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 challenges...it'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.