Sterling Memories – Hometown Imprinted in Heart

Sterling Memories - Hometown Imprinted in HeartNo matter how far we have moved away, those stellar Sterling memories of our hometown remain imprinted in our hearts forever.

We grew up in a blue collar town founded on the Rock River and fueled by the steel industry. From Hezekiah Brink’s simple log cabin built in 1834 in one of the most fertile areas on earth, the small farm community grew to a bustling metropolis, a bedrock of manufacturing and steel once nicknamed the Hardware Capital of the World. During the late 19th and early 20th century, Sterling expanded quickly with the founding of Northwestern Steel & Wire, Lawrence Brothers Hardware, and the Wahl Clipper Corporation.

Most of us kids raised in the 60s and 70s came from modest families. We grew strong raised on powdered milk, baked potatoes, string beans, tomatoes, and whatever else we could grow in our garden. Everybody’s mama knew how to make hamburger a hundred different ways. Baloney on day old Wonder Bread became a lunch staple.

We obeyed rules. We never skipped school. We rarely swore. The only thing we ever stole was third base in sandlot baseball. We attended church on Sunday, said please and thank you for every little thing, and politely requested to be excused from the table. We were never dismissed from dinner without finishing our milk and clearing our plates.

Newly invented black and white TVs became popular during that era, but the picture was so poor and choice of channels so limited that no one became a couch potato. Too many more interesting adventures awaited outside our windows. Back yards were for ball games; neighborhoods became parks where we explored. The only bullets we dodged were imaginary ones from our cowboy rifles. Playing outside was safe even after the street lights came on.

Like food and clothes, toys were limited too, so from an early age we learned to take turns and share. Riding a bicycle was a rite of passage. A driver’s permit a sacred privilege. As soon as we were old enough to push a lawnmower or babysit a toddler, we were earning our own money and learning to save our pennies.

Sterling Memories - Hometown Imprinted in HeartThe highlight of our childhood was entering the halls of the Sterling High School, a red brick building that looks every bit as stately as an Ivy League School. The SHS sports facilities put small colleges to shame.

We were proud to fill our trophy cases with championships and cover our fieldhouse walls with conference banners. Although half of us were forbidden to play competitive sports pre Title IX, once that law passed in 1972 our school became one of the first to provide equal opportunities regardless of gender and race.

Between Westwood, Duis Center, the YMCA, Sinnissippi and a dozen other Sterling Memories - Hometown Imprinted in Heartparks we learned to play early on. We never realized how spoiled we were in terms of public recreational centers. Today our high school sports facilities are so outstanding opponents kiddingly call us Sterling U. The recently renovated stadium looks stunning.

Traditionally we catered to our strong football teams of boys who now have the luxury of playing under the lights on astroturf. Back in my day we ran on a cinder track but today, local kids continue to break records on DuWayne Dietz all weather, royal blue running track. But no thrill was greater than watching those Golden Girls basketball players making history as Illinois 1st ever State Champions back in 1977. With the steel industry dying, the economy failing, the town struggling, that team united the community and inspired hope.

Sterling Memories - Hometown Imprinted in HeartNow half a century later walking down the streets of my childhood, the single story ranch homes with one car garages look like match box houses.The soil has settled and the foundations appear to be sinking, the sidewalks shrinking. Trees, mere saplings during our youth, now form a canopy over the street.

After living abroad for nearly half a century, it is hard to imagine going back home. So many of us moved away for education, employment, love, and family, but we all look back fondly and agree Sterling was a good place to grow up. Our heartstrings remain strongly attached to our old hometown and a way of life where solid values were instilled and we knew right from wrong. Mainstreet remains the heart of America, and the memory of Sterling still beats strong in ours.

Swimming Hope Laps for Serenity

When discouraged as a child I would play ball until my mood lifted. Now as an adult, as I face down demons and depression from a disease that threatens to defeat me and from alarming, discouraging world events, I swim in defiance. I swim hope laps for serenity. I can’t hurt myself in water. Without the pressure of gravity pulling on my knees, back, shoulders, I glide through the water weightlessly pain free. In my darkest moments, I swim. I would rather shoot hoops, climb mountains, run marathons, but illness and injury make those options impossible. Instead I swim. If I can still swim, I can hang onto hope for a better day.

I would much rather swim with sisters in open water than alone in public pools. It’s boring swimming from one end to the other, so instead of counting laps I say prayers. After a few times down and back, slapping the water in fury, fuming over my personal state and my trials, I shift my focus to others that I know are facing even greater challenges. Each length I think of someone else.

I backstroke down one lap focusing on my French sister-in-law and niece who are struggling, and my uncle who underwent emergency brain surgery after a fall. Then down a lap for my mom who is the caregiver and back one for my dad whose heart and legs grow weaker from neuropathy. Down a length for another uncle who lost his wife and back for my cousin who lost her mom.

I breaststroke for my brother-in-law who still suffers from a car accident that injured his neck. I breaststroke for my student whose mom battles cancer. I swim for my friend on dialysis, for my friend with leukemia, for my friend fighting depression.

Then my circle of thoughts widens to reflect on the world. I swim for the people caught in the crossfire of nature’s wrath. For the victims of wildfires in California, for the folks in Texas, Alabama, Florida, Puerto Rico, whose homes have been decimated by hurricanes, for the Mexicans suffering in the aftermath of earthquakes. And I freestyle harder and faster in frustration and despair for the innocent victims of man made violence, for the families whose lives were shattered instantly in the Las Vegas mass shooting and terrorist attacks in London, Paris, Brussels, Mogadishu and elsewhere around the globe.

I don’t have to look far to see someone far worse off facing even greater obstacles.

Swimming puts my problems in perspective.

I inhale serenity, exhale anger, inhale tranquility, exhale anxiety, inhale calm, exhale hostility.

Maybe we should all take to the water in prayer to sooth our troubled souls and focus on bringing serenity to mankind.

Breath in hope. Breath out hate.

May peace be with you today.

Loving Trees Especially in Autumn

Loving Trees Especially in AutumnI fell in love with trees at an early age. Even today as I gaze upwards, watching branches sway in the breeze, I wonder if trees could talk what stories they would tell as they watched generations of children grow up under their boughs. The majesty of centuries old trees symbolizes longevity and continuity of life.

For someone who grew up spending summers in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, I should be more knowledgeable about trees. Though I can distinguish a birch from a maple, I had no idea the number of species of each: maples –Amur, black, mountain, Norway, red, silver, striped, and sugar; birch – heart leaved, paper, river, weeping, and yellow.

My oh my… ash, beech, elm, locust, oak…sumac, sycamore, walnut, willow there is a tree for nearly every letter in the alphabet and every fruit on the planet –apple, cherry, peach, pear and plum. I am not sure I could identify ONE hawthorn; yet, there are 17 different kinds. Not to mention dozens of different kinds of needled trees like balsam, cedar, hemlock, pine and spruce à go go.

How did I not know this?

Like most people I take trees for granted most of the time, expecting them to shade me in hot, sultry summers and dazzle me with colors in the fall. Perhaps, because of their abundance when I was a child, I overlooked their value.

As an adult my appreciation for trees grew even greater especially when I lived in cities. In Paris, carefully pruned majestic trees lined parks and boulevards, but they rarely grew in the overpopulated apartment blocks where I started raising my family. Even now in Switzerland, trees flourish in the foothills of the mountains, but in urban areas they are more limited.

Loving Trees Especially in AutumnNowhere do trees grow more densely than in the upper Midwest in the forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Nowhere is autumn’s festival of colors more brilliant. The soft blending of red, orange, and gold reflected on a lake in autumn looks like an impressionist painting.

No matter where you live taking time to admire the trees is good for you. Europeans have always appreciated health benefits of walking. When I lived in Germany with my college age friends, we used to go spazieren gehen in the woods near our apartments. In France, a Sunday walk through the parks is also a favorite tradition.Loving Trees Especially in Autumn

Now researchers tout facts that I’ve known for years: walking in nature is good for your health. I have always turned to the trees for solace.

Of course, there is a slight downside to being a tree owner. Homeowners are tasked with burden raking leaves. The pull, turn, and twist movement is not good for a bad back, but on a crisp, sunny fall day with leaves twirling all around, floating to the ground, the beauty of nature makes the work worth the effort.

What about you?

Loving Trees Especially in Autumn

Have you slowed down long enough to hug a tree today?

My Minnesota Lynx Win WNBA Championship

Minnesota Lynx Win WNBA ChampionshipHow do I put into words my emotions at being part of a packed arena of WNBA Minnesota Lynx fans cheering for women playing basketball? Almost 40 years after my teammates and I played ball with empty stomachs in empty arenas in the fledgling WBL, the first women’s pro league, I witnessed the first game of a WNBA final series between the nation’s 2 best teams.

The Lynx hosted the LA Sparks in front of 11,823 fans electrifying historic Williams Arena (University Minnesota) known as the “Barn.” Four league MVPs –Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Nneke Ogwumike – and Alana Beard, defensive MVP, matched up on the floor to compete.

From the moment I entered the arena, I felt like a star, as I pulled on my complimentary 2017 MVP Sylvia Fowles T-shirt draped over my seat. Before tip off as tradition, fans stood until the Lynx scored their first basket. Only they didn’t score.

The Lynx started the game with a 28-2 point deficit and clawed their way back into the game. In the final minutes, the score ricocheted back and back forth and noise reached a crescendo.

The Barn rocked. The roar deafened. The intensity grew. In the end, my Lynx lost by one point on a fade away jumper by Chelsea Gray in the last 3 seconds. My disappointment was short-lived; they were all winners in my book exemplifying what it means to be champions.

Using sport as a platform to bring about positive change, and in solidarity with the NFL, LA Sparks stayed in the locker room for the national anthem and the Lynx players stood and faced the American flag with their arms locked together in unity.

The athleticism of players like Maya Moore, hanging in the air with Jordanesque moves, or Sylvie Fowles ripping the ball off the glass was stunning; their ability to defy age was equally commendable. With a median age of 30.7 Lynx players, the oldest average in league, showed the young bloods, they still got game.Minnesota Lynx Win WNBA Championship

Nowhere I’d rather to be than Lynx home court. Where else are we offered such wholesome entertainment?

In “our house” we put our differences aside and people of every age, race, and religious affiliation share a moment of good, clean fun. We sang, we danced, we chanted, we waved rally towels, we held our breath in suspense.

For me seeing kids wearing Lynx jerseys emblazoned with favorite players’ names brought the greatest joy. In the children’s eyes dreams sparkled. Today no girl grows up feeling like a misfit, an oddball, or a loser for being big, strong, and athletic. She knows that she belongs on the court, in the classroom, and at the head of the company.

The subliminal girl power message was not lost on me a Title IX pioneer who fought so hard for the right to participate in “boys” games.

How fitting that I should watch the game with my little sister and my daughter. After each great play, Karen fist bumped me with her 1977 first ever girls’ Illinois state basketball championship ring. My daughter, who developed the perseverance playing ball to reach her dream to become a doctor, pumped her fist.Minnesota Lynx Win WNBA Championship

Dreams my generation made possible.

Nearly four decades after women’s pro basketball made its floundering debut and failed, we finally triumphed.

“You done good sister,” Karen said squeezing my hand. “Look what you started, what we started.”

In an epic series, the Lynx would go on to win game five of in front of a sold out crowd at the Barn making history as 4 time national champions.

Unbeknownst to all, I was with them every step of the way

Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car KeysMy dad loved to drive and ever the teacher, his road trips offered us a remarkable education. In a time when most American families rarely crossed the state line, Dad drove us cross country to see the sites and to visit cousins. The best schooling I received was from the smudged windows of our 1962 Rambler when we left our Midwestern flatlands for trips across the Wild West and sun-baked south as we crisscrossed America’s endless blue highways.

Dad instilled the wanderlust in each of us and though I missed the significance of Mt. Rushmore and Cape Canaveral, I understood more about my country than the textbooks divulged. Our trip to the racially divided Deep South left a far greater lasting impression than Disneyland or the Hollywood Studios.

Dad gave us rides to school and shuttled carloads of giggling girls to the pool, the gym, the dance. He drove me to track meets, basketball games, and gymnastic lessons. Later when my athletic body was crippled from injury and accidents, he drove me to doctors and chiropractors while I rested my aching back riding flat « in my crib » the back seat of the van.

For a time Dad taught Sterling High School freshman rules of Illinois’ roadway in behind the wheel driver’s ed. classes. But his children and grandchildren learned how to drive on the back roads of Wisconsin. He showed us how to parallel park, check that rear view mirror and drive defensively. Always.

Dad, a good driver, never received a citation. He was only stopped once when he swerved in traffic distracted by his darn back seat drivers shouting, « Stop, Dad- there’s a 7 Eleven. Slurpees! »

His only accident involved hitting a deer, which cheeseheads proclaim is a prerequisite for flatlanders to earn honorary Wisconsinite status. Oh yeah, and he once sideswiped a cow crossing the road. Cars have the right away, so the cow got the ticket and the farmer apologized.

Dad drove his aging father across country to visit relatives in Oklahoma, to the cabin  summer holidays and back and forth forth from Eureka to Sterling so he could share Thanksgiving and Christmas with family. He loyally drove beloved Coach Mac to every Northern Illinois University baseball reunion and to see his granddaughter’s Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keysbasketball games at Illinois State University.

When my dad failed his eye test just before his 86th birthday, his peripheral vision compromised, he returned to the parking lot, gave his daughter the thumbs down, handed over the keys and took his new place riding shotgun.

He did not grumble, complain, become cantankerous, argue with his children, or yell at the optometrist. Instead with a heavy heart, he hung up his keys.

In doing so, he showed us how to age with dignity.Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

This summer together we poured over the maps of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Tennessee and every other state he once visited. In a shaky hand, he traced lines across France, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway – all the places he once traveled. We reminisced about trips he took, roads he drove, and people he met.

Now it’s my turn to take the wheeI. Though I can’t read maps and confuse left and right, with Dad riding shotgun I will never get lost.

Happy Birthday Dad…it has been a heck of a ride.

Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

 

How to Survive a Summer Shingles Attack

shingles treatmentI was sailing through summer vacation minding my own business, staying out of trouble, then it hit like a tsunami – shingles attacked my spine. Shingles? What me ? I thought only old people got shingles. Well hello, reality check, I am old.

Consequently, I have been off-line and out of commission. Everyone over the age of 50 has a shingles tale to tell. With me, it started feeling like the inside of my left arm was sun burnt and bruised, then came the shooting pains down my arm and into my rib cage. But the worst symptom was upper back pain so excruciating, I thought I had herniated a spinal disk. For five nights, when pain woke me, I took Tylenol 3 and slept on an ice pack.

When I explained the throbbing, burning pain and phantom itching to my daughter, a doctor, she immediately suspected shingles, but the telltale rash didn’t appear until several days later. Fortunately my outbreak was under my arm and not near my face because shingles around the eye can cause vision loss.

Remember those awful chicken pox you had as a child ? Well, they can come back to haunt you in the form of a nasty, strip of blisters that appears only on one side of your torso or face. Once infected the varicella-zoster virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Shingles affects nerve roots causing burning, itching, throbbing pain, headache, and blistering skin. Due to a weakened immune system or stress, the virus can reactivate.

Each of the nerve roots that supply sensation to your skin run in predictable pathways on each side of your body called dermatomes. Shingles usually affect a single dermatome. In my case, pain stemming from the C8 dermatome shot across my left shoulder-blade, down the arm and into my left pinky and ring finger.shingles attack

I am not a specialist but after my own personal experience here is what I recommend.

  • Call your doctor as soon as you suspect shingles.
  • Get on an antiviral – acyclovir, valacyclovir, famciclovir -which can reduce the pain and duration.
  • Stock up on calamine lotion, creams containing capsaisin or lidocaine, or topical antibiotics
  • Try ice packs, baking soda pastes and other home remedies to ease the itching and burning.
  • This is no time to gallantly suffer in silence – take a pain-killer.
  • Better yet, get vaccinated. Zostavax is recommended for people age 60 and over.

shingles vaccineFrom the fluish fatigue, to raging pain, to constant discomfort, shingles is no fun. Hopefully I won’t develop postherpetic neuralgia, which causes the lingering pain long after the blisters disappear due to damaged nerve fibers that send exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain.

Alas, misery loves company. Do tell. Have a shingles horror story you’d like to share ?