The last week

After many years in a variety of educational positions, for the last five years, my retirement job has been in an elementary school as an instructional assistant in a pre-k through second grade school in Downers Grove. For them, this is their last week before summer break, so they are excited and the week has been filled with extra activities to celebrate moving on to the next grade. As I lovingly watch them learn and grow, I can’t help but think about the week in Uvalde, Texas which we will never forget. The horrific mass shooting occurred when an 18-year old with an assault weapon murdered 19 children and two teachers in their elementary school classroom while injuring more than a dozen others. It fills me with an overwhelming sadness, grief for those lost in Texas, and fear.

What???? Another school shooting??? Not again, and it can happen anywhere, including the suburb of Downers Grove though administration throughout the suburbs are taking the right action. A school resource office should be in every school building. All outside doors are locked and some schools require scanners as people walk through the doors. All visitors must present a government issued photo ID. Safety drills are conducted at each of our schools throughout the year, and staff receive training on how to respond in crisis situations. Whatever it takes to keep children safe.

There is one argument after another about gun laws. My concern is have the recourses to handle mental health issues and drug addiction. According to Impact Dupage, behavioral health continues to be a chief concern in DuPage County. Addressing behavioral health requires attention to substance use disorders as well as mental health. According to sources, the opioid epidemic in Illinois continues to manifest in multiple ways that include historically high rates of overdoses and overdose-related fatalities. Children and families need more resources for counseling they can afford and even more social workers at schools that can get a handle on the issues going on with a child.

There is always something positive that develops from tragedy. Maybe one mother will become sober for life and maybe one father will suggest counseling for his family. Maybe one grandmother will spend more time with their grandchildren, maybe one couple will recognize the love of their life. Maybe one teacher will give their children more hugs, maybe one parent will hug their child a little tighter. Maybe one person will finally honor another without complaint, maybe one company will offer a product at no cost for those that struggle. Maybe we will demonstrate more respect for our teachers, administration and staff at school. Maybe one more person will believe in God because there are truly more angels in heaven than ever before.

As we pray for the grief of the families and friends related to the following:

  • Eva Mireles, 44
  • Irma Garcia, 48
  • Xavier Lopez, 10
  • Uziyah Garcia, 9
  • Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, 10
  • Jose Flores, 10
  • Tess Mata, 10
  • Amerie Jo Garza, 10
  • Jayce Luevanos, 10
  • Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10
  • Miranda Mathis, 11
  • Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10
  • Jackie Cazares, 10
  • Ellie Garcia, 10
  • Alithia Ramirez, 10
  • Rojelio Torres, 10 
  • Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
  • Nevaeh Bravo, 10
  • Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10
  • Eliahana ‘Elijah’ Cruz Torres, 10
  • Layla Salazar, 10

God bless you all!

Lilacia Park

I have to smell the lilacs in May. It reminds me of Mom and Dad. After living in Downers Grove for over 30 years, I had no idea that I could smell the flowers at a historical park in Lombard, a neighboring suburb, only 15 minutes away. A friend had posted about her field trip to Lilacia Park on Facebook so I took a morning trip there last Sunday. It was the perfect day for the weather and photographs. A beautiful walk! Lilacia Park, an 8.5-acre garden, is located at 150 South Park Avenue, Lombard, Illinois. Yes, I could smell the lilacs but I didn’t think about the past, but the elegance of the moment.

Lilacia Park is aworld-renown horticultural showcase that features over 700 lilacs and 35,000 tulips annually. In 2019, the park was named to the National Register of Historic Places for its significant contribution to horticultural history in the United States. Lilacia Park is most recognized for being home to Lombard Lilac Time, a blooming festival happening during the first two weeks of May. Col. William Plum and his wife Helen Maria Williams Plum traveled to Chicago in 1869, where he wanted to practice, but also investigated areas outside of the city. One was the new village of Lombard which had been known as Babcock Grove.

He purchased land on the corner of Park and Maple. The estate would eventually be known as Lilacia, the Latin term for lilac. The couple had taken a tour to France and visited the famous gardens of Victor Lemoine where they fell in love with the lilacs. They bought the first two after touring the Arboretum. Helen passed away in 1924 and the Colonel lost interest in the estate. He tried to sell it to Joy Morton. It was Morton that told the Colonel that the collection had become so much a part of Lombard that they should remain there, and not at Thornhill Farm, now known as the Morton Arboretum. The Colonel passed away in 1927 and in his will, he dedicates the gardens to Lombard requesting it to become a public park. The home was used as a small library but was demolished when a new library opened in 1963, still dedicated to Helen Plum.

The park is open all year. Lilacia Park hosts many special events each year, including the Mutt Strut Annual 5K & 1-Mile, Movies & Concerts in the Park, Jingle Bell Jubilee, Holiday Lights, and more. Host your wedding at Lilacia Park!

Reflections on Teacher Appreciation

By Caryl Clem

Last week, I passed the grade school with signs proclaiming. “Teacher Appreciation Week, We Love You” I instantly blessed the teachers in my life with a smile. Further down the street, passing the high school ignites a memory of students pushing through crowded hallways. My heart skipped a beat by memories of my shy teenage years guided by inspiring teachers. The middle school blocks from my house has a sign shouting out teacher appreciation on their front lawn. Minutes later, I pull into the medical center ready for my health checkup.

As I sat reviewing my life as my doctor updated my records, he surprisingly commented, “How were those years teaching, what did you take away?” I sensed his time was precious and my lifetime passion needed a condensed answer. I blurted out, “More rewarding than I thought possible. Every year deepened and renewed my desire to teach.  Now when I meet former students and hear their success stories,  it proves positive reinforcement works ” Then I said,” No matter who you are, you want to be feel confident with who you are and can be. Teachers find ways for students to make it and feel okay.”

A few minutes later after more notes I asked my doctor, “How are your kids doing?” He told me that his daughter as a freshman was considering education in the same field as my past. I reassured him, “The paper work can seem overwhelming but the spectrum of watching a student mature is worth every minute and hour.” He looked at me and said, “Paperwork, you have no idea how much paperwork is attached to my job, any job the government regulates. My daughter knows it will be a demanding job. I think a teacher in her past has inspired her. I feel this will be the right path for her. “

As I drove home I sent a blessing skyward that his daughter reaches her dreams. I privately thought: I was the product of a journey over a mountain range teachers. To all those who dream of being teachers, please continue the education cycle. The future is shaped by your efforts, talent and dedication. For all those who have kept the education system working, “Thank You” for continuing to prove no obstacle can stop a willing mind from learning. Teachers attach the promise of hope and faith that make any lesson meaning full for a lifetime.

Chicagoland’s Hegewisch Records

Moving to Dolton from the south side of Chicago in the early 1970’s, my record collection expanded. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s first album, Carol King’s Tapestry, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Deja vu and 64 of the Greatest Motown Hits (4 albums) and more became an obsession. As well as my shopping trips to Hegewisch Records & Tapes which was a legendary store that was located first in the Hegewisch neighborhood on the southeast side of Chicago. The store started in 1965 as a novelty shop selling sundries as well as records and music. The record and music operation moved to its Calumet City location in 1974 at 522 Torrence Ave. Other south suburban locations were in Richton Park and Merrillville, Indiana. It was founded by Joe Sotiros. And the store had everything including accessories and t-shirts. Here, you could meet a number of bands for record signings and concerts such as Elton John, Cheap Trick, Van Halen, Roger Daltry. Even the Blues Mobile from the Blue Brothers movie showed up. A dear friend who played drums for a group called Thunder got to meet Wishbone Ash, an incredible rock and blues group. It was nothing to wait in line for hours to see favorite bands and nobody complained. I will say again….no one complained since we all had something in common that we loved.

But on Friday, the 13th, September in 1991, Joseph was murdered on his ranch in Crete. He was found by friends because they had not seen him for a few days and were concerned. They contacted the police immediately. This has haunted his sister Brenda for years since no arrests have been made. The Calumet City store changed hands after his death but closed its door about a year after. The store was finally demolished to make way for a Walgreens.

In Merriville, Indiana, Hegwewisch was a staple from the mid -1980’s through the 1990’s. However, as what happened to most record shops, Circuit City and Best Buy took over with better sales and finally the shop was closed. The building was torn down as well located on Rt 30. Today, Lisa, Joe’s niece, has a Facebook site that truly honor the memories of the record shop. My daughter who is 30+ loving the music of that era, like me, has always said that the Baby Boomer’s generation of music can never be matched.

Celebrating National Library Week; libraries an integral part of my life

Growing up in Chicago in the early 1960’s, we did have a library at school. The Chicago Public Library came to visit me and my classmates at Kate Sturgis Buckingham School and Joseph Warren School. I loved books but had a difficult time with comprehension until 5th grade. I remember book carts being displayed in a row in the gym for us to select a book to take home. Extra books were available on shelves in a tall closet where we could look at the books. Brenda Brave Helps Grandmother, a picture book by Astrid Lindgren, was a favorite. Some liked the Hardy Boys Series when they got older, but for me, it was the Trixie Beldon Series or Little House on the Prairie. The South Chicago Library Branch is still located at 91st and Houston and was built in 1941. That was my mom’s place since she was an avid reader; always a book in the evenings. The library was completely renovated with a new addition in 1994. There is also the Avalon Branch at 81st and Stony Island that opened in 2006.

Moving to Dolton in 1970-1978, much of my library experience took place at Thornridge Highschool, where I was a library assistant for my sophomore year, South Suburban College, and Lewis University, though the Dolton Library, 14037 Lincoln Avenue, still available, was popular during the summer as well as the South Holland Library. Originally, the South Holland Library was opened in 1962 after a 500,000 dollar referendum was passed. A new library was built in 1972 at its present location, 16250 Wausau Avenue. Most of my reading was textbook literature for high school and college papers, I still had to read for fun and relaxation. After Trixie Beldon, I had moved on to Nancy Drew and finished the series, but my favorite author in the late 1970’s was John Saul. His first, a horror best seller, was Suffer the Children in 1977, Punish the Sinners,1978, and Cry for the Strangers in 1979. I have read all 37 of his thrillers.

Teaching at the old Warren Township High School in Gurnee on O’Plaine Rd during the 1980’s, I remember the library at school. Because of the school library, I did not go to the Warren-Newport Library frequently, which opened in 1973 and is one of the busiest libraries in Lake County or the Waukegan Library. Waukegan’s current library building is located at County and Clayton Streets and is part of a governmental complex including both municipal and county buildings. It was designed by William Ganster of the Waukegan architecture firm of Ganster and Henninghausen. The library opened for service on December 27, 1965 and was dedicated on April 19, 1966. The library went through a complete renovation in 2015. The library honors Ray Bradbury, the science fiction author, since he was born in Waukegan in 1922. I was never much of a science fiction fan, but it was at this time that I fell in love with Anne Perry, a historical detective writer and Jeffrey Archer.

For over 30 years, my library of choice has been the Downers Grove Library, 1050 Curtiss Street. Especially with technological services, I can search for a book online, reserve it, and when it is ready, they will send an email saying that it is available and for how many days on specific hold shelves. You can reserve books that have not been published yet, but will come out sometime that year. Following a successful referendum for a tax-supported library, a small-frame building on the southwest corner of Main and Curtiss became the library’s second home. Circulation in November of 1912 was 1,520. In 1996, residents approved an $8.2 million referendum to reconstruct and update the library by adding an addition. The new 67,738 square foot building opened in February of 1999.

Being over 65, I can’t wait to read; still. I am always looking for the best in historical fiction and I love authors such as Kate Morton, Sara Paretsky, Claire McIntosh, Kristin Hannah, James Patterson, and the list goes on, and on, and on. I even belong to a book club; the creator of the club has invited women all over the country that she knew. We once shared the library together as teachers at Warren Township. We truly need to focus on the reading skills of young children. I am certainly an integral example. I have lived a lifetime’s love of reading.

Chicago History Museum

The first time I visited the Chicago Historical Society, which is now the Chicago Museum, was the day after the death of John F. Kennedy. It was a field trip planned in advance with friends to celebrate my 9th birthday that my Mom did not want to cancel. After arriving, I remember seeing the bed that Abraham Lincoln died in and also seeing different guns representing the Union and Confederate Armies. It was a somber event, for many of us kept thinking about the irony of this trip after the recent assassination of our President John F. Kennedy who was also shot in the head in on Friday, November 22, 1963. My actual birthday was on the Thursday, the 21st, though we planned to celebrate on Saturday, November 23rd since we were off of school. Taking my own little ones, to the museum in the 1990’s, they, too, were fascinated with the gun collection, and Lincolns bed, but also loved the clothing that Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln wore on the evening of the assassination. We also enjoyed the beautiful historical paintings and dioramas throughout the building. Learning more about the true Chicago Fire was another interest that sparked our attention.

The museum has been located in Lincoln Park since the 1930s at 1601 North Clark Street at the intersection of North Avenue in the Old Town Triangle neighborhood. The CHS adopted the name, Chicago History Museum, in September 2006 for its public presence. Later that year, the museum celebrated a grand reopening, unveiling a dramatic new lobby and redesigned exhibition spaces. Signature exhibitions such as Chicago: Crossroads of America and Sensing Chicago debuted, while an old favorite, Imagining Chicago: The Dioramas, was restored and updated.

Today, the Chicago History Museum, Stephen Burrows, Scotty Piper, Patrick Kelly, Willi Smith, and Barbara Bates—five stories within the folds of fashion. The clothing we wear and the styles we embrace often reveal what we value and what we aspire to, ultimately helping us understand ourselves and the world in which we live. The clothing collection consists of more than 50,000 pieces, ten never-been-exhibited ensembles were selected to tell the remarkable stories of these five designers. Vivian Maier was an extraordinary photographer who took pictures of real life and many on the streets of Chicago. Maier died before her life’s work was shared with the world. She left behind hundreds of prints, 100,000 negatives, and about a thousand rolls of undeveloped film, which were discovered when a collector purchased the contents of her storage lockers.

Remembering Dr. King: 1929–1968 invites visitors to walk through a winding gallery that features over 25 photographs depicting key moments in Dr. King’s work and the Civil Rights movement. And there is much more to the museum, that includes a variety of programs, publications, temporary exhibits, and online resources such as virtual fieldtrips, on-site fieldtrips and you can host an event. The museum offers a great gift shop with wonderful historical and fictional books about the city. You can also purchase kids’ books that offer a solid look at American history. You can buy apparel as well home goods.

What ever happened to sky blue?

One 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 died and went 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 yell “sky blue”. I don’t know about others, but when I am reminded of this game, the only words I can think of is SKY BLUE. But the children of today did not buy it. That is a memory that is so clear on a beautiful day. In front of my house on the south side of Chicago in the 1960’s. It was just like yesterday remembering my Mom standing in the picture window just watching me trying to draw the game in front of our house when I was real little. But it didn’t take a phone call for other friends on the block to come out and help. Somehow, they just appeared; probably watching from their own windows. It was those creases between sidewalk slabs that made it difficult. My older friends really helped me. Once completed, we all played together.

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.

You can 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.

Moms from the district came out to actually permanently paint a hopscotch on our playground,,,, number 10 as the last number. As a playground supervisor, I am going to just blow my whistle and yell “sky blue” as the children proceed, whether they like it or not!

Happy Valentine’s Day

After sitting down with a young Downers Grove student, she reminded me of Valentine’s Day.  She shared a story about her grandmother who lost her Dad when she was a teenager, then her husband just recently….Grandpa…..It was a cedar box that her Grandmother opened when she was sad and inside were a special collection of Valentine’s Day cards. Beautifully wrapped in tissue, she would open each one and smile. Sometimes, tears of love would tag along. The cards were elaborate with elegant designs in red, white and pink while others were framed in lace or velvet. To my love, my darling, my precious; written in neat handwriting to introduce the verse inside which was usually an encouraging message. After listening, I realized that many of us have probably done the same with our own inspired Valentines either preciously saved in a box or scrapbook.

My mother had a box just like this student’s grandmother. My Mother and Dad had passed away several years ago but I knew where the box was stored and couldn’t remember when was the last time I looked inside. So after returning home, I found her box. I found my Mother and Dad. A glossy silver card with a vase filled with flowers complimented the cover made in the 1960’s. In small writing, it said I love you in a white heart…he had signed his name though difficult to read…placed among the assorted floral collection designed on the card. To my darling wife stood proudly inside.

Now, I was excited…..this really was the true meaning of Valentines Day for me. I was thinking about Valentines that were given to me by my own children, now aged 30+ and I had several scrapbooks but I wasn’t sure which one. But, I, continued on checking out my Mother’s cedar box; I had forgotten what was in it. As I leafed through the photos, documents, I found two cards for Valentines Day. One was from my mother that said You’re A Wonderful Daughter. I was an only child. And the next one was from my daughter, Your Love Means So Much. At that moment, I cried at the irony. Maybe I pulled my daughter’s years ago to save in the special box so that I would never lose or misplace it in a scrapbook. Maybe, she put it there, knowing, too, the special family memories were always intact in that box. Maybe, it showed up just because it needed too.

And the next day, I shared my collection with the student. She decided to make her Grandmother a special card to add to her box of treasures this year.  Nothing says I love you like the hand-crafted cards trimmed in elaborate lace and personalized just for you.

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd opened on May 30, 1932 and for some time it has been the largest indoor facility in the world. I vaguely remember trying to catch site of the floating seahorse with plants in the background, which was new to the Shedd back in the 1960’s; it is home to many species. The highlights for me was the beluga whale or the sharks. I loved watching the trainers give toys to the whales. The Caribbean Reef exhibit was built in 1971, making me approximately 15 years old then, on the site of the aquarium’s very first exhibit, the Tropical Pool. A feature of this exhibit is a diver that interacts with the animals while talking with the people. A part of the exhibit is a 90,000-US-gallon (340,000 l) circular tank that allows for maximum walk-around viewing. My own daughter was going to be a dolphin trainer or a marine biologist which she never became after bringing her to visit in the 1990’s. We loved spending time checking out the beautiful Chicago lakefront and eating lunch on the outdoor patio.

Shedd Aquarium was the gift of retail leader John G. Shedd, a protégé of Marshall Field (benefactor of the adjacent Field Museum), to the city of Chicago. Although Shedd only lived long enough to see the architect’s first drawings for the aquarium, his widow, Mary R. Shedd, cut the ribbon at the official opening ceremony. Shedd has expanded twice, with both additions carefully respecting the original architecture that earned the aquarium a National Historic Landmark designation. The modernistic Abbott Oceanarium, which opened in 1991, was linked physically and philosophically to the original structure by using the same white Georgia marble on its exterior. Wild Reef, which opened in 2003, was constructed 25 feet below street level under the original south terrace.

Today at Shedd, you should check out the Giant Pacific Octopus. The average arm span is 14 feet. With no bones to encumber it, however, this soft-bodied animal can slip through a hole no larger than its hard beak—2 inches or less. It’s also great at camouflage, blending its color, texture and shape into the seascape to ambush fishes, crabs and other prey. Watch them feed the sharks. Bearing horns and hammers, stripes and spots, sharks come in all shapes and sizes. They’re found in every ocean, in habitats ranging from shallow tropical reefs to the deep, cold seafloor.

Legacy of bookmarks

I was attending a meeting with other assistants and teachers in our southwest suburban school district that contains three schools. As soon as I walked in a mother who now works in the district flags me down with her son beside her who is now in fifth grade. It took me only a brief minute but she said,” Do you remember my son? “I remembered him in kindergarten; a delightful boy who was a joy to work with and now a fan of the Greenbay Packers, like me. “He still uses all the bookmarks you made for him and he nods with pride,” she said.

The bookmarks???? Five years ago, it began….before the pandemic. When I started making bookmarks to celebrate all holidays in our school building. The school hosts kindergarten-2nd grade while the two other schools supported 3rd-5th and 6th -8th.  First, I began making them for the classroom I was in which was usually kindergarten and would try to personalize each with their name. Then, I would create a bookmark of something they enjoyed such as a unicorn which I distinctly remembering how popular. It also depended on the time of year or holiday.

They were three-dimensional in some way whether it be fancy heart stickers for Valentine’s Day or the great snowman with delicate snowflakes for winter break. And everybody usually got their favorite colors if my memory served me well. Sometimes if I was really in the mood, bookmarks would have an original saying such as follow your heart for Valentines Day.

After my first attempts, I would have the occasional student from another class ask if I had a book mark and so it began. I started making more….just in case. And for many that would go on to the next grade, my bookmarks followed. They would see me in the hallway and ask if I was still making them for my current students. I always had extras… given with approval. They knew where to find me. Again, never missing a student who needed that bookmark for their favorite book.

Last year, I did create bookmarks at the end of the year for a first grade class. Each in a plastic bag with a glow worm necklace following pandemic rules. They weren’t impressed. I had lost my touch with few stickers and variety. No, there is a difference in maturity levels in first grade.

I am helping in the kindergarten and have not made one this year. Maybe after the beautiful message from the fifth grader, following my heart and God, my latest bookmark beginnings will celebrate the upcoming holidays with the best snowman art I can create. But again, that is not what they like. It is just creating something handmade which is special to them even if it lacks variety. This is their first year of school and generally they are just more accepting of mistakes; trying our best, forgetting all the rest. Forging ahead with patience and love this Thanksgiving break…….the bookmarks are almost done.