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!

Chillin Out in Switzerland During Europe’s Record Freeze

Last night as I walked down a boulevard in Geneva, a young man passing by nodded his head and wished me a « bon froid » instead of good evening. Can a « good cold  » exist ?

frozen lake front (lake Geneva 02.10.2012)

frozen lake front (lake Geneva 02.10.2012)

ready for a swim ??

ready for a swim ??

 

We are having a record breaking cold spell in Europe. Parts of the Danube, Europe’s busiest waterway flowing through ten countries, closed due to ice blockages.  Canals across Holland froze turning the entire city of Amsterdam into an open air skating ring. Strong winds whip across Switzerland,  reminding me of back home in the Windy City and open plains of the Midwest. Once a tough kid, I turned into a big sissy. I love winter, but hate cold. Even though I am part Norwegian, I lack the fortitude of my Viking cousins living up by the North Pole.

In Switzerland, a northeast wind, called the Bise, blows shutters off houses and branches from trees. Everyone knows I love to exaggerate, but no kidding, docks on Lake Geneva look like chiseled ice sculptures, cars turned to blocks of ice and steel train tracks froze halting traffic.

car or ice sculpture ?

car or ice sculpture ?

The cold even penetrates the walls of our concrete home and I am literally chilled to the bone. My lips turn blue, my fingertips grow white and my feet never thaw.

Snow and ice, crunch and crackle, underfoot, as I trudge to school reflecting on childhood when snow drifted as high as window ledges.  As it nips my face and stings my eyes, I lean into wind.  I feel rugged like Grandpa Mac who cleared a path through five-foot high snow banks to light a the fire in the pot belly stove of the one room school house where my grandma first taught.

The howling wind rattles the window frames of my school room under the tiled, mansard rooftop in the attic of the one hundred year old international school, where I teach without heat. Each room has a space heater, but if we plug in more than one appliance at a time, the lights go out and computers shut down. My colleagues and I toss coins to see who’s turn it is to freeze. On my Ice Day, I wear a hand-knit Norwegian sweater, three sweatshirts,long underwear, wool mittens and a scarf.

Brrrh. I don’t want to leave my house ; I don’t  even want to leave the bed. Like the ground hog who sees his shadow in stark sunlight in a cobalt sky, I  long to retreat to my burrow under a down comforter and hibernate for another six weeks.

My joints ache ; my fingers and toes go numb. I think I am suffering. Me, with a layers of clothes, heated lodgings and a hot meal every night. I wonder about the unemployed, poverty stricken street people without a roof over head or food to eat. How do they survive the night? Many don’t.  Already over 600 people have died in Europe from the extreme weather.

I stop grumbling about winter and feel grateful. I am gifted. I have a home.

more winter pictures of Lake Geneva, Switzerland: http://gallery.me.com/geraldlechault#100343&bgcolor=black&view=grid

How to Beat the January Blues

Down & out?  Feeling tired & fat?  Frumpy & dumpy?  What is it about January?  When the snow piles up, the temperature plunges and the sun goes into hibernation, the mood starts to plummet.

The holiday hype has died down, Bowl games  are over, the Packers stunk up the play offs, we ate one too many cookies or tipped back one too many hot toddies and now it is back to reality with nothing to look forward to.

Above the clouds in the Alps

Above the clouds in the Alps

To brighten my spirits in the spring, all I need to do is fling open windows to feel inspired by the Swiss Alps and French Jura, but in winter those same mountain tops lock in fine particles and pollutants in a fog so thick I can’t see my hand if front of my face. The locals recommend heading to the peaks to beat the blues…rise above the smog where the air is clean and clear, but not everybody lives near a mountain, nor has agility to ski or the money to afford the sport.

Check out my inexpensive quick pick-me-ups to brighten your bleak winter days especially if you live Up North on an empty pocketbook with a bad case of lumbago!

 

1. Read a good book.

2. Watch an old sit-com, back in the day when the special effects were so poor, the lines had to be great

3. Surprise a friend you haven’t talked to for years with a phone call

4. Write an old fashioned letter, you know, by hand with pen and paper.

5. Take a bubble bath by candle light

6. Listen to smooth jazz

7. Teach a child to do something new and watch their eyes light up

8. Lie on a yoga mat with your legs at a right angle against the wall and arms reaching overhead, then breath deeply in a full body stretch

9. Open a good bottle of wine and savor one glass

10. Turn off the computer, TV, iPhone, iPod, iPad.  Stop text messaging, facebooking, linking –in, emailing and Tweeting on line and connect in person (ie. hug someone you love, speak face to face!)

How do you kick back the January blues ?

Ellis Island’s 120th Anniversary Jan. 1, 1892-2012

On January 1, 1892, one hundred years ago today, a small island in New York Harbor called Ellis Island opened its portal as one of thirty US federal government immigration centers.  From that date until 1954, over twelve million immigrants, two thirds of all immigrants, primarily third class passengers, entered the United States through the “Island of Tears.” One of them was my maternal great grandmother.

In 1902 Christiana Norway, at age forty, Eugenie Rosholt, clasped her blond, blue-eyed, four-year-old daughter’s hand and boarded the Oscar II, a 140,000 pound ship with 898 passengers.  They were on route to New York to rejoin her husband, Johan Alfred Rosholt and young son, who unable to subsist in the far reaches of the northern hemisphere, had immigrated to Chicago for work.

My grandma - Martha Olson

My grandma - Martha Olson

Night and day, horizon and sea, merged during their stormy passage. Mother and daughter huddled together. The weight of Eugenie’s unborn child brought warmth, yet stole energy. On a clear, morning September 2, 1902, Eugenie carried Dagny on deck for fresh air. Etched against the shoreline, a giant, golden goddess glistened in sunlight.

They disembarked on a gangplank onto barges carrying them to the Immigration Center on Ellis Island, where the aliens waited in lines, inching forward in a shuffle-step. In the Great Hall (Registry Room), a doctor lifted Eugenie’s chin, poked a knife at her eye pulling down the lower lid and waved her past, nodding at the frail girl by her side. Had he looker closer, he would have noticed the shine of fever in the child’s eyes and turned them away. Mother and daughter, weary from the long voyage, were filled with hope, yet the great dream turned into a tragic nightmare. Dagny died a fortnight after arriving in America. Three and a half months later, Eugenie, pierced by labor pain, was admitted to the Cook County Hospital in Chicago. On January 25, 1903, minutes after Martha (my maternal grandmother) safely entered the new world, her mother left it.

Without a wet nurse for the baby, and unable to cope, a grief stricken Johan sank into depression and returned to Norway with Edward. He never recovered from the loss of Dagny and Eugenie. Martha, placed in the Chicago Children’s Home, became a ward of the state. Four years later, a Norwegian family, Anne and Alric Raymond, adopted my grandma. Martha never knew she had a brother until Edward appeared at her confirmation. She married Gustav Olson, also a Norwegian immigrant, on October 29th 1929, the day the stock market crashed during the Great Depression. Gustav died of cancer at the age of 47 leaving my grandmother alone to put her two older children through college and raise their seven-year-old brother.

My jovial grandmother never complained about her inauspicious debut or hard life, instead she spread good cheer with a welcoming smile and twinkle in her sea blue eyes.

The survival spirit of my ancestors flows through my veins. Like for so many Americans, Ellis Island remains etched in my family history, like a badge of courage.

http://www.ellisisland.org/genealogy/ellis_island_history.asp

Happy Thanksgiving sans Turkey from Cow Country

Though Europeans love a party, Thanksgiving is truly a unique North American celebration. Since it is not a holiday here, it was just another day for me to lecture students, grade papers and attend unproductive meetings.

On T-day, I arrived home from school after eight to an empty house, so no turkey this year, but no pity party for Patty. I am filled with gratitude! With a live in French chef I eat well all year round.

Every November with or without the big bird, I take time to count my blessings.

1. Family – remain loyal for the long haul

2. Friendship- sustains the spirit in hard times

3. Frenchman – my life partner keeps me grounded in reality

4. Freedom- to speak my mind, wear what I want and circulate without restraint

5. Airlines –despite glitches in air travel, flying allows me to soar between worlds

6. Internet- instantly connects me between continents, cultures and time zones

7. Children – offer hope for the future and fill my heart with joy

8. Readers – follow along, offer comments and give my musings meaning

9. Ball games – basketball, football, volleyball, handball, tether-ball, love ‘em all

10. Books- hardcover, paperback, e-books…books in any shape or form

11. Summit Lake- where sacred waters restore my soul

Summit Lake, Wis.

Summit Lake, Wis.

 

Happy Thanksgiving weekend.  Safe travels. Slow down. Reflect in gratitude.

What tops your Blessing List this season?

Happy Memories and Halloween Dreams

countryside by Geneva

countryside by Geneva

Ever a kid at heart, every October 31st, as the fields turn from emerald to autumn hues of auburn, I watch the bold sun bleed crimson as it sets over the gray-blue Jura Mountains. As the sky changes from gold to pink, purple to black, I can picture witches flying over the treetops, goblins dancing through the apple orchards and ghosts floating out of the mist above the vineyard.  Halloween fills even old hearts with a sense of mystery and excitement.  It’s a night where even adults can imagine anything is possible.

Every Baby Boomer remembers a favorite Halloween costume of childhood.  Mine was the time; I wore a football helmet, shoulder pads and a blue and gold jersey that my dad borrowed from his high school team. I swaggered down East 19th street ringing doorbells as a proud Sterling Warrior.

When we lived in Paris, I tried to celebrate the American holiday with my children without much success. The kids decided trick or treating at only one house – your own – is not fun.  But when we moved to an in Switzerland, the All Saints Eve was celebrated with aplomb.  Parents even bussed kids in to trick or treat in my international neighborhood.

Swiss farm with pumpkins

Swiss farm with pumpkins

Halloween has always been sacred in my house.  Late October, years ago after a full moon, our daughter Nathalie was born.  She has long outgrown her nickname “pumpkin,” but I still buy a jack-o-lantern every autumn.     A candle in an orange gourd, once thought to frighten evil spirits, now represents my hopes for my Norwegian-Scotch, Franco-American children.

halloween kids

halloween kids

That little girl who once trick or treated disguised as a doctor, now dons a white coat daily as she makes hospital rounds giving baby wellness visits as a pediatrician.

Alas though I never became an American football star, today, truly all things are possible. Wonders never cease.  Times do change. My niece became a state rugby champion, not once but twice!

What favorite Halloween memories haunt your household?