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.

Decades of Chicagoland holidays

Growing up on the south side of Chicago in the late 1950’s, for my Dad, it was the Christmas Tree. In the picture, this was my second Christmas, My second tree. The Christmas tree that was real. Not the fake trees that were first metal, silver and generally had coordinated ball ornaments that were all the same. The metal tree also rotated in a stand to music with floor lights. My father had to have an 8ft real tree with over 600 colored bulb lights where two lights of the same color were never together, bubble lights which were effectively scattered as well as intricate ornaments  placed with care on each branch to compliment the space. Tinsel was hung one string at a time. And that was it…sometimes he would put colored lights to frame his creation around the front window facing the street. The tree took hours, sometimes days to complete but it was his masterpiece and still remembered by many today. After Dad passed away , I tried to carry on the tradition in the 1970’s for my Mother. She switched to a fake, green tree with the new Italian lights and garland while living in Dolton. My own children had the same in the 1990’s only with new ornaments, bows and taller since it sat in a foyer at our home in Downers Grove.

What about other holiday decorations famous through the years? Over 108 years, the Chicago downtown tree has always been a major a favorite to visit. The first official Christmas tree in the city of Chicago was installed in 1913 in Grant Park and lit on Christmas Eve by then-mayor Carter Harrison. This first tree was a 35-foot (11 m) tall spruce tree. Beginning with Christmas 1966 the official Chicago Christmas tree was placed in Civic Center Plaza, now known as Daley Plaza. At that time, it was over 70ft tall and made of several trees. I was mesmerized as a child though my children were not as excited. With the exception of 1981, the tree was installed in Daley Plaza each year until 2015 where it moved to Millenium Park. The Civic Center now celebrates the 25th year of Christkindlmarket. The booths were always fun to visit with my children occasionally buying a mug of the best hot chocolate.

At two years old, my son began calling it the Christmas Tree House. His first trip was in 1989 and that is what stuck with our family all these years. Throughout the 1990’s, my son and my daughter traveled there every year for Christmas and just could not stop staring; could not be pulled away regardless of the weather. Some called it Santa’s house, others, the Christmas House. However, it was the most beautiful holiday home in Downers Grove created by Diane and Rion Goyette.

More great places today!

Lincoln Park Zoolights 
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago
On the north side of Chicago, for over 20 years Lincoln Park Zoo has provided a beautiful light display of over 2 million lights. You can also find beautiful ice carvings throughout the zoo grounds and other holiday related activities such as ice skating where you can bring your own skates or rent a pair.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo 8400 31st St. Brookfield, Il 60513
Just south of Chicago in Brookfield at the zoo, you can see over 30 years of celebration for the holiday season. Visitors can be dazzled by over a million lights and can enjoy caroling with the animals and special treat with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Several corporations have set up trees set to music and one that you can actually interact.

Chicago Botanic Garden is bringing back their experiential Lightscape experience for another year. The awe-inspiring display is set along a mile-long path where visitors can admire light installations by artists from around the world. Lightscape is open on select dates from November 12, 2021 to January 2, 2022.

Morton Arboretum is wonderful place but tickets are currently sold out.

Aurora Festival of Lights One of the largest free outdoor drive-through holiday light displays in Northern Illinois, the Aurora Festival of Lights, returns for its 15th year in 2021 with dazzling displays that will delight both adults and children. The light show begins the day after Thanksgiving, Friday Nov 26, and runs through Dec 26. Sunday  through Saturday 5-9pm. Last year, the festival had over 50,000 cars. Buses are welcome too.

Where is the Wish Book?

After leafing through a small catalog mailer checking out the two page kid section, it was certainly far from grand as I remembered during my time when the Wish Book came in the mail at our house….just about this time of year, every year. For those that remember, The Wish Book was every child’s hopes and dreams to be eternally satisfied in gifts from Santa for the holiday season. The Wish Book was every parents dream to keep us busy marking the pages, even cutting out, and highlighting the most important choices that would be wrapped and placed under our Christmas tree. I made excuses to stay on the potty longer than usual, my posterior sore just to intensely study and plan with my Wish Book. This was no flimsy flyer. Published by Sears in the forties, fifties and 1960’s holiday additions where over 400 pages in length. In 1964,1968, and 1969 proudly boasted over 600 pages and it took two hands to carry. I finally cut out the Barbie I wanted and carried that around until Christmas.

How beautiful the dolls…. dressed in ruffles and fairyland colors just like it says in the book in 1964. There was Betsy Wetsy, the tiny kissing cousins, the exceptional Thumbelina. Barbie, Ken, Midge, Allan and Skipper, Barbies new dream house, vinyl cases and sculptured doll carriages priced as low as $4.98. Then there were pages of vanities with neatly filled cosmetic trays, Little Hostess Buffet, All in I kitchen in corrugated card board as well as all steel play kitchens and fully furnished Split level houses of sturdy steel for under $10.00 along with phonographs that never needed a tube replacement. There were tuck and touch needlepoint sets that were never that easy. There were paint by number which were my favorite that I still do.

Of course there were the 3 speed bikes, Gilbert train sets, Ford J slot cars, Gemini rocket to blast to the moon,walkiestalkies with code buttons to send secret messages. There were the electric build it sets and basic science club kits, chemical sets and wood burning sets in all shapes and sizes with an actual analog computer for only 5.88. Gas and battery powered miniature cars and planes and at one point motorized erector sets. Make things work boys, with your own 53 piece workshop with a workbench to match for under 20 dollars. And there were plenty of guns from the newest assault rifle to the western marshal outfit.

We both had view masters with our collection of pictures from Cinderella, Bambi, Batman and the Man from Uncle as well as an etch a sketch for under 3 dollars. I guess those were like our cell phones today. We both played music. For the boys, it was Roy Rogers Guitar, an accordion and girls tended to receive pianos in all different sizes.

And what about the games for the entire family? There was dominos, chess, checkers of all types,along with CandyLand, Cootie House, Dr. Kildare, Lie Detector, Dick Tracy, Snakes Alive, battery operated table top Pinballs.

And believe it or not, my wish book has finally arrived once again. Not in the form of back breaking print but I can peruse through the pages of several Sears catalogs from my time at Wishbookweb.com. I can thumb through the entire catalog while sitting on the potty with my phone.

I wonder if I could place an order too!

Aww…..the good old days!

Santa images through time

By Caryl Clem

In ancient folklore, Santa was an elf, gnome, or after Christianity, a Saint.  Children were taught that good behavior brought gifts or if naughty, his evil brother would punish them. Santa was not approachable for special requests.

The transition of Santa from the supernatural realm into human form was shaped by literature.  The 1822 poem by Clement Moore gave Santa a magical, friendly personality combining a mix of legends. Thomas Nast, an 1860’s cartoonist drew pictures of Santa talking to boys and girls that appeared in Harper’s weekly in 1863.  In the following years he included the sleigh, reindeer, and North Pole toy shop. In 1902, the author of Wizard of Oz, Frank Baum creates The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus implanting the wonder of Santa Claus to all readers.

The catalog cover for a 1906 Eaton Department Store shows a serious Claus thinking about Christmas.  In an effort to boost sales, Coca Cola hired Haddon Sundblom in 1931: who created the jolly grandfather Santa Claus figure we love today.  The 1932 advertising pictures featured a smiling, red suited Santa against a green background.   The laughing Santa was an instant hit, kids wanted to meet this charming version of humanity and magic.  The following years of advertising show an active, laughing Santa busy spreading goodwill.

Santa popularity can be found in the Santa Surfing competition in California to raise money for autism to a mountain rappelling Santa in Asheville, North Carolina.  The Salvation Army started to collect donations by Santa clad unemployed men in 1890 to raise money to feed needy families. The Santa photography business of kids sitting on Santa’s lap started in the 1940’s.  Santa was available for requests. Stories of kids writing Santa Claus letters and making Christmas wishes dominate movie themes today.  Santa Village ceramics, Santa figures, Santa dinnerware, so many ways to bring Santa into your home.

Costumes at Christmas were a Victorian custom that is experiencing a rebirth. You can be a Santa elf or any character from a Christmas legend at a get together or party. Santa is more than one figure, able to change forms in the spirit of good will and generosity. Enjoy living as a Santa this holiday season!  Let his magic inspire you!

Oh boy, the Grinch

The week after Thanksgiving it began..a kindergarten boy wore a t shirt with a sketch of the Grinch on it; handmade by his Mom. I wanted it! But when I was his age I was afraid of the Grinch. I loved having Mom read the Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas and loved reading it to my own children. The first animated movie was telecast in the United States on CBS on December 18, 1966 and has been a holiday favorite ever since. The special also features the voice of Boris Karloff as the Grinch and the narrator; a 26 minute cartoon with Cindy Lou Who that everyone loves. My children were fascinated by the cartoon and one Christmas, my son got a talking Grinch doll. We still have the box. I am sure the doll is somewhere in our present garage mess.

According to Grinch Mania, the musical adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas started in Minneapolis in 1994, where it also showed in 1995 and 1998 to enthusiastic audiences. In 1998, the musical began playing in San Diego, where it has shown every year since then. The production hit the big time and Broadway in 2006 where it quickly became the hottest ticket on Broadway.

As my children got older in their junior high years, their true and everlasting love story with the Grinch came out in 2000How the Grinch Stole Christmas is an American Christmas fantasy comedy-drama film directed by Ron Howard and written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. Based on Dr. Seuss’s 1957 book of the same name, it was the first Dr. Seuss book to be adapted into a full-length feature film. The film is narrated by Anthony Hopkins and stars Jim Carrey in the title role, along with Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, and introducing Taylor Momsen as Cindy Lou Who. And according to box office statistics, one of the most successful films.

In 2018, The Grinch was released and distributed by Universal Pictures in the United States on November 9, 2018, in RealD 3D, a computer-animated Christmas comedy-drama film and played at select IMAX theaters produced by Illumination. It grossed over $511 million worldwide, so far obtaining the highest-grossing holiday film of all-time.

In the kindergarten classroom last week, we watched both cartoon from 1966 and the 2018 movie since the movie starring Jim Carey is a little scary for 5 and 6 year olds..a little scary for me. Though I must say I was positively memorized by the 2018 film….. finding the Grinch more funny than frightening.

Ultimately, as a mature adult…sometimes mature…., I love the Grinch as a doll, a picture on a box, musical renditions performed on stage, cartoon form, or any movie. It was his heart growing three sizes that day for all generations to remember…. that maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas means just a little bit more.

 

Chicago Christmas tree Facts

By Caryl Clem:

  • Going greener during this holiday season includes recycling evergreen trees. Every park district offers tree removal options. After the splendor of various adornments amidst a scented trail of fresh pine, the bare tree returns to build back our environment. According to statistics released by the University of Illinois ,these are the advantages of purchasing a tree:
  • 93% of Christmas tree consumers recycle their trees
  • Decomposing pine provides natural habitat for fish and attracts the algae for food
  • Pines along beaches protect dunes from water/wind erosion when the pine needles hold sand and vegetation
  • Cook County, IL. Uses evergreen to rebuild wildlife habitats destroyed by developments
  • All 50 states have Christmas tree farms, our neighbor Wisconsin is in the top rank of Christmas tree production
  • Artificial trees last for centuries in a landfill
  • Wood chips are excellent mulch. Hot cider, comfort food spreads while friends share holiday memories happen at neighborhood wood chip parties.  Rent a wood chipper, follow safety precautions then take home your own supply of mulch.
  • Oxygen for 18 people is the result from one acre of evergreen trees.

Chicago had a Christmas Ship that sold spruce trees from Michigan at the Clarke Street Bridge from 1887-1933. In 1912 the ship sank disrupting business.  To honor the deceased captain of the Christmas tree ship, F.J. Jordon gave Chicago in 1913, the popular Douglas spruce for the first tree lighting ceremony.

The Rouse Simmons was a three-masted schooner famous for having sunk in a violent storm on Lake Michigan in 1912. The ship was bound for Chicago with a cargo of Christmas trees when it foundered off Two Rivers, Wisconsin, killing all on board.. The legacy of the schooner lives on in the area, with frequent ghost sightings and tourist attractions whereby its final route is traced.

  • Builder: Allen, McCelland & Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Launched: August 15, 1868
  • Identification: US 110087
  • Name: Rouse Simmons
  • Herman Schuenemann – Captain Santa – Classic Sailboats
  • Published on Nov 15, 2016. This is inspiring story of “Captain Santa” who sailed a three-masted schooner on Lake Michigan 100 years ago, delivering each December thousands of Christmas trees to be sold to Chicago families straight from the deck of his ship tied up at the Clark Street pier.

 

Christmas Tree Shimmer

By Caryl Clem

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

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

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

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

It was Fannie May for the holidays, still is!

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

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

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

Fannie May favorites can still be purchased:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Old Days: Christmas Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Old Days: Grandparents and Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!