LAX Coach Provides Metaphors for Life and Politics

Metaphor: a symbol of something abstract

The last game of the University of Idaho 2016 lacrosse season was a loss to Boise State University. For a loosing season, however, there were a lot of wins.  The Lacrosse End-of -Year Banquet turned out to be one of the most surprising wins from my vantage point.  This was a season that took great fortitude. Fourteen young men played 12 games against teams in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) from much larger, better funded programs such as Simon Fraser, Canada (lacrosse is the national sport), University of Washington, Brigham Young University, University of Utah, University of Oregon, and Oregon State University.  The U of I ended the season with 10 losses and 2 wins.  But we learned at the banquet, most college teams would not even take to the field without at least 20 players to allow for substitutions. To compete in a major conference with only 14 players and play every game was truly remarkable.

My son, Scott, was recognized as one of 3 seniors on the team. First year, head coach James Courter, talked about Scott’s high energy pursuing a finance/accounting degree, serving as president of his fraternity and playing lacrosse. Coach Courter remarked that Scott has an outlook he labeled “SPA”, superior positive attitude, in all situations.  Courter described how when he first met Scott, he found Scott’s  smiling demeanor somewhat disconcerting.  Courter would be talking about something serious the defense needed to do and he would look up and Scott was smiling.  Courter said by the end of the season, he came to learn that Scott just takes on anything with a smile (not a bad trait in life).

Scott Lax banquet
Scott exhibiting SPA with Coach Courter


The biggest surprise to me at the Lacrosse Banquet was not the kudos from the Coach for the team and volunteers but the Coach himself. Thirty-one years old from Florida, Courter moved to Moscow, Idaho for a part-time coaching position just to get into college coaching.  An outstanding college defensive player in the large eastern lacrosse divisions, Courter played lacrosse at Providence from 2004-07 leading his college team to NCAA Tournament appearances in 2004, 2006 and 2007. He earned Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAAC) Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2007.  Since graduating, Courter has worked his way up in coaching from assistant program director of a youth lacrosse program, to head coach of a high school program, and finally to head coach at the University of Idaho.  His vita tells me Courter absolutely loves lacrosse.  He has travelled across the country to work for a pittance for a team with no funding for scholarships or even the power to get the University to allow them to use the much ballyhooed Kibby Dome during inclement weather.  Courter’s resume also reflects a tremendous tenacity to stay with the sport while climbing the difficult to access college coaching ladder.

Courter is tall, slim, losing some of his hair. He came to the banquet microphone with a slightly wrinkled shirt and tie coming unknotted.

Coach Courter
University of Idaho, firs-year, head coach, James Courter

He is obviously uncomfortable speaking to groups from a podium.  But his presentation was outstanding, not because of the delivery, shaky at best but because of the thoughtful content.


He gave the three team captains a map, a compass, and whistle. As we all know who do any backpacking, this is survival gear.  However, Courter is from Florida not the wilds of Idaho.  He never alluded to the true function of the equipment in his presentation.  Rather he talked about metaphors, he had learned from his father.   For success in life, one needs to have a mental map of where you want to go.  But that map needs to be tempered by a heart which serves as a compass.  Is the map taking you in the right direction in terms of your moral compass, the ability to know what is right or wrong and act accordingly.  The whistle can serve two functions; first, stop the action that is not going according to plan or second, alert others that you need assistance.

I spent the weekend reflecting on Coach Courter’s remarks to his captains.   The metaphors of map, compass and whistle resonated for me because of my degrees in public administration and my life-long career focus on government and politics.  I have sat in many meetings where the map would have been much easier to develop and follow if we did not have to be concerned about the moral implications of the plans we are developing.

In my own neighborhood in recent months, St. Lukes Health System, the largest employer in Idaho has developed a master plan over many years to expand their Boise campus by closing off one of the main streets, Jefferson.  The administrators at Lukes have seemed surprised when the neighborhood has raised an outcry about the blocking of a main bike artery and their  failure to ensure the plan was pedestrian and bicycle friendly.  Given the outcry, St. Lukes has subsequently revised their plan, hosted numerous neighborhood meetings and recently sent out post cards to the neighborhood.  But it would have been much easier if Lukes administration had started their plan with not just what is easier and most efficient for St. Lukes (map) but what does the community’s moral compass tell us would be the best approach for serving the East End.  Final decisions have not been made on this issue.  The East End neighborhood was very effective at bringing out their whistles quickly and loudly when they were not involved from the beginning.  The neighborhood protest about the unfairness of not being involved from the beginning was shrill and loud, significantly slowing down the approval process.

We have another example of the map, compass and whistle metaphors in our national government. In the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court was established as the final arbitrator of whose map and moral compass should be followed during any period of American history. The Republican majority in the  U.S. Senate have delayed confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice in the hopes of electing a Republican Presidential candidate who will appoint a justice  closely aligned with their conservative moral compass.  In other words, their map for the rest of the year is delay. During this interim period, the Justices are not able to rule on many controversial issues because they have a tie vote between liberals and conservatives. The fact that the Republicans in the U.S. Senate have essentially negated the power of the court by not allowing a replacement should concern citizens of both political parties.  This is a fundamental violation of the U.S. Constitution.  The Republican Senators are allowing their partisan strategy to interfere with their moral principles.  Without a strong referee, in this case the U.S. Supreme Court, the potential for unintended consequences and long-term harm particularly to vulnerable populations is great.  Right now in our country, there is no one in place to enforce the whistle.

In the end, these three simple metaphors, a map, a compass, and a whistle provide a measure of who we are as individuals and a country. A key question for each of us every day is: How do we develop a positive, ethically grounded future with the ability to ask for help or stop ourselves when we have gone too far?

Mom’s weekend, A quintessential college experience

Quintessential: a perfect example

 My first choice for college was Duke in North Carolina.  My dad was from South Carolina so I had traveled the South extensively as a child.  I knew as soon as I saw Duke’s gorgeous campus as a kid I wanted to go there. When I started my college search in earnest in high school, my parents told me that they couldn’t afford the tuition at a school of the caliber of Duke and travel back and forth from Wyoming made any East Coast school cost prohibitive.  I never applied to Duke.  Instead I set my sites closer to home.

 I attended a small private Presbyterian college in Nebraska, called Hastings College. My primary reasons for going to Hastings were: 1. I didn’t want to go to the University of Wyoming where most of my friends were going, 2. My sister, 3 years my senior, was already at Hastings and was having the time of her life traveling all over the world during interim session (the month of January between fall and spring semesters), 3. My parents could afford both the tuition and the travel though in the end I had a substantial scholarship award, and 3. Ted Menke, a tall, handsome, blonde- haired, blue-eyed senior had led my tour group.  At 18, I was boy-crazy and the thought of an entire new world of good-looking guys in a location outside of Wyoming was a huge motivator.  My sister and I still laugh raucously about what a superb ambassador for Hastings, Ted was. In my case, he had graduated by the time I got there.

Chapel at Hastings College, Nebraska. When I was in school, we had mandatory chapel every Friday.


I was not disappointed with my Hastings experience though I would never send my kids all the way from Idaho to Nebraska to have a small college experience.  There are many fine small colleges in the Northwest.  I bring up how I chose my college because choosing a college is one of the largest financial decisions a family will ever make.  If I am perfectly honest at 18, expense and quality of education weren’t even considerations for me.  I wanted to go somewhere I could have a good time, make new friends and learn about the world.  Somehow when my son Scott started looking for colleges, I forgot how frivolous I had been.

Scott began his college search in earnest the beginning of his junior year. We did what the high school counselors recommended.  Scott wanted to go to school in the West, if possible on the coast.  We toured schools in Washington, Oregon, California, and Colorado. Based on these tours, he narrowed his search down to five. The top being a stretch to get into but worth dreaming for, the fifth being a sure thing with others in-between.  My son’s dream school was Santa Clara University, a private Jesuit School in California with a gorgeous campus.  His sure thing was the University of Idaho.  He got into all the schools with scholarships. The last school we heard from and the one  he waited anxiously on every day  was Santa Clara.   He received $10,000 a year to Santa Clara.  After reviewing the costs of Santa Clara, we had to tell Scott we simply couldn’t afford it.   We are a physician family and have substantial resources. However, Pete (my husband) didn’t start practicing until he was in his early forties.  By the time Scott was headed to college, Pete was 65 and we still have a daughter to send to school who was 12.  Santa Clara would have cost us $60,000 a year on top of the scholarship.  We had saved for Scott’s college education and had $65,000 in Scott’s  529 college savings account designed to cover the cost of an in-state education at that time.  The costs of Santa Clara would have used all the savings the first year.

Given the costs of education, my husband, Pete set up an elaborate excel sheet so we could compare all the offers.  The best offer was from University of Puget Sound where Scott got $20,000 a year. We thought we could afford the extra cost for Puget Sound though it would have meant more money than we had saved.  But once we told Scott we couldn’t afford Santa Clara, he had no interest in the other schools.  On decision day, Scott was traveling for a business conference. I called to ask him which school I should accept. He said the University of Idaho. I was hoping for Puget Sound.  I was a little sick inside because I had wanted him to go out-of-state. Let’s face it, Idaho is not a cultural mecca.

Scott’s first semester at the University of Idaho did not go well.  He had a strange roommate in the Honor’s dorm.  When he tried to change, the resident assistant told him the only way he could get a different room was if someone would trade with him.  Lots of people were willing to room with Scott but no one was willing to move in with the undesirable roommate. In addition, Scott is a vegetarian and the food situation in the cafeteria was getting desperate.  He sent me pictures from the Cafeteria where there was a big sign that said, “Vegetarian” and then underneath the food was labeled  “chicken wings.”  Pete and I both went up for Dad’s weekend in the fall because we felt we needed to provide support just to keep Scott in school.  We traveled with another family.  We all went bowling.  I will be forever thankful to one of the men in our group.  He said to Scott, “This is your life.  You need to take the necessary steps to make this work for you.”

The next thing I know Scott had joined a fraternity (Phi Kappa Tau), moved out of the dorms and into the frat house.  At the time,  I thought this was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

This past weekend, I visited Scott at the University of Idaho for my 4th and final Mom’s weekend.  I started the blog today with the intention of writing about attending Mr. Idaho, a beauty pageant  to raise funds for charity (very fun), the Turtle Derby where the sorority houses train turtles to run out of a circle (captivating in a strange way), and the lacrosse game (another loss but a rousing good time).  But upon reflection, the real story is not how I spent my weekend (truly fabulous) but how much Scott has grown and matured at the University of Idaho.  Despite my misgivings and several stumbles along the way, the U of I has provided Scott with a quintessential college experience.

For example, being in a fraternity  has proven to be a great opportunity for him. The fraternity gave him an instant group of friends.  In addition, they have a cook so his vegetarian needs are addressed if he leans on the cook.  I would be lying if I didn’t say it is hard to be the only vegetarian in a congregate living situation.

Scott has also served as treasurer of his fraternity and is now the President.  He has paid bills, collected funds from reluctant payees, developed budgets, managed staff, and had to figure out how to motivate young men who have many diverse interests. The fraternity has paid for him to attend a number of national meetings where he has made new friends and had the opportunity for additional leadership training

Scott has a Graue Scholarship from the University of Idaho.  The Graues are business students who must maintain a 3.5 grade point.  They receive tuition assistance as well as a funded annual field trip. Scott has travelled to California to meet business leaders as well as major companies in Portland and Seattle such as Nike and Starbucks.

Last fall, he utilized the U of I international program to spend a semester in Spain at the same cost as attending school in Moscow with the additional cost of round-trip transportation.  We went to visit him as a family over Thanksgiving.  All of us got the benefit of that experience.

In summary, he has travelled in this country and abroad.  He has had opportunities to lead and learn beyond the classroom.  He has done all of this without taking out any loans. The funded 529 plan has paid for all his costs including his books. He is, of course, our son so we are proud of him.  But he is not a-typical of the University of Idaho student.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the Naval Officers we visited in Florida who are recent graduates of the University of Idaho. These two young men are not from Idaho. They went to U of I because that is where the Navy assigned them.  But they graduated able to compete with new officers from all over the country including Ivy league schools.

Upon reflection, the University of Idaho has been good for Scott and I think in turn Scott and his friends have been good for the University of Idaho. None of us can predict the future, but looking back  Scott’s college outcomes have been much better than I expected when I pushed “yes” to the University of Idaho on decision day.

Scott and I had a great time on our last Mom’s Weekend at the University of Idaho, 2016

Bicycling, Bliss in Retirement!

“Bliss” defined as finding perfect happiness, great joy

My blue tricycle began my love affairs with bikes!

One of my first memories is pointing up at a blue tricycle, with red and white wheels, displayed on a high shelf in a Firestone store and firmly stating to my dad, “That one.  I want the blue one!”  Like most things I wanted, I did get the shiny blue tricycle. That’s when my love affair with bicycles began. The blue tricycle once purchased was stored at my grandmother’s house.  Mom and I visited grandmother every morning for coffee.  We would walk the 3 blocks from our house to hers after my sister went to school.  Grandmother’s house sat on a large double corner lot.  I was allowed to ride the trike down the driveway and around the sidewalks of the house without supervision as long as Grandpa was somewhere in the yard.  A master gardener, Grandpa was always out in the yard.  I can still feel the wind in my unruly hair as I shot down the slopped driveway towards the street.  I became an expert at making the turn right, staying within the property lines, on the walkways and avoiding the very limited oncoming traffic. Down the sidewalk I would barrel as fast as I could pedal and around the corner (no stopping for turns).  With the wind  at my back, my legs  going full tilt, no adult in sight, I remember the joyous feeling of complete freedom!  This is a feeling I have been able to find over and over again when biking for more than 63 years.

I moved up quickly from the tricycle to a small, white bike with orange trim and training wheels.  I can remember the absolute sense of accomplishment as my grandpa stood at one end holding  me up with no training wheels and pushed me towards my mom standing at the other end of the sidewalk waiting to grab me.  But no, the bike wobbled, Grandpa ran along straightening and then I was up and off right past mom!  Oh the joy of personal success.  Like the old saying goes, once you learn to ride a bike you never forget.

From the small two wheeler, I moved up to a blue Huffy, my magic horse. It had three gears, a veritable chariot. Cheyenne, Wyoming, where I grew up, is relatively flat and in the fifties and sixties, quite small. I could ride anywhere to meet up with friends.  I was frequently off to  the library (my favorite haunt), Dorothy’s, Melissa’s or Dodd’s Store for candy.  My only limitations were my imagination and my mom’s permission.

In graduate school at Arizona State University (ASU), a bicycle was my main means of transportation.  I had a elegant, 10-speed, light-weight purple road bike, a French-made Gitane. Gitane stands for gypsy woman.Coming from Wyoming, the glorious, expansive dessert surrounding Phoenix  combined with living alone in my first apartment, certainly made me feel like a gypsy on the run.  Unfortunately, ASU was a mecca for bike thieves and my Gitane was stolen.  I then purchased a burnt orange Schwinn.  It was much sturdier and better made for the commuting I was doing in a large metropolitan area.

Thule child carrier for biking

The years rolled along and the bikes did too. The most notable change in biking patterns came when I had my son, Scott.  First,  Pete and I purchased a Thule child-bike-puller.  As soon as Scott could sit on his own, Pete would take him out in the Thule so I would have a break.  As Scott got bigger, we by-passed the tricycle route because we lived on a steep hill and busy street.  Instead, we purchased a tag-along.  The tag-along allows small children to bike behind you and pedal (or not depending on the child’s motivation that day).  The tag-along also allows the adult to get in a full-trength bike ride and helps teach children how to balance on a regular bike.

A tag-along allows a child to learn balance and an adult to ride full strengthen

I was never a good enough biker to navigate the hill we live on and pull children up and down.  But Pete, who owns 7 bicycles and might be called a bike enthusiast, has been able to haul children everywhere they might want to go.  I remember Pete was biking with Scott in the Thule.  I was trailing behind. Pete had stopped because he was winded.  I heard a little voice from the Thule shout, “Go, Daddy, Go!  Don’t stop Daddy!”  Pete and I still laugh to this day about “Don’t stop Daddy, don’t stop.”

A couple of years ago, I thought with great sadness my biking days were coming to an end.  I could no longer get up and down the mountain we live on by bicycle.  I had resorted to carrying the bike by car to the many bike paths available in Boise on flatter land.  I found as my balance declined, it was becoming difficult for me to ferry the bike down the hill, unload it and then go for a jaunt. The joy of spontaneous riding was gone.  My bliss had transformed into work and discouragement about aging.  I gave Pete an ultimatum.  We had to figure out how I could ride from where we lived or we had to move to the highly-sought-after, expensive flatlands.  As a mountain biker, the flatlands held no appeal to Pete.  But he did find us a compromise, he found the electric bike. We drove to San Francisco two Thanksgivings ago and purchased a Pedego after test riding it on the San Francisco hills.  It seemed up the challenge of Boise’s Shaw Mountain.

Spring has come–my Pedego is out and about all over Boise.  When I pull in at church on Sunday, many people come over to ask me about my electric bike.  It is heavy and not for the faint of heart because it goes fast, up to 20 miles an hour going up hill.  I fly down the Mountain, taking the side streets to the green belt from the flatland and from there I can get anywhere in Boise. I can go to coffee, lunch, church, shopping no problem. I am once again free from the confines of aging and able to feel my bliss!pedego2

Tulip Mania

20160402_124542Spring is the season of tulips. Throughout history, the colorful tulip has been considered rare, partially because it has such a limited blooming season. Tulips burst forth in spring and each bloom lasts 1 to 3 weeks. The tulip season itself is limited to a couple of months. Even today tulip lovers have to be in the right location at the right time in order to view the vast fields of blooming tulips cultivated by tulip growers to sell their products. I have been fortunate enough to be in Amsterdam at the end of the tulip season two years ago and had the opportunity to view the world renowned Keukenof Gardens.  Just last week, I was in Skagit Valley, Washington for the first weekend of the Annual Tulip Festival, which runs April 1 to 30 this year.  If seeing grand displays of tulip fields are on your bucket list, you must be willing to flex your schedule since tulip bloom dates follow Mother Nature’s schedule not a tour guide book.

Tulips originated in Asia and Turkey over 1000 years ago. In Turkey, the flowers came to be called tulips because the flower looked like a turban. Tulip bulbs were transplanted to Holland in the 16th century. Because of their beauty and short bloom period, during the Golden Age, the Dutch engaged in financial speculation on tulip bulbs. Between 1636 and 1637, bulbs were so highly valued that prices rose daily reaching astronomical numbers. By the peak of tulipmania in February of 1637, a single tulip bulb was worth about ten times a craftsman’s annual income or more than a house at that time. Bulbs were sold by weight, usually while they were still in the ground. The crashing price of tulip bulbs in Holland caused by the default of a tulip merchant on a large contract is considered the first financial bubble. As prices dropped, leading to the ruin of many speculators the government tried to support bulb prices to no avail.  The brutal popping of the tulip bulb bubble ended the Dutch Golden Age and hurled the country into a mild economic depression that lasted for several years.  (This story of tulip speculation should sound familiar to anyone who has seen or read The Big Short about America’s housing market collapse in 2007-2008. Apparently, we have learned little about financial speculation over the past 300 years).

I have been blessed to see both the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Netherlands (about an hour by bus from Amsterdam) and the Tulip Festival in Skagit (about an hour by car from Seattle).There are some major differences and similarities between the two.

Keukenhof Gardens provide a tranquil, viewing space for large numbers of visitors

The Keukenhof Gardens, sometimes called the Garden of Europe, is considered one of the most beautiful spring gardens in the world. The gardens served as the 15th century hunting grounds for the Castle Keukenhof, which still resides on the site. The gardens were established as public benefit in 1949 to help showcase the Dutch flower industry. The Netherlands is the largest exporter of flowers in the world. Keukenhof is filled with more than seven million tulips displayed in organized formal gardens surrounded by grass and accented by running streams, lakes, fountains, and walking paths. The gardens cover an expanse of about 80 acres.  The layout of the gardens is that such that while hordes of tourists are at the entry way once inside there are vast areas where there is only you, flowers, and an occasional swan.  The garden begs you to come and stay a while. If you choose to go, I would recommend you go by bus from Amsterdam so you don’t have to hassle with a car. Once off the bus, you are to free to spend the day on your own.


The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, on the other hand, is a driving tour. Most people drive themselves.  There are signs everywhere marketing the tulip route, along with sheriff officers to help move the large numbers of cars along in an orderly fashion.  Skagit is a rural area in Washington. The roads are clearly not built for the traffic created by the festival. There are two display gardens, Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde.  We chose to visit Tulip Town because it was the easiest to reach by car. Parking was free but not easy to find. Fortunately for us, we were coming down from Canada on Saturday morning so access was fairly easy from the highway.  When we drove into Seattle on Saturday afternoon, we saw long lines of traffic exiting the highway at the tulip route.  I’m not sure how such volume could be handled in the parking areas we saw.  If you go, plan to go during the week if possible.  If not, go early in the morning on the weekends. The tulips in Skagit are displayed in vast rows of gorgeous colors surrounded by muddy walking paths.  There are tractor rides to take you around.  But I believe flowers are best admired on your own two feet.  While not at all formal or peaceful like Keukenhof, the rows and rows of various colors on a clear day are truly spectacular.  There were tons of children running everywhere, a clear sign that seeing tulips is a family outing.  Workers were vainly attempting to keep visitors out of the flowers.  But invariably you would look up and see people marching down the small muddy lanes between varieties, or groups of friends kneeling in the flowers with selfie sticks to get a picture of themselves surrounded by flowers.  Most amusing flower trespasser to me was a mom, who had popped her small baby girl, dressed in all pink into the pink tulips so only a little  smiling face was showing out.  Of particular interest to me was the diversity of the population viewing the Skagit flowers, many identifiable by their traditional clothing. I heard one of the paid “shoers” or tulip guards  say they had tried signs to keep people out of the flowers but so many languages were spoken at the festival they couldn’t put up enough signs. Apparently, flowers speak to all nationalities.

Tulip Town, Skagit Washington showcases rows of tulips in wild abandon.


I have also learned that tulips speak in the animal world. When we first moved into our house in Boise, I had a beautiful professional garden put in with tulips, I had carefully selected by hand for colors and to provide a full season of blooming (2 months).  We had the garden put in the fall and moved into the house at Christmas.  The first spring, I heard a lot of noise on the front porch and I looked out our small side window to see a large eye staring backing in.  I was taken back for minute and then realized the eye belonged to a deer on our porch.  We have quite a few deer that run freely across the foothills where I live.  I came out the next morning to find that the deer had eaten every single tulip bloom and left the nasty daffodils behind.  I have since learned that deer consider tulips the bon bons of the flower world and are delighted to munch through your tulip garden when flowers are in full bloom.  This happened every year until the tulip bulbs gave out.  Bulbs only rebloom about three years and get weaker flowers each time.  Our yard is now full of daffodils, the national flower of Whales.  My family ancestry is Welsh so maybe there is some justice in our inability to support the Netherlands, though I still love tulips.

The beauty of tulips, their short blooming period, and bulb life remind me how transient all life is. In Ecclesiastes 3, it is written;

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…

For me, spring is tulip time.