The most liked photo from all of my posts combined on WordPress, Google+, Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram in 2013 was the one I took of St. Patrick’s Church in Parnell, Michigan on a stormy New Year’s Eve. We were coming back from a dinner down Gavin Lake Road and I noticed the laser-like quality of the flood lights on the steeple of the church that is celebrating its 170th anniversary this year.
“We have to turn around, I got to get this photo,” I said to my husband.
The church stands like a lonely sentinel amid farms and fields in the northern east part of Kent County. It is a landmark for both the parishioners and travelers who pass by.
It was built in 1844 by Irish pioneers braving the new lands, according to Saint Patrick’s Parish history book published in 1996. I’ve written many times about this church, its preservation efforts and movement ahead with times.
Happy and successful 2014.
We always do most of the canning and pickling in August during the Lowell Kent County Youth Fair and beyond. We made more than 100 jars of dill pickles in all formats; spears, slices and whole. It is a family recipe. The pickles are sweet and sour. We also make our own marinara sauces and salsa.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s fun,” says my husband Ludek.
In August, I started a WordPress blog for my sister-in-law Jarmila. She has a baking business in Stipa, Czech Republic. The blog is CJ Aunt Jarmilkas Desserts at http://jkarmaskova.wordpress.com.
As summer 2013 turned into fall, I traveled to Europe for my big trip covering four countries: France, Czech Republic, Spain and Switzerland. I was out of the USA for five weeks staying in different towns and resorts. I was most impressed by Brno in Czech Republic and the wine village Gevrey-Chambertin in the heart of Burgundy. The trip to Geneva happened by a chance because we were headed to Lausanne with my doctor daughter Emma instead.
“It was totally echec style,” Emma said.
I had to look up the meaning of echec several times. It means checkmate in chess. For a story on Geneva, Switzerland go to my post from Oct. 21.
In October, I experienced a major wine harvest in Gevrey-Chambertin delayed by at least three weeks, but with the best crop ever, according to the winemaker.
It was still sunny and warm when I got back to Michigan by mid-October.
A big moment in time came after a sleepless week in November. My sons’s baby Josephine Marie Palova was born on Nov. 21 on a cloudy morning. We stormed into the birthing center at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo equipped with phones, devices and gadgets to take hundreds of photos.
“Mom, this is the only time you go to the hospital happy,” said Emma.
Josephine is the fourth generation Czech-American born into the family whose members fully speak both languages, Czech and English.
And lastly to close the year in December, my brother Vas and I experienced the beauty and intricacies of social media, games and such as we played with some designs. We designed a game during the Christmas chaos. It was a relief to get a message from old country Czech Republic.
“Your cousin Olin is a grandpa,” we got the notification via facebook.
“Congratulations from Emma & Vas.”
Have an awesome 2014 and watch for a story on Great Expectations 2014 and inspiring people of the Lowell area.
I’ve experienced a very productive year, both professionally and personally. On January 15th, I started my blog with WordPress to increase public engagement for my memoir project “Greenwich Meridian.”
The readership has grown from zero to nearly 200 followers in less than one year. As a lover of new things, I found a new passion in writing online, designing and search engine marketing.
My trophy case with WordPress says, “You are a prolific publisher. Why don’t you blog about it.”
As I learned the nuts and bolts of the business, I continued to explore my memories. The memoir tells a story about the family immigration saga that now spans three generations.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 4- “The life of returned immigrants in communist Czechoslovakia.” It covers our return from the USA to the homeland in 1973 based on the presidential amnesty.
When we finally got out of a week-long nightmare at the quarantine Trebotov, it wasn’t exactly how I envisioned our homecoming. I was shocked at the dilapidated state of villages and towns in Bohemia and Moravia.
“Mom why is everything so old and ugly?” I asked innocently.
“It’s an old country my dear,” she smiled. “This is were you and I belong.”
“How can you say that after what we’ve been through at the quarantine?”
Due to chronic shortage of housing, we moved in with my paternal grandparents in Stipa. Neither mom nor I were used to being constantly pestered, not to speak about my brother Vas. Both grandparents, who were educators, were strict and prompt.
“Don’t touch that, don’t use that much water,” resonated through the house.
To this day, the house and my late uncle Antonin remain a mystery to me, and that was one of the reasons why I travelled to Europe last September.
But, back to Moments in time 2013.
In March I went to Florida for a retreat and an interview with my parents Ella & Vaclav Konecny who started the immigration saga in mid 1960s. See posts “Interview with my parents for Greenwich Meridian on March 10th, 13th & March 17th.
April brought flood waters to Lowell and Grand Rapids, the two communities that are the closest to where I live.
As far as my blog goes, I started adding pages covering local stories and interesting people. I will continue this with more inspiring area people into 2014.
One of the most heartbreaking moments came in July.
The Whites Covered Bridge burnt in Smyrna, which upset the history lover in me.
This is my collection of the Stephen King Library desk calendars which I have received over the years from my neighbor Catherine Haefner. They are very cool.
The calendars include excerpts from some of his stories& little known facts from his life. Continue reading Desk calendars→
Christmas Eve in Czech Republic is a colorful tapestry woven with legends, stories, myths and superstitions that originate in folk beliefs long before television or the Internet.
Many people believe that magical things happen on that day. No one should be sad, aggressive or squabble on that day, because it would stay with them until next Christmas.
Coming from a Catholic family, we always fasted on that day. The tradition has it if you don’t eat anything until the festive dinner, you will see the “Golden Pig.”
“Emma, don’t eat anything or you won’t see the golden pig,” my grandfather chuckled behind my back.
Then one Christmas Eve, as a kid, I caught him doing the pig with a flashlight. I remember the disappointment was almost the same, as when my friends in Sudan, Africa told me that Jesus is not the one who brings presents, but my parents do. I used to write letters to Jesus, and put them inside on the window sill. I was always so happy when they disappeared. Santa Claus does not exist in Czech traditions.
Some disappointments come early.
We always had real wax candles on the tree. One Christmas in Africa the tree caught on fire. I guess my dad extinguished it. The same happened in former Czechoslovakia at least three Christmases. Then, we finally switched to electric lights which are nearly not as romantic, but a lot safer.
People also visited on Christmas Eve to wish merry Christmas to taste desserts and do some shots. Usually people had their favorite cookie. One year all the chocolate beehives disappeared. A relative ate them all. The same thing happened last night, when my brother Vas ate all the vanilla crescents.
The beehives were a catchall dessert. They’re not baked because they’re made from already baked dough that just didn’t turn out well. You add rum to the dough, and put it in the form and it comes out like beehive or a tall hat. Then it’s filled.
There should be an even number of diners at the table or Mrs. Death will take the odd one within the next year. You can also fool Mrs. Death by setting at least one more plate if there is an odd number of people at the table. No one should leave the table during dinner or they will die.
Apples also come into play on that magical evening. You cut an apple in half and if it has the perfect star-shaped pit in the center, you will be healthy. If it’s rotted, the person will be sick.
You should place a scale from your festive carp and a coin under the plate for wealth. Those who are really motivated can put an entire wallet under it.
Also you’re supposed to throw behind you a shoe. If the front of the shoe faces the door, you will leave the household or get married. My mom always did this one wishing her shoe would turn out so she could leave former Czechoslovakia be reunited with my dad in Hawkins, TX. She waited four Christmases before she received her emigration visa.
Other tales call for sharing the leftovers from the Christmas Eve dinner with the nature, animals and birds. We open presents after dinner and go to the midnight mass.
One tradition that disappeared are the carolers and musicians playing under the balcony in hometown Zlin. But, once a year, I play the piano and my son plays the saxophone Czech carols.
Gold Sunday is the first or last Sunday before Christmas which this year falls on Dec. 22nd. By then all good housewives have their baking & cleaning done according to Czech traditions. Before I started writing and blogging, I could make up to 10 different Christmas desserts including vanilla crescents, “nutty baskets” and chocolate “rohlicky.”
As a student at the prep school Gymnasium Zlin, we would even get time off for baking.
“As long as you’re keeping the tradition going,” Russian professor Chudarkova used to say.
That reminds me of the opening day of the hunting season here in Michigan where some schools get the day off. I always baked long into the night, and I filled the pastries on Christmas Eve. Back in the old Czechoslovakia I had no helpers. Many years later in the USA my son Jake assisted me by rolling out the dough from a stool.
Silver Sunday is time to get your Christmas fish for the big evening feast known as “Bountiful Eve.” The town squares in Czech Republic are home to merchants with live carp. For years during Christmases of the past I went shopping for the best carp ever sporting a net bag, so the carp can breathe.
Large wooden vats carried carp from ponds in Southern Bohemia. The carp trade dates back to feudalism and to the royals who granted the rights to do this. I regret that I’ve never seen the carp ponds in Bohemia.
The live carp and then the butchering of it on the morning of Dec. 24 have been the subject of stories, legends, photographs and calendars much like the day and the evening itself.
I will remember one carp story forever. One family got so attached to their live carp, they could not bring themselves to butcher it. They took the live carp to a nearby brook and released it into the shallow water. The carp probably didn’t make it, but they felt better and from then on they purchased fish filets from a well-know store in hometown Zlin and that was Rybena.
I think my uncle John butchered ours. The family usually placed the carp in a tub. One year I put the tub outside on the apartment balcony. When I went to check on the fish next day, it almost froze. I had to smash the ice and resuscitate the fish.
So, the Christmas Eve menu in Czech Republic consists of breaded fried filet of carp, potato salad, mushroom or fish soup and the great cookies.
In later years, non-carp lovers substituted the carp for salmon filets. We stick to the tradition and I buy either cod or other white meat fish. I make tons of potato salad with our own pickles.
I have to share this. I will be reciting a Christmas Eve poem by KJ Erben for the first time from his anthology ” Bouquet.” I am so excited to start a new family tradition this year. I was actually inspired by Ella during a chilly walk to the Franciscan Sisters. She reminded me of Red Riding Hood. A great moment of 2013
Christmas cactus blooms in coral colors on a frosty December morning in Michigan-Winterland beauty. Experience holiday magic with me on my online journal EW Emma’s Writings at https://emmapalova.wordpress.com