinzie kids we had to tow the line. But by emulating our father, the man who walked the talk too, you inspired each of us to stand taller.

We come from good blood. The life lessons passed on from your father, “Coach Mac” McKinzie trickled down to you and then onto each of us in our helping professions.

At halftime of the 1986 Super Bowl the United States President announced, “Whatever I am today, Coach Mac had an awful lot to do with it.”

I will never be as famous as Ronald “Dutch” Reagan, but I echo his words, “Whatever I am today, my own Papa Mac had an awful lot to do with.”

Now just as you stare at the Summit Lake water front and track my stroke, I in turn peek out the cabin window you to make sure you don’t stumble when your wander off in the woods. We watch over one another in a special father/daughter bond built from hours of sharing meals, shooting hoops, swapping stories, taking trips, and spending time together marking the milestones.  Like 80th birthdays!

Congratulations Dad and an extra special shout out to all the athletes, colleagues, family, friends and former teammates, who reminded us all in memorabilia and words, how lucky we are that you have touched our lives.

 

Sisters Only A Heartbeat Apart

“What’s wrong? I whispered as my middle sister coaxed my little sister out from under the bed.“Grandpa yelled at her cause she didn’t finish her milk at dinner,” Sue, explained.

“Oh, Kar, he yelled at me too,” I said as I stuck my head under the bed. “C’mon, I got a great idea. We’ll dance in the living room.”

Together in our matching pink nighties we pranced in front the our reflection in the picture window to the beat of the Pink Panther until Karen’s tears turned to giggles.

From the time we were little children, our heartiest laughs and greatest tears were shared as sisters; three girls just four years apart.

I, being eldest set the example.  I taught them how to slide veggies off the dinner plate and onto the floor for the family dog and to sneak out of at bed night to watch The Honeymooners from behind the divider in the dining room.  I kept them in line by pretending to hit their face, then socking their stomach.

3 sisters

3 sisters

We shared childhood memories of vacations when we sat facing backwards in our nine seater wagon and smoked candy cigarettes, waved at truck drivers from behind plastic sun glasses and pretended to be ladies. When we tired of comic books and games, we argued, until Dad threatened.  “Quit squabbling or I’ll stop the car and you can walk home!”

In instant solidarity against the enemy, the almighty grown up, we held hands in silence for the remainder of the ride.

Together we survived the early adolescence “uglies”.  Our finest feature striking blue eyes, hidden behind thick brown cat eye framed glasses.  Sue developed too much up front, I, too little, and Karen, The Babe, Miss-Perfect-In-Between was just right. Our personalities were as different as our body types.  I, an aggressive brunette tomboy, thought kitchen was a four-letter word. Sue, an easy-going blonde homebody loved to bake and clean. Karen, a chestnut haired social butterfly, enjoyed the outdoors and domestics.

“Get off the phone blabber mouth,” I yelled at Karen.  “It’s my turn to have the car,” Sue yelled at me.  In high school we were selfish about the use of the phone and car, but generous with our clothes and friends.

We went to the same college, Illinois State, and majored in helping professions.  One summer, we even fought for the same beau.  Sue caught in the middle, shouted, “Never thought I’d see the day a guy tore you apart!”  When he dropped me for my baby sister, I thought the hurt would never heal.  Later when he tired of her, I helped her put back the pieces.  Now, we laugh about the jerk, who tried to come between us.

In high school and college, Karen and I played on the same basketball team.  Sue never missed a game.  When a car accident ended my career in France, the sound of their voices over the phone helped me heal faster than the ministrations of a hospital full of foreign doctors.

We were always together for the important moments.  When I got married in Normandy, Karen flew over and Sue helped pay for her ticket. When Kar married a year later, Sue was her maid of honor.  When Sue wed, I was the best gal.

Now every summer, we set aside a week to return to our family cabin in Wisconsin where we roast hot dogs over a crackling fire, float on inner tubes on a silver-blue lake, and take long walks in the woods. We still dance in the living room, now we call it aerobics.

For in between times, we write long letters and make short calls, “ I can’t afford this, but I wanted to hear your voice.”

We developed a sixth sense sisters’ share.  After my miscarriages, my sisters mourned, too.  The night my daughter was born in Paris, Sue dreamed,” it’s a girl!” in Chicago.

As children we shared a room, held hands before falling asleep and vowed we’d live in a triplex, so we could always be together.  As adults, we ended up living thousands of miles apart in different states and countries.  Yet, as sisters, we remain only a heartbeat away.

Anders Behring Breivik: The Tragedy of Terrorism in Tranquil Norway

The blond-haired, clean-cut, blue-eyed man who triggered the bomb in Olso and went on a killing rampage at the liberal Labor Party’s camp on Utoya Island, did not look like the dark bearded, evil terrorist we immediately suspect. He looked more like my cousin.

I am an American born, second-generation Norwegian, living in neutral Switzerland, and I am shocked and deeply saddened by the tragedy in Norway.

I feel the pain of an entire nation that mourns the loss of its innocent children, gunned down at summer camp.  What makes it even more unimaginable was that the act was committed by one of its own, in a country that founded the Nobel Peace Prize and has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. Where did Anders Breivik go so wrong? His actions defy everything Norway represents – freedom, tolerance and inclusion.

the fjord of Narvik, by Evanskjaer

the fjord of Narvik, by Evanskjaer

The Norwegians I know are soft-spoken, kind-hearted, and open-minded; a welcoming people, living in a nonviolent nation, equally respectful of nature and man.  Tolerance is a natural birthright.

How are we breeding homegrown domestic terrorism within our greatest democracies?

Freedom of speech also extends to violent expression of the hate groups, zealots and fundamentalists. It is disheartening to think that Breivik followed the teachings of American extremists.

How does the rhetoric of street based groups, which filter into more broad-based political forums, influence individuals? What role does social media play in fueling the flames of hatred? In Breivik’s manifesto, he denounces immigration, multiculturalism and proponents of democracy, which more mainstream groups like the Tea Party also alarmingly condemn.

In our world today, we are so quick to blame anyone whose appearance or beliefs are “different” than the majority – immigrants, Blacks, Arabs, Latinos, Asians, Muslims, Jews.  But who is responsible when the avenger is one of our own “Aryans”?  How could Breivik’s mind become so twisted after growing up in a tranquil country as the son of a diplomat?

What enemy lurks within?  For tolerance to become an inherent part of our social fabric, we must confront our own demons and question the soundness of our reasoning, every time we make a snap judgment of an entire people based on the evil actions of few.

As my thoughts and prayers go out to fellow Norwegians, I am also soul searching? What am I doing as an individual to help defeat a social climate that fuels fear and bigotry?

What are we doing in our families, churches, neighborhoods and political parties to promote tolerance and peace, instead of prejudice and hatred?

No matter what color our skin, country we live in, language we speak, political party we adhere to and church we attend; we still belong to the same specie.  We are all brothers and sisters in the human race.

Sisterhood, motherhood and marathons

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Hannah & Karen

Hannah & Karen

When my professional basketball career ended, my goal was to start running marathons.  Accidents and illness thwarted that dream; I never ran again, so my little sister is competing in a sprint triathlon for me.

Karen was always a good athlete with a body built for competition. She had perfect teeth and toes, providing a good bite and great balance.

During thousands of dollars of treatment for a misaligned dental occlusion, my dentist explained, “The massetter is the strongest muscle in the body. You ever notice all the best athletes have beautiful teeth?”

Ditto for the toes. Whereas my sister polishes her beautiful toes, my crooked ones remain hidden in clunky orthopedic shoes. My podiatrist has told me I should retire from teaching because my feet are so bad. My ankles are pronated, my arches too high, my big toe too short, so my balance is bad. My second toe is too long and the other three are curled like claws to grip the ground to keep me upright. Leg aches plagued me since childhood, but never slowed me down.

So while Karen and her friends train for the Chaska River City Days Sprint Triathlon – a third-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 5K run, I cheer them on. After raising children and caretaking in helping professions, they decided to do something just for themselves and began training together for the event.

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Ever the competitor, I secretly train for my own triathlon – a walk, bike, swimathlon. Everyday I bike around the neighboring lake, walk to town, and swim to the island, each day pushing to go a little farther and a bit faster. It takes some ingenuity because I have to avoid the sunlight.

While my baby sister paints her nails and runs in preparation for the big event, I don full scuba gear, like the Loch Ness monster, to swim in a cold, purple lake.

When Karen finished the triathlon reaching her personal goal wearing the number 60, her birth year, she called me first.

“After the swim – my best event – I felt great,” Karen said, “But after the 16 mile bike, my legs turned to Jello on the run, then a guy ran by and offered me good advice – just put one foot in front of the other.”

My sister admires me for never giving up in spite of all my physical limitations, but she remains my hero, a younger, more refined, fitter version of myself.

Our competitive spirit spurs us on. If my baby sister, can finish her first sprint triathlon at the age of 51, I can darn well make it around the block again on my own two faulty feet.

Deflated Dollar Leads to European Invasion in America

The dollar is at an all time low, which means almost every European I know is heading to the United States for summer holidays. For some, it will be their first visit and like many Americans who venture abroad, it will be the dream of a lifetime. My dentist is flying to Seattle, a French colleague is heading to Grand Canyon, and our Swiss educational psychologist is off to the Arrondikes.[cincopa AUBA_rqiwimE]

Be kind to the visitors. Smile. If you can, try to speak a few words of their language, even if only to say hello: Grüsse (German), Bonjour (French), Hola (Spanish), Buongiorno (Italian) or Kalimera (Greek). Ask simple questions about their homeland.

Even with the best intentions, misunderstandings are bound to occur. A German friend, studying in the US, once brushed her teeth with denture cream. Years ago a 6’7” French basketball player, walked out the men’s store changing room in downtown Chicago in his skivvies to find another size of jeans, and his teammate peed behind a bush in a public park. I was equally mortified when a well-endowed  French teammate whipped off her top and perched on the bow of a speedboat.

If Europeans don’t ask a lot of personal questions, it does not mean they aren’t interested, only that they are respectful and fear invasion of privacy. Food and weather are safe topics; work and income are not. Sharing food is a special time of interaction. Mealtime is sacred.

Talk slowly. Use hand gestures. When people do not speak the language, they will pretend to understand even if they really don’t.  I know this from my own experience of feigning knowledge to avoid appearing dimwitted.

I have dined on local specialties in European homes, sipped wine in private cellars and shared coffee in living rooms across the continent.  Each time I learned far more about the culture and customs than guidebooks could ever divulge.

Greet my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances with a big grin as they travel from sea to shining sea. It takes so little, really, to make someone feel welcome…a smile, a handshake, a kind word. Not only is it good for business, it is also good for the soul.

Certainly the Europeans will be awed by our spacious landscapes, daunted by our city skyscrapers, and enamored with our natural beauty found in our Badlands, Grand Canyon and other National Parks. But what I hope they will remember mos,t is the warm, embracing spirit of the American people.