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.

Twelve Tips for Air Travel in the 21st Century

Sometimes, when when there are no glitches, Air Travel rocks. But most of the time, it has become a nightmare. Make the best out of it with a few tips:

1. Never trust what the airline say.

2. When airline staff  say« No problem » it really means « Don’t KNOW the problem. »

3. Fly at times when no one else wants to, for example Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, Easter Sunday.

4. Carry aboard prescription medicines for the duration of the trip vacation and a written explanation of one’s medical condition.

5. Pack snacks such as nuts, dried fruits, and cereal bars. Airlines may charge $3  for a small package of M & Ms or chips.

6. A small empty water bottle passes through security controls and can be refilled as needed.

7. Nowhere is Murphy’s Law (Sod’s Law in the UK) more prevalent than in air travel « accept that what can go wrong, will go worse than you would dream ».

8. Limit carry on baggage as courtesy to fellow passengers, so they won’t have to stow their luggage ten rows away from their assignments seats.

9. An electronic seat assignment does not guarantee a boarding pass, and a frequent flyer membership these days is nothing more than another plastic card in your pocket.

10. Wear comfortable, layered clothes, which make it easy to disrobe at security and to accommodate fluctuating temperature in the aircraft.

11. Forget cost cutting, book the direct flight whenever possible. In the end, it costs less than additional taxi fares, meals and hotel rooms when you miss your connecting flight.

12. Acknowledge that the skies are no longer friendly. Airline companies, even code sharing partners, are at war and passengers are in the line of fire. Accept what you are : at the best a user and very rarely a customer.

Eventually, get rich and fly First, it might do the trick…May be.

Celebrating Title IX’s Anniversary with Senior Games Gold in Basketball

Though I never reached my goal to play basketball for Team USA in the Olympics,  I have thrown elbows in good company.  I played  hoops for Illinois State alongside the late Charlotte Lewis, a silver medalist in 1976 , the first year women’s basketball became an Olympic event. In summer camp at ISU, I coached Olympian Cathy Boswell, a 1984 gold medalist. And June 11-30,  2011 during the Senior National Games in Houston Texas,  my former co-coach and BFF, Tina Quick, won a gold in 3 on 3.

In 1987,  the first National Olympic game debuted in St. Louis with 2,500 participants.  Today the  National Senior Games Association, (http ://www.nsga.com/ ) Summer Games drew 15,000 athletes, who competed in 18 sports in everything from shuffleboard to  triathlon.  And get this, the youngest competitor was fifty!

molly and the miracles

Tina, Quick, Barbara Cherecwich, Kris Krablin, June Walton, Megan Ladd

NSGA is a non-profit organization dedicated to motivating active adults to lead healthy lifestyles. With 50 being the new 30 never has the time been more right for women to stay in shape. And nobody trains like Tina, the fifty-five year old blond firecracker, with Native American blood, who runs circles around women decades younger. Though she didn’t have the opportunity to play organized ball growing up, she never missed a beat in adulthood, challenging men in gyms around the globe. Seven years ago, she repatriated to the United States where she met up with the Massachusetts Miracles.

« We went from being the team that couldn’t win a game, to becoming team to beat, » Tina said.  « Everyone, except me, played college »

The Miracles is comprised of first generation Title IX athletes, who like myself, became pioneers during the infancy of the women’s game when law mandated equal opportunities for women in education and sport.  June Walton, the second all-time leading scorer at her alma mater, Morgan State University, also played in Venezuela and England. Kris Krablin, the only athlete to be named MVP every season, was a Hall of Famer at St. Lawrence University.  In 1979, the first year an All State College team was selected, Barbara Cherecwich became a first team All Stater from Worcester State College.

The Miracles won the state competition to qualify and then swept 7 rounds in the games. My five-foot- five friend played early on in the tournament, but for the finals she insisted, « You big girls go do your stuff – I’ll take over on the sideline. »  The only team without a manager, Tina, then went onto coach her Miracles to victory capturing the gold in the  50+ age category.

« Like  at the  Olympics, we had an opening ceremony, parade of competitors,  athlete’s village and medal platform. The Olympic Torch, carried across Texas, was lit by a 100 year old man. »

Tinie takes charge coaching the tall gals to gold

Tinie takes charge coaching the tall gals to gold

Tina walked off the podium with not only a gold, but also a stash of giveaways – pill boxes,  jump ropes, energy drinks, cool bands, health tips and other  prizes. But according to Tina, the best part of the games was the great ambiance, team camaraderie and support from friends and families .

« One lady, a seventy year old, stopped me and asked if she could touch my medal.»

When my pro basketball career ended abruptly due to a car accident, my goal to shoot hoops into my sunset years never materialized. In time, I learned to let go and share in the joy of others’ dreams.  Nobody cheered louder than me for my former athletes competing in European clubs, for my little sister, playing in a 5 on 5 league in Minneapolis or  for my buddy in Boston, who just came home with the gold.

Apparently seniors are alive and well.  The Summer Games, NSGA’s signature event, has become one of the biggest multi-sport happenings on the planet; my friend Tina could be the spokesperson.

During the festivities, Gloria Gaynor,  belted out, « I will survive. »

I slapped my knee, tickled pink and echoed her battle cry,

« Go granny go ! »

Hats off to Hannah And High School Graduates of 2011

I never graduated from high school.  Not officially.  Sure I got my diploma, but I  never tossed my cap to the wind. I was sick the day of graduation. Back then  it was simple.  We had one senior picture,  a ceremony on the field and a little cake and punch party with a few family and friends.

The class of ‘75 signed year books, promised to keep in touch and moved on. With the exception of a handful of close friends – living within a block – I lost touch with everyone  until 35 years later, when I reconnected with classmates via Facebook (which, incidentally, today’s youth complain the old people are ruining!)

happy Hannah graduates from high school

happy Hannah graduates from high school

In June 1975, to humor my parents, I donned the blue gown with the gold tassels and stood in the yard while my grandma snapped a half a dozen blurry photos from an Instamatic. And that was that. Then I headed back to the gym to shoot hoops.

Big difference from the grad walk of today. For my niece, Hannah, a senior at Armstrong High School, it was a whole new ball game.

In the fields behind the Minneapolis suburban school, graduates spilled over an emerald hilltop in a sea of red, while parents sat in soccer chairs capturing the event on camcorders. Then to keep the kids off the street, parents chaperoned students at an all night party filled with games, magic, music and movies.

Weeks later, Hannah hosted a grad party. She invited her rugby team, half the church, the entire neighborhood and all of the relatives from Chicago to Omaha and in-between. Hannah has lots of friends. From the time she was born, the ready-with-a-smile, happy-go-lucky, laid-back kid always drew a crowd.

These days, the grad party is a must. The invitation, which features the student in a favorite pose from the hundred-some senior pictures, is more elaborate than wedding cards were in my day. (Hannah’s sister, Marie, graduated three years ago, but her invitation remains  on my frig, too beautiful to throw away.)

The party can be extravagant, complete with bouncy castles and gourmet meals, but Hannah, settled on a simpler fare, featuring her favorites – croissant sandwiches and ice cream treats.

Food ordered, tents set up, card tables unfolded, coolers packed. And a room filled with of memorabilia of student life : a bulletin board of childhood photos, dance recital, play bills, band equipment, musical instruments, certificates, medals, trophies, team jerseys, diplomas, stuffed animals, postcards, bits and bobs of a child’s’ magic moments. « I thought shrines were at wakes,» I said to my sister.

« Just shows how long you’ve been out of the country, Sis. »

And forget gram’s fuzzy black and white photos. Nowadays the event will be commemorated on video and DVD. While in progress, graduates cover Facebook pages with hundreds of photos for the entire world to admire.

hats off

hats off

My only dream back in the seventies was to play ball; Hannah set a more noble goal. She is going to be a neonatal nurse; she has already cuddled premies as a volunteer at the local hospital. She started applying for scholarships her junior year. With her dad’s Nebraskan Big Red blood, Hannah knew (before anyone else)  that she was headed  to Creighton in Omaha, where the rest of the Carlson clan lives.

Yep, babysitter, soccer player, a State rugby champ, honor student, loyal sister, fun loving friend, kidding cousin, nifty niece, cherished granddaughter, a dream child and all around good kid. No matter what hat she wears, Hannah fits the bill.

Dads Play Big Role in Parenting

Back in the ‘60s when girls’ sport were taboo, my dad taught me how to throw a perfect spiral, pitch a baseball and shoot a basket.  Each time he tossed the ball to  my brother, he also threw once to me. He made sure to hit each of us an equal number of pop ups to field. He showed me how to hold a baseball glove, pump up a basketball and take a fish off the hook.

Papa Mac passes on tradition

Papa Mac passes on tradition

Like the Pied Piper, as soon as kids saw my dad arrive home from his teaching job, they lined up for a turn at bat. Soon he was pitching whiffle balls to the entire neighborhood. Instead of grass in our backyard, we had permanent dirt-patch bases, a diamond in the rough, the Field of Dreams for an entire generation.

Even though I never saw any other fathers in the yard shooting hoops with their daughters, I never thought it odd. Chasing grounders, running passing patterns and learning the baseline drive with my dad seemed as natural as  breathing. After all, he was a coach and I was an athlete. So what if it took the rest of the society a few decades to catch up.

Today with the acceptance of girls’ sports and working moms the norm, dads’ coaching daughters is no longer an anomaly. The Women’s Rights Movement also liberated men to assume a greater hands-on role in fatherhood.

Today’s dads are free to coach Little League AND girls’ soccer, to build camp fires, make tree forts, piece together Legos, to change diapers, give baths,  bandage cuts. They can also bake birthday cakes, read Good Night Moon, cook bœuf bourguignon and grill burgers.

French dad at 1st Final Four

French dad at 1st Final Four

Throughout our children’s youth, my husband worked the score table, drove the van for our daughter and son’s teams and prepared gourmet meals for all of us. Gérald never batted an eye about running a printing business during the day, and then wearing the apron at night.  Though it may have been a typical behavior for a Frenchman, he paid the bills, balanced the budget and brought home the bacon, proud to be a family man.

Just as I witnessed my dad in multiple roles – caring teacher, inspiring coach, loyal husband -my children saw their father as tough and tender, demanding and nuturing, competitive and compassionate.

Kids raised in families with ball-playing moms and story-reading dads make for a balanced, healthy, wholesome childhood.  Whether organizing car pools, building sand castles or playing catch,  adults investing time in youth yields the greatest dividends.  Worth all the gold in the world !