Visiting Cambridge Makes Me Feel Smarter

I went to Cambridge, the prestigious medieval university, only as a tourist, but boy did I get educated. Though my former students have attended these hallowed grounds, I felt like a dunce when I realized Cambridge was not one central institution, but actually 31 different colleges under the administrative umbrella of the University. The colleges, established between the 11th and 15th centuries, have unique, individual histories.

In 1209, after a dispute with the townspeople, scholars from Oxford University left and established Cambridge University 80 miles away. Today Cambridge is the second oldest English-speaking university and one of the top ranked institutes in the world.

But a visit to Cambridge entails more than just admiring the stately architecture of buildings spanning over 800 years. Part of the intrigue includes people watching from outdoor café’s, pubs and eateries that line the streets and on the boardwalk along the River Cam. Or do like we did, bring your own picnic and head for the park to truly savor the show.

Under a shaded spot near the tennis courts of the central park, we spread out blankets, baskets and baby and enjoyed the beehive of activity on a gorgeous spring day, amidst co-eds, families and friends of all ethnicities.We popped a bottle in Charlotte’s baby’s chubby cheeks, unwrapped the grown ups’ goodies and toasted our son and his fiancée in an eclectic picnic. Pigs in a blanket, pork and cheese rolls, salt & vinegar crisps (chips) were followed by sweets – brownies, French cakes – pink, chocolate and yellow frosted squares and strawberries.

After hearty appetizers, we walked around Cambridge stopping to take photos of historic spots like the Round Church, a city landmark. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, made of the same chalky limestone used throughout the city, remains one of only four medieval round churches in England.

Though this church is not affiliated with Cambridge University, the ecclesial influences can be seen in most of the old colleges, which boast of private chapels of architectural wonder.

The most famous, King’s College Chapel, is an example of late medieval architecture, and known for it stained glass windows whose refracted light creates incredible beauty under the vaulted ceiling. The chapel, a Tudor masterpiece, commissioned by Henry VII, was completed under Henry VIII reign.

Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, founded one of the oldest and largest colleges in Cambridge, St John’s, in 1509. Her crest appears over the main entrance to the college.

Peterhouse, founded in 1284, claims the title as the oldest college at Cambridge. Sidney Sussex College dating back to 1596 is the “youngest.”

Until 1869 Cambridge was only open to men. Girton College was founded for women in that year, to be followed two years later by Newnham. Churchill, Clare and King’s were the first previously all-male colleges to admit female undergraduates in 1972.

Cambridge’s former alumni include Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Lord Byron, Stephen Hawkins and other Nobel Laureates.

One of my brightest former basketball players attends Cambridge and I look forward hearing what it feels like to graduate from such a famous center of learning.

As for me, I felt smarter just strolling the streets of town and walking in the footsteps of some of our world’s finest scholars.

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.

Fine Art of Tidying Up for the Disorganized Brain

cluttered officePropensity for organization is an inherited gene, which I lack. Tidying up will never come naturally, but I thought reading Marie Kondo’sThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing would spur me into action.

That clever little Japanese lady created a brand name consultancy agency and reality TV show based on her KonMari Method to eliminate clutter. Combining philosophical wisdom, Japanese cultural traditions, and practical advice, she makes staying organized sound easy.

“The act of tidying is a series of simple actions in which objects are moved from one place to another that involves putting things away where they belong.”

Therein lies my problem. I truly believe books belong under my bed, words belong on paper everywhere and clothes belong on chairs (to eliminate folding.)

Ah, clothes tossing, a big no, no. Marie elevated folding clothes to an art form claiming, “Every piece of clothes has its own sweet spot.”

“By folding clothes,” she explained, “we transmit energy to the fabric and show appreciation for the way clothes support our lifestyle.”

Sun set on yet another day before I finished blessing all my favorite basketball T-shirts.T-Shirts party

It took an additional week to “energize” my closets by hanging items from heavy to light.

Following her crucial adage “sort by category not location” can be exceptionally challenging in compact Swiss homes where little rooms are stacked atop one another like Jenga blocks.

As a writer, you never know when the muse will strike, so we have a desk in our bedroom, the guestroom, the loft and the living area. Pencils, pens and papers litter every room except the bathroom. Little notebooks fill every coat pocket and drawer.

Worse yet, bookshelves abound in every available space including hallways. When Marie Kendo insisted books should be sorted by dumping them out on the floor, I wanted to cry. Laid out, my book collection could loop around the block twice. How can I limit my love of literature to a mere dozen Hall of Fame books?

To further add my dismay, she insisted that you keep your papers in one spot.

“Put your house in order and your life will change dramatically,” Marie Kondo claimed. “Effective tidying requires only 2 parts – discarding and deciding where to store things. Visualize your destination.”

I breathed deeply and meditated as instructed. But when I opened my eyes, I was still surrounded by the same damn mess.

I wanted to give up. Then a miracle occurred. After searching on 2 continents to no avail, I was convinced my prize boots had been confiscated by border control during one of those random luggage searches on a trans-Atlantic flight.

“No one would steal a pair of boots!” my husband exclaimed.

lost & found boots“It wasn’t any old footwear,” I whined. “They were new Vasque ultra dry, winter- proof boots guaranteed to keep toes warm up to 40° below and I only wore them twice!”

Miraculously, during my Japanese inspired cleaning frenzy, I found my “stolen boots” sitting on a shoe rack in our entryway where they had been hiding in plain sight for 2 years.

Bless you Mari Kondo.

Still I wonder if putting things where they belong only befuddles more so my chaotic brain.

French Mamie’s House in Trouville’s Historic Fishermen District

Mamie’s house overlooks the quay of Trouville, France, a fishing village where inhabitants exist in rhythm with the tides and the ebb and flow of tourists flooding her Normandy beach.

Mamie lives in the historic fishermen quarters on the Rue des Ecores, which dates from the mid 17th century when the quay was built. The houses once chiseled out of the cliff to accommodate fishermen reflected the maritime hierarchy. The sailors’ flats had one window and one floor, while the prosperous captains’ homes had windows on either side of the front door, and several floors.

The lower level of the building, filled with cafes, boutiques, and gift shops, opens to the bustling boulevard across from the open market on the Touques River. On the rue des Ecores up above, time froze; fishermen flats look the same as when they were first built. Wooden doors open to pencil-thin homes where rooms are stacked 6 stories high like building blocks.

On the narrow lane under number 55, the door opens into Mamie’s ground floor, which is actually the 3rd level of the building. On the left is her kitchen. Straight through the hallway to the dining/living area, French windows open to a balcony above the quay.

The windows on one side of the apartment face the colorful, lively, bright main street alongside the Touques River; the other side’s windows look onto the darker Rue des Ecores.

In the living room, a wooden dining table, the focus of any French home, consumes most of the space. A love seat, wedged next to the oak, Normand cupboard filled with Mamie’s old wedding china, faces the TV, perched in a corner. Though compact, the 10 x 14 foot room expanded to squeeze another chair around Mamie’s table where family and friends were always welcome to dine on Normandy’s finest fare from land and sea.

In between the two rooms, a steep, winding staircase, coils like a snake, from one floor to the next. The stairway is so tight that furniture had to be brought up by crane and passed through the windows.

On her second floor landing, there is a water closet and 2 bedrooms. In Mamie’s room stands a wardrobe of fine Normand craftsmanship passed down from ancestors. On the floor above that, are a bath and two more small bedrooms where we always stayed. Each morning I threw open the shutters savoring a birds eye view of the river, fish market, and casino. The very top floor under the mansard roof once held Papie’s old workbench and hanging tools.

Every nook and cranny remained filled with mementos triggering happy memories from Mamie’s giant dinner bell, to her French cartoon collection, to her lumpy, duvet covered beds. Artwork and photographs, showing the chronology of marriages, birthdays, baptisms, and graduations, covers every inch of wall space.

Whenever we left, driving away down Main Street, Mamie and Papie stood on the wrought iron balcony waving goodbye and blowing kisses.

The historic landmark, Rue des Ecores, endures as the center of the fishermen district, just as Mamie’s place remains forever as the heart of our French family.

Illinois Basketball Museum Commemorates Love of Game

Basketball symbolizes Illinois as much as sweet corn, the red bird and Abe Lincoln.

Generations of farm kids grew up shooting at hoops nailed above barn doors. City kids learned resiliency playing street ball on concrete courts in the ‘hood. Thousands of student athletes remember cheering and charging across the hardwood inspired by the American national anthem at tip off.

The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) wants to commemorate this history by building our own museum along the famous route 66 in Pontiac, but it will take a team effort to get the foundation laid.[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvqld8Vu5wI[/embedyt]

Illinois’ stars could easily fill the galleries from shot blocking, hook shooting legendary pioneer George Mikan to Doug Collins, former Illinois State University star, NBA player and coach, to Michael Jordan’s stellar Chicago Bulls era. Female standouts such as Olympians Charlotte Lewis (1976), gold medalists Cathy Boswell (1984) and WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks superstar Candace Parker (2008, 2012) also deserve a spot.Illinois Basketball

My family holds a tiny piece of the legend. My grandpa, “Coach Mac,” a 7x hall of famer, led his Northern Illinois University teams to three Little 19/IIAC crowns in the 1940s. My dad, Jim McKinzie, a NIU Hall of Fame athlete was named on the All-Decade Team and All-Century Team for his contributions as a guard in the 1950s.

When I was growing up, girls were shunned from sports, but with athleticism as a birthright, I fought to be allowed in the game.  In the infancy of Title IX, I blazed a my own trail as the first athletic scholarship recipient to Illinois State before playing professionally in the first Women’s Basketball League (WBL) then for teams in France and Germany.

My hometown, Sterling, also played a significant role. My dad co-coached the Sterling High School team that included my younger sister, which went 21-0 and won the first IHSA state girls cage title (1976-77) hosted by Illinois State.

Three generations and four family members have been inducted into IBCA Hall of Fame – my grandfather, Ralph McKinzie, as a coach (1976), my dad and sister, Karen, as part of the championship team (2004) and me as a player (2005).

The list of Illinois’ basketball greats goes on from players, to officials, to coaching dynasties from Toluca High School’s Chuck Rolinski and Ray Meyer’s 42-year stint (1942-1984) at DePaul University to extraordinary fans like Sister Jean (Jean Delores Schmidt). The 98-year-old nun, a beloved member of the Loyola basketball community, who exemplifies our lasting bonds with favorite teams.

But no one in the state has done more for the game than Jill Hutchison. In a legacy spanning 28 seasons as Illinois State University’s head basketball coach, Hutchison was co founder and first president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

To appreciate her impact, we must remember how far we have come. Hutchison’s master thesis proved that a woman’s heart wouldn’t explode by running the fast break. This led to a change in rules – instead of a six-player half court game to the full court five-player game.

As tournament director for the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), she helped establish the regions and the qualifying process for the first national tournament in 1971-1972, which was nearly identical to the regions used in the NCAA today.

At ISU, a powerhouse of womIllinois Basketballen including Hutchison advocated for women even before the 1972 Title IX enactment mandated equal opportunities in academics and athletics.

“Cultural change is slow, slower than you ever want it to be. And that’s what Title IX was—a cultural change, not just for athletics. Females…crossing the gender barrier, that was huge,” Hutchison said.

So often, the pioneers’ accomplishments are overlooked because history is not always recorded as it is being made, especially when the people in power are against the change. A museum could correct this oversight.

Like so many hailing from the Land of Lincoln, a love of basketball reflects my heritage.

Illinois basketball not only influenced me, it also shaped American history.

Find out more about how to help build Illinois Basketball Museum here.