Christmas reflections 2021

By Caryl Clem

Holiday’s allow us to travel through time

Bouncing back and forth between then and now

Cherished Christmas tales lit by fireplace flames

Imagination casts a spell over moonlit lawns

As children fight sleep to spy

Or hear the whisper of a silent sleigh

Pulled by reindeers hooves on frozen stardust

Trails in the starlight sky

Shining proof he has stopped by

Musical bells heard below

Blend with Secret Santa’s HO! HO! HO

Every tradition and custom feels brand new

Timeless wonder the magic surrounding Christmas

Another year passes with grace

As we reflect on the love in our lives

Eager to begin another year

Celebrating promise and hope

Stepping forward into a Happy New Year.

Pretty soon you will hear them prancing!

She found the book a few days ago; sharing her memory as well as my own. Twenty one years ago, my daughter wrote a Christmas poem, given to her teacher at Indian Trail school in Downers Grove to be submitted to the Anthology of Poetry since she loved writing. Though at times, I wonder if it was me more excited about my love of writing; guiding her my way. However, both of us strongly remember sitting on the bed working and I think there was a great deal of time spent at dining room table where arts, crafts and homework always took precedence.  I, too, had published in poetry anthologies and now they were looking for young writers. If hard to read in the picture, the copy of the poem is written in this article.

The poem was accepted in the 2001 addition. The editors accepted the poems in their format and punctuation; extending a warm thank you to those they selected as well as expecting great things from them in the future. Just being able to spend a wonderful time with my daughter then and appreciating her love now is what I call a great things in the future that the editor had hoped for all who had been published in the book.

Anthology of Poetry still exists since their first publication in 1990. Working with elementary, middle school and high school teachers throughout the United States, the AOP offers a professional forum for students’ poems and short stories. They also engage teachers in the selection process for our Teacher’s Selection anthologies. We recognize how challenging it is to develop a love for reading and writing in students when there are many distractions and few tools.

Christmas

Hang the stockings

Trim the tree

Make snowman cute as can be

Watch the snowflakes fall to the ground

Grab your boots and let’s run around

Drink hot chocolate from a Christmas cup

Build a fire to warm you up

Check the sky for Santa’s sleigh

He sure won’t be far away

Very soon you’ll hear them prancing

Santa’s reindeer will be dancing

The time has come for you to hear

Santa Claus’ jolly old cheer

You leave your room to sneak some peeks

At the man with the big red rosy cheeks

He piles packages under the tree

And turns around to smile at me

Then we go to find a treat

And we both sit down to drink and eat

When he is ready to leave I go to bed

And out of my window I see his fabulous sled

From high in the sky he waves goodbye

Until next year comes for my friends and I!

Home alone and more of John Hughes

It had occurred to me to write about this Chicago based movie last year since in 2020 we would be celebrating its movie anniversary, produced in 1990 but the draft had been put on hold. Everybody was writing about the infamous movie’s anniversary. Then I talked to a student at school this month and he could not stop talking about his field trip from Downers Grove, Il to the northside. He wrote about it in his first grade journal. He saw the Home Alone house! The Home Alone house is located at 671 Lincoln Avenue in Winnetka, Illinois. and so I pulled some pictures online for him to verify. Oh my,,,,that was it though I had to be extremely careful. He knew the difference between older pictures of the home that did not have a fence around the house. The fence was fairly new to the property; keeping current onlookers at a distance.

My 30 + year old daughter and I have taken several field trips to the house too; some years ago with Starbucks in our hands. No fence! Home alone was and still is one of the favorite movies in our family. My daughter became a connoisseur of John Hughes films especially produced in Chicago. Another family favorite was Sixteen Candles is a 1984 American coming-of-age comedy film starring Molly RingwaldMichael Schoeffling, and Anthony Michael Hall. It was written and directed by John Hughes in his directorial debut. In 1985, he produced the Breakfast Club. It stars Emilio EstevezAnthony Michael HallJudd NelsonMolly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy as teenagers from different high school cliques who spend a Saturday in detention with their authoritarian assistant principal. (Paul Gleason). Again, we traveled to Maine North High School in Des Plaines, Illinois, which had been closed in May 1981 and filming took place here for the Breakfast Club and Molly Ringwalds home in Sixteen Candles. Again, Sixteen Candles was mainly filmed in the north suburbs of Chicago. The Baker house is located at 3022 Payne Street in Evanston. The church (Glencoe Union Church – 263 Park Avenue) and parking lot where the final scenes take place are in Glencoe. Glencoe has become our favorite spot for a field trip to walk the beach.

Home Alone premiered on November 10, 1990, in Chicago, and entered wide release in the United States on November 16, 1990. With a total gross of $476.7 million, it was the highest-grossing live-action comedy until 2011. An eight-year-old troublemaker must protect his house from a pair of burglars when he is accidentally left home alone by his family during Christmas vacation. Home Alone has won one award after another and considered one of the best Christmas films of all time. A sequel, Home Alone 2, Lost in New York was released in 1992. According to NBC Chicago, this year you can actually book a one night stay at the Home Alone house this holiday season. This can be found on Airbnb’s website for only 25 dollars but you must pay for travel expenses to Chicago.

Legacy of bookmarks

I was attending a meeting with other assistants and teachers in our southwest suburban school district that contains three schools. As soon as I walked in a mother who now works in the district flags me down with her son beside her who is now in fifth grade. It took me only a brief minute but she said,” Do you remember my son? “I remembered him in kindergarten; a delightful boy who was a joy to work with and now a fan of the Greenbay Packers, like me. “He still uses all the bookmarks you made for him and he nods with pride,” she said.

The bookmarks???? Five years ago, it began….before the pandemic. When I started making bookmarks to celebrate all holidays in our school building. The school hosts kindergarten-2nd grade while the two other schools supported 3rd-5th and 6th -8th.  First, I began making them for the classroom I was in which was usually kindergarten and would try to personalize each with their name. Then, I would create a bookmark of something they enjoyed such as a unicorn which I distinctly remembering how popular. It also depended on the time of year or holiday.

They were three-dimensional in some way whether it be fancy heart stickers for Valentine’s Day or the great snowman with delicate snowflakes for winter break. And everybody usually got their favorite colors if my memory served me well. Sometimes if I was really in the mood, bookmarks would have an original saying such as follow your heart for Valentines Day.

After my first attempts, I would have the occasional student from another class ask if I had a book mark and so it began. I started making more….just in case. And for many that would go on to the next grade, my bookmarks followed. They would see me in the hallway and ask if I was still making them for my current students. I always had extras… given with approval. They knew where to find me. Again, never missing a student who needed that bookmark for their favorite book.

Last year, I did create bookmarks at the end of the year for a first grade class. Each in a plastic bag with a glow worm necklace following pandemic rules. They weren’t impressed. I had lost my touch with few stickers and variety. No, there is a difference in maturity levels in first grade.

I am helping in the kindergarten and have not made one this year. Maybe after the beautiful message from the fifth grader, following my heart and God, my latest bookmark beginnings will celebrate the upcoming holidays with the best snowman art I can create. But again, that is not what they like. It is just creating something handmade which is special to them even if it lacks variety. This is their first year of school and generally they are just more accepting of mistakes; trying our best, forgetting all the rest. Forging ahead with patience and love this Thanksgiving break…….the bookmarks are almost done.

Decades of Chicagoland holidays

Growing up on the south side of Chicago in the late 1950’s, for my Dad, it was the Christmas Tree. In the picture, this was my second Christmas, My second tree. The Christmas tree that was real. Not the fake trees that were first metal, silver and generally had coordinated ball ornaments that were all the same. The metal tree also rotated in a stand to music with floor lights. My father had to have an 8ft real tree with over 600 colored bulb lights where two lights of the same color were never together, bubble lights which were effectively scattered as well as intricate ornaments  placed with care on each branch to compliment the space. Tinsel was hung one string at a time. And that was it…sometimes he would put colored lights to frame his creation around the front window facing the street. The tree took hours, sometimes days to complete but it was his masterpiece and still remembered by many today. After Dad passed away , I tried to carry on the tradition in the 1970’s for my Mother. She switched to a fake, green tree with the new Italian lights and garland while living in Dolton. My own children had the same in the 1990’s only with new ornaments, bows and taller since it sat in a foyer at our home in Downers Grove.

What about other holiday decorations famous through the years? Over 108 years, the Chicago downtown tree has always been a major a favorite to visit. The first official Christmas tree in the city of Chicago was installed in 1913 in Grant Park and lit on Christmas Eve by then-mayor Carter Harrison. This first tree was a 35-foot (11 m) tall spruce tree. Beginning with Christmas 1966 the official Chicago Christmas tree was placed in Civic Center Plaza, now known as Daley Plaza. At that time, it was over 70ft tall and made of several trees. I was mesmerized as a child though my children were not as excited. With the exception of 1981, the tree was installed in Daley Plaza each year until 2015 where it moved to Millenium Park. The Civic Center now celebrates the 25th year of Christkindlmarket. The booths were always fun to visit with my children occasionally buying a mug of the best hot chocolate.

At two years old, my son began calling it the Christmas Tree House. His first trip was in 1989 and that is what stuck with our family all these years. Throughout the 1990’s, my son and my daughter traveled there every year for Christmas and just could not stop staring; could not be pulled away regardless of the weather. Some called it Santa’s house, others, the Christmas House. However, it was the most beautiful holiday home in Downers Grove created by Diane and Rion Goyette.

More great places today!

Lincoln Park Zoolights 
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago
On the north side of Chicago, for over 20 years Lincoln Park Zoo has provided a beautiful light display of over 2 million lights. You can also find beautiful ice carvings throughout the zoo grounds and other holiday related activities such as ice skating where you can bring your own skates or rent a pair.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo 8400 31st St. Brookfield, Il 60513
Just south of Chicago in Brookfield at the zoo, you can see over 30 years of celebration for the holiday season. Visitors can be dazzled by over a million lights and can enjoy caroling with the animals and special treat with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Several corporations have set up trees set to music and one that you can actually interact.

Chicago Botanic Garden is bringing back their experiential Lightscape experience for another year. The awe-inspiring display is set along a mile-long path where visitors can admire light installations by artists from around the world. Lightscape is open on select dates from November 12, 2021 to January 2, 2022.

Morton Arboretum is wonderful place but tickets are currently sold out.

Aurora Festival of Lights One of the largest free outdoor drive-through holiday light displays in Northern Illinois, the Aurora Festival of Lights, returns for its 15th year in 2021 with dazzling displays that will delight both adults and children. The light show begins the day after Thanksgiving, Friday Nov 26, and runs through Dec 26. Sunday  through Saturday 5-9pm. Last year, the festival had over 50,000 cars. Buses are welcome too.

A Looking Glass…..Colored Thankful

A reflection written by Caryl Clem

Thanksgiving season is a great time to reflect on the blessings in our life. Not all blessings are tangible because I am grateful for the time I spent in classrooms during my life.

As I walked to school as a child thinking the cold stern brick building with unblinking eye windows appeared formidable. I soon discovered that classrooms are alive with caring and sharing.  I thrived in the small town classes. Kids on phones are missing out on the secret note passing experience.

Magically through the years, friendships are at the top of the blessings list. I doubted my continued career in education then a birthday gift changed my mind. A small picture frame contained a big moment in life message: “ One Hundred from now…it will not matter what your bank account was, the sort of house you lived in, or the kind of car you drove, but the world may be different because you were important in the life of a CHILD.

Every time I view this silver framed jewel, like a movie reel inside my head a past teachers’ voice and smile surfaces. “I had talent. I must never give up. Believe in yourself and your potential.  Stay positive.” The same advice I carried into my classrooms.

When I asked my Dad for guidance on how to manage students, he thoughtfully replied: humor, compassion, preparedness. He said his favorite teacher opened every class with a joke, or some thought provoking comment.  I remembered my Dad’s classroom with an array of Salada tea bag sayings, quotes or Peanuts’ cartoon plastered on a bulletin board.  Dad urgently stated, “Listen to every student’s story, they need to feel you are on the same page with them.”

Years later, a few students have updated stories left unfinished when they graduated. A former gang member had a scholarship in Criminal Justice.  Another former gang member, now a mentor working with the Sheriff’s Department.  Students who thought college was not possible became college graduates.  A determined male teen opened a successful business with his older brother. Years of stories have convinced me the majority of students win in the Game of Life.

I am thankful for all the teachers who know the unbeatable formula, combine your heart and soul with the science of learning.  A classroom is so much more than a backpack with textbooks.

(the glass is available at ETSY)

Pumpkin pies’ political past

By Caryl Clem

Before English colonists traveled the high seas to land on American shores, pumpkins were used as a vegetable.  In a Native American cookbook, Spirit of the Harvest by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs a recipe features baking a variety of savory seasonings with meat and rice inside the pumpkin.  As early as 1651 a French chef published a recipe for Tourte of Pumpkin in his cookbook that was republished in England in 1653. Wealthy landowner’s wives baked pumpkin treats. Farm wives stewed sliced pumpkins and apples together with molasses. The first Dutch lawyer who owned land in New England documented his opinion that the North American pumpkin was sweeter and more delicious. The Native Americans believed sharing meals together was a sign of peace and community, sharing the pumpkins with colonists was a sign of goodwill.

An orphan colonial woman was able to publish the first American woman authored cookbook.  The recipes were written in a different format than the English version and included a new vocabulary for cooking terms. American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, in 1796 showed she was a genius combining specific step by step instructions, patriotic terms for dishes like Election Cake and meals for larger budgets and servings. She blended the emerging American culture into her recipes: created the first leavening agents that lead to baking powders, used the staple of corn meal to replace the English pasties dough, and introduced the terms shortening, cookie, and slapjacks. Her cookbook provided an American culinary identity and a way to spread patriotic pride in the new countr

In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale, an abolitionist campaigned to make Thanksgiving a National Holiday. In her novel, Northwood the pumpkin pie portrayed as a most distinguished dish to serve at this meal.  Another abolitionist wrote the poem about the traditional journey to Grandmother’s house at Thanksgiving.  Released in 1842 by Lydia Maria Child, “Over the River and through the wood ended with a shout, hurra for the pumpkin pie. “ Instant recognition and fame spread as it appeared in children’s stories and articles in agricultural journals advising the benefits of eating pumpkins.  In 1828 a cookbook was published by popular Eliza Leslie that featured the pumpkin pie custard we eat today. The pumpkin was cooked; strained then eggs, butter, sugar and spices were added. This mixture was poured on top of a pastry shell with strips of pastry laid across the top. When Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a National Holiday in 1863, the members of the Confederacy in Virginia proclaimed it was a Yankee move to impose Yankee customs in the South. Taste buds finally won the political war as the love of pumpkin pie spread across the country.  In 1929, Libby first released canned pumpkin filling that became the answer to easy pumpkin pie baking.

After checking the top pie sales across the nation, Pumpkin ranked first, followed by Apple in a heated second.  National Pumpkin Pie Day is Christmas Day, Dec 25:  I am not waiting that long to celebrate this wonderful taste of fall.

The wonderful world of untapped innocence in the classroom

One kindergarten student was visiting a classroom and having such a terrible moment in class that within five minutes of him crying, two other kindergarten children gave him their special classroom rewards they had just received from their teacher.

For the last 40 days of school, a first grade student always makes sure the special needs child is securely sitting in their carrier seat on the bus and and tries to cheer him if he is having sad day.

Julie always helps five-year old Amanda on the playground when swinging on swings or going down the slide just to make sure she is having fun safely.

Five year old John helped another another boy, Tom, who was angry, pick up blocks that he had thrown so that Tom would have a better day.

Seven -year old Mary made a special picture for her friend that is very sick and was not instructed to do so. This gesture was created during indoor recess at school.

One boy always makes sure a friend that is new to school finds the right classroom he is in everyday.

Mira always asks another to play with her at recess or when they have a break because the other one feels left out.

Robert struggles with assignments but will sit and concentrate for a long time reading The Pigeon has to Go to School and many of the Mo Willems books as a special treat with his teacher.

A second grade student, Elisa shared her favorite book patiently with a first grader and helped her improve her reading, reading some words for her and sounding out others. She asked if she could help her in the future if she needed assistance.

Sheri McCabe, fourth grade instructional assistant, made a great Wonder Wall last year for a student she was working with and learned about the teaching idea from others on the Internet. She wanted to use it again so she put it in the room she is working in this year. She told the class about. Whenever they have a question about something they wonder about, they can put the questions on a post it and put it on the wonder wall and they will discuss them once a week. Sheri went back to the class a couple hours later and all these post it’s were up on the wall. Here are the questions they asked: How does it feel to be blind? I wonder how a rocket blasts off? Why is there school? Who made books? How do you drive a car? How is candy made? Do plants fart?

It doesn’t get much better than this. God bless them all!!!

I

It only takes one…….

As I was sharing my story about Prairie Avenue to the many Facebook sites, I was thinking about my cousins comment to me when I would become discouraged. It only takes one to read your story and become inspired. Right at that moment when God’s angel was reminding me, someone wrote a response on how she enjoyed all of my stories of Chicago field trips. All? It can also take one negative comment… why I write without getting paid more. My passion…..do ya think?  What are other examples of… it only takes one…. to positively change your attitude? Read on…..

After years of infertility and sickness, they found a lady had only three mature eggs. One was fertilized. The miracle egg became the perfect baby. It only takes one!

After years of addiction, he finally quit and remained sober meeting the love of his life.

After a few years in a public school, a child was not doing well. A change to a smaller, private setting was a much better venue and the student prospered. She became a teacher. She became a principal.

She had lost her family to death, as well as her job and really wanted a new start. She moved to the state she had always dreamed and her life changed for the better.

Sometimes, it takes just one phone call, email or conversation to open new doors of hope.

Sometimes it just takes one smile on someone’s face.

What about that son, daughter or loved who says just the right thing at just the right time?

What about the one friend that has known you for decades and all of sudden shows up in color or in a message?

And what about your Mom or Dad telling you how proud they were of you before passing away many years ago?

Maybe it is the phantom driver behind you who paid for your lunch in the McDonalds drive through line that made a difference in your life.

Let’s not forget the people who shoveled your driveway after a massive snowstorm while you slept and never let you know who did the work.

Or the plumber that changed out a toilet for free after a huge leak on the weekend and no one was there to help.

Even the dentist who fixed a partial denture that had a chip for no charge because he knew your insurance would not pay.

And what about that one email from Chicken Soup of Soul that tells you they are going to publish your story and the book arrives in print.

The man that was dying of cancer with no hope from any physician meets a friend at a high school reunion who is a doctor that specializes in his type of cancer. The man is still alive many years later.

How about the man that could not stand to watch his wife of 50 years die; her health had been failing for months but kept hearing a voice saying he would be okay and when she died, he heard her voice saying that she was great.

Or the millions of angels stories out there of tragic accidents being halted.

When you have been told that as a teacher, you have been an Angel to their child, you finally put your decisions in God’s hands.

And sometimes, it only takes ……that one prayer.

Songs still played in kindergarten

Working with students in kindergarten, it continues to amaze me how they are mesmerized listening to the same songs like I did in kindergarten over 60 years ago. And my own children reacted the same when they were little; 3+ decades earlier. One day I watched one little guy work on his ipad to the sounds of Go Tell It On The Mountain, Skip, Skip, Skip, To My Lou, Are You Sleeping, Brother John, also known as( Fre er Jac Que). I learned the French version of Brother John in third grade. Do You Know The Muffin Man, and B-i-n-go, B-i-n-go, B-i-n-g-o, and Bingo was his name…..O, more of the past. I thought that was it….done… until the teacher put on the video of the famous all-time children’s song Wheels On The Bus and he couldn’t stop singing….neither could I. The music we sang when learning the ABC’s is another melody where everything stops and they listen to the classic creative music. We play that everyday just before we leave for home; a celebration song earned for a good day.

Go Tell It On the Mountain is a Christmas carol as its original lyrics celebrate the Nativity of Jesus: Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. An alternate final line omits the reference to the birth of Christ, instead declaring that “Jesus Christ is Lord”. This is popular with Cedarmount kids who released a music series in the 1990’s. Skip to my Lou was song produced in 1844 and was recorded by Judy Garland in the movie Meet Me in St Louis. BeeCeeDee is a popular You Tube channel for kids with entertaining vidoes of the old music and nursery rhymes with over 2 million followers. Are you sleeping…..is another video that you can’t stop listening to as well as watching.

Do you Know the Muffin Man was a traditional nursery rhyme for the Baby Boomer generation but back then it ended with the guy who lived on Drury Lane since the song originated in London. This was a street where fresh foods delivered, such as muffins, which were delivered door-to-door by a vendor known as a muffin man. The “muffin” in question was the bread item known as an English muffin, not the typically sweeter U.S. variety of muffin. Drury Lane is still a thoroughfare bordering Covent Garden in London. You Tube, once again, has transformed the song into a creative video with cartoon characters that also introduces the Ice Cream Man and the Fruit Stand Man!

Bingo was a folk song created as early as 1780 and has been transformed in a number of ways for children. Again, a Barney video created in 2004 with the Bingo song as well as number of videos that include the Muffin songs, the Countdown Kids, The Countdown Singers, the Little Series and Debbie Doo. “The Wheels on the Bus” is a traditional American folk song from the 1930’s written by Verna Hills in Boston, MA. The song is based on the traditional nursery rhyme “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush ” sharing the same tune. It was a popular for teachers to share in the 1950’s and has been translated into several languages. The YouTube video by Cocomelon is the one our school children delight over but YouTube provides many animated rhymes.

The ABC song is the same melody we learned as we watch the video by Cocomelon and as she writes the letters on a green chalk board just like ours and our children. The song was first copyrighted in 1835 by the Boston-based music publisher Charles Bradlee, and given the title “The A.B.C., a German air with variations for the flute with an easy accompaniment for the piano. Music done well never dies.