Friday, December 30, 2011

Nothing's Ever Promised Tomorrow, Today

In the past two weeks I haven't crafted, cooked, read, or written anything worth posting about. It's as simple as that.

I watched Super 8, ate pizza in Madison, and enjoyed Christmas at home with both sides of the family. Unlike Chicagoans, I had a White Christmas, and also unlike Chicagoans, my home team is definitively in the playoffs. You can expect that I'll be wearing my new Matthews jersey for all forthcoming games, as well as for days when I play DMB on repeat.

Lately, though, I've been listening to Kanye West on repeat. Only his Late Registration album, in which he references Chicago more than a few times. It's my friend's favorite Kanye album & includes a song capable of making me sob every time I listen to it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Anatomy of a Shopping Cart

One of my responsibilities as house manager is household grocery & supply shopping, as well as shopping for anything else the family needs in a given week. Besides getting me out of the house and allowing me to drive around the city (which, despite how most people feel about city driving, I usually enjoy), shopping also exposes me to a great amount of stores and their shopping carts.

I think most of you know how I feel about shopping carts (buggies, trolleys, carriages...whatever you want to call them)... I love them. I have one on my porch and he is currently all decked out for Christmas. Shopping carts have personality and soul, and they symbolize many things to many people. (Can I say that? I have no evidence to back any of that up. Maybe you guys could just let me know what shopping carts mean to you, if anything?)

The biggest thing I've learned: not only are all stores not created equally, neither are their respective shopping carts. I've split carts into four basic categories, and each one says something about the stores they are employed by.

Classic Cart
Stores: Jewel-Osco...and essentially every average grocery store in the nation

This is your basic design, steel frame shopping cart. It's efficient, fairly light, and doesn't pretend to be something it's not. Get something caught in one of it's front wheels and say goodbye to turning, but generally, this cart gets the job done.

PlaySkool/Fisher Price Cart
Store: Target

You know what I'm talking about, those over-sized plastic red carts. According to wikipedia (see, I did some research), "Target's new cart, made of recycled plastic, is an evolutionary step forward. The cart has won design awards for its improved casters, interchangeable plastic parts to simplify repairs and handles that allow a user to more easily maneuver it around the retail area." I appreciate the recycled part. As for ease of maneuvering, HA! They are so big and bulky, I tend to forgo the cart in lieu of the basket. Don't even try to get those things in the clothing department aisles. Without fail, you will knock several sweaters off the racks and/or become involved in a cart jam near the dressing rooms.

Quarter Cart
Stores: Aldi, some Costcos

These carts are a variation of the Classic Cart in that they are a Classic Cart, you just have to part with a quarter for the duration of your shopping trip to gain access to it. Some people don't like this system, but I think it's rather ingenious. First: it deters shopping cart theft. Not that a quarter will really stand in the way of someone who really wants to steal a cart, but there are less wandering carts and, therefore, opportune moments to grab one and go. Second: it saves on having to hire someone just to round up carts in the parking lot. Gotta appreciate a store putting the consumer to work, all for a quarter that was already theirs.

Baby Cart
Stores: Dominick's, Whole Foods

The mini-version of the Classic Cart, and perhaps my favorite of all carts, the Baby Cart features an upper and lower basket, so you really don't lose a lot of loading capacity. What you gain is increased maneuverability and the ability to fit into cramped or crowded aisles, at Whole Foods specifically. Whole Foods also offers the Classic Cart, but with the way the store is set up and the diminutive size of the aisles, you have got to be a special brand of jerk to use it. Even if every customer uses the Baby Cart, two people in one aisle is a bit much. I'm not a huge fan of Whole Foods specifically for their idiotic layout and cramped area, but I have to go there for work...and I do appreciate the free samples.

All I have to say in conclusion is I'm glad my blogs are so relevant and practical.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In the Kitchen with an Amateur Housewife

Before I sit back comfortably in the saddle of my high horse, let me explain something: I am NOT June Cleaver. I get paid to act June Cleavery, but there are levels of housewife I'm no where near. As I rode the bus home tonight, smelling like maple syrup, lemon, and garlic (can't decide if that's appetizing or not), I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In this section of the book, the author and her family make their own cheese. This is met with several comments by others, such as: "You make cheese yourself. You are a real housewife." Now, I may claim to be a Real Housewife of Chicago, but I ain't separating the curds from the whey or anything.

Instead, I am humbly preparing these recipes:

Maple Nut Granola

4 1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 c sliced almonds
1/2 c chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 c shelled pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp coarse salt
1/2 c unsalted butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c maple syrup
3 tbsp water

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in the middle.
Boil butter, sugar, syrup and water (until just bubbling).
Pour into dry ingredients, mix well.
Divide between two baking sheets lined with wax paper.
Bake at 300 degrees for 35 minutes, stir after 20 minutes.

Broccoli Frittata

1 c broccoli, cut into flowerets
1 tsp olive oil
2 slices of lean bacon, trimmed of fat and chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 tomato, chopped
6 eggs
lots of cheese, shredded
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in large frying pan (a cast-iron or ovenproof one is good).
Cook onion over medium heat for 2 minutes, add garlic and bacon and cook until onion is soft.
Add broccoli and tomato, cook for one minute.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Beat eggs in bowl, add cheese, pour over other ingredients in pan.
Cook gently without stirring until base of frittata is cooked and golden.
Place pan in oven on broil until top is golden brown and firm.
Cut into wedges and serve.

Disclaimer: haven't actually eaten either of these. Still have my job, though, so I think that means they're edible.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

June Cleaver

I am currently reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (author of The Poisonwood Bible, highly recommended!) and just came across this:
Most of us, male or female, work at full-time jobs that seem organized around a presumption that some wifely person is at home picking up the slack--filling the gap between school and workday's end, doing errands only possible during business hours, meeting the expectation that we are hungry when we get home--but in fact June Cleaver has left the premises.
This passage is in a chapter about the importance of buying locally grown, in-season food as opposed to factory farmed plants and animals, and from that, the importance of cooking meals at home out of local produce and livestock, even if we feel we have no time.

What I found intriguing was that I work a full-time job in which this presumption is a reality. I am June Cleaver.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Week in Numbers

5 days in a row a fire truck crossed my path
2 times I coincidentally followed the fire trucks to the fire
home-cooked meals
7 turkey burgers you can get from 1.5 pounds of ground turkey
0 times I have ever considered eating a turkey burger in my life
20 minutes to broil lemon pepper salmon from frozen
0 times I have enjoyed the smell of salmon
4 Meatless Mondays my teenagers will be forced to observe each month as a result of me cooking
11 loads of laundry
0 pieces of clothing my 14-yr old put away in her closet
9 light bulbs changed
1 storm door handle installed
2 redeye crosswords partially completed, a Tuesday and a Friday
10 grocery store trips
7 grocery stores
3 Trader Joe's before I found limited edition Candy Cane Joe Joe's required for winter survival by my boss
6 boxes of Candy Cane Joe Joe's purchased
30 minutes waiting for the Damen bus
30 degrees Fahrenheit while waiting for the Damen bus
30 approximate layers of clothing I've grown accustomed to wearing on any given day
20-19 the score of the game my 12-yr. old & I play, where the object is to flick a playing card into a basket

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dear Poetry

I think about you a lot, and I'm sorry I haven't taken the time to write you down lately. Sometimes I trick myself into believing it's more poetic to keep you in my head, drafting and revising from there, but then a few days go by and I forget your intricacies. You do tend to show up at inopportune moments, though: as I fall asleep, while I drive in rush hour traffic, in the checkout line at the grocery maybe we're both at fault here. Regardless, I promise to do something with you tomorrow, just you and me. And maybe coffee.



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Week in Chicago Neighborhoods

Just a brief list of the neighborhoods I've traveled through/ran errands in/chauffeured teenagers around so far this week:

Humboldt Park
Logan Square
Roscoe Village
Lake View
Lincoln Park
Old Town
Gold Coast
North Center
River North
Near North
Cabrini Green
De Paul
Magnificent Mile

It's only Tuesday. Good thing the Subaru has heated seats.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


It took me approximately four hours to read A.J. Jacobs' third book, The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment. In it, he describes several month-long challenges he takes part in, and their consequent results. I feel a strange connection to this man and his projects (see here, here, and here, plus posts from April and May of 2011).

For me, challenges like refraining from a certain type of food or doing a certain activity every day give me something to focus on. It's a boost when I manage to complete a challenge, it's something to blog about, and I believe total immersion in something is a great way to learn about it. There was a time when I exclusively read books about people's year-long projects, most of them related to environmentalism or the ethical consumption of food.

And now I get to be a part of someone else's project, which of course I'm all about. The Disposable Film Project is in its early stages right now. I know this because I am the first person with one of the disposable cameras, and I have yet to send it to the next DFPer, the unsinkable Stephanie Salinis. (Note to Lara: wanted to wait until I dyed my hair before starting...the dirty dishwater blonde was not about to be immortalized for this.)

Today I am taking picture number 2 for the project, one of my city/neighborhood. I know a certain image comes to mind when one thinks of Chicago, but I don't live in the Loop, the Gold Coast, or at Wrigley. Shoot, I don't even live at Mercy Home anymore. No worries, the Logan Square/Humboldt Park/Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood has plenty of photo-ops: just the other day the traveling circus next door practiced juggling bowling pins.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I am a Hired Housewife

I rearranged my room again. Third time in three months. This time it even involved me pulling out the screwdriver and dismantling my tacky closet door. I'm not completely satisfied with the current arrangement, so I'm sure by December I'll have it switched around. Who knew this little cube of a room could accommodate so many arrangements?

Other life changes: I dyed my hair. With the help of Becca, I am no longer a blonde/dirty blonde/dull brunette. The technical term for my current hair color is Cinnamon Stick. I guess that's a fancy way of saying auburn? Warm brown? It's been three years since I've dyed it, and when I told Mom my plan she replied, "I guess that's okay for you to do." Moms. Always thinking they're in charge.

I have one week of my shiny new job under my belt, and so far so good. It's hard to describe--part maid, part nanny, part personal assistant is about as close as I can get. I'm essentially a housewife, except for the part where the children are not my children and I'm not married to their actual mother...and I don't live at the house. But in all other respects: she goes out and makes the big bucks while I stay home, take care of things there, drive the kids around, and make sure they eat their vegetables and do their homework.

I spend most of my evenings with the 12-yr old, and so far I have found out that he loves Crazy 8's and board games. He is also very honest about his homework. They have the teacher's edition of his math book and he made me read the questions out loud to him so he didn't look in the book and see the answers. What a gem! When I pick him up from school, I always make sure to have that day's redeye with me & we do the crossword puzzle together on the way back home.

The 14-yr old, who "doesn't need a babysitter," spends most of her time in her room "face chatting" (her brother's words) with her friends. I think I'm starting to win her over, though, since I fixed the zipper on her North Face the other night.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Eleven Eleven

Besides witnessing hipsters cheering for a full minute and snapping iPhone pictures of the date/time clock on the bus yesterday at 11:11 PM, nothing else really marked the day. Throughout the entire month of November, though, I've had several special moments that endear me to November. A few posts ago, I expressed a hope that November would be my month. Here are several reasons why so far it is:

Employment: You already know about this. I start on Monday! A lot of people have asked me what "house manager" means, and I honestly have no idea. I researched it and found this: "The titles of Butler and House Manager (HM) are often interchangeable and can have the most varied meanings in the business." So there you go.

Working Laptop: Sometime during October (a month that, when placed next to November, as it always is, pales) my laptop screen decided to take a little break. I strained to see anything until I unplugged the power cord. For some mysterious reason, the screen would only stay at full brightness when running on battery power. This meant I had about 1.5 hours to use my laptop before the screen really went dark. Unless I was on more than one website, playing music, or watching a video, then I had about 40 minutes. It was rough. About a week ago, though, the good old HP healed itself. I have no idea why it works again except that it is November and the universe has decided to smile on me.

First Snow: Doesn't matter if I don't want snow just yet, or if it was pitiful flakes that melted as soon as they hit the ground, for a Wisconsinite the first snow is always magical.

Television: This is a tricky one. After several furniture rearrangements ending with everything in the same place it started in, my roommates, Brit's mom, Adam, and I set up our television in the previously empty corner of our living room. After we scanned for channels and Judge Judy showed up on the screen, we let out a sigh of relief, but also one of knowing we were no longer the people without a TV. Not having a TV used to be our thing. It was something visitors always commented on as we sat on the couches and--God forbid--actually had a conversation. Now we are have nothing to set us apart from our crazy neighbors. On the other hand, we can now watch football in sweatpants on Sundays.

Visiting Sisters: Surprise! Bailey is coming to visit me today. It was a last minute thing, but I can only guess the month of November had something to do with it.

Now if only there was a day in November when it would be appropriate for me to express my gratitude for these things by eating far too much and falling asleep on a couch somewhere.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Much Success!

After filling out and submitting 48 applications and having 21 phone or in-person interviews over the course of four months, I was recently hired as a nanny/house manager for a family near me, which means I am in the process of transitioning from "funemployed" to "fun employed."

The mother of the family emailed me to let me know. Before telling anyone, I closed my gmail and opened it again to check that the email was still there. I read it several times to make sure I was reading right and that she was actually hiring me. After receiving only rejections, you start to assume all communication is going to be rejection. But no, the family really did want me. I did a victory dance in the living room, then ran and launched myself onto Brit, still asleep in bed, to tell her the good news.

I've been metaphorically patting myself on the back, but with some apprehension. I don't want to celebrate too much, just in case I wake up one day and find out it isn't real. I've gotten so used to not getting jobs it's weird to know I now have one. Here are some other things I've realized during my Funemployment:
  1. A generic rejection letter, though less awkward, is more dehumanizing than a personal rejection call.
  2. Though you generally have more time on your hands, you somehow don't get any more done in a day.
  3. You plan your life week-by-week, sometimes day-by-day, because thinking long term is depressing, and besides, that's how part-time support work is scheduled.
  4. You get roped into a lot of things because "you're not doing anything, right?"
  5. Job searching is a full-time job with no dress codes or weekly staff meetings.
  6. It's annoying to hear any complaints from the gainfully employed.
  7. Despite not wanting to hear those complaints, they do remind you that work isn't life.
  8. As desperate as I sometimes felt, it was never really that awful and there were still things I was not about to do.
  9. Community was a lifesaver. I don't know how I would have survived without a group of cheerleaders, meal-sharers, snuggle buddies, Twitter followers, and gentle friends to encourage me, send me job postings, help me write cover letters, and love me up when I was feeling unmotivated.
  10. Even though it was a stressful, frustrating period of my life, Funemployment gave me a lot of writing material and could be a very funny topic in conversation.
I know my period of funemployment was not as long or as intense as it is for many others--I was technically working, albeit sporadically, so while I wasn't working I tried not to be super dramatic about it. Now that I have regular employment, though, I'm feeling pretty damn good. Not just in the Paying Bills and Productive Citizen categories of life, either. This is a boost in the Self Esteem, No Shame in Not Doing Job-Related Things, and General Purpose for Life categories as well.

And now I get to do all those things people say they'll do once they find know, like get a tattoo, buy something outrageous, dye their hair, go to Spain for a week...people do those things, right?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hydration: My Night in Three Drinks

I wrote most of this in the very early hours of the morning yesterday during my overnight shift...then I revised it during the very early hours of the morning today during an overnight shift. Overnights are weird. I can do a lot of things, but then the sleep deprivation starts to make me a little loony.

I. Cherry Coke: 10 pm - 3 am

Right now I just need a boost of energy. Not that working the overnight requires energy, but I do need to stay awake for the next ten hours. Youth are in bed, almost asleep, and after working a regular shift I'm tired too.

This overnight was a surprise; I turned down two other programs' offers for overnights, unsure if working a double the day before an interview was the best decision, but when upper management calls you to fill in, you say yes. The universe must not want me to sleep tonight. In between room checks I browse the web, text with friends who are still up, and read a funny novel that's been on my to-read list for years.

As soon as the caffeine from this soda hits, I ride it out for the rest of the night. The carbonation fizzes in my mouth and up my nose and I remember I have a dentist appointment in the morning. Oh well. I also have an electric bill due in a few days. Working 18 hours straight seems like an awesome decision when there are no other employment offers on the horizon, even if you have three interviews scheduled that week.

II. Arizona Green Tea with Honey & Ginseng: 3 am - 7 am

It's just me now. Youth are fast asleep and past needing water or bathroom trips. Friends are also asleep, even the night owls. Now are the hours I need to stay awake. More caffeine would just bring jitters, a sugary drink would make my stomach hurt. Arizona has just enough sweetness and minimal fizz. It's a quieter drink for quieter hours.

I finished my book--as expected the plucky heroine gets the reclusive, recovering alcoholic, singer-songwriter. My eyes begin to tire; I can't look at a computer or a book right now. The TV goes on. I start to wonder about elderly women in household cleaner commercials. Do they have husbands and children? Is there a kid out there whose grandma is the Swiffer woman? Watching the news this early reminds me of getting ready for school when I was younger. Mom would watch in her room while she got ready for work. I'd come up to borrow her hair dryer or some lotion, or to crawl into my parents' unmade bed and avoid getting ready for the day.

Now is the dead of night--the absolute dark before the dawn--the time I get super poetic and think of blog posts like this. Drinking iced tea somehow helps my dry eyes and sore body, gross from work. Sweaty teenagers felt the need to hug me, shake my hand, or touch my hair after they had been in the gym. News gets boring. I channel flip until I find a classic sitcom. At this point, I'm just waiting for the sun to rise. That part of the overnight never gets old.

III. Naked Green Machine Fruit Juice: 7 am - 11 am

The boys are up now. They shower, get dressed, iron clothes, and try to sneak in some extra sleep on the couch. Day staff starts arriving. I see them park in the lot, dressed in business casual, coffees in hand. I'm still in my t-shirt and jeans. I eat some fruit and drink this super fruit juice between giving wake up calls and making sure everyone is out of bed.

The human body is not supposed to stay awake for this long, and it's definitely screaming at me for not letting it sleep. I know there are no magic foods, but drinking a fruit juice with tons of vitamins seems to make up for the torture I'm putting myself through. It can't hurt, and at the very least it's damage control.

Once all the boys leave for school, I can peace out. Usually I'd go home, shower, and crash, but today I shower and leave again. I get back on the blue line for my dentist appointment, then head to a nanny interview. I finish my drink on the way. The thing about overnights is it's not just your sleep schedule that gets messed up. Eating helps me stay awake. After ten hours of grazing on trail mix, popcorn, and fruit, this drink feels like a meal.

After the interview I can go home and sleep for several hours. Then it's back here for round two. Someday I will have a normal person schedule and my body won't hate me. Maybe November's my month.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dairy Fast

Sometimes you just need a challenge. Not eating meat (or eating only ethical  meat) isn't so challenging to me anymore, especially since we don't buy meat for our apartment. Two years ago I did a sugar fast right before Halloween, but we don't buy a lot of sweet things either. What I want to do is a dairy fast. I know. Blasphemous. How dare I claim to be from Wisconsin and want to give up dairy products for 10 days.

I tried starting this on Friday, and here is a list of ways I've already cheated:
-ranch dressing
-cheese pizza
-chocolate chip cookies
-a lot of cheese pizza

It's a lot more difficult than one would think. Milk is in everything, not just your average dairy products. But all the research I did on giving up or limiting dairy said it would be worth it. So I'm starting over today. I already don't drink milk, substituting it with almond milk. Now I just need to commit to resisting the temptation of all the cheese in my fridge. :( If I make it through these 10 days, I might go crazy on day 11.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween: Meh

We got a Halloween costume flyer in the mail a few weeks ago and I was not surprised to find that, as a woman, my choices were limited to whatever sexy object I wanted to be. This trend (which merely requires that girls wear beachwear and heels and come up with a creative/alliterative label like Naughty Nurse, Sexy Sailor, or Foxy Firefighter) is not new or strange to me. It's still a little upsetting and I understand why people hate it, but honestly, I'm over it. Getting my undies in a bundle over what girls wear on Halloween feels a little cliche at this point. We get it; it's sexist. Here's a redeye article that discusses it further, and this Jenna Marbles video makes a good point as well.

Even though I'm not in the mood to get on my soapbox about holiday gender stereotypes, I'm still not crazy about Halloween itself. I've thought this through, and it really has little to offer me. You don't get the day off from school or work, there's no giant meal involved, you only technically celebrate for three hours, and the celebration requires you to do most of the work. Plus, if you live in Wisconsin, you have to wear a winter coat over your costume.

As an adult-type person, I feel like I'm supposed to enjoy Halloween even more than a child, because even though many adults don't go trick-or-treating, they still get to have parties and dress up. Here's the thing: I don't see how that's any different than any other weekend in an adult's life. I could host or attend a themed party every day if I really wanted to. As for the trick-or-treating, I can eat candy whenever I crave it. And if Halloween is really about letting your freak flag fly, well then let's be honest: I never take mine down. If I want to dress up, I kind of just do. All jokes aside, I'm a grown woman. As long as I'm paying my bills and not hurting people or evading taxes, I can do whatever I want.

Except eat with chopsticks. Can't figure those things out for the life of me.

Friday, October 21, 2011

As the Bed Turns

Well folks, I made it almost two months. Tonight was my breaking point: I'm back on the wagon. (Off the wagon? Whatever.) I rearranged my room tonight. Something stirred in me and I realized I couldn't do anything other than clear out the old 8 by 8 and, well, rotate my bed 90 degrees. Because that's really the only rearranging I can do up in hurr.

Check it out:

The best part so far of this new arrangement: optimal viewing of our hoarding neighbor. Seriously, I can see right down into her apartment. Confession: the other night I watched her watch TV and eat cereal straight from the box while I ate a bagel and sat on the edge of Britney's bed. Who's more pathetic? I'll let you decide.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Never: Hyperbolic Marketing

I feel out of the loop when it comes to new songs now that I'm not spending most of my time with teenagers. The only time I listen to the radio these days is when I shower. I realize for many that means daily, but if you know me, you know that isn't my reality.

As I showered & listened the other day, two commercials struck me. The first was for North Face and encouraged me to "Never Stop Exploring." A few seconds later, Lowe's implored me to "Never Stop Improving." [Remember when Lowe's was "Improving Home Improvement"? Now the focus is on the customer. Clever.] Both ads reminded me of Ray Ban's "Never Hide" slogan.

What do these ads say about our culture & society? Americans are traditionally socialized to embrace rugged individualism & continual advancement--more money, things, education, success, power--and these three companies have definitely embraced that. I personally appreciate all three ideas, though I think there comes a time we should ease up on exploring and improving to enjoy what's here and now. I'm sure there are times we should definitely hide as well. Like during Hide-n-Seek or Sardines. I also don't need expensive outerwear, construction supplies, or sunglasses to follow through with these three ideas.

Okay, the sunglasses might help. I always thought it was funny (funny-weird, not funny-ha ha) how some people use sunglasses to stand out, while others use them to blend in. Ray Ban is clearly in the stand out camp. No evading the cops or paparazzi allowed. Nevermind their actual use, to Ban the Rays of the sun.

It's nearly 5 am, and time for another room check here at work. I'm doing the overnight, which means checks every half hour along with late night TV. And you all know what that means: infomercials. Do you have a frying pan that can be used as a hammer in emergency situations? I know I don't, but for a few simple payments I can have one shipped to my door. Now that's Amurrrica at it's finest.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Happy Mad Hatter Day!

Remember the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland? His hat had a slip of paper reading "10/6" ... and thus, October 6th is now celebrated as Mad Hatter Day. A day similar to April Fools' Day, but more for celebrating/noting silliness.

Silliness of course being the very things our society regards as "normal," but are in actuality completely mad:

--bottled water
--gym memberships
--vitamin supplements
--frozen meals
--cartoon characters not wearing pants
--working more to afford things you don't need and can't enjoy anyway because you are always working
--why doesn't Tarzan have a beard?
--shoes designed to feel like you are not wearing shoes
--swimming pools
--arm rests at movie theaters
--fancy ketchup
--the Easter bunny
--Donkey Kong
--the phrase "head over heels"
--child pageants
--plastic utensils
--sweater vests
--country music

The list goes on. Let me know what other strange things we have been socialized to believe are normal!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chicago V Madison: Streets & Bikes

I don't mean this post to be a competition; Chicago and Madison both have pros and cons. I just love comparing cities, and since I recently spent a bunch of time in Madison, these differences/similarities are fresh. As far as city comparisons go, this one's fairly weak. I'm not going to get into the sports, food, music, politics, or any interesting stuff of either city. I just want to write about the streets and the biking. FYI, I didn't research any of these; I'm post-workout blog vomiting.

Okay, if this were a competition, Chicago is the winner hands down just by virtue of The Grid. Directions and maps don't confuse me; I'm actually a great navigator. Madison, though, always gets me turned around. I wonder if living in Chicago has spoiled me; maybe The Grid is a crutch of sorts. Or maybe I just haven't spent enough time in Madison. Either way, I love hearing an address and knowing almost exactly how to get there without googling it. Madison (and most of Wisconsin) operates on the some streets straight, some not so much system. It's super easy to get lost and you most likely need directions to get anywhere, unless you are already familiar with the area.

Chicago is a huge bike city. Some neighborhoods more than others, but overall, biking in the city is a normal, popular thing to do. And yet, there are still very few protected bike lanes. In some areas, there aren't bike lanes at all, just the several feet between parked cars and traffic for bikes to maneuver through. A biker in Chicago needs to be super aware of his/her surroundings. Luckily, most drivers are also aware of their surroundings, even if they hate bikers. Madison also appears to be a bike city, and besides confusing streets has bike trails. Partially I'm guessing it's a college student thing, though I know Madison usually ranks as a healthy city. Still, I did see a lot of way protected bike lanes--like literally a separate area of the road just for bikes. So that's awesome for Madison bikers. Streets are confusing, but you can pay more attention to where you're going since you don't have to worry as much about being in traffic.

There you have it, for anyone wondering just how Madison and Chicago compare on two minor city details that actually come into play a lot in my own personal life, these are things I observed. I hope I've been super helpful.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spoiler Alert: I'm Eating as I Type This

I'm about to surprise no one with this confession: I love food. Cooking it, eating it, talking about it (sometimes preaching about it), and reading about it. Well, I've been reading food books for a long time. But after a short hiatus during which I read books about Chicago and introverted philosophies, I'm on a nonfiction/food kick again. Unless the novel about a piano tuner in Burma written by a medical doctor (the other book I recently began reading) sucks me in.

Following is a short list of my favorite foodie-type books. They are all fairly similar and have been integral in my quest to eat food. As a result of reading several of these books, I am mostly vegetarian. (I know, you either are or aren't. I'm not, but it's easier to tell people I am than to explain flexitarianism/being an ethical omnivore. Although I guess that undermines the reasons for differentiating in the first place.)

When I used to have food discussions with the youth I worked with they thought it was hilarious that I wouldn't eat the cafeteria meat just because I didn't know where it came from, or whether it was treated humanely: "So you mean, if you saw a cow die, and you knew where it was from and that it was killed quickly, then you'd eat it?" they'd ask. I'd nod. "EW. I could never eat something that I just saw killed," as they scarfed down hot dogs or hamburgers or chicken of questionable origin. This discussion grew into a running joke: "Rachel, do you want a hamburger? I think it was laughing when it died." "Rachel only eats meat from happy animals, like if the chicken gets to dance around and play before someone kills it."

So, if you are looking for something to read, or if you never want to look at ground beef the same, here's a few informative, but also entertaining, reads:

In Defense of Food - Michael Pollan
I've discussed this book's still awesome. Check out his other ones as well, or read the many articles he's written, or watch videos of him on various news/talk shows. Basically, become of fan of this guy.

Eating Animals - Jonathan Safran Foer
Again, the man, his books, etc...all pretty great. Don't let the movie version of Everything is Illuminated ruin J.S. Foer for you.

Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser
Now a major motion picture, starring Wilmer Valderrama, Greg Kinnear, and...Avril Lavigne? Whatever, still an informative and frightening read. Not that I ever eat fast food anyway.

Okay,'s not an exhaustive list. These are just the three that come to mind. I finished FFN just yesterday, and the other two have always stuck with me. I figured they were worth revisiting. Now go eat some real food!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Say No To Pinktober

[2016 update: 5 years later, this is still relevant.]

If you haven't noticed, it's October. Many great things happen in October. Baseball is finally worth watching, hockey and basketball seasons start, and football is, well...that's a story for another post. There are apples, squash, and candy to contend with. A lot of pink things start showing up as well. I'm personally not a fan of the pink initiative. Before you hate me, let me include a disclaimer: I'm against cancer. I just don't know how strong the link between "awareness" and "cure" is. If October were National We Found a Cure for Breast Cancer month, I'd be more supportive.

There's a great article here [2014 update: here, here, here, and here, 2016 update: here] that sums up my feelings on the month. What angers me most is how much of a lucrative business gimmick it's become. If someone wants me to buy a pink item to raise money for breast cancer awareness, the answer's no. I'm not paying to bring about awareness. Awareness doesn't equal action or results. I'll support finding a cure, supporting survivors, families, and those who currently have cancer, providing treatment, and introducing programs for early detection, but I think we're all well aware of breast cancer itself at this point.

Besides, can't we all just agree the "I (heart) boobies" bracelets (and their offshoots) are objectifying? Women are more than their chests. A woman who's had a mastectomy probably misses not just her boobs, and she's no less of a woman (or a person) without one or both of them. Plus there's the fact that breast cancer is still most common in women past the perky point in their boob life--I doubt they refer to their breasts as boobies. And let's not forget men, who can also get breast cancer but maybe don't care about "boobies," per se. [2016 update: All this to say, I do (heart) boobies. I think they are great. But breast cancer is not about boobs, it's about a malicious disease that affects a whole person.]

What I'm saying is: wear pink if you want. Or don't. But let's not pretend that this color is doing the real work of preventing, treating, or curing breast cancer. That's for us (and teams of qualified doctors and scientists) to do. And while we're at it, let's treat people with cancer like humans, not like body parts that happened to have people attached to them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sunday Funday

One of my favorite lines recently has been, "When you're funemployed, every day is a day off!" It takes the bite out of thinking about endless boring days and answers the question, "When do you have a free day to hang out?" for my friends. The more I experience funemployment, though, I realize every day is also a day on.

Take Sunday: rainy, chilly, the city was busy sleeping or buying groceries for football parties to take place later in the afternoon. I had been to a housewarming party the night before. Ideally I'd be sleeping off a hangover, at the very least just sleeping in. Instead I was up at 8, gauging my adrenaline level so I didn't overdo it on coffee. Interviews always make me anxious, but it takes me a while to wake up in the morning. Too much coffee and I'd be super buzzing, words crashing out of my mouth and hands unable to stay still; too little and I'd still be asleep even after the bus ride to Andersonville, where I was headed to meet a family for a possible nanny position.

I erred on the side of too much coffee: for me it's usually better to weaken the brain-to-mouth filter than to have it on high alert. When I don't talk people say I look sad or angry. I headed out, even bringing an umbrella. I never bring umbrellas. They're too much trouble I think. But umbrellas make people look mature and prepared, like someone you'd trust your child with.

I don't believe in jinxing, but I'm going to refrain from describing the interview at this point. Until further notice, let's just say I'm still working odd jobs and doing support at Mercy. I did somehow manage to construct a fairly busy week, though. A few extra shifts, then leaving on Friday for Madison/home!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's My Roommate!

Check out this blog post all about my roommate and Partner In Crime, Britney!

My own post is also on this blog.

At Least It's Not Winter. Yet.

When my tan fades and the motivation to shave my legs wanes, I know it's fall. I don't mind fall in and of itself, but it lives so close to winter. As much as I hoped summer would help me forget what winter is like in Chicago, I can't shake it. I truly enjoy scarf and sweater season, but I know it's only a matter of time before it's parka and boot season. And no daylight ever season.

So, in an effort to look on the bright side and embrace the present season, here is a list of things to love about fall from

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chicago Personality Quiz

I found this gem the other day. What's intriguing is, while I'm technically a Transplant, I tend to align more with the "Wontcha Be My Neighbor" category. PS: I saw this after my recent blog post with the same title. Also, I think the reason I feel more like a local than a tourist is because of how intentional my community was at Chicago-immersion.


Guess what happened today!?!?!? The 'Naw got internet. After a frustrating evening spent doing more electrical work that I should be trusted with, Frank came over this morning and fixed us up real nice. I can't get the wireless to work on my hp, which means I have to stay connected to the modem, but I crafted myself a makeshift office in the living room annex area. (This area also turns into my second bedroom when my room smells like fresh paint. So versatile!)

In life updates, I'm pretty solidly unemployed. I pick up odd shifts at Mercy when they need support, but that's not guaranteed. I've had a few interviews for full-time nanny positions, so hopefully I'm working again before too long.

But until then, I'm enjoying the shit out of funemployment. I figure there's no point moping around lamenting the fact that despite a year of pro bono service, no one is jumping to hire me...I might as well take advantage of this forced vacation. Here are things I do in my obnoxiously abundant spare time:

-look for and apply to jobs/go on interviews (I'm not just lounging around, I promise! Why do I feel like a few of you are wondering that...)
-run (No kidding. Who the heck am I? Nearly 3 miles daily. wtf?!)
-organize/rearrange things in my apartment (No one is surprised by this, I'm sure.)
-grocery shop
-brainstorm inventive tweets
-mod podge/make collages
-hang out in the Bucktown/Wicker Park library
-write (Probably the best part: all this time to write stuff...if I could only find someone to subsidize my life expenses so I could continue this lifestyle.)
-make food
-eat food
-ride my bike around Chicago, but mostly to the Charleston
-ChaCha all my life questions since (until today) internet was scarce
-blast music

As you can see, I keep myself fairly busy. Miss and love you all!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Here is a brief introduction to my neighbors, or at least the ones I see all the time and who inspire me to write short stories. Before you judge me as a creep, Peeping Tom, Nosy Nora, or any other number of harmful names, let me remind you I don't have TV or internet at my apartment, and many of my neighbors don't have curtains...or these activities occur on the balconies three feet from my bedroom window. All I have to do is sit back and observe.

The Hoarder
One of the more interesting neighbors. Not only is her apartment swimming in piles of random things - a giant kimono on the wall, a collection of scales above the cupboard, papers, dishes, vases - but her outdoor patio is also a mess of plants, furniture, and kitschy statues. As far as I've seen, it's just her and the dog (who shall remain nameless for its privacy). Because we have an unobstructed view of her kitchen and living room, she provides the most convenient entertainment for our apartment.

The TV Junkie
Probably the most mysterious neighbor, s/he/they literally keep the TV on 24/7. In the week and a half we've been here, I think I've seen it off once. Otherwise I get to see pieces of America's Got Talent, CSI, Dora, Judge Judy...all closed captioned, all the time. But I never see any people. One night I was convinced Extreme Hoarders was on and I about peed myself. The TV Junkie and the Hoarder live right next to each other. True love?

The Exotic Gardener
I don't see these neighbors often, but they must go out on their balcony sometime to tend to the exotic garden growing there. They have patio furniture too, but its hard to spot among the bamboo shoots and blossoming vines all over.

The Honeymooners
I recently discovered these neighbors, despite their location directly across from my bedroom. I first assumed it was a guy, maybe several, since they seemed to be having a typical Chicago bro party the night we moved in (drinking beer on a balcony with a bunch of dudes = Chicago), and I began wondering how to make friends with them in time for football season. I found out the other day this may not be the case. I came home to find a guy sitting on his balcony underneath a woman, who was straddling him. They were making out pretty passionately until they realized I was in my bedroom literally three feet away. Then they went inside. It happened again last night--they were laughing and talking on the balcony, then it got quiet and I looked out to see him standing, holding her. She had her legs wrapped around him...and again, it wasn't long before they went inside. I guess I would feel less like a creep if I knew their names, but then again, if they are comfortable, who am I to feel weird? Human connection is a basic need.

The Circus Troupe
These people live on the south side of us, in a 3-story building set back from our street to give them a front yard complete with a pine tree and a small flowering garden. There is also a patch of yard that is more dirt than grass, and this is where one of the tenants practices his flaming baton routing. He keeps the batons unlit and goes over his routine several times each day. Okay, so that doesn't make all the tenants (or even him) part of a traveling circus, but I have also seen a girl wearing a dress and hat with feathers on it, so it could be true.

The Hipsters
This group lives directly below us, on the first and garden levels of our building. Technically they are two groups, but I have yet to fully delineate who lives on which level. My biggest interaction with any of them is if they are on the front porch when I leave or come home. They are either sketching, smoking, or just porch sitting.

And those are my neighbors. These observations make me wonder what they think of our apartment. Are we just the new girls right now? The crazy Germans? We don't have curtains either, so I'm sure they've seen/heard some interesting things.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Eternal City, Second City

Remember how obsessed I was with ancient Roman history when I studied abroad? (Refresh your memory in my archived posts.) Brit is probably just as obsessed with Chicago history and has quickly turned me on to it. She's got me reading books like Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott and it's uncanny how similar the cities actually are.

Chicago is notorious for its crime and corruption, and much like Rome it has many mob connections. Both cities have rich traditions of underworlds, secret groups, and dark sides exploited in books and movies. In Rome, "que bordello!" is uttered to comment on something being wild (literally, a whorehouse). Chicago was home to one of the most illustrious bordellos in America at one point.

The Eternal City and the Second City of course share less corrupt things in common as well: an intense passion for food, varied and diverse neighborhoods, sports rivalries (Lazio v Roma soccer/Cubs v White Sox baseball), and funky street smells (hot garbage, piss, dog) for example.

My apartment reminds me of living in Rome as well. I stand on my front porch and watch traffic on my one-way street, I hear many conversations from the building next to me through my window, my downstairs neighbors are always smoking, and I'm only a little way from the train into or out of the city. My neighborhood is residential and has an old working-class feel. It makes me want to write a lot.

The biggest difference between my two lives is most likely having fairly efficient public transportation and streets on the grid. It's far less difficult to get lost or be late here. Sad day.

Monday, September 5, 2011


The best part about living in SoLoNoHum so far: walking distance to so many things. Like my friends, mostly. But also the Blue Line...I hope to rarely, if ever, ride the 49 all the way up and down Western again. Back to living in a neighborhood where my friends also live: it is one of the most awesome things to walk a few blocks to see people.

Yesterday I was feeling sad and lonely and codependent because Brit was at work and Brooke is still gone, then I remembered my coworker was having a party. Suddenly I had so many friends! All I had to do was cross Western and bam! Not so lonely anymore.

And today, even though I'm mostly just trying to clean up my life and organize things and be an adult, I also found time to one-on-one with Becca and Kate. It doesn't hurt that they have wireless at their place. (I tried to hack into my neighbors for a while the other day, to no avail.) It's really a win-win, because I get to use them for their Internet AND be friends with them...and they get to do the same to me when they want to do laundry. (Did I mention I have an in-unit front-load washer/dryer? Spoiled.)

The apartment is really coming together quite nicely - we have things in our hutch, we found some actual silverware, we bought toilet paper - so hopefully we can have a housewarming before too long. I've really enjoyed rearranging my room several times. Yes, even though my room is an 8x8 square, I somehow have had a couple different arrangements. I'm a master.

We haven't had a chance to do any real grocery shopping yet, which means we've had bisonburgers for breakfast the past few days. And Aldi is closed today for Labor Day, so it'll probably be chips and salsa tomorrow. We do have a fresh basil plant, so once we get food it will be mighty flavorful.

Another thing we acquired: a shopping cart. A baby one at that. It was sitting on the sidewalk the other night and we decided to rescue it. Well, I convinced my friends we should. Not everyone understands the inner workings of shopping carts or why I have such a deep connection to them. I'm sure we looked strange dragging a shopping cart onto the train, but sometimes you need to do these things. It now sits on our front porch holding our firewood and basil plant. That was the final touch in the apartment, when I knew this was home.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Washing Machine? Washington? Wash Your Face?

After what seemed like 12 hours, but was actually 15, Brit, Brooke & I are now successfully living in our very own apartment. Located on Washtenaw Ave, our second story walk-up has all the modern conveniences one would hope for coupled with the old world charm of the Chicago of yesteryear. AKA, we have a dishwasher, but also an old school pulley system for bringing up bags of groceries.

Let me tell you how fun it is to move the belongings of three people from both deep central Wisconsin and the North Side. It's not.

But if you have the help of parents and nephews, it's not so bad. We enjoyed teaching Adam how to say "Washtenaw," a fairly confusing street name we are pretty sure is Native American for "too cool for school," while we hauled up three mattresses/box springs/bed frames. We only had to take the door off once to fit our monster of a couch, and Brit and I learned to just trust Joe. (Her Dad. Master of angles and leverage. Somehow knew exactly how to arrange every piece of furniture to maximize space in the van.) We have pots and pans and plastic utensils, along with a freezer full of bison meat and a pound of cheese in the fridge. (From my parents. I somehow went from a vegetarian to having a fully stocked freezer. Gotta love ethically-treated animals.) The giant margarita glass has already found a prime position in our hutch, alongside the beer stein and the five sets of salt & pepper shakers we somehow accumulated.

Because I'm the baby of the apartment, I have the closet-under-the-stairs bedroom. (Not literally, I think the closet under the stairs actually belongs to the tenants below us.) My view is of the swanky apartment complex next to us, or rather the balconies of the swanky apartment complex, filled with exotic plants and Weber grills and all-weather patio furniture. (Trying to make friends, don't worry.)

My favorite apartment feature is the front porch. Right now it is home to the basil plant and my TOMS, which are super smelly and aren't allowed inside. It's the perfect space for neighbor-watching (besides the bougie people on one side, we are also neighbors to what appears to be a traveling troupe of circus performers). We can also watch all the traffic on the bustling one-way below. There's not much, but let me tell you, what traffic lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. I'm talking Astro vans with 22" rims and Bikers Who Take Themselves Seriously.

It may be a while until all of our possessions find their places in the apartment, so if you see me wearing the same two or three outfits in the next couple of weeks, have no worries. Contrary to popular belief, I shower, and we also have our very own front-loading washer/dryer, so the limited wardrobe I have access to at the moment is clean.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Another Blog Post About My Service Year

This past weekend we had a MercyWorkers Unite/Reunite party at Becca, Mikaela, Kate & Shannon's apartment in Bucktown. Between four years of MercyWorks, plus friends of MercyWorks, there were about 40 of us in their 4-bedroom apartment. I thought it was amazing that not that long ago, we were all strangers. Oh, the powers of simple living and community to bring people together.

In honor of that party, and of being out of MercyWorks for a month now, and of the new class' first shadow day in program today, here is yet another reflection. This one I wrote for Mercy Home's website as an adjunct writer on their writing team. I know I've been reflection-heavy lately. A year of service takes a lot of processing. Without further adieu, here are more Post-Service Reflections:

Last August, 14 recent college graduates came together in Chicago to support kids in crisis and live in an intentional community. We didn't know each other, and some of us feared we wouldn't even like each other, but one year later, we are family. We know each other's dreams for the future, and we support those dreams with letters of encouragement and practical advice. We share meals and wardrobes, offer hugs and cups of tea after a long day at work, pull pranks on each other, and now that the year is over we've already planned our first reunion.
Through retreats, nights spent cooking dinner and reflecting on MercyWorks' five program values, trips to see Chicago's landmarks, watching marathons of our favorite TV shows, celebrating holidays and birthdays with local friends and families, and comparing work stories, we got to know each other--ups and downs, what drives us, what annoys us, what makes us scream with excitement. We also got to know the youth of the agency in similar ways: sharing meals, helping with chores and homework, playing games, and exploring the city. The similarities of MercyWorks and youth programs were a common discussion topic during community nights.
Other realizations from the work side of a volunteer year were that many times what meant little to me meant a lot to a teenager lacking support in his or her life. Also, not knowing everything or having all the answers can be a good thing--kids like to know that adults need to ask for help too. Finally, just because you grew up in rural Wisconsin doesn’t mean you can’t relate to a teenager growing up in Chicago.
A MercyWorks year is more than living with coworkers or working with roommates. It's late nights making beans and rice because your 13 roommates ate all the "fun food" from last week's grocery shopping already. It's early mornings reading the Chicago-Tribune over coffee and eggs to discuss the best ways to recycle in the city, or just reviewing your horoscope to see what the day holds. It's a full-time job, plus community responsibilities, plus discovering a new neighborhood or city or state. It's a year of personal, spiritual, and professional growth.
So there you have it. As if you haven't heard enough about this year from me, I just went and over-clarified it for you. :)

Friday, August 26, 2011


Pullman Hobofest is this weekend. Too bad I already have plans, otherwise I'm sure I'd be fully accepted there.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

MercyWorks Album

For your viewing pleasure, here is the complete album of my MercyWorks year. Enjoy!



As soon as I posted about Shadow, my other new friend got a little jealous. Bobby the Hermit Crab doesn't come out of his shell (literal and metaphorical) much, but when he does he's wild.

Just the other night his clawing/crawling around his tank woke me up. I swear the kid's trying to dig to China some nights, the noises he makes.

Other than going bump in the night, Bobby and I don't have much interaction. I try to remember to water and feed him, but I don't know when or how he eats and drinks.

One thing is clear, he is now occupying the second largest shell in his tank, and assuming he does eat, he'll have to hermit his way into the big one before long. Then I'm not sure what happens. I can only hope I'm around to see that awkward maneuver.

I think he's waving.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I have a new best friend. We have a tough relationship, mostly because I'm partially allergic to her. I put up with the minor sniffles and occasional tingly hands, though, because of our true and deep connection.

Shadow, the Kummerers' cat, hangs out with me when I'm not working or taking public transportation to and from work. Some mornings she kindly wakes me up by jumping on my bed and meowing/screaming in my face. This continues until I pet her. She then follows me around the house as I get ready for work, meowing and generally demanding attention. When I get home from work, she greets me with more meowing and jumps up on the stool next to me while I eat some dinner, then follows me upstairs.

When I indulge her, I either sneeze or my hands get itchy and tingly after a while. I tell her I need to stop for my own survival, and this causes her to pout and meow more. If I am getting ready to sleep, she will prance up and down the bed (okay, hobbles...she's got a bad hip), first meowing in my face, then turning so her butt is to me.

Today, I had a breakthrough with Shadow, though. She did her march on top of me and meow loudly routine until I got out of bed, but then I sat at my desk to journal and she promptly hushed up until I finished. Clearly she understands the importance of my Morning Pages (the several pages of nonsense I put on paper before writing anything worth showing anyone). I guess we have each other trained.

As you can tell, we have a pretty solid relationship. She attention-seeks, I grant attention and enable her princess ways. But I am also getting something out of this: a new respect for anyone who is friends with me. Because Shadow is clearly my spirit animal: greedily whining for attention, then making you think she deserves it for some strange reason. Also, she's not that great at hygiene and she loves taking naps.

Shadow lounging on the deck.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Monday

This is my third Monday of going to work not as a MercyWorker. This will be my third week of commuting from the north side, and after this week I will only have one more before moving into my new place. I think I must deal with transition pretty okay, because I've felt fine. Moving from just up the stairs to 50 blocks north has treated me well. I feel like I can actually calm down after work before being home and interacting with people again; the extra time on the bus/train is my "me" time for reading, listening to music, or just people watching.

That being said, I of course miss my roommates and our adventures in the apartment above the gym. It's weird knowing there are 13 strangers up there now, being trained to do our jobs. It's also taken me some time to get used to being ready to leave for work by 1:30...although I definitely feel as though I have more time, not less, to do what I want.

Today's Monday will be a different one than I've been used to, because most of my guys are now back in school. That means study time is back in full swing, and tutors not long behind it. Hopefully I remember study time procedures...we're not in summer program anymore, Dorothy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Power of 30 Days

This man knows all about the 30-day's nice to know someone else agrees with me and I am not a crazy person for doing these things, whether it be photos, poems, no sugar, or taking public transportation.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Camp Chi

Back from camp! It was quite possibly the most tired and sore I've been all year--from sunup to sundown we swam, played softball, went tubing on the lake, played tennis, and generally just ran around in the heat. I loved seeing my guys roughing it, and for the most part getting along, and it was nice to actually feel like an expert on some things. Plus we got to spend the last day at Mt. Olympus, riding roller coasters and racing each other on the go karts.

A big thanks to Mom and Dad for taking us camping as kids and giving us opportunities to try new things (or forcing us to), because it allowed me to go tubing with a bunch of teenage boys and have confidence in how to stay on the tube, along with many other things (knowing how to drive a go cart, being excited for roller coasters, even swimming in the deep end)...basically, learning all this stuff in childhood allowed me to keep up with the guys this week, and it challenged some of their sexist views.

And now the summer comes to a close for most of the guys--school starts next week, and with it comes structured program: study time, quiet time, chore time...all the things they are not excited about. Should be an interesting week in program!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Happy Mercyversary!

This is the one-year anniversary reflection I posted on my community's blog today (thanks to Jillian for coining the term "mercyversary"):

One year ago we embarked on this crazy journey called MercyWorks.

I don't want to say it was weird to see next year's class after the Opening Ceremony last night, because I knew they were coming. But it was still strange knowing some chick named Kathryn is sleeping in my bed with my school house quilt. It's a little unsettling when you think of the 13 of them, wandering around the living room and kitchen, not knowing half the stuff we got ourselves into in those two rooms. I absolutely don't like thinking about these kids using stall one, or the kitchen bathroom.

I know it happens every year, and I'm sure the year before us felt much the same way, but as much as I am glad to be out of that apartment, it doesn't mean I want other people there. It's going to take some time to get used to referring to ourselves as "last year's MercyWorkers" and knowing that we are no longer the apple of Mercy's eye (were we ever? some might ask....).

On this Friday in August, I miss begging people to cook me breakfast, trashy TV on in the background, shower parties, writing notes on the white board, and the way my closet smelled.

Mad Activities

Summer in program usually means fun activities. Apparently my program just realized it's summer, since we've been going on activity nearly every night for the past two weeks, as opposed to once or twice a week throughout June and July.

We do lots of movies--this is the guys' go-to activity when they are bored and want to get out of program. This spring/summer I got to see X-Men: First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, both prequels to movies I either haven't seen or can't really remember. Still, both awesome.

Besides movies, this summer (and really, just these past weeks) I've taken part in or chauffeured the guys to swimming, paintball, the park, extreme trampolines, the mall, McDonald's, Six Flags, and a performance by the Blue Man Group. It's a pretty sweet deal for the guys, and for me since I wouldn't otherwise do these things.

Our biggest activity of the summer is coming up next week: Camp Chi. I'll be gone from Sunday morning until Wednesday night for four days of tubing, rock climbing, horseback riding, archery, and hanging out in the Dells. I've been chosen as Document Lead for the trip, meaning I'm responsible for writing a summary of each day during nightly reflection. I have a feeling I won't mind that.

49/Blue Line

My new commute is a total of one hour and 14 minutes; I spent the last two weeks perfecting my route. First there's my walk to the 49 bus, just several blocks away. I've found that the most interesting way takes me past several restaurants and car shops, plus an exclusive night club called Latin Bliss. I'm actually not sure how exclusive it is, I just know the outside of it is mirrored and it's only open Friday and Saturday nights.

Then I ride the 49 down Western. If I go to work in the morning, I join other work-goers, mothers and babies, sometimes tourists. Usually, I ride in the early afternoon. Then my fellow bus riders are a mixed bag of Chicagoans and tourists, families, couples, or groups of kids. By now I've gotten familiar with most of the stops along the way, so I can read or listen to music and not worry that I'll miss my stop.

The last leg of my commute is the Blue Line, which I've been riding all year long since it's the closest/most convenient form of public transportation to Mercy Home. It's a little different riding it in from the north as opposed to setting out from the Racine stop like I'm used to. Now I ride the Blue Line into the Loop, then back out again. Because it runs straight from O' Hare, there are usually lots of tourists when I get on the train and I have to wait for them and all their luggage to get off closer to downtown before I can sit down.

Once I get to Racine, it's only a few blocks and I'm at work. I'm there for 7 or 8 or 10 hours, then I do the whole thing in reverse.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Moving Out

Well actually, moved out. As in all of my stuff is now out of the apartment I've lived in for the past year...and currently sitting in my roommate's parents' house, where I will be "squatting" until I can move into my actual apartment in September.

So far it's been awesome here--Brit, Brooke (Brit's cousin who will also be living with us) & I are getting along super well and Brit's nieces and nephews love having extra people around. It's great being in an actual house...and the pool in the backyard doesn't hurt either.

I've had to adjust to a far longer commute (one hour as opposed to one minute), but I kind of enjoy my time on the bus and train, especially using it to decompress after work. Plus, I pass by my apartment and the apartment of several of my friends, so it's nice when I can stop by there to visit on my way home.

I'm still working in the same position I've been in, just now I'm getting paid for it and I'm technically support staff (like a substitute teacher). I'll be doing that for the month of August at least, possibly longer due to some staff changes. And the job search for a writing position is still on, with several leads.

For right now, that's the post-service life.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Last Unofficial Community Night

This Wednesday (yesterday) we were no longer MercyWorkers, but we were still in community and very much wanting to be together, so after several of us finished our first day of paid work, we headed to Pilsen for dinner/drinks/memories/laughter/enjoying company.

It was awesome to spend the night with each other and while being out with 14 people can get hectic, the night somehow managed to go smoothly. It felt like we were really a family going out for dinner, like we had known each other for way more than 11 months, like no matter where we all end up in a few days, we will always have some sort of connection with each other.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Have No Mercy/Worker

My last week of work as a MercyWorker is finished as of last night at 10:07 PM. I will never have a volunteer shift here again. Technically I will work here in the month of August, but as support staff...meaning I'll get paid for it. Crazy.

It was a low key last week of work, I guess. I don't really know what low key means anymore in the world of residential programming. After two youth/family meetings a lot of transitions will be happening in the home, plus there is the transition of me leaving. Now that they know I am leaving soon, a few of them have asked what my life plans are and it's tough not really knowing, but I think it will be a positive thing for them to experience a healthy goodbye.

Tomorrow is our last official day as MercyWorkers. We are spending it doing our last AmeriCorps paperwork so we can get that ed award, then it will be our closing ceremony. My tears started this past weekend...I'm not a big public crier, so hopefully I don't have too many more.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hooky Day

What's better than going on a retreat from work/everyday life? Going on a retreat from retreat. Last Friday, the 14 of us to got away from even Katie and Liz and the relaxed structure of retreat to an even less structured day: a built in Hooky Day. The only requirement was that we spend it together.

A quick drive through Indiana and up to Michigan took us to the lake house we'd spend the day at. Thanks to Mr. McCarthy & Jess, who let us use their space, we enjoyed a day of sunbathing by the pool, sunbathing by the lake, napping, eating, reminiscing, playing, laughing...basically que nostalgic/magical photo and music montage.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Final Retreat/Camp Dewan Part 2

Five retreats is pretty swank for a service program. For our last one, we headed back to Camp Dewan in Burlington, WI. This time we weren't still getting to know one another and discussing how to deal with conflict. We were reminiscing with re-enactments of different phases of the year, playing MercyWorks Jeopardy!, giving affirmations, creating a time capsule, handing out superlative awards, and thinking about transition.

Before we could do that, though, we had to make it to retreat. Our oldest vehicle, the faithful Blue Bomber (2004 Dodge Caravan), has lasted us through many a retreat and group outing. It's held the spare tire from a vehicle we no longer own and shuttled us back and forth from Thursday night outings, Community Night activities, and grocery store runs. We always wondered when it would quit on us, and sure enough, Tuesday was the day. We were barely ten minutes out of the city when something gave and pressing the gas pedal no longer did anything. After a few moments of panic, we maneuvered the van off the highway and up an exit ramp. We coasted into a parking lot and made many a phone call to figure out how we'd get all the way to Wisconsin.

We eventually made it to retreat, no worse for wear. Katie and Liz scheduled some structured time, but also made sure there was plenty of laidback free time to read, sunbathe, and just enjoy one another's company without the stressors of everyday life.

Monday, July 11, 2011

DMB Caravan

I'm so stoked Quinn got to visit again before my service year is up. I tell enough stories about the kid, most of my roommates think they really know him.

PLUS, the draw for him to come was none other than Mr. Dave Matthews and his find Band, aka classic Summer in the City.

DMB did a three day festival here this past weekend, and by here I mean an hour south of here, at Lakeside. Still Chicago, though. (It never ceases to amaze me how geographically large cities can be.) The festival featured a butt load of bands each day, and DMB headlined each night. Quinn and I only went to yesterday's set, but we're convinced it was the best.

We took the beloved CTA all the way down to 87th and made our way to Lakeside...literally it's right on the lake, which turned out to be a blessing since without that breeze, it would have been nasty hot. We checked out TR3, Tim Reynolds' band, DumpstaPhunk, Dave and Tim doing an acoustic set, Ben Folds, Kid Cudi, and the ever-amazing Dave Matthews Band.

The location was ideal--a huge area of land, big enough to fit three stages, a Ferris wheel, strings of food and drink booths, merch tents, a water mist tent and several free hydration stations (water fountains to fill up bottles), plus all the people. When it got to be Dave time, there were considerably more people than earlier in the day (gates opened at 1 pm) and luckily we had pretty good standing spots. We could definitely see the band on the screens and as long as I stood to the side of the guy in front of me, I could see the actual band as well.

Dave has been touring for 20 years now, so he's got these things pretty much down to a science. Play a classic, audience erupts in applause and sings along, go into sweet improv section featuring the entire band, finish to more cheers, say thank you and get ready for the next song. He didn't talk much between songs besides to thank everyone for coming out and supporting the Caravan, or to give props to Kid Cudi for a great show, but they kept the music coming for over two hours.

According to today's newspaper write up on the show, upwards of 100,000 people attended over the course of the three-day Caravan and Dave never repeated a song. That's a true blue musician for you.


I knew it was going to be a stellar Community Night before it even happened. Hello, sailing on Lake Michigan with my community AND fireworks off Navy Pier? There's not much can top that, my friends.

Thanks to friends of friends and the extensive network of people MercyWorks accumulates, we got to drive up to Belmont Harbor and board the Whispering Winds. After a crash course (Stay away from the boom when it's about to move.), we set sail down the shore. We stopped just north of Navy Pier for a quick swim in the still chilly water, then cuddled back on the boat as the fireworks exploded overhead.

I think we were all getting nostalgic and sappy by this point--I mean, it was rather romantic. We played the First Impression game and talked about how we barely knew each other just under a year ago. We laughed at inside jokes. A few people got teary-eyed. That's when we knew it was time to order a pizza ready for pick-up once we docked and drove back to the West Loop.


When it comes to Independence Day, Chicago knows what's up.

It all started on a boat for Mercy Day. Back that up, it started in the Soccer Building with continental breakfast at 8 am on Friday the 1st. Fr. Scott gave a State of the Mission address and we applauded some of the pretty awesome stuff Mercy coworkers and youth have accomplished in the past year.

Okay, now the boat: we got on buses and rode down to Navy Pier, where we got on the Anita Dee II: a luxury cruise ship complete with a helicopter pad (aka, a Lake tour boat with a fake helicopter on top for decor). We got lunch and drinks and despite the violent winds, set out on Lake Michigan. The party continued on Navy Pier upon our return, then I took a 2-hour nap at home (8 am is WAY early) before joining some of the MercyWorkers and coworkers at McGhee's for a party.

Independence Day weekend continued Saturday evening as Steph, Shannon, Kevin, and I rode bikes down to the Taste of Chicago to check out Gold Motel, one of my favorite bands. We also had a load of extra Taste tickets to use, so we gluttonously helped ourselves to cheesy fries, crab nuggets, spring rolls, empanadas, chips and guacamole, chocolate-covered cheesecake, Pepsi, toasted ravioli...aka greasy unhealthy foods we rarely get a chance to eat. Except the chips and guac, that's sort of become a luxury staple in my life.

July 3rd was spent at Britney's parents' house, grilling and swimming in the pool. It's always great to get out of the Mercy Home bubble, but still be in and around the city. Getting tan isn't so bad either.

We pulled out all the stops for the Fourth. Not really. We kept it super low-key: beach, back home for dinner/showering, riding bike to the Shedd to watch the fireworks from there. That's Freedom, baby.

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Life is Ballin Outta Hand

I have to apologize, dear readers.

I've been trying to get on here and post something, but life is really overwhelming right now. I have no idea what happened to June, but I'm going to try and remember a few big events:

Speed Dating: Our Community Night reflection from a week ago. I didn't realize how much I still don't know about my roommates! It ended on a sad note with us listing out everything we think we are going to miss after this year...there are a lot of things to miss.

Ohm: A few of my roommates and I watched a fashion show at this club on Saturday and even got into the VIP party thanks to our neighbor who was part of the show.

Nervous Breakdown: The stress of job searching and this year coming to an end hit me this past Monday. It seems like every day another of my roommates has a job or some sort of plan for next year, and I still feel very unsure of what will happen come July 27th.

New Music Mondays: After my freak out session, I joined Steph, Brit, and Becca for Downtown Sound in Milennium Park. I stepped in some vomit and got hit in the stomach by a soccer ball, but the music was good!

Dinner w/ Father Scott: We ate at 90 Miles, a Cuban restaurant, this past Wednesday before Community Night festivities. The food was awesome, as was the conversation. We are some pretty spoiled volunteers sometimes.

No Impact Man: The documentary was our reflection after Fr. Scott's dinner. I'm so glad I finally got to see it, and I highly recommend watching it along with reading the book. See old posts for my thoughts on the No Impact lifestyle.

Hyde Park: Kate requested a picnic at Promontory Point for her birthday on Thursday. It was a cooler day, and we enjoyed our lunch under a calm, but cloudy sky. Then we explored the lake front and the University of Chicago campus.

Panic Attack: More freaking out about upcoming year. It was a common theme this past week. By Friday night I felt a ton better, thanks to advice from Katie and finding out that I would by random chance have the next day off.

Taste of Chicago: It started this past weekend and goes until next weekend. I had the chance to check it out on Saturday. I didn't get anything to eat (it's not exactly stipend-friendly), but I got in a lot of people watching. There are also bands and lots of random activities, so it was fairly entertaining.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Seizing the Limited Days

A few weeks ago I signed up for the blood drive happening at Mercy today, and then last week I went and got a tattoo forgetting about the blood drive. Luckily Illinois is a regulated state (sterile, single-use needles), so I can still donate. Yay for body art and civic duties!

Yesterday after my morning meeting with the Mercy writers, Steph and I headed out to a local park for a picnic, reading, and sunbathing. Luckily we know of a park that's close, but still mostly undiscovered, so we had some privacy. Except for the lady with two dogs who kept trying to attack walkers/bikers/runners.

After the park, Steph, Brit and I walked down to Millennium Park to take in New Music Mondays, then it was off to the aiport to get Bails. She's only here until tomorrow, when she flies out to Uruguay, but we're making good use of her time here by sleeping in and watching trashy TV.

There are more things going on around here (summer activities w/ the guys, trying to figure out what's happening after July 26, block parties), but I'm a little overwhelmed with it all and would rather hang out in the moments that are currently happening...I don't have much time left as a full-time volunteer!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Walks, Jobs, Concerts

What do a man in a pink lab coat, a mother carrying not one but three children with her on her bike, and a man and woman riding a motorcycle with a sidecar have in common?

They can all be seen during a walk from the West Loop to Michigan Ave and back. We went for a social justice prayer walk last night during Community Night and those were the things/people I noticed. Chicago can be pretty strange sometimes.

The sun was on its way down when we set out, so the stifling heat became more and more bearable as we walked our separate paths. One of the greatest moments was as I passed Mikaela (we split up into two groups and walked different directions either down Jackson or Adams and back on the other) because we simply smiled at each other, gave each other high fives, and kept walking. I'm sure it was confusing for anyone who saw us, since we didn't talk or anything, but for me it was comforting to have so many roommates spread out in the Loop.

It was also nice to have some alone time while still sort of being with community. I've needed a lot of thinking time lately with the year wrapping up and us MercyWorkers all figuring out our plans for July 27th and beyond. There's a lot of resume revising and cover letter writing going on around here these days, and it can get overwhelming. Quiet walks downtown help take away some of the edge. Other things include taking advantage of the free day at Adler Planetarium, especially with its location right on the lake. From there, the skyline looks small. And we all know I'm a fan of free concerts, so I've also been checking those out at Millennium Park.

This past Monday, The Head and The Heart and Iron & Wine both performed so I went with Kim, who is in the city this week. We got there two hours early and there was already a line for the front seating plus people were already grabbing patches of grass in the yard area. We spread out our blanket and hung out, hoping Becca, Steph, Diego, and his mom would join us later. Unfortunately they got there too late and couldn't get a spot on the lawn since there were so many people. They enjoyed the concert from across the street and we joined them eventually--we couldn't see the stage anyway, so we figured we might as well spend the concert with friends instead of surrounded by strangers.

Today it's rainy and gray outside, which means two things: cooler weather (or humid weather) & mosquitos.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Back to Blogging

I survived another month experiment! Here's what I learned about photography during May:

1) Taking pictures draws more attention to you than writing poetry. Obviously I could write my daily poem in the privacy of my computer room, whereas photographer looks very similar to tourist when your camera of choice is a broken Kodak from 2006.

2) It was also more time consuming to post pictures than it was to write poetry, believe it or not. Mostly because I have no wireless internet on my laptop, so I'd have to import the pictures, then haul my laptop down the hallway and connect, then post. It's just a lot more technical than spewing out some pretty lines.

3) When you are looking, a lot of things seem photo-worthy. I, however, am horrible at bringing my camera with me. I've gotten a lot better after this month.

4) Many times I felt like I was in Rome again, except in Rome, literally everything is photogenic. Chicago has some beautiful scenes, but not like Rome. Also, I was clearly a tourist in Rome, so I felt okay acting out the part by taking tons of pictures. I don't exactly want to be pegged a tourist in Chicago when I have the option of looking like a local.

Now it's June, and I have less than two months left of my service year. We have a lot of things planned, community- and agency-wise, but one of my main goals for the summer is to enjoy what everyone says is the best part of this city. Honestly, the whole winter I heard, "Don't worry, Chicago in the summer makes this all worth it." I don't know if you all remember the Snowpocalypse, but I do. So. I'm expecting to be on a boat several times before the Lake freezes again.