I Declare Mackenzie Day to Celebrate My Heritage

Beauly priory

Beauly priory

On the east coast of Scotland, outside of Inverness, we traveled to the heart of my clan’s land and I declared it Mackenzie Day. We started out wandering among my dead ancestors in Beauly Priory, founded in 1230 as a Valliscaulian monastic community. Every other tombstone was engraved with the name Mackenzie, but the most poignant one lie in the north transept of the church.

“Sir Kenneth Sixth Barone of Kintail” was engraved in the border of a stone bed where a recumbent man with sharp chiseled, facial features, beard and mustache rested. Long arms and strong hands, once bearing heavy swords, lay idle at his sides since his death in 1491. Across from his grave lies the tomb of Alexander Mackenzie, who died in 1557, though his effigy is no longer intact.

Effigy of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie

Effigy of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie

From the beautiful village of Beauly, we drove down one lane backroads around Beauly Firth* in search of the Redcastle that remained in Mackenzie Clan hands until 1790. From here my 8th great grandfather Colin Malcolm Mackenzie, the 4th Lord Of Redcastle, traveled to America.

Redcastle

Redcastle, Scottish Mackenzie connection to America

Finding the mediaeval Redcastle, historically known as Edirdovar, was a mystery. It’s marked as a dot on the map of Black Isle, a peninsula between Cromarty, Moray and Beauly Firths. We parked and wandered on foot trying to peek over the 6-foot high brick wall and finally caught a glimpse of the red stone remains. I found a path leading uphill behind a tree line and stumbled upon the crumbling walls of the Mackenzie fortress dating back to the 14th century.

Trees grew out of window frames, overgrown with shrubs and brambles. “No trespassing,” signs warned beware as bricks could tumble down anytime. Though the abandoned chateau was a far cry from it’s former glory, I felt like I discovered a hidden treasure. The castle itself had fallen into ruin, but the well-kept grounds of Redcastle held a working estate where horses grazed on a lawn that looked like a putting green.

In the afternoon we went to visit the Mackenzie clan seat at Castle Leod, which had been in the hands of the Mackenzie’s for centuries, and merits its own post to be shared next week.

Coul House

Coul House

To top off the day, we dined at the Coul House Estate where descendants of the Mackenzie family lived since 1560 until 2003 when the MacPherson’s purchased the mansion turning it into a hotel.

That evening on a hilltop overlooking Beauly Firth, standing in the ruins of Redcastle, I heard the footfalls of my ancestors. I listened to the night call of birds, while the sun set over my shoulder. Here in the shadows of my mighty forefathers, I felt humbled by the evolution of time, calm in the knowledge of life’s continuity.

I shared a profound connection to my ancestral land. A land of rugged mountains, jagged crags, moody moors and misty sea lochs. I sensed a feeling of coming home. Home to deep blue waters, green fields, dark forests, rolling hills and ragged coastlines. Home to a haunting land of castles and ghosts, clans and kilts, witches and magic, superstition and legend. Relentless winds. Stormy seas. Savage landscapes. Wild, wild like my restless soul calling me back to my people, back home to the Scottish Highlands and the Mackenzie clan.Firth in Scotland

*A Firth is a long, narrow indentation of the seacoast used to denote coastal waters in Scotland.

Fine Art of Tidying Up for the Disorganized Brain

cluttered officePropensity for organization is an inherited gene, which I lack. Tidying up will never come naturally, but I thought reading Marie Kondo’sThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing would spur me into action.

That clever little Japanese lady created a brand name consultancy agency and reality TV show based on her KonMari Method to eliminate clutter. Combining philosophical wisdom, Japanese cultural traditions, and practical advice, she makes staying organized sound easy.

“The act of tidying is a series of simple actions in which objects are moved from one place to another that involves putting things away where they belong.”

Therein lies my problem. I truly believe books belong under my bed, words belong on paper everywhere and clothes belong on chairs (to eliminate folding.)

Ah, clothes tossing, a big no, no. Marie elevated folding clothes to an art form claiming, “Every piece of clothes has its own sweet spot.”

“By folding clothes,” she explained, “we transmit energy to the fabric and show appreciation for the way clothes support our lifestyle.”

Sun set on yet another day before I finished blessing all my favorite basketball T-shirts.T-Shirts party

It took an additional week to “energize” my closets by hanging items from heavy to light.

Following her crucial adage “sort by category not location” can be exceptionally challenging in compact Swiss homes where little rooms are stacked atop one another like Jenga blocks.

As a writer, you never know when the muse will strike, so we have a desk in our bedroom, the guestroom, the loft and the living area. Pencils, pens and papers litter every room except the bathroom. Little notebooks fill every coat pocket and drawer.

Worse yet, bookshelves abound in every available space including hallways. When Marie Kendo insisted books should be sorted by dumping them out on the floor, I wanted to cry. Laid out, my book collection could loop around the block twice. How can I limit my love of literature to a mere dozen Hall of Fame books?

To further add my dismay, she insisted that you keep your papers in one spot.

“Put your house in order and your life will change dramatically,” Marie Kondo claimed. “Effective tidying requires only 2 parts – discarding and deciding where to store things. Visualize your destination.”

I breathed deeply and meditated as instructed. But when I opened my eyes, I was still surrounded by the same damn mess.

I wanted to give up. Then a miracle occurred. After searching on 2 continents to no avail, I was convinced my prize boots had been confiscated by border control during one of those random luggage searches on a trans-Atlantic flight.

“No one would steal a pair of boots!” my husband exclaimed.

lost & found boots“It wasn’t any old footwear,” I whined. “They were new Vasque ultra dry, winter- proof boots guaranteed to keep toes warm up to 40° below and I only wore them twice!”

Miraculously, during my Japanese inspired cleaning frenzy, I found my “stolen boots” sitting on a shoe rack in our entryway where they had been hiding in plain sight for 2 years.

Bless you Mari Kondo.

Still I wonder if putting things where they belong only befuddles more so my chaotic brain.

Illinois Basketball Museum Commemorates Love of Game

Basketball symbolizes Illinois as much as sweet corn, the red bird and Abe Lincoln.

Generations of farm kids grew up shooting at hoops nailed above barn doors. City kids learned resiliency playing street ball on concrete courts in the ‘hood. Thousands of student athletes remember cheering and charging across the hardwood inspired by the American national anthem at tip off.

The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) wants to commemorate this history by building our own museum along the famous route 66 in Pontiac, but it will take a team effort to get the foundation laid.[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvqld8Vu5wI[/embedyt]

Illinois’ stars could easily fill the galleries from shot blocking, hook shooting legendary pioneer George Mikan to Doug Collins, former Illinois State University star, NBA player and coach, to Michael Jordan’s stellar Chicago Bulls era. Female standouts such as Olympians Charlotte Lewis (1976), gold medalists Cathy Boswell (1984) and WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks superstar Candace Parker (2008, 2012) also deserve a spot.Illinois Basketball

My family holds a tiny piece of the legend. My grandpa, “Coach Mac,” a 7x hall of famer, led his Northern Illinois University teams to three Little 19/IIAC crowns in the 1940s. My dad, Jim McKinzie, a NIU Hall of Fame athlete was named on the All-Decade Team and All-Century Team for his contributions as a guard in the 1950s.

When I was growing up, girls were shunned from sports, but with athleticism as a birthright, I fought to be allowed in the game.  In the infancy of Title IX, I blazed a my own trail as the first athletic scholarship recipient to Illinois State before playing professionally in the first Women’s Basketball League (WBL) then for teams in France and Germany.

My hometown, Sterling, also played a significant role. My dad co-coached the Sterling High School team that included my younger sister, which went 21-0 and won the first IHSA state girls cage title (1976-77) hosted by Illinois State.

Three generations and four family members have been inducted into IBCA Hall of Fame – my grandfather, Ralph McKinzie, as a coach (1976), my dad and sister, Karen, as part of the championship team (2004) and me as a player (2005).

The list of Illinois’ basketball greats goes on from players, to officials, to coaching dynasties from Toluca High School’s Chuck Rolinski and Ray Meyer’s 42-year stint (1942-1984) at DePaul University to extraordinary fans like Sister Jean (Jean Delores Schmidt). The 98-year-old nun, a beloved member of the Loyola basketball community, who exemplifies our lasting bonds with favorite teams.

But no one in the state has done more for the game than Jill Hutchison. In a legacy spanning 28 seasons as Illinois State University’s head basketball coach, Hutchison was co founder and first president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

To appreciate her impact, we must remember how far we have come. Hutchison’s master thesis proved that a woman’s heart wouldn’t explode by running the fast break. This led to a change in rules – instead of a six-player half court game to the full court five-player game.

As tournament director for the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), she helped establish the regions and the qualifying process for the first national tournament in 1971-1972, which was nearly identical to the regions used in the NCAA today.

At ISU, a powerhouse of womIllinois Basketballen including Hutchison advocated for women even before the 1972 Title IX enactment mandated equal opportunities in academics and athletics.

“Cultural change is slow, slower than you ever want it to be. And that’s what Title IX was—a cultural change, not just for athletics. Females…crossing the gender barrier, that was huge,” Hutchison said.

So often, the pioneers’ accomplishments are overlooked because history is not always recorded as it is being made, especially when the people in power are against the change. A museum could correct this oversight.

Like so many hailing from the Land of Lincoln, a love of basketball reflects my heritage.

Illinois basketball not only influenced me, it also shaped American history.

Find out more about how to help build Illinois Basketball Museum here.

Floating My Way to Nirvana

New experiences slow aging, so for my birthday I tried to float my way to nirvana. As a gift, my Frenchman offered me a Flotation Therapy session. I left my comfort zone, overcame claustrophobia and closed myself in a flotation tank for a total mind and body experience.

Flotation therapy dates back to 1954 when Dr. John Lilly, a physician and psychoanalyst, studied altered states of consciousness, brainwaves and the effect of sensory deprivation. His research led to the development of a flotation device creating a weightlessness state, void of sensory stimulation, which can lead one to a state of mindfulness.

At the Surface Center in Lausanne Switzerland, entering the tank felt like stepping into a space ship. When I lay out in a bath of water heated to skin temperature of 94-95 degrees F and highly concentrated with (800 lbs.) Epsom salt to remove gravity, I felt as weightless as an astronaut in outer space.

Did you know about 90% of your brain’s activity focuses on calculating where gravity is and in which direction to enable you to move without falling over?

Without the necessity of maintaining posture, your mind frees from the physical world, creating a state of sensory relaxation.

Later Ohio State University research showed flotation improved creativity in jazz musicians. The therapy is currently used by elite athletes, like Stephen Curry, to enhance performance.

Hey, if it worked for basketball’s “Baby-Faced Assassin”, it could work for me.

So I floated and waited to reach nirvana.

Nothing happened.

Once I realized I could open the door, I overcame my anxiety of being entombed in a pod the size of a double-wide coffin. Starting from my crooked toes, I visualized each bone and body part being released from every injury and accident. Then, I repeated the process imagining killing off bacteria, viruses and germs plaguing my health.flotation center's relaxation room

Therapy accelerates lactic acid removal, lymphatic tissue flow and reduces the blood pressure, maximizing blood flow. In theory in this state, endorphins are released reducing pain but instead of euphoria, my spine still felt crooked. Even as I visualized symmetry, my posture still felt out of whack with my head twisted one way and my shoulder and hip the other way.

“Your head falls back weightlessly,” the instructor explained beforehand, “so prop your head with hands.”

In spite of my deep breathing and mindfulness, after 20 minutes, tightness in my neck and shoulder blades distracted me. Pressure built up in my head and sinuses.

I began to think, enough already.

For a brief period though, I was a hidden pearl floating in a clam-shaped cocoon on the Dead Sea.

When I stepped on land afterwards, a tsunami hit.

My head ached, my brain fogged, my limbs weighed tons and I remained comatose for the rest of the day.

But to be honest, I can reach paradise a whole lot faster floating on Summit Lake.

float on your favorite lake

For more information on where to float, go to http://www.where-to-float.com/

Call Me Crazy – Celebrate Women Changing the World

Call me crazy, but I have always acted outside the box beginning in early childhood, when no one was going to tell me that I couldn’t throw a football, shoot a basket or run a mile. I was born with a feisty, can-do attitude that served me well in the face of naysayers.

In pre Title IX days when girls were shunned from sports, I stood on the sideline of the boys’ pick up basketball games and demanded, “I got next.”

In a time before accolades, scholarships and professional contracts, I trained hard for no tangible reason. In girlhood, I ran miles across the sidewalks of Sterling, defying the whistles, catcalls, and laughter by putting one foot in front of the other.

In college, while my counterparts partied, I shot hoops in a drafty gym to prepare for next season where we endured conditions more grueling than the game driving ourselves through blizzards to play basketball in empty arenas.

After my team in first women’s pro league (WBL) went broke, I had a good cry. Then I got back up, boarded a plane bound for Paris to play ball in the land of wine and cheese, totally ignorant about French language and culture.

At a time when most women stayed near their hometowns and settled down with neighbor boys, I moved to Europe in pursuit of an absurd dream to play professional basketball.

When France closed the door to foreign women players, I rode the rails across the border to Germany and learned another foreign tongue and way of life.

In countries where I knew not a soul, understood not a word, I learned to observe and listen.

I saw how people could be so different in language, custom and tradition, yet still so similar in the need to be loved and accepted for who they are.

When a car accident ended my career abroad, I didn’t pack up and go home. I married a Frenchman and stayed put. I carved my own niche as one of the few female coaches in the European international high school league.

During my career spanning 5 decades across 4 countries, I have worked with girls from around the globe.

I gladly passed on my knowledge to the next generations of female athletes who never doubted their right to play.

Over the years, I witnessed their opportunities grow greater. I delighted in seeing my daughter and nieces play basketball, soccer, rugby, and run marathons. I took pride in watching my former athletes pursue careers as doctors, lawyers, counselors, and teachers.

By going after my silly dream nearly a half century ago, I helped make it easier for every girl to grow up believing her goal was within reach.

Women, daring to stand up and speak out, have made amazing strides in academics, business, law and politics. For so many girls that courage – to do something never done before – was born on playing fields.

I never had the size, talent, or notoriety of our elite athletes of today. I was no Lisa Leslie, Abby Wambach or Serena Williams. I was just a small town girl filled with my own brand of insanity.

But I learned you don’t have to be famous to make a difference. You just have to dream big.

Go ahead call me crazy.

I am kind of proud of the claim.

It’s my birthday. Raise a glass to all women creating change by being crazy enough to believe they can!

Celebrating Girls & Women’s Rights to Play Sports

February 6, 2019 marks the 33rd annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day, an event that never occurred when I was a girl because females were not allowed to compete until Title IX passed in 1972.

But I loved basketball even before they let me play. As we celebrate extraordinary achievements of women and girls in sports, give a nod to the icons who have done so much to promote the women’s game.

Fittingly, last Saturday, Illinois State University named their women’s basketball locker room in Jill Hutchison’s honor. I felt privileged to play for Jill in the 70’s during the early infancy of Title IX, back in the day before we even had a girls’ locker room. We used to change in a bathroom or borrow the men’s locker room before our games in Horton Field House.

If I had my way, ISU would also put her name on the floor of Redbird Arena. After all, Hutchison led the way making changes in legislation at the national level mandating a woman’s right to be on that court.

That same Saturday, a legend in Wisconsin, UW-Stevens Point coach Shirley Egner notched her 300th win in the tough Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference as her team defeated UW-Eau Claire. It was Egner’s 800th game as UWSP coach where she holds an amazing 546-253 record.

Unbeknownst to both us, I would have played against Egner when ISU played at UW-La Crosse. Three decades later Egner coached our daughter, born and raised in Europe, to a DIII Final Four in 2004.

Meanwhile at my old high school, Sterling – home of the first ever state championship girls’ team – Coach Taylor (Carbaugh) Jackson, a former standout player guides her team to a 19-4 record and 10th place 3A state ranking. Five sisters from the Borum and Gould families – the same girls who also starred on Sterling’s first state volleyball championship 2018 – help lead the way again.

And on that same day far, far away, we won our tournament at the International School of Geneva competing against teams from Austria, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland.

Around the globe, girls are playing ball driving the baseline, shooting the jumper, taking the charge and learning through sports to be tougher, stronger, and braver.

And yes, the granny of the game is still coaching.

At our tournament, the Basel coach heard other coaches talking about my history, and the younger woman approached me.

“I loved playing high school and college ball in New Jersey,” she said. “I just want to thank you for paving the way.”

As we shook hands, I felt a surreal connection to generations across time.

It was a humbling moment.

This February, as we applaud the accomplishments of female leaders in all sports – not only basketball – be sure to remember the real victory is the right to play.

An opportunity that may be taken for granted, but should never be forgotten.

The plaque on Jill Hutchison’s Women’s Basketball locker room reminds us,

“To play the game is great, to win the game is greater, to love the game is greatest.”

And capping off the celebration, never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that one day a Super Bowl advertisement would feature girls playing football to encourage girls to get in the game. Check it out!