International Women’s Day, Title IX and a Nod to my Norwegian-American Mom

The unsung hero in my life story is my mom, a woman ahead of her time. While I was defying society with my dream to play sports at a time in American history when little girls were supposed to play house, cut paper dolls and dress up like princesses, my mom let me be a tomboy. Instead of coveting Easy Bake Ovens, Barbie campers and Tammy dolls, when I wanted a basketball, pop rifle and cowboy hat for Christmas, Mom made sure Santa heard my wishes.

Mom never made me wear hair ribbons instead she cut my bangs short and let me march to the beat of my own drummer. When I slid into home plate, swished hoops, and tackled the “man” with the ball in the backyard with the neighborhood boys, she grinned and waved from the kitchen window.

When I fell off bicycles and out of trees, she straightened the handlebars and brushed off the grass and said, “Off you go!”

sharing moments when reunited

sharing moments when reunited

In college as she watched me compete on the basketball court, she may have worried about my lean frame bashing bigger bodies in the tough league, but she never told me. As she nursed my sprained ankle, separated rib, black eye, broken finger, and another concussion, she may have shuddered inside, but I only saw the smile.

When I hit the wall diving for a loose ball, or got slammed on a rebound, she may have cringed inwardly, but outwardly she remained calm. I only heard her shout of encouragement every time I got up and back in the game.

In childhood, she kissed my skinned knees, patched up my favorite blue jeans, and sent me back outside. In adulthood, she honored my uniqueness and urged me to follow my own star.

Instinctively my mom knew that from the time I could tie my own shoes, I was footloose and fancy-free and the world belonged to me.

When I threw my passport in the bin after being cut from the national team trials, she pulled it back out and patted my hand. “Put this somewhere safe. You may need it someday.”

When I fell in love with a Frenchman and made my life abroad, she started French lessons, wrote long airmail letters and opened her heart to a “foreign” son-in-law.

UWSP greatest fans

UWSP greatest fans

When her first grandchild was born in Paris, she sewed clothes with extra long sleeves for my fast-growing child. When that Franco-American granddaughter returned to the USA, mom made the 8-hour round trips to the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point to watch her play basketball. Later, when that granddaughter took the Hippocratic Oath at the graduation ceremony, my mom stood in for me, and applauded for both of us.

Mom made sacrifices to help me reach my goals. She drove me an hour away to take horseback riding lessons as an 8-year-old and she exchanged S&H Green Stamps for goods to help save for summer camps. No matter what the cost, she never held me back.

She never insisted I marry the neighbor boy and stay in town, and never complained when I spent more time practicing my jump shot than cleaning my room.

My mom, a smart, soft-spoken Chicago girl from a modest family of Norwegian immigrants, worked her way through college earning a teaching degree. She raised 4 children 5 years apart and when the last one started kindergarten, she started her teaching career.

first doctor in the family

first doctor in the family

Two generations later, her granddaughter born and raised abroad, followed her own dreams, back to America to become the first doctor in the family. My mom beamed. The family had come full circle.

Title IX presented the door, but my mom pushed it open and let me go.

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Birthday All Day Party in Celebration of Life

Last Saturday, I wrote about a mountain hike in celebration of my friends’ birthday, not mine. Like most people of a certain age, I dreaded another birthday, a reminder that I was aging. Frankly, I don’t need reminders. My knees creak, my jowls drop, my muscles sag, and gravity drags me one step closer to the underground. I wanted to sneak into my 56th year without any hoop a la. But the word got out!

birthday 2013

The night before my birthday at basketball practice, right on cue, when my point guard threw the ball out of bounds on a fast break, the team burst into song. The players brought out juice and homemade cupcakes and cookies in my honor, but I toasted them – for what is a coach without a team?

In homeroom, my 12th grade students insisted I call an emergency meeting Thursday morning, which I did, not realizing that I was the emergency. Students baked one cake for me and another one for a new boy in our group, whose birthday was the same day.

In the English department at morning break, my colleagues raised their coffee cups in cheer and passed around a chocolate cake.

Students in my freshman English class whispered in front of the multimedia center where we met to watch To Kill a Mockingbird. To distract me, a student dragged me to the back of the library to help her find a book. When I entered the assembly room, the class burst into song and a smorgasbord of baked goods magically appeared along with a homemade card, the best kind.

During lunch at my learning support department meeting, another friend made a frosted, pumpkin cake with American flag candles. This time round, a colleague sang the birthday song in Dutch.

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I haven’t had so much fun on a birthday since I was five years old and my mom baked me a white-frosted bunny cake covered in coconut.

When I arrived home after parent-teacher conferences, a bouquet of tulips sat on my doorstep. Inside, my Frenchman poured wine at a candle lit table and served leftovers on wedding china, but not just any ol’ leftovers!  Baby goat, simmered in wine sauce in a garden of carrots, zucchini and peppers, was a meal fit for a queen that tasted even better the second time around.

Just before falling asleep, I turned on my laptop and was bowled over with messages from family and friends scattered around the globe from Seattle to Boston, Paris to Berlin, London to Sydney and everywhere in between.

The fanfare was unexpected, especially from the college kids, like the surprise call from my son in St. Paul, who carried the conversation for a change, and an old-fashioned handwritten letter from my niece in Omaha.

GenFab writers, Gutsy Indie Publishers, blogging buddies, former classmates and teammates posted messages and feted me on facebook.

Ever since my professional basketball career ended in an accident 3 decades ago, I have wondered why I survived.

Now, I know.

In simple, heartfelt ways people took time to draw cards, write messages, bake cakes and make me feel special.

I wanted to skip my birthday; you assured me that my life –sags, bags, wrinkles and all-is still worth celebrating!

Riding on a sugar high from too much cake and so many well wishes, overwhelmed by the  ways people connected and confirmed my existence, my heart is filled with gratitude.

Every day a gift!

Merci mille fois (thanks a thousand times) for the reminder.

 

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Night Birthday Celebration in the Swiss Jura Mountains

One snowy February night, members of my department gathered at the Jura mountain pass Col de Givrine (1320 meters) connecting Switzerland and France for a “midnight balade” to celebrate one colleagues 50th and another’s 40th birthday.

In French, balade means an excursion for distraction to relax and get fresh air. One of the benefits of living in Europe is that people slow down from equally frantic lives and take time out to recharge their batteries with fun and exercise.

An eclectic group of British ladies, 3 Frenchmen, two Americans, a woman from Marseilles, a Canadian, a Swiss, and a gregarious Scotsman gathered together on a snow bank, bundled in parkas, snow pants, and snowshoes. Designated scouts wore helmets with flashlights to guide us on the trail under inky black skies.

Due to my health issues I rarely go outdoors to play, but they insisted that the dark conditions were ideal for me, so I wouldn’t have to wear my sun-blocking, movie star shades. My friends swore it was a short, flat walk; it ended up being a one-hour steady climb uphill. But I couldn’t turn back without getting lost.

I used ski poles for balance; if I veered off the path, I sunk up to my knees in snow. My Frenchman moaned the whole way because his knee hurt; I was too short-winded to moan. When I thought I couldn’t take another step, one of the birthday girls announced, “Time for the aperitif.” She pulled a bottle from her packback and stuck it the in the snow. She dug out cup holders in the snow bank and filled cups with the white wine creating an open-air mini bar. When the stragglers caught up, we toasted to the birthday girls in a clearing surrounded by white, velvet-covered evergreen.

birthday toast in the Jura mountains

birthday toast in the Jura mountains

We forged ahead around the next bend to the “restaurant,” La Vermeilley, technically, a reconverted herders shed. We parked our snowshoes on the snow-covered picnic tables at the entryway. Inside red and white tablecloths covered wooden tables lined with benches. A finger-thawing fire crackled from the fireplace. A waiter set plates of viande des grison (dried beef) and bowls of pickles on the table. Then the owner brought out steaming fondue pots filled with the special 3-cheese blend mixed with wine. We dipped chunks of thick, white, country bread into the pot and ate with gusto.

birthday girls

birthday girls

Several of my colleagues, former rugby players, chanted, engaging the participation of the other half a dozen tables filled with hearty, physically fit men and women. When we got up to leave, my head of department, a fun loving Scotsman, started singing a rendition of Patricia, the best stripper in town, so I pseudo danced tossing off my mittens and scarf to the applause of the merrymaking partiers. The ambiance all evening was exceptional with strangers joining in our shouting, “Hip, hip hurrah!”

The hike back down the mountains was equally enchanting. Snow-covered pines loomed in the foreground, while  stars twinkled overhead. I felt as if I were in another world. I stumbled down the path, savoring nature’s austere elegance. Then my Frenchman drove us back down the mountain. When we arrived home, I peeled off 5 layers of clothes and collapsed into bed. I woke up early the next morning, cloaked in warm memories and smelling of barn animals and cheese.

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A Good Man Gone Too Soon

At the beginning of the week, I saw that Sherrie Davis Ebersole, a member of the Sterling High School girls’ first State Championship Basketball Team (1977), posted on facebook a Chicago Tribune article which announced Bruce Scheidegger’s untimely death due to a car accident. Across the Midwest and beyond, we mourn the loss of a beloved former  coach, athletic director, husband, father and son.

Even though Bruce’s career took him to the big city, he never lost his small town ways. He took those same values along when he left Sterling for the athletic director position at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, where he continued to be respected for his honesty, fairplay and integrity.

He may have left Sterling, but he remained in our hearts.

I met Bruce when my dad introduced him to me as the new Sterling High School girls’ basketball coach (1998-2007). During my visits to the States over Christmas holidays, I went to the Dixon Tournament  to watch the girls play. Seeing Bruce coach his daughters reminded me of when my dad coached my sister and me. I admired the way Bruce spoke to the media,  interacted with his players, and called time out just at the right time.

Kind, upbeat, sincere. He remembered names and faces.Whenever we were back in town, he invited my Franco-American daughter to practice with the team. When she played for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, he followed her career.

He once told me his family originally came from Switzerland. Years later, when I visited Kleine Scheidegg, 6,762 ft, the mountain pass between the Eiger and Lauberhorn peaks in the Swiss Alps, I wanted to send him a postcard of his ancestral village. He was the kind of person you never forget.

Kleine Scheidegg, Wengen -Switzerland

Kleine Scheidegg, Wengen -Switzerland

I did not know him well, but I know well where he came from – a tight-knit family from a small Northwestern Illinois town. He graduated from Chadwick a year after I graduated from Sterling. He attended University of Illinois; I went to Illinois State.  He played baseball; I played basketball. We both loved coaching. Whether he was coaching at Prophetstown, Dixon, Sterling or Carl Sandburg, he advocated for all student/athletes, especially girls.

Bruce was truly the kind of AD that looked out for coaches, including old ones. How many big school ADs would take the time to write a letter to an 80-year-old-coach (my dad) to commemorate his birthday?Read more

Thirtieth Anniversary of My Second Life After Car Accident in France

Thirty years ago, at the peak of my pro basketball career, I fell asleep in the back of a car dreaming of driving the baseline on a fast-break. One second I was on top of the world with all-powerful high of a victorious athlete, and the next, my body careened weightlessly through air. Folded into the fetal position, I slammed into hard metal and when I regained consciousness, icy water sucked my breath away.

No normal human beings should have survived the impact or the relentless current when our car flipped off the French autoroute, sailed over a 100-foot high embankment, and crashed into the La Meuse River. But then we were not normal. As pro basketball players, our 25-year-old bodies had been honed to perfection, trained to withstand trauma.

my last game, Marburg, Germany

my last game, Marburg, Germany

Yet within seconds, years of training meant nothing; I was reduced to an invalid. If I wriggled my upper body, I could peek out over the hospital window ledge at the red rooftops of Verdun. Graveyards covered the hillside of the famous WWI look out point? Why wasn’t I buried beside yesterday’s heroes. I had lost my job, my identity, and my purpose. What was left?

Life.

I spent the past three decades trying to get my head around it. I survived…but why?

In addition to the endless support of my husband, family, and friends scattered round the globe, the one thing that has kept me going through years of pain was the drive to write.

I spent an inordinate amount of time in the reclining position due to an ultra bad back. I taught myself to type lying down with my eyes blindfolded to stop words from spinning off the page in my dizziness.

Old manuscript drafts are stacked from floor to ceiling. I could wallpaper my entire house with rejection letters. Yet, through endless transitions from athlete to coach, student to teacher, daughter to mom and through dozens of moves across two continents between four countries, I penned my existence.

coaching next generation of doctors, lawyers and businesswomen

coaching next generation of doctors, lawyers and businesswomen

Even when common sense told me to give up, I kept going. I was compelled to record the story of a lost generation, the pioneers of women’s sports that grew up as the first generation Title IXers coming of age in 1972 along with the groundbreaking law mandating equal opportunities for women in education and sport. The result is a personal testimony that echoes the voices of the past, who helped paved the way for our high-flying daughters of today.

Coming soon… our story seen through the twinkle of my blue eyes.

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Tall American Squeezes into Small Country

Whenever I step aboard the return flight to Switzerland, I feel like Alice in Wonderland falling through the hole into the land of miniature. I have an 8-hour flight to transition to what awaits on the other side of the Atlantic. I squeeze my 5’10” frame into compact seats designed for dwarfs. I eat baby-sized servings with doll-sized spoons on a mini tray.

In the Geneva airport, I tower above Europeans while lugging baggage twice as big as and three times heavier than theirs. Not all expats are hoarders, but like many of my compatriots living overseas, I bring back as much of the homeland as possible, hence my bags are laden with Tootsie Pops, cake mixes, chocolate chips and other American staples.

When the taxi pulls up in front of our twin house, my husband leans out the window to announce, “Oops, honey, I shrunk the house.”

Switzerland is a “petite” country; the price of real estate is premium. There are no sprawling ranch homes or suburban mansions here. Our yard is the size of a postage stamp. Surface wise our ground floor is no bigger than an American garage. But we are lucky we have four floors stacked like baby’s colored building blocks. It’s great! This way I don’t need a gym membership; my home is a StairMaster.

kitchen

kitchen

Our kitchen is three-square meters. The refrigerator is smaller than the mini bars in most American hotels. The fridge, stove, and sink are within an arm’s length, so I can remove foodstuff, sauté veggies and wash dishes simultaneously. But I rarely do any one of the three. It is a one-butt kitchen, and I am always the first volunteer to butt out.

Europe has a different scale of measurement and I am not talking metric here. Cupboards are more like the size of American drawers. Walk in closets? Forget it. My sister’s Barbie wardrobe was bigger. Appliances are also more compact. Our microwave fits in a kitchen cupboard. The washing machine holds five articles of clothing or the equivalent of two American sweatshirts.Read more