Epiphany Day and other Italian flair in Chicago

By Caryl Clem

Grace, charm and simplicity were evident in the Nativity scene that was a treasured Christmas decoration sitting on the fireplace mantle. Baby Jesus and family was the honored first symbol of Christmas to be placed inside our home.  Above the manager scene is a handmade star spreading rays of light.   The revered Christ child display derives from Italy. Naples was the first crib maker, Presepe Napoletano, dating back to 1025 before St. Francis of Assisi in 1225 included scenes with a crib in the Christmas story.

In Italy, Christmas celebrations start with prayer and a service to commemorate the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December eighth. Festivities include open Christmas markets, Father Christmas and the custom of setting cribs out in yards awaiting the arrival of Baby Jesus who is placed in the crib on the 24th of December. Constructing a pyramid of shelves above the Nativity landscape base includes common animals with a mix of the famous and ordinary is a custom practiced across Italy. Naples features a Nativity scene with over 600 items featuring an entire street dedicated to this business.  Novena is nine days before Christmas to honor the shepherd’s journey to find Baby Jesus.

Christmas Eve has several traditions including children dressed as shepherds, wearing robes and sandals, singing carols, while playing shepherd pipes. Adults parade as shepherd bagpipers in costume of former times. Especially in Southern Italy, on Christmas Eve “ Estra dei sette Pesci” or the Feast of Seven Fishes offers seafood which has become very popular in America by Italian families. A light meal avoiding meat is served before going to a midnight Christmas Mass; afterwards a Christmas cake called Panettone is served .Christmas Day is spent eating during the entire day.  Modern Italians exchange gifts on Christmas day. Children write letters to Father Christmas for gifts and to their parent to tell them why they are loved.

As songs fill the air during the Christmas season, I start humming along anytime The Twelve Days of Christmas plays.  As I visualized ladies dancing while lords are leaping, I am clueless that the 12 days of Christmas has religious origins. In Italy and 11 countries around the world, Epiphany is a public holiday, celebrated on January 6th,   a religious event celebrating the Three Wise Men and the baptism of Jesus. Throughout Italy, customs vary, while rural villages open gifts on St Lucia day, December 13 th or on January 6th from the good witch, Befana or the Three Wise Men. The Christmas season ends as the Carnival season begins that finishes with Mardi Gras.

In the Chicago area, by the year 2000, over half a million can claim Italian ancestry. Taylor Street to Ashlan and then to Morgan are referred to as “Little Italy”.,  sometimes called University Village. The neighborhood is just between the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus and the Illinois Medical District. Little Italy continues to thrive with some of the best restaurants as well as Mario’s Italian Lemonade on Taylor Street. Scafuri Bakery opened in 1904 after the Scarfuri family immigrated in 1901. Luigi used to give out free bread during the Depression which may account for the family’s success today. Besides being known for its bread and pastries, the Italian cookies are very popular. Als Beef goes back to 1938 and offers several locations throughout Chicago and its suburbs. The Rosebud restaurant is named after the Sicily flower on Taylor street and serves some of the best Italian pasta, chicken, and veal cuisine with several locations.

 

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.

Generosity

By Caryl Clem:

Kindness and empathy spin

Words that make you grin.

Spreading mental sunshine

Spiritual goldmine.

 

Physical evidence of  caring

Charitable donation sharing

Multiple systems, non-profit versions

Human generosity, busy repairing

Play it forward, ease another’s burden.

 

Victims of major disasters crushed

By any Mother Nature’s devastation

Homesteads damaged or  broken

Victims feeling lost without protection.

Americans have a network to trust

Courageous trained rescue organizations

State to State Red Cross volunteers

Join Fire and Police Service workers

Create then secure a new beginning,

Human lifelines determined on winning.

 

I am thankful for educator’s ingenuity

Encouraging every student’s identity

Inspiring, planting the seed

Every student has the power to succeed.

 

Thankful for the spirit of generosity

Living on in human acts of charity.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gifts for Grandmother; the royal charm bracelet

All my travels, hopes and dreams as a child were recorded in my charm bracelet; a mechanical wishing well that opened and closed for good luck, a pineapple from Florida, a sail boat since I dreamed of having one someday, the Eiffel tower from my uncles trip to Paris, the golf bag symbolizing the days of miniature golf with Dad, the grand piano I was to play as a concert pianist along with the tiny heart you could open though too small to add pictures. Though tarnished and just a little too small, I still smile and dangle the tinkling memories of the past. Though I could never sell, children’s vintage bracelets from the 1950’s and 1960’s can command a solid price at auctions and on Ebay today.

After digging deeper into my jewelry box mess, I found my Mothers charm bracelet which was started by my Dad in the 1940’s; a gold link chain entwined with pearls that fits me perfectly. My father was responsible for the bracelets exquisite remnants; his gift to her to satisfy every occasion. Her first charm was a flat heart of gold with a tiny ruby in the corner engraved with her certificate of marriage to my Dad in 1949. Her second was shaped like a box with her scripted name, the third was a rose placed on a gilded background for her birthday and finally the fourth was my little Queen, their only child, with my name and birthday.  Unfortunately, my father died when I was twelve and that halted the tradition of adding to the bracelet. Though as the years progressed into adulthood, my marriage and own children, Grandma received a necklace with charms including pictures of her grandchildren; still a great gift idea for those that favor neck jewelry.

By the 1970’s charm bracelets lost their luster but became quite collectible in the 1990’s and now in the 21st century, charm bracelets have regained their royal status. Craft your own bracelet by building a family legacy of miniature frames for Grandma’s wrist or create a bracelet that identifies Grandmothers personality. My personal design would  have to include trinkets of books, pens, maybe letters of the alphabet and computers just to name a few.

And while you decide on the perfect gems for Grandparents Day on September 9th, I will be admiring an addition to my tired jewelry collection while wearing my Mom’s classic bracelet, in memory of her, that showcased her charm and the ones she loved. I also found her watch for the other wrist and since that is also supposedly in style once again, my accessories of memories are complete.

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.

Lemonade stands, summer theater and art fairs for charity

I never liked lemonade…..too sour! So my childhood friends and I upgraded one summer on our porch in Chicago. We had been to an excellent ice cream shop in Old Town so we briefly tried to do the same by making sodas. We called our shop Sip and Stir with a big sign and tissue flowers, made out of Kleenex, brightening the red brick of the porch. My Moms bathroom was blue and my girlfriends was pink so we had a colorful combination of flowers. We had a small cooler with vanilla ice cream, metal cups and a couple of cans of 50/50 soda. My father’s glass shop was across the street from Canfields factory and we got free soda.

We lasted about an hour. The flowers kept falling down. The ice cream began to melt. And no one showed up.  Not one person bought a soda out of the goodness of their heart…even our Mom’s were not that interested. And the day we chose was hot.

So, the following summer, we decided to forget the stands of drinks and be much more creative. We would plan an event in advance and sell tickets. We were a little older, more responsible and invited many to be in a play that we wrote together about Betsy Ross sewing the American flag. I don’t remember the details but I directed and played a part. We held the play in my basement where it was nice and cool. We actually had costumes that was supplied by a friends Mom. It would be many years later that I acted and directed in plays as a student and high school teacher.

In the 1990’s, my own had their plays and stand but took it one step further. They created their works of art to be displayed outdoors at our organized summer art fair for Luries Children’s Hospital. Eleven by fourteen paintings, splashed in watercolor or acrylic, hung on the fence for all to see.  Prior to the event,  we then took each drawing and framed them with the right color to highlight each design while finally dressing them in plastic just in case of a sudden rain.

Once all the artwork was submitted and framed, a panel of judges intently studied the variety of floral bouquets, favorite pets as well as trains, planes, automobiles and a selection of rainbows. Each category produced a first, second and third place winner with the appropriate ribbon displayed on the frame. Honorable mention was awarded to those without a ribbon And we collected over a 100 dollars and the children were in the newspaper.

Creating a charitable legacy is the foundation for every success story and starting the early teachings of charity at home is one of the grandest gifts that we can offer to our young. Help them now so they can continue to build their own world rich in selfless endeavors.

Gather your grandchildren, advertise at their school or community center, talk to your neighbors and friends about hosting an art fair with prizes for your favorite cause; a wonderful way to inspire the art of charity in your grandchildren’s hearts.

 

 

Memories and moments

Poetry by CARYL CLEM:

At last, your time-RETIREMENT

Relax, sit back and reflect:

Mrs. G. wonders, how can a school year be over?

Doesn’t learning demand a 24/7 time slot endeavor?

Her mind keeps spinning, imploring, exploring,

By the end of summer, she’s back, invigorated,

Ready to try unique ways to keep students motivated.

Your creativity evident in themed bulletin board presentations,

As personally designed 1960’s car dot roads across states.

Spurred by curiosity, students research famous landmark information.

“Road Trip” signs symbolize travel, visually stimulate.

In your class, students imagination traveled outside the pages

Sympathizing with characters going through various stages.

 

During English, students write about their heroes and champions,

Colorfully portrayed in pamphlets with explanations,

Absorbing  the art of vocabulary, conquering meaningful inquiry,

Evolving as an author in a diary,

Experiencing reading and writing coordination.

 

Native American Indian history, redefined along new lines,

Students build Indian lodging, following environmental designs.

Reporters appear to interview student experiences and perceptions,

Becoming a featured newspaper article full of student illustrations.

In “ Brain Strategies” class , subject of Chicago Tribune coverage

Students discuss understanding the brain as an advantage.

You were ever finding a new angle

Laying a sound education foundation

While increasing student performance and morale.

 

Through the years, constant character building and molding,

Every student hears from you,” You will always be under my consideration.”

Alongside History, English, and Reading skill forming curriculum.

As students gained confidence, a learning model unfolding,

Knowledge bases scaffolding resulting in a diploma,

Students overcoming drop-out of high school stigma.

You encouraged dreaming, to become what you are perceiving.

Students learned first -hand the power of positive affirmations.

 

No more challenges of moving stuff in a room to a different location

Or the countdown to  the completion of pages of documentation.

 

May laughter and smiles crowd your days

As you express yourself in new meaningful ways.