Merry Christmas

By Caryl Clem:

Songs vibrate cheer, tales of the Christmas Star

Wise Men traveling, Santa and his famous reindeer

Frosty the Snowman or a relative may come over

Adorned with scarves and bright red holly

Boisterous lawn valets waving to neighbors

Ready to help unload the world wide sleigh

Parading evergreens in holiday gowns

Bearing jeweled necklaces and lit crowns

Sweep into rooms hiding mounds of gifts

Beneath their huge green skirts

Dark chocolate mounds, cookies, a confectioners haven

Spill from clean socks into waiting pockets

No cure has been found to stop holiday treat craving

Family lore and traditions at fireplace fire

Hidden presents, those who co-conspire

Elaborate their adventures with laughter and humor

A fitting end to a busy year

Spend time with your loved ones dear

 

The best of the Polar Express

When the classic Christmas book came out in 1985, it was a present under my Christmas tree for me and my son. The Polar Express was the tale of a boy’s dreamlike train ride with other children to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. The young boy asks for a bell from Santa.When the children return to the train, the boy realizes the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. The train drops him at his door and he goes to bed but in the morning, his sister finds one small box with the boy’s name on it among the presents. Inside is the silver bell! They hear it ring and ring but their parents cannot hear the sound at all.

Beautifully wrapped from Grandma, the hard cover was presented in a special gold, gilded box. The book sat comfortably next to the inspired sleigh bell. As my family grew, we read the Polar Express every year. Every year it was a new story. The book was a beautiful meditation on Christmas magic.

In 2004, Tom Hanks played the mystical conductor in the Polar Express, now a timeless holiday movie. Many classrooms watch the Polar Express at school as a parting gift to start the winter break every year. But the Polar Express movie has always scared me a little.The roller coaster train drama was a bit frightening and the elf workshops on the North Pole were cold factories; losing their graceful appeal that other North Pole stories usually offer.

For me, I just wanted to read the book, eat chocolate and pretend. Ultimately, believe.

This week, the last week of school in which I assist, elementary classes received tickets to ride the Polar Express in the IMC, better known as the library. Please wear pajamas and hot chocolate will be served.  Ms. Hendron, the library specialist, is a wonderful creator of magic herself. She has quickly transformed herself into the conductor on the Polar Express. Oh Boy, I can’t wait. Especially a time to wear my pj’s.

The library lights have been dimmed with sheeting overhead. White lights and silver snowflakes hang from the ceiling giving us the feeling of a cold snowy night as we take a seat on the benches that face a huge screen.  A fire roars in the background. We even get hats and our servers, her assistant, Ms. Wisdom, Ms. Kerfin, along with parent and grandparent helpers, pass out cups of hot chocolate. Each page of the book is highlighted on the big screen while being read by a screen reader. As the story proceeds, each student receives a string with Santa’s sleigh bell to take home. I got one too and we jiggled to make sure we could all hear them ring. One kindergarten boy told the staff that this was the best day of his life. Mine too.

If you want to take a ride on a public Polar Express, Rail Events Productions announces service on board THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride at Chicago Union Station this holiday season. Groups of 20 or more are eligible for a 10% discount which must be booked over the phone at (312) 471-2501.  The fun doesn’t end on Christmas. Use promo code 12DAYS for $12 off tickets on any train Dec. 26-Jan 1!

However,though many schools and neighborhoods are offering the Polar Express experience, not much can top the magnificent event of listening and watching the Polar Express book at Elizabeth Ide School.  Even better than with my own children.

And when I got home, I could still hear my library Polar Express sleigh bell ring!!!

 

Swedish Christmas traditions in Chicago

By Caryl Clem:

During Roman rule, a young maiden brought food to starving Christian prisoners. Legend paints a picture of her wearing a crown of candles in her hair so her hands were free to serve food.  Slain for her religious beliefs, she becomes one of the first woman martyrs, St. Lucia. In Scandinavia, Denmark and Finland St. Lucia is honored at the start of the Christmas season with a candlelit procession on December 13th.  One young girl is selected in cities and villages to lead the parade. Adorned with a crown of candles in a billowy white gown, she is followed by costumed boys carrying stars while singing. School is dismissed by midday for preparations. Before the festival, the family’s eldest girl is dressed in a white gown serving gingersnaps, lussekatter (buns flavored with saffron topped with a raisin) and Swedish glogg or coffee to visitors and guests. During the longest night of the year, St. Lucia festival shines with thousands of candles symbolizing the promise of light and hope.

Love Disney…… still feel the desire to check out the latest Disney creation?  What better time than Christmas Eve to tune in to an old favorite childhood friend.  For decades, Sweden T.V. fans had two channels. A custom was born in 1959 when at 3 p.m.  Donald Duck starred wishing friends and family a Merry Christmas.  Last year, Donald Duck was still the most popular proving laughter heals.  One review stated that emergency calls dropped by 20 %. Another review stated cell phone use dropped on that day lower than any other day. The charm of Swedish Donald lives on.

If you are curious to explore Swedish ethnicity, several neighborhoods have their background.,” 1920 Swedes dominated the North Side neighborhoods of Lake ViewAndersonville, and North Park; and West Side neighborhoods of Austin and Belmont Cragin. On the South Side, Swedes settled primarily in Hyde ParkWoodlawnEnglewoodWest EnglewoodSouth ShoreGreater Grand CrossingEast SideMorgan Park, and Roseland.

Feel like embarking on a Swedish food adventure? Chicago has several places offering these delicacies.  Check out the Swedish Museum, 5211 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois 60640 phone 773-728-8111

Season’s greetings

Mom ordered her Christmas cards from Miles Kimball with our names printed inside; John, Mavis and Karla. It was a months long project in November to select the perfect card. My father owned a business and Mother included clients on her list. Simple, but elegant was her theme. Miles Kimball still offers a unique card selection with free personalization. And the Christmas cards she would get from others through the 1950’s to the early 1990’s always decorated a closet door frame in the living rooms of two homes. That was how she displayed her friendships…making sure the cover would flap open so visitors could see who they were from.

One grandmother talks about displaying them on string over her bed so that she can dream about her friends and adventures of Christmas at night. Wreaths composed of Christmas cards became popular in later years. And creating Christmas trees with cards was another idea.

Seven billion greeting cards are purchased every year. Annual retail sales of greeting cards are estimated at more than $7.5 billion. Nine out of every ten households buy greeting cards each year. The birthday card is one of the favorites. Top selling seasonal cards are Christmas and holidays cards. These account for more than six percent of all seasonal card sales. Valentine’s day is the next greeting card seller followed by Mothers, Fathers day and Easter according to the Greeting Card Association.

Today, gather up your favorite type of ribbon, some form of wall adhesive and clips. You only need a few items to create this easy clip on Holiday card display. Using old window shutters or empty frames to display your Christmas cards will give your home a rustic holiday feel.

Some also use garland with cards added that will be displayed on a staircase or garland around a door frame. Strips of velvet ribbon or satin are also used to display cards and you can purchase tabletop Christmas card holders. Christmas tree memory boards are available for sale or you can create your own bulletin board decorated with fabric to display a collage of cards and photos.

Holiday photo cards of family have been extremely popular over the decades but ours as children were black and white. Many have interesting backgrounds,some families dressed in matching pajamas by the Christmas tree or encircled with holiday lights. There are hundreds of ideas for unique family photos. For me, family photo cards are a little scary. A school psychologist once shared a story that almost every family Christmas photo she received had a crisis behind the smiling faces of the family that sent the card.

I guess the best Season greetings cards for me are the ones that tell me a little about the sender if I am not in touch; those with the added notes in their own pen. Those that ask how you are, those that hope for the best, those that thank you for your friendship, those that wish happiness for your loved ones and most of all, those that share blessings for a safe, healthy and gracious holiday season. And, of course, a happy New Year. That’s all I need.

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.

 

 

Summers in Saugatuck

We climbed out of the Vista cruiser after pulling up along side the small white cottage. The trees towered above us as we began to grab our suitcases and, of course, my pillow. I could hear the waves of Lake Michigan located across the road which was called Lake Shore Drive in Saugatuck Michigan.

The rental was tiny inside; only two bedrooms for the adults which was Mom and her friend. Me and Rita’s two daughters …my same age… slept on cots and sleeping bags in the expansive living room. Our Dads would come up from Chicago in a few days for the weekend and then travel back with us to Chicago.

We read, we swam, we cooked hot dogs on the beach and visited quaint shops in downtown Saugatuck.  The entire week, I had a stomach ache and constantly complained. They took my temperature. They gave me medicine. And still my stomach ached and ached. And sometimes my head too. But when my father arrived, it was amazing how the pain began to subside as we played miniature golf and took a trip on the ferry. Unfortunately,when we all left together…I never felt better. I was only eight and the first time I had ever been separated from my Dad.

I returned to Saugatuck many times in the, 1970’s, 1980s and 1990s with friends and family. And did find the cottage that had been renovated in a more upscale environment and could not believe the disappearing beach caused by erosion. Those vacations usually included a stay at the Blue Star which has been revamped over the years or Lake Shore Resort though today, Saugatuck is filled with excellent bed and breakfast mansions.

I remembered shopping downtown; a much more powerful experience when I was an adult. My mother returned on a trip with me in the 1990’s and said that the artistic shops and culture had truly expanded. This included a variety of antiques,collectibles, and art galleries which were just beginning in the late 1960s.

Now, Saugatuck is named one of the best art towns by Expedia, which included the plein air painters of the early 1900s, the Art Institute of Chicago’s OxBow students, and the artists who continue to live their today. Through its affiliation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ox-Bow still offers one and two-week courses for credit and non-credit students.

There were also more places to eat and drink but the Butler, once an historic Inn, offers spectacular waterfront dining. Today, live entertainment can be enjoyed every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day

Saugatuck is one of Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 25 Beaches in the World,” and also a great place for hiking and fishing.

I remember sitting on the dunes trying to enjoy the sunset and the amazing beauty that surrounded me. I didn’t think I missed my father; I had no idea why my stomach hurt.

But now, I can go back; still mesmerized by sun, sand, and water without stomach pains. and with an amazing understanding of the love a daughter has for her father.

 

 

July Fireworks

By CARYL CLEM:

Freedom flashes in blazing red, white, blue fireworks

Celebrating love of family and country

Just as important today as yesterday

Honoring our forefather’s efforts

Produces reverence, acceptance of citizen diversity.

 

All shades of spectators sharing this night in unity

Bound by the values of equality and opportunity.

 

The United States of America, a democratic endeavor

A promise of freedom to endure forever.

 

Star Spangled Banner, waving over the brave and the free

Fanning the desire to maintain our hard won liberty

Gives proof this July 4th night

How future hopes, are unleashed by a fireworks light.

 

Capture

By CARYL CLEM

Never too late to capture a dream

Rekindle hopes, aspirations redeem

No limits, ahead an endless stream

Emotions on fire, bright as a diamond’s gleam.

A day lost in time with no tomorrow

Love, generosity, absolutely no sorrow

Nothing regretted, nothing reserved

Momentum builds as does nerve

Finally free from the past

Roles, rewards newly cast

Soul’s freedom of expression

Uncovers thirst for exploration

Just ahead out of view

An adventure is waiting for you

Holding on is letting go

Faith tempering ego

Jump forward, risk it all

Possession is perception’s recall.

 

Wisconsin Dells Sunday dinner

 

“Put on you gloves,” Mom said. And she wasn’t referring to my woolly mittens during winter’s blast. They were dainty white gloves that ended at the wrist, tapered fingers, usually with a pearl closure. It was summer at our favorite vacation spot, the Wisconsin Dells, and we were going to a grand place for Sunday dinner.

Living on the south side of Chicago, we could drive in our Vista Cruiser since airline tickets were expensive in the 1960’s. Though we switched up motels several times on various trips, we never stopped visiting the Tommy Barlett Water Show and we never stopped dressing in our best for dinner. White gloves, a small grown up white clutch purse and, of course, a neatly styled dress; nothing less was expected for the occasion.

Just minutes from Wisconsin Dells located in Mirror Lake State park, you wind through the beautiful woods to the Hoffman Brothers restaurant built in 1953, situated right on the shore of Mirror Lake, Ishnala. My father loved the restaurant built into nature where giant Norway pines grow through the roof. Though only a child under 12, our first stop at the restaurant with my parents was the Arrowhead Bar built in the shape of an arrowhead with a breathtaking view of the bluffs.  Here is where we waited for our seat in the dining room and I could actually sit at the bar in those days. Served like an adult, I graciously sipped the famous kiddy cocktail with maraschino cherries, loaded with sugar, before being seated for dinner.

The house specialty was prime rib but I always got to choose a steak, medium rare, regardless of the cost. The rustic but elegant surroundings in red offered that reverent experience of unbroken time with my parents so long ago. Both now both have passed; not able to tell their daughter how proud they are of her well-practiced manners, always reminding her how she will grow into a lovely woman someday.

But to carry on tradition, I took my own children to this supper club that boosted over 50 years of popularity.  My son and daughter, pre-teen in age at the time, fought as usual, not quite as enamored as I was and were more content with a grilled cheese sandwich and fries then prime rib. Their unpracticed manners or should I say complete rudeness did not go unnoticed. And no, white gloves, were not a part of their Sunday apparel. The thought of professional class and style, ties, sports jackets and a dress could only be described in my warped imagination. Needless to say, I was disappointed at the outcome of our visit.

However, years later we found a picture together of what I thought, a failed excursion that I had quickly snapped for posterity, gobbling their Ishnala food. It was remembered fondly that this was the restaurant where their grandparents, had rekindled their love for family. Imagine that, they had paid attention to the intent after all; an unexpected response to the trip that I thought a waste of time and money.

As a result, they are trying to save their pennies for their own Sunday dinner that offers timeless beauty and what will hopefully be for them,  another excursion of cherished family memories.

Look to see if that favorite restaurant, park, even movie house is still thriving and insist on taking them for a visit. Though popcorn may be the only immediate source of your children or even grandchildren’s concern, they may surprise you in the long run.

She still smiles

Even in the end, she would smile as I played Clair de Lune though she could not dance in the arms of my Dad now. Everyone at the nursing home was quiet; contemplating their own personal memories of  love in the moonlight that Claude Debussy’s classic piece offered.

In return, it was Moms high compliments to me and my talent. Perfecting this song over the years for her in every avenue; piano contests, recitals, recordings, restaurants and finally her final home before the everlasting journey. I am sure she would take the classical rendition with her as a  reminder. A reminder that I loved her. If there was ever a compliment from a somewhat subdued mother, it was for my piano mastery of Clair De Lune.

My father had passed away when I was twelve, Mom sold the company business that was almost bankrupt, and went to work as a secretary for 35 years; a single mother with a substantial savings and healthy 401 K.

Mom passed away before the last recession fall-out and she would never understand that today, the average number of years in one position was four years. 4.5 to be exact. During my first layoff, she was still alive and felt that it was my fault. I just didn’t produce and pursue enough. If one job didn’t pay the bills, why not three? She did not understand the world of corporate layoffs. Not her generation. I think about that far too often when I think of Mom.

As I slowly poured my coffee, it was the first Sunday I wanted to stay in bed rather than go to church. It was a the beginning of fall, still warm as the trees began their dramatic demonstration of magnificent color. My favorite time of year. I had volunteered to help record the broadcast service today and really couldn’t call in sick. It was church.

As I watched  from First Congregational United Church of Christ  classroom 504 where I could view the service in full regalia and play with the audio, the pastors message caught me off guard. Since my first visit  to this church two years ago, divine guidance was displayed through his messages. That’s how God works in all of us. But this was too good to be true

Bombarded by his divine Guidance….

His words made me sit up and take notice. And, of course,he talked about what I needed to hear; breaking the dreaded cycle of the treadmill; needing more in money, goods and not trusting that we have all that we need. The old tapes of Mom…clashing for a  moment…but quickly subsiding with a sigh of relief.  The pastors closing comment Let the Jones Win ended for me with tears beginning to surface. He did it again! Exactly what I needed.

But then something else happened.  Following the message was the offertory and music  by a guest pianist who played a beautiful arrangement. Almost in a state of physical shutdown as I recognized the song….Clair De Lune.

And now the tears tumbled into sobs as I immediately recognized that this was not a message from the pastor but my Mom who confirmed his message of hope. Mom knowing that I was living the life that God wanted for me; clearly sharing her enthusiasm.

It is not about an entire career at one company. Sometimes we develop right along with the company; forming a special bond though rare today.  How many workplaces we have visited to put food on the table is not really important.  But that we have done it!

Most, important, regardless of THE PLACE, we have the opportunity to share our faith with others; how we affect their lives is our greatest accomplishment and our reward.

I know I have done my best. Now, I just have to remember.