Friday, January 28, 2011

On the Road Again

Most of our Community Nights from here on out have been dictated for us by the powers that be: speakers, forums, special events, and road maps will fill up our Wednesdays for a while. This week we had Road Maps, which basically means three community  members got up and told us their life story, in any way they wanted. The first three set the bar high, including visuals and interactive sections and honestly, vulnerably revealing themselves.

I don't want to say I'm nervous for my Road Map (which doesn't come until mid-March), but I am definitely unsure of how to format it. Should I write it all down, word for word, or just give myself general talking points? Should I use pictures? Actual road maps? I think what makes these nights special is that we were all given the same task, to tell our story, but each one will be completely different. Not just the substance of the stories, but the way in which we tell them. Really, that's half the story, right?


In other road map news, I spent yesterday traveling to Madison and Beloit for MercyWorks recruitment and sibling reunion. After dropping off Liz at the UW for a career fair, I drove to Edgewood to talk with a campus ministry representative about volunteering and to get lunch with Bailey and Quinn, compliments of Quinn. You know you're out of college, but not too out of college, when the outfits (sweats) and flexible time seem strange, but vaguely familiar.

After Madison, Liz and I drove to Beloit to have dinner with several students interested in social work and/or volunteering. We talked about Mercy Home, MercyWorks, and what it's like living in community and then they had the chance to ask us questions. One of the guys asked me what a normal day looked like. I didn't quite have an answer--I know what a normal day should look like, but I'm not sure if one has ever happened.


Today I have a check-in with Liz and Katie and then it's back to work. Having a Friday as my Monday can be super weird sometimes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Oldest Rivalry?

Britney taped the cover of last week's RedEye to my door before the game this weekend:

Then I took the liberty of editing today's cover to tape on her door:

This rivalry is awesome.

Brief Moments of Adult Behavior

I did adult-type things both Friday and Saturday night this past weekend. So weird.

Friday a bunch of us went to Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar downtown. Stephanie had won a party there which included a free buffet and discount drinks, so we came hungry. Since our simple living challenge this week is vegetarianism, we had to skip the chicken and steak in our burritos and stick with rice and peppers. Then the music started.

The dueling pianos don't so much duel as they collaborate. They took requests for practically any song or artist, then they'd rotate instruments as needed: two on pianos or one on piano and one on the drum set--until more band members joined them. Every member of the band played nearly every instrument available: piano, drums, guitar, trumpet. And their songs ranged from Billy Joel to the Backstreet Boys to the Beatles to Britney Spears. Seriously, though, they knew tons of songs. We even got them to do Justin Bieber.

Saturday's grown up activity was attending Funk It Up About Nothin' at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. Before you start assuming things, let me tell you this play was a hip hop adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and a brilliant one at that. Becca and I spent most of the play laughing our pants off. Anyone interested in Shakespeare, hip hop, English major-y things, music, or the arts in general should definitely check this out. The Q Brothers have really struck gold with this.

Besides these two events, other mature things I did this weekend include watching several TED talks about consumption and ecoactivism, as well as reading Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott, cleaning our bathroom, and watching the NFC Championship game at work. That last one maybe isn't "grown up," but when you work with teenage boys, it kind of comes with the territory.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Shedd & Chapel

This week's edition of The Thursday Adventures of the Misfits & Bandits takes place first at the Shedd Aquarium. Here's what I learned there:
  • Fish are disgusting.
  • As disgusting as fish are, I still wanted to stand and gawk at them for over an hour.
  • Aquariums don't seem as mean/confining as zoos, even though they are far more constricting if you consider the size of oceans versus the jungle.
  • Free Day at the Shedd is worth every penny.
After that, Kevin, Shannon, Kate, and I had the chance to eat dinner with six Sisters of Charity. These women were a hoot, let me tell you. From stories of children they've worked with as teachers and residential care providers to re-tellings of their days around the city, they had lots to talk about. They also had lots of questions for us. 

One of them was celebrating her 78th birthday that night, so besides the dinner meal of roast beef and mashed potatoes, we also got cake. Sister Suzanne's cake request: chocolate cake with whipped cream. It was quite tasty. Plus she kept passing around a box of chocolates for us to eat.

After dinner we joined them for vespers, their evening prayer, in the small chapel. Then we helped with dishes and cleaning the kitchen and all sat in their living room where they continued to tell us stories. I wish I had a notebook with me that night so I could remember more of them. As we left they each gave us hugs, told us to visit again, and said to bring the rest of our roommates the next time. What might be more fun, though, is having them over to our apartment for dinner. 

Things that Make Me Want to Clean: Meditation

This week at acupuncture, Kirk jazzed it up. He did the usual needle and meditation music bit, then added a little electricity to the needles in my neck. It felt like a small tapping at the base of my skull. He also asked if I had been using the meditation CD he gave me. I fibbed a little by saying I had meditated a few times over the week. I really did try several times, but I don't think I succeeded in any of those tries.

Kirk's big thing was consistency over length. He said he'd rather me try ten minutes a day than thirty minutes three times a week. He must have guessed my meditations weren't quite as fruitful as one would hope. Mostly they look like this:

Turn music on. Take a deep breath. Sit on bed. Close eyes. Think positive thoughts. Breathe. Wonder what I'm supposed to be thinking about. Try to remember/invent a mantra to repeat. I am the divinity who resides in me? Not ready for that kind of intensity. Think of quippy titles for the blog post about failed meditation. Compose rough draft of blog post about failed meditation. Deep breath. Try to listen to the music/white noise. Check iPod. Only three minutes in.

This goes on for maybe ten minutes, then I'll usually start reading or cleaning my room, headphones still in. If I'm listening to the music I'm still sort of meditating, right? Plus I have things that need to get done and roommates demanding attention. I'll keep you posted if I ever reach Nirvana.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys

It's a pretty good day to be a Packer fan. Also a good day for hair supporters (see here and here). While we're at it, let's make it a good day for teams not represented by a bird. (If the trend continues, the Seahawks don't really stand a chance...and now that I think about it, maybe not the Jets either?)

Before I could veg out and watch football all afternoon, though, I had to work my Saturday shift. Usually an easy couple of hours before all my guys are out of program (I make sure they wake up and try to convince them to eat something other than Pop Tarts for breakfast before I send them on their way home or to work), today I had to stay for a full shift. A full shift with no structure (read: trying to entertain a teenager for eight hours).

Luckily the guy who was in program today had things to do, so we weren't just playing video games all day, but the three hours in the gym were probably a bit excessive. I can't even begin to explain their obsession with the gym, except to say I wish they loved showering even half as much as they love gym time. Maybe then we wouldn't need an air freshener in every outlet.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Misfits & Bandits Strike Again

Out of my 13 roommates, 5 of them have Thursdays off with me. Six MercyWorkers is always a good time, and Thursdays have pretty much become my favorite day of the week. Whether it's cooking family dinners, watching TV, exploring Chicago, or just doing hoodrat things around the apartment, we always seem to entertain ourselves (and anyone else in the vicinity).

Yesterday, Kevin, Britney, and I, three of the Misfits & Bandits (all fun groups need a nickname), took a walk downtown to the Chicago Cultural Center, one of the most beautiful and confusing buildings in the city. The center always has something going on: free music or theater, art exhibits, lectures--and the architecture of the building is magnificent.

We were going to see a special exhibit, Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer, which featured photos never before released to the public. We also stood in awe at the stained glass domes, one of them done by Tiffany.

After a long and cold walk back to our apartment, Kevin and I made chili, a considerable feat taking into account our lack of chili ingredients. Kevin is a kitchen master, though, so we weren't really surprised when in turned out amazing.

We capped off the night by watching Shutter Island, a movie I consider comparable, though overall superior, to Inception. Another successful Thursday.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Putting the Punk Back into Acupuncture

On a stretch of Ashland north of Belmont (Nobel?), in between a bank and a row of herbal healers and acupuncturists, sits a renovated house where my very own acupuncturist has his practice. That's right, readers: I have an acupuncturist, Kirk. My MD, Dr. Lee, gave me a referral after I saw him for back pain and headaches last week. (How about that, my Western medicine-prescribing doctor is Asian American and my ancient-Chinese-medicine-practicing healer is European American.)

Today was my first visit. Kirk started by tapping tiny needles into my back and neck. Then he left me alone for about twenty minutes with a heat lamp over my lower back. I felt a bit weird and wondered what I looked like. Through the hole in the head cushion, my eyes made pictures out of the shading in the blue carpet. At about the time the saltshaker morphed into a raccoon, I relaxed. Several minutes later, Kirk came back to pull out the needles.

He had me flip over and put new needles in my ankles, hands, the insides of my elbows, and the outsides of my ears. These were supposed to help my circulation, which would improve a multitude of things. Again, he left me there about twenty minutes and my eyes made pictures out of the pattern in the ceiling tiles. Russian woman praying. Fireworks. Dandelion. Then he was back again to pull out the needles. And that was it.

I don't feel a lot different yet, but these things take time. I have another appointment next week, plus a meditation CD Kirk gave me to help quiet my inner chatter. Along with the Western medicine, it's been a significantly more relaxed week for me in the West Loop.


The moss green wall of the computer room at work features an obnoxious, impossible-to-miss mural, but up until recently I never sat and really looked at it. It's basically a painting of people and things smooshed together with no apparent meaning. From what I've heard, some lady painted it a while ago with inspiration from the guys living in Daley Home then; the guys in program now never comment on it. Last night at work, while three of the guys sat doing homework, I monitored them and took some time trying to interpret this incomprehensible mural.

The first thing that gets me is the gray-faced Asian lady at the top. She appears to be sitting on the red car below her, your standard red sedan only with an eye peering out from it. Also, it's balanced on a deformed globe, which in turn is balanced on a black sedan. That's weird enough. Add to that the eye's mate, sitting between the face of a lion and a brown shoe near the bottom. Off to the left, the shoe's mate hides behind a Notre Dame quarterback ready to throw a football through a hole in a giant dollar bill. A green/yellow face looks out further to the left. On the opposite side, a gorilla throws another football. The other three figures in the mural resemble a Salvador Dali or Edvard Munch painting--faces and bodies melting into the surrounding blocks of color.

Strange, right? None of these things fit together. Maybe that's why the whole thing is outlined in red: to hold them together and force them to gel. I would have sat to contemplate this mural further, but would you know it, one of the guys was using Napster to listen to Lil Wayne instead of to research techno music for a report.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Escape to Garfield Park

With very little snow on the ground but ever-dropping temperatures, the tropical oasis of the Garfield Park Conservatory felt great last Thursday. Located in Chicago's "up and coming" neighborhood of Garfield Park, the conservatory is only a short drive from my apartment and has been on my roommates' and my to do lists for some time now. It's totally free, and features several rooms filled with palm trees, ferns, cacti, and special seasonal flowers.
Fern Room
Their Holiday Flower show is over now, to be replaced with the Spring show, but we did get to see the room filled with evergreens and poinsettias. My favorite was either the Desert House or the Fern Room.

Desert House
Walking around what is essentially a giant greenhouse felt like an escape from reality--from the smell of dirt to the sound of waterfalls, it was hard to believe that traffic and skyscrapers were right outside. Fun trivia about the Garfield Park Conservatory: The Dilemma, which is set in Chicago, includes scenes filmed here. (See seconds .59-1.09 in the trailer.)

Possible Back-up Career?

When I'm not volunteering full time, I enjoy spending my time volunteering. No, really. Well, only if my roommates come with. Last Wednesday we spend our Community Night packaging emergency food boxes for Cook County at the Greater Chicago Food Depository (a giant warehouse south of Chicago...honestly, several football fields would fit inside).

The way they do these emergency boxes is a la I Love Lucy, aka rapidly moving conveyor belt. Each person has a specific product to place in a specific spot in the box. Then it gets labeled, weighed, taped, placed on pallets, and loaded into the warehouse until an emergency (fire, flood, etc). The boxes we packaged could feed a family of five for a minimum of 3-4 days.

Since my job was to take the boxes off the line and stack them on the pallets, I could watch pretty much the entire line in motion: my roommates and the other volunteers putting their products in, the boxes making their way around the corner where more of my roommates manned the scale and tape machine, then the pallet area where I stood. It was all so efficient--our goal was to pack 1,000 boxes, or 25 pallets, but we finished a total of 1,179 boxes in the two hours we worked.

During the break we got halfway through, I joked with my roommates that it would be fun if we actually had factory jobs. We could joke around and play cards during breaks, we'd all be buff from heavy lifting...they didn't feel the same way, but I still think it would be nice every now and then to not have to think so much on the job.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Enduring Art

This past Tuesday I got the chance to tour Chicago's Fine Arts Building on Michigan Ave along with one of the guys in program and our program therapist. It's a huge building 125 years old where many artsy types have their studios. Frank Lloyd Wright once had a studio there, as well as the illustrator for The Wizard of Oz book series. Today it's home to visual artists, musicians, art and movement therapists, massage therapists, violin and piano restorers, dance instructors, a leathermaker, and a software designer, among others.

We waited on the first floor for the elevator to come down. The call button for the elevator was actually a buzzer because an old man is the operator for it. He goes up and down the ten floors all day, listening for the buzzes from above and below. We got on and asked for the sixth floor. Off we went and with a lurch and a bouncing stop, we were there.

Each studio looks different from the others: some are tiny little rooms with just one window facing out opposite the door, others have skylights and lofts. We also saw a ballroom set up for a concert with a stunning view of Lake Michigan out its broad windows.

During this mini-tour, our therapist asked the lady showing us around if rent was crazy high due to the age of the building and awesome location. Her answer was that it was really reasonable taking those things into consideration...but I'm still curious as to what "reasonable" is.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Feeling so Fly Like a Cheesehead

I'm assuming you all know I live in Chicago. And that the Packers beat the Bears on Sunday, clinching a spot in the playoffs and boosting their egos along the way. I had to be at work during the game, so that's where I watched it. Britney, a Chicagoan, watched in our living room and (according to Becca) spent most of the game cursing and yelling at Cutler. I tried not to trash talk before or during the game, saving it all for when I got home that night.

What was the best was that in the Chicago Sports section of the Tribune on Monday, there were literally 10 articles about different aspects of the game. I cut out all the pictures and made a photo collage on Britney's bedroom wall. So now when she wakes up she can see Hawk and Wynn taking Cutler to the ground, along with about seven other photos of victorious poses. I also found this video for some extra fun.


Thanks to a very generous donor (or at the very least, a donor who was out of town for New Year's), Britney and I scored tickets to the Bulls-Cavaliers game last Saturday. Several of our roommates were jealous, but hey--Brit and I had to work New Year's Eve night, so we were the only ones home in the morning when these tickets became available.

The United Center is just a short walk from our apartment, so we saved the $20 in parking other people paid (actually cheap for Chicago). The stadium was packed with people and, oddly enough, Beatles and Eagles tribute bands. Our seats were in Row 3, which meant when we waved down by the seats ahead of us, people could see our hands on TV.

What we could see was a whole lot.

We sat right behind the Cavaliers, near one of the hoops. The players looked HUGE, and we could even hear them talking on the court. The Chicago Bulls dance team, called the Lovabulls, performed during TV breaks/timouts and when they weren't doing that, they did little distracting dance moves near the hoop. Then there was Benny the Bull, who would also be annoying if he wasn't so funny. The Jesse White Tumblers performed at halftime; when they came out Brit screamed, "This is the best day ever!" These kids are mad good, and Jesse White was even there with them.

The Bulls also do a promotion along with McDonald's that for every game, if the Bulls win with 100 points or more, everyone gets a free Big Mac. Near the end of the game, when this became a very real possiblilty, you could tell the crowd was no longer cheering for the Bulls to win, but for the Bulls to score 100 points. With about 7 seconds left the Bulls were sure to win with 99 points, but thanks to a foul the Bulls had 2 free throws. When Deng missed the first one, the entire crowd groaned. And when he made his second, people were on their feet. Oh, America.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ciao, 2010.

Is it really January 1? Because when I look out the windows at work and see grass, clear streets, and robins jumping around in the trees I'm thinking it's April. For real--it rained yesterday so all the snow is gone, and the temps have been in the 40s.

In other strange news, I'm feeling disconnected from work. Or rather, I haven't quite gotten back into a rhythm here. Yesterday was my first back, and most of the guys were gone already for their New Year's weekend passes at home, so I still haven't seen all of them. Program is still in holiday mode and our regular structure doesn't really apply. I'm finding that, like the guys, I love having no structure but at the same time something seems to be missing here!

One thing is for certain: I couldn't ask for better roommates. Their welcome when I got back on Wednesday was amazing. It was also great to see how we reconnected so quickly after the holiday, and I love that we decided to have our own New Year's party in our apartment instead of going out somewhere. I had a wonderful night ringing in the new year by dancing to all of our favorite songs in our living room.