Punting in Cambridge To Celebrate Special Occasions

When my son’s British fiancé told us we were celebrating their engagement by going punting in Cambridge, I imagined kicking the pigskin around a ballpark. But the English don’t play American football. Then I thought it must have something to do with rugby, as her brother-in-law is an avid rugby man.

Well, what a surprise! Punting has nothing to do with playing ball on a pitch (field), but instead involves a boat on a river.

Imagine skimming across the water in a “punt.” Picture a Venetian gondola that is shaped like a flat-bottomed, mini-barge.

In Cambridge punting along River Cam leads you past the famous colleges of the University of Cambridge. Founded as far back as 800 years ago, each contains its own history, architecture and stories.

The punt, dating back to medieval times, allowed navigation in shallow water areas. Until recently commercial fishermen used punts to work the fens of East Anglia. In 1870 punting for pleasure began, becoming more common in the 1900s and today is considered a part of the Cambridge experience.

A person navigates by standing on the till (known as the deck) at the back, not paddling, but poling. It looks easy. It’s not. Imagine trying to propel a dozen hefty passengers forward by pushing off the river bottom with a pole vault stick.

Poles, usually made of spruce 12-16 feet long, have a shoe, a rounded lump of metal on one end in the shape of swallow’s tail. Without a rudder, the punt is difficult to steer and the pole can get stuck in the river bottom.

Our next dilemma was who was going to pole the punt?

I assumed David would guide us down the River Cam, but sidelined by a rugby injury, he couldn’t even bend his knee enough to climb into the boat.

Fortunately Larissa and her sister, Charlotte, had the foresight to barter for tickets that included a guide. From the Quayside Punting Station near Magdalene Bridge, we clambered into the low seats of the punt.

Like a modern day Huck Finn, a handsome, young man in khakis and a white shirt stood in the stern grasping his pole. In the voice of a great orator, he recounted the history and legends surrounding the colleges of Cambridge during our 45-minute ride up one side of the Cam and then down the other.

“The Backs refers to a one-mile stretch past the rear sides of some of England’s most prestigious and oldest universities,” our guide said. “A few of the famous colleges, which we will be passing include Trinity College, founded by King Henry VIII in 1546; Trinity Hall, where scientist Stephen Hawking studied; and St. Johns College, which was attended by poet William Wordsworth.”

Along the riverbank people dined at outdoor cafes, college co-eds lounged on lush lawns under weeping willows and boatloads of tourists drank beer celebrating the arrival of spring. A carnival like atmosphere prevailed. Punting was like being in an amusement park on bumper boat ride and sure enough another boat slammed into our side, jarring my back.

While the skilled college guides maneuvered between boats, amateur punters spun in circles and crashed into other vessels.

“On your right is St. John’s,” our guide said, “one of the oldest and most celebrated colleges in Cambridge.”

As we passed under the city’s famous Bridge of Sighs, named after the one in Venice, the scene felt surreal.

When we opened champagne and raised our glasses to Nic and Larissa, I thought, what are the odds of small town girl from Illinois marrying a French boy from Normandy and raising a Franco-American son who’s falls in love with a beautiful English/Irish-Ukrainian girl.

How extraordinary the fate uniting our families as we celebrate toasting to their future by punting in Cambridge.

Staying at England’s Historic White Hart Coaching Inn

Staying at the historic White Hart in Ampthill, once one of England’s 18th century coaching inns, made me feel like I slipped back in time to the Wild West days à la European.

Before train systems developed, coaching inns served as a key part of the travel infrastructure in Europe. On overnight stops, stagecoaches stopped there to “refuel.” Weary travelers rested and ate and drank at the pub, while their horses were fed and watered in the stables.

On the square across from the clock tower, the Queen Anne style White Hart, built on a Tudor foundation, remains the soul of the Georgian market town dating back to the 11th century. The hotel’s name, Hart, a term for stag used in medieval times, represented the most prestigious form of hunting. Royalty from London tracked these animals in the woods around Ampthill, a day’s carriage ride from the city.

The hotel, which over time withstood raids, conflicts and fires, has been restored in the style of an old coaching inn. The front door opens to the bar where cozy tables fill nooks like in a traditional pub, while the back rooms serve as dining areas. The former stables, now a dining hall, accommodate groups for banquets and receptions.

On the three floors above the bar, 8 refurbished rooms host overnight guests in modern comfort. To add to the charm each guest room bears a name representing someone from every century from the 16th to 20th.

Room No 3, the New York Chamber, honors Ampthill’s famous son Richard Nicolls, who was appointed by Charles II to reclaim Dutch settlements in North America for England. When New Amsterdam surrendered, Nicoll renamed the city and state New York in honor of the King’s brother, James Duke of York.

We stayed in room 7, the Inner Chamber, where wood beams added old world charm and the floor, which slanted toward the hallway, gave authenticity. I felt like I was on a ship as I stumbled to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

In the breakfast room, served in the Great Oak Parlor, once the former kitchen, you could savor a hearty English breakfast off the menu including the Full Monty.

No matter what time of day or night I walked downstairs to the ground floor, the place buzzed. Locals and visitors enjoyed their morning coffee, afternoon tea, an evening meal and favorite ales, which were once brewed on site. On a Saturday night, I could barely squeeze through the crowd at the bar to return to my room.

Being a guest at the White Hart Inn made me feel like I was living in another century. Stepping outside each morning, I almost expected to see a horse and buggy waiting on the square to squire me around the lovely English countryside.

Wild Ride Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Though Americans may share the same language as the British, we differ in many ways especially when it comes to cars/driving. In the UK and Commonwealth countries such as Australia, the car’s steering wheel is on the passenger side. The driver sits on the right, yet drives on the left side of road.

In England, I fear going anywhere near traffic even as a passenger. On recent trip there, my son sat on the right side to drive on the “wrong” side, the left. I rode shotgun- a hair raising experience – I kept thinking we would crash in a head on collision.

As we wound through villages on pencil thin roads through a maze of round-abouts, I felt like I was on Mr. Toad’s wild ride in Disneyland.

In England, I start stimming every time I get into a vehicle. Granted my anxiety may be greater because I am directionally challenged. I am one of the 20% percent of the population that has trouble orientating themselves in space and distinguishing right and left.

Left-right discrimination involves higher neurological functions integrating sensory and visual information, language function and memory. This problem, more common among the left-handed, women and people with a high IQ, offers no consolation.

I blame my older brother for my directional disability. Born with a map in his brain, he hogged our family’s spatial orientation gene.

The only thing scarier than driving in England is walking in England. As a pedestrian, I am afraid to cross the street; I can’t figure out which way to look for oncoming traffic. Like a deer in headlights, I freeze on the corner too terrified to set foot off the curb.

The roadways through villages are so narrow that even while walking on the sidewalks, I hug the brick facades fearful of being sideswiped by those wrong way drivers.

Driving on the wrong side will never be on my bucket list, but if you do dare to drive in the UK here are few tips.

  1. Hang a ‘think left’ poster on your dashboard. Remember to look first to the right when crossing the road. Take care when pulling out of junctions, one-way streets and at roundabouts.
  2. Beware that unlike the rest of the continent, which gives priority to the right, there’s no priority to the right or left on UK roads.
  3. An octagonal stop sign with a solid white line on road or a triangular give way sign (dotted white line on road), where a secondary road meets a major road.
  4. At all crossroads and junctions, ‘Stop’ or ‘give way’ may also be painted on the road surface. But in England’s typical rain and fog, I doubt you will ever see that.
  5. Traffic flows clockwise round round­abouts and not anti-clockwise as in countries where traffic drives on the right.
  6. UK drivers set a lively pace, which is often way above the prevailing speed limit.

Lastly, if you do drive in England, be sure to slow down and wave when you see me still standing on the corner, waiting to cross the street.

Sterling High School Golden Sisters Celebrate Volleyball State Championship

SHS State Champion TeamLast weekend, amidst dismal news reports of natural disasters, mass shootings, and political divisiveness my alma mater, the Sterling High School Golden Warrior girls’ volleyball team, gave us something to celebrate by winning the state championship.  With a 40-1 record overall, they snatched the victory from defending champs Belleville Althoff 25-21, 25-22 in the final at Illinois State University Redbird Arena.

If you watch a few seconds of this video clip, you can see the intensity and unbridled joy that comes from the concentrated team effort needed to reach a state championship – the pinnacle of success in American high school sports.

Sterling’s volleyball program was a family affair. Take solid senior leader Josi Borum add her dynamic twin sisters, Bree and Brook, mix with smashing combo Gretchen and Grace Gould, toss in all-over-the-court libero, Lexi Rodriguez, and you have a recipe for success.

It’s been forty-one years since Sterling won a state championship. In 1977, the Sterling High School Golden Girls team made history by winning the first ever state basketball championship. My younger sister played guard on that team coached by my dad.

Most folks forget that prior to that time, girls weren’t allowed on any court. Without the passage of the 1972 Title IX amendment mandating equal opportunity and ending gender discrimination, girls would still be relegated to the sideline. Title IX gave girls access to athletic scholarships and higher education.

Not surprisingly the SHS volleyball team, like that first state basketball team, won the championship title at the tournament hosted by Illinois State University. In the early 1970s, ISU’s female administrators Dr. Phoebe Scott, Dr. Laura Mabry, coaches Jill Hutchison, and Linda Herman spearheaded committees pushing for legislation at the national level for the advancement of equal opportunities for women.

In the infancy of Title IX, SHS was ahead of its time too providing opportunities when most schools dragged their heels about giving girls a chance. Former SHS athletic director Bob Henard and basketball coaches like Jim McKinzie, Sue SHS 1977 State Champion TeamStrong, and Phil Smith picked up the ball and ran with it by making sure girls could compete on their own teams.

Since then, Sterling once fueled by the steel industry fell on economic hard times. Yet high school sports remained a source of pride and priority thanks to dynamic booster clubs and an altruistic donor by the name of Pete Dillon.

Championship teams are not made in a vacuum. They require the right mix of athletes, opportunity, coaches, community and infrastructure. Sterling provides that foundation.

So I raise my glass to Sterling’s state championship volleyball team. After endless hours of practice, countless road trips and off-season workouts, it’s time to celebrate. Here’s to the athletes, the coaches who trained them, and to their families who provided meals, rides, and emotional support.

Sterling High School Homer Fieldhouse

Sterling High School Homer Fieldhouse

“When we stepped in that 30-by-30 box (our half court in Redbird Arena,) we focused on what we needed to get done,” Sterling’s Coach Dale Dykeman said, “And that mentality of pulling up your bootstraps and going to work with your sisters, it’s a special thing.”

Unbeknownst to you, across the country your older warrior “siblings” are fist bumping and high fiving in solidarity over your success.

Going to work with your sisters

Is a Sterling thing.

It’s forever.

Golden.SHS 2018 State Champion Team

65 Years Ago Dad Married His College Sweetheart

On August 29th sixty-five years ago, my dad married his college sweetheart in Chicago, Illinois and from that day forth Jim and Lenore vowed to commit their lives to one another. For six and a half decades they walked the walk and exemplified what makes a good marriage.

Their love story started at Northern Illinois University, when my dad saw my mom strolling across campus and fell head over heels. Though Lenore was more vigilant, her girl friends swooned and told her « Jim is the catch of the campus. » He wooed her with poems and sketches showing a tender side to this tough, All-American athlete.

After they married, family became the focus of their lives.

Despite busy careers as teachers, they found time to foster each of their 4 children’s interests. They never missed choral performances, basketball games and track meets.

Even more remarkably, they had love left over to share with other people’s children – the countless number of neighborhood kids, school friends and teammates that tramped through the homestead on E. 19th street.

Though on occasion they squabbled like any married couple, they rarely fought.

However Lenore refereed many arguments between Jim and his feisty eldest daughter who inherited his intensity and temperament.

They shared a love of travel and enjoyed many trips to visit their children and grandchildren in Germany, France, Switzerland and Australia. On visits abroad, they also reconnected with Norwegian relatives living above the Arctic Circle. In retirement, as snow bunnies, they enjoyed several years wintering in Arizona.

They both have a creative streak – my mom an exceptional seamstress; dad a gifted athlete and skilled artist of landscape paintings. They passed onto their children a love of music, books, and sports.

But their real art was in education, whether they were showing campers how to swim, kindergarteners how to write their names, or high school athletes how to shoot a perfect jump shot.

After a rewarding career teaching Sterling’s youth, they remained a part of the community by raising money in church bazaars and quilt auctions, and by volunteering at food pantries.

Throughout their union, they supported each others passions. Lenore shivered on hard bleachers through countless cold football seasons cheering for Jim, first as an athlete and then as a coach.

Jim couldn’t sew a stitch to save his life, but he patiently drove Lenore across the Midwest to visit quilt shops. While she filled her shopping basket with new sewing projects, he sat in the car reading detective novels.

The best testimony to their love is its resiliency. Instead of tearing them apart, crisis only strengthened their bond. Dad helped mom endure the loss of her own father at age 18. They comforted one another when their daughter fought to recover from a life threatening car accident in a foreign country 4,000 miles away. They supported each other as they cared for aging parents, and later, as they faced their own health challenges.

They rejoiced in celebrations – weddings, graduations, and grandchildren’s births.

Through their actions and deeds, they passed on to their children respect for others and the value of integrity.

They sent countless letters, made umpteen phone calls, drove endless miles, and flew across time zones to stay connected. Though family extended across 3 continents and 4 different states lines, they remained a part of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

During sixty-five Summit Lake summers at Camp Ney-a-ti and the little red cabin in Wisconsin, they carved time out of busy schedules to slow down and appreciate nature’s splendor, renew vows for one other and nurture their love of family.

By their example, they gave everyone who knew them a blue print of how to create a marriage filled of kindness, compromise, tolerance, generosity and trust.

By opening their home and hearts over the years, their union taught us that true love is gift. The more you give it away, the greater your own blessings.

I should know. I had the good fortune to be born an Olson-McKinzie.

Happy 65th Anniversary Mom and Dad

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25 Ways to Know If You Are A Cabin Person

You love to be on water, in water, underwater, treasuring the silky, smooth, feeling of cool velvet on your skin.

You can tolerate inconveniences. The toilet may back up, electricity may go off and bugs will bite for sure. But you roll with it.

You enjoy passing on traditions – first hike, first bike ride, first ghost walk, first snipe hunt, first fishing trip, first swim and first ski.

You find bliss simply lying on the dock watching the clouds drift by.

You hate mice, mosquitoes and flies as much as anybody, but you tolerate them for the chance to live as close to nature as possible without having to sleep in a tent.

You don’t mind sharing.

You love to read curled up with a good book in front of the lake, the woods and the fireplace.

You think daydreaming is a fine art.

You believe boats were made for towing skiers, catching fish, or circling the lake slowly admiring sights, not for speed racing.

You know that drunken boaters on a lake are as dangerous as intoxicated drivers on the road.

You can fall asleep on lumpy beds and doze off in those old aluminum, webbed lawn chairs.

You think everything tastes better grilled and eaten off a paper plate.

Your heart still skips a beat every time you spot an eagle soaring over the lake, a white tailed fawn leaping through the forest, or the rare glimpse of a bear lumbering across your front yard.

You appreciate everything wild – wild flowers, wild animals, wild berries and wild fishing fibs.

You can make a campfire better than a Boy Scout.

The wind in the trees sounds like music to your ears.

You can survive without Internet.

You know that tiny ticks hiding in tall grasses are more dangerous than big black bears in trees, but go outside anyway properly protected.

You can live quite happily in swimsuits and flip-flops.

You enjoy reminiscing in front of a fire.

You think playing word games with neighbors is perfect entertainment.

You still enjoy self-propelled water travel – kayaking, stand up paddling, canoeing, sailing, and swimming.

You love biking, hiking, walking, talking and eating.

You cherish family.

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You can watch a sunset melt like orange lava behind the treeline and feel overwhelmed with gratitude for another day in paradise.

Thanks Dad for building, care taking and sharing our little red cottage. Because of you, generations of families and friends learned to love cabin life.

Happy Father’s Day!