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.

Honoring K9 Veterans on March 13

By Caryl Clem:

Dogs have their own day for military service recognition.  A national day to give them credit took over 100 years.  I had no idea that dogs served as equal partners in combating the enemy dating as far back as 600 B.C.  In the United States, dogs were first used in the Revolutionary War but never gained recognition until after World War I.  A retired military dog trainer, Joseph White originated the idea to honor veteran canines on the birthday of the first Army K9 Corps which was March 13th.  An estimated 2,500 dogs are in service today while 700 maybe overseas.

I grew up watching television famous, Rin Tin Tin dog adventures. I had no idea that the brave, compassionate dog I adored had been rescued from a battlefield during World War I.  One of the strategies noticed by troops overseas during WWI was the Europe’s employment of dogs during warfare. As a young man fighting for his life in Germany, Lee saves a pup from a bombed demolished dog kennel. Lee Duncan, when young had been orphaned then taken away by his mother to have a dog as his sole companion. The fascinating story of Lee and his dog going to Hollywood after the war is in the book, RIN IN TIN, The Life and The Legend by Sue Orlean.

During World War I, several dogs are credited with saving troops lives. One story is about a stray Pit bull who prevent a siren gas attack and survived injuries from other combat arenas. Three Presidents met this dog at the White House.  Sergeant Stubby’s remains are in the Smithsonian.  In Italy, Chips attacked a group of soldiers in a machine gun nest forcing them out to be captured.  Chips was given medals but they were rescinded because the Army has a law that animals cannot receive awards.

Sources to supply United States trained military dogs are from breeders in Germany and the Netherlands. To become a certified pup trainer is a credible career with specialized training. Various duties the dogs perform fighting alongside our soldiers include locating bombs, searching for drugs, tracking people and imitating an attack.  US Navy Seals use Belgian Malinois dogs who join their handlers to parachute from helicopters and rappel on steep inclines.

A life career for a military dog averages from 6-7 years before they are forced to retire. There was no program in place to find homes for these gentle giants so many were released or euphonized before 2000.  President Clinton passed a law that protected these dogs, now over 90% are usually adopted by their handlers. The Department of Defense handles thousands of adoptions and many dogs transfer their military skills to law enforcement police departments. A bomb sniffing canine has $150,000 estimated value. Dogs are 40 times more aware of a scent than humans.

The loving unbreakable bond between a human and a dog is described in the official poem selected by the K9 Corps to represent the regard for the canines that stand by our military men and women Guardians of the Night .

The phrase “Man’s Best Friend” gains more appreciation and depth as we honor our canine veterans on March 13th.

Celebrating black Chicago style music legends

By Caryl Clem:

Rhythmic music vibrates as Earth, Wind & Fire starts a song and you feel yourself jumping onto the dance floor.   Since the band first played in 1971 under the direction of Maurice White until today currently playing in Las Vegas, their unique blend of funky disco soul creates a sound you never tire of hearing.  Love experiences were featured in popular chart hits such as “Reasons”, “After the Love Has Gone”, and “Got to Get You into My Life.”  EWF music is often positive and inspiring thus giving you a feel good vibe as you is listening.  EWF has won 6 Grammys.

Love songs that last for decades were born in Chicago.  Lou Rawls rich baritone voice croons, “You’ll Never Find another Love like Mine”   a romantic favorite holding couples together on countless dance floors.  A perfect song for gentlemen wishing to win any lady’s heart was Lou Rawls performing, “Lady Love”.  Lou was born on the South Side of Chicago on December 1, 1933. His paternal grandmother was in charge of his upbringing introducing him to church and singing in the choir by the age of seven. Connections made through his church activities led to meeting influential black musicians Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield.  Over 40 million records during 40 years of performances testify to Rawls legendary status.

Curtis Mayfield, a singer born in Cabrini-Green Housing Projects of Chicago born June 3, 1942.   Curtis taught himself to play guitar that he found in a closet when he was about 8 years old and piano at his church. His golden tenor voice was discovered while he sang in his church choir by the founder of the group, The Impressions, Jerry Butler.   He became a song-writer producer with his record label Curtom while performing with this group.

During the 1960’s Curtis advocated civil rights in songs like,” Keep On Pushing”,  and  “ Get Ready”.  By the 1970’s Curtis became a voice to express what black culture felt, personal struggles and successes. He wrote the soundtrack to the 1972 album  “Superfly”. He produced songs with divas Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight and the Pips. “In the 1990s, the musician inspired two different tribute albums (including 1994’s All Men are Brothers: A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield, featuring Whitney Houston, Elton John, the Isley Brothers and Aretha Franklin)

Over the past several years, his songs have been sampled or covered by a host of performers, from rappers like Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Coolio and Dr. Dre to singers like Herbie Hancock, Deneice Williams, En Vogue and Mary J. Blige.” https://www.biography.com/people/curtis-mayfield-9542244

A featured line dance during the 1950’s was The Stroll.  By the 1970’s “ getting the groove on” transformed into lively adaptions titled, The Hustle, The Bump, YMCA, The Funky Chicken, Disco Finger, The Bus Stop, The Robot, The Lawnmower, The Sprinkler, and The Electric Slide.

The absolute star of the 1970’s was produced by Chicago radio star, Don Cornelius. Showcasing 1970’s era style and flair featuring the rock star groups from coast to coast with spectacular dancers appearing on stage, “Soul Train “aired on WCIU-TV. The dancers became a HOOK for developing loyal followers.  As important as the dancers were, they performed without pay in the beginning.

From 1971 until 2006, youth discovered the latest music sensation from home. Five days a week for an hour, professional and amateurs paraded and sang the latest hits. Barry White with his 42 piece Orchestra, The Jackson Five or James Brown could be watched from the comfort of your living room. The excitement of a theatre showing could be enjoyed without tickets or parking worries. Several books describe the various acts and social impact this show made on America, Questlove culled personal memories and full-color photographs in Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of Generation (HarperDesign).

While Love, Peace, and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show Soul Train: Classic Moments (Backbeat Books) Ericka Blount Danois is more of a commentary about what happened on this show.   Reliving this time period is easy with pulling up YouTube on your computer while you travel through time.

As February ends, I am thankful for the contributions from our Chicago born black musicians.

Hula hoops and jump ropes

I sit and watch the kindergarten boys and girls compete to see how long they can keep those plastic circles twirling around their waist. Two can go almost a minute without dropping the hoops. And it takes intense practice outside of P.E class to become accomplished at hula hoop proficiency. I never could hula hoop. I never understood why people wanted to hula hoop. It still ceases to amaze me but I will most certainly cheer on the little ones as they try.

The modern hula hoop was invented in 1958 by Arthur K. “Spud” Melin and Richard Knerr, but children and adults around the world have played with hoops throughout history. And the hula hoops for children are smaller in size.The hula hoop craze swept the world, dying out again in the 1980s, but not in China and Russia, where hula hooping and hoop manipulation were adopted by traditional circuses and rhythmic gymnasts. There has been a re-emergence of hula hooping, generally referred to as either “hoopdance” or simply “hooping” to distinguish it from the children’s play form and of course, have become popular in school gyms as a form of fitness exercise.

Another form of fitness exercise in school gyms across America is jump roping.  As a child I enjoyed, jumping on two feet, skip jumping, or even double dutch. The P.E teacher gives his students different options to learn how to jump rope; learning how to jump in place, skip in place and swinging the rope from front to back. He knows exactly the correct verbage to help them succeed. And they practice and practice and practice. It is hard to jump continuously….they are not there yet. Maybe, some can get five jumps in a row! However, if it is only one skip, Mr. K generously praises, guiding them on to keep trying.

There are multiple subsets of skipping/jump rope including: single freestyle, single speed, pairs, three person speed (double dutch), and three person freestyle. There are hundreds of competitive teams all around the world but schools rarely have jump rope teams.

I loved to jump rope, by myself or with friends when I was a child. But with back issues, I am afraid to JUMP. However, with hope, courage and admiration for the children who keep going,  I found a student who was having a rough time. I actually did one skip jump for her and she followed with the same.

For me, a small tinge of back pain and personal development happened. I dropped the rope to the floor while moving on….not getting too carried away with myself.

My work here was done!

 

 

 

Honoring black history

By Caryl Clem:

Chicago has been the front stage for introducing life changing famous black trail blazers. The first street in a major city to be named after a black women civil rights activist and journalist, Ida B. Wells was dedicated on February 11, 2019.  The last street change was done in 1968 to honor Martin Luther King.  In the magazine, “ Make It Better” February 2019 edition, on the list of what to do in Chicago is the new exhibit at the Museum entitled, “Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade 1808-1865 featuring free Saturdays February 9.16, and 23.  Celebrating Black History Month includes recognizing the dynamic black women leaders who make a difference in Chicago. Last year, this magazine did a feature article describing 42 influential black women in Chicago in all career fields.

Since artistic expression is a major tourist attraction for Chicago, several noteworthy black women are leading the way.  Currently, the Deputy Director of Development at Chicago’s Contemporary Art Museum is Gwendolyn Perry Davis. Last year, she promoted an exhibit of Howardena  Pindell, a black women pioneer in abstract art. Ms. Pindell is famous for her techniques working with circles. The interview begins with this quote, “All the pieces … are an attempt to unite my mind again, to mend the rupture.”—Howardena Pindell.  She was troubled as a child to notice the  red circles drawn beneath the dishes her family ate on when dining out on vacation trips. During this interview, titled Controlled Chaos by Jessica Lanay, Ms. Pindell explains why she wanted to change how circles influenced her life.

Perri L. Irmer is the President  & CEO of DuSable Museum of African-American History, a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate. Ms.Irmer stated in the magazine article, “The DuSable Museum is elevating the often hidden histories of Chicagoans such as Jean Baptiste Point DuSable — the Haitian immigrant who founded our city — military leaders, educators, and other black Chicagoan’s whose contributions are illustrative of black accomplishment throughout society.”

The political landscape of Chicago has been shaped by twenty famous black women and men. A comprehensive description covering their various contributions from Jesse White, Chief Jude Timothy Evana, Barrack Obama and Emil Jones, Jr. a Kimberly Foxx, Toni Preckwinkle to name a few examples in Chicago Defender’s Top 20 Most Influential Political Figures by Mary L. Datcher, Managing Editor for Chicago Defender.

If you want to explore a well-known black neighborhood gathering place, take a trip to a non-profit café with a welcoming atmosphere that encourages conversation and friendship, Kusanya Café 825 W. 69th Street  Chicago  773-675-4758.  In Englewood, a rustic chic coffee shop nestled inside a 100 year old building, surrounded by the art work of local artists, it is a haven offering a safe place to meet and enjoy life.

As described in an article describing the café,” Kusanya is home to a variety of free, community-driven arts, culture, and educational events, including Saturday morning yoga, a farmers market on the first and third Wednesdays of each month from 4-6 p.m., and an open mic on second Saturdays featuring storytellers from around the neighborhood and across the city.”

The tapestry of Chicago life has been made richer in texture by its black men and women. Chicago offers many opportunities to celebrate Black History in Chicago.

It is a wonderful school

“My whole life has been in education,”  I said in conversation with the principal at Elizabeth Ide School a few days ago. And so I begin to reminisce.

This all began over 50 years ago for me; babysitting, reading books, and playing with the neighborhood toddlers at the age of 12. Over 40 years ago, I began teaching high school for ten years and then began teaching junior high at a special education alternative school. I would have stayed, but the money wasn’t the best for putting two children through college.

For 10,000 dollars more, I was offered an administrative position at a for-profit college which I took. My children could take advantage of tuition reimbursement. But that school had a massive, corporate lay off which I was included. Like a car salesman being picked up at another dealership, I was picked up by another school. Finally, the school or should I say company, closed for good. Eventually, it was agreed upon in my family that applying for a teacher assistant or becoming a substitute would be the best choice.Those positions are always in demand.

So I subbed and assisted in one of the more highly-acclaimed and well-paid districts in Naperville. I saw some excellent teaching. I saw some very poor instruction of teachers  lecturing to a classroom; constantly glancing at their cell phone. I heard a teacher call a student a jerk.

I had applied to a variety of schools at the time and I always loved the kindergarten as well as the early, primary grades. The day after I had been hired at Elizabeth Ide School, grades kindergarten through second in Darien, it was God’s gift that one who knew my employment struggle and was a personal job reference revealed that his children went to the school. I had no idea.

“It is a wonderful school,”  he said. I also found out that another friend was employed for over 30 years within the same district…..Center Cass School District 66, though she was at another school that had closed. “The culture is so competent and caring there,  she said. At the time, I did not realize her school was part of the same district.

After assisting almost two years at the school, it truly is a wonderful school! I don’t think I have ever seen a teacher who is not totally focused on expressing learning opportunities for their students. They are constantly on in a positive light. They are engaged in their children’s needs from the time they arrive in the morning until they leave at night. They are brilliant at executing ideas to help students grow. They know exactly how to help build amazing futures for them.

Throughout the entire district, the teachers love their job, but most of all, they love their students with a passion unequal to most school environments that I have observed.  Administration,assistants and support staff also intensely work, side by side, to demonstrate their love and pride for the students.

Currently, the district teachers are fighting for a fair contract. They have been without a contract since August 2018. According to CCEA Inspires, if the Board accepts the teachers proposal, no new taxes will affect the community as well as no program cuts.

Then why????

Why aren’t we assuring that the best educators remain in the district? In the process, if teachers and staff are able to thrive, we are also guaranteeing that the value of our home and village is recognized as one of the most promising as far as education excellence. Our own children will want to raise their families here.

Even if present home owners taxes were increased, the advantages far outweigh the immediate circumstances. As a homeowner of over 30 years in a neighboring Downers Grove school district, I have voted yes to numerous referendums and supported teacher strikes while watching my property value almost double.

Maybe the Board just doesn’t realize how valuable their teachers really are. Maybe all I can do is try to share my experience and help them re-examine the teachers proposals.

Ultimately, you can help too. If you are a member of the community or just interested in supporting the teachers at Center Cass School District 66, the Board of Education is providing an Informational Session next week for parents and friends to learn more.

Please check out the Center Cass website. The teachers need your attention and time is running out.

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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.