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

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.

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!

France Names Gym After American Basketball Player, My Mentor

When a car accident in France ended my professional basketball career, I wanted to curl up and die. While struggling to rehabilitate, my physical therapist in Paris, saw my despair and said, “Don’t cry. Call Henry Fields. He’ll help you out.”

“McKinzie,” Henry said when I called. “Oh yeah, I remember you. Shot the eyes out of the basket. Need a job? Great. We need a coach.”

So I began coaching at American School of Paris under the tutelage of Henry Fields, dubbed the Father of French basketball, and one of the first Americans to play in Europe. After winning the military world championship while stationed in Orleans, France, in 1962 he was invited to stay on to play for Paris University Club for $50 a month. Not only did he rack up championship titles, he won over the heart of the entire country and paved the way for other American players to follow.

Though he earned accolades as a player, his greatest impact may have been as a coach, where he dedicated his life to developing ball skills in youth at the various clubs where he starred. As a teacher and coach, he built a dynasty at ASP, the first American school with an international community in Europe established in 1946.

After retirement, he and his lovely Norwegian wife, Ragna, resettled in Auterive, south of Toulouse (southwest France), to be closer to their daughters. When he found out that the community didn’t have a basketball program for kids, he built one for them.

From Hank, I learned international basketball rules and insider tips, like it’s okay to yell at a ref as long as you buy him a drink after the game. He showed me how to make sure that each player had a role and felt valued.

He exemplified the true spirit of the game. Basketball is more that X and 0s, back door cuts, and match-up zones, it’s about bringing people together from every race, nationality and walk of life.

A few days ago, when I saw on a Facebook post that the gym in Auterive, had been named Halle Henry Fields, I pumped my fist and cheered.

“Pat, I had no idea,” he said when he called to tell me about the surprise ceremony. “They told me to wear a tie and come coach a game. When I got there, they sang happy birthday and dedicated the gym to me. Friends from teams back in 60s and 70s came to join in the celebration.”

“Oh Hank,” I said. “I wish I could have been there.”

“You were. You’re a part of everything I do.”

I feel the same way; we share the magic of mentoring. Over time, the wisdom of mentors becomes part of the mentees’ psych.

In the highest level of sport, coaches give back, pass on, and pay forward, becoming immortalized in the hearts and minds of those players who shared their love of a game.

What greater tribute to offer an ambassador of the game than to name a gym in his honor?

Henry Fields, granddaddy of basketball in France, a man with all the connections, believes everyone who loves the game is related.

To me, he will always be family.

 

 

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Discovering Family History With DNA TestingSince childhood when my maternal grandma put a diary in my hand and encouraged me to write my story, I wondered, “Who am I?” Spending my adult life abroad, where one has to forge a new identity, only magnified that question and made me more curious to find out where I come from. Using DNA testing and search tools like Ancestry.com digging up the family history and skeletons from the past has never been easier.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

my family’s geographical origins

To begin, I bought my parents a DNA kit and had them to spit in a test tube. We found out that my mom, on the Olson side, is 95% Norwegian, with a touch of Swedish and English. The McKinzie line on my dad’s side is primarily of Scottish descent, but his maternal lineage also can be traced to England, Ireland and Wales.

I discovered I am the great, great grand daughter of a Civil War veteran and a ship captain lost at sea off the Norwegian coast. My forefathers were teachers, statesmen, merchants, pioneer preachers and Scottish Lords. Long ago as clan chiefs, they owned castles as wealthy landowners; centuries later after immigrating to America, they lost land when crops failed and were forced to rent land as poor tenet farmers.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Eilean Donan Castle – Scotland Highlands

I can claim lineage as one of the First Colonial Families to settle on America soil on the Potomac in Maryland. My family once ruled Scotland’s famous castles – Eilean Donan, Leod, Kincoy, Kinkell and RedCastle – when the Mackenzie Clan reigned as far back as the 13th century. Once the most powerful clan in Northern Scotland, they own land from Ross on the east coast to the Island of Lewis in the west.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Grandpa Mac – 1922

Maps show the McKinzie migration ever westward. In the United States, as primarily farmers, they moved from New England to Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa and finally Oklahoma where my paternal great grandfather became a sharecropper outside of Blackwell. My grandfather broke tradition following his dream to play college football in Illinois, and then became a successful coach at Eureka College and Northern Illinois University.

Though I traced my father’s paternal side back 25 generations, my mother’s side is more complicated. In Scandinavian countries, they traditionally add son or dottar to the father’s name. For example, Ole’s son becomes Olson as a surname. I remain stuck in the 17 century a bit muddled up with Olson, Rosholt, Jacobson lines.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

My grandma – Martha Olson

To make things even more complicated, when immigrants became naturalized, they often changed their names. My maternal grandfather arrived in America in 1926 as Gustav Andreas Johansen, but changed his name to Gustav Andrew Olson when he became a US citizen. My maternal grandmother, adopted as a child, adds yet another dimension to my search.

My family history is filled with stories. My father’s maternal great great grandfather, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, hosted Lincoln during his campaign at the family home in Augusta Illinois. According to legend, Lincoln once sat on the same piano stool that I loved to spin on as a child at my grandma’s house.Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Another of my forefathers fought with French Allies to defeat the British in the Revolutionary War. My great, great grandpa Aaron McKinzie witnessed General Lee’s surrender ending the Civil War when he fought for the Union’s Iowa’s 39th Infantry Regiment.

When I trace my lineage, one thread stands out. My ancestors were resilient. They endured tribal assaults, Spanish flu epidemics, world wars, Nazi Occupation, independence from oppressors and countless clan battles over territory in Scotland. From my hardy Norwegian relatives living above the Arctic Circle to the Mackenzie Clan reigning in the Scottish Highlands, my people had a fighting spirit and will to survive.

Perseverance became part of my bloodline. On bad days, when life feels like a struggle, I look to the stories of my ancestors for strength. Knowing who I am and where I come from gives me courage to keep fighting too. I only wish my grandma was still alive, so I could tell her our story, but her spirit lives on in me.