Saturday, December 16, 2006

My son and reading

I was careful to do all the right things to ensure both of my children would grow up to be readers. I was rewarded for my efforts by realizing my goal. My daughter loves to read. The only thing that readily gets her nose out of a book is the Internet and being with her friends. My son also loves to read, but is much more distracted by other things.

Today Andrew scoured the house for a book to read while waiting between matches at his 11 hour long wrestling meet. I thought he hadn't found one, until I saw a beat up second hand copy of Avi's Nothing but the Truth in his wrestling bag. We'd had that book for years; I bought it when I was an avid Avi fan, but as far as I knew, none of us had read it.

I was pleased with his choice and even more pleased to see him reading the book instead of listing to his iPod. Other parents and fellow wrestlers noticed him reading as well (he was the only wrestler reading as far as I could tell).

When asked if he was reading for pleasure or school, he always said "For school." When asked if it was a good book, he nodded. I asked him later if he was really reading it for school and he said no, but it wouldn't be cool to be reading for pleasure.

Go figure.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Elgin boy's Letter To Santa Returned To Sender

ELGIN, Ill. -- Twins Eric and Evan Gilmore wrote out their letters to Santa Claus last week. Grandma put stamps on the letters and mailed them, as she has in years before -- To Santa: North Pole.

However, grandma Nancy Teafoe was surprised when 4-year-old Eric's letter was returned Monday with the notation "Return to Sender, Insufficient Address, Unable to Forward."

This would never have happened back in my grandfather's day as assistant postmaster of Elgin post office. Letters to Santa were treated differently than regular mail. Regular mail had to be sent. Letters to Santa were brought home by my grandfather so we could enjoy them and hope the kids actually got what they wanted.

Ok, maybe that only happened once, but it did happen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Daily Herald | Elgin

Found this in google's cache of the daily herald. I am posting it for illustration.

Traveling road of good deeds

Elgin residents combine unique expeditions with charitable works, inspire others as well

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Monday, February 06, 2006

Off a dusty dirt road on the outskirts of Nairobi, in what Americans might call a slum but Kenyans call a village, there is a school called Ngong Forest Primary.

Inside, 62 seventh-graders dressed in plaid collared shirts and green sweaters sit elbow-to-elbow on benches crammed into a 16-by-25 foot classroom.

Many have walked miles from home as temperatures outside, which are no different from temperatures inside, hover in the mid-80s.

They listen intently when spoken to. They answer questions when told. And they leaf through battered English reading books containing some 60 pages of lessons, half of which are dog-eared and worn.

Enthusiasm, these kids have. School supplies, not so much.

And that’s where David Olson thought he could help.

Olson, an emergency dispatcher for the City of Elgin, took 100 pounds of school supplies to Ngong Forest when he and his wife, Kim, vacationed in Africa just over a year ago.

“It was almost like they’d never seen it before,” said Olson, who bought some of the supplies himself and had text books donated by a library closing at St. Mary Catholic School in Elgin.

“They were amazed someone would have the foresight to do this,” he said. “It was like we were bringing semi after semi after semi of supplies.”

The pencils, erasers, sharpeners and text books were so well-received - and so badly needed - that Olson, 47, has made sure other Africa travelers don’t go empty-handed.

When his parents board a plane today bound for Kenya, all 23 members of their tour group will be carting supplies for Ngong Forest. The group expects to deliver about 600 pounds once the 22-hour flight is done.

The travelers - all part of the Lifestyle Advantage Club from MidAmerica Bank, which offers activities to eligible bank customers aged 50 and up – will be weighed down mostly by the 500 pounds of nearly new text books that an anonymous sponsor donated to the trip.

Many also bought school supplies themselves, and Olson’s mother, Darlene “Snooks” Olson, had the friends she meets with each day at Spring Hill Mall donate 200 pencils.

The 76-year-old Elgin woman said she sneaked in some balloons and a puzzle as well, because “my son said they didn’t know what a puzzle was.” Another traveler pulled “Lady and the Tramp” from her granddaughter’s book collection and another is taking a basketball, Snooks said, to give an extra something special.

The elephants, leopards and zebras certainly have their allure as Snooks and her husband, Harley, 75, embark on their two-week African adventure, but Snooks said she’s most excited for the group’s visit to the school on Wednesday.

“(My son) said they have so little and need so much,” she said.

Hungry to learn

Olson, an avid off-the-beaten-path traveler who has witnessed plenty of destitution throughout Central American and the Caribbean, said his first trip to Africa that fall of 2004 showed him “poverty beyond the extreme.”

Few children make it past the eighth grade, as secondary school is optional, costs money, and is limited to students with high grades, Olson said.

Yet despite the hardship, the Africans he met were “truly the nicest people we’ve met anywhere in the world,” Olson said.

“We visited a tribe in Uganda who couldn’t feed their own families and they invited us for dinner,” he said.

And the hunger for education seemed to overwhelm the formidable challenges to obtaining it.

“You have kids who have nothing who want to learn everything,” Olson said.

The children at Ngong Forest hung on every word as Olson tried to explain what it meant to be cold. Living in an equatorial town where temperatures don’t budge from hot and electricity is a rare luxury, the kids had no concept of snow, ice or the chill of winter.

They were also taken by the blond hair of their American visitors. Olson said his favorite photograph from the vacation was of a shy boy peering out from behind a water tank in the school yard to look curiously at his blond wife. He’s sending a copy of the picture back with his parents to give as a gift to the boy, along with other photos for the school to keep.

The enthusiasm at the Kenyan school stood in contrast with school assemblies Olson has spoken at in the Elgin area, where “a third of the students are interested, a third don’t mind one way or another, and a third couldn’t care less that you’re there.”

That’s frustrating, Olson said, because “here you have kids in schools packed with everything you could possibly need or want.”

Since returning from the trip in October 2004, the Olsons got a handwritten thank you letter from the school’s headmaster, who Olson knows only as Mr. Mwangi. That’s no small thing when it has to travel 8,000 miles.

“To receive an actual posted letter is really nice,” Olson said.

While the Olsons’ mission to deliver school supplies was deliberate, they stumbled upon 1,000-student Ngong Forest quite by accident.

Upon arriving in their small hotel outside Nairobi, they asked the owners to recommend a school that could use their cargo. One of the owners, Charity Kent, happened to be a retired school teacher at Ngong Forest, and she giddily showed them the way, Olson said.

Kent and her husband, Trevor, will now be paramount in getting the new, bigger import of school supplies to Ngong Forest. They will meet the tour group at the Nairobi airport and truck the supplies themselves to the school. The couple also helped clear the project with the consulate and the finance ministry, a length Olson didn’t go to on his initial trip because he was hauling a lighter load.

Olson heaped heavy praise on the team of people helping to funnel the school supplies to Ngong Forest, including the Kents, Lifestyle Advantage, the travelers themselves and their tour company, Collette Tours.

Collette bent their rules to increase the weight-load for each traveler, and even provided special bags bearing their logo to carry the school supplies in.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” Olson said.

Olson had actually never really done this before.

More than a vacation

The idea to incorporate charity in his six-week jaunt through Africa was born in Costa Rica, where Olson and his wife spent three weeks three years ago.

While there, the couple donated money to a butterfly farm in Arenal that worked hard to educate the local population about conserving the island’s natural resources to attract tourists, the idea being to dissuade deforestation by teaching that tourist dollars can sustain the country in the long haul.

“We made the decision at that time that instead of just taking a vacation, we should help people,” Olson said.

In Africa, the couple was inspired to help even more than they initially bargained for.

In addition to unloading school supplies in Kenya, the Olsons picked up the education expenses of a couple of kids in Tanzania.

The children, 9-year-old Margreti and 6-year-old Elias, belong to a tour guide, Goodluck Msemo (so-named because he was the first son after four daughters), who used a generous tip from the Olsons to enroll his children in a private parochial school.

So touched by Msemo’s concern about his kids’ education, the Olsons agreed to fund the pair at the private school through high school. Olson expects the 12-year commitment to cost him about $125 per month.

The African trip wasn’t all charity, however. The couple bounded between Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Madagascar, enjoying whales, lemurs and mountain gorillas. Olson surprised Kim, his wife of 25 years, with a balloon ride over the Serengeti for her birthday.

Olson, a former Elgin firefighter/paramedic who retired on disability after a sound blast from an air horn hurt his hearing, is looking forward now to the next adventure, which will likely take him to Southeast Asia. Already he’s begun his research, leafing through a book on Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Borneo.

The couple would like to return to Africa one day.

“We’ve talked about buying a drilling truck to drill for water for several months at a time,” he said.

“Isn’t that impossible?” a less ambitious might ask.

Olson paused.

“It is if you don’t try,” he finally said. “People might say, is it possible to get 600 pounds of school supplies to Kenya?

Blatantly copied from google cache of the Daily Herald Website

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Onion article on Sparrow collision

I don't read the Onion often, but sometimes they have clever articles.

Sparrow Aviation Administration Blames Collision On Failure To Detect Pane Of Glass

The Onion

Sparrow Aviation Administration Blames Collision On Failure To Detect Pane Of Glass

PIERRE, SD—The 2-year-old bird is the latest of billions who have succumbed to the mysterious phenomenon.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Video of Kennedy in Elgin - 1960

JFK in Elgin, Illinois

When John F. Kennedy was on the campaign trail in 1960, he stopped in Elgin, Illinois. My grandfather took the above footage of this visit.

An Internet search discovered that a White House photographer, Stanley Tretick, took a photo there that day and that photo is contained in a traveling exibition of Tretick's work. (There is a photographer on the podium with Kennedy a couple of times - could this be Mr. Tretick?)

The caption of the photo reads:

John F. Kennedy during his presidential campaign, 1960. Out-stretched hands reach for Kennedy in Elgin, Illinois.
Silver Gelatin Print
Frame Size: 20 x 16
© The Estate of Stanley Tretick/15
I found this photograph on the Internet, but am not sure it is the one described above, but it could well be.

The reason I am not sure is because of the man in the light suit - (LBJ?) is not in the video on the podium, but he might be in the car at the end of the video.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tweety Bird at my feeder

This morning the cats were taking a special interest in the birds at the bird feeder so I glanced out the window and, to my surprise, saw a canary on my thistle feeder. I wish I had gotten a photo of it, but was afraid it would fly away while I was getting my camera.

I feel bad for the poor thing - cold weather is coming and I don't think canaries can stand much chill in the air.

Come to think of it, Joe looks a little like Sylvester!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Two Ground Breakings 57 years apart.

In December 1949 my grandfather, along with several other members of the Loyal Order of the Moose, Lodge 797* broke ground for a new Moose building in Elgin, Illinois.
My grandfather is the third from the left in this photo. He was active in the Moose Lodge and was governor for one term.

This photo hangs in the Elgin Area Historical Society Museum in the "Old Main" building formally owned by Elgin Academy in Elgin, Illinois.

Many of my relatives and friends of the family have been active Moose members including my Uncle Donald Youngs and my father, Elvin Patrick.

I'm not sure exactly when, but many years ago the Moose in Elgin bought land on the West side of Elgin for a new building. I discovered recently that two friends of my parents, Larry Stone and Jack Pasholk were instrumental in the purchase of that land and in starting the dream of the new building on McLean Blvd.

While I never considered joining the Moose Lodge - their policies went against my liberal ethics - my personal history does include the Moose. As a young child my parents would take me to the Christmas event held in the upper floor. We often went to the Moose for fish fry when I was growing up. I even worked there one summer serving serving drinks for Saturday dances.

I have fond memories of being at the Elgin Moose Lodge with my grandfather and uncle. One of the most vivid of my memories is the inside front door. Where a member would insert his membership card in the keyslot which caused a loud "zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!" and the door would open.
My grandfather and uncle sometimes let me put the card in the slot.
Another memory were the many moose heads hanging on the walls of the lodge. They hang there today, looking about the same as they did in the 1960's and 1970's.

I recently read that the city of Elgin was not interested in buying the old Moose building (I thought I read this on the Elginite's Blog, but I cannot find it to link to it). This was my first indication that the lodge was ready to build on the McLean Blvd site. Then, as luck would have it, when I was visiting my parents the week before last, my mom told me that they were going to be breaking ground for the new lodge while I was in town.

I couldn't pass up an opportunity to continue a small bit of personal history, so I dragged my husband and teenagers to the ceremony. My son pointed out later that I'd repeated "My grandfather was at the first groundbreaking ceremony and I want to be at this one." I guess it got kind of old for him.

Rotund men in pale blue sport coats converged with rotund men in bright yellow sport coats, all wearing bright yellow construction helmets. They talked, joked, prayed and dug ceremoniously in the dry dirt with golden ended shovels. <p7080105

Then they called for the Women of the Moose to come up and help them dig. My mom and an old school friend (and daughter of one of the visionaries of the purchase of the land) were two of the Women of the Moose who joined the colorfully attired men for some token shovelsful of dirt and photographs.


My husband wondered afterwards why I wanted to record the ceremony. He knew my feelings about the Moose were not favoriable. Maybe in a few weeks I'll look back and wonder why I attended this event. Or maybe not. Family history is important to me. It has come full-circle and that's a good thing.

*The caption on the photo of the 1949 ground breaking calls calls the Lodge 797. The current lodge is 799.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Message in a Bottle...

This story, that came through my email box this morning as a Google Alert, made me smile. It seems that a couple, Erik and Nicole Landrowski of Elgin, Illinois, tossed a bottle with a message in it before their wedding ceremony on Grand Cayman Island. The message, dated May 2004, included contact information.

Fast forward to July 2006. On a beach in Devon, England another couple, Martin and Ruth Staddon, found the same bottle and read the message.

The article says that they are going to reply to the message, but it did not indicate whether or not the Landrowskis replied yet.

In this day and age of email, IM and fax communication, it is almost like a fairy tale to see that two couples have connected in such an unusual (and slow) manner.

It is especially sweet for me, having had my own British connections in the days before the World Wide Web's instant messaging (but after the message in the bottle days). In mid and late 1970's, before the Internet, there were weekly letters going back and forth from Elgin, Illinois to England.

I hope the Staddons and Landrowskis connect - and not just once or twice through email. Elgin and England are due for another "across the pond" friendship.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, children's author, Bethesda

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, children's author, Bethesda

I "discovered" Phyllis Reynolds Naylor one summer when I was still teaching. I remember with embarrassment that I kind of neglected my pre-school aged kids while reading several of Naylors books.

When I discovered she lived in Bethesda I fantasized running into her at the local supermarket. I scoured the paper to see if she was possibly doing a signing anywhere in the area.

The next fall when my daughter entered kindergarten the school invited Ms Naylor to speak to the students. Even though my daughter was too young to attend the assembly, I volunteered to assist just so I could see Ms Naylor speak to the students.

I got to do more than that. I was asked to help out with the book signing and got to stamp Shilo's footprint in books Ms Naylor signed.

I aslo got to speak with her a little and let her know how much I enjoyed her writing. She asked which of her books was my favorite and I told her I had just read her adult novel. She seemed pleased that I knew about it and admitted that she liked it too, wondering where I found it. When I replied that I had found it at the local library she seemed surprised.

I recently found an address for her on the internet. I doubt it is her house - probably the house of her agent or something. I guess I expected Ms Naylor to live in a huge home in the mountains or on a beach or something better than a suburban tree lined street with modest brick homes.

I once wrote an email to Ms Naylor expressing surprise that she claimed to be older than my mother. She confirmed her age in the email she wrote back.

Maybe writing about teenagers makes you stay young. Maybe I should give it a go.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Another death in the neighborhood

About eighteen months ago I posted about a death in the neighborhood. At the time I resolved to be more aware of others in the neighborhood, to look outward instead of inward. I've not gotten very far in that regard. I am working on a "welcoming committee" with a number of other neighbors, however we continue coming to a standstill in our plans because we don't actually do anything.

But back to the new death. This morning in the Washington Post I read that a Marine from Bethesda died as a result of being injured by a bomb in Iraq. The article suggested that the family of the Marine lived near where I live, so I did a search on the name of the family and discovered the family lives less than two blocks away. I can see their house from my front window and have returned their dog, Lorenzo, to them on several occasions. I don't think I've said more than two sentences to the mother, and even less to the father. I don't know if I ever knew the son, but I suspect I did meet him once when I returned the dog.

I spoke to another neighbor this morning and she told me that she'd read the article too, and didn't know the family well, having only recently met the mother. She'd heard the son was injured only a day or so ago. Obviously the family was in contact with some neighbors because their correspondence was quoted in the article. That's good.

The same neighbor to whom I talked about this today, informed me that another neighbor died recently. The mother of two teenagers, one of whom I see riding his bike around here a lot. The mother was a good friend of our former next door neighbor. Again, I didn't know her. However, when the across the street neighbor died a year or so ago, I didn't attend the funeral, even though I knew the woman who died and the mother. My excuse was that I didn't know when the funeral was. That does not excuse the fact that I've never said anything to the mother about her daughter's death and now it is too late.

What is it going to take for me to take an interest in the neighbors? Is it possible to build a close-knit community, especially when one of the builders is as socially inept as I? Maybe this will be the kick in the pants I need to get on with the welcome committee work I started.

The mother of the Marine who died displayed an (I think) sign in her beautifully landscaped yard. She was quietly outspoken against the war and belonged to the Military Families Speak Out organization. According to their website, many families will march on Washington between May 11 and 14. How sad that my neighbors will be burying their son at this time instead of marching in support of their cause. It is too late for them. I cannot imagine their grief.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Paving Paradise

Several years ago when my husband, Dean, expressed dismay at the development of a large farm in Montgomery County Maryland, up-county from where we live, I recall thinking, perhaps aloud, "Why do you care? It's not that you ever lived there or anything". That brief memory has come back to haunt me as I watch, albeit from afar, with my own dismay as the very farms where my husband grew up are slated for redevelopment.

In the early 1950s, Dean's parents, Ruth and Willis moved their growing family from a small house in Pingree Grove, Illinois to a large farmhouse in Udina, Illinois.

From there they moved, in the 1960's, to another farm on Plank Road. Ruth and Willis moved to the house where Ruth and her son, David, now live on Route 20, just across a field from their Plank Road house.

Dean's brother, Danny and his family now live in the Plank Road farmhouse.

When Dean and I first began dating in the early 1980s, one of the first things he did was show me the farms where he had lived. He was, and is, proud to have been a farmer's son. When we visit Illinois, which we do twice a year or so, we spend a good deal of time at the farms with our own children. Our children love to swing in the hay barn,

search for kittens in the shed and outbuildings,

and ride the 4-wheeler.

They have played in the rows of corn, fed the steer

(and know the difference between a cow and a steer), and walked through the area called simply "the woods".

They have even helped bale hay

and ridden on the hay wagon. During our most recent visit our teenaged children practiced driving our automobile around the farm buildings and through the empty corn and soybean fields.

While none of these farms are owned by Dean's family; they have always rented the land and buildings, the farms have always been there for us. We really don't need to have many plans when we visit our families. We can always find lots to do at the farms, especially in the spring and summer. But in the winter too. We all have happy memories of riding on a sled behind a snowmobile after a decent snowfall. One winter we invited my brother and his young family for our own private hay ride through the snow-covered, winter-dead fields.

These farms are as much a part of our lives as are our flesh and blood relatives. We've gotten to know where to look for new kittens each summer. We know the feeling of prickly hay on perspiring skin when visiting with the twins during hay baling time. We know the taste of sweet corn cooked moments after being picked from the corn stalk. We know, and kind of like, the many smells the steer make. We know the sounds of the farm too, the creaking of the rafter where the swinging rope is tied as we try to swing as far as we can.

It looks like we are going to have to rely only on memories before too long. Our days being able to visit the farms are numbered.

A few weeks ago we received an email from Dean's sister who lives in Orlando, Florida. She'd received it from a friend:

I just had to tell you about a meeting I had today with a marketing rep from one of our companies. This is a company that specializes in work for municipalities and the rep was telling me that they have been working with Pingree Grove because it is about to change from a town with a population of 75 to a town with a population of 25,000. Did you know? Already banks, Walgreens and other commercial vendors have committed to locate in the development of the town of Pingree Grove. He told me that they would eventually have 20 parks and 6 baseball fields. It's incredible! Urban sprawl has reached "grandma's house." He was surprised that I had ever heard of the place. Things are really going to change.

That email elicited this response from Carol, Dean's sister-in-law who lives on the Plank Road farm:
A front page article in the Elgin Courier this morning talked about 576 acres on Plank Rd and Rte 20 to be developed. That's us! It sounds
incredible. I'll have to send you the article. Shops, restaurants, $16.00 glass of chardonnay and more. Danny said I guess I'd better pack
my bags.
I didn't wait for Carol to send me the Elgin Courier News article, I found it online and was heartbroken. According to the article by Nathanial Zimmer, "...a 576-acre chunk of farmland at Plank Road and U.S. 20..." could become a high-density, mixed-use project that would put restaurants, retailers, office buildings, condominiums, townhomes and detached single-family homes..." The article also claimed that the model for the plan is a development called "The Glen" which is an upscale planned-commuintiy in Glenview, Illinois with offices, amenities and homes within walking distance of each other. Elgin's Mayor, Ed Schock, was quoted as saying, "We have an opportunity to come up with something really special". Elgin's main planner, Tom Armstrong is quoted in the article as well. He said, "I think [the land owners should] be commended for [taking an interest in the ideas espoused by New Urbanist land-planners, who seek to limit sprawl and reduce traffic congestion by creating walkable communities that place homes, workplaces and stores in close proximity]".

Another article, this time in the Daily Herald, quotes Jerry Deering, the city's director of community development, as saying, "It's unlike anything Elgin or the entire metropolitan area has ever seen, with its sheer size, density and sustainable transportation synergy". The Herald article also names the architectural and landscape design firm based in Geneva, Illinois, that is planning on doing the development as well as the owners of the property.

It is obvious that Elgin is excited about this development. Perhaps I would also be excited about the project if I didn't know the families on the farms. After my son's initial shock when I told him about the development he called me a hypocrite. He meant that at one time the house in which we live was an orchard, and before that probably simply wilderness. While that may be true, I'm not a hypocrite for that reason. People have to live somewhere, and our house was here before any of us were born. I am a hypocrite because I didn't begin to be digsusted by urban sprawl, dwindling family farms, or developments along country roads until it hit close to home. Not home as in the nearby sense, we moved away from Elgin a quarter-century ago, but home in the "home is where the heart is" sense.

I also imagine that if I owned the properties I'd be selling them too, considering the rate farmland in the area is going for these days. I'm not faulting anyone, really. Just sad about the personal loss. If city planners get their way, no one I know would be able to afford a house, condo or even a glass of wine in the new development.

The development of Pingree Grove is also a sore spot. Each Christmas eve for the past 20something years of my life has been spent at the Luthern Church in Pingree Grove. Dean's grandparents lived there and his grandfather owned a lumber company there. Dean's parents and older siblings lived in a house in Pingree Grove for a while and Dean's mother still owns the house.

I wonder how many Elginites will drive down Plank Road or Route 20 in a few years and feel sad about the farms that used to be there. Perhaps a former Marylander will drive by "Elgin West" and remember growing up near Kings Farm and feeling sad that another farm has been turned into a housing development.

I'm working on creating a blog that documents the developments. This is not to try to stop anything, that cannot be done, but to document farmland that once grew corn and soybeans as it turns into a housing development that will sprout houses, offices, cafes and shops. I'll take photos during my visits to Elgin, link to and quote articles in papers and perhaps interview people close to the action as the development progresses.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

my little girl -- All grown up

My daughter bridged from a cadette girl scout to a senior girl scout and her troop celebrated. They dressed up in formal wear, took a limo to a very fancy restaurant and then rode in the limo to a movie theatre where they saw The Producers.

I knew Clare was a beauty, but this and the other photos of the evening, proved it.