If you missed the Christmas Story

Decades ago, my wings were cockeyed and my Mom was not happy. Dad was coming to church that day to see me in the Christmas Pageant. Of course, I was an angel and my first time in the Christmas story. I didn’t have to say anything but just look pretty. Ms. Elaine, who was Mom’s best friend and my Sunday school teacher, adjusted my wings just perfectly. How I loved to perform for Dad. In later years, I played piano solos in the small sanctuary at St Lukes Church in Chicago’s south side. In The Bleak Mid Winter was Mom’s all-time favorite. Dad admired my courage to memorize the notes.

Somehow, it all came back to me as I watched the children perform the same story at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Downers Grove. Joseph surprised me with such character and enthusiasm that you can tell he, actually in real life…. a girl named Ella, is a true, professional actor. Joseph’s brother, Cannon, showed amazing charisma as he sang the final song….a diversion from time and place…We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Mary had a beautiful presence and strong voice while the Christmas Star…a brilliant cloth covered star had a wonderful smile, which was about all I could see of the real person.

And the Angels…..they were dressed in a variety of gowns and white accessories looking their best in song for the hundreds of parishioners watching their performance. The Dads,Moms, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins; so excited to be a part of their lives. Or just friends like me who felt the expressive spirit of the true meaning of Christmas as they described the birth of the baby Jesus.

In later years for me, our church burned downed by arson and though some of us continued on to another church, I remember the blackened sanctuary that was damaged the most. But it could not destroy the memories of beautiful plays, piano recitals,  genuine pastoral sermons of such a close community and most of all, trusted friendships.

First Congregational United Church of Christ  is like that……united in faith, love, service and community. No matter who you are, or where you are in life’s journey, you are welcome. The church offers a wide variety of children’s programs, music opportunities and mission trips. Its a place where questions are answered and you can grow together in respect, trust and build those same family memories. If you can’t attend,check out their service online.

There is always a place there…….. for another angel!

Swedish Christmas traditions in Chicago

By Caryl Clem:

During Roman rule, a young maiden brought food to starving Christian prisoners. Legend paints a picture of her wearing a crown of candles in her hair so her hands were free to serve food.  Slain for her religious beliefs, she becomes one of the first woman martyrs, St. Lucia. In Scandinavia, Denmark and Finland St. Lucia is honored at the start of the Christmas season with a candlelit procession on December 13th.  One young girl is selected in cities and villages to lead the parade. Adorned with a crown of candles in a billowy white gown, she is followed by costumed boys carrying stars while singing. School is dismissed by midday for preparations. Before the festival, the family’s eldest girl is dressed in a white gown serving gingersnaps, lussekatter (buns flavored with saffron topped with a raisin) and Swedish glogg or coffee to visitors and guests. During the longest night of the year, St. Lucia festival shines with thousands of candles symbolizing the promise of light and hope.

Love Disney…… still feel the desire to check out the latest Disney creation?  What better time than Christmas Eve to tune in to an old favorite childhood friend.  For decades, Sweden T.V. fans had two channels. A custom was born in 1959 when at 3 p.m.  Donald Duck starred wishing friends and family a Merry Christmas.  Last year, Donald Duck was still the most popular proving laughter heals.  One review stated that emergency calls dropped by 20 %. Another review stated cell phone use dropped on that day lower than any other day. The charm of Swedish Donald lives on.

If you are curious to explore Swedish ethnicity, several neighborhoods have their background.,” 1920 Swedes dominated the North Side neighborhoods of Lake ViewAndersonville, and North Park; and West Side neighborhoods of Austin and Belmont Cragin. On the South Side, Swedes settled primarily in Hyde ParkWoodlawnEnglewoodWest EnglewoodSouth ShoreGreater Grand CrossingEast SideMorgan Park, and Roseland.

Feel like embarking on a Swedish food adventure? Chicago has several places offering these delicacies.  Check out the Swedish Museum, 5211 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois 60640 phone 773-728-8111

Season’s greetings

Mom ordered her Christmas cards from Miles Kimball with our names printed inside; John, Mavis and Karla. It was a months long project in November to select the perfect card. My father owned a business and Mother included clients on her list. Simple, but elegant was her theme. Miles Kimball still offers a unique card selection with free personalization. And the Christmas cards she would get from others through the 1950’s to the early 1990’s always decorated a closet door frame in the living rooms of two homes. That was how she displayed her friendships…making sure the cover would flap open so visitors could see who they were from.

One grandmother talks about displaying them on string over her bed so that she can dream about her friends and adventures of Christmas at night. Wreaths composed of Christmas cards became popular in later years. And creating Christmas trees with cards was another idea.

Seven billion greeting cards are purchased every year. Annual retail sales of greeting cards are estimated at more than $7.5 billion. Nine out of every ten households buy greeting cards each year. The birthday card is one of the favorites. Top selling seasonal cards are Christmas and holidays cards. These account for more than six percent of all seasonal card sales. Valentine’s day is the next greeting card seller followed by Mothers, Fathers day and Easter according to the Greeting Card Association.

Today, gather up your favorite type of ribbon, some form of wall adhesive and clips. You only need a few items to create this easy clip on Holiday card display. Using old window shutters or empty frames to display your Christmas cards will give your home a rustic holiday feel.

Some also use garland with cards added that will be displayed on a staircase or garland around a door frame. Strips of velvet ribbon or satin are also used to display cards and you can purchase tabletop Christmas card holders. Christmas tree memory boards are available for sale or you can create your own bulletin board decorated with fabric to display a collage of cards and photos.

Holiday photo cards of family have been extremely popular over the decades but ours as children were black and white. Many have interesting backgrounds,some families dressed in matching pajamas by the Christmas tree or encircled with holiday lights. There are hundreds of ideas for unique family photos. For me, family photo cards are a little scary. A school psychologist once shared a story that almost every family Christmas photo she received had a crisis behind the smiling faces of the family that sent the card.

I guess the best Season greetings cards for me are the ones that tell me a little about the sender if I am not in touch; those with the added notes in their own pen. Those that ask how you are, those that hope for the best, those that thank you for your friendship, those that wish happiness for your loved ones and most of all, those that share blessings for a safe, healthy and gracious holiday season. And, of course, a happy New Year. That’s all I need.

Home for the holidays

By CARYL CLEM:

Festive holiday surround sound

Familiar refrains, bells and chimes

Baby, its cold outside, travel back to past times

Looking forward to being snowbound

Visiting with friends and family, staying warm.

Masterpiece art forms, radiant ornaments

Reflecting light and past traditions

Packages waiting for childlike astonishment

Glistening stars and snow, sparkling companions

Adorn the skies, trees, translucent accents.

Dine and enjoy once a year treats

Symbols of heritage and past sweets

Made with love and secret ingredients

While baking, unforgettable scents

Blend treasured old memories with new ones

Tell stories that tickle everyone’s funny bones.

Rejoice in the love that is shared

Stand united promoting everyone’s welfare.

Hold on to the holiday cheer through the New Year.

Silver lining

By Caryl Clem:

Grandparent images, time bound perception

Colorful aprons, housekeeping armor

Sunday worship wear, high style hat fashion

High laced, freshly shined cleats, echoed on the wood floor.

Sunday dinner, family secret food traditions

Lively family issue deliberations

Sprinkled with storytelling sensation.

Heirloom handmade game board covers the table

Betting chips pair with the wild card shuffle

Game on, all out competition.

 

Later, embracing hugs soothed the pain

To a question without an answer, move forward

Believe in yourself, believe it’s yours to obtain

Passionate patience shaping every word.

A domain ruled by the theme, Welcome

Our door and hearts are always open

 

Pictures in weathered family album

Gray hairs shinning in the sun

Figures responsible for my surviving

Truly, my life’s silver lining.

 

 

Gifts for Grandmother; the royal charm bracelet

All my travels, hopes and dreams as a child were recorded in my charm bracelet; a mechanical wishing well that opened and closed for good luck, a pineapple from Florida, a sail boat since I dreamed of having one someday, the Eiffel tower from my uncles trip to Paris, the golf bag symbolizing the days of miniature golf with Dad, the grand piano I was to play as a concert pianist along with the tiny heart you could open though too small to add pictures. Though tarnished and just a little too small, I still smile and dangle the tinkling memories of the past. Though I could never sell, children’s vintage bracelets from the 1950’s and 1960’s can command a solid price at auctions and on Ebay today.

After digging deeper into my jewelry box mess, I found my Mothers charm bracelet which was started by my Dad in the 1940’s; a gold link chain entwined with pearls that fits me perfectly. My father was responsible for the bracelets exquisite remnants; his gift to her to satisfy every occasion. Her first charm was a flat heart of gold with a tiny ruby in the corner engraved with her certificate of marriage to my Dad in 1949. Her second was shaped like a box with her scripted name, the third was a rose placed on a gilded background for her birthday and finally the fourth was my little Queen, their only child, with my name and birthday.  Unfortunately, my father died when I was twelve and that halted the tradition of adding to the bracelet. Though as the years progressed into adulthood, my marriage and own children, Grandma received a necklace with charms including pictures of her grandchildren; still a great gift idea for those that favor neck jewelry.

By the 1970’s charm bracelets lost their luster but became quite collectible in the 1990’s and now in the 21st century, charm bracelets have regained their royal status. Craft your own bracelet by building a family legacy of miniature frames for Grandma’s wrist or create a bracelet that identifies Grandmothers personality. My personal design would  have to include trinkets of books, pens, maybe letters of the alphabet and computers just to name a few.

And while you decide on the perfect gems for Grandparents Day on September 9th, I will be admiring an addition to my tired jewelry collection while wearing my Mom’s classic bracelet, in memory of her, that showcased her charm and the ones she loved. I also found her watch for the other wrist and since that is also supposedly in style once again, my accessories of memories are complete.

Heroes

POETRY BY CARYL CLEM:

When life is thrown wayward

Unasked, coming forward

Beside us, courageous collaborators

Humble companions, even champions

Faithful, loyal, upholding honor

A pioneer discovering solutions

Forced by coincidence or circumstance

To save others with intelligence and grace

Never expecting rewards or recognition

                                             Thanks for being my Hero 

Lemonade stands, summer theater and art fairs for charity

I never liked lemonade…..too sour! So my childhood friends and I upgraded one summer on our porch in Chicago. We had been to an excellent ice cream shop in Old Town so we briefly tried to do the same by making sodas. We called our shop Sip and Stir with a big sign and tissue flowers, made out of Kleenex, brightening the red brick of the porch. My Moms bathroom was blue and my girlfriends was pink so we had a colorful combination of flowers. We had a small cooler with vanilla ice cream, metal cups and a couple of cans of 50/50 soda. My father’s glass shop was across the street from Canfields factory and we got free soda.

We lasted about an hour. The flowers kept falling down. The ice cream began to melt. And no one showed up.  Not one person bought a soda out of the goodness of their heart…even our Mom’s were not that interested. And the day we chose was hot.

So, the following summer, we decided to forget the stands of drinks and be much more creative. We would plan an event in advance and sell tickets. We were a little older, more responsible and invited many to be in a play that we wrote together about Betsy Ross sewing the American flag. I don’t remember the details but I directed and played a part. We held the play in my basement where it was nice and cool. We actually had costumes that was supplied by a friends Mom. It would be many years later that I acted and directed in plays as a student and high school teacher.

In the 1990’s, my own had their plays and stand but took it one step further. They created their works of art to be displayed outdoors at our organized summer art fair for Luries Children’s Hospital. Eleven by fourteen paintings, splashed in watercolor or acrylic, hung on the fence for all to see.  Prior to the event,  we then took each drawing and framed them with the right color to highlight each design while finally dressing them in plastic just in case of a sudden rain.

Once all the artwork was submitted and framed, a panel of judges intently studied the variety of floral bouquets, favorite pets as well as trains, planes, automobiles and a selection of rainbows. Each category produced a first, second and third place winner with the appropriate ribbon displayed on the frame. Honorable mention was awarded to those without a ribbon And we collected over a 100 dollars and the children were in the newspaper.

Creating a charitable legacy is the foundation for every success story and starting the early teachings of charity at home is one of the grandest gifts that we can offer to our young. Help them now so they can continue to build their own world rich in selfless endeavors.

Gather your grandchildren, advertise at their school or community center, talk to your neighbors and friends about hosting an art fair with prizes for your favorite cause; a wonderful way to inspire the art of charity in your grandchildren’s hearts.

 

 

Reflections song

POETRY BY CARYL CLEM:

Just a note unlocks a memory

A mix of love and mystery

Holding on, then letting go

Loves continual ebb and flow

In just a note, magic returns

Remembering passions burn

Time heals, the music plays on

Finding desire embraced in a song.

Summers in Saugatuck

We climbed out of the Vista cruiser after pulling up along side the small white cottage. The trees towered above us as we began to grab our suitcases and, of course, my pillow. I could hear the waves of Lake Michigan located across the road which was called Lake Shore Drive in Saugatuck Michigan.

The rental was tiny inside; only two bedrooms for the adults which was Mom and her friend. Me and Rita’s two daughters …my same age… slept on cots and sleeping bags in the expansive living room. Our Dads would come up from Chicago in a few days for the weekend and then travel back with us to Chicago.

We read, we swam, we cooked hot dogs on the beach and visited quaint shops in downtown Saugatuck.  The entire week, I had a stomach ache and constantly complained. They took my temperature. They gave me medicine. And still my stomach ached and ached. And sometimes my head too. But when my father arrived, it was amazing how the pain began to subside as we played miniature golf and took a trip on the ferry. Unfortunately,when we all left together…I never felt better. I was only eight and the first time I had ever been separated from my Dad.

I returned to Saugatuck many times in the, 1970’s, 1980s and 1990s with friends and family. And did find the cottage that had been renovated in a more upscale environment and could not believe the disappearing beach caused by erosion. Those vacations usually included a stay at the Blue Star which has been revamped over the years or Lake Shore Resort though today, Saugatuck is filled with excellent bed and breakfast mansions.

I remembered shopping downtown; a much more powerful experience when I was an adult. My mother returned on a trip with me in the 1990’s and said that the artistic shops and culture had truly expanded. This included a variety of antiques,collectibles, and art galleries which were just beginning in the late 1960s.

Now, Saugatuck is named one of the best art towns by Expedia, which included the plein air painters of the early 1900s, the Art Institute of Chicago’s OxBow students, and the artists who continue to live their today. Through its affiliation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ox-Bow still offers one and two-week courses for credit and non-credit students.

There were also more places to eat and drink but the Butler, once an historic Inn, offers spectacular waterfront dining. Today, live entertainment can be enjoyed every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day

Saugatuck is one of Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 25 Beaches in the World,” and also a great place for hiking and fishing.

I remember sitting on the dunes trying to enjoy the sunset and the amazing beauty that surrounded me. I didn’t think I missed my father; I had no idea why my stomach hurt.

But now, I can go back; still mesmerized by sun, sand, and water without stomach pains. and with an amazing understanding of the love a daughter has for her father.