Thursday, March 31, 2011

White Walls/All of the Lights

It's a strange, almost eerie feeling to visit the near ruins of a housing project high rise at dusk. Fans still spin in the very topmost apartments. A satellite TV dish hangs from one window. Graffiti screams "I NEED MONEY" from one of the interior walls made visible after the first day of demolition. LED Lights in each apartment blink off and on, almost like a laser light show.

Yes, LED lights. The last standing high rise of the infamous Cabrini-Green housing project has been reclaimed as art for its last weeks standing. These lights will continue blinking from dusk to dawn until demolition is complete, one fading each time an apartment is lost to the wrecking ball. Actually standing there, right on Halsted, the effect  made the building seem alive. Visit to see the continuation of the art, an interactive piece where one can listen to poems and stories of actual Cabrini-Green residents. The blinking lights are actually set to the vibration of their voices reading their stories.

My community visited this site last night after our Community Night featuring Brad Hunt, a professor at Roosevelt University and author of Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing. He explained to us a short history of public housing in Chicago, how it was meant to clear slums but as a result of many factors (racism, ineffective policy, site location, design, youth density) became a black mark for the Chicago Housing Authority, one that they are currently attempting to erase by demolishing practically every high rise ever built in the city, regardless of the need to do this.

This event is relevant for us MercyWorkers not only because we are living in Chicago, and the housing projects are very much connected to Chicago's past, present and future, but also because of the population we work with. I personally have one youth in program who used to live in Cabrini-Green, but now lives in the new mixed income housing only blocks from the current demolition site. To some the closing and tearing down of Cabrini-Green is just the razing of some super ugly buildings, getting rid of the places where a lot of shitty things happened, but to him this is the destruction of home, of his community, the place where generations of his family grew up.

There is a lot of debate and emotion at play with the whole public housing situation, but regardless of where people stand and what they think of it all, everyone recognizes this as an end of something, and most, accepting that this is happening, only want to make sure it is remembered and documented for future Chicagoans. Hence this light show art installment, plus many other documentaries, class projects, photo journals, newspaper articles, and perhaps the most important thing to come of this, the National Public Housing Museum. Still in its infancy, the museum hopes to preserve the entire history of public housing--the good and the bad--for the entire nation. I hope I'm still in the city once it opens in its new location, only several blocks from my apartment.

Until then, I'll be reading up on my history. (Chicago ain't no Rome, but it'll do.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Too Many Options?

The craziness continues! Tuesday morning I was up with the garbage truck. The Daley Home staff team left nice and early for our retreat at Camp Dewan in Burlington, WI. Eight of us fit into Big Goldie, one of the 11-passenger vans we have here and set out. It was a good time to get away from program and connect with each other outside of work.

The strange part was being back at Camp Dewan, without the rest of my MercyWorkers. I saw the poem we wrote for them when we were there in the fall, and all of our favorite hang outs (the fireplace in the lodge, the loft full of dead flies). Such a weird feeling being in such a familiar place with different people.

By Wednesday afternoon, when we were getting ready to head back to Chicago, it wasn't so weird--I really felt like I got to know my coworkers better. Back at Mercy, I went straight to Community Night, which was a transition event for Chicago area volunteers.

This event may have been more beneficial to me if I wasn't so tired from retreat and just wanting a shower and a nap. Honestly, it was absolutely overwhelming. This year was supposed to help me figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life and I'm only becoming more and more confused. I've come to realize just how many opportunities are out there and I want to do so much, I just don't know in what order or how or when.

So......instead I think I'll download some music, rearrange my room, read some books, and cook some comfort food. Standard operating procedure for me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

It's about time, Spring

Spring is finally here! And this first week of it is going to be a wild ride. It all started this weekend with our Quarterly Liturgy & Brunch--every three months there is a mass at the chapel here for past and present MercyWorkers and friends of MercyWorks. Afterwards everyone comes up to our apartment for food prepared by us.

Saturday after work and yoga we deep cleaned (Q Lit is a convenient excuse to get your chore done) and prepped for Sunday. Sunday morning I went to the chapel early for music practice, since I volunteered to play piano for it. As soon as the last song was finished, I jetted back to the apartment to start making pancakes. I had already mixed the batter, so it was a simple matter of helping Britney man the griddle. Kevin made potatoes and eggs, Kate made muffins, and Diego made bacon, so we had plenty of food, even with several extra volunteers from the University of Scranton, who are staying here this week while on a service trip. As that wrapped up, I was off to work, where I cooked more breakfast--this time for the guys' dinner. They made fun of my "brinner," but then scarfed it down.

I have a mini refresher training today, so I'm going into work for several hours (I made a bargain, going in on my day off means I now have Friday off this week), but before then, I have visitors! Ariel, who now lives in her very own apartment (that I still need to see) and her bf Geoff (who I still need to meet) are on their way here as I type. I'll show them around a bit before work, then send them out to explore the city. Luckily it's supposed to be beautiful out.

With all of these activities, it's been a challenge to incorporate the simple living challenge of the week, but it is one I would suggest to all of you. Go to and find the link to calculate your own footprint. Take the quiz with the more accurate answers and see how many earths it would take if everyone lived your lifestyle. My lifestyle needs 3.5 earths to be sustainable, so something's got to change. Consuming food with the least amount of packaging as possible, and from local markets, is one way to help. I'm already a vegetarian, so that helps a lot. Recycling, driving less, walking more...all of those earth-friendly things I'm such a fan of...I plan on taking the quiz again later to see if my life is any more sustainable.

Until then, time to turn in petty cash receipts!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Green Egg Rolls?

This week the Misfits & Bandits learned that Chinatown does not celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

I started off the day Kate on our one-on one, a walk to the library to drop off books, then up and down Taylor Street until we found a small Greek place with falafel sandwiches. I've really grown to love falafel, even if everytime I eat it I think "Falafel, Faloofah" and can't take the food seriously.

Then Kate, Cookiie, Britney & I headed back out to explore Chinatown. It was such a beautiful day, which made it the perfect day to just wander around the few blocks that comprise the bulk of Chinatown--the pedestrian mall and several streets lined with Chinese bakeries, trinket shops, and food places.

No where, though, did we see people wearing green (except several white people). Makes sense--I don't even really celebrate St. Patrick's Day. The most my roommates got me to do was wear my Shamrocks for Kids pin on my shirt.

The best parts of our adventure where recognizing the Chicago Fire Department building featured in a recent episode of The Chicago Code and getting a man with a long beard to take our picture. When Cookiie told him she liked his beard, he said that he had been growing it for 25 years and that he met Jackie Chan once and he had pulled on it. Classic.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Pi Day!

Today is March 14, or 3.14, aka pi (π). And to celebrate, Jillian and I found a 24-hour diner and ordered two slices of coconut cream pie with decaf coffee. Yum. I love pi(e) day.

The Golden Apple Diner is like pretty much any other diner you've been to--Formica tables in faded cream blue, fake plants hanging from the ceiling, plastic laminated menus, even that refrigerated spinning dessert case. What a perfect place to order some pie, talk about life's quandaries, and enjoy another's company.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chicago Goes Green

On this Saturday morning in March, loads of people are heading downtown to partake in Irish libations. St. Patrick's Day isn't until later this week, but in Chicago the celebrations have begun. The lights on the downtown buildings have been green for about a week now, and Shamrock Shakes are in abundance at every Golden Arches. Today is the big event, with Mercy's spring fundraiser, Shamrocks for Kids. People have been selling shamrock pins out on the streets to raise money and awareness and there is a party after the parade at the Hilton downtown with food, music and games. Today is also the major hoopla of the parade and dying of the Chicago River.

The river dying is such a strange tradition, but apparently it's magical the way the dye starts orange and changes to green. And according to everything I've read, the dye is environmentally safe. Not that you can really make the Chicago River any more dirty or polluted than it already is.

I've never been a huge St. Patrick's Day fan (ie, I've never actually celebrated it besides Shamrock Shakes and I hate that stupid rule about pinching people for not wearing green.), but here I think I may buy in to all the festivities and at least go check out the river later. My community also has another Saturday Family Dinner planned for tonight--it's been awhile since we had an informal gathering and we love any excuse to throw a party, even if the majority of us are no where near Irish.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

1. Make a List

Stephanie had an interesting idea for one way to participate in Lent. She writes a list of 40 things she wants to do during the season, then picks one each day. It appeals to me for several reasons: I love lists, I love doing one thing every day, I get to write the list and choose the order in which I do the things... Plus, it's Lent-y: simple, makes you slow down and (hopefully) think about why you do what you do.

Unfortunately, I love crossing things off lists more than I like making them, so I've literally done 15 of the things I began writing last night. Some of them (most of them) are repeatable, like Wake Up Smiling or Go For A Walk (NOTE: I didn't cross off that first one this morning...there's still time), so I can always keep those on my list.

Katie and Liz also gave us a 40-day reflection with short writings by spiritual/social justice-minded people. Today's, from Joyce Rupp, is to Focus on One Thing Only. This is best accomplished through some sort of meditation, or cultivating a conscious state of focus. Which means I'm off to light a candle and stare at it.


It's what my guys say when their skin is dry and they need lotion. It's also how my forehead looked earlier this evening. My community went to an Ash Wednesday service at Old St. Mary's on Michigan tonight, and then came back to our apartment for a short reflection on Lent.

I never questioned the ashes growing up. For some reason, Fr. Malik's explanation always made sense to me, and I liked how they felt on my forehead. I think it would do a lot of people a lot of good to remember they are dust, and to dust they will return. That's still a solid part of Ash Wednesday for me--remembering we're just breathing dirt. Takes the pressure off.

Recently, I've wondered how I felt about leaving the ashes on, especially when returning to the non-Lenten-focused world. Is it better to leave them on and declare to the world that you are a) Catholic, b) breathing dirt, and/or c) unconcerned about how ridiculous you look, or should you wipe them off so as to not call attention to yourself, ie, look at me, I'm such a great churchy person? The ash cross can be pretty humbling, but then again, the message on Ash Wednesday always includes the part about praying alone, giving alms in private, and not blowing a trumpet anytime you do something holy.

We got back in our vans and drove straight back to our apartments after the service tonight, so I didn't really have to think about that this year. My community has seen me look/act far more ridiculous than any ashy smudge, and when we all had one, it suddenly didn't look so strange. It was more like a symbol we all decided to wear, like how politicians all wear those flag pins. And maybe that was the best part of this year's Ash Wednesday--having a group of people to be ashy with.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is that supposed to be a fat joke?

It's Fat Tuesday AND International Women's Day today. Mere coincidence, but the juxtaposition of the two is a little strange. One is about eating, dancing, and overturning social conventions before a period of fasting and sacrifice, and the other encourages political and social awareness of women's rights and their struggles to gain them. How does one celebrate both on the same day?

I know how many women in New Orleans choose to celebrate (men too, I guess)--does their exposure bring awareness to just how far women have come (yay, we can take off our shirts and people will give us beads) and at the same time overindulge? Maybe, considering all the countries where such exposure would warrant arrests and/or execution. Maybe not, considering the box women risk placing themselves in if such exposure only reinforces gender stereotypes.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Happy Casimir Pulaski Day!

Who is Casimir Pulaski, you say? Good question.

He's a Polish guy who fought in the Revolutionary War as a cavalry man. He's known as "the father of American cavalry," I think mostly because he saved George Washington's life. In 2009, he was granted honorary American citizenship, which I guess is cool except he'd already been dead 230 years.

There isn't much else to say about the man, besides he loves freedom. And yet all Chicago Public Schools are closed today, as are Chicago Public Libraries and a plethora of other city and county offices. In honor of Casimir Pulaski Day. The Polish population here has pretty big pull.

Los Bulls

Today during the Bulls v. Heat game I noticed the jerseys with "Los Bulls" and "El Heat" instead of the regular "Bulls" and "Heat." My coworker told me they do this for NBA's Noche Latina. We both wondered why they didn't take it all the way, and put "Los Toros" on the jerseys. Or, for that matter, why they didn't just put "Toros." The regular ones don't say "The Bulls."

A quick google search let me know I wasn't the first to wonder this, or the first to recognize the slight controversy in choosing what to put on the jerseys. There are several different schools of thought, as seen in the comments of this article and this blog post. Both were written several years ago, and even though people still comment on the wording, I guess the proper noun argument won. I still think a full translation is worth thinking about. As both posts say, it works for baseball.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Happy Birthday Chicago!

The city of Chicago was incoporated 174 years ago today. According to the Huffington Post, Chicago has mastered these 6 things since then:

Food (hot dogs, pizza)
Loyalty (sports, political figures)
Skyline (designed to be the best)
Being Secretly Awesome (Newsweek: Chicago is America's Hottest City)
Political Intrigue (Obama, Daley, Rahm)
Digging Out (snow, recession, corruption)

Also, Chicagoist posted this list of items it would give to Chicago, were money no object.

I celebrated by making myself breakfast, reading a book I got from the library featuring short stories and essays by Chicagoans, and heading off to work for the night. Maybe tomorrow I'll make a cake.