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!

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

 

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.

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.

 

Zoo lights in Chicago

Traveling to the Zoos in and around Chicago was not something I could do as a child during the holidays. My early experiences of zoo trips were feeding the polar bears at Brookfield during the summer and attending the Children’s/Farm Zoo at Lincoln Park. My Aunt lived in the Old Town area so she would spend time with me at Lincoln Park and then we would have dinner at the Pickel Barrel restaurant.  Every table had pickles and popcorn; sometimes a clown would be there blowing up free balloons.

Lincoln Park Zoo is a 35-acre zoo located in Lincoln Park in Chicago, Illinois. The zoo was founded in 1868, making it among the oldest zoos in North America. It is also one of a few free admission zoos in the United States. What I remember most is that Bushman the Gorilla died there and was transferred to the Field Museum; always a scare for me stuffed in a case. I loved the Farm Zoo at Lincoln Park which was filled with play stations of animals. The main barn featured a steer and pigs. It was so popular that horse and beef cattle barns were added. Now The Dairy Barn houses goats and cows, where visitors can learn about the milking process. There was also a Childrens zoo now owned by the Pritzger family. This is a home for North American animals that can let young people get nose to nose with red wolves, black bears, North American river otters and American beavers.

ZooLights, presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ at Lincoln Park Zoo has been Chicago’s holiday tradition for 24 years. The one-of-a-kind experience offers fun, free, family-oriented holiday celebrations that feature luminous displays and incredible seasonal activities…all under the glow of 2.5 million lights!   4:30-9 p.m.
December 2018: 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31*
*(early closure of 8 PM on the 31st)
January 2019: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6

Brookfield Zoo,also known as the Chicago Zoological Park,[2][3] is a zoo located in the Chicagosuburb of Brookfield, Illinois. It houses around 450 species of animals in an area of 216 acres (87 ha). It opened on July 1, 1934,[4] and quickly gained international recognition for using moats and ditches instead of cages to separate animals from visitors and from other animals. Yes, you could feed the Polar bears which is no longer an option but you can feed the giraffes and you can actually mingle with penguins.  Another strong memory of Brookfield through the decades, was the fountain named after the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. The fountain’s spouting water can reach up to 60 feet high. Another favorite was Ibex mountain where the goats appeared behind the rock but was raised in 2008.

Holiday Lights is presented by ComEd and Meijer currently in their37th year and my children were able to attend some of the first shows. They still go to Brookfield.Actually this is considered the  longest running Lights Festival with over One-Million Twinkling LED Lights. You can see a 41-Foot Talking Tree, a Skating Rink, Carolers, Ice Carvers, and more. The skating rink is new this year.

Location: Zoowide

Date: Saturdays and Sundays, December 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23,

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.

Just Thankful

Thanksgiving’s historical beginnings belong to the Pilgrims and the Winnebago Indians who celebrated the harvest festival. For us, it is a day of remembrance that we spend with family featuring fine foods such as turkey, giblets, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables and a variety of pies, pumpkin usually being the first on everyone’s list. Good food, though a part of the Thanksgiving history, is always a priority and excuse for any holiday here in the US.

However, another added tribute to Thanksgiving is football in America as the male counterparts of the family gather in front of the set, stomachs ready for the game ahead though in some households many try to make that annual attempt to toss their own ball in the back as the women wait to see who will be the first injured player. But that is ok, it is tradition.

As families prepare for the festivities gathering the necessary ingredients for the grand table, many do find some quiet time to evaluate the year and decide what they are truly thankful for during the holiday season. And the list can vary from the joy of being a grandparent to even finding a close parking space on Black Friday. But, thankfully, Thanksgiving encourages the lists of thanks for the simple pleasures, wonderful people, and maybe just another year of life to spend with those we love. Gratitude is taught and hopefully remembered throughout our days beyond the yearly celebration where we can truly reflect on how lucky we are in our own light.

So here it is again, my list of never ending thankful moments and surprisingly, with the exception of new personal introductions of family and friends, it always focuses on the same.

  • I am thankful for time and not wasting it.
  • I am thankful for great books, hobbies and the word bored that is not a part of my vocabulary
  • I am thankful for logs in my fireplace and the fire starters that really work.
  • I am thankful that I refuse to give up on my dreams.
  • I am thankful that I will never be too old.
  • I am thankful that my daughter bakes better pastries than me.
  • I am thankful that Len does all the cooking
  • But I am thankful for my son who gave me a instant pot to try to cook once again and I love it
  • I am thankful for all my classroom children that teach me how to be a child again
  • I am thankful for Gladys Knight and the Pips my favorite recording of “You Are the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” because it honors so many in my life.
  • I am thankful for our service men and women who courageously fight today and sacrifice their own desires
  • I am thankful for my pet, who is always waiting for me
  • I am thankful that I don’t have to choose my words carefully; my pet always knows what I mean.
  • I am thankful that my mistakes have guided others.
  • I am thankful for all of you who so faithfully read my articles and for those out there that always bounce back when life seems to curve so dangerously without warning and inspire others to charge ahead with positive anticipation and grace.

And, finally, as my personal collection of years keep passing me by, I am truly grateful that my gratitude list richly grows for without the essence of being grateful for so much, nothing else can make a difference.

Originally published in Grand Magazine http://www.grandmagazine.com/2012/11/what-to-be-thankful-for-this-thanksgiving/

Talking turkey

By Caryl Clem:

Coastal Thanksgiving festivals

Feature local stars to dance unto tables.

Juicy duets of cranberry and apple

Bacon flavor veggies with caramelized onion.

Russian Salmon Pie and Salmon Mousse share room

Pumpkin or squash cream cheese couples.

Dixie land Spoon Bread, Johnny Cake

Competes with rich Pecan Pie to partake

Or Southern favorite Shoofly Sweet Potato Pie.

A sweet tooth finds impossible to deny.

Dressing the turkey, bread and shored oysters

Blend taste sensations of land and waters .

Texans deep fry the turkey in the finale

Served alongside steaming hot tamales.

Mid-west maple or cider  marinated turkeys glazed

Empty plates to earn words of praise.

Kicked up with Southwestern hot chili pepper

Cranberry/Orange cinnamon spice sauce flavor

No matter what your family consumes

Relax, enjoy relatives tasty customs.

The Ghost Army: Honoring our veteran heroes

Unfortunately, my father passed away in January 2014 before I discovered the Ghost Army  World War II PBS Documentary, which was released in May of 2013. A couple years afterward, I started to hear there was a committee looking into honoring the brave men of the 3132nd and possibly 3133rd with the Congressional Medal.

It was around 1998 that Charles Weingate, my father,started talking about his time in the war with the Ghost Army. I recall him telling my brother and I about running the wire all night long and in the morning, tried to get some sleep. He was suddenly awakened by another soldier telling him that the German Army had just surrendered to them shared by Diana Weingate.

Its existence was finally acknowledged in the mid-1990s, when it was declassified. The Ghost Army, the 1,100 men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, was finally able to share their personal experiences. Consequently, they were able to share the fascinating battlefield illusions they created whose American purpose was to fool Hitler with fake strategic games and theatrical events leading more than 20 missions and saving the lives of thousands.

These disguised missions were composed of inflatable tanks and false radio transmissions. Giant speakers were used to broadcast the sounds of men and artillery to make the Germans think that the units were larger and deflect their concentration from other battles. Painters designed hundreds of rubber tanks, jeeps and aircraft. Aircraft could be inflated with gasoline fueled air compressors that looked authentic to Nazi military. They were told never to tell anyone about their war experience even after the war had ended.

Les Gates, 95 from Arkansas, spent the better part of three years with the 3132nd and 3133rd signal service companies. I got to the 3132nd from the A S T P program when it was dropped. The 3132nd was the first organization that started training in the art of sonic deception at Pine Camp, N Y . We were all ushered into a room with guards outside the door and we were told we were not to speak to anyone about this. I developed appendicitis at Fort Slocum-Port of demarcation and “missed the boat” and was transferred back to Pine Camp to join the 3133rd. The 3132 operated in the European theater .

The 3133rd went on to Italy and operated there until the end of the war. Both units were reported to have been VERY effective in their operations. 

Diana Weingate was able to read a previous article about the Ghost Army that I wrote about the story of Les Gates’s participation in the Ghost Army and who currently lives in Arkansas. She contacted me and Les Gates by email. She was able to to talk to Mr. Gates on the phone and felt honored to hear his stories, bringing her even closer than ever to her father. Diana and her family are organizing a media push to find out more about The Ghost Army Legacy Project where you can donate and send letters to help support the campaign in awarding a Congressional medal to the unit. Her father is in the picture;standing on the left.

After investigating the Legacy Project, head over to another site which is ghostarmy.com and you can learn more about Rick Beyer, the award winning documentary filmmaker, best-selling author, and long-time history enthusiast. He produced and directed the award-winning PBS documentary The Ghost Army, and is the co-author (with Liz Sayles) of The Ghost Army of World War II.  Rick Beyer is also president of The Ghost Army Legacy Project.

Please feel free to contact Les Gates or Diana Weingate at lesgates@suddenlink.net or Diana at razmuth80@yahoo.com.

Thankful for brothers

By Caryl Clem

No matter how many cards were surveyed

Not one lengthy card accurately conveyed

The man who is my brother and friend

Thoughtful,wise,whose mind is always open

Searching, discovering innovations

His talent, continually fresh expressions

For your birthday, I wish for you

Feeling pride in what you are able to do

Eagerness to live each day renewed

Stay ageless, conquering time with emotion

As a sister, I couldn’t be luckier

Thankful to have and love you, my brother