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All is quiet today and the sky is bright above my Chicago suburb. No more sounds of plows in the streets as they try to keep up with a blizzard that dumped over a foot of snow on us. No more scraping of shovels or drone of snowblowers going up and down driveways every couple of hours.

Chicago man with snowblower, AP/Daily Herald, Bob Chwedyk

Chicago man with snowblower, AP/Daily Herald, Bob Chwedyk

The snow has stopped and the streets and driveways are as clear as they’re going to get. But with this storm’s one-two punch a brutal cold has settled in that explains the silence. As I type this it is -16 degrees Fahrenheit outside (negative 26.6 ºC)! And this does not tell the story of our windchill, which is much colder and describes how the air actually feels as these brutal temperatures, in the form of wind, hit your body. I haven’t heard a car pass by on the street for hours because those who can, are staying inside their homes. The local schools are closed and even my husband’s employer told him to stay home today, a phenomenon in itself! The birds are silent as though trying to go unnoticed by this biting cold and the squirrels that live in the two trees on my parkway are nowhere in sight. Hopefully, they’re snuggled up close together keeping as warm as possible. We only venture outside to walk our dog, who we dress in a coat with a turtleneck sweater underneath. Even wearing this get-up, he comes back inside shivering, feet frozen and  tiny snowballs clinging to his fuzzy fur. Seán is a Bichon Frise and not made for this weather.

Meanwhile, it is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Ireland. But, a milder temperature does not mean that Mother Nature is taking it easy on them. Lashing rain and 120 km/h winds have wreaked havoc with damaging waves and floods along the coast and across the country from storms that have come repeatedly since before Christmas.

The River Shannon floods Kilbaha Bay on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

The River Shannon floods Kilbaha Bay on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

Tides rise and huge waves explode against the shores of the Loop Head Peninsula and all along the coastline taking down sections of stone walls, washing over roads and flooding promenades. The howl of gale-force wind and the thunder of 40 – 60 foot waves would be invigorating and exciting to witness if it were not so destructive. I imagine the local people snug inside their homes having battened down the hatches, hoping for the best and afraid to venture out to see the damage each time it quiets down between storms.

Storm damage in Kilbaha, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

Storm damage in Carrigaholt on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

My house on the Loop Head Peninsula just outside Kilkee is inland enough that the waves themselves can’t reach it, but with wind like that and the lashing rain, I am preoccupied with concern for its wellbeing. A huge weight lifted  from my shoulders when we received an email from the local man who checks on the house for us. Reading the words, “You’ll be glad to know that Teach de Búrca stands proud with no damage done to it or any of the outbuildings,” was such a great relief that I felt a surge of optimism and a special warmth for my little Irish house as it continued to brave the storms.

So here I am surrounded by snow and cold so dangerous that I won’t be leaving the house today – not even for my mocha! The cabinet doors under the kitchen sink are open to allow heat to surround and protect the pipes from freezing as are the doors around water pipes in the basement. Curtains drawn and blinds closed through the night in an attempt to keep out drafts, are now open to allow the sun to magnify some heat through the windows. The furnace is on overtime doing its best to keep us warm, so far so good. I am here and I know what is happening and what I need to do. But since I’m not in my County Clare cottage, I can’t see for myself if all is well after each storm so I am haunted by phantom sounds of crashing waves, howling wind and the rattling of my red half-door.

Lahinch, Co. Clare Promenade photo taken by photographer/surfer George Karbus courtesy breakingnews.ie

Atlantic waves appear to swallow the promenade in Lahinch, Co. Clare, photo taken by photographer/surfer George Karbus courtesy breakingnews.ie

I’ve played a Damien Dempsey CD repeatedly throughout the holidays. In fact, it has been more the theme of my holiday season than the usual collection of Christmas CDs I unpack with the ornaments every year. My favorite track is, “School Days Over”. This version of the song is sung in a gritty, workingman’s voice that makes it easy to imagine a boy, barely a man, being called to work and facing the hard reality of his life. Although the song was written by Ewan MacColl and depicts the mines in England, Scotland and Wales, Dempsey sings it in a style that is unquestionably Irish. The lilt at the end of several lines throughout the song, tells us that the hard life of the laborer was as much a part of Irish culture as the more romantic and cozy things that resonate when we think of Ireland, like music in the pubs and strong, milky tea with brown bread.

Far from the streets of Dublin and the boreens of Loop Head, I woke up this morning to piles of snow on the ground and more falling from the sky. The Chicago area has been hammered by snow that seems to have been incessantly falling in varying degrees for nearly 48 hours. Declan was up early this morning with the snow blower and I with a shovel, trying to get a head start on the snow in the driveway, on the steps and in the dog’s pen in the backyard. After the shoveling and in spite of blizzard conditions, I still managed to drive to Elijah’s, my favorite coffee shop, for my morning mocha. It would take more than treacherous roads to keep me from my morning ritual of mocha, book reading and the occasional enjoyable interruptions of friendly banter with a couple of my favorite baristas and a few of the other regular customers who, like me, come in every morning.

It could have been the fiddle music playing on the speakers at Elijah’s this morning, or maybe just my obsessive Damien Dempsey exposure recently, but I spent the slow, white-knuckled drive home singing “School Days Over”. My weak imitation of Dempsey’s version of the song passed the time happily for me but didn’t bode well for Eoin when I arrived home. Seeing him still in his pajamas and playing on his iPad with all that snow piling up outside, I began singing my own, off the cuff, version of “School Days Over” urging him out the door to shovel the snow accumulating once again in the driveway. Lucky for Eoin it’s 2014, and aside from family chores, child labor laws are in place. His bit of shoveling didn’t take too long and was followed up by an hour or so of sledding with his friends on the little hill at the end of our street!

Come on then Eoin, it’s time to go.

Time to be shoveling all that snow…

Bodhran by Gaga Nielsen courtesy The Pure Drop

Bodhran by Gaga Nielsen

Growing up on the far South Side of Chicago, surrounded by a vast assortment of Irish names like O’Donnell, Murphy and Burke, and Irish faces of fair-complexion with freckles and sparkling blue eyes, I never felt very Irish. Although I had an Irish grandmother, I also had a Greek last name, a German mother and dark brown eyes. My somewhat olive skin didn’t go well with the Kelly Green Rugby shirts and Aran sweaters of Chicago St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. And for the most part, the Irish music I heard in my youth, which would move many Irish-Americans to tears, didn’t do a thing for me. In my opinion songs like “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” though fun to sing along with, were corny and dripping with sentiment that was not helped by the fake Irish accents with which they were often sung.

Then one day in the 1990’s, I opened a Sinéad O’Connor cd and everything changed. On track two of this pop/rock cd there was a song called, I am Stretched on Your Grave, which I later discovered was based upon an English translation of a 17th century Irish Gaelic poem. The track began with a drum rhythm and Sinéad’s haunting, Celtic voice and led unexpectedly to what I thought at the time was a taste of pure Irish fiddle and drum heaven! As I listened, I danced around an imaginary bonfire in my mind and plugged into a power in that music that felt ancient and tribal. This song opened the door for me to a type of Irish music I had never been exposed to before. My new passion led me to the Irish Folk Music section of my beloved Border’s Bookstore and resulted in an extensive collection of Irish Traditional Music cd’s. Over time I bought dozens of cd’s, many filled with ballads rendered in a language that spoke to me, even though I didn’t understand a word of it, and haunting melodies played with fiddles, whistles and the stirring beat of the Irish drum, the bodhran, a name I couldn’t pronounce at the time. As I drove my family crazy with this newfound musical passion, I slowly became connected through music to a land, a people and a culture that I was only slightly connected to by way of genetics.

The rest is history. This blog, my West Clare cottage, my Irish last name – my youngest son – the little Irishman with a name I couldn’t have pronounced even a year before his birth, all exist to some extent because of that one Sinéad O’Connor song and the countless bodhran, fiddle and tin whistle tunes and ballads that followed. I still can’t wear Kelly Green, and Aran Sweaters really do not suit me. But not only do I now feel Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, like the rest of the City of Chicago, I am also connected to Ireland in a way that goes far beyond genetics. And today my two older children, whom I once drove crazy with my Irish Music cd’s, have a bond to Ireland as well!

On February 28th, President Obama declared March, 2013 Irish-American Heritage Month. Perhaps his Moneygall, Ireland DNA is what drove him to do it. Or, his experience visiting that country where he only recently discovered his family connections. Or, maybe it was just good old-fashioned politics where it never hurts to nod to the millions of Americans with Irish blood coursing through their veins! I would say it was probably a combination of all the above. Whatever his reasons, I am sure that most Americans will be happy to heed his call this St. Patrick’s Day!

“… NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2013 as Irish-American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.”

I’ve started this post with Happy St. Paddy’s Day instead of Happy St. Patrick’s Day, as a nod to the rant my Irish husband has been on all week. Apparently, calling the saint, Paddy, is alright (though, I think Patrick is preferred) – but woe to those Americans, including a certain beer company whose ad decorates a local restaurant, who dare to call Patrick, “Patty”! Patty is a girl’s name you see and not a name you would call any Patrick, let alone the saint Himself!  So to those of you wishing friends, loved ones and nearby strangers a Happy St. Patrick’s Day today, be warned! You may certainly be familiar enough with Patrick to call him Paddy, but should you call him Patty within earshot of Declan, you will suffer the ire of an Irishman who likes his saints’ nicknames to be gender correct!

It is probably fair to say that adding to Declan’s ill-humor is the fact that he has to work today, of all days. During the last several St. Patrick’s Days spent in the U.S. he has lamented that in Ireland the day is a national holiday for which all students and most working people would have the day off to celebrate. Since this year the holiday fell on a Saturday, he might have expected to celebrate a real St. Patrick’s Day! However, his employer apparently didn’t consider ethnicity when drawing up the call roster for the year and Declan was scheduled to work, yet again, on St. Patrick’s Day.

Since we faced the holiday on our own, I had planned to bring my son, Eoin, to the downtown Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  A combination of the holiday falling on a Saturday coupled with the strangely warm weather we are experiencing made it feel almost like an obligation to attend the parade.

Inside the ‘L’ train today, photo by Anton.
(Not even close to the ‘sardines’ on the Metra!)

However, after watching a sea of Kelly Green humanity being squeezed onto two dangerously packed Metra trains at the Elmhurst train station this morning, I decided it was best to spend the day far from what I am sure will be Mardi Gras level festivities in Chicago. I may instead celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by making a loaf of brown bread to have with tea tonight!

But parade or no parade, the day is lovely and even my husband’s mood is looking up. He has cheerfully informed me that someone, perhaps another indignant Irish person armed with a marker, has changed the “t’s” to “d’s” on the restaurant’s beer ad! It is good to know you are not alone in your indignation!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I have lived in and around Chicago my entire life and have seen all sorts of blizzards. Before this week, the three biggest would probably be during the winters of 1967, 1979 and 1999. Like everyone else around here I experienced the collective excitement, dread and finally, back-breaking cleanup of those Chicago blizzards. One thing I’ve always noticed, is that Chicagoans are at their best during blizzards, and the bigger the better! They smile more and have an upbeat tone to their voices as they commiserate with their fellow blizzard survivors. Yes, we complain and some even threaten to move to a more temperate climate. But the complaining is usually accompanied by smiling faces and twinkling eyes, and the threats are rarely carried out, at least not until advanced age and tired bodies demand a move.

Chicago children enjoying the Blizzard of 1967, photo from the Chicago Tribune archive

Along with the collective experience, like everyone else I have my own, personal memories about each blizzard and my situation at the time. Going back to The Chicago Blizzard of 1967, my memories revolve around school snow days, a 10-year-old’s dream! Back then I lived with my parents and sister in an unincorporated area just a couple blocks from Chicago’s city limits, and I don’t think our neighborhood was as quick to get the roads cleared as the city probably was. With that storm I have no memory of holding a shovel in my hands, but vivid memories of hours at play building snowmen, tunnels and igloos and sliding down a snow drift, which covered the southern wall of our house and was at least 8 feet tall – according to my recollection anyway! I also have a picture in my mind of my mother pulling a sled down the street heading for a small local grocery store to restock our refrigerator with essentials. This memory alone tells me that our street was not yet clear enough to drive upon even a day or so after the snow had already stopped falling.

During The Chicago Blizzard of 1979 I was a newlywed living in an apartment on Chicago’s South Side. At the time I worked downtown and traveled home from work on the Archer bus and then switched to the Kedzie Avenue bus that took me a block from our apartment. The main routes in Chicago must have been kept pretty clear because I made it home to within a block of my apartment but then remember walking that last block down sidewalks that had not yet been shoveled, the snow already coming up to my knees and still falling in large flakes heavily from the sky. I was young enough and newly married enough to think the experience was romantic and cozy and that feeling was only amplified as I entered my lovely, cozy apartment – with its oak floors and beautiful oak cove molding and French doors leading from the living room to the bedroom – and I was greeted by the scent of a delicious dinner, simmering in our trusty Crock Pot! That was probably one of the tastiest meals of my life.

The Chicago Blizzard of 1999 was another story. I was a recent widow that winter. In fact, it was the first winter following the death of my husband, that very November. Alone with an 11-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son and only two shovels between us, I have to admit that this was not a blizzard of twinkling eyes and upbeat Chicago-style commiserating over the weather. It was a blizzard of sadness, fatigue and exasperation. A blizzard of sore arms heaving shovels-full of snow over my head to the top of ever-growing mountains of snow that bordered our driveway. Perhaps getting through The Blizzard of 1999 made me stronger and gave me the confidence I needed to move forward, but it’s not a memory I like to revisit.

This is not a toy car, it's Declan's work vehicle in the driveway this morning hours before the snow ended.

Yesterday and this morning we were hit with The Chicago Blizzard of 2011 and Thundersnow! Lucky for us, a few years ago, during the first winter my Irish husband experienced in the great Midwest, Declan made the decision that he could not live here without a snow blower! Since then the snow clean up has been more manageable and, though still hard work, less back-breaking. So this recent blizzard was for us, mostly a matter of waiting for the wind to calm down enough to allow Declan to get out there with the snow blower. This morning between the two of us – him with the machine and me with a shovel getting to the spots the machine can’t reach – we managed to have about two feet of snow cleared from our driveway, along with the driveway of an ailing neighbor, in roughly four hours. And as usual, the snow clearing was accompanied by Chicago-style twinkling-eyed commiseration about the blizzard with a neighbor or two!

Still in my pajamas under the coat!

However, last night’s storm gave me an experience I’ve never had in all my years of Chicago snow and blizzards. Last night in the thick of the storm, with gale force winds blowing straight from the North turning violently into tornado-like swirls of snow, I saw a bright flash of light! At first I thought my worst fear had come into being and a power line had fallen. But a few seconds later, after hearing a loud clap of thunder, I realized that in the middle of this raging blizzard we were getting thunder and lightning! So last night, The Chicago Blizzard of 2011 managed to surprise this somewhat jaded snow storm veteran, by giving me my first experience with Thundersnow! Yet another unique blizzard memory.

Snow Day 2011, Eoin and his friends in about 2 ft. of snow!

The Hancock Center and Sears (Willis) Tower, courtesy DailyMail.co.uk

Eóin is, officially, ready to go to Ireland. Wednesday’s storm that ripped through the Chicagoland area, making a path straight through Elmhurst as it headed east into the city, was the last straw for him.

Rain and storms have been the theme of June in our area this year, but the storm we experienced this past Wednesday was the worst yet. Anton called to warn me that he had received an email at work from the Chicago Police Department warning of severe and dangerous storms approaching Chicago from the west, so I had enough time to do the only thing I could think of to prepare – I closed the umbrella that had been open, outside on our deck. Almost immediately, I began to hear approaching thunder and knew that Anton’s warning was correct, a storm was approaching. At first it was the usual, thunder, lightning and lashing rain. Eóin had dozed off while I was reading him a few chapters of Roald Dahl’s, The BFG, and since he is very frightened of storms, I decided I would let him sleep through this one and perhaps avoid some anxiety. However, within minutes the storm turned into what looked like a hurricane, with winds so strong and rain so heavy that it formed a thick wall that made it nearly impossible to see the trees in the parkway or the street and houses beyond. Alarmed, I decided to wake Eóin and bring him down to the basement. By the time we were downstairs the emergency sirens began to go off and I knew waking and bringing my son to the basement had been the correct thing to do. Moments later, I was not surprised when the power blinked twice and then finally, shut off.

When the alarms had stopped and the wind and rain seemed to calm down, we made our way upstairs. Eoin was very concerned that Rosie, our guinea pig, had been frightened by the storm and he was not very happy with me for leaving her upstairs. However, I have a rule – I never pick up this adorable creature because just below her “adorable” appearance, is the nasty temperament of a guinea pig who bites. Neither one of us wanted to pick up Ms. Nasty, so she was left in her cage, to take her chances with the storm! In the end, she was fine and as far as I could tell, totally oblivious to any danger she may have faced.

When the rain stopped and the thunder quieted down, we stepped outside the front door and beheld the damage the storm had left. Three doors north of us a huge, old tree lay uprooted, completely blocking the street. Two doors south a tree had split nearly in two with one half laying in a heap in a neighbor’s driveway, and at the end of our block a two-story evergreen tree, also uprooted, laid across a lawn. Less dramatic, but adding to the scene of disorder left by the storm, were smaller branches, sticks and clumps of leaves scattered everywhere on the street, lawns and driveways. Even a metal lamp-post, which once stood next to a neighbor’s front walkway, lay bent in half with a huge branch laying on top of it. Almost immediately people began to emerge from their homes and wandered up and down the sidewalks and street assessing the damage and removing the scattered branches from the street and sidewalks, laying them in piles on the parkways. No more that 15 minutes passed before I heard the sound of a power saw working on the enormous tree that lay blocking the street, surrounded by nearly a dozen people who carried away the branches as they were sliced off. Meanwhile, I stood on my front step and watched webs of electricity zigzagging from side to side very low in the sky, just a few feet above the trees, and certainly not far enough above the heads of the people below to make it safe for them to be outside. I’ve never seen lightning like it and thought that the clean up really should have waited until the lightning show was over. I instructed Eóin to stay on the porch or in the house until the lightning finally decided to move along and catch up with the storm, which by now was well on its way into the city of Chicago. For at least an hour afterward I could still see webs of fork lightning zigzagging across the sky in the east over Chicago.

After the excitement was over the sounds around us changed from the violence of the storm to the buzzing of electric saws and the loud hum of generators providing back up electrical power to sump pumps and I presume, a few refrigerators. As it turned out, we were without electricity for about 28 hours, when it was finally returned to us on Thursday night at around 9:30pm. The good news was that the sweltering heat we had experienced before the storm had been replaced with a fresh breeze, which stayed through the night, and provided comfort when our air conditioners were of no use.

Eóin remarked afterward that he was, “glad we’re going to Ireland so we can get away from storms and tornados.” … This sounded like famous last words to me – so I immediately knocked on wood – for safety’s sake!

Webs of electricity over Chicago, courtesy DailyMail.co.uk

St. Patrick’s Day blessings to ye!

In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday when most people have the day off work and the schools are closed. In the U.S. when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a weekday, as it has this year, we must be content to do most of our celebrating on the weekend. Therefore, since most of the celebrating in Chicago is going on today, I decided that I would wish everyone a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, today! I spoke to my son at around 10:30 a.m. and he was already celebrating with some friends at an Irish pub in Chicago, called Fado… which means ‘long ago’ in Irish. Good luck with that Anton… I hope the celebrating does not go on through to tonight! The Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade was today, as was the Elmhurst parade, which we missed due to the rain but could still hear from our house. Tonight, I may attend a Ceili Mor at the Irish Heritage Center which promises ceol ‘s craic – music and fun.

I’ve had some great fun celebrating over the years. Many St. Patrick’s Days were spent at the South Side Irish Parade and there were a couple spent in suburban pubs sipping disgusting green beer while wishing there was a vegetarian version of corned beef and cabbage. One particularly memorable St. Patrick’s Day took place many years ago at Irish Eyes Pub on Chicago’s north side with Fred, back when we were dating. We enjoyed some great Irish bands that night and I, in my youthful enthusiasm and amateur status, drank perhaps a beer more than I could handle and ended up with my face laying on the table! Recently, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been of a more subdued nature, with Declan and I marching with Eóin and his preschool in the Elmhurst St. Patrick’s Day Parade for a couple years and eventually, just the three of us watching from the sidelines.

In March of 2002, I had the good fortune to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Irish, in Dublin! That year Delcan, Kate and I made the most of an authentic, Irish St. Patrick’s Day by attending as many events as possible. Two days before St. Patrick’s Day, we attended Dublin’s spectacular fire works celebration on the Liffey, surrounded by a crowd that seemed impossibly huge for a country with a population of roughly 4.5 million (6.2 million, if you include Northern Ireland)! On the day itself, March 17th, we made our way to Dame Street in the City Centre for the parade, and stood at the side of that narrow street in a crowd so thick with Irish people, as well as folks from around the world who came to celebrate in the land of St. Patrick, that it was nearly impossible to see the innumerable floats and marching bands passing by. We craned our necks and stood on our toes doing our best to see a bit while we nearly froze that cold, wet day. After about an hour of this, we decided we needed a bit more comfort. I should really say that I needed a bit more comfort, considering Eóin was born a mere 8 weeks later! Fourteen-year-old Kate insisted upon staying to watch, so Declan found a platform for her to stand on so that she could see above the crowd while we slipped in through the door of the pub that stood right behind her. So… there  we sat during St. Patrick’s Day 2002, in a pub on Dame Street, Declan having a beer and me a Club Orange, watching the rest of the parade on the pub telly, as it marched right past Kate and the pub door!

Unfortunately, the weather became increasingly bitter cold and wet that day and forced us to reluctantly miss the post parade festivities in Stephen’s Green where many great Irish bands were scheduled to perform in an outdoor concert. However, that year I felt satisfied to have done my best to make the most of  a truly Irish St. Patrick’s Day.

Here, for your enjoyment, is my idea of a great St. Patrick’s Day celebration… Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!

The South Side Irish Parade crowd, celebrating an unusually sunny parade day in 2009, Metromix photo by Chuan D. Vo

You can’t live in Chicago and ignore St. Patrick’s Day! Our tradition of dyeing the Chicago River green, which began in 1962 during the days of the first Mayor Daley, along with the yearly St. Patrick’s Day Parade rivalry between the bigger, downtown Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the rowdier, South Side Irish Parade, always marked this holiday as a big week in Chicago. My one and only sighting of the first Mayor Daley in the flesh was to see him decked out in his Kelly green hat marching in the downtown parade when I attended one time as a child with my mother, however, throughout most of my life this South Sider chose to celebrate in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood at the South Side Irish Parade. I attended this parade innumerable times, first as a child with my mother and sister, then with my friends as a teenager, and eventually, with my young husband, as a wife and mother… Anton and Kate in tow.

Instead of being anonymous bystanders at the downtown parade, the South Side Parade provided the comfort of a familiar neighborhood and many familiar faces. There were always groups of friends and acquaintances we could count on finding at the same corners each year – some on the calmer, east side of Western Avenue and others on the west side, where all the packed bars spilled out into the street. We also looked for a couple familiar faces within the parade… a friend who played guitar with his Irish band there every year and another who marched with the Irish Fire Brigade. When they came into view, we would call out their names and wave, most likely not laying eyes on the likes of them again for another year! Very often, as the parade was tapering off to an end, we made our way to the west side of Western Avenue to enjoy a meal of corned beef and cabbage with my aunt and her family, who celebrated on parade day every year in their home on Artesian Avenue in West Beverly. Most years, brutal weather came to the parade as an uninvited guest, but we merely put up with it, resigned to the fact that this is a necessary evil for folks celebrating a March 17th holiday outdoors in Chicago. However, I do remember attending one particular year when we were joyfully surprised with sunshine and warm Spring breezes, which combined with the parade festivities to create a Mardi Gras atmosphere that lasted well into the night!

The last time I attended the South Side Irish Parade was in March of 2004, when I brought Declan and Eóin for the first time. This was Declan’s first St. Patrick’s Day in the States. I remember him expressing his surprise at seeing the vast number of lawn signs in the Beverly neighborhood declaring support for the Democratic Presidential candidate that year – a shock after spending so much time in the Republican land of Elmhurst. We felt at home wearing our John Kerry pins that day and had a nice time, but the weather was brutal as usual, and we never aroused the enthusiasm to make the trek again during subsequent St. Patrick’s Days. It became easier to keep our Patrick’s Day celebrations closer to home by attending instead, the 3rd largest parade in the Chicago area, the Elmhurst St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The politics isn’t ours, but the proximity is, and these days we are far more likely to run into familiar faces here in Elmhurst than on the South Side of Chicago. However, I always felt nostalgic for the South Side Parade and vowed each year to make it back again.

But sadly, we missed our last chance to attend last year. The South Side Irish Parade is now a thing of the past… this enthusiastic and sometimes rowdy parade celebrating both St. Patrick’s Day and South Side pride, which grew too big and too disruptive for a city neighborhood, is now replaced with the more manageable, and tame sounding, “South Side Irish Parade Family Fest”. My guess is that the only way we will end up attending the Family Fest, will be to watch my son dance there one year with his Irish Dancing school! But the days of “Mardi Gras on the South Side” are over… at least until some crafty South Side Irish-American can convince the city to try it again!

I drove home last night while the skies were in the process of dumping 4-5 inches of snow on the Chicago area in a matter of about 2 hours. My trip home from Irish language class on Chicago’s north side, which should have taken roughly 30 minutes, instead was nearly an hour and a half! White knuckled, I crawled home at a speed hovering around 20 mph on expressways jammed with an unusually large number of cars for the 9:30-11 p.m. time span. Because the snow was coming down all at once, plows had not yet had the chance to even begin to clear streets. Between the huge snow flakes falling, blowing sideways and looking like thick fog – making visibility beyond two car lengths nearly impossible – and the snow piling up in huge amounts on the pavement, cars just crawled along, some unable to grip the road and swimming along like fish traveling up a stream. A few vehicles sat in ditches at the side of the road as reminders that it is paramount to adjust one’s speed to the conditions.

Like I’ve said in earlier posts, the snow is beautiful, and even last night its beauty wasn’t lost on me. However, driving in it was a challenge at best, dangerous at worst, and I am now officially quite ready for winter to end! I’m sure Declan feels the same, considering he shoveled the driveway twice last night and again this morning. And just to add insult to injury, along with the brutal weather in Chicago comes an excellent system of snow removal, so yet again, Eoin trudged off to school disappointed that he did not have a snow day off!

daffodils courtesy Google

Meanwhile, I hear the daffodils have already popped up in Ireland. Soon their bright yellow faces will be lining the motorways. Longingly, I think of our trip in March to County Clare… only 30 days to go, but who’s counting?!

If you read my last post you know I was up drinking tea and writing in my blog early this morning… from about 3:15 a.m. until after 4 a.m. While sitting at the computer I suddenly felt the house shake and heard a ‘boom’ sound. This was not just the usual wind clattering the windows, I actually moved in my chair and felt my feet moving on the floor. At the time the only explanation I could come up with was that our snow storm had turned into a blizzard and the wind had kicked up a notch, after all, this is Chicago not LA! However, much to my surprise, my son just informed me that at 4 a.m. this morning we had a 3.8 earthquake, with the epicenter 50 miles northwest of Chicago. It’s the first one I’ve ever felt, and hopefully it’s the last!

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