Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving Adventure

This year my older daughter and I decided we two would spend a relaxing Thanksgiving Day. Our plans didn't end up to be quite as relaxing as we planned. For some reason, since not being here for a couple of months, my granddaughter showed up about 4 AM to spend "thanksgiving day." Well, it was because her boyfriend has a job at the MSP airport where he meets people coming off flights that need a wheelchair. He was working a 3 AM - 12 Noon shift so my granddaughter decided she and a friend would sleep here.

We still went with most of our plans while the girls slept in another bedroom. I made a cinnamon bread and then when that was done put a frozen quiche in the oven to cook. Meanwhile we watched the Macy's parade and then the dog show. It was nice to do this without having to worry about getting somewhere.

We had a 4 PM reservation for dinner at the nearby Forepaugh's Restaurant. I was glad we didn't have far to go because we had received the first spit of snow. We had only about 2 miles to drive on city streets and didn't have to go out on the freeway with all of those trying to remember how to drive on a slick road at 60 mph!

The restaurant is located in a old house in what is called the Irvine Park area. This area just west of downtown Saint Paul was the location of the first homes built by those who became wealthy in the first years of Saint Paul settlement.

The house looked lovely as twilight approached.

We were early for our reservation and were asked to wait in the parlor.

Here's a photo I could snap when it was just us there. The fire was lovely. And in the mirror above the mantle one sees the reflection of the ceiling light.
Here is the light, as they would say on HGTV, look at that medallion.

Soon we were seated at table for two on the second floor of the restaurant. After the arthritis problems I've had all year, one thing I could feel thankful for is the ability to walk up a flight of stairs. he first course

The menu for this meal was on Forepaugh's web page but I couldn't quite imagine what a green bean and cranberry salad would be.

Oh, the spinach was not mentioned. And the pale segments of some kind of orange were yummy. The dressing was a red wine vinaigrette.

The second course was soup. I chose the cauliflower and my daughter chose the  butternut squash soup.
My first bite tasted a bit sweet. But then after a few more spoonfuls my mouth begin to think there was a bit of curry in that soup, too.

Then menu seemed to indicate the next course was turkey or ham. We both asked for turkey, but when we received our plates, we got both.

The shredded turkey -- actually a good idea -- and ham was accompanied by mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts. I think this was the first time my daughter had Brussels sprouts and while she seems to like everything -- those clearly  were not a favorite.

Our dessert was just fine.

It was a small pumpkin bar with cinnamon whipped cream and pecans on top. Just the right size after a big meal.

We didn't indulge in any beverages other than coffee and water. I truly try not to drink and drive even if the drive is only 2 miles!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Europe in Motion -- A Learning Conference

In my personal opinion Facebook is becoming more annoying -- the new "suggested posts" which are a new way to say advertisements and the "share" things people post with already 10 million viewers which are either silly or highly improbable or both. But then it turns around to be very helpful sometimes too. I noticed a friend was going to an event called Europe in Motion sponsored by the Norway House. Because I spend so much time in Europe, the social conditions there are of great interest to me. 

This conference is the fifth such conference sponsored by Norway House, and if you are curious about Norway House, please click Here.This particular Norway House sponsors a Peace Initiative associated with an organization in Oslo. Last year's conference, for example, examined the Ukraine situation.
So I registered for this event, and took off about 4 PM from my apartment towards the 10th Street light rail station. Tuesday, November 3, was also election day in Saint Paul -- an election for city council and school district seats. My particular polling station is right by the light rail station, so this was all one trip.  And this day was unusually warm for a November day in Minnesota. I took only a light jacket thinking coming home later in the evening the temperature might be a bit cool. But oh my! temperatures in the 60s -- what a treat.

I got off on the East Campus stop and walked to Applebee's for supper. I had not been to one for several years. It wasn't very crowded on a Tuesday night and I enjoyed the American Standard Burger. 

I arrived at the Alumni Center,where the event was to be held, and was surprised to see coffee and cookies set out for refreshment. Then I thought, well yes, it's a Norwegian event -- there must be coffee, and then chided myself for thinking through a stereotype. But when the moderator for the evening welcomed the group, she invited everyone to be sure to enjoy the coffee and cookies, after all it was Norwegian event. So apparently I was right.

The moderator for the evening explained the Peace Initiative of the Norway House sponsors this type of conference because both the quantity and quality of news has declined in the United States. And that one can not function in a democracy without information. I heartily agree with the statement about the decline of the quality and quantity of news in the United States.

What follows is how I understood what I heard. While I will attribute statements to speakers, please remember I could have misheard or misinterpreted the speaker. 

The first speaker at the conference was Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director and Director of International  Justice, Advocates for Human Rights. Her job was to help us all understand the terms being used to describe the movement of people into Europe. I was well aware of the definition of refugee. This describes someone who must leave his/her country due to the threat of great harm or event death because of characteristics such a race, religion, or political views. When I was teaching my students always read the book, The Middle of Everywhere, by Mary Pipher. This book describes how to work with refugees, a very timely subject in Minnesota. What I didn't realize is this definition of refugee is not unique to the United States. It is the universal definition of refugee adopted in 1951 as nations worked with the displaced persons in Europe following WW II.

But I have been puzzled about asylum seeker. A person seeks asylum for the same reasons as a refugee. The only difference is where the person makes the application. Refugee status is assigned while the person is in his/her home country. Asylum application is made when the person has traveled to another country in which that person seeks to live. In Europe asylum is further regulated by the 1961 Dublin Convention. The Dublin Convention requires the country of entry be the country in which the asylum application is filed and evaluated. This helps me now understand that countries such as Italy and Greece have not only a huge humanitarian load but also a huge administrative load processing asylum applications.

I can't remember which speaker eventually explained that several countries are ignoring the Dublin Convention. Some are refusing to register applications for asylum, while others, notably Germany, are telling people to come to their country to make the application without regard to which European country was the country of entry. It was also noted that it is more than people from Syria who are fleeing to Europe. People are also coming from the Balkans,Ukraine, and several African countries.

The asylum issue is further complicated by the absence of the common definition. The speaker noted there are at least 28 countries with differing definitions.

Following the presentation about definitions, three panel members were introduced. As listed in the program, they are Jan Petersen, Daniel Wordsworth, and Dianna Shandy. Mr. Petersen is a former Norwegian Foreign Minister as well as former member of the Norwegian parliament. Daniel Wordsworth is the President and CEO of the American Refugee Committee, an organization which works worldwide and just happens to be based here in Minnesota. Dr. Dianna Shandy is a Professor of Anthropology at Macalester College in Saint Paul. I learned a great deal from each of these speakers.

Each panel member spoke briefly and then all took questions from either the moderator or audience members. Rather than summarize each person's presentations, I will list what I learned.

(1) One speaker said there seemed to be either disappointment or outrage, on the other hand, that the people who are moving don't seem to be bedraggled and poor. Speaking of the Syrian people, one speaker said: These are every day people who need help from every day people. They are teachers, mothers, engineers, children. They are people who find their cities at least 50% destroyed. They are people trapped in situations where there is no food, no work, and no school for the children. What would you do if you were in this situation? 

We were admonished to talk to our friends and help them understand. I had planned to write a blog about this experience, but the above statement is what drove me to trying to find the words to explain and summarize this experience.

(2) Next, what happened in Syria? One speaker noted there is/was a huge divide between the rural poor and the urban elite. In my opinion that is enough right there to create conflict, but the social situation has been exasperated by a drought which caused the rural populations to flow to the cities.

(3) There appears to be a major misunderstanding that Syrian people are not finding homes in neighboring countries. That is not true. Many Syrian people have found at least temporary homes in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.  We were told 600,000 Syrians have moved into Jordan, and that 500,000 are being housed in Jordanian homes, not in refugee camps.

(4)  Is the problem Islamophobia? The speaker from Norway said in his opinion the bigger fear by European countries is that they will lose their national identify. Frankly, this is an idea difficult for me to understand since our country is made of up of people from everywhere -- our national identify is made up of multiple peoples.

My comment -- And a quick Internet search reveals that while Islam is the dominant religion, people in that country practice other religions as well. When coming from Poland this summer I spent one night in Amsterdam and picked up the end of the story on BBC. This related to criticism BBC had received for showing refugees building a small Christan Church. Since I didn't see the front end of the story the back end of it made no sense at all.

Back to the Norwegian speaker -- he said that the sheer number of persons right now makes it very difficult. There are huge numbers of people who need housing assistance, who need to find spots in language lessons, and all the other services one needs when entering a new country.

(5) People are arriving on Norway's northern border. Who would have thought? The rule here is that no one is allowed to walk across that border. We were told it was amazing how quickly bicycles appeared, for it is not illegal to ride across the border.

(6) Should people be forced to assimilate into a new culture/country? The more up to date thinking is that we help people to integrate into a new country. Newcomers should not be forced to give up their culture, but they do need assistance in using a new health system, or a new educational system.

In the book I mentioned above, The Middle of Everywhere, Pipher has a list three pages long of things that puzzle a newcomer.  Often it is these 100 little things that are more difficult than one big thing. Little things such as how to use a parking meter, how to buy a bus ticket, what is Black Friday, or how to find bread one really likes.

 (7) One person asked what we could do "upsteam" to prevent refugees. The response was that we should always keep the doors open to people running for their lives. But somewhat related to this question came the idea of help populations develop resilience so they are more able to withstand "external shocks." That is exactly what Mano a Mano is doing for the people of rural Bolivia who certainly will have to face the external shock of climate change. And that is why I enjoy every minute of volunteering I do for the organization.

I hope you all have found this worthwhile reading. I would surely appreciate comments.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Finding Napoleon in Saint Paul

I was very surprised when I learned there was a Napoleon exhibit at the Centennial Showboat which is anchored in the Mississippi River. Today I went to see this exhibit.

 The morning had been sunny, but clouds had rolled in by the time I arrived at the Showboat early in the afternoon. However the temperature was in the mid-50s (13 C), an amazing temperature for November 1.

Inside I found exhibit articles on two levels of the Showboat.

The first thing that took my eye was this bed.

This is the bed Napoleon used during the military campaigns. The bed collapsed and so he could travel easily with his army; this apparently was an ususual activity for the head of an army during the early 19th century.

Another thing that intrigued me was a copy of the annulment papers which ended his marriage with his first wife.

The problem -- she wasn't getting pregnant with a son to provide an heir.

Another thing that took my eye was a dress coat that would be have been worn by a well-dressed man in the early 19th century. 

The coat was worn by the Minister of the Interior to Napoleon's coronation. 

Above is an inkwell used by the King of Naples. I had always thought of Napoleon as being French, and was totally unaware of how entwined he was with Italy--the unorganized Italy of the early 19th century. The King of Naples was Napoleon's oldest brother, Jerome. 

And how about this for elegance?!? 

This is a toothbrush used by Hortense, Napoleon's step-daughter. He became a step-father when he married his second wife. The signage at the exhibit explained Napoleon maintained good relations with both his natural and step-children despite his rather chaotic military and political activities. 

Of course in the early 19th century there were not bathrooms. A  bowl and pitcher were common objects to find in a bathroom. 

Above is a wash bowl used by the King of Naples.

This urn stands about 24 inches high. The signage explains it is very unusual to see a bronze urn from the early 19th century because all the metals were flowing to military operations. 

Above are watches used by the Empress.In another area I found a watch used by Napoleon which matches these. 

Above are door knobs from Napoleon's apartment in Paris.The signage asks visitors to imagine what the apartment must have been like based on the elegance of the door knobs. 

And then I saw some furniture, and it seemed so familiar. 

It seems that if we have seen anything from this era it is reproductions of the furniture. 

I enjoyed this exhibit. All my university degrees end with S meaning Science. So I am still working on my Humanities knowledge. 

This was a great activity to do a gray November afternoon.