Happy Thanksgiving 2020 – A Different Kind of Celebration With Same Meaning As Ever

ThanksgivingThis Thanksgiving will be a different kind of celebration with same meaning as ever. Traditionally Native Americans saved Pilgrims from starvation back in 1620 by teaching them to tap maple trees, plant corn and fertilize soil.

T-giving has always been a day of gathering bounty from fields, sharing with others, and giving thanks. However, this year, due to the pandemic, families should celebrate separately, which to Americans sort of defeats the whole purpose of T-day.

Ever since I moved to Europe forty years ago, I have been trying to thank my European hosts for accepting me into their countries. But not matter how I try to explain it, they remain bewildered by our Thanksgiving, a journée de remerciements. They think it is the only day of the year where Americans prepare a hot meal and eat slow food.

ThanksgivingMy first year abroad I invited French teammates and they ate the food in courses, one dish at a time. The next year in Germany, the team turnout was so great, there was standing room only; we never sat down to dine. Another year French relatives replaced the giant Tom Turkey with Chicken Little. Now living in Switzerland off I go again every November on the Great Turkey Hunt through the Swiss Alps.

ThanksgivingLast year I didn’t have to explain anything when Gerald and I celebrated our first extra special Thanksgiving in the states with our kids and sister and her family. My brother in law smoked a turkey, my son and daughter in law made a British speciality Yorkshire pudding, my niece added a broccoli salad. My sister brought the traditional pumpkin pie and my daughter contributed a gluten free apple crumble.

This year still in recovery from brain injury and like so many others dealing with Covid depression; I lament to my psychotherapist, “I am so sad, I can’t see family.”

“But isn’t the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday to give thanks?” she reminds me. “Can you reframe your perspective and focus on what you do have to be grateful for?”

“Even though you can’t see your family, are they safe? Healthy?” She asks. “Is your husband still with you? Are you recovering?”

So many people have lost cherished family members and dear friends. Thanksgiving 2020 must be marked in different ways. I will start by celebrating with my loved ones in a Zoom call to surprise my parents.

At a safe distance separated from each other one end of an extended to hold a dozen people we will social distance and share a simplified T-Day. We will lift our glasses with a neighbor couple, part of our pod here, and I will whisper thanks for :

1. Health care workers worldwide who continue to battle a devastating pandemic.
2. Family who remain steadfast and loving for the long haul.
3. Friendships that sustain my spirit in hard times.
4. Frenchman – my life partner who picks me and puts me together after every fall.
5. Internet that instantly connects me between continents, cultures and time zones.
6. Words- books, cards, emails, calls that keep us connected especially now when we cannot reach out physically,
7. Summit Lake a place to dream of returning one day where sacred waters restore my soul.

Thanksgiving

This year in our modified Thanksgiving, we won’t dine on a whole Tom Turkey, just a turkey breast and though it will be a small, subdued celebration unlike the big noisy gatherings of Thanksgivings growing up in America, the blessings will be the same. The bird is secondary. It’s the stuffing — family, friends and memories — sharing and caring — that sustains me.

Covid Fallout- Will We Ever See Our Kids Again?

As Covid rises around the globe, and holiday plans are derailed again, we wonder when we will be reunited with loved ones, but for expats living abroad, the pain of separation is magnified by distance. I ache to be with my family so much it feels like a limb is missing.

When the French talk about missing people, they say “Il me manque”, which means, “I miss him”. But literally translated, it’s “he is missing to me”, as though a crucial part of you has been removed. It has.

When my Norwegian ancestors left their fjords to sail across the seas in search of a better life in America, they knew they would never see their families again. As a young girl, my mom’s father always promised her he would take her back to the fjords when she was an adult. Unfortunately, they never made the trip. He died suddenly of cancer when she was only 18.

I have been lucky. I made countless flights across the Pond between Europe and USA to keep my American ties strong not only for me but also for my children. Yet when I first stepped on that Air France flight 40 years ago, my biggest anxiety was not  about playing basketball in France, a country where I knew no one and spoke not a word of the language, but the fear that I might not be able to come back to the US and see my loved ones again.

I have always been able to make the trip home until now when a global pandemic changed our lives in ways we never imagined possible. Now my adult children live there; we are stuck here.
Our situation is not unique.

When I saw my Swiss neighbor, she lamented, -“I don’t know when we will see our kids again. Our son is in Thailand, one daughter is in Canada, her twin in Paris. Their younger brother was expecting his first child this summer and they were all coming to Switzerland to celebrate the event – that reunion is postponed indefinitely.

My German friend Maria, who lives just across the border in France, has one daughter in Belgium, another in Scotland, a son in England and husband in Somaliland. They are separated by Covid between continents.

Even families living in the same country are unable to plan reunions due to risks.
Parents are separated from kids, grandparents from grandchildren, siblings from siblings. My best friend, a former xpat moved back to North Carolina, but her 3 daughters live in Minnesota, Massachusetts and South Carolina. She talks to me about renting an RV, so she could go see them keeping a safe distance in separate living quarters.

My former student, now teaching at the International school of Geneva, has a brother living in Canada, a sister in Australia and her mom in South Africa. Home was whatever continent she and her family could meet up on their destination holidays.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As expats the world is our world, but today that kind of global gathering is out of the question.

Rules between and within countries regarding Covid change daily. In the summer no flights from Europe were allowed to land on US soil. For the moment, we can land, but there are no direct flights. There are few options available and each one has constraints. On our usual Delta/KLM flight there is a risk for a 10 day quarantine in Amsterdam. As a U.S. citizen I would be allowed in the country, but my French husband would require a special visa. And then we aren’t sure if or when we could get back to Switzerland.

When will be able to plan trips again?

We wait and wonder and worry as the number of cases of infection reach alarming rates across Europe and the U.S. Our hearts ache with longing for things we once took for granted…sharing a meal, sitting around reminiscing, embracing in a hug.

In the meantime“Ils me manquent.”They are missing to me.” Pieces of my soul vanished.

I am grieving the loss.

Good Neighbors Add Allure to Summit Lake Wisconsin

Summit LakeWe used to be the only cabin on our side of the lake and I liked it that way, but when people built cottages next door, I discovered Summit Lake’s beauty magnifies when shared.

In 1952 my grandparents bought the log lodge peeking out from behind the pines on the point across from the island. They turned it into Camp Ney-A-Ti Boys’ Camp. The camp used to be the only sign of civilization on the western side of the lake.

In 1964, when my grandparents sold the camp and 40 acres, they had the foresight to save a 125 feet of lake front property on the far edge of their land. Then they built our little red cabin. On some else’s land. They were shocked to find out someone else owned that lot, so they lifted the wooden cottage and moved it over 50 feet.Summit Lake cabin

That landowner build a cottage on his land and generations later, we became friends with his grandchildren’s children. Then our children grew up together over lazy, fun-filled summers. The path through the woods between our cabins remains well worn. Instead of playing hide and seek of childhood, the “kids” sit on the screened in porch debating solutions to problems of the adult world.

We are the only flatlanders (Illinoisans) amongst the Wisconsinites; they accept us as long as we wear our Greenbay Packer caps.

A deputy sheriff lives on one side of us and a lawyer on the other. If we get in trouble with the lawman on our left, we could seek counsel with our neighbor on the right side to bail us out. But as grandchildren of Coach Mac, we would never consider breaking the rules.

Surprisingly, as much as I liked the idea of being alone in the woods, I discovered it is nice to have neighbors.

We hail from different cities and walks of life, but Up North no one cares where you come from or how much money you make, as long as you share the same values – respect for nature and community spirit.

kids of the lakeThe lake ‘hood children have grown up becoming doctors, nurses, plumbers, firemen and teachers. If the “kids” were ever Up North at that same time, we would have a “cabin” town of skilled professionals to cope with any illness, injury, wildfire, flooded basement, or backed up toilet.

With trees and foliage growing so thick, you don’t have to see your neighbors, who are never nosey, but if you do need anything they will be there.

At one time or other everyone has rescued my Frenchman when his catamaran capsized. All the neighbors have a story to tell about how they towed the yellow sailboat safely to shore behind their pontoon sailing Summit Lakeboat.sailing Summit Lake

Another time a neighbor helped jump-start my sister’s car at dawn in the dead of winter. And if you need to borrow a chainsaw, a shovel or a cup of sugar, just ask. Neighbors willingly share, sometimes even offering beds in their cabin when your own overflows with friends and relatives.

“You know the rule,” the guy next door says, “if my boat is out, and you want to ride or ski c’mon on over.”touring Summit Lake

Summer folks. Summer friends. Good neighbors. Good people.

Along with the wilderness and wildlife, human beings are part of the Northwood’s blessings too.Grandparents & kids

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.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.