Christmas Tree Shimmer

By Caryl Clem

Communities across America kick off the Christmas Holidays with Tree Lighting ceremonies. This tradition was almost short circuited. A pastor lit a Christmas tree in the late 1890’s in a small town in Pennsylvania. The tree was torn down by townspeople who feared evil spirits had possessed the tree. First, Boston held a tree lighting ceremony on December 24, 1912. Chicago was a leader in spreading the idea of Christmas festivals starting with the grandeur of a giant shimmering tree. Mayor of Chicago, Carter H. Harrison, Jr. held the first official Chicago Tree Lighting in 1913 in Grant Park. Attended by 100,000 enthusiasts, the festival was planned by the President of the Art Institute, Charles L. Hutchinson according to Glessner House website.  The first President, Grover Cleveland, had an electric tree in the Oval Room for his granddaughters.  Ten years after the grand Chicago affair, President Cleveland presented a 3,000 bulb tree in the Ellipse on Christmas Eve. The magic of illuminated trees overcame the original mistrust of using electricity.  New York City in Rockefeller Center celebrated their first tree lighting ceremony in 1933.

Edison’s business partner, Edward H. Johnson invented the first string of white, red, and green bulbs in 1892 which he proudly displayed on his tree in a parlor window overlooking Manhattan in New York City. The first lit Christmas tree emerged. Johnson resourcefully hired a reported to take pictures. Only the rich could afford to hire a wireman (labor $1,000) to install a string of bulbs ( $300-$350 each).  General Electric was offering bulb strings for sale in 1903. The prices dropped after World War II, increasing the popularity of Christmas lights.

Every child hears stories of Christmas Magic. I was convinced these stories must be true after one glance at “bubble lights” on our family Christmas tree. I could sit and stare mesmerized by the bubbling glow amidst the popcorn strings, dangling cookies and bright tinsel.  After the introduction of “BUBBLE lites” by the NOMA Electric Corporation in 1946, competitors produced similar lights with the names Kristal Snow and Sparkling Bubble Lamp. The idea for bubbling inside a light was inspired by 2 popular selling items from the Montgomery Ward’s store. An accountant, George Otis combined the traveling light action in an illuminated Juke box with the shape of a Glow Light Candle. He filed a patent in 1935 that he later sold to NOMA. He was hired as a designer who played an active in improving lights in the years to come. The founder of Ward’s was a Chicagoan,  Aaron Montgomery Ward starting his business  in 1871 with the idea to sell to rural farmers the goods too far away for them to normally purchase. By 1923, the business had expanded to 244 stores in various states.

By the light of a shimmering tree, feel inspired by this year’s holiday magic!

It was Fannie May for the holidays, still is!

The first Fannie May shop was opened in Chicago on LaSalle Street in 1920. After World War II, Fannie May was known for the Pixie candy but it was the mint melt-away created in 1963 that I wanted as a child. That every child, growing up at that time, wanted too. In fact, every child growing up.. even my own children decades later in the 1990’s. When I was a child, my Aunt would take me to her favorite Fannie May store on Chicago’s south side and help me select presents for family, friends and always my teachers. She let me have a special bag to select chocolates for me to take home. If during the holidays, it would be a foil covered Santa or Easter bunny along with other chocolate favorites.

Growing up, as a Mom in Downers Grove, I would take my two children to the Fannie May store on Ogden Avenue; following the same tradition as my Aunt taught me. The store is still open today to shop for your chocolate holiday favorites.

In 2003, Fannie May joined forces with Harry London Confections. In 2015, Fannie May partnered with the Chicago Cubs and launched the Chicago Cubs Collection. Today, Fannie May offers tasting events that are implemented in every store. These events showcase a specific flavor or assortment to better familiarize customers with products. Fannie May candy is great way to execute chocolate fundraisers.

Fannie May favorites can still be purchased:

Gingerbread Pixies (1 lb., $29.99) A cult favorite now includes smooth gingerbread flavored caramel and crunchy pecans coated in Fannie May milk chocolate, topped with chocolate sprinkles for extra holiday cheer this gifting season.

Holiday Pretzels (12pc, $19.99) An irresistible mix of sweet and salty, crunchy & creamy – his collection includes four milk chocolate covered pretzels, four dark chocolate covered pretzels, and four pretzels covered in white confection decorated with red and green drizzle – the perfect treat for your holiday table.

Holiday Mint Meltaways (1lb, $29.99) Creamy mint chocolate centers coated in sweet white confection & covered with just the right amount of red and green sugar crystals, making them the must-have table item for every holiday hostess.

Christmas Crew 7 oz. Hollow figures ($11.99 each) The delightful holiday characters, Santa, reindeer and elf are here to delight all as the perfect stocking stuffer for kids this holiday season!

Colonial (1lb, $24.99) Fannie May’s most popular assortment features a delectable selection of signature tastes – from our famous Pixies ® and Trinidads ® to our buttercreams, toffees and chocolate covered fruits.  A great gift for the chocolate lover or Chicago local.

Cashews & Assorted Nuts Tins (1 lb, $29.99 each) You can enjoy lightly salted Cashews or the perfect combination of pecans, almonds, and cashews in the elegant gift tin – perfect to have out as a snack around your holiday table.

The Good Old Days: Christmas Trees

During my childhood, it was the real Christmas tree that delighted my father every year. It was not Italian lights but bulbs on heavy cord that he would switch out if two colors of the same were located next to each other. It was the time of bubble lights and tinsel hung one strand at a time. Aluminum silver trees were popular too…the only fake trees I knew. A neighbor had a beautiful silver creation with identical ornaments. Fully aluminum trees were made commercially available in the mid-1950s. Of course, no aluminum tree was complete without a rotating color wheel.

It was not until early pre teen years that green fake trees or flocked trees with Italian lights and garland instead of tinsel became the rage. But through the decades, it was always about the Christmas tree even many years after my Dad passed away. You had to put everything on the tree in perfect time and space..I still do… choosing the best ornaments and bows for vacant spots. Through the years, fake trees just kept getting better and better.

We had a green fake tree but it finally fell apart and for the last five years, we have been buying real trees. Though my father loved colored lights, my family today enjoys many white Italian lights throughout with new and vintage ornaments of a different time. Though we still switch up bows each year and rather than garland, elegant ribbon around the tree.

Most of the fake trees today come in a wide variety of heights, so you can make sure you get the right fit for your home. Trees now our pre-lit and many experts don’t recommend that because eventually those lights will have to be replaced. Today’s artificial trees come in an amazing variety of styles, from flocked and colored trees in such outlandish colors as black, pink, and red, to upside down trees.

And the Rainbow tree is the new trend for 2019. The rainbow tree isn’t just for the holiday season. Some teachers have been spotted using them to decorate their classrooms for back to school, since the colors look like a crayon box. Not for me….thank you!

And when Christmas trees were Christmas trees, before my time, it was when entire families got together on Christmas Eve to decorate the big tree with ornaments, candy, popcorn, fruit and tiny candles.

Thankful for classroom pencil sharpners

When I first began assisting in the elementary classroom, I looked around for something that would truly remind of my youth. Yes….there were bulletin boards but I loved having the chance to sharpen my pencils with an automatic pencil sharpener with the old crank and sometimes smell the pencil shavings. Though there were times, the sharpeners would jam if the plastic enclosure collecting shavings became too full. I also remember metal clips on the top of many to manipulate while fitting the pencils.

Today, teachers now ask me to sharpen student pencils and I still have fun selecting an appropriate hole to fit the pencil, pushing in gently and listen to the electronic motor do its work. But the elementary students, when given the chance, really like to push it…if you know what I mean. And if it stops, they keep trying different holes. It has a powerful motor with the patented smart stop feature that shuts off the motor and illuminates a blue LED light when the pencil is finished sharpening. The sharpeners also contains an area enclosed where shavings are stored and when full, the sharpener will not work at all.

For most of its existence, the Automatic Pencil Sharpener Company was owned and operated by the Spengler-Loomis MFG Co. of Chicago according to Made in Chicago. , aka APSCO—a brand so prominent, it was like the No. 2 Pencil of pencil sharpeners. According to research, it briefly began in New York, but eventually was designed by a Chicago inventor,Essington N. Gilfillan in 1906.

In 1910, hundreds were designed at 31- 35th and Randolph Street and sent to offices as promotional strategy. What many liked is that there were no additional parts involved and in 1913 a plant was opened in Rockford. The state-of-the-art Rockford factory, completed in 1914 and located at 2415 Kishwaukee Street, covered 26,000 square feet, with 150 employees soon working to produce half a million pencil sharpeners per year. The building is still there but the company was sold several times in the 1950s, 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. Finally, it could not compete with the electric sharpener. However, many of the older models such as the Chicago pencil sharpener would stop cutting if a point was produced. The crank could not be moved.

The Made-in-Chicago Museum, est. 2015, offers quite a collection of automatic pencil sharpeners as well as a great photos online. In Rogers Park, There are over 300 industrial antiques and vintage wares on display so far—all of them dating from 1900 to 1970, and all of them, of course, Made in Chicago.

The Good Old Days: Grandparents and Thanksgiving

Kempton was always known as the small town with the big heart; the town of my mother’s family beginnings; her grandparents, my grandmother who had passed away in 1958, aunts, uncles and my great aunt, Lulu Pearl. My earliest memories of Kempton were on Thanksgiving Day at Aunt Lu’s two bedroom corner, blue cottage neatly painted in white trim. A vegetable garden was meticulously maintained in the back with her specialties of beets and tomatoes while well-trimmed shrubs surrounded the foundation of the home.

Coming from the city, my immediate family was always the first to arrive while Aunt Lu called the others to join us on her believe it or not box phone with crank and real receptionist named Jenny. That gave me plenty of time to cut out the latest Betsy McCall and her clothes. After the rest of the family arrived, we took our places behind the long table in the dining room eating from her blue willow dishes. Pumpkin pie was always her winning recipe.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving break is Grandparents Day at school; a wonderful time for those traveling to see their grandchildren. For our district, Grandparents Day is usually one of the biggest attended events with just grandparents…not sons or daughters who have kindergarten or early elementary children. Just for Grandma,  Grandpa and Grand friends…sometimes Aunts or Uncles if Grandma can’t attend. Over 300 attended today. Many become new Grandparents on that day for children who do not have a guest. A study out of the University of Oxford found children who are close to their grandparents have fewer emotional and behavioral problems, and are better able to cope with traumatic life events, like a divorce or bullying at school.

Though she never learned to drive, Aunt Lu would find her way to our house in the city by my cousin every summer. I could always count on a game of Yahtzee every time I offered and she always made the best fried potatoes in town. Because of unpredictable weather, the winter months were generally confined to her little town in Kempton but one year she came to stay and had arrived two days after Christmas. It was unusual for her to venture out in the cold months but my father was in the hospital. Children were not allowed to visit during the 1960’s and Aunt Lu felt she could help.

During her first night’s visit, the phone had disturbed our usual game of Yahtzee and after that I found that Aunt Lu could offer so much more than games. It was a nurse from the hospital; my father had passed away. Though I was 12 and tried to be adult, Aunt Lu let me cry as long as it took, keeping her arms around me, never tiring or disturbing me from my tears. What incredible timing for Aunt Lu’s calming patience in such a terrible storm. Ten years later, Aunt Lu passed away after passionately celebrating her 90th birthday with her family.

Today, I appreciate the towering strength she provided that day and the strenuous days that followed; never perceiving the no pomp and circumstance woman as one of the most salient women I was blessed to know. And I try to follow her loving example everyday reminding myself that every tragedy as has a reason.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Exploring Native American cuisine

Caryl Clem:

Authentic Native American cooking varies from region to region, recipes adapted to what the surrounding environment supplied.  Traditional cooking consists of four phases since the Native Americans were forced from original homelands under the Dawes Act as groups escaped government control forming new communities in new territories. Historically cooking techniques and methods fall into the pre-contact era before men from Europe were exploring, first contact with settlements, after Indian Removal’s “Trail of Tears” mid-1800’s reservations given rationed food, lastly emergence of Native American owned restaurants featuring indigenous dishes during the last 25 years.

The top chefs from 566 recognized tribes are publishing cookbooks, opening catering businesses, food trucks and restaurants. Red Mesa Cuisine, operated by Kiowa Nation, offers recipes from all generation.  Travel from the past and back at your own dining table. Mouthwatering choices include plank broiled smoked salmon or bison, marinated bison served with Cajun style sauces, Succotash,  blueberry cornmeal mush, wild berry glaze, acorn bread, and fry bread. During the forced containment of the Navajo at Bosque Redondo during 1864-68, the Native Americans created a food staple from the rationed flour known as Fry Bread. Starting as a humble food stretcher to accompany every meal, its popularity spread from coast to coast. Now Fry Bread rivals the lasagna, potatoes, noodles, or rice to earn a place of honor during any culinary feast.

If you are a road warrior blazing asphalt trails, famous Native American cuisine can be found in Albuquerque NM,  Seattle WA,  Denver CO,  Colorado Springs CO,  Santa Fe NM, Minneapolis MN,  Phoenix  AZ ,  Geyersville California, Washington D.C. to name a few. The oldest cooks in America are the new “in” must have taste. Stopping to dine ranges from a Smithsonian museum buffet style restaurant or luxurious hotel while savoring the “harvest”.  For the hands on, do it yourself readers, the following cookbooks were on multiple cites as favorites by the cookbook buying consumers. Bon Appetite!!

THE SIOUX CHEF’S INDIGENOUS KITCHEN BY SEAN SHERMAN AND BETH DOOLEY

THE MITSITAM CAFE COOKBOOK BY RICHARD HETZLER

 MODERN NATIVE FEASTS: HEALTHY, INNOVATIVE, SUSTAINABLE CUISINE BY ANDREW GEORGE JR.

 WHERE PEOPLE FEAST: AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLE’S COOKBOOK BY DOLLY WATTS AND ANNIE WATTS

ORIGINAL LOCALINDIGENOUS FOODS, STORIES, AND RECIPES FROM THE UPPER MIDWEST BY HEID E. ERDRICH

Over the river and through the woods

For me as a child, it was a combination of singing the song in elementary school. It was a tune that could not be forgotten easily and once sung…the song would be constantly playing in your mind as a Thanksgiving celebration throughout the next holiday season. I also read the poem in a book partnered with an illustrated painting by Grandma Moses. At a young age, I was always fascinated by her story that she became famous artist as a senior citizen. Her primitive paintings were always something I thought I would copy….even today I try…since I loved her country scenes. When I was nine, I received my first book of her paintings.

The poem was originally published as “The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day”  and written in 1844, Lydia Maria Child. And it was not about going to Grandmas house but Grandfathers.The poem was eventually set to a tune by an unknown composer.  Lydia was a well known author during the time leading up to the Civil War. She wrote a periodical for kids and popular books for housewives with tips to help manage their households. In 1835 she wrote The History of the Condition of Women in Various Ages and Nations that was later an inspiration to women suffragists.

In 1833 she published An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans, which called for the immediate emancipation of all slaves which did not make her popular.

According to Wikipedia, the original piece had twelve stanzas, though only four are typically included in the song. The verses in bold are the ones I and my family remember:

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.
Over the river, and through the wood—
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
as over the ground we go.
Over the river, and through the wood—
and straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
it is so hard to wait!
Over the river, and through the wood—
When Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, “O, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for everyone.”
Over the river, and through the wood—
now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

The following verses appear in a “long version”:

Over the river, and through the wood,
with a clear blue winter sky,
The dogs do bark, and children hark,
as we go jingling by.
Over the river, and through the wood,
to have a first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring, “Ting-a-ling-ding!”,
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!
Over the river, and through the wood,
no matter for winds that blow;
Or if we get the sleigh upset
into a bank of snow
Over the river, and through the wood,
to see little John and Ann;
We will kiss them all, and play snow-ball
and stay as long as we can.
Over the river, and through the wood,
trot fast, my dapple-gray!
Spring over the ground like a hunting-hound!
For ’tis Thanksgiving Day.
Over the river, and through the wood,
Old Jowler hears our bells.
He shakes his pow, with a loud bow-wow,[1]
and thus the news he tells.

Native Americans enrich the tapestry of our American culture’s quilt

By Caryl Clem:

As a young child, I colored pictures of Pilgrims and Native Americans. I remember teepees and 2 seated skin canoes floating down rivers.   Years later, I discovered most of my knowledge about Indians was either false or based on a stereotype. November is the month to honor our Native American Indians.

Powerful prose continuously unites people when they share life’s experiences.  Distances disappear; the common desire for love embraces all. Joy Harjo, who has written poetry, published books and composed songs for decades; a Muskogee Indian was awarded the 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress on June 19, 2019.  Her quote” how time and timelessness can live together in a poem” during one of her interviews provides insight into the depth of her prose.  Playing saxophone in her band, “Arrow Dynamics”, several CD’s of her original music cumulated in receiving Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2009. Listening to her music allows you experience layers of harmony and song.  Joy currently is writing a book that documents the contributions to jazz the Muskogee Indians can trace back to Congo Square in New Orleans.

New Orleans, Louisiana, world renown for gaudy, fascinating costumes featured during Mardi Gras celebrations. The Port of New Orleans constantly shipped slaves, a key labor force.   Local Indian tribes had had their own conflicts with “White Rule”.   Native Americans helped hide runaway Black slaves during Mardi Gras parades using elaborate costumes as a disguise.

The Cherokee Nation, a tribe from Iroquoian descent, inhabited the eight states in The Great Lakes area. Transportation across the water was done in huge hollowed out tree trunks, averaging 40 feet in length carrying 20 men.  Families built log cabins. The food staples known as the “Three Sisters” of corn, beans, and squash are found in any supermarket. Spices for flavor and medicinal purposes were Sassafras, Sage, Juniper, and various Chile peppers. In 1621, an Indian Chief brought popcorn to a Thanksgiving dinner.  The Spanish introduced peanuts to the Indians who learned to grow them.   In the Northwest, symbols of marriages and births in a family were carved into totem poles: visible sign of their wealth and influence.

Education of its citizens was considered the great equalizer; The Cherokee Nation formed an accepted common language and ran a printing press publishing its own newspaper in the 1820’s.   (Chicago’s earliest printer in 1833.)  The literacy rate of Cherokee citizens in Oklahoma ranked higher than the neighboring states of Arkansas or Texas.  Chief John Ross constructed the Cherokee Female Seminary in 1847, the first higher learning school available for women west of the Mississippi.  The Cherokee Male Seminary opened in 1851.  Cherokee sports included a stick ball game considered the beginning of Lacrosse, a popular sport today.

Native Americans are one of the reasons Americans are able to live in “Land of the Free”. Americans working on dreams coming true, in the country we love, all sharing the foundation given us by those who were here first.

Lincoln Logs

During morning kindergarten indoor recess, the first day we built a one room log cabin with green planks that was special greenery which surrounded the cabin. The young, creative student did most of the work and asked if we could do this again the next time we had indoor recess. The second recess indoors, she showed me how to build a larger cabin with more rooms and we added a door. The third time in the picture, we built more floors and added a roof. I am so grateful for this kindergarten student to help me learn this new art.  When growing up, I just was not creative with Lincoln Logs and jealous of the friends that were good at it. During my elementary years, I was not mature enough to ask for help. And Tinker toys never thrilled me either. Legos and my children were best friends; another article for another time.

Lincoln Logs are a popular U.S. children’s toy consisting of square-notched miniature logs used to build small forts and buildings. They were invented around 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, second son of the well-known architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The toy sets were originally made of redwood, with varying colors of roof pieces. In the 1970’s, the company unsuccessfully introduced sets made entirely of plastic, but soon reverted to real wood.  

K’Nex, the current distributor of Lincoln Logs, says they were named after former U.S. president Abraham Lincoln because he was born in an old-fashioned log cabin. They had been manufactured in China for awhile since a U.S producer for small wood parts could not be found. In 2016, they returned to the U.S. K’Nex contracted with wooden golf-tee manufacturer Pride Manufacturing Company, a small company in Burnham, Maine.

K’Nex offers a variety of Lincoln Log collections that include the actual construction of a specific building such as a package to build Oak Creek Lodge or Horseshoe Hill Station. The wooden pieces are responsibly made in America, with 70% of the wood coming from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forests or other forestry-managed timberland. K’Nex also offers other products of building games for kids.

Vintage Lincoln Log sets are available on Ebay and there is one set from 1923. Most sets run between 10-50 dollars. One set, however, is 100 dollars and has over 400 pieces. Some sets actually included a beautifully illustrated design book.

Boy….my kindergarten friend and I still had a lot of pieces to use…maybe we could build a whole town or………………

 

 

What ever happened to sky blue?

The other day some of the kindergarten students were drawing a hopscotch game on the playground. When you get to the giant circle that was the number 10, somebody said they thought you die and go to heaven. No…I had to correct them even though now there are tons of different rules and regs for hopscotch. When you reach the circle, you yelled sky blue. I don’t know about others but when I am reminded of this game, the only words I can think about is SKY BLUE. But the children of today did not buy it.

Many neighborhood friends when I grew up played hopscotch together. When I was little, like 4 or 5 years old, the older kids would draw the chalk games on the sidewalks in front of our homes. Using a rock to roll to the basic numbers of 1 through 10 and skipping on each number with one foot but picking the rock up with your hand on the block(number) you rolled to. Now, we did not get creative as the game does suggest today. The rules can include   calling out “one foot”, “left foot”, etc. Children also have to hop backward to return, which requires the reversal of numbers. Depending on the rules of play, children may need to call out the numbers as they land on them.

An ancient form of hopscotch was played by Roman children in the 17th century. The original courts were much longer.There are many other forms of hopscotch played across the globe. And in some games, sky blue becomes plum pudding or cat’s cradle according to the English.

Make a cardboard game for indoor fun and by doing so in the example, you actually separate the letters with longer spaces in between to help build coordination and fun. Its a wonderful way to learn how to hop on one foot or two which is exactly what kindergarten students are learning in physical education classes. You can actually purchase indoor hopscotch games.  Learning Carpets 79” by 26” Hopscotch Play Carpet is available on Amazon in different patterns. No chalk required! Toss a stone, coin or bean bag and hop your way through the numerical maze.

The next time I see a hopscotch diagram being draw on the playground, I am just adding sky blue in the top circle whether they like it or not. That is why I am one of the playground supervisors at recess!