The little engine that could

I think I can….I can…I can. The values of today as well as yesteryear have not changed. Because the boys and girls are still reading the little engine that could. Some are still reading the original that was published in 1930 stressing optimism and hard work.

This was also a book that encouraged me to become a better reader. Reading was a struggle in first and second grades but it was the little engine that could that told me I could do this too. And I did…I did.

I began to think about the little engine while watching a student in my class follow the words being read out loud on his starfall iPad reading app. But this was a tale of two little engines that together, they could do it. The book talks about the  little red engine who trys and trys while a similar blue little engine helps push the cars of toys over the mountain. Other engines also pass them by.  This version focuses on true teamwork.

The student was excited about the story adding the types of childhood inflection repeating words as I did decades ago. He read it over and over in class. The same week that I noticed him become entranced in little engines, another student selected a book from the wide variety in the classroom. The original Little Engine that could.

And she did the same with the small, hard copy book. She decided to read it outloud while others listened. Later that day we had an assembly with a few members from the Kane county cougar team supporting are reading program.  Once again, one baseball player said that his favorite book was …guess what? Three times. … a charm.

So, of course, after school that same day, I went to the community library. I had saved many of my childhood favorites in a bookcase at home but not this one. There were many editions of the book as I discovered through the digital card catalog  including , a DVD, and a movie. But copies were checked out and the librarian said that it was always like that with The Little Engine That Could. Would I like The Little Engine That Could Gets a Check Up?

No, that is fine. I will just have the students read to me the copies at the school I assist,  whenever I need to be reminded of my childhood..my beginnings of academic success. Whenever I need to know,today, that I still can!

 

 

 

 

 

Summer road trips

WRITTEN BY CARYL CLEM:

The travel bug bites again

Packing suitcases, phoning friends

Destination selection conversations.

Cheap gasoline fills tank for less than a five

The open road, 2 lanes with sparse road signs

Mom and Dad, navigators

John and I, back seat observers

Maps, snacks, Mom’s daily journal

Wallet ready, a cash withdrawal

Inked map messages bold dots

Time to buy gas town stops.

Cool cotton throw covering hot vinyl seats

Hours pass, I’m waiting for a place to eat.

Mom and Dad listening to radio fame

John reads, I play the alphabet game

Real ice cream milkshakes, fries, cheeseburgers

Truck stop diners to delivery done by roller skaters

Foamy root beer floats, dogs Coney Island style

Lunch was savored for many a mile.

Next surveying the landscape for Mom and Pop motels

Stark white buildings stick out, is there a place to dwell ?

Ready to call it a day sense of urgency

We felt lucky to spy signs flashing vacancy

61,000 motel choices

No credit cards, only green back dollars.

Today, guesswork replaced by internet options

Road trips remain an American pastime passion.

 

 

 

Back to school

I don’t remember the beginnings of kindergarten though I do remember that my teacher, Mrs O’Brien, at Hoyne School on the South Side of Chicago. She was kind, patient and always encouraging. I had a favorite friend that she would let me sit next to while we sang songs. I loved to watch her play piano and she said I had the hands of a musician. She would tell me that when I would become frustrated with writing. Yes, Mrs. Obrien, I taught and played piano for many years probably because of you.

I do remember beginning first grade because it was at a brand new school that had just been built in 1962 because of overcrowding at Hoyne.  We were the first class at Kate Sturgis Buckingham school; in the second picture (currently closed because of just the opposite problem).

The school was to offer kindergarten through fifth grade. I remember sitting only two rows in the back from the four long windows on my left that hung over the built-in bookcases and heating vents. I remember watching the new playground being built and my teacher Mrs. Fox who invited her entire class to her wedding at St Marys in Chicago. After, she was called Ms. Boz and though I liked her, I was scared in first grade.

In the early 1990’s, when the school bus came to pick up my son in Downers Grove for kindergarten at Indian Trail School, he got on but cried… seated in the first seat. My husband put him on because I was too busy crying too. And my daughter who was next in line, could not wait for the bus to arrive on the same spot to take her to school.

Currently, I am assisting in a new kindergarten classroom. Parent and student orientation was on Tuesday morning and how wonderful it is when parents and students from previous year come to find out what class you are in. So many families found me; telling them how they missed me over the summer, sharing their fears and concerns for a new school year.

Wednesday was the first day of school without Mom and Dad. And I wait by the main door to help monitor bus and parent drop off. That is when amazing things begin to happen. As soon as they exit the bus, many come running and that’s when I hear my name called out like never before. There are several ready to give me my hug for the day; sometimes I have one on either side excited to know that I am here for them anytime, any day and any year. Today, I had parents snapping pictures on their cell phones of little ones beginning kindergarten for the first time and asking me to stand with them. How proud it made me feel!

As teachers, administrators, assistants and all staff within a school environment, we inspire hope, establish trust, ignite imaginations and establish a passion for learning. But most of all, we demonstrate love… genuine love for the children, families and the staff that surrounds us.

And when we stumble out the main door at the end of the day, bleary eyed, muscles aching, voices and thoughts strained after the struggles we will encounter as the year progresses, we can never forget those first days we celebrated on the playground.

And that is why we do what we do!

 

 

 

The forgotten shoe store

I hated going to the shoe store when a child in the 1960’s.  Especially for new shoes to start school. Nothing I liked ever fit according to the shoe man who measured and would measure again with that thing….never quite seeing such a skinny foot.  And no, I never met one young enough that I could fall in love with either.

It was just too narrow and the only shoes that would fit would be tie shoes. He would search, for what seemed hours, in the back behind the curtain. Walls of shoe boxes all different shapes and sizes. Tie shoes that were pointed…yuk. Tied tightly to convince my Mom that they were a great fit.

Tennis shoes did seem to work for play but not for school. During those years, we dressed up going to school and could not wear them. There was only one kind of tennis shoes that I could remember and that was Keds. It had to have the red mark on the back heels. Now, Keds shoes have a blue keds name on the side. Keds celebrated its centennial in 2016 and the continuation of its “Ladies First Since 1916” campaign with a birthday celebration held during New York Fashion Week.

Even when saddle shoes were popular, I had to wear a different form of them…the color was off… whether I liked it or not. I didn’t like it at all! And when I went to junior high and high school, it was the season for loafers, penny loafers which had a place to add a real penny. Again, even with insoles added, nothing seemed to fit me correctly.

For some reason, the name Florsheim convinced my mother that was best shoe store to visit. Many stores were privately owned by family that passed the store down for other generations to follow. Stocking up on a variety of shoe brands. Many sold Florsheim shoes in Chicago and had a sign in their window that sold Florsheim or another popular favorite; Buster Brown.

In the 1950s, the Buster Brown Shoe company began purchasing retail outlets as a new way to expand their signature brands. “I’m Buster Brown, and I live in a shoe. That’s my dog, Tige, and he lives there, too,” went the jingle for Buster Brown shoes according to America Comes Alive. George Brown started the company in the late 1800’s and became the Brown Shoe Company. In 1904, the company realized that children’s shoes and the Buster Brown character could really be successful and it was.

I tried Mary Janes, also a popular style for many girls, but still were too wide for me. In 2015, the Brown Shoe Company was called Calares that sells all types of brands; still a billion dollar shoe business.

My mom was not much of a Thom McAn or Kinney’s fan so did not visit those stores often. Thom McKan was a retail chain but currently still sold in Kmart and Sears. My mom thought that Thom McKan had a better selection of men’s shoes than women’s and wider width shoes. She, too, had a narrow foot. Kinney’s has been defunct since 1998, but strangely enough you can find Kinney shoes on eBay; an entire collection from the 1950’s, 60’s and 1970’s.

In later years, my feet have remained the same, but somehow many stores sell 7 narrow, double narrow or even triple narrow. I guess they found more people that really do have feet like mine. One of the best places for shoe shopping was Carson Pirie Scott soon to be another extinct department store.

Today, I still pick out shoes with added insoles but Target sandals work well for me since they have sandals with elastic bands and I can wear sandals everywhere!

I don’t know what those shoe men were talking about and I don’t know anyone who has dated or married a shoeman except on T.V.

How many of you know what show?

 

 

 

College ready

WRITTEN BY CARYL CLEM:

I remember senior year in high school as a continual state of anxiousness.  I wanted to leave a paper trail I was proud to achieve in 1966. The final tests, grades, college letters of application were done.  Discussions of future hopes and dreams had chosen a university in Wisconsin. The exhilaration of high school graduation had barely subsided when the whirlwind of college preparation started.  Time melted in the heat and daily plans to find supplies.  I had worked through high school and was eager to spend my hard earned money.  My parents managed to convince me to practice budget control. I knew in my heart they were right. You will find more to spend money on once you settle in. Carrying one suitcase and my favorite pillow, I arrived at my dorm ready to start college life.

As a volunteer in a charity thrift store the past few weeks this summer, as bound -for- college hopefuls search for items on their list, it renews the passions I felt getting ready for my next big move in life. The items on the list have increased for today’s digital age, but the glow in their eyes and the excitement in their voices confirm that this is a major event.  Several advantages of a degree remain true such as  higher pay (56% more than a high school diploma), the lowest group for unemployment (2.5), plus a reference proving your abilities and dedication. The National Center for Education Statistics provides a wealth of information.

Looking back on what I did not do to get ready for college, I did think about my personality  needs.  I had all the materials necessary but left out the mental preparation.  My first year in college was a disaster, cutting classes since there was no attendance. I hated the noisy, crowded dorm.  My family prepared or grew most of the food I consumed so the cafeteria food tasted like gruel.  Meals were provided by the vending machines serving sugar laden ice cream sandwiches, salty Fritos, and Coke. In 7 months I had developed over 12 cavities and some very serious health issues.

My grades were still in the C range-but the first semester of my sophomore year I dropped out.  Bill Gates has said, “The U. S.  has the largest dropout rate. We are number one in terms of people who start college but we’re number 20 in terms of people who finish college. “

An increasing number of students are enrolling in vocational schools; over 7 million will start college using this avenue. Vocational schools offer a two year degree for an average cost of $33,000 compared to a 4 year degree average cost of $124,000.  Changing my school environment, I enrolled in a vocational school choosing a major I loved while living in a cheap apartment.  I established relationships with my professors.  A student loan was acquired and then I applied for a scholarship to transfer into a four year degree program to follow the two year degree.  I graduated from Northeastern University in Chicago with a B.A. in 1978 and later earned a Master’s from National Louis in Evanston in 1982.

My Mother’s motive for college was to find a husband.  Today the number of males enrolled in college keeps decreasing.  The average time to earn a degree varies; the national average is 6 years.  A freshman in college can be any age; the demographics of a university classroom reflect the spectrum of people pursuing their college dream.

Over 20 million hopefuls will enter college this fall. The most successful students know that the college lifestyle is demanding and requires self-discipline.  College can be a success for any student who is determined, persistent, boosted by faith that this dream will come true.

Jenga® GIANT™ JS7 Hardwood Game

Though I have played the classic block-stacking Jenga with family, friends and students, until recently, after playing a game with my 25+ daughter, I did not realize that Jenga has become a popular event at adult parties! Even bars, breweries and restaurants are offering the game to promising guest challengers! Maybe playing Jenga is a great opportunity to meet that special someone…. with the same interests?

Introduced in 1983, Jenga is a game of mental skill and you have to be very careful and strategic on how you take one block or add another. Jenga offers a variety of products that include Jenga Ocean which are blocks made from recycled fishing nets and the Walking Dead hardwood game. The record for the highest known Jenga tower is 40 complete stories and was built in 1985. Jenga is always looking for new records to be awarded.

This year the makers of Jenga® GIANT™have added a competitive component to the popular game. For the first time, the game comes with tournament charts for competitive play; a real sport element.

Manufactured and distributed by Art’s Ideas, JENGA® GIANT™ JS7is THE largest authentic hardwood JENGA® game you can buy! Fun to play and exciting to watch, it’s the perfect addition to any outdoor summer party!

Key features include:

  • 54 precision-crafted polished hardwood blocks
  • Stacks to over 5 feet high in play
  • Each block is over 14 times the volume of a Classic Jenga® block
  • Includes Heavy Duty Jenga® GIANT™ Carry Bag
  • Includes Jenga® SPORTS™ Tournament Charts for competitive play. Winners can print out an award: jenga.com/ certificate.pdf
  • For 1 or more players
  • Ages 12 to Adult
  • MSRP: $169.95

You finally won! Share the news, download a certificate and present another challenge at your next party with Jenga Giant.

Rain, storms and August tornado memories

It was always after school….generally around 3 o’clock when it would begin. That was the most exciting. The determination whether to play with my best friend inside or out. When it began, the soft lights were lit inside our 1960’s neighborhood homes that brought comfort and clarity. Sometimes it would happen on the way to our ballet lesson in South Shore on a Tuesday….we worked hard on those days, occasionally glancing at the long windows to see what was happening outside before Mom would pick us up.

I loved late afternoon rain storms with thunder and lightening. Somehow, they would inspire and energize me. I always wanted to be a storm watcher but job and family got in the way. So I would watch from home. Watching them form were the best of times, even though we had watches and warnings through the years, you never knew the end result before Doppler.

I remember watching the green, overcast sky of the Oaklawn tornado approaching on April 21, 1967 though when sent to the basement for that one,  excitement was quickly exchanged for fear, forecasting destruction and the loss of lives. Storms, then, took on a different meaning.

When my children were toddlers, they, too, were taught to love storms. I had two neighbors who would be knocking on the patio doors; pointing to the sky and telling me it was time during the spring and summer months. We would watch the impending doom together, watering our flowers just in case, while the kids could care less and played outside. And it was the month of August I remember offering significant tornadoes in the surrounding suburbs of Downers Grove.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 28, 1990 we heard the reports that something was happening further south. We sat on our deck and tried to watch the changing sky though we seemed pretty safe among the warnings of a tornado.  It was an F5 tornado; the only F5 Chicago had ever seen. The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm for the entire Northern Illinois area from 1:30 to 8:00 pm. A bad storm had formed just south of Rockford. We watched, waited and we were safe.

The tornado struck Plainfield, Illinois, around 3:28 p.m. Around 3:30 p.m. the tornado directly struck the Plainfield High School, killing three people. After an alarm was pulled by a dean in the main office, the volleyball players preparing for a game in the gymnasium rushed to the nearest door and took shelter in the hallway. It is reported that as soon as the last football player was pulled through the door from an outside practice, a coach quickly closed it, only for it to be immediately destroyed by the wind. The gymnasium proceeded to fall apart and crash down filling the gap in the doorway. They took shelter in the same hallway as the football team, and once the tornado had passed, that was the only hallway left standing in the building.

The tornado crossed Route 59 and ripped into St. Mary Immaculate Church and school, claiming an additional 3 lives, including the principal of the school, a music teacher, and the son of the cook at the rectory. Fifty-five homes were destroyed in Plainfield itself, a few of which were swept away.

The storm then worked its way southeast towards the large city of Joliet, damaging homes in the Crystal Lawns, Lily Cache and Warwick subdivisions and killing five more people. Sixty-nine homes were destroyed in Crystal Lawns, 75 homes were destroyed in Peerless Estates, 55 homes were destroyed in Lily Cache, and 50 homes were destroyed in Warwick. Moving on to the Crest Hill, Il where it caused F3 damage and claimed another eight lives. After reaching Joliet, the tornado began to lose strength and finally passed the Indiana border at about 4:30 when it had dissipated.

Another storm took place on August 15, 1993 in the late afternoon and my children were home. My husband was playing golf in Lemont. My neighbor and I once again were watering flowers, my garden more luxurious than ever before. But this time the sky was a smokey color with a slight green tinge and nothing was moving which immediately scared us.  Something was too close and we heard a sound like a nearby train. I have never heard that sound since. We ran, gathering the children and headed inside. The power went out as we waited. There were no cell phones to check on others. There was a crashing sound; not far from the neighborhood.

As is turned out about an hour later, as the lights came on, the TV and my husband walked in the door, some sort of tornado/wind calamity damaged a store under construction in Woodridge about a mile away and the tornado did pass the golf course. They had no time to find shelter and laid flat on a low point in the grass. The tornado was an F2 and did finally touch down in New Lenox but no serious damage or injuries were reported.

My daughter was only a baby in 1990 but in 1993 she remembered, to this day, the shaking hands of her Dad. Today, my adult daughter and son sends me text messages, Nexrad and pictures of the sky ahead of time to give me warning that the forecast will be bleak.

And I am eagerly ready!

 

 

 

Family reunions

WRITTEN BY CARYL CLEM:

Across America, families plan reunions during the summer months.  My Dad was the youngest of 13 living siblings.  I was the youngest grandchild.  On my calendar the 2nd week in August had stars to signal my relatives congregating in southern Illinois for a reunion extravaganza. After the 6 hour car ride, I felt like a time traveler roaming through Grandma’s cozy farmhouse, touching the immense, cool cast iron wood burning stove, examining lace covered carved wood tables and chairs under glowing Gone with the Wind kerosene lamps; exchanging hugs with relatives in every room. Outside, the foul smelling 3 dirt hole bench seat under a decaying sun speckled wood roofed shed was still in use. There was no plumbing until after 1962.

Every family was assigned a dish to bring at either the Saturday or Sunday meal, depending on your arrival time.  Tables and chairs provided by the local church covered the spacious front yard with predominantly red and white checked tablecloths. Large washtubs lined with plastic were filled with ice for the lemonade and tea. Grandmother would not allow any beverage served in a bottle including milk, soda or pop.

All of the family members, without gray hair, took turns passing water buckets from the pump to the porcelain kitchen sinks. No motels or hotels were close. By 7 p.m., caravans of relatives spread out to neighboring family farms to spend the night. Country breakfasts featuring eggs with homemade ham, bacon, sausage, gravy and biscuits would start the next day.

After feasting, musical entertainment was provided by a large assortment of musical instruments forming an impromptu band accompanied by several vocalists. Voting by elected judges would begin on whose fried chicken, pie and homemade ice-cream deserved the “Best” of that year award.  A photographer came on Sunday after our church service to take a photo before the last dinner together. Sisters Aunt Edith (English instructor) and Aunt Inez (culinary chef) compiled a yearly newsletter with a family collection of favorite recipes and stories to give everyone before they left.

Leaving suburban Chicago to jump into haystacks, feed livestock, eat finger-picking good potluck dinners followed by sleeping with 8 or more cousins in one big room was a summer highlight until Grandma, 98 years young, died in 1965. The attendance started to drop with grandchildren putting careers first.

After 10 years, the original 4 who did the organizing were aging and tried to find a younger core group to keep the reunion going. However,with no success. A property developer wanted to build a subdivision along the winding creek.  Just before the farm was sold, the final reunion was held with over 125 members, all wearing name tags with ages. Progress also brought hotels to provide lodging. Currently, sections of the family living near Windsor County, Illinois still unite on the 2nd Sunday in August to eat and celebrate another year.

My brother’s wife’s family includes me in their family reunions as an “outlaw” with privileges.  Each year celebrates new members, honors those who have passed, as we eagerly exchange photo albums and stories of the past years events.  The elephant gift trade is hilarious.  Hotels provide lodging but meals are at family members’ homes.  At the close, there is the T-shirt with a landmark picture to wear through the year.

Family love is the strongest when shared; the magic feeling of a reunion keeps me looking forward to the next one.

Courage

BY CARYL CLEM:

A soldier’s uniform, fire men drowning  a fire,

Ambulance sirens screaming, roaring past red lights

Brave workers humbly avoiding spotlights

Common symbols of experiences to inspire.

 

Courage , a catalyst,  shapes determination

Pushing you forward, empowering action

Motivation to fight any battle

Challenging  consequences of the struggle.

Courage cleans anger and fear’s pollution

Courage forms pioneers seeking solutions.

 

Courage wins struggles hidden from view

Healing for a heartbroken victim

Daily doses vital, courage stronger than a vitamin.

Opens doorways to a path to pursue

 

Selects steps towards achievement

Ending isolation, disappointment

Now ,  the  letter V  stands for victory

Courage leads into support, love, a new life story.