The Suitcase Lady


February 20, 2018, 8:41 pm

If you would like to start the New Year over again, now is your chance. Starting last Friday and continuing for two weeks, Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival is being celebrated.

The first day of the lunar calendar occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The festivities conclude two weeks later with the Lantern Festival.

The ancient lunar calendar has one huge advantage over our much younger solar one. No paper calendar is needed. The “calendar” resides in the sky: simply look up at night and follow the waxing and waning of the moon.

When a lunar calendar is used, a leap month must be added every 30 lunar months. The leap month may come at any time during the year except the 11th, 12th or 1st month. If this adjustment isn’t made, the seasonal cycles would go out of harmony.

The numerous Chinese New Year’s traditions are all ways of inviting in good luck and prosperity. And who doesn’t want good luck and a fresh start? My German American grandmother certainly understood this universal desire and always ate herring at midnight on January first to assure a year of good luck.

The Chinese simply have scores of ways to invoke the luck, and many traditions involve eating foods that look or sound like something lucky. For example, in Cantonese, the word for “Orange” and “gold” have the same pronunciation. Therefore, everyone eats oranges (in pairs or even numbers) to get rich.

We celebrated the arrival of Chinese New Year last Friday with a shrimp and vegetable stir fry accompanied by orange sections. We toasted the arrival of the Year of the Dog, the eleventh animal in the twelve year cycle. However, we did not let our cats know what all the celebrating was about. That would have been uncharitable.

But there is a wonderful corollary here. I just found out that the Vietnamese lunar calendar does include a Year of the Cat. It is the fourth animal in the cycle where the rabbit would be on the Chinese zodiac. The next cat year will come around in 2023. The party at our house will be gigantic.

By Made by Fanghong


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February 13, 2018, 9:39 pm

The artist Jim Dine is known for painting and sculpting large hearts. He makes us all look at this universal symbol of love with new eyes.

Children love Jim Dine’s artwork, and I love introducing them to it. On a visit to one of my favorite classes, I combined a lesson on Mr. Dine’s hearts with thoughts on kindness. Each student chose and lettered a quotation. Then, everyone drew and designed a large heart to join with the words, thus making a poster. What a lovely day we all had!

Thanks to all of you at Lake Bluff school in grades one and two.  And more thanks to my computer savvy husband for turning their artwork into the following video. Kind people rock!

Click here to see separate pictures of the Kind Hearts

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February 6, 2018, 8:04 pm

The New York Times recently ran a front page article in its art section entitled “Your Art Twin is Out There”. A large portion of the piece was devoted to a new and wildly popular Google Arts and Culture app. Simply upload your selfie and facial recognition software does the rest….it finds your doppelgänger portrayed in a painting or sculpture.

The article also reported on an older gentleman who visited an art museum to actually view the art. Serendipitously, he came to a 17th century portrait and suddenly realized that the subject bore an uncanny resemblance to himself.

I believe the serendipity route is the way to go. I do not visit art museums to find myself. But then again, I don’t have to. Many years ago, a group of my very young students found my art twin for me.

In my younger years, I was the art teacher at a Montessori and Creative Arts school for preschool and kindergarten age children. When our “big kids”, the kindergartners, graduated, we took them on a field trip to The Chicago Art Institute. These trips were always joyful experiences. I followed my rule of “no more than two hours in the museum”. In other words, leave when the kids still want to stay.

As we were wandering amidst the fauvistic paintings, an excited group  of children came up to me exclaiming, “Mrs. Tooley, Mrs. Tooley, we found you in a painting!”

I gently explained to them that I had not posed for any paintings by Matisse. They, of course, were absolutely convinced they had found me and led me to my picture. I can assure you, dear reader, that even though Matisse and I share a birthday, I have not done any time traveling.

On the other hand, I am the mother of Vincent Van Gogh. Don’t try to tell the kids at another creative arts school in California that this man is anyone else than that famous Dutch painter. They are believers.


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January 30, 2018, 8:50 pm

Please bear with me here. I believe the following list of words is extremely important.

acorn, adder, almond, ash, ass, bacon, beaver, beetroot, blackberry, bloom, bluebell, boar, bramble, bran, brook, bullock, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, county, cowslip, crocus, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, dandelion, diesel, doe, drake, fern, ferret, fungus, gerbil, goldfish, gooseberry, guinea pig, hamster, hazel, hazelnut, heather, heron, herring, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, kingfisher, lark, lavender, leek, leopard, licorice, lobster, magpie, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, mistletoe, monarch, mussel, nectar, nectarine, newt, oats, otter, ox, oyster, pansy, panther, parsnip, pasture, pelican, piglet, poodle, poppy, porcupine, porpoise, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, raven, rhubarb, sheaf, spaniel, spinach, starling, stork, sycamore, terrapin, thrush, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, weasel, willow, wren

I found this listing in Terry Tempest Williams’ new book, The Hour of Land- A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. Ms. Williams is an internationally award winning American author, conservationist and activist. I have been inspired by her books for decades.

She sadly notes that the words above were all removed from The Oxford Junior Dictionary. When questioned about the removal, the editor stated, “These words aren’t relevant to our children.”

Among the words that replaced the banished words are broadband, bullet point, bungee jumping, committee, conflict, cut and paste, database, MP3 player, vandalism and voicemail.

Terry Tempest Williams says, “If we can remove words from a dictionary that are so alive with meaning, and withhold them from our children, removing what is alive in the world becomes easy. The wild is no longer part of our vocabulary…Nature becomes a ‘forgotten language’ “.

I believe children should learn the words of the computer age. But it’s lunacy to remove the vocabulary of the natural world of which we are all a part.

I have witnessed a shocking decline in children’s vocabularies in my fifty years of teaching. Our children are losing their words. Yet, I have also learned that young people absorb new words like language sponges. They are totally capable of learning the words of the web of life as well as of the World Wide Web.

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January 23, 2018, 9:30 pm

Officially, it is not a word. It doesn’t appear in the dictionary. But unofficially, it most certainly is a word. Most of us instantly grasp the meaning of recombobulation…..and smile.

Modern airports are places where smiles are often in short supply. Long lines, cancelled flights, overpriced food, and over-worked employees are not conducive to happy faces. Add to this the security measures which require travelers to divest themselves of their clothes, shoes, jewelry, food, water and electronics and it all adds up to stress.

The former director of the Milwaukee Airport, Barry Bateman, saw the need for some comic relief and created the RECOMBOBULATION AREA  at the end of the security lines.  MKE has the proud distinction of being the only airport in the world with these clever signs. Pretty good for an airport that will always be a step-sister to O’Hare.

The coining of “recombobulation” might be recent, but the word “discombobulate” goes back to the early 1800’s in America when there was a fad to mix Latin roots with slang to create “long, fancy sounding made up words.”  While checking out more of these all American, highfalutin, faux educated words, I came across these jewels:

  • Absquatulate, get out
  • Hornswoggle, to trick or hoax
  • Foofaraw, a great fuss about something insignificant
  • Discumgalligumfricated, greatly astonished, but pleased
  • Ramsasspatorious, excited, anxious, impatient

I can definitely say that I feel ramsasspatorious when I’m recombobulating in the MKE airport. I can’t find all my thingamabobs and I just want to absquatulate.

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