Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Tradition Lives On

Since I could speak the word "baranek" (lamb) it was part of my Easter vocabulary. As I mentioned before I grew up in a Polish family. The Easter lamb is a eastern European religious symbol. It represents Jesus as the sacrificed Paschal lamb.  Christians traditionally refer to Jesus as "the Lamb of God. " The Easter lamb, draped with the flag of victory, may be seen in pictures and images in the homes of every central and eastern European family, during the Easter season.

My grandmother owned a genuine Polish Bakery. Easter was the biggest holiday of the year. As soon as you were considered "capable" you were enlisted in the preparation of the "baraneks" for Easter. These pound cakes made from lamb-shaped molds were baked mounted on iced and green-dyed coconut rectangle cardboard. The beginners working on this family tradition made the bows, placed the raisins for the lambs eyes and noses, and placed the flag of resurrection into the cake.

Seasoned Antique Lamb Mold
The real master of this project was the baker who made hundreds of these cakes and stored them in containers with a bit of liquor to keep them moist. The baking went on for weeks. This was before large scale freezers and institutional sized cake mixes. The baker made these cakes from scratch and along side the regular bakery stock.

The scouring boy (the teenage male) selected to clean the pots, pans, tables, and floors of the actual baking area was put on over drive. He had to clean the molds and then have them greased and floured for the baker for the next baking day.

Lamb Cake Just Out of Mold
The unsung heroes of this production of a flock of cakes were my mother, aunt, and grandmother. I watched them take skinny pound cake lambs and make them into fluffy white tasty desserts. It seemed that they could hold a pastry tube that some times was as large as a small car vacuum. They would deftly decorate one cake and move right on to the next without skipping a beat. My grandmother often would come down in what I would call "the staging area," in reality it was the storage area for flour and sugar bags that weighed at least 50lbs. or more.

We thought that the entire world celebrated Easter the way our neighborhood in Chicago did. None of us ever took pictures of this phenomenon called the decorating of the lambs. We always thought that the bakery world always be there. It was when my mother sent me a lamb cake mold after my grandmother sold the bakery an era had ended.  I realized that the preparation of the "baraneks" was passed on to me.
Lamb Cake Waiting for Finishing Touches

Each year during Holy Week, my heart and mind goes back to those days on 51st Street in Chicago. My mom, aunt, and grandmother have left this earth. My children are grown, but I make a "baranek" and think of the days and the hundreds of lamb cakes that brought the women in my family together to celebrate Spring, the promise of hope, the time of grace. When I make my "baranek" I am renewed. I feel like I am twelve and my mother is teaching me how to make my first "lamb cake."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Women and Men: Lean In

"My greatest hope is that my son and my daughter will be able to choose what to do with their lives without external or internal obstacles slowing them down or making them question their choices. If my son wants to do the important work of raising children full-time, I hope he is respected and supported. And if my daughter wants to work full-time outside her home, I hope she is respected and supported, but also liked for her achievements." ( Sheryl Sandberg Lean In) 

WOW! Talk about a conversation opener! If you want to rock the discussion in a book group, choose Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. If you have ever thought "women have lost ground in the equality fight," read this book.  It will stir some latent feminist feelings whether they are pro or con.

It is about women leaning in at any age and possibly at any economic level. It is written by the newest generation of executive woman. Sheryl Sandberg speaks about finding your career path with your foot on the gas pedal. She talks about how men have to step up their game at home and at the office to help women achieve their goals. She considers the most important decision in life is selecting the right life partner. Curious, don't you think it ought to be whether you are a man or a woman?

During Woman's History Month, we owe it to ourselves to stretch and reconsider where are we today as women. Yes, we have the right to vote. (When mother-in-law was born in the United States, women didn't have it.)  Women can get birth control without their husband's permission. (My mother's generation wasn't so lucky.) We have Title IX (I didn't have it growing up, but my daughter was a full recipient.)

We still don't have equal pay for equal work. We still have childcare,  issues. The Family Medical Leave Act issures a job, but how it operates depends on the employers generosity.  Flex-time, paid sick days, and reasonable health coverage still are family issues.

We still have trouble convincing women to register to vote, to learn about the issues, and to get more involved in politics. We still have trouble supporting other women when we think that our opportunities might be in jeopardy.  We are hesitaant to mentor other women.

I rarely do book reviews, but after I watched Sandberg's interview on Sixty Minutes and I have started following the link on about Lean In, I kne the book was a must read for every woman who has been told that "it wasn't lady like..."  Get on the list at the library, you won't regret it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 17 - St. Patrick's Day and Much More

So, it's St. Patrick's Weekend. It is a great time to celebrate with our friends of Irish heritage. There will be parades, green beer, Irish soda bread, and of course, cabbage and corned beef piled up like Thanksgiving turkeys in the local grocery stores. It amazes me how we love to celebrate. No one celebrated St. Patrick's Day more than my family.

No, we are not born of Irish heritage, quite the contrary. We were Polish, but we celebrated as though it was a high holiday along with our Irish neighbors. We still celebrate it because my dad was born on St. Patrick's day. He felt that it was lucky to be born on this day. Some would look at his life and think that this man had a hard life. If he were alive today, he would say,"I'm the richest man in the world. I have a wife who loves me. She is a great cook and baker.  I have six children, twelve grandchildren, and ten great-great grandchildren."

I could fill pages about my dad, but the best story is about the night my second sister was born. It was St. Patrick's day. My dad took the day off to take my mom to the doctors. She was close to her due date.

I was in first grade and we were having a program that night at school. My dad dropped me off and said that he would pick me up after the program.  My mom stayed home because she was tired. After the program, it seemed like a lot of kids left really fast. Then, there were only a few of us left, so Sister Lillian told us to put our heads down on the desk and wait until she would call our name. She turned off the lights in the classroom and let the coat room lights on. I fell asleep.

In the meantime, my dad never made it through the program. A neighbor got dad at school and told him my mother's water broke. The neighbor drove my dad and mom to the hospital. I was sleeping in the classroom. Later that evening my dad returned home to find out that no one picked me up. So at midnight, he was ringing the convent doorbell until someone answered, woke the janitor, and walked down to the classroom and called my name. "Daddy, it's very dark out. "I answered. "I was sleeping hard. I am really tired what took you so long?"

My father laughed and said, "Have good news! You have another little sister. She was born during the school program. Let's go home and sleep in our own beds."

So each year we celebrate my dad's birthday and every year since we celebrate my little sister's birthday. St. Patrick brought my dad a healthy child on his birthday while keeping another child safe.  Ligeann se a! (Let the party begin!) Party on America enjoy the day and if you stop by my place the corn beef is cooking. The cabbage is simmering and we'll toast to my dad contributions and to my sister's health with Irish whiskey.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Women Influencing Women

When my daughter was born, my destiny as her mother was determined by my history as a woman. Growing up with strong, determined women, my first response to this tiny infant was to tell her that "You are a part of a legacy of extraordinary women. I will help you understand that you are capable of doing all that you want to do. You can try to seek knowledge, travel to understand, and know that different is not bad, but just different." Of course, I wasn't alone on this journey. My husband and two sons were part of the team that allowed this girl to understand she "can."

A year or so after she was born, I crammed into a tiny strip mall outside a bookstore on a Sunday afternoon in Salt Lake City to hear Gloria Steinem speak.  My friend and I came early, but the crowd just kept growing and growing until it poured outside onto the parking lot. The crowd was greater than the owner of the bookstore ever anticipated. The crowd was electric with anticipation. The power of all these women gather together was Women were hungry to hear the words of the woman who inspired us with her writings. I particularly identified with her philosophy: "We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters."

My daughter (second row, first left)  called me up a few nights ago. "Mom, I just heard Gloria Steinem speak. The atmosphere was electric." She went on to tell me that she and a group of friends from work (Hardy Girls, Healthy Women, a non-profit that works to empower young girls) heard Gloria Steinem talk at Colby College. Her reply to the event was "Mom, I always thought that all girls grew up like me - empowered. I realized now it was you and dad that made it happen for me."

My husband's response to her comment was "You did it. We only opened the doors." So here I write knowing that in less than 20+ years ago, a book, a speech, and many conversations about both made a difference in one young woman's life today. This first entry for Women's History Month is to honor Gloria Steinem whose ageless wisdom continues to be passed down to generations. She continues to influence not only the women I met in my youth, but the young women of today. Gloria, you truly are a contributor and an icon who continues to make a difference.