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!

Community Support Showered on Yorkville Farmer After Open Heart Surgery

If you live anywhere near Yorkville Illinois who do you call for an extra hand if your hay needs bailing, your field needs tilling, your electricity needs wiring?  Family, friends and neighbors in the farming community-turned-to-sprawling-suburb have been seeking Cliff Westphal’s services for years. He is the first to lend a hand at the truck pull, 4-H stand, blood bank, local church and Yellowstone Lane neighborhood get together.

My brother-in-law has spent his lifetime serving others from a boyhood working the farm in the family for 65 years to his four-year tour in the Coast Guard during the Vietnam War as a young man, to donating his time for 17 seasons as an assistant coach at Yorkville High School where he once wrestled as a Red Fox.

A small town, family man with a strong sense of loyalty to his country and his community, Cliff understands the complicity between the land and man and shares its abundance with all.

He treats YHS staff to a hotdog and hay rack ride every fall, brings Westphal corn to cabin folk in Northern Wisconsin, works the best car deal for his nephew and drives his pick up half way cross the continent to follow his niece’s college basketball team.  He runs a regular O’Hare airport shuttle for family and friends.  Then he spoils the travelers with gourmet meals from the finest fare Mother Earth has on offer.

As beloved Bumpa to seven grandkids, he celebrates every passage of their lives, helping one granddaughter parade pet pigs at the fair and watching his grandson make his first tackle.

Ever the big kid at heart, he still sleds in winter and rides water park slides in the summer.  The day after he retired as an electrician at Com Ed, he returned to farming; any energy to spare, he pours back to the community. There is nothing Cliff can’t fix, so we all felt shocked when his body broke down unexpectedly.

The day before his scheduled surgery to fix drippy sinuses, his family doctor discover his heart had a leaky faucet. So instead of a nose job, a cardiologist cracked open his sternum, borrowed a vein from his leg to bypass an artery, fined tuned the bicuspid valve and repaired the mitral valve, then wired him shut again. Twenty four hours later, he was sitting up in a chair, chatting about the latest Illini scores and asking « What’s for dinner? »

Oh sure, he’ll have to lay low a few weeks, but come spring planting season, he’ll be back on the tractor helping his brother in the fields on the Westphal Farm. This summer he’ll be driving the boat pulling the boat for gran kids on skis. And if all goes well, he’ll be flying abroad with his lovely wife,  my sister Sue, to « climb » mountains in Switzerland.

After all you can’t keep a good man down. As Yorkville knows, Cliff is its best.

Bon rétablissement et bisous de ta famille overseas!

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

Christmas Eve – A Night of Reflection

We are all born free.

Where ever you live, whatever your religious convictions, political affiliation, national background take a moment for reflection.

Peace be with you.

Pass it on.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2Ywa8KO6q8[/youtube]

A Free Christmas Gift – Hugs

I treated myself to a massage today as an early Christmas gift.  As the holidays approach our teeth clench, our shoulders tighten, and our low backs throb, as we attack our endless to-do list of holiday preparations.

Across Europe people share good cheer; but whereas the French blow air kisses to the cheek and the British shake hands, Americans hug, especially in the Midwest, especially in my family. Maybe it goes back to my Viking ancestry when close body contact meant survival. At any rate the Olson -McKinzie clan I grew up in were huggers, whether it was a big bear hug from mom or a special squeeze from Papa Mac.hugging siblings

Ironically during the Internet age in our fast paced, high tech society, we can access people across the globe instantly electronically, yet we have become more physically disconnected to others than ever.

People in the helping professions, like my nurse friends, have long understood the healing power of touch. Medical studies prove that touch decreases anxiety, increases the number of white blood cells, lowers blood pressure, increases endorphins, and helps you sleep better. The ancient ritual of hands on healing has been part of religious practices for centuries.

I love words, but words fall short.  No written expression can heal the mind, body, and spirit as greatly as the power of touch.

Though we associate this time of year with razzle-dazzle holiday glitz euphoria, for many people it is also a time of sorrow as they remember lost loved ones. Days are short and dreary; nights are long and lonely.  Everybody needs the touch of other human beings especially now. Even though economic times are tough, and we can’t all buy extravagant Christmas presents or afford a massage, hugs are free.

The greatest gift we can give is this season is ourselves.

Who have you hugged today?