Sunday, November 28, 2010

A MercyWorks Thanksgiving

This past week has been one of cleaning, cooking, eating, and more cleaning...followed by a continuous strain of eating leftovers.

Wednesday night everyone helped to clean up our apartment.Thursday morning we were at it again, making sure we had enough table space and chairs, going on last minute grocery runs, and full-fledged cooking: 3 turkeys, 4 varieties of potato, stuffing, broccoli salad, succotash, greens with ham hocks, baked macaroni and cheese, jello salad, green bean casserole, cornbread casserole, tofu, salad, tamales, 5 pies, brownies, cookies, pound cake....enough to induce a food coma for sure.

I love celebrating with my roommates, and as Jillian said, we are all so blessed for it to be impossible for any of us to spend Thanksgiving alone. We all went around the table to say what we are thankful for and we spent the rest of the night switching off between eating, resting on the couches, cleaning, and conversing.

On Friday I went to the Christkindlmarket downtown. It's an outdoor market featuring lots of German products (potato pancakes, etc, plus German crafts/clothing/gifts/Christmas-y things) and some things from other countries. There is also a giant Christmas tree there, made from several trees combined. The smell of roasted nuts mixed with evergreen and German accents filled the air...basically I felt like I was at the Wausau Mall.
Add caption

I also got to see the Macy's Christmas windows, which this year tell the story of Virginia. All of the decorations in the windows this year are made out of tons of paper in all colors. It's a pretty cool effect.

the Macy's trumpets on State Street
I'd call this year's Thanksgiving a success...except we still haven't gotten snow!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Tonight at work I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with all the guys and girls at Mercy. The five-star quality food and special tablecloths would have been neat by themselves, but add to that the fact that Trump Chicago served the dinner to us at our tables along with several celebrities and you have quite the evening.

Matt Forte, Greg Olsen, Israel Idonije (Bears players), Bill Rancic (former Apprentice winner), and Chris Gardner (Will Smith played him in The Pursuit of Happyness) helped the staff from Trump serve turkey and stuffing while we reaped the benefits. A lot of the guys and girls were starstruck (others were just excited that they were getting out of study time tonight), but we still all had a good time.

And now it's time for me to have a vacation. I've had to stay late at work for various reasons this week (which is sort of funny but mostly sad, because I'm already not getting paid...and I definitely don't get overtime) so I'm very ready for a little break filled with cleaning and cooking for Thanksgiving celebration at my apartment!

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

As far as I'm concerned, the rule with Christmas is that it's not allowed until after Thanksgiving. In the words of my roommate Kevin, "At least let us cut into the turkey, damn!" Still, I can understand why Chicago would light up Michigan Ave and host a parade and fireworks in mid-November: the weather tends to cooperate more.

Most of my roommates and I headed down to the end of the parade route at Michigan and Wacker this past Saturday to check out the festivity. Little did we know this event attracts thousands of people, most of them in the 1-9 year old range. Whatever, we still get excited over bright lights and Mickey Mouse.

After the parade, they set off fireworks over the river. They exploded long before reaching the tops of the surrounding buildings, which was a little weird. I've never seen fireworks go off between skyscrapers. The sound of the explosion plus the added reverberations of the sound bouncing off all the buildings made it seem like we were standing in the middle of a thunderstorm. A HUGE thunderstorm.

Fireworks over the Chicago River

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Community Night: Folks, People, and Teenagers

As of 2008, there are four to six gang members to every one law enforcement officer in the state of Illinois. California and New Mexico are the only other states with this uneven of a ratio--most fall between the 2-3 or 0-1 gang member per law officer category. In Illinois you can bet the numbers raise considerably when you look at just the city of Chicago. Gang and gang culture is a part of Chicago's history and is intertwined with it's neighborhoods (Chicago is one of the nation's most segregated cities, so the neighborhoods usually also align racially/ethnically and socioeconomically), economy, and politics.

My community learned all of this last night, and the more we learned the more questions we had. How did gangs start, how do people become involved, is there any way to leave a gang, what does this mean for our work here?

The short answer is gangs mean a lot to our work here, not just because we are working with mostly underprivileged youth, but because these youth grew up/are growing up in many neighborhoods affiliated with certain gangs and without any other outlets (supportive family, involvement at school or in sports), many kids in these neighborhoods join their local gangs. It's a way of life, and one that has thrived for so long, many don't really question it.

Sin NombreWe concluded our night by watching Sin Nombre, a film mostly about a young girl trying to reach the States with her father, but also about gang culture in Latin America. It was in Spanish with subtitles (BAILEY: will you watch this with me sometime? You'll like it, I promise.) and sparked another lengthy discussion, this time relating the story of the characters with the kids we work with.

CPR & Sneaky Maneuvers

This week has been crazy busy for everyone at Mercy Home. We had an inspection in order to renew our license as a residential facility, which meant lots of extra cleaning and making sure paperwork was up to date. Then yesterday, several coworkers plus us MercyWorkers had to get CPR/First Aid certified. We spent most of the day playing victim or responder with our partners and our lovely CPR mannequins. I felt like I was back home when Dad was going through EMT training as Britney tied a sling around my arm or practiced rolling gauze around my "bleeding" arm.

Our simple living challenge of having roommates ended last night as well, to be replaced with several fines for if we curse, leave our dishes unwashed, or leave our things in the common areas overnight. These three things will definitely be a challenge for most of the house, and I think fining us for doing them is a fair way to amp up the challenge--our guys are typically fined for cursing or not doing their chores, so it's a form of solidarity with them as well.

I should also mention that while last week's challenge technically ended, I'm still going strong with the roommates. It started off as a semi-prank--Diego and Jess moved their mattresses out of Britney's room and were in the process of moving her bed frame back in when I drug my mattress into her room, blocking the bed frame and causing them to leave it in the hallway, along with her dressers. Then I decided to just stay in Brit's room for a while. It took a lot of reorganizing, plus some World War III-esque combat when Diego invited himself into my empty room, but eventually we negotiated a peace treaty between the three of us which involves turning Diego's room into a walk-in closet and utilizing my and Britney's rooms as sleeping quarters/lounge areas. Most of our roommates think we're ridiculous, though they can't really say they were surprised at our actions...they're pretty used to the antics by now.

Mom in Chicago

Yay for moms! When Mom came this past Saturday, I got the chance to feel like a local/tour guide. I showed her around our neighborhood a little, pointing out the empty lot that may become a Target someday, the now nearly finished building that started off as a concrete skeleton when I moved here, and the Walgreens featuring an extra sign in Greek due to its location in Greektown.

We also got to see the view from up inside the Sears (Willis) Tower: the lake and museums to the east, more skyscrapers to the north and south, and MY APARTMENT to the west! Then we walked further downtown so I could show her the Milennium Park area.
Me pointing out my apartment/Mercy Home for Boys & Girls from the Sears Tower

North view from the Sears Tower: the John Hancock Buiding is the tall black one with the two spires.
Mom & me reflected in the Bean
Later, we caught the L to the John Hancock Building for some drinks and another stunning view from the 96th floor Signature Lounge. Then we headed back for some traditional Chicago-style pizza at Giordano's.

Early Sunday morning we went to church a few blocks away at Old St. Pat's, then came back to the apartment to make some breakfast.

It was a quick, but packed, few days and it was nice having a piece of home right before the holiday season. I'll be spending my Thanksgiving here with my roommates, MercyWorks alumni, and any family members in the area--if you'll be around feel free to hit me up, I'm sure we'll have plenty of food!

Monday, November 15, 2010

I'm a PRO.

This probably doesn't mean much to anyone else, but I am now a real-life registered Youth Care Professional since I went through the training (four sort of long days) and passed the test (ten short minutes).

Anyways, I have to go...time for my one-on-one with Stephanieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Snuggling in the name of Simple Living

I am living in community this year, but sometimes I feel like I'm cheating since we all get our own rooms. Whenever I don't want to hang out with my roommates, I close my door. Jess caught on to that trend as well, and decided to make a simple living challenge out of it.

So for the past three nights I haven't slept in my own room; we all literally have roommates until this Wednesday. I personally like it, finally having a nighttime-falling-asleep-can't-quite-remember-the-conversation routine before actually drifting off. It's been a while since I've had to give Andrea "nuggets" from my day or since Dad has sat on the stairs, eavesdropping and waiting for Bailey and me to stop talking at night.

I've also noticed that I'm doing less journal writing this week, which isn't the worst thing in the world, since I'm taking more time to connect with my community members. Also, the wood frame where my mattress used to rest is now being used as a catchall for dirty laundry, wet towels, books, and whatever else finds its way into my room. I may have to rethink that use of available furniture in a few days when I move back.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I might get lost, but I'll be home for dinner.

The conversations in the room quieted to a hush. The small woman took her place at the front of the board room. It didn't really feel like a board room, though. Multicolored candles sat on the mantel over a gas fireplace and the far wall was actually all windows, revealing a small courtyard. The fountain in the middle was off, wooden boards protecting it from the winter that still hadn't hit in early November.

I pushed the remains of my sandwich forward and held my Diet Coke as the woman began her talk. This lunchtime speaker series happened only in the fall and spring, and I didn't want to wait until spring to hear about the dynamic duo of faith and work, so that's why I sacrificed an hour of my day off. A day when I would usually sleep in (or not, maybe I'd wake up too early and wander around the apartment waiting for someone to hang out with), wear sweatpants all day, watch TV episodes online, and just generally recuperate until work again the next day. One day weekends get me like that.

No, instead I was up and dressed like an adult with a real job (okay, fine, business casual) attending an optional talk in a place I both lived and worked. An optional talk that resonated with most of my reasons for moving to Chicago in the first place. What this woman, Karen, was saying was that there is a difference between helping and serving. Helping is when one person has more than the other. More money, more resources, more something. Serving is a meeting of equals. Of two equally imperfect people both trying to figure out something--how to maneuver through life, the meaning of life in the first place.

There was more to the talk--a handful of pretty funny stories, totally relatable too, and a short discussion on what all resonated. I mean, of course faith and work relate directly to our work here. More than that, though, they form two opposite courses of action, ways to show the world what you believe and how you find God. And little by little, with the help of things like today, I'm bringing them together in my mind. That one dichotomy has tripped me up many times, but eventually I'll get it. Until then I just have to keep doing me, doing what I do, hoping it does good in some realm of this universe.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Leo D is making a movie I might actually want to watch!

I finally finished The Devil in the White City a few weeks ago, and I just learned the movie adaptation is in preproduction. I've never been a huge fan of Leo DiCaprio, but this movie might make the cut. My initial feeling is that the movie could easily be more enjoyable than the book, just based on visuals. I loved the creepy doctor storyline, but found myself skimming through the World's Fair sections, and I think seeing that storyline play out would be far more interesting than reading about the construction of buildings and the layout of the fair.


I'm still figuring out Chicago's food culture (going out to eat isn't quite an option for volunteers), but thanks to the cafeteria here I'm well aware that Chicago does hot dogs. They've never been my favorite, and I swear we have them every Monday here.
This article talks about what the writer feels Chicago is missing as far as food goes. I can't speak to most of the items, but I heartily agree with her sentiment on needing a Culver's in city limits.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Civic Duties

Saying I voted in the city of Chicago might be a little nerdy to brag about, but considering the pretty intense political history of the city (and the state), I'm impressed with myself. What stuck out for me, reminding me just how far from home I really am, was the amount of non-traditional candidates. For nearly every position there was not only a Republican and Democrat running, but also a Green Party, Independent, and/or Libertarian candidate.

If you don't already know this, my political sentiments align for the most part with libertarian socialism. (This does not make me an anarchist, per se, though close.) Mostly I don't agree with capitalism and prefer local government over federal government...I'm not as extreme on some other issues. Anyways, I was just super excited while voting because for once I didn't have to choose between only two (broken) parties. That's another aspect of my political beliefs--I don't think a two-party system ever works for very long.

In other political news, as a community we attended a forum on ending the death penalty in Illinois. Currently, there is a moratorium on the death penalty here, which means it still exists, but there are no executions. Many hope the death penalty will be totally repealed in the very near future. The two speakers at the forum included a death row inmate who was later found innocent and exonerated (in his case a $10,000 bribe was enough for the judge to throw the trial), and the sister of a woman who was murdered by her boyfriend in 1995.

All this voting and learning about local issues is making me feel like I really do live here. I remember feeling this way in Rome after my history class, or after reading the local newspapers. What sealed the deal in Rome, though, was when tourists would ask me for directions...and that actually happened here the other day while I was walking around downtown. So yes, I'm feeling like a Chicagoan these days.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Most Interesting Show in the World

Today started off fairly normal with a dentist appointment, and my work retreat with my program's staff at our manager's house was routine as well, but after that the day got far more interesting.

Megan and I walked the few blocks to our voting place at an elementary school, where I saw one of the guys who lives in my program. Turns out he was chosen to work there during Election Day, helping people with their ballots. It's still strange to see the guys not in program.

Then Becca, Diego, and I headed downtown for The Most Interesting Show in the World, sponsored by Dos Equis/their "Most Interesting Man in the World." It was at the House of Blues; even better, it was free.

Luckily we got there an hour early, but the line was already pretty long. While we waited, a man on stilts entertained everyone. At one point he made like he was about to fall, then came near us saying, "I better make sure I'm near a pretty girl if I fall." Becca and Diego pushed me closer to him and I held my arms out, as if to catch him. He then took my hand, introduced himself, and started dancing with me. It's a little weird dancing with a man on stilts, but the best part was when he had me dance through his legs.

Inside, we saw more people dancing and walking around on stilts. It felt like we were at a circus. Slowly we inched our way to the stage and the super sweet DJs. We danced for a while until the show got started.

It really was an interesting show, starting off with the man who held his breath in a water-filled tank for over 15 minutes. There were also lots of songs/dances mixed in with the acts--contortionists, a man who balanced on his head on a basketball and an illusionist who turned his microphone and several cans of spray paint into birds. Not to mention the guy who lit a bowling ball on fire, put steak knives in the finger holes (blade out), kicked it up from the floor and caught it on the side of his head. Also, at this time he had a live scorpion down his pants.

I love impromptu fun.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ringside 2010

One of the perks of volunteering a year one's life to a nonprofit agency is the opportunity to volunteer for their fundraisers throughout said year. This past Saturday, my roommates and I got all dolled up and headed downtown to the Mariott, where we served as table captains for the high rollers of Chicago for Ringside for Mercy's Sake.

While we were serving wine, vodka and tonics, and harvest ale to our tables, the top dogs of Chicago's financial institutions were duking it out in the boxing ring at the center of the ballroom. The night also included silent and live auctions, a raffle for a 2011 Jaguar, and dancing after all the boxing was done.

We only had to serve drinks during the dinner and boxing, and once that finished we were free to enjoy the live band and dancing as well. That was clearly my favorite part, but I enjoyed the rest of the night too. Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini was the special guest, along with Bobby Rahal, and while I have no idea who most of the boxers were, it was still exciting to watch them box.

The most exciting part? Getting all dressed up and hanging out with grown ups for once...not to mention the free dinner at the hotel before we started to work.