Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Joe Magarac: Man of Steel

American folk heroes are powerful people, whether real or not. These remarkable individuals often embody desired strengths or skills. What sets a folk hero apart from the general public is his or her transformation from the common to the extraordinary by virtue of their deeds and choices. One example is steel worker Joe Magarac who was considered by many to be the Paul Bunyan of the steel workers.He became the  ideological symbol for the steel-working public.  
In the 1930’s Joe Magarac was manifested by the steel workers of Monongahela Valley in Pittsburgh, as a powerful symbol representing the grit associated with this industry.  His official title was “Joe Magarac: Man of Steel,” as he is depicted crushing a piece of hot steel with his bare hands.  He bent iron with his bare hands and felt no pain from the scolding hot temperatures of the metals.  He could build large railroads merely by shaping metal between the wedges of his fingers.  However, he was idealized because despite his super human strength, he still was an earnest worker who put all his energy, time and will into his work, something the steel workers of America can relate to.  He may have been a mythical creation, but Joe Magarac became a powerful  motivational tool for these workers.  He helped these workers’ will to keep fighting through one of the most downtrodden events in our nation’s history, The Great Depression.  
Joe Magarac first hit the media in the issue of Scribner’s Magazine in 1931.  He was a model for the immigrants coming to America in search for the American dream, specifically those entering the steel industry.  Joe Magarac represented dedication, a much-needed quality for the immigrants to find success in their new homeland.  He was a catalyst for progress in the steel industry during an era in desperation for positive advancement.
 Joe worked every day of the week, which seems like an exaggeration, but in reality, these steel workers worked 6-7 days a week in grueling conditions.  The conception that Joe was “married” to his work acted as a metaphor for the sparse amount of time these workers spent with their families because they were strictly tied to their work.  As a mythological character, he represented the courageous prototype of the steel worker during an era hungry for motivation.
The connection between Joe Magarac and the qualities of a folk hero is undeniable.  A folk hero is idealized for their remarkable actions and honorable personalities.  Their strong will and perseverance trigger inspiration.  As it did with Joe Magarac who rose from the steel workers’ imagination as a hero, idol and symbol.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Back To The Table with My Country Kitchen

Food has long been an important element of everyday life. Even though information and beliefs about how it should be grown, prepared and served varies from culture to culture, household to household, food is often at the heart of most communal gatherings.  Breaking bread together has long been a key ingredient in all major life passages: birth, birthdays, graduations, weddings, holidays, anniversaries, etc.

Author Betty Reed Lynch wants to remind us of the communal qualities of food in her book  Back to the Table with My Country Kitchen.  It was written for anyone who wants a easy way to step back into the kitchen in order to share meals with those you love.

In today’s fast-paced, busy world, that’s not a bad idea. People gather together less frequently. Add to that the fact that events that used to last days now take place within the space of only a few hours and it’s easy to see how food, once a powerful bond among community members (including families) had changed.

Lynch wants people to create meal-related memories that last more than one life time. “When you are old and your children are grown you will not regret the time spent together around the dinner table,” she wrote in the book’s introduction.

Back to the Table with My Country Kitchen was written to help you prepare cost- and time-effective meals that make shared family meals simple.

This 147-page book keeps its promise. The recipes, food wisdom, and interplay between author and editor about various cooking terms and tips, offer ways for you to re-discover the joy of food.  Fun and interesting recipes like maple hot chocolate, strawberry bread, and oven porcupines (you’ll have to read the book to find out what those are!) are perfect family foods.

Food charts – how to use various apple varieties, vegetable steaming charts, etc. – and tips like this: Save butter wrappers in the freezer to use for greasing pans when baking all add up to smart and easy for the modern family.

The book also includes comments by others about taking time to have family meals. According to Andrea Yates, “It's almost a lost art these days and is so important in our lives. I just took it for granted growing up but really realize how special my family and their values and traditions were and how lucky I am to have them. So for everyone reading this...Make time for yourself, your family and friends...have them over for a sit down dinner, you'd be amazed at how it heals the soul (and warms the tummy too).”

Back to the Table with My Country Kitchen is available in paperback and as an e-book at Lulu.com.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sports Folk Heroine: Brandi Chastain

A folk hero (heroine) is someone who exhibits qualities that are desirable. Hard-working, ethical, honest, clever, witty, and funny are examples of characteristics that folk heroes and folk heroines exhibit in the course of their daily lives. When push comes to shove in difficult situations, they do what is best, what is right and they often do so at seemingly personal sacrifice. And this is how and why they touch others.

As a soccer player Katie Parucha, who was a student intern, writes here about one of her sports heroes, Brandi  Chastain: 

I strived to be just like her as a young soccer player, even choosing her number (#6) as my own whenever I was to wear a jersey on the field. She was so composed and calm when on the field, but there were moments when her fierceness took control and no one could stop her athleticism and drive to excel. It was these qualities that I admired and hoped one day to emulate.

Yes, it was apparent that Brandi was an awesome person and player, but there was one moment in time that made the world recognize this amazing athlete. It was July 10th, 1999 and the Women’s U.S. National Team was playing Japan in the finals of the Women’s World Cup. The Olympics were held in the United States at the Rose Bowl, which some might say gave the U.S. an advantage. Knowing that Japan was a team to reckon with, I knew that we had a great challenge ahead of us. 

The game went back and forth, both teams neck and neck competing for the world’s greatest honor in soccer. Feelings of anxiety, hope, and adrenaline filled my body as I watched this intense match. Regulation time left the score at 0-0 which only meant one thing, penalty kicks. The world waited in anticipation as the players took their shots. Brandi was the fifth kicker to take her penalty, meaning that if she was to score this goal, the U.S. would win the World Cup. 

She  walked up to the penalty spot setting her ball down exactly how she wanted to place it. For soccer players, placing the ball down can be a very important and superstitious ritual before taking a penalty kick. After setting the ball down, Chastain stepped back and took a deep breath. Although there was an extreme amount of pressure placed upon her shoulders, she looked as though she had a confidence and ease about her that no one could tap into. The whistle blew giving her the signal that she was clear to take the kick. As the entire world watched her, she lunged forward to take her kick. The ball was placed in the lower right corner of the net….. GOAL!!!!!! 
The entire U.S. Women’s team raced up to Brandi who had fallen to her knees and began swarming her. The feeling that I felt after that goal was scored was indescribable and will remain one of the fondest soccer memories of my life. 

In just seconds Brandi Chastain went from being an intricate member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, to a sports hero- a folk hero- who will go down in soccer history. Not only did she bring attention to women’s soccer (which was hurting at the time with fan base), but she also brought attention to women’s sports in general. It was that amazing day in America that Brandi Chastain rose above adversity and changed the world of women’s Soccer.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Folklore of May Flowers

Garden lore is a colorful component of folklore. Around the world people hold beliefs and have customs that are directly related to the vegetation around them. Whether or not the flora produces nourishing edibles, it still helps them to better understand the world they live in. For example, fruit tree blossoms often indicate that spring is on the way and falling harvest leaves serve as a reminder that its time to prepare for the coming of winter.
Each season, each month, comes with its own bouquet, so to speak. In May which marks both spring and summer and has long been associated with fertility and birth in the northern hemisphere, there are many community beliefs and traditions that revolve around flowers and trees:
  • Lily of the Valley - According to Christian legend, the Lily was a yellowish color until the Virgin Mary stooped to pick one. The Lily turned white and came to represent purity, chastity, and innocence.
  • Narcissus - According to Greek mythology, a young man named Narcissus was so in love with his appearance that he stared at his reflection in a pool of water for so long that he died, and eventually bloomed into his namesake flower, Narcissus. 
  • Peonies- Named after Paeon, the Greek god of medicine. Traditional folk medicine claims the Peony root is a cure for menstrual cramps The Chinese call this flower the King of Flowers or the Flower Fairy, and the Qing Dynasty officially named it China’s national flower in 1903.    
  • May pole - During medieval days, May was often celebrated by young men and women dancing on the village green around a specially-decorated tree.  The trees’ branches were replaced by colorful ribbons that dancers held while celebrating.
  • Fir tree – In Germany tradition a fir tree was cut down on May Eve by young unmarried men. The removed branches were decorated and placed in the village square during festivities. The tree was guarded all night to prevent it being stolen by the men of a neighboring village.
  • Oak tree – Oak Apple Day is England is celebrated on May 29th is remembrance of King Charles the II, who hid in an oak tree from Cromwell’s solders. 
Other flora folkloric connections involve lavender as a romantic lure for young French maidens seeking to attract a suitor and flower garden dew that young British girls would wash their face with to enhance a beautiful complexion. Herbal remedies have long played a part in a community’s overall well-being, too.
Folk beliefs about the connections between the natural world and a society’s survival can be seen in its garden lore. Flowers and trees have found their way into important life passages like births, weddings, and funerals because they have come to represent a community’s hopes for rebirth and renewal.