There is no place like home

The warm reception that I received from my hometown after the release of my book, Home Sweet Hardwood, was magical and filled with surprises.

My old college roommate planned to drive out from Chicago, but her  job interview ran late and she knew she would miss my talk at the library. Amy drove out anyway and came to the house after my speaking engagement. We picked up right where we left off 25 years ago.Image 2

Rocky, a Native American, was the first journalist to write about the first sanctioned girls’ basketball games in Illinois in the early 1970s, at a time when media coverage was nonexistent. He read the book and rated it right up there with his favorite book,  To Kill A Mockingbird

My friend, Phil, told me that he stayed up all night to read it. « The Willie Mayes story and the Pat McKinzie story were the only books I ever finished. » He ranked me right up there with the greatest.

Ray Torres saw the write up about me in the paper, called the house, and asked if he could bring his 12-year-old granddaughter, a talented softball player, out to meet me and sign a book. He brought the whole family. Madison told me about how she trained year round for her sport and  I got to shake hands with an AAU champion, who reminded me of me at that age.

At a lunch date at Angelos with the friends I made in gradeschool – and still keep in contact with today – my oldest, most loyal supporters cheered for the success of my book in the same way that they once applauded my efforts on the court.

the Home Team

the Home Team

My family attended every function with me. One sister drove out from Chicago, another from Minneapolis. My parents, in their 80s, beamed from the front row as I spoke. Sue ran the powerpoint, Karen sat at the back of the room and waved if my voice faded. They made cookies for the library social, carted books to events, picked out my wardrobe, listened to me stumble through my speech umpteen times and shared in the joy and celebration of my life long dream.

The members of the Rotary Club and Kiwanis Club honored me by inviting me to speak at their organizations. It tickled my funny bones to think that the very groups that had denied women access  until the 80s gave me center stage to recount my history of growing up in the 1970s and being excluded from America’s playing fields, but today’s members were welcoming and supportive.

Readers of all ages and walks of life told me how they laughed and cried as they turned the pages and felt inspired by my fighting spirit.

“You can’t know where you are going until you understand where you have been.”  I said in my speeches. “In all my wanderings I have always known that I am a McKinzie, a Sterling Golden Warrior, a product of the Land of Lincoln.

After hearing me speak, reporter Ty Reynolds wrote in the Sterling Gazette, “Meet the woman. Read her story. Tell me she wasn’t as good a storyteller as she was basketball player. I dare you.”

All these touching tributes reminded me that the real reward in writing a book is not the fleeting fame or  any financial success, it is about connecting with people one word at time.

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How Title IX Changed my Life

Celebrate the 41st anniversary of Title IX today.

First posted March 4, 2013 by Generation Fabulous, women writing about women’s issues, as part of the launch for their new site.

Illinois State University lead nation in promoting women's sports

Illinois State University lead nation in promoting women’s sports

For the last fifty some years, I have been listening to people tell me NO!

I ain’t listening no more!

I grew up on the sideline begging to play ball like the boys. The first half of my life, I fought to be allowed on America’s playing fields. In 1972, when Title IX passed mandating equal opportunities for girls, I set the standard for the first girl’s basketball team in my high school. In 1978, I received the first athletic scholarship in Illinois to play basketball for Jill Hutchinson at Illinois State University. Jill, co-founder and first president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, was a pioneer, who helped raise women’s college basketball to its current level of popularity.

I co-founded the first girl’s summer basketball camp in the Sauk Valley Region of Northern Illinois, so other girls in my area wouldn’t have to go to a boy’s camp like I did.

In 1979, I was drafted into the first Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL.)  The general public pooh-poohed the notion and unfortunately the league folded due to lack of funds and interest

Then I was recruited to play overseas, but after a year in Paris, non-European women were banned from the professional French league.

So I crossed the border and found my dream team in Marburg Germany.

Kabooom!

A car accident in France ended my career. Instantly.

I started over. Again. But first I had to learn to walk. Eventually, I taught at international high schools and coached girl’s and sometimes boy’s basketball teams. But what I really coveted was a writing career. In my free time, I wrote a newspaper column, and sports, and travel pieces, but traditional papers were dying. I should know. I married a French printer. He suggested that I start a blog.

Decades ago, I wrote my first book and signed with a big name agent, but publishers said that no one was interested in women’s basketball. Another half a dozen years passed, I worked up my courage, wrote another book and finally landed another high-flying agent. Once again, publishers said no thanks; I was not a not big enough name. Undaunted, I wrote yet another draft, interested a third agent, but it was still no go.

I felt like a loser. I moped. I swore. I cried. I kicked the wall. Then I picked up the pen again.

I do not take no for answer.

Damn it! You want something done, do it yourself!

Persistence pays off. A decade later, after another couple dozen drafts, I present to you, Home Sweet Hardwood: A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball.

Illinois State University - 1978

Illinois State University – 1978

With a firsthand account of the monumental Title IX ruling, my book serves as an inspiring lesson in women’s history, but it is more than just a sports story. From expatriate life to cross cultural marriage to motherhood, Home Sweet Hardwood touches on the transitions every woman makes as she bridges the gaps between genders, generations and cultures.

Now you tell me, where would I be now if I gave up a half century ago when the powers that be, said, No!

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A Daughter’s Homecoming Brings Sunshine to Switzerland

My Frenchman and I stand at the Geneva airport, gazing through the glass windows at the crowd milling around the luggage carousel. Our daughter, towering above the Europeans, slings a duffel over her shoulder and strides through customs with a tired grin, dropping her bag to hug her dad.

Baby Nat with grandparents

Baby Nat with grandparents

How many miles must one travel to connect generations between separate continents? Nearly three decades ago,  I cradled my Franco-American newborn in my arms during a 4,000 mile journey, 500 mph, 30,000 feet over the Atlantic. What was I thinking?  My anxiety melted the moment I stepped through customs at O’Hare airport and witnessed her grandparents’ joy. For the next 5 summers until cousins were born the McKinzie’s first grandchild was spoiled like an only child by her aunts and uncle.

proud little girl on the beach

happy little girl on the beach

How many road trips were made to Trouville in a pilgrimage to

Trouville in the spring

Trouville in the spring

Normandy and the other side of her heritage? In the thousand year old village on the English Channel, time stood still, frozen in the spindly, brick, 5-story fisherman flats lining the cobblestone quays. Here, Mamie and Papie raised their first grandchild on fish and fresh crème, the finest offering of France’s dairyland where sea and soil marinate to perfection.

Years after our first trans-Atlantic flight, my daughter landed back in Europe. Sunshine blinked through clouds in Switzerland for the first time in weeks, as old man winter finally lifted his heavy, gray veil. As we walked and talked, my footsteps felt lighter, as we wined and dined, the strawberries tasted sweeter, hinting at spring.

In a reversal of roles, now my daughter tucks me in at night. Sprawled under my duvet, we reminisce about her childhood where we weathered the storms of relocations and separations as we traveled to distance lands in our imagination on a 4-poster bed in make-believe. Today, we discussed books and babies (she is a pediatrician) and child development and teaching, language acquisition and writing.

Then in a blink we are back at the Geneva airport waving goodbye choking back tears, our hearts heavy. Our daughter flies home to her children’s hospitals in the Twin Cities, where she answers her pager at all hours. She cares for infants, speaking French to West African immigrants and conducts wellness visits for Spanish families. She reassures frightened foreigners, breaks down medical jargon into layman’s terms and magically calms fussy toddlers.

“She is so far away! Don’t you miss her?” my friends here ask. Others wonder, “How could you let her go?”

Ah, but just as my mom taught me, I know that “a child is a gift on loan from God.” Our daughter belongs to the world. She is where she is supposed to be, doing what she was destined to do.

We are together,
My child and I,
Mother and child, yes,
But sisters really
Against whatever denies
Us all that we are.
Alice Walker

Over the years, watching her grow strong, we invested thousands of dollars in education and traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, thousands of meters above sea level from Switzerland to Minnesota. The precocious little girl who grew up loving water settled in the Land of 10,000 Lakes where the trees grow tall and the skies are blue.sailing in Wisconsin

Can you put a price tag on family ties?

Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from lovin’ you.

No matter how great the distance, can you ever truly sever the cord connecting a mother to her child?

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Night Birthday Celebration in the Swiss Jura Mountains

One snowy February night, members of my department gathered at the Jura mountain pass Col de Givrine (1320 meters) connecting Switzerland and France for a “midnight balade” to celebrate one colleagues 50th and another’s 40th birthday.

In French, balade means an excursion for distraction to relax and get fresh air. One of the benefits of living in Europe is that people slow down from equally frantic lives and take time out to recharge their batteries with fun and exercise.

An eclectic group of British ladies, 3 Frenchmen, two Americans, a woman from Marseilles, a Canadian, a Swiss, and a gregarious Scotsman gathered together on a snow bank, bundled in parkas, snow pants, and snowshoes. Designated scouts wore helmets with flashlights to guide us on the trail under inky black skies.

Due to my health issues I rarely go outdoors to play, but they insisted that the dark conditions were ideal for me, so I wouldn’t have to wear my sun-blocking, movie star shades. My friends swore it was a short, flat walk; it ended up being a one-hour steady climb uphill. But I couldn’t turn back without getting lost.

I used ski poles for balance; if I veered off the path, I sunk up to my knees in snow. My Frenchman moaned the whole way because his knee hurt; I was too short-winded to moan. When I thought I couldn’t take another step, one of the birthday girls announced, “Time for the aperitif.” She pulled a bottle from her packback and stuck it the in the snow. She dug out cup holders in the snow bank and filled cups with the white wine creating an open-air mini bar. When the stragglers caught up, we toasted to the birthday girls in a clearing surrounded by white, velvet-covered evergreen.

birthday toast in the Jura mountains

birthday toast in the Jura mountains

We forged ahead around the next bend to the “restaurant,” La Vermeilley, technically, a reconverted herders shed. We parked our snowshoes on the snow-covered picnic tables at the entryway. Inside red and white tablecloths covered wooden tables lined with benches. A finger-thawing fire crackled from the fireplace. A waiter set plates of viande des grison (dried beef) and bowls of pickles on the table. Then the owner brought out steaming fondue pots filled with the special 3-cheese blend mixed with wine. We dipped chunks of thick, white, country bread into the pot and ate with gusto.

birthday girls

birthday girls

Several of my colleagues, former rugby players, chanted, engaging the participation of the other half a dozen tables filled with hearty, physically fit men and women. When we got up to leave, my head of department, a fun loving Scotsman, started singing a rendition of Patricia, the best stripper in town, so I pseudo danced tossing off my mittens and scarf to the applause of the merrymaking partiers. The ambiance all evening was exceptional with strangers joining in our shouting, “Hip, hip hurrah!”

The hike back down the mountains was equally enchanting. Snow-covered pines loomed in the foreground, while  stars twinkled overhead. I felt as if I were in another world. I stumbled down the path, savoring nature’s austere elegance. Then my Frenchman drove us back down the mountain. When we arrived home, I peeled off 5 layers of clothes and collapsed into bed. I woke up early the next morning, cloaked in warm memories and smelling of barn animals and cheese.

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Tall American Squeezes into Small Country

Whenever I step aboard the return flight to Switzerland, I feel like Alice in Wonderland falling through the hole into the land of miniature. I have an 8-hour flight to transition to what awaits on the other side of the Atlantic. I squeeze my 5’10” frame into compact seats designed for dwarfs. I eat baby-sized servings with doll-sized spoons on a mini tray.

In the Geneva airport, I tower above Europeans while lugging baggage twice as big as and three times heavier than theirs. Not all expats are hoarders, but like many of my compatriots living overseas, I bring back as much of the homeland as possible, hence my bags are laden with Tootsie Pops, cake mixes, chocolate chips and other American staples.

When the taxi pulls up in front of our twin house, my husband leans out the window to announce, “Oops, honey, I shrunk the house.”

Switzerland is a “petite” country; the price of real estate is premium. There are no sprawling ranch homes or suburban mansions here. Our yard is the size of a postage stamp. Surface wise our ground floor is no bigger than an American garage. But we are lucky we have four floors stacked like baby’s colored building blocks. It’s great! This way I don’t need a gym membership; my home is a StairMaster.

kitchen

kitchen

Our kitchen is three-square meters. The refrigerator is smaller than the mini bars in most American hotels. The fridge, stove, and sink are within an arm’s length, so I can remove foodstuff, sauté veggies and wash dishes simultaneously. But I rarely do any one of the three. It is a one-butt kitchen, and I am always the first volunteer to butt out.

Europe has a different scale of measurement and I am not talking metric here. Cupboards are more like the size of American drawers. Walk in closets? Forget it. My sister’s Barbie wardrobe was bigger. Appliances are also more compact. Our microwave fits in a kitchen cupboard. The washing machine holds five articles of clothing or the equivalent of two American sweatshirts.Read more

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