Backwards Day…January 31,2020

By Caryl Clem:

Recall old sayings,” Absence makes the heart grow fonder “or “You don’t miss it until it’s gone.”   Try turning back the clock and live Backwards Day on 1/31/2020 in a different decade.  Pick a time period before cell phones, or the internet.  Remember the 1970’s when a phone call could still mean being put on hold and you were trapped to a phone plugged into a wall? Your fingers went in circles or pounded on numbered squares.  Advertisements chanted, “Let your fingers do the walking”.  Convenience offered by a touch screen wasn’t available before the IBM Simon in 1992.  Phones did not fit in your purse or pocket.

If you want to feel out of touch and out of the loop, try surviving your day without the computer. The driving force behind most activities today is the computer. Computer data use did not include the World Wide Web until after 1991. If email and social contacts rule your day, pretend you are living before 1993.  Two giants that dominate sales by using the internet both started in 1995, EBay and Amazon.  Facebook’s debut was in 2004 followed by You Tube in 2005.  Online grocery service originated in the Chicago area with Peapod, Inc.  formed in 1989, aligning services with Jewel and Safeway Food supermarkets.  Online shopping is causing 50 year old stores to crumble.  I still prefer touching and feeling a product before I buy it, something the younger generations feel comfortable skipping.

A myth exists that the “good old days” were better.  Planning healthy meals depends on product information to reach nutrition goals. I love the fact I can identify what is in any package I purchase. I would never want to go back to guessing what was about to be eaten.  After reading the contents of “Spam”, I lost all desire to reconnect with a previous food favorite.  I used to special order information that I can search on the 24/7 internet.  The library offers family services, workshops imparting knowledge in so many areas beyond books.  Going back in time is an exercise to renew your appreciation for what today offers.

Depending on your job environment, encourage a group to join you to choose a style from the past.  Explore ways to break your routine, put it in reverse. Show your backbone, another part of the definition of backwards, reference your backside. Carry a sign, “Back Is Back”.   Backwards Day is a chance to see the world from a different perspective. The birth of a new idea is often stimulated when you break the “norm”.  Let ingenuity guide and renew your mental energy!

Dan Ryan Woods/Swallow Cliff Tobaggon

As the winter has finally arrived with snow, I thought about playing in the snow. I did not ski or ice skate but as a child, there was sledding and the closest tobaggon slide was at Dan Ryan Woods in Auburn-Gresham/Beverly. I did not have a toboggan but other friends and parents of friends did. I followed; all bundled up, mainly to watch, but I do remember how terrified I was taking a fast trip down one of the wooden shoots.

When my children were young, it was not Dan Ryan Woods that we visited, it was Swallow Cliff in Palos Park watching my children use the slide. My husband was a skier and he helped them down. Unfortunately, I was too terrified to try. My first time skiing I was in my early twenties before children. I went down a steep slope with a friend at Alpine who tried to show me what to do but I had problems going way too fast and broke my ankle. I never went skiing again. With the exception of building a snowman, winter sports were just not my thing though the hot chocolate and a fire in our fireplace was always appreciated.

Swallow Cliff slides were officially closed down in 2004 but were operable for decades. However, weather had to be cooperative for them to be used with enough snow (at least 4 inches) and temps of 25 degrees or under. The cost to keep them safe was expensive. Constructed in 1930 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, 125 limestone stairs lead to the top of a former toboggan run on Swallow Cliff’s 100-foot bluff.  So in 2016, the Forest Preserves added another set of stairs with an additional 168 steps, creating a full circuit. They do have an active sledding hill during the winter. Just north of the 100-foot bluff and popular fitness stairs, the Swallow Cliff Pavilion is perfect for any occasion and was also built in 2016 with a cozy fireplace during the winter and a kitchen prep area with refrigerator.

Dan Ryan Woods Commissioner found out how popular the stairs at Swallow Cliff was and he actually polled walkers in Palos. He decided to do the same and the project was approved recently. The Dan Ryan Woods now has a brand new set of outdoor concrete stairs made for walking just last year. The 63-step fitness stairs are officially open near the northeast corner of 87th and Western in the forest preserve near Auburn-Gresham and Beverly.

It was just a year ago that I wrote about the storm of 1967 called We Share Our Memories that actually happened this day, over 50 years ago, which was January 26th. We missed school which was the good part, the bad part is the city was not prepared for the disaster. Then there was the storm of 1979. Between 7 and 10 inches of snow were already on the ground, after an earlier blizzard the previous New Year’s Eve. More snow began to fall with a vengeance on the night of Jan. 12, and it kept piling up until 2 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 14. The new snowstorm alone topped out with 18.8 inches on the ground. My mother had taken her first vacation to Hawaii and was scheduled to land at OHare on that Sunday. I was going to pick her up. Fortunately, she got to stay away for a few more days since her flight was re-scheduled and one of the first to fly into O’Hare. The storm of 1999 had wind gusts over 60 miles per hour and 2013-2014 saw its share of snow that totaled over 60 inches.

I have seen enough winter storms over the decades.  As the winter slowly disappears into spring, I am going for a trip on the stairs.

 

Hall monitors and crossing guards

Beginning over 50 years ago, I am still in the position of hall monitor..at the main door of an elementary school….something that was a dream of mine at the age of 12. I took my first job in 1967 at Joseph Warren School which was an older building at the time in the south side of Chicago and I got to stand in the middle of a stairwell…three floors and two set of stairs. Students were in junior high and literally had to square their corners, walking all the way to wall and staying in a neat, quiet line when they reach the floor threshold. If they didn’t, they were immediately pulled and sent to the principal. There was always teachers in the halls to double check on your hall monitor duties. You better being doing your job and this wasn’t Catholic school. This was part of the Chicago Public School System. We need those monitors today.

Back in those days, outside crossing guards for neighborhood streets used to be patrol boys from school; many getting to wear orange belts that were place across their chests and some wore caps. The first school safety patrols were formed in the 1920s, because of growing concern for the well-being of students walking to school because of increasing accidents and injuries. Some had tennis rackets that was covered with a sign that said stop. Hammond Police offers some wonderful photos of the crossing guards popularity in the past.

Today, no universal regulations exist that describe who may be a crossing guard, where crossing guards are stationed, or for what purposes a crossing guard may be employed. This person may be paid or volunteer; the person may be a school employee, a member of local law enforcement, a city employee, or contracted privately. Many elementary school crossing guards are assisted by older students, known by a variety of titles such as “safety monitor” and “safety patrol.” These do not have legal responsibility for the safety of children. Junior safety patrol is a voluntary group of crossing guards involving older students helping younger students cross streets in elementary and middle schools across the United States.

Many now wear vests which is the most common. We were the same vests when we are directing buses and monitoring recess at our school. But my favorite position is inside at the main door hallway, though when buses come early, we have grades kindergarten through second grade sit in our large multi-purpose room just beyond the main door. Not, however, squaring corners, making perfect lines and being quiet. My position is giving hugs, high fives, and taking deep breaths to those who are just beginning their day and know that there is always someone they can trust. Much better than my first job in 1967.

 

Conversations in the den

It all started in the den. That was the only phone we had that sat on a desk with an old fashioned printed Rolodex of phone numbers that sat next to the phone so that we did not forget. Sometimes when you would pick up the receiver, there would talking on the line though you always hung up quickly….never listening to the party line. Or the obnoxious busy signal that could go on for a long time. You would have to hang up and try again later. There was no leaving messages and it would ring and ring and ring if nobody picked up the phone. Presumably, no one was home. You couldn’t be sure what number you dialed either. No screens, no caller id. You didn’t have to dial….that is right…dial the area code but in Chicago it was BAYPORT 5-5936 which was actually BA that you dialed or Essex 2-7390 which was ES. Some were three letters with four numbers.They were considered different automatic exchanges  That was the phone of the 1960’s. And in some small towns in Illinois, there was actually an operator that you talked to first and she would connect you to who you were calling.

I always wanted a princess phone when I was 12. Never did get one as a pre-teen or high school student but actually found one at an antique store that my daughter wants.

Hand held mobiles were introduced in the 1970’s but very expensive and seldom used. A traditional landline telephone did become push button phones instead of dial and it was the answering machine that you bought to attach to your phone still available today but much more streamlined. My Panasonic was large and ran on tapes that would sometimes run out of room to record calls if I got too many. You had to record a message and again, no caller id.

In the early 1990s, I did have a business cell phone that was huge and plugged into my car as well as a pager. And it was then that voicemail became popular. In fact, I actually worked for company called CommuniTech in which I traveled to businesses throughout the United States to train them on the use of voicemail. No emails then… just voicemail and people were excited. They could leave a message through their company voicemail. They could set up their own voicemail message on each phone and I would train them on how to do this. I would train company users on the type of messages they could record and keep. I would also train administrators how to run the voicemail system helping recording many company greetings that included. Eli Lily, Center for Disease Control, and United Airlines to name just a few. Voicemail etiquette was extremely important to emphasis.

Today, people cannot live without their cell phone. Mine died one night and we had one hour to check it out and buy a new one before the store closed. An early Christmas present this year. And we don’t have a land line anymore and I do like my phone. If I am bored, waiting for something….I can play Solitaire easily. Solitaire truly helps me remain patient.

I can take pictures without having another camera device. And with a cell,there is no reason for someone not to get back to me.  As I age, that is important to me and I love texting. Never was much of a talker on the phone so texting is the best for the writer. I like not being tied to a cord attached to a wall. And my phone goes with me whenever I leave home. It is my map on the road and has made my life easier. As someone said, it is a guardian angel in case of a friend, family or me emergency. Yes, there are many that are too addicted to technology but what a different world we have now.

We don’t have to pick up a receiver in only one room in the house and wait for our neighbor to stop talking.

 

Popcorn gains from Chicago Connections

By Caryl Clem:

Popcorn’s early history dates back to worshiping the Maize with popcorn adorned headdresses and rain gods.  Today’s mass consumption of this snack is a combination of ingenuity, determination and old fashioned hustling.  January 19th is National Popcorn day.

Early popping corn was risky, often greasy, or partially burned and inedible until Charles Cretors invented a steam popcorn machine wagon. He moved his family to Chicago in 1885 to expand his business.  During the Columbia World Exposition in 1893, fresh popcorn vendor wagons were introduced. C Cretors and Company of Chicago featured popcorn flavors that won instant approval. Charles previously sold peanuts before the popcorn venture, his recipe combined molasses, peanuts and popcorn. The cheery red wagon that popped fresh popcorn could be pulled by a boy or pony was open for business anywhere a crowd gathered.

Two German immigrant brothers were determined to obtain financial success in Chicago. After their first business burned to the ground that was located South Clinton Street in 1885, they rebuilt and expanded their business using wagon vendors.  Again the combination of popcorn, peanuts and molasses from a recipe they construed in 1871 became a staple of their success.  A box decorated by a patriotic sailor with a slang term meaning the best, “Cracker Jack” originated their popcorn snack.  The Chicago Tribune on March 8, 1896 featured an article proclaiming that to taste the Rueckheim Brothers popcorn would lead to an obsession, “Do Not Taste It,” read the ridiculous headline. “If you do, you will part with your money easy.”   Expanding the popularity of the product, jobbers went to grocers, drug stores and retail merchants to obtain orders.  By 1908 a song embracing the joy of baseball, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” quoted, “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack” cemented the bond between games and snacking.

As America fought two wars, sugar shortages narrowed the choices for snack treats. The Great Depression brought poverty to the majority. A bag of popcorn was between 5 and 10 cents, a luxury most could afford.  Farmers and vendors were able to make a meager living off popcorn.  Cracker Jack started offering prizes inside their boxes to corner the market.

Movie theaters were against serving food to prevent littering the atmosphere of richness and prosperity that dominated the early movie houses.  After the Great Depression, movie theaters struggled to survive.  In the 1930’s from Glen Dickson  manager of a theater in the Midwest area, Julia Braden in Kansas City, Mo.,  and R. J. McKenna in the west: all  saved their businesses by selling popcorn inside the theater to increase profit margins.  Now a movie is associated with the smell of buttery popcorn. Children’s movies and suspense dramas sold the most popcorn.

Since the microwave introduced popcorn in 1981, popcorn starts to dominate the fix at home snack market. Orville Redenbacher in 1965 is selling his popcorn out of his car as he travels to supermarkets across the Midwest.  Family cooks can make snack foods . Options to make your own popping corn are at your fingertips. Range or stove Popcorn is easy to make and offers many flavorful seasonings.

If you want to buy, the top selling brand today is Chicago’s own Garrett Popcorn ShopsChicago, ILThe Cretors family has modernized its market to open Cornfields, Inc.  a healthy snack manufacturer and producer of the G.H. Cretors and Hi I’m Skinny brands.

No matter what your choice, Chicago offers the best popcorn!

Best places in Chicago to celebrate Bittersweet Chocolate Day on January 10th

By Caryl Clem

The first evidence of chocolate dates back to the Native Indians in Mexico. Earthenware mugs adorned with animal figures discovered at various sites had traces of cacao theobromine chemicals.  Early Mayan civilizations used chocolate in rituals; the Aztec murals feature chocolate as a delicacy available to kings and warriors.  Indigenous tribes in the Amazon rain forests used chocolate for medical reasons.

Cocoa beans were only served to the powerful, serving as money for common use.  The transformation of a bean into edible delights was entrepreneurial genius.  When an explorer first saw the beans loaded into a canoe, he thought they were goat droppings.  Exposure to the new culture’s methods for exchanging goods revealed that 200 beans would buy one turkey, 100 beans purchased one slave.  Chocolate was first sent to Europe in 1520 by merchant Christopher Columbus in hopes of building a chocolate empire.

A botanist and doctor were fascinated by a plant he was cultivating because it could double as a food or treatment.  He composed a collection of recipes. While practicing as a physician, Sir Hans Sloane, cared for 2 queens and 1 king. In payment, he requested a Chocolate Kitchen at thin newly renovated Hampton Court. Experimenting with chocolate on his Jamaican plantation he desired to establish chocolate’s reputation as worthy fare for royalty. King William III and Queen Mary II  welcomed the opportunity to be hosting the first modern Chocolate Kitchen in 1690 at their palace. Later, Sir Hans Sloane sold his recipes to Cadbury Brothers who built the world renowned chocolate business including Hot Chocolate, his creation.

The chocolate tree’s name as Theobroma  means “food for the gods” in Greek. Dark or bittersweet chocolate has less sugar and no milk, often preferred as an ingredient in baking for a richer flavor. I remember baking brownies in the 1960’s made with unsweetened Hershey cocoa powder, a recipe distributed by 4-H sponsored by University of Illinois, still my favorite for the best results! Chicago is home to a variety of great chocolate shops and manufacturers. The majority of these companies offer both sweet and bittersweet chocolate edibles. If you are feeling a craving for chocolate, below are a few popular places:

For more information, check out the National Day Calendar article about chocolate. As the New Year starts with paying attention to eating foods with “fringe” benefits, indulge with bittersweet chocolate and dump any guilt!

Cocoa beans contain up to 10% of phenol’s and flavonoids which are antioxidants potentially inhibiting cancer or cardiovascular diseases, as well as potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. Additionally, they contain 1-3% theobromine and caffeine, alkaloids that stimulate the central nervous system. Caffeine has a positive effect on mental alertness, for instance when taken in caffeinated drinks.”

 

John Wayne Gacy, Defending a Monster by Sam Amirante & Danny Broderick

He was a clown that actually entertained at children’s birthday parties living in Norwood Park, Il. A well-known and well-liked community member; a trustee of the Norwood Park Twp. A suburban man who ran his own successful business. A director of the Polish Constitution Day Parade who received Secret Service clearance and a picture with the first lady, Rosalynn Carter. A man who murdered 33 young boys between 1972 and 1978 in Cook County, Illinois. Burying most of them under his house which is no longer. I was in college at the time and he was one of the worst in serial killers. Convicted, John Wayne Gacy was sentenced to death on March 13, 1980 for 12 of those murders. He spent 14 years on death row before he was executed by lethal injection at Statesville Correctional Center on May 10, 1994.

And the story of Gacy begins with a phone call to a young lawyer and friend of Gacy’s. Sam Amirante describes the phone call, Sam, could you do me a favor. Sam will never forget those words. Sam had just opened his first law practice and Gacy was upset about what he thought was police harassment. Consequently, the narrative begins. Defending a Monster, published in 2011, is truly a page-turner that you cannot put down. It is Sam’s first murder case; defense attorney for one of the most disturbing men of all time.

Sam Amirante and Danny Broderick reenact the crime cases as well as the Gacy’s insane, drunken and early morning confession in Sam’s office. And the book details the excellent, but frightening story of John Wayne Gacy and the intense, intricate trial. Sam describes in a note that an attorney/ client relationship is confidential and should not be broken even after death but Gacy wanted the story told.  Amirante labored over this for many years before writing the book. But there were so many rumors of John Wayne Gacy. It was important for Amirante that the historical record be set straight.

Though Amirante was threatened many times for defending Gacy, he truly feels that all have right to a trial regardless of the crime. These are principals woven into our Constitution as the authors describes in the first few pages. Every person accused of a crime has the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of his peers. No crime is too gruesome, person too dangerous or too complicated.

Danny Broderick is an author and founded the firm of the Law offices of Daniel J Broderick. Broderick represented thousands of persons charged with felony and misdemeanor charges.

I heard about Sam Amirante through a client who used his firm. Sam was an associate judge in Cook County until 2005 at the same time a special mentor of mine was also a Cook county judge who had passed away. They did know each other. I then began to research and decided to read more about the story of John Wayne Gacy since I love anything and everything about Chicago’s history. Mr. Amarante also wrote procedures adopted by the Illinois General Assembly as the Missing Child Recovery Act of 1984.

American Girl

It was Samantha Parkington that was all the rage for many.  My daughter loved the doll and got one along with a look alike doll. I loved the books. But it was the Bitty Baby that truly brings back special and sometimes emotional holiday feelings. Christmas 2000 my daughter really wanted the Bitty Baby and under the tree on Christmas morning, there was nothing with the excuse told to her that we just couldn’t afford it. Later that morning, we traveled to the nursing home to see my Mother who would die later that summer. She handed my daughter the wrapped box and still had no idea the Bitty Baby was inside. She thought when first looking at the box that it was just too small for a baby doll. She was hoping up until the last minute that the doll would be hers forever; still is in a neatly wrapped storage box along with Samantha.

American Girl is an American line of 18-inch dolls released in 1986 by Pleasant Company. The dolls portray today eight- to twelve-year-old girls of a variety of ethnicity, time periods of origin, faiths, and social classes.Originally, the stories published into books focused on various periods of American history, but were expanded in 1995 to include characters and stories from contemporary life. Aside from the original American Girl dolls, the buyer also has the option to purchase dolls that look like themselves.

Bitty Baby was an American Girl line of 15″ infant baby dolls for children ages 3 and up. Bitty Baby’s arms, legs, and head are made from vinyl. A precursor to the line called Our New Baby was first released in 1990,which consisted of Caucasian (with blond hair), African-American, and Asian-American variants. The dolls were marketed as a way to get children to adjust to having a young baby in the house. The dolls were gender neutral, unlike the later Bitty Baby; it was expected that the doll could be a younger boy or girl.

The American Girl series, by various authors, is a collection of novels set within toy line’s fictional universe. Since its inception, American Girl has published books based on the dolls, with novels and other media to tie in with their dolls. The books follow various American girls throughout both historical eras and contemporary settings.The historical novels that have corresponding dolls are referred to as the Central Series such as Samantha Parkington, Kirsten Larsen, Molly McIntire.  And I read them all even trying my hand at writing one and sending it to the publishing company.

A related series entitled History Mysteries, also known as Mysteries Through Time and/or Mysteries through History was released by American Girl in 1999 and discontinued in 2004. The series comprises a total of 22 books by various authors and forms a companion series to the popular American Girl books; unlike Girl of the Year and other lines, they do not come with any doll or toy and acts as a stand-alone novel set in a particular period in American history.

Today, all dolls purchased actually come with a book. For 2020, American girl has a new doll with a hearing loss. She is a competitive surfer that lives in California named Joss.

And the dolls of my daughter’s childhood are now considered antique and worth some money. Just like mine. One Samantha doll with her original outfit and accessories recently sold on eBay for $400. And the original Bitty baby can be found right now for under $50 dollars with only a few scratches.