Nostalgic bunny ears tales

By Caryl Clem:

Outdoor egg hunts, bunny baskets brimming with treats

The thrill of rummaging for hidden treasure sweets

Easter traditions bringing squeals of pleasure and laughter

Surprises planned for children by lovers of adventure.

Growing up in the 1950’s, I had a magical Easter bunny visitor

He hopped through the house leaving signs of his travels

His silhouette of big feet and crooked ears, unmistakable.

Numbered One clue, bunny ears sticking out of drawer

Verse tells me, “Bunny jumped from my bedroom floor

Looking for a place to spend the night inside a drawer.”

The quest turns up paper sticking out of a sock, Clue Two

Rhymed verse tells me he has left something for me to chew

Bunny ears are edging out from a living room chair seat

Clue Three heavy with taped gum, displays his feet

In the piano bench between a classical music sheet.

From room to room, the clever bunny hopped to hide candy

Humor obvious while uncovering the latest bunny ear mystery.

An empty Easter basket waited at the end, as he bids adieu

To be filled with discovered candy and my bunny ear clues .

This magical bunny has traveled within the family clan

Smiles, surprises, laughter, reborn at Easter, a legend

As children hunt down where the bunny could land.

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!

Do you remember the Edgewater Beach Hotel?

My friends father was a stagehand for a few years during the 1940’s. He helped take the stage curtain down to replace, clean and helped with lights for live shows. His father was a kid then and would sometimes also help in the radio booth since a radio program did evolve from the hotel.  It was a strictly formal environment even though he had to get his hands dirty sometimes. He met Zsa, Zsa Gabor, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone as well as many other headliners.  The dining room, alone, could seat over one thousand people. He worked there for about four years. My parents also stayed their for relaxation to celebrate the new year and to see my mother’s favorite, the Tommy Dorsey Band. As WTTW tells us, it was a Chicago landmark — a lavish pink resort that stood on the lakefront at Sheridan near Foster for almost half a century. The Edgewater Beach Hotel has been closed since 1967, yet the memories linger on.

The hotel was huge and besides the hotel’s own radio station, a precursor to WGN with the call letters WEBH, there was a heliport, a print shop and a movie theater. It opened  on June 3, 1916 and anyone who was a star sang and danced at the hotel.  In the winter months, the bands played in the Marine Dining Room and, in the summer months, outdoors on the marble-tiled Beach Walk. Many parents of friends celebrated their proms or attended wedding receptions. Many visited taking romantic walks on the massive private beach.

According to Wikipedia, The 1951–54 extension of Lake Shore Drive from Foster Avenue to Hollywood Avenue reduced direct access to Lake Michigan, leading to a reduction in business. After the hotel was cut off from the lake by the new drive, a swimming pool was added in 1953. In 1960, in order to compete with popular downtown hotels, the Edgewater Beach underwent a $900,000 renovation which included the installation of air conditioning. King gave a major address at the conference to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at the hotel. The hotel closed in 1967 due to financial reasons. Demolition of the hotel complex began in the fall of 1969 and was completed by 1971.

However, a portion of the complex is still available to visit. In 1994, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and also belongs in the Bryn Mawr Historic District. Currently known as the Edgewater Beach apartments, there is still a lush foyer, a small library, a cafe, private gardens and a indoor pool.

 

 

Merry Christmas

By Caryl Clem:

Songs vibrate cheer, tales of the Christmas Star

Wise Men traveling, Santa and his famous reindeer

Frosty the Snowman or a relative may come over

Adorned with scarves and bright red holly

Boisterous lawn valets waving to neighbors

Ready to help unload the world wide sleigh

Parading evergreens in holiday gowns

Bearing jeweled necklaces and lit crowns

Sweep into rooms hiding mounds of gifts

Beneath their huge green skirts

Dark chocolate mounds, cookies, a confectioners haven

Spill from clean socks into waiting pockets

No cure has been found to stop holiday treat craving

Family lore and traditions at fireplace fire

Hidden presents, those who co-conspire

Elaborate their adventures with laughter and humor

A fitting end to a busy year

Spend time with your loved ones dear

 

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.

Germanic traditions impact Chicago Christmas culture

By Caryl Clem:

Treasured Christmas memories ignite the passion within us to decorate and celebrate holiday customs. Smelling fresh evergreens in the chilly crisp air erases years as you hunt down the perfect tree with childhood excitement. Later with friends and family transforming bare branches into a living room reigning queen topped by the family heirloom Angel.  Pine cones adorn a red bowed wreath that hangs on the front door, promising a circle of friendship and goodwill within. An Advent Calendar hangs on the wall near the candelabra.   Mistletoe hangs around with sprigs of holly. These customs have Germanic roots.

In the dark months of winter in forests deep, Norsemen stocked their homes with evergreen branches mixed with mistletoe and holly to ward off evil spirits. Since these plants stayed green through the cruel winter season, it was proof these plants had powerful, magic. As Christianity replaced pagan beliefs, St. Boniface declared evergreens represented everlasting life. Ballads circulated throughout Germany praising the mighty  O Tannenbaum by the 1550.  A wealthy German Duchess gave a gift of a decorated Christmas tree with wax candles and blown glass ornaments to the royalty in Paris about 1717. Another German royal gave a tree to a king in England.  Hand carved wooden angels hanging from branches or crowning the top, another Germanic custom.

Advent Calendars

The wife of a Protestant Pastor in Germany during the 1880’s had a little boy who kept asking how many more days until Christmas.  She had a great idea; she decorated 24 boxes with a hidden treat inside.  Each day on the Christmas countdown, the boy opened one box to find a Lebkuchen to eat. Several years later at a printing company in Munich, a young man is busy creating an advent calendar to market. The fun to open doors appears after 1920, popular chocolates add to the enjoyment in the late 1950’s.

Shopping via German Style features an outdoor festival of unique food and decorations.  Several markets are available, check out the online home page for Christkindlmarket for inspiration.

At the Christmas Eve Service, I love giving full throttle to my voice during, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.  The composer is none other than German composer, Mendelssohn. Ironically, the Methodist minister who adapted the lyrics to fit this melody, did not know that Mendelssohn never intended it to be a hymn.

Holiday homeland favorites are relished such as red cabbage, sauerbraten, potato dumplings and  Pork SchnitszelThe midday meal beverages star mulled wine, flaming Fire Tong wine /rum punch,  or a hearty eggnog toast. Traditional German desserts of gingerbread men, Stollen, Lebkuchen, or Pfeffernuesse cookies. Many recommendations of Chicago restaurants can be found on Yelp.

German neighborhoods include Old Town, Northwest Side between Chicago Avenue and Fullerton Avenue.  North Avenue had the nickname of “German Broadway. In 1900, one in every four residents was from German descent. Exploring German culture can be done at this cultural center and museum called Dankhaus.

 

 

They are talking about advent calendars

Because I am generally one of the first they meet in the main hallway by the front door at school, the kindergarten through second grade share it all with me. We talk of movies, weekend sleepovers, weather, new hats, backpacks, who is sick, who they miss, who was not nice on the bus or who they helped. Even are favorite food especially candy is up for debate.

And two have shared the excitement of Mom purchasing an advent calendar that talks about following the nativity story. Though I can’t share everything with them especially about God and religion, I do acknowledge that I believe. One calendar actually produced a gift of Lindt chocolate every day and another a tree of magnetic ornaments.

Today, a huge variety of advent calendars can be found with different themes; some in the form of sports, technology and I found one with elves. Some are extremely large and three-dimensional like dollhouses. Some use Lego and star wars pieces for children.

During the 1960’s, I would receive one in a large brown envelope from family that was an artists masterpiece celebrating the birth of Jesus. Little cardboard or even paper windows opened each day with a prayer or bible verse from the first day in December. There was a double window to be opened on Christmas Eve. We never sneaked a look ahead at the surprise picture or message, neither did my own children when they received their advent calendar gifts in the 1990’s. I remember one that looked like a giant Christmas tree with angels on the outside pointing to the windows located on the tree that looked like different ornaments.

Vermont Christmas Company offers a wonderful selection of advent calendars. One of the worlds largest collection of calendars with over 300 designs. You can also save 30% off even if you are starting a little late into the month.

For adults, there is are daily wine or whiskey calendars with windows or cardboard openings stuffed with cheese for snacking as well.

Last year, only a couple days before Christmas Eve, I received a gift from a student which was an advent calendar. A little late to celebrate the early days of the month so it took me forever to figure out what is was…even my daughter who is 29 asked why certain areas were numbered. Shaped like a dollhouse, it was a bath and body calendar. One day there was a small container of body lotion, body sponge, scented oils, and even chap stick.

 

Ballerina jewelry boxes: Top of the list in gifts this year

Every girl had one. I wanted one too but slightly different from all my friends. I searched from house to house, asking to see their jewelry boxes, never quite seeing the one. The ballerina had to be just the right size, spin at just the right pace with the perfect music to set off her magic twirl. Inside some jewelry boxes, the fabric was cheap.  I wanted either pink satin or velvet. I had taken ballerina lessons in South Shore throughout kindergarten until third grade. I knew what I wanted. I knew what I was talking about when it came to ballerina jewelry boxes. The hardware had to be gold brass and the paint an off white on the outside; a small lock and key would be preferable. That French provincial look that matched. Most were not personalized as they are today. In the 1960’s, Karla with a K, of all things, wasn’t a popular name.

Many, then, were also made with lead paint. Still, a massive collection of vintage ballerina jewelry boxes are available on Etsy. Some have been refinished and labeled… no lead free oil based paint!

Did you know that today in 2018, after reading an article on the most popular gift for seven year old girls, the ballerina jewelry box was in the top five? Children are still inspired by the ballet, taking early lessons to learn elegance and decorum. And dressing in the elaborate ballerina tutu which makes them a graceful star.

In the 1990’s, I don’t recall my daughter ever wanting one. Instead, she had a beautiful water globe with a ballerina in the center. You could turn a small key on the bottom and the ballerina would gracefully spin to music while shaking the dancing glitter.Her Godmother had given her the gift. She still has the globe that mesmerizes her every time she admires it at 29 years of age. And she shared this with her Godmother on a surprise visit that it was still one of her favorites gifts. They had not seen each other in several years. Unexpectedly, my daughter had shared this not knowing that in only a few months after,her godmother would pass away.

Today, to purchase some of the best in new ballerina jewelry boxes,  the Pottery barn kids offer some unique items. Sears online has several choices in musical jewelry boxes and many are currently marked down. They offer safe places to store your sparkling treasures.

After searching online to research the different types of ballerina jewelry boxes, I found one from the 1980s at Etsy. There are three divided areas on top and one full drawer on the bottom. It is pink satin inside with velvet trim and it plays one of my favorite songs, You light up my life.

Oh boy…guess what is going on my Christmas list. Maybe I will just break down and buy for myself. It’s already favored by five people! Yes, these musical boxes must be popular after all.

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.