Family Easter Tradition in France -A Table in Normandy

Though, Gérald and I, as empty nesters, will dine tête a tête this Sunday, our hearts are filled with memories of holidays past  when our children were younger and we were surrounded by family. As with every celebration in France, Easter begins and ends à table.

Normandy is appreciated the most at mealtime when land and sea are perfectly marinated. Mamie cooks the traditional Easter favorite, leg of lamb.  At the head of the table, Papie carves the tender meat fresh from a newborn romping on the rolling green hillside only days before. But back up, each course is an event worth savoring.

toasting champagne

toasting champagne

First a toast of champagne and a light amuse bouche aperitif. Next act is naturally an egg based, a soufflé as light as cotton candy, followed by a platter of seafood: shrimp, crab legs, clams, oysters, bullot, something for everyone’s palate.

The main lamb course is always served with flageolet, a mini lima bean, that reminds me of the word flatulence and of course, bean jokes inevitably enter the conversation, sending the children into gales of laughter. Mamie always has a special dish for every family member, so a garden of vegetables -beans, broccoli, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes – also grows out of the linen tablecloth.

The children eat with the adults where they risk being reprimanded to sit up straight. However, I never notice table manners; my fork and knife are usually in the wrong hands. Softhearted Mamie excuses the grandkids early and they scamper upstairs to read Lucky Luke or Astérix comic books until called for dessert.

Each course is accompanied by wine, a light white Burgundy for the seafood starters and then a heavier Bordeaux for the meat and cheese. Every big meal is followed by a green salad and cheese platter with triangles of creamy local cheeses like Camembert and Pont L’Evêque.

family feast

family feast

Dessert always includes seasonal fruits, which in the spring means luscious strawberries. Like little elves, the children reappear to gobble up berries dipped in fresh cream. The kids magically disappear again when they smell the coffee brewing. Papie ceremoniously opens the antique Normand hutch and pulls out his bottle of Calvados offering, “a little taste.”  True Normands swear that the fiery apple brandy aids the digestion. During weddings and christenings, the “trou Normand,” a shot served on sorbet in the middle of the feast, is customary.

Throughout each course a lively repartee of sarcasm, word play and arguments ensue that to a soft-spoken Norwegian American sounds like verbal abuse, but is only part of the French art de vivre and their love of language and debate.

Just when you think your belly will burst, Mamie rings a bell and the children race downstairs, for in France, bells, not bunnies, deliver eggs. As a token of mourning for crucified Christ, church bells remain silent from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. On Easter, when the chimes ring again, children rush outside to see the bells fly home to Rome, after dropping chocolate Easter eggs from the sky.

boy with Easter basket

boy with Easter basket

finding eggs on the balcony

finding eggs on the balcony

The children crowd onto the wrought iron balcony to find eggs tucked behind the potted geraniums and tulips. While they devour the chocolate figurines, the adults, too, savor a delicacy from the local chocolatier. Everyone moans of stomachaches and swears they will never eat again, but a few hours later after a stroll by the sea, we are à table again discussing the favorite French topic, food.

Green A Go Go On St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 2012

Shamrocks, leprechauns, fairies, oh my! Gaelic dances, Scottish bagpipes, Irish top hats, knees up,  Guinness guzzling, tall tales about beer drinking,  bar brawling, fiery redheaded, hot tempered, story-tale spinners Irish abound.

Irish pubs around the world, including the 2472 in Continental Europe, will be packed tonight, but the celebration may be even bigger in the  New World!   http://www.st-patricks-day.com/

Like so many Americans, I can trace back  a wee bit of Irish in me Scottish blood and loyally wore green to school on March 17th. 36.9 million Americans reported Irish ancestry, which is 8 times more than the population of Ireland. And another 3.5 million claim Scotch-Irish blood like myself . An estimated 50-100,000 came in the 1600s and another million arrived in 1700s continuing throughout the Potato Famine years.

Bars will spill over into the street with people dressed in green; extremists will eat only green food and hold green dinner parties. Beer, water, and even the Chicago River at Michigan and Wacker flows green on St. Paddy’s. http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2012/03/15/saint-patricks-day-2012-in-chicago

Parades and celebrations proliferate across major cities in the US, especially in places with a large Irish American population like Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. But what are we celebrating?

Uillean or Irish Elbow Bagpipes

Uillean or Irish Elbow Bagpipes

 

St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, who introduced Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century, symbolizes the Irish worldwide, but holds particular significance for Americans. The Irish were the largest contingency, after the Germans, to immigrate. As the first big group of poor refugees to arrive  in the USA, they suffered from the brunt of American resentment.

The predominately working class people settled in cities forming the backbone of communities particularly serving in law enforcement in the Northeast. Though in the past Irish were often negatively stereotyped as drunken, reckless, kick-up-a-row, rabble rousers, they rose to leadership positions. A bit of their so called rebellious spirit helped lead to the making of America. Eight Irishmen signed the declaration of Independence and Presidents from Andrew Jackson to Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama claim Irish ancestry.

Today Irish Americans are no longer the underdogs; they have earned the right to be educated in elite universities and to become CEOs, and civic leaders based on their talents. They paved the way for the waves of immigrants who followed in their footsteps from Europe and other place.

So enjoy St. Paddy’s Day Shamrocks, leprechauns, anything green rites of spring and lively, good of ol’Irish mischievousness.  And if life is a struggle and you are not feeling so frivolous right now,  remember  my favorite Gaelic saying:

Dá fhaid é an lá tiocfaidh an tráthnóna

No matter how long the day, the evening will come.
This too shall pass.

Wherever you are whatever your poison, I raise my fine emerald wine, to your green Guinness or  lime Kool Aid.  To the Irish!

Sláinte –to your health!

101st Anniversary- International Women’s Day-« Connecting Girls Inspiring Futures »

March 8 marks the 101st international women’s day! Bear with me guys, you may be weary about hearing about women`s rights, but when you’ve been the low ” man ” on the totem pole of life for so long you never forget. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world women are still denied equality in education, careers, income and medical care, but in my homeland, we have come a long, long way. So thanks guys for your support. This is not a rant about men, but rather a chest bump for women.

From childhood to motherhood to middle age from the Midwest to the East Coast to Europe, throughout physical relocations and emotional upheavals, each stage of my life has been shaped by women, who helped me make the transition.

I am especially grateful to the grandmothers I admired; even moreso to the mother who gave me life, then offered me to the world. To my sisters who taught me to give and take, forgive and forget, talk and listen, twist and shout !

To my college basketball coach, who dared me to become all that I could be.

I am thankful for female friendships spanning different generations, time zones and continents. From childhood, high school and college pals, part of the past that shaped me and  connect me to my roots, to my French hosts and German teammates, who adopted me into their homes and hearts when I first moved abroad. To my international friends from Africa, Australia, Scandinavia –England, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland and Other Lands I could never place on a map, who shared their stories and an understanding of their culture.                         .

To my noisy friends, quiet friends,
old friends,new friends,
black, white, brown friends.
To my tall friends, short friends,
big friends, small friends,
to my athletic friends, to my intellectual friends
to my coaching friends, my teaching friends, my writing friends.
To my blogging buddies, to my cyber pals.
To my girlfriends here, there and everywhere.

No matter where I settled, women of all sizes, shapes, and colors have befriended me.  They helped me feel a sense of belonging not only to the farm community of Sterling, to the Illinois State college town of Normal-Bloomington, to romantic Paris, to Middle Ages Marburg, to international  Geneva, but to something greater.

Merci mille fois to the women who shaped me, so that one day, I  could become a role model to my nieces and the young girls I have taught and coached.

Special thanks to my daughter, my link to the future, who achieved her goal of becoming a doctor, a dream made possible in part, because of the courageous steps women took in the past to help pave the way.

So on International Women’s Day 2012, I  raise my glass to the ladies ‘round the globe in my ya ya sisterhood!

Hop Skip Jump Happy Leap Year Into Spring

We celebrate President’s day, Valentine’s day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Mother and Father’s Day, but where is good ol’ Hallmark when it comes to commemorating Leap Year. Where is the fuss over February 29th, which should be special, as it only rolls around every four years?

I was born on February 28, but my sister arrived in the wee hours of March 1, 1960 during a Leap Year.  My mom said that other mothers in the hospital, who gave birth on the 29th, begged doctors to change the date. Apparently in Scotland, it is unlucky to be born Leap Year Day. Since we are part Scottish, my sister and I could have been in for inauspicious times.

sisters, sisters...

Born 3 years, 13 hours, 34 minutes apart-sisters celebrate birthdays together

 

However there is more likely a link with my Norwegian ancestry, like some stat showing the Nordic women give birth more often in late February. I am no mathematician, but statisticians will love this little known fact. A Norwegian family from Andenes holds the official record of number of children born on February 29. Karin Henriksen’s daughter, Heidi was born the same year as my sister, and her sons Olav and Leif-Martin followed in 1964 and 1968 respectively.  Calculate those odds!

According to legend, February 29th is also the one day of year when women can propose to men but hey, in the 21st century, any day is good for a liberated gal with gumption to propose.

Many famous people were born on Leap Year. In 1692, the English poet John Byron, inventor of a system of shorthand, was born. Jimmy Dorsey, legendary saxophonist, conductor, songwriter, composer and bandleader, was born in 1904. In 1916 Dinah Shore, actress, singer, talk show host was born.

Astrologers swear that those born under sign of Pisces Feb. 20th  – Mar. 20th have unusual talents and personalities. That fits, I am quirky as they come.

On a more serious note, February 29, 2012, twenty-five European countries coordinated by EURORDIS will mark the fifth international Rare Disease Day. Under the slogan “Rare but strong together” patient organizations from more than 40 countries worldwide unite to heighten public awareness. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBVug-GVLg0

I attempted to figure out the mind-boggling logistics of calculating Leap Year, which has to do with 60th day in Gregorian calendar. We have one extra day this year, 366 instead of 365, which is great if you are old and retired but not so cool if your are employed because February 29th falls on a Wednesday, which means an extra day of work. Can you deduct an extra day of work from taxes?

Leap year allows our Gregorian calendar to remain in alignment with the Earth’s revolution. It takes a little longer than a year to travel around the Sun, 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 6 seconds, or about 365.242199 days. It becomes even more complicated when I tried to figure out how Chinese, Jewish, Iranian, Islamic, Baha’i, Hindu and Ethiopian Calendars calculate Leap Year.

So let’s stop right there and leap into March, which brings us one day closer to spring! Oh yeah, and happy birthday little sister

Cross-Country Skiing in Switzerland Precarious for a Flatlander from the Snow Belt

If you grow up in Switzerland, skiing is a birthright. Like riding a bike, no one forgets how to do it. Forget the thrill of school closing for inclement weather. Here we have the ultimate snow day! We even bus kindergarteners up in the mountains for skiing during regular school days and better yet have a ski week vacation in February.

cross-country skiing in the mountains

cross-country skiing in the mountains

No one here can believe I don’t ski even though I grew up in the Snow Belt.

Maybe if I learned to ski when I was a child, I wouldn’t be so afraid. Where I grew up in the flatlands of Illinois, only the wealthy could afford to fly halfway across the continent to the nearest mountain.

Besides, no American coach in his or her right mind, would ever condone skiing for a star hoopster. A teammate and I broke training one season and attempted to ski on a golf course on campus where the highest elevation was a two-foot bunny hill on the back nine. Heck, I still fell down.

I am not afraid of heights, but I am downright speed phobic. Anytime the velocity picks up, I envision my previous accidents, flying over my bicycle handlebars on a hill in Germany or careening out the window of an air born car off an autoroute in France.

I still might enjoy skiing if my back never cracked, my knees could bend or I had a solid base to stand on. Just try balancing on a two inch by 6 foot slabs with bad feet. With my high arches and ankle pronation, I might remain upright if I skied barefoot and hung on by my claw toes. Strong thigh muscles, able to hold the squat position also help, but I lost those when I quit doing defensive slides back in the seventies.

Ah the great irony of life! In youth, when I was nowhere near a mountain, my greatest dream was to alpine ski; now in middle age I live at the foot of the Alps yet break out in hives just looking at the slopes. However to appease Le Frenchman, an avid skier extraordinaire, I don my skis once a winter. But in the mountains, cross-country skiing is a misnomer. It should be called up and down skiing and the only thing worse than sailing 25 miles an hour on sticks, is flailing at top speed downward on a curve!

Oups !!!

Oups !!!

Luckily on groomed trails in the mountains, they strategically prop bright red, two-inch thick, gym mats against trees at the bottom of curving slopes.

Hey, I learned to drive in Illinois, I am no dummy. As soon as I see the red warning sign in the distance, I stop, remove skis and proceed with caution.  Then I put away my gear for another year.

World’s Oldest, Greatest Vice – Chewing Gum Good for You

As soon as I got my first tooth, I fell in love with gum. At my grandparents’ summer camp, I  begged the boys « Got any gum? »  Then I swallowed it as fast as I could chew it until my parents forbid campers from giving me another stick.

If gum chewing contests existed, I would win. In grade school, learning to blow bubbles with a pink wad of Bazooka rated right up there with sinking my first jump shot. As a teen, chewing gum in class on the sly, made me feel rebellious. Before college basketball games,  I chewed bubble gum to psyche up before battle. After the French teacher caught me chewing gum in the language lab, when I supposed to be busy rolling my r’s, I learned to hate to parler francais.

bazooka advertisement

Remember good ol’ Bazooka Joe, who became one of the most famous 20th century advertizing characters for Bazooka gum marketed just after WWII in red, white, blue symbolized USA and patriotism

 

But the joke was on me – I wound up living in French speaking countries. When l first moved to Europe, gum chewing was a dead give away to one’s nationality, a trademark of being American like the stereotypical baseball cap and tennis shoes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZXRaVBf0pY

But, Le Frenchman I fell in love with considered it a disgusting habit, so I used to smuggle gum in my luggage on transatlantic flights. Now I purchase packets of my vice across the border in France, where surprisingly more gum is consumed than anywhere else in the world besides the U.S.A.

In June 1944, U.S. troops first brought chewing gum to France along with freedom. However, French chewing gum wasn’t launched until 1952 when former GI, Courtland Parfet, introduced the chlorophyll green mint stick, called Hollywood Chewing Gum.

Now  much to parents’, teachers’ and Le Frenchman’s chagrin, it turns out that gum was good for us along.

  • Recent US studies (where else in the world would analyze statistics about gum’s virtues) show that students who chewed a piece before exams increased the blood flow to the brain helping with memorization.
  • Chewing also calmly helps relieve stress and control appetite by reducing hunger.
  • The xylitol in gum helps stop the progression of cavities and inhibits the growth of bacteria.

Finally something taboo that is actually good for you. However, Le Frenchman under ze roof still finds my gum chewing revolting, so like the little kid at camp, I sneak gum into the house. The illicit activity only makes it more enticing.