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

 

The best of the Polar Express

When the classic Christmas book came out in 1985, it was a present under my Christmas tree for me and my son. The Polar Express was the tale of a boy’s dreamlike train ride with other children to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. The young boy asks for a bell from Santa.When the children return to the train, the boy realizes the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. The train drops him at his door and he goes to bed but in the morning, his sister finds one small box with the boy’s name on it among the presents. Inside is the silver bell! They hear it ring and ring but their parents cannot hear the sound at all.

Beautifully wrapped from Grandma, the hard cover was presented in a special gold, gilded box. The book sat comfortably next to the inspired sleigh bell. As my family grew, we read the Polar Express every year. Every year it was a new story. The book was a beautiful meditation on Christmas magic.

In 2004, Tom Hanks played the mystical conductor in the Polar Express, now a timeless holiday movie. Many classrooms watch the Polar Express at school as a parting gift to start the winter break every year. But the Polar Express movie has always scared me a little.The roller coaster train drama was a bit frightening and the elf workshops on the North Pole were cold factories; losing their graceful appeal that other North Pole stories usually offer.

For me, I just wanted to read the book, eat chocolate and pretend. Ultimately, believe.

This week, the last week of school in which I assist, elementary classes received tickets to ride the Polar Express in the IMC, better known as the library. Please wear pajamas and hot chocolate will be served.  Ms. Hendron, the library specialist, is a wonderful creator of magic herself. She has quickly transformed herself into the conductor on the Polar Express. Oh Boy, I can’t wait. Especially a time to wear my pj’s.

The library lights have been dimmed with sheeting overhead. White lights and silver snowflakes hang from the ceiling giving us the feeling of a cold snowy night as we take a seat on the benches that face a huge screen.  A fire roars in the background. We even get hats and our servers, her assistant, Ms. Wisdom, Ms. Kerfin, along with parent and grandparent helpers, pass out cups of hot chocolate. Each page of the book is highlighted on the big screen while being read by a screen reader. As the story proceeds, each student receives a string with Santa’s sleigh bell to take home. I got one too and we jiggled to make sure we could all hear them ring. One kindergarten boy told the staff that this was the best day of his life. Mine too.

If you want to take a ride on a public Polar Express, Rail Events Productions announces service on board THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride at Chicago Union Station this holiday season. Groups of 20 or more are eligible for a 10% discount which must be booked over the phone at (312) 471-2501.  The fun doesn’t end on Christmas. Use promo code 12DAYS for $12 off tickets on any train Dec. 26-Jan 1!

However,though many schools and neighborhoods are offering the Polar Express experience, not much can top the magnificent event of listening and watching the Polar Express book at Elizabeth Ide School.  Even better than with my own children.

And when I got home, I could still hear my library Polar Express sleigh bell ring!!!

 

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.

Sno-caps, Raisinets or Junior Mints?

A second grader approached me one day and was telling me about her trip to the movie theater. She wasn’t a big popcorn eater but how she loved Sno-caps candy. When I was exactly her age decades ago, it was Sno-caps for me instead of popcorn. A lot cheaper too! Prices have jumped over 600 percent to buy candy at the movies; a dollar, however, would do it during my time. My best friend always chose Raisinets. If all else failed, Junior Mints was the final choice.

We also talked about how we never had that candy at any other time but at the movies. These were the movie candy choices, I suppose.

So, of course, I went to the movies with my adult daughter a week later and had to try out Sno-caps. Unfortunately, the sprinkles got between my teeth and I did not experience the same nonpareil satisfaction as before. My teeth are certainly not the same either. Though, I did save the box and shared with the second grader that I truly enjoyed my trip to the movies.

Sno -Caps have been around a long time. The candy was introduced in the late 1920s by the Blumenthal Chocolate Company. Ward Foods acquired Blumenthal in 1969. Terson Company bought the product and Nestle finally acquired the candy in 1984. Sno-caps are bite sized Nestles chocolate, covered with white sprinkles.

Chocolate-covered raisins are still popular and Raisinets are currently made by Nestlé.  They come in all sorts of packages, sold around the world and come in special movie theater boxes today. The raisins are from California with fruit antioxidants and thirty percent less fat. An important choice for splurging at the movies!

Junior Mints are a candy brand consisting of small rounds of mint filling inside a dark chocolate coating. The product is currently produced by Tootsie Roll Industries.  The product was launched in 1949 and named after a series of articles that was produced into a Broadway play, Junior Miss. However, the play had closed six years before the candy was introduced. In 1945, the play was adapted to a film and radio show. Over 15 million Junior Mints are produced daily in large theater boxes.

I am going to the movies today and I have a taste for popcorn! Today, cinemas have moved beyond the original popcorn, candy choices and sell burgers, quesadillas, and pizzas. Even beer and wine is an option.  Some classic films are paired with specific fine wines…..hmmm.

Maybe, I will just try some Junior Mints.

Thankful for birthdays

Birthdays! The joy of a new life, a truly momentous occasion for all ages, a new beginning, a new pleasure or just thankful you have lived another year.

Assisting in the kindergarten, the children’s birthdays are the most treasured day of their young lives. In the 1960s, I felt exactly the same way. Even though I can watch my home movies Dad took of my parties in the finished basement and see the real thing, I understand the same feeling the little ones experience today. I remember that incredible nervous feeling waiting for my friends to arrive for my day with presents for me…….no one else. I was extremely fortunate that my parents planned great parties with plates and napkins that matched, a bakery birthday cake decorated with my choice of theme; one year was a carnival cake.  Sometimes, we had noisemakers, hats or bubbles as favors. And always ice cream!

But birthdays lost their sentiment through high school, college, until the dreaded legal one though I don’t remember getting drunk. Throughout my 20s, I taught high school and again..classroom parties were few and far between until I turned 30. That was the age I  finally seemed credible…even as a teacher.

In 1988, my one year old son cried terrifying tears while several guests sang happy birthday to him. It was the first time I had ever seen a child uncomfortable at birthday time. Strange, he still does not like that kind of attention in his 30’s. But it did improve with the birth of my daughter who treasured theme parties to plan such as The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas and parties reserved at places like Let’s Dress Up.

When she was about 10, we passed out tickets, rather than invitations, from the White Star Line to travel on the Titanic where they ate in the Grand ballroom and experienced a surprise sinking of the ship during a sleep over. My son and I handed out life jackets and we told the girls that they had to climb into plastic boats in the backyard. On a beautiful summer night, we drenched them with a hose. They didn’t complain and after drying off, they watched the new movie.

This month is my birthday. It is actually marked on the classroom calendar. November 21 is the day, the day before Thanksgiving this year….a day off of school. One girl asked me how old I was and she was confused. She couldn’t count that high!  Those numbers are still foreign to her. Me too! But she doesn’t care as long as I can still sing and dance. Certainly I have more birthdays behind me than ahead, but I am thankful. I am truly grateful.

And I will celebrate; making my own page for my birthday book in class. We have shared many coloring techniques together and I love to color. They can still sing happy birthday to me without the cha cha cha. They can still give me a hug, a high five, a special handshake,  a completed, detailed job coloring their own birthday artwork for me or just a warm smile. And another wonderful day will be spent with the kindergarten class who still helps me out when random aches and pains strike and they know its time for a chair. Many will sit with me on a bench in the playground during recess. Not afraid to become too close.

And probably the best birthday of all time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Words

By Caryl Clem

Standing while singing the Star Spangled Banner

By the last lingering note, I shed a tear

Overwhelmed by the sheer determination

The United States Armed Services has shown.

Once summoned to protect their land

Overcoming any obstacle, our best women and men

Risking everything to face danger head on

Bravery, loyalty wrapped in a uniform.

 

For the hours of dedication

For leaving your families behind

For the safety of our nation

5 word summation

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE

You are the strength that protects our future

Guardians of what America stands for.

The little engine that could

I think I can….I can…I can. The values of today as well as yesteryear have not changed. Because the boys and girls are still reading the little engine that could. Some are still reading the original that was published in 1930 stressing optimism and hard work.

This was also a book that encouraged me to become a better reader. Reading was a struggle in first and second grades but it was the little engine that could that told me I could do this too. And I did…I did.

I began to think about the little engine while watching a student in my class follow the words being read out loud on his starfall iPad reading app. But this was a tale of two little engines that together, they could do it. The book talks about the  little red engine who trys and trys while a similar blue little engine helps push the cars of toys over the mountain. Other engines also pass them by.  This version focuses on true teamwork.

The student was excited about the story adding the types of childhood inflection repeating words as I did decades ago. He read it over and over in class. The same week that I noticed him become entranced in little engines, another student selected a book from the wide variety in the classroom. The original Little Engine that could.

And she did the same with the small, hard copy book. She decided to read it outloud while others listened. Later that day we had an assembly with a few members from the Kane county cougar team supporting are reading program.  Once again, one baseball player said that his favorite book was …guess what? Three times. … a charm.

So, of course, after school that same day, I went to the community library. I had saved many of my childhood favorites in a bookcase at home but not this one. There were many editions of the book as I discovered through the digital card catalog  including , a DVD, and a movie. But copies were checked out and the librarian said that it was always like that with The Little Engine That Could. Would I like The Little Engine That Could Gets a Check Up?

No, that is fine. I will just have the students read to me the copies at the school I assist,  whenever I need to be reminded of my childhood..my beginnings of academic success. Whenever I need to know,today, that I still can!

 

 

 

 

 

College ready

WRITTEN BY CARYL CLEM:

I remember senior year in high school as a continual state of anxiousness.  I wanted to leave a paper trail I was proud to achieve in 1966. The final tests, grades, college letters of application were done.  Discussions of future hopes and dreams had chosen a university in Wisconsin. The exhilaration of high school graduation had barely subsided when the whirlwind of college preparation started.  Time melted in the heat and daily plans to find supplies.  I had worked through high school and was eager to spend my hard earned money.  My parents managed to convince me to practice budget control. I knew in my heart they were right. You will find more to spend money on once you settle in. Carrying one suitcase and my favorite pillow, I arrived at my dorm ready to start college life.

As a volunteer in a charity thrift store the past few weeks this summer, as bound -for- college hopefuls search for items on their list, it renews the passions I felt getting ready for my next big move in life. The items on the list have increased for today’s digital age, but the glow in their eyes and the excitement in their voices confirm that this is a major event.  Several advantages of a degree remain true such as  higher pay (56% more than a high school diploma), the lowest group for unemployment (2.5), plus a reference proving your abilities and dedication. The National Center for Education Statistics provides a wealth of information.

Looking back on what I did not do to get ready for college, I did think about my personality  needs.  I had all the materials necessary but left out the mental preparation.  My first year in college was a disaster, cutting classes since there was no attendance. I hated the noisy, crowded dorm.  My family prepared or grew most of the food I consumed so the cafeteria food tasted like gruel.  Meals were provided by the vending machines serving sugar laden ice cream sandwiches, salty Fritos, and Coke. In 7 months I had developed over 12 cavities and some very serious health issues.

My grades were still in the C range-but the first semester of my sophomore year I dropped out.  Bill Gates has said, “The U. S.  has the largest dropout rate. We are number one in terms of people who start college but we’re number 20 in terms of people who finish college. “

An increasing number of students are enrolling in vocational schools; over 7 million will start college using this avenue. Vocational schools offer a two year degree for an average cost of $33,000 compared to a 4 year degree average cost of $124,000.  Changing my school environment, I enrolled in a vocational school choosing a major I loved while living in a cheap apartment.  I established relationships with my professors.  A student loan was acquired and then I applied for a scholarship to transfer into a four year degree program to follow the two year degree.  I graduated from Northeastern University in Chicago with a B.A. in 1978 and later earned a Master’s from National Louis in Evanston in 1982.

My Mother’s motive for college was to find a husband.  Today the number of males enrolled in college keeps decreasing.  The average time to earn a degree varies; the national average is 6 years.  A freshman in college can be any age; the demographics of a university classroom reflect the spectrum of people pursuing their college dream.

Over 20 million hopefuls will enter college this fall. The most successful students know that the college lifestyle is demanding and requires self-discipline.  College can be a success for any student who is determined, persistent, boosted by faith that this dream will come true.

Family reunions

WRITTEN BY CARYL CLEM:

Across America, families plan reunions during the summer months.  My Dad was the youngest of 13 living siblings.  I was the youngest grandchild.  On my calendar the 2nd week in August had stars to signal my relatives congregating in southern Illinois for a reunion extravaganza. After the 6 hour car ride, I felt like a time traveler roaming through Grandma’s cozy farmhouse, touching the immense, cool cast iron wood burning stove, examining lace covered carved wood tables and chairs under glowing Gone with the Wind kerosene lamps; exchanging hugs with relatives in every room. Outside, the foul smelling 3 dirt hole bench seat under a decaying sun speckled wood roofed shed was still in use. There was no plumbing until after 1962.

Every family was assigned a dish to bring at either the Saturday or Sunday meal, depending on your arrival time.  Tables and chairs provided by the local church covered the spacious front yard with predominantly red and white checked tablecloths. Large washtubs lined with plastic were filled with ice for the lemonade and tea. Grandmother would not allow any beverage served in a bottle including milk, soda or pop.

All of the family members, without gray hair, took turns passing water buckets from the pump to the porcelain kitchen sinks. No motels or hotels were close. By 7 p.m., caravans of relatives spread out to neighboring family farms to spend the night. Country breakfasts featuring eggs with homemade ham, bacon, sausage, gravy and biscuits would start the next day.

After feasting, musical entertainment was provided by a large assortment of musical instruments forming an impromptu band accompanied by several vocalists. Voting by elected judges would begin on whose fried chicken, pie and homemade ice-cream deserved the “Best” of that year award.  A photographer came on Sunday after our church service to take a photo before the last dinner together. Sisters Aunt Edith (English instructor) and Aunt Inez (culinary chef) compiled a yearly newsletter with a family collection of favorite recipes and stories to give everyone before they left.

Leaving suburban Chicago to jump into haystacks, feed livestock, eat finger-picking good potluck dinners followed by sleeping with 8 or more cousins in one big room was a summer highlight until Grandma, 98 years young, died in 1965. The attendance started to drop with grandchildren putting careers first.

After 10 years, the original 4 who did the organizing were aging and tried to find a younger core group to keep the reunion going. However,with no success. A property developer wanted to build a subdivision along the winding creek.  Just before the farm was sold, the final reunion was held with over 125 members, all wearing name tags with ages. Progress also brought hotels to provide lodging. Currently, sections of the family living near Windsor County, Illinois still unite on the 2nd Sunday in August to eat and celebrate another year.

My brother’s wife’s family includes me in their family reunions as an “outlaw” with privileges.  Each year celebrates new members, honors those who have passed, as we eagerly exchange photo albums and stories of the past years events.  The elephant gift trade is hilarious.  Hotels provide lodging but meals are at family members’ homes.  At the close, there is the T-shirt with a landmark picture to wear through the year.

Family love is the strongest when shared; the magic feeling of a reunion keeps me looking forward to the next one.