Written Acts of Kindness

On Thanksgiving Day, I dragged through the work feeling sad, wondering why bother to connect kids and cultures in my job as an international schoolteacher and ex pat blogger. I suffered from writer’s angst about my upcoming memoir publication. I missed my homeland, friends, and family, including both Big Kids now living in the States.  Like the November weather outside my window, a dense fog settled in my soul. Then I received an unexpected gift – the Written Acts of Kindness Award – from a friend I have never met personally.

Kathy and I took Dan Blank’s Build Your Author Platform Course  in 2011. Now we follow each other all over cyberspace! Kathy is a grandma on the go, retired family nurse practitioner, cancer survivor and inspiring writer, whose strong faith and sense of purpose comes through admirably on her blog site, Memoir Writer’s Journey. She is working on a memoir about the power of hope through her faith in God.Read more

Who Says Girls Can’t Get Dirty? Dad’s & Daughter’s Bond in Warrior Dash

As soon as I was old enough to walk, I was off running.  Before racing was fashionable for females, I dashed around the block of old East 19th Street neighborhood. In the winter, I ran circular laps around Jefferson, the first round school in town. In Jr. high, the coach let me run cross-country with the boys. In high school, when the law finally mandated equal opportunities for girls, I joined the track team.

Though my running days are long gone due to injuries, much to my delight my niece Marie was a runner. Though she no longer belongs to a team, she still enjoys a good race. Every July she competes in the Warrior Dash, a fun run where 600 runners lined up every half hour from 8am to 5 pm all weekend.

Her dad, Dick, a heart attack and cancer survivor, dedicated to fitness, joined her. After surgery in April to remove cancerous thyroid tumor, his goal was to run the Warrior Dash with his daughters. This type of cross-country run was fitting for his younger daughter, Hannah, a two time state championship rugby player, because it included army crawls and obstacles climbing.

Dick Carlson & John Pupkes coached daughters in team sports

Dick Carlson & John Pupkes coached daughters in team sports

The five-K run set on a ski slopes at Afton Alps Ski Resort in Minnesota was mostly uphill. Every 100 yards, an obstacle including a ten-foot high wall, had to be scaled by rope. Dick, ever the gentleman, sat on top of the wall to help women struggling to swing their bodies over the barrier. Then as soon as the contestants’ feet hit the ground, they crawled under barbed wire through mud.

“It gets tougher as you go cause your body is weighed down in muck,” Dick said, “and your feet slip and slide.”

But for Marie, a recent college graduate, the whole experience is “fun, fun, fun!”

To add to the gaiety, many competitors dressed in costume. At the end of the race, runners hosed off the mess and enjoyed a beverage, which for many was beer. Food booths sold chicken wings, turkey legs and hot dogs adding to the carnival atmosphere.

“Wear old clothes cause you’ll throw everything away,” Dick said, “except your shoes which are donated to charity.”

The entrance fee was $50 and competitors went home with T-shirts, buffalo warrior hats, participation medals, heads filled with pride and hearts bursting with joy.

“This year was better than last cause my friends ran,” Marie said, “ and so did my pops and sister!”

Thanks to Title IX dad coached daughters in soccer

Thanks to Title IX dad coached daughters in soccer

According to the fifty-six year old dad, “It takes a lot of upper body strength to climb over obstacles and the run uphill was much harder than I expected!

But Marie, insisted, “It was awesome! I can’t wait till next year!

If you love to run and roll in mud, check out this site http://www.warriordash.com/ to find the Warrior Dash in your area. Hit the treadmills and pump that iron! Work it this winter, so you can roll with the warriors next summer!

Gutsy Sonia Marsh Guest Blog

I always wanted to belong to a writer’s group, yet never felt I had enough talent to write nor stayed in place long enough to join. But when I moved abroad, Internet made everything possible; I have discovered hundreds of people out there driven to make a difference by sharing their journey and inspiring others through words. Serendipity of cyberspace.
From my blogging buddy, Kathy Pooler in Virginia, I met Sonia Marsh on the Californian coast. Sonia Marsh is known as a gutsy lady who can pack her carry-on and move to another country in a day
I am honored to have the opportunity to present Sonia Marsh in a Meet and Greet! And while you are still in the voting mode, please hop over to Gutsy Living and vote for my story.

As a teacher, mom and ex-pat, I know the perils of living outside one’s passport country and the challenges of parenting, I marvel at your guts. Before you recount your year in Belize, could you give readers a brief background of your nomadic childhood?

My first adventure started at the age of three months, when my Danish mom and English dad decided to raise me in Nigeria, a country in West Africa. There I grew up with a Great Dane to protect me from the occasional thief who broke into our family’s colonial house outside Lagos.

When I was six, we moved to Paris, and three years later, my parents sent me alone on a plane from Paris to Los Angeles to visit my cousins. I knew from that day on that I would live in California one day. After boarding school and University in the U.K., followed by internships and jobs in Glasgow, Brussels, Strasbourg and Paris, I wanted to see life in the U.S.

In 1983, I moved from Paris to California. I was twenty-five and knew I wanted to marry an American. At age 13, I was fascinated by NASA astronauts, and fell in love with their rich, deep voices. I knew I would marry an American man with an astronaut voice. I met my husband, Duke, in a “gutsy” way: I responded to an ad in a magazine. I fell in love with his voice first.

I’ve lived in Orange County, California since 1983, except for the year we uprooted our family and took our three sons to Belize, Central America.

Making any move with children is challenging, especially in the teenage years, what compelled you to do this?

Many things, all building up to a point where my husband and I couldn’t wait to leave Orange County’s

comforts and move to a hut on stilts in Belize. My husband was overworked and fed up with Los Angeles’ gridlocked freeways. He longed for adventure. I was fed up with our oldest son’s teenage defiance, peer pressures facing him, and the entitlement attitude of kids in our neighborhood. And lastly, I was selfish and wanted my own Caribbean paradise.

Did your boys continue academic programs during their time in Belize?

Our initial plan was to send our three sons to the local school in Corozal, northern Belize. All the guidebooks mentioned how good the schools were in Corozal, however, when we purchased the high school English language book, here’s what happened. (Excerpt from my memoir.)Read more

Basketball Lessons Transfer to Medical Career

When my daughter was born in Paris on a cool October day nearly three decades ago, I prayed for the strength to help make her resilient. No easy task as I was still enduring chronic pain from a car accident and I would be raising her in France in a cross-cultural marriage. As she grew, I dreamed of watching her run, jump and play. Like my dad once taught me, I showed her how to shoot baskets in the driveway and before long I was following her to games in the French and then later Swiss club leagues.

playing ball in apartment in Paris

playing ball in apartment in Paris

When Nat entered the international school, I coached her and her friends. Every time she came out of a game pouting about an elbow to the face or knee in the back I encouraged her to brush it off and get back in the action.

Was I pushing her too hard or not enough?

When I had her play one-on-one against a boy and he accidentally broke her ankle, I could’ve kicked myself. I always pressed the limits. Nat played with exercised induced asthma, so I subbed her out of games, insisting, “Breath, Nat, breath. But tell me as soon as you can go back in.”

In all fairness, what coach likes their 6’2” center to sit out? After all, I had been raised by get-up-and-walk-it-off father and grandfather coaches.

I never knew if what I said made sense to a girl growing up in Europe where the emphasis is less about winning and more about participating. What good were my lessons?

However after shining in the Swiss basketball league, as a freshman Nathalie moved to the States and as a college freshman played in the DIII Final Four tournament for University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point under Shirley Egner, who became the most decorated coach in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC).

mom & daughter share triumph & defeat

mom & daughter share triumph & defeat

The final game of Nat’s career ended in an upset. The athlete in her collapsed, but her fighting spirit will remain in the gym, another brick in the wall, forming the foundation of UWSP Pointer’s tradition. That athlete kicked the bleachers and cried in the shower, but the scholar in her rose early the next morning to ace the biochemistry exam.

I who once majored in “basketball,” floundered, searching for a career. So driven by my obsession with the game, I was lost when I could no longer play. My daughter knew instinctively that brains would outlast the body. Four days, after the disappointing end to her basketball career, Nat nailed her interview gaining admittance to the University of Minnesota Medical School.

But I will always remember that night when we stumbled off the purple and gold court at UWSP. I slipped my right arm around her waist as she draped her left arm over my shoulders. She leaned on me for support and I clung to her waist for balance; where my strength ended, her courage began. I drew on her calm, logical ability to see the big picture; she relied on my humor and spunk to make it through the moment. I marveled at her ability to memorize the chemical compositions of molecules, she admired my tenacity to keep fighting each day faced with debilitating pain. We are tougher, more resilient, and more compassionate because of each other.

When I was a child, women had no more chance of playing pro basketball than being CEOs, neurosurgeons or college professors. Yet during her college career, Nat guarded the superstar of Milwaukee School of Engineering, a woman whose job at NASA awaited her graduation. Nathalie became the first international player in the WIAC to receive the Scholar Athlete Award (2006-2007). She juggled the demands of academics, college basketball, and dual nationality, crossing between cultures. And in 2011 she took the Hippocratic Oath at University of Minnesota Medical School to become the first doctor in the family.

Today Dr. Lechault uses that same tenacity she learned on the basketball court to work incredibly long hours teaching adolescents good health habits, answering a pager in the middle of the night, calming distraught parents, and making tough, split second decisions in her work as a pediatrician. Happy Birthday, Nat, and hey, thanks for listening!

Med school grad

Med school grad

Inspirational Blog Award

Bear with me as if I go off topic on my post this week. Four years ago, my Frenchman suggested I start a blog to replace my old newspaper column. Little did he know what he was getting into! I enrolled in Dan Blank’s Blogging 101 and How to Build An Author Platform and became a part of a Virtual writing group. My blogging buddy and cyberspace friend extraordinaire, Kathy Pooler of Memoir Writer’s Journey has nominated me for the Inspirational Blog Award.

Inspiring Blog Award

Nominees are asked to list seven little-known facts about themselves and then pass this prize on to seven other deserving bloggers.

  1. I was bit by rabid skunk when I was 18-months-old; I haven’t been quite right since.
  2. I never carry a purse because it hurts my back.
  3. I dropped out of creative writing class in college because I thought I couldn’t write.
  4. I have Ledderhose Disease, (my first German-named ailment), a rare disorder where nodules grow in the arches of the feet.
  5. I wore high heels only once on my wedding day.
  6. I became a globetrotter, yet still confuse my right from my left and can’t read a map.
  7. My little sisters and I used to prance in front of the picture window in pink nighties; we still dance together, only now we call it aerobics.

Here are 7 of my favorite blogs that I recommend.

1. Authentic Woman – with Clara Freeman, who keeps me real, challenging me to follow my passion and listen to the voice of my inner warrior

2. Life in the Expat Lane –with Missy Footloose, the Dutch ex-pat whose humorous perspective on living everywhere but her homeland, keeps me laughing

3. Du Jour  – with Delana, a Minnesotan who pitched everything to start over in Provence France, keeps me in tune with my Frenchness

4. Coach Dawn – with Dawn Redd, Beloit College women’s volleyball coach, who gives me great coaching tips that can also be applied to real life

5. Self righteous Housewife –with Judy Zimmerman, the Erma Bombeck of suburbia, who keeps me chuckling over her family’s antics in the Windy City

6. One Big Yodel – with Chantal Panozzo, a young writer, who left her home of deep dish pizza for the land of cheese and chocolate

7. I also love Any Shiny Thing by my Californian friend, Lynne Spreen. Lynne has introduced me to a new blog worth checking out. Vonnie Kennedy’s Bloomer Notes Blog to help me stay healthy in my Middle Ages

Thanks to my global sisterhood of blogging buddies that keep me inspired!

As the guidelines go:

  • Link back to X-pat Files From Overseas
  • Reveal seven little-known facts about yourself
  • Nominate 7 of your favorite bloggers for the “Inspiring Blog Award”, contact the nominees and give them the guidelines.

Write on!

Stop Trash Talking Teachers

“If you can’t get a job, become a teacher. If you can’t teach, teach PE.”

A student told me a joke that he heard from his dad. Teachers get a bad rap.

Too many people see teaching as the fall back venue when more profitable career choices fail. No one ever enters the field for the pay, yet critics argue that overpaid teachers have too many vacation days.

Though poor teaching exists, do not dis teachers in front of me. My grandparents, parents, sisters, sister-in-laws, and many high school and college classmates dedicated their lives to educating youth.

Teachers give back to society with no string attached. My grandparents offered free room and board to athletes unable to afford college tuition, my parents provided meals before and after games, rides to and from extracurricular activities; and every summer, my sisters and I exchange professional development strategies.

teaching in the streets of Obernai (Alsace, France)

teaching in the streets of Obernai (Alsace, France)

Every teacher I know has lain awake at 4 am, wondering how to inspire students to calculate faster, write more accurately and read more comprehensively.

Each year, I learn how to teach another concept, in a new way, with the latest, greatest tech aid. All of which are programmed to DELETE personal contact at a time when society is moving so fast, few have time to attend to the real needs of the next generation of kids. Then once we alter everything, some guru of education develops a new groundbreaking theory that looks exactly like the model we used a decade ago.  In the end, like my mom knows, “everything I need to know, I really learned in kindergarten.”

Teachers may be our last link to kids, who are becoming increasingly more in sync with electronics and less tuned in to human beings.

Teachers are often blamed for society’s shortcomings, from children’s lower IQs and falling test scores, to lack of social skills. When the family disintegrates, the school is expected to pick up the slack by developing the children’s self-esteem and social graces that are no longer acquired in our homes and neighborhoods.

Cushy job? Summers off? Holidays a go-go? Teachers I know give up weekends, work late nights and put in overtime without pay. They do homework, grade papers on weekends, counsel kids during their planning time and coach on weeknights.

How does one measure the value of a good teacher? What test score reflects the life of every child successfully nurtured into adulthood through the guidance of an educator? TLC does not count on appraisals. No one is paid extra for kindness. Yet the teachers, who shaped my life, took the time to wipe away children’s tears, to console troubled adolescents and to stand in for kids when others couldn’t.

Ask a grown child who was the most significant mentor in their lives outside of family members, they will name a teacher or a coach.

My son, a senior at one of the Midwest’s best academic colleges, is studying to be a teacher. Yet teacher’s pension programs are depleted, salaries blocked, and stress levels are at an all time high. I applaud his career choice, for the greater the social instability, economic distress and global strive, the more our world need more bright, capable, caring teachers.

Teachers never get enough credit for the great lengths they go to to motivate kids!

Check this out! The Armstrong staff in a Minneapolis suburban school show support before homecoming, Shaker Heights educators in Greater Cleveland area use ingenuity to teach the Making of a Molecule, and teachers at my alma mater, Sterling High School, step up to stay on beat to the modern day demands of our profession before a Homecoming football game.  Let’s give it up to the teachers for getting down to inspire kids!