National Stress Month

By Caryl Clem:

April is a National Stress Awareness month, ironically during a time America is facing the most traumatic event in decades. As uncomfortable as you may currently feel staying home, flip your feelings using this time to your advantage. Everyone has a story to tell about their experience. Telling your story releases the pent up emotional baggage, reducing stress while increasing brain activity according to research from Harvard. Writing or taping personal experiences turns your brain on to creating a cause effect scenario. ‘Stories are the way we understand and make sense of the world we find ourselves in.’ says Clare Patey, Director of the Empathy Museum.

Creating a story folder could combine your feelings and images. Keep the stories short, they provide a future window to revisit how you faced the pandemic. I remember finding an antique food stamp book in my Mother’s dresser drawer. I had no clue what feelings surrounded this relic. I wrote about how I changed during this time. When I couldn’t fall asleep, I started cleaning blinds at 1 a.m. Never in my life have I tackled a job I hate the most to get so tired I would fall asleep. A friend of mine called ,she felt she was living in a science fiction fantasy, driving down an empty street with empty stores. Years from now these stories will breathe life into the pictures being taken.

During the 1930’s, America was recovering from the epic Depression Era. A phrase heard on the street reflecting the economy was,” Brother, Can You Spare a Dime”. This meager amount could buy a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, or a gallon of gas. Couples would gather to share a pot luck dinner and play a game. A popular game was buying and selling real estate, invented by Elizabeth Magie in 1903. There were no written rules, game procedures traveled by word of mouth. A frequent player of this game, Mr. Darrow, unemployed, low on funds, asked his friend to write the rules down. Darrow sold these rules to Parker Brothers. The allure of wealth and power skyrocketed, Monopoly, into a financial success.

A common theme in games is overcoming hardship. If you feel creative, design your own board game that mirrors surviving with practices of stay at home and social distancing. Design a card deck with short examples given either positive or negative points. Running out of food, lose 5 points, utility bill forgiven, 10 extra points, sunny, warm day to walk the dog 5 extra points, free pizza with delivery coupon, 10 extra points are examples of what is possible.

Volunteer work accomplishes releasing stress reducing body chemicals. Health care professionals are notoriously independent. If you know one, reach out and ask if you can help by doing laundry, shopping for groceries, checking on an older person they know, preparing food for their families. These saints among us don’t have the time or energy to conduct their lives normally. Food pantries are short on help. The key to managing stress is STAY POSITIVE. Relish creating memories your family can look back on in the future.

The Good Old Days: Grandparents and Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

50th Woodstock Anniversary

I really wanted to go in 1969. I still want to go in 2019. Back then, I picked out the shirt I would wear for three days;  a peasant blouse with puffed sleeves that was an orange color with yellow flowers. But nobody asked me to go with them. I was too young to drive, just graduating from junior high. I knew one acquaintance that was going but he was much older who had been drafted to Vietnam. He didn’t want some kid in his car and my mother would not let me go anyway.

Many felt the same way as I did but no one ever expected the numbers that showed up and that Woodstock 1969  would be considered the greatest festival of all time.Only two people died at Woodstock 1969 though over 80 were arrested on drug charges and we did see the news reports on TV. Because of the torrential rains, many adults considered it a disaster and local businesses were threatening lawsuits, but the kids, as they were called, were happy. The bands were just beginning with the exception of Joplin and Hendrix. Carlos Santana was only about 13.  Now, the grounds are the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts; considered a National Historic site. No festival has been the same since. They have tried numerous Woodstock festivals through the decades and they just didn’t work.

Woodstock was a music festival held between August 15–18, 1969, which attracted an audience of more than 400,000. Billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”, it was held at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm near White Lake in Bethel, New York, 43 miles southwest of Woodstock. The festival was headlined by legendary performances of Joe Cocker, Hot Tuna (Jefferson Airplane), Starship (Jefferson Airplane), Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald, Richie Havens, Melanie, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Levon Helm (The Band), Arlo Guthrie, John Sebastian, Leslie West Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, and Santana. Santana will be playing at the 50th in Bethel.

There are two festivals that are gaining popularity throughout the country to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Woodstock 50 is a planned American music festival, scheduled to be held on August 16–18, 2019, at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Supposedly a free concert supported by Michael Lang, line up is not official and some have dropped out.

Bethel Wood Center for the Performing Arts on the original 1969 Woodstock site is  constantly holding concerts, festivals; a year round center for events, programs inspiring others in the arts as they are a (501) (3) (C) Arlo Guthrie will perform on the festival field, 50 years to the day that he played Woodstock. Guthrie’s performance will be followed by a screening on the field of the Woodstock documentary. Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band will perform on Aug 16th at the Bethel Woods pavilion. Woodstock veterans Edgar Winter and Blood, Sweat and Tears are also performing that night. On Aug. 17, Carlos Santana will return to Bethel for a show that will feature the Doobie Brothers as the opening act.

The still married, husband and wife pictured on the iconic album cover wrapped in a blanket will also be attending the 50th Bethel Woods festival.

My daughter walked the grounds of Bethel Woods on a trip to visit family a few years ago; a man who worked there attended  the original Woodstock and showed her where Jimmy Hendrix played. “An old man,” she said. Ah, Yes…that is what we have become. At that time, the grounds were quiet but she was impressed since she has been a follower of rock and roll beginnings.

Though, I have not gone yet, that’s what I want to do….soon. Not necessarily to listen to music, but to spend that quiet moment just to see, to relive the news reports, to imagine, the peace, the love and a vision of my young self in the pretty peasant shirt I had picked out sitting and experiencing such a treasured moment in time……..50 years ago.

 

 

 

A special trip to Chicago’s Our Lady of the Angels

Of course, what comes to mind for many of you my age and older, is the tragic school fire on Dec 1. 1958 at Our Lady of Angels school in West Humboldt Park. I was only three when my mother began to cry when watching the news. But I will never forget. Being taught fire safety in elementary school, teachers always referred to the horrific event that killed 92 children, three nuns and hundreds who walked away with significant injuries. Consequently, the fire did lead to major fire reforms in schools throughout the country and over 60 years later, you rarely hear of a child being hurt in a school fire.

Over decades, I have visited the neighborhood, saying a prayer, feeling the unrest and watching the massive decline. If you or your family were not involved in the fire, you certainly knew someone on the street that you lived who may have lost a child. The pain was too great and many moved on to begin a new start. In the late 1960’s, blockbusting occurred in many parts of the city where real estate practices essentially forced whites from their homes to create high housing prices for blacks. Whites also took the jobs with them and blacks were unemployed. Our Lady of the Angels couldn’t survive and the parish closed in 1990.

The school closed as a Catholic school first but was a charter school until approximately 2017 when given back to the Franciscans at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels . Fr. Bob Lombardo came to Chicago in 2005, at the special request of Cardinal George, to set up a mission outreach to help the poverty- stricken neighborhood that struggle with gang infiltration and drug trafficking on Chicago’s west side; one of the most violent areas in the country.

Many may not realize that  Fr. Bob erected the first on-site outside memorial for the victims of the tragedy, which was blessed by Cardinal George in 2007. He is a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. In Chicago, Fr. Bob has functioned as the founder/ director of the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, founder/ superior of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago, a newly established religious community of young men and women living and serving at the Mission of Our Lady of Angels.

Fourth of July weekend I visited their monthly food pantry with an added bonus in which they gave away 80 mattresses for those in the community. They provide fresh produce, non perishable food, clothing, and household goods to about 250 families each month at their Mobile Pantry. They have 75+ volunteers that help and you can sign up at any time. Families can take a cart filled with food and volunteers will help walk the family to their homes as long as it is within a block from the pantry. But the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels does so much more.

The Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago are an extremely educated and talented group who have been invited to take part in pilgrimages throughout the world. In the beginning, Fr Bob graduated from Notre Dame University in 1979 with an accounting degree and worked at Price Waterhouse. It was shortly after when he found his calling to become a Franciscian and a priest with over 30 years of religious experience.

Sister Kate, originally a nurse, talked about her humbling experience working in the community and their excitement in being able to renovate the school for more program space and retreats. The Church currently provides Eucharist adoration as well as neighborhood prayer services while the original Convent houses the female Franciscans and their offices. The rectory currently houses Fr. Bob and the male Franciscans. Kelly Hall hosts their monthly food program as well as senior programs. And they have received incredible donations that have allowed them to re-build and continue their unwavering commitment to help others. It not easy being who they are, but their graciousness towards others is genuine, constant and truly God’s gift to all of us.

Those who believe that all was ultimately lost in that community after the unforgettable fire…..maybe not. For the Franciscans do pray for those lost in 1958 and their survivors. But their current passion is not giving up on their mission to improve the lives of others they meet today; reminding us who is always in charge with them.

They improved my life in just a few hours and maybe the blessings of the community angels……. many so young…… are assisting the Franciscans to trust and always have faith in God’s timeless love.

 

Dr Michelle Radwanski – Argonne Animal Hospital: A true gift

I sat in the chair in my living room rocking him gently, as he rested his face in my neck, purring.  For eighteen years, we had done this routine when he was sick or just needed special attention but this time I was deeply sobbing knowing what the rest of the day might bring.  He was seeing a new vet in a few hours. She was a Mom to a student at school and we talked about Joe Bo briefly on a school field trip.

We waited in the exam room, Len and I, taking turns holding him and I thought of our last cat who was the same age when she had died at home two years before. It was a holiday weekend and horrible to watch her fail without a vet’s assistance.

Dr. Radwanski, owner of Argonne Animal Hospital in Lemont, Illinois, walked in ready to examine Joe Bo. She had a thorough knowledge of explaining what was happening with the cat as she gently explored his body especially for not having seen him before or any  past veterinarian records. She was extremely skilled in determining that he was in his declining days as she communicated clearly and also mentioned some medical options that may prolong his life a few days, a few months. However, we knew as a family with advice from Dr. Radwanski, that euthanasia was best for him and the procedure was completed that day without pain. Joe Bo’s quality of life had been greatly reduced and the doctor cared only about his welfare and that he did not suffer any further.

Dr Radwanski completed her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine with honors in 2000 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Since then, she has over 18 years of experience caring for animals in the western suburbs of Chicago. She is skilled in diagnostics, anesthetics, surgical, and dental procedures. She holds a special interest in preventative medicine, senior care, dermatology, pain management, and dentistry. Most of all, she has become a respected community veterinarian.

A true angel was brought into our lives that day in Dr Radwanski at Argonne Animal Hospital as we said goodbye to Joe Bo. If we get another kitten or maybe a puppy, he or she will be immediately attended by the doctor for the first annual exam, crisis, or whatever comes first. There are no other words to express her honest love and true calling for the animals she treats.

Please feel free to call her office anytime or visit her website at argonneanimalhospital.com

National Best Friends Day on June 8

By Caryl Clem: 

Recovering from the Great Depression was a task that required Americans to join together and work hard for each other. The pleasures in life were limited, annual wages for the average family was $1,160.00. Over 1/3 of the movie cinema’s had closed.  The news featured real life stories of survival, and started public opinion polls to encourage the public responding to issues.  In 1935, Congress passed the Social Security Act. Another act during this year to build public confidence and trust, Congress passed a Best Friends Day on June 8th and Friendship Day for the first Sunday in August.  At the core of American values is the desire to respect each other and discover what we can share together.

Discovering the depths of friendship occurs naturally as children play together. As a kid, do you remember counting down the days to the arrival of the summer carnival? My favorite friend coached me into my first roller coaster ride. I felt fearless beside her, ready to try anything.  We screamed in unison during the thrilling ride. Excitedly, we quickly decided to get in line to buy another ticket.  Good times were magnified in her presence. When I felt disappointed or angry, she found a way to help me see a “brighter” side.  A few years later, she told me she was moving with her parents to another state.  A parting hug with tears in my eyes was the last memory. I did not realize what I had until she moved away.  I was 11 years old.

Through the years, having a best friend that understood my personality and emotions saved my sanity and provided someone to share the range of experiences in life.  You never feel alone when you have a best friend as songs on this theme prove.  I love to listen to Christina Aguilera’s, “I’ll Turn to You.”  She sums up in a few words what a best friend means. Time deepens your relationship. To me, Best Friends are like a fuel that helps us achieve our top performance, increase our mileage and stay on the road of life longer. Touch base with your Best Friend on June 8th and celebrate what you have shared together.

Last days of recess

I take a break on the wooden bench, reflecting during outdoor kindergarten recess, the last week of school. My…… how they have grown physically. The difference from the start of the year is uncanny. They have learned how to use their words and handle issues between them….less tears. Though sometimes the girls emotions are triggered out of nowhere, at a Grandma or Grandpa passing away over a year ago or losing their favorite pet. Some days are still just too long for those in kindergarten. However, they have learned about hands to self and not walking up the slide. Sometimes they fall with minor injury and dirty clothes, but they get back up, brush the dirt off and move on. Overall, they have come a long way.

One spring day at the school playground for me in the early sixties during second grade was not fun. A bully from our school was trapping some of the girls, including me, on a school step in front of our door outside that lead to the playground. I took a run for it and he began pulling on my skirt to stop me and it fell to my knees. A teacher at Buckingham school did see the event and he was taken to the Principal. His parents were called and I didn’t go to school for several days out of embarrassment. Finally, someone convinced me that the girls on the step wanted to be my best friend forever. I saved them, thus, becoming popular overnight.

My opinion of boys did improve for me on the sixth grade playground at Warren Junior High School when I was asked to go steady and wear his gold id bracelet. The bracelet was beautiful with his name elegantly engraved. This was a first and I was more interested in wearing the bracelet than the boy himself. I was popular, once again, among the girls and the boyfriend lasted two weeks.

For my children growing up in the 1990s, I don’t recall any significant events happening to them on the playground. Then again who knows? What I still don’t know may not hurt me or them. Maybe, I will ask them when I am in a silly mood.

I watch the girls on the swings now…five or six in a row…some trying to pump as high as the one next to them, surpassing others. Then I see her. I have written about the little one before. She was very tiny and younger than most with less experience in kindergarten when she began the school year. I pushed her most days on the swing or a friend in class helped. We tried to teach to her to push,many, many times, but no luck for months.

I looked at her face and I caught glimpses of what she would look like when she grew up…confident and breathtaking. This young woman smiled at me and her legs were pumping on the swing. Slowly, at first and then she began to swing. A look of surprise completed her features as she swung higher and higher; knowing her best was yet to come.

And so it ends…….. a wonderful year for me. Consequently, trusting in the true magic beginnings of growth, possibility and fulfillment for all of them. Will they remember? Probably not, but I will, right here in the written word especially if age-related problems take over. That is all that matters!

 

 

For Moms

By Caryl Clem

Babies, a magical blend of heaven and earth

Bring joy, laughter and mirth

As we re-discover life again

In your baby’s eyes, smiles or grin.

 

A world of adventure is waiting for both of you

Filled with love that spans every rainbows hue

Efforts spent are worth the reward

Life is all about moving forward.

 

Thankful for music

It was in the beginning of the school year that the kindergarten students were exercising to a variety of music, a selection of songs from all eras, and suddenly Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd came on. They continued, without interruption, but I picked up my pace singing to myself as the substitute gym teacher just smiled. Over Halloween, Michael Jackson moved the children along in movement.

My own children remember me singing to a fake microphone…a hair brush, to be exact, while Whitney Houston played in the background. My daughter and I sang together one night and got caught by her brother and his friends walking in the door. He was ready to turn around and walk out….never to grace our lives again. He was in high school with free rent and food…he thought better of it.

Music has always made me smile and my collection is vast starting in the days of bubble gum rock such as Woman, Woman by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. From there in the late 1960’s/1970’s, we included popular Motown with the hits of Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations as well as harder rock like Jethro Tull, The Who, Three Dog Night, Earth Wind and Fire, Chicago and the list goes on and on. I even tolerated some disco. I did play piano for many years and easy classical music along with show tunes, popular through the decades, were my best performances.

In many elementary classrooms today, teachers will select videos from Go Noodle, which promotes movement for kids and many have learned how to floss from Blazer. No, it is a dance. And then there is famous Fabio Moose and making purple soup! Now, many, not a great example of beautiful music. Oh my….I sound just like my mother when rock and roll hit the scene.

But our passionate music teacher always saves the day by introducing the kindergarten through second grade students to different forms of classical and shows them how to move through various tempos. Our class sees her twice a week, once on Friday afternoon so it is truly a blessing to leave the school with the true promise of music in my heart. Last week, I listened and watched the students learn how to move and freeze through the orchestrated arrangement of the Syncopated Clock by Leroy Anderson.

Oh, how I remember that song playing on my Mom’s radio by the Boston Pops orchestra, in the kitchen, back in the days when I was in elementary school! Oh yes, Mom..if you are listening….. the lifelike sounds of exceptional music are being introduced and played again everyday. Mom would be proud of the talented music teacher and her students!

 

 

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.