Monday, October 31, 2005

Dream Come True

Which was my dream come true, do you think?

A. Saturday afternoon, my student interior designer and her husband came down and put in new light fixtures. So, instead of three-bulb "interrogation lights" (as the guy who delivered my futons called them), I now have two large white globes, one dangling in the living room, the other in the home office space, and two smaller ones on a swag of golden chain suspended over the dining room table.

B. Saturday late morning, Dawn showed up asking if she and her two buddies from Big Picture could borrow my dining table to have a spot to work on their exhibitions (end-of-quarter projects). Their advisor somehow got locked out of the building and they needed a quiet, convenient place to prepare. So three girls and their teacher spread out their stuff-photos of a diabetic who lost a toe mixed with Marilyn Manson and Dawn's neverending trail of loose notes.

I tapped her shoulder, laughing, as I picked up some of her looseleaf notes off the floor for the second or third time. "You are just like me," I marveled. "Always leaving a paper trail!"

Her buddy Gloria (for the purpose of this blog) did a full-dress rehearsal of her exhibition, which took 45 minutes. She was very well-prepared.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Las Medias Blancas

...otherwise known as the White Sox. I went to Dawn's house last night to find out how Joey did on his big science project. Their mom very generously switched off her telenovela in favor of the game and we all watched it.

First, the science project news. He got nine wrong answers according to the kid who corrected his paper--his teacher hasn't seen it yet. He's supposed to give his oral report tomorrow and the teacher was keeping the MRI and his notes in school. This makes me nervous since I think he'd be better off with some extra practice before getting up in front of the class, but he's on his own with that now.

Now for baseball. We watched up until about the 7th inning, so we saw the Sox come from behind and cheered for a few runs. Their mom has a touch of the flu, so she was kicking back in the recliner with a yellow blanket wrapped around her. Meanwhile Joey was running around in soccer shorts and no shirt, proclaiming he was not cold. He went back in the kitchen and then kept lurking between his bedroom door and the bathroom door, playing I spy or hide-and-go-seek or just trying to get us to laugh at him, which we did. I did, copiously.

Then he put on a cape and his vampire teeth and came back in to scare us while we watched the game. He is a funny character! He gave his sick mother a couple of hugs, too, for moral support. Apparently he and his dad are the only ones in the house who haven't been hit by the bug yet.

His mom wanted to know how long the game goes on, so I explained its nine innings unless they're tied at the ninth, when it goes on to extra innings. Little did we know how many of those there would be!

At ten, Joey's mom sent him to bed and I sent myself home. I knew nothing more until I got to work and saw the headline on the Tribune and realized they won. But it took until lunch for me to find out about the win in the 14th inning! Good thing we didn't stay up until 1:30!!!

Monday, October 24, 2005

More Bones

Yesterday's cloudy, cold, drizzle was the perfect backdrop to stay in the house and knock out the rest of Joey's science report. We sat at the dining room table and Dawn turned off the loud Mexican music and put the radio on in her room so we could concentrate. She's getting sick--sore throat, hard to swallow. Her big brother is sick too but he has a job at a pizza place so he was working. Let's hope it's not bird flu, right?

Preparing the oral presentation was interesting. Joey and I talked about what was on the MRI and I made him practice saying "anterior cruciate ligament." After he got that down, I tried to get him to learn "magnetic resonance imaging" but that was just too hard. So we made a note card about how an MRI is different from an X-ray and just left it at that.

He had eight note cards. It was really hard to get him to say a complete sentence without it on the card, so I ended up printing out simple sentences on most of the cards. On one I drew a figure of the leg bones and their connections to hip and ankle, but had to write it out in the end because it was easier for him. He was really good at pointing out the femur and the tibia while talking, though.

Dawn loaned me their cell phone because it shows the time. He went through it for me maybe five or six times. The first few I had to coach/interrupt him, but the last two or three he was getting through it OK on his own. It came in a little short--about two minutes, instead of two and half to three--but it was OK. He told me last time they had oral presentations he didn't even get to do one. "I'm really excited for this," he said.

I went to Chavez this morning in hopes of meeting his teacher, but it didn't pan out. There was a long line and the clerk was not mean but not extra helpful, and if you didn't know who you were looking for, she wasn't going to help you out. She sent me to the other building because I said I was looking for a fourth grade science teacher. Joey told me he was in the main building. I went over and asked there who his teacher was, and they sent me back.

Fortunately, when I came back, my friend Ms. Kelly was at the desk and she helped me figure out who the teacher I wanted was. But by then it was almost five to eight, so I just wrote her a note explaining who I was and that Joey and I spent about 10 hours on that report and she should call me if she had any questions.

I saw him coming in, just ahead of the bell. "Hey, you got everything?" I asked.
He nodded quickly and kept going--I suspect partly because he was barely awake and partly not to be late.

This morning I called DePaul. They have something called a Reading and Learning Lab that helps bilingual kids with learning problems. Of course they have a waiting list. They're sending me information. We'll see.

It kills me that it is so hard to get him somebody who knows how to teach phonics and spelling. At this rate, I'll have to learn Orton-Gillingham (a method of teaching kids reading and spelling) myself:

It's two years before he could even start at San Miguel.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Them Bones

Joey's science project is due Monday, and it's a killer. Because Chavez is on a year-round schedule, every October the kids have three weeks off and the teachers send them home with these fat packets of work, especially in science. On top of all the worksheets, usually they have to do some kind of project.

Last year I helped Danny with his project on density. We went to Food 4 Less and got liquid laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, and a bunch of other fluids, into which we dropped an egg to see whether it would float. The only one it floated in was salt water. I'm afraid I'm not the greatest science whiz, so Danny only got a C on his project. But I wonder how much he would have gotten done at all without a grownup fool enough to waste a few bucks and five or six hours on experiments and writing them up.

This year it's Joey's turn. He's learning about bones. I got a couple of books out of the juvenile section at Harold Washington, one in English and one in Spanish, and every night but Wednesday of this week we've been working on his worksheets for about an hour and a half. He can get about two pages done in that time. He knows the stuff--it's spelling the words that's the killer.

We've hardly done anything about the really hard part. He's supposed to give a three-minute oral presentation about some bone topic. They suggested a bunch of ideas and we adapted one of them. The sheet suggested bringing in an X-ray and explaining the bones, what they connect to, and what the X-ray shows. He liked the idea of doing that with one of the old MRI's I have from when I tore my ACL.

Right now I'm just trying to make sure he remembers the words femur and tibia. I have no idea how we're going to turn this into an oral report and get the rest of his worksheets done before Monday.

It's enough to dampen my late-30s enthusiasm for motherhood, that's for sure.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Today's Do List

1) Read at daily Mass this morning
2) Call Rep. Lipinski's foreign policy aide and get him to find out what happened to a Colombian guy who was kidnapped by paramilitaries last weekend.
3) Bike to work
4) Email foreign policy aide more info.
5) Give a principal the teacher's union office number so I can get a quote from her for my day job (yes, I'm trying to do work today).
6) Call the U.S. Embassy in Bogota about the guy who disappeared.
7) Send a note with prayers and support to my friend, whose son just got wounded in Iraq.
8) Make a couple more work-related calls.
9) Go to the library and get better books on bones for Joey's report.
10) Pick up photos from 20th high school reunion.
11) Beg other friends to write/call the Embassy on behalf of this guy.
12) Clean desk.
13) Work some more.
14) Bike home.
15) Help Joey with his bone report and other homework.
16) Measure the length of the back fence to put barbed wire on it.
17) Ask Joey's dad about making iron bars for the back window.
18) Pray about a lot of things.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Attempted Break In?

Saturday morning the paint crew (Dawn, my interior designer, her friend, and Ms. Ribs' nephew) and I discovered someone had slit the screen to the back window in the kitchen, and scratched up the window glass in a square like they were trying to get in. It was a pretty half-assed attempt, and strangely, the screen was torn and also raised--like they sliced the screen, then raised the window, then scratched the glass. If they were really trying to get in they didn't do a very good job.

The police evidence tech told me he didn't think that was the point. "I think somebody just wants to bother you, scare you," he said. "People get jealous when they see other people having things they don't have."

Nevertheless, I'll admit I was spooked. Good thing the paint crew was around all day and we had a lot of work to do in between two visits from the cops--one for the report, one to collect evidence.

There was some lemonade in the lemons. The first sweet part was that my interior designer's paint scheme impressed the woman officer who took the report, so they traded numbers and Designer Gal might get a real gig as a result. The next bit of sugar came when the evidence tech made friends with Dawn, who is interested in police detective work. He agreed to let her come to the station next week to do an interview. How cool is that??

In between making Ws on my wall, I picked up the phone and called lots of folks in my address book, inviting them to an impromptu "let's scare away the burglars" party. Four people showed up: my neighbor, the other white lady who bought further up the street, a friend from Su Casa, my friend the cop (really glad he made it!) and Dawn stuck around for a while.

In fact, Dawn's mom came by with Dawn and Joey after the other guests left and let them stay over. It was my first slumber party for kids. Dawn's mom is my hero--I don't know if I would have done that if I were in her shoes. She was so nervous she spoke two words of English: "My son!"

"I know!" I said. I gave her a big hug and cheek kiss of appreciation.

We stayed up way too late pulling tape off the walls and ceiling. Joey made a tape ball out of the pickings, and I kept singing "Tape Man, he's a tape tape man, yes he's a tape man..." to him. (The tune was a song called "Ape Man" which I think is by the Kinks but I forget. Anyone out there remember???)

The next morning we had eggs and rice--Aurora made rice Mexican-style. You fry the dry rice a little first, then add onions, tomato, water and spices. Joey and Aurora drew pictures and Joey dressed himself up as a witch/bruja, by wearing my big navy terrycloth bathrobe, Redi-shade clips stuck to his head, cheeks and chin, and riding the broom all over the house. He can roll his eyes way up into his head, too. Perfect! I probably haven't laughed so hard in months.

But I'm thinking about getting some barbed wire for the top of my back fence. It seems like that's the source of all the trouble.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Dinner Party

So last night I was expecting to have friends of mine, a married couple, over for dinner. They are transplanted North Siders like me who have lived for a year in McKinley Park, just north of Back of the Yards. For months we have been saying we should get together for dinner, and it took until last night to happen.

Plus, it didn't go off quite as planned. First, the wife of the couple had to work late, so the husband and I snacked while the pasta was boiling, then sat down for pasta, garlic bread and salad.

As we were wrapping up, the doorbell rang. Dawn and her mom wanted the phone number for Neighborhood Housing Services. Hurray! I've only been nagging them for months to call and get their help in preparing paperwork for a mortgage. What tipped it over the edge was that their new landlord told them this week he wants them out at the end of the month. Apparently Dawn's big brother and his friends look like gangbangers to the landlord. Too bad he can't tell the difference between boys who go to Curie and read the Da Vinci Code and boys who drop out of school and shoot people. Even the nice church lady down the street has better sense than this landlord. She said of Dawn's family: "They are nice people. They're quiet. They have their kids under control."

Anyway, my friend, the husband of the couple, speaks excellent Spanish and helped explain what Neighborhood Housing Services does--it's not a bank, it's not a mortgage company, but they help people prepare documents to apply for a mortgage, they can lend money or refer to banks, and they rehab and sell properties, too, like they did with my former two-flat, which they converted to a single family house.

My friend got a workout in translating last night, because the doorbell rang again a few minutes later. It was School Lady and her oldest daughter and her next-to-youngest daughter (my favorite!). Oldest daughter is a freshman at Richards High this year, and everything is OK except for her biology teacher, a "morena" (black woman) who refuses to let students speak Spanish in her class, even when they don't understand what's going on. Oldest daughter tried to help her friends out by speaking Spanish and ended up in an argument with the teacher and got in trouble. She has all As and Bs in every class except biology, where she has a D. Other parents and students are having similar problems and a group met with the principal once already. Things improved for a couple of days and then went back to where they were. School Lady was among a group of ten parents who met with the principal today, for the second time, to talk about the situation.

I suggested they see what comes out of this, but if it doesn't improve, I offered to help them get in touch with some people downtown or at Designs for Change, an advocacy group that works with parents on school improvement, including on bilingual education issues.

Mr. Translation's wife arrived shortly after School Lady and her kids left, so we fed her a small bowl of pasta and a glass of wine and gave her a house tour. My friends thought the new colors on the first floor looked rather Southwestern, so maybe my eclectic (not to say eccentric) vision of Mexican meets Japanese may yet be realized.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Design on a Dime

Until Saturday, my house looked pretty much as it did when I bought it a year ago. I hadn't lifted a paint brush or driven a nail. Yes, I did buy some furniture, and there's less echo in there than when I first closed on the joint, but interior decorating isn't something I have much interest in or talent for.

Over the past year I bought two futon/sofas for the living room and a pair of runners. A guy I know called last fall and handed off some chairs out of the back of a truck, including a wooden armchair that gets approving nods from designer types but isn't very comfortable to sit on (not padded). The wrought-iron table and chairs my old roommate and I got from Ace Hardware for our old porch now grace the dining room. The window treatments are Redi-Shades (about seven bucks at Home Depot, by the way). The guy who delivered my futons referred to the ceiling fixtures as "interrogation lights."

All of this is beginning to change. Through a friend who teaches history at a for-profit bachelor's/trade school, I found an aspiring interior designer. I think we're getting Japanese meets Mexican more by accident than design. I'd say the Mexican part is the color scheme, which I'm having trouble swallowing. We painted two walls last Saturday--one is yellow, another is purple. The back wall and the kitchen. It's to stop the bowling alley effect of the long, open first floor.

The wall ate a lot of the purple paint. It's only the first coat so I shouldn't freak about the paint job, but it's uneven. The dark color totally sucks up the light. I used to love how the light hit the wood floor. Now you can hardly see it. She's not touching the upstairs--which is still white, thank God.

She's making screens for the lower halves of the first floor windows, so the top halves will be bare. Hopefully this will offset the loss of light somewhat, but I'm not betting it will bring back my beautiful light on the floor.

The upholstery, window screens and light fixtures should be worth it, but I don't know how long I'll put up with this paint job. It does feel warm in the winter, and it's dark out anyway. Painting is a pain though and I wasn't planning to go through it twice.

When it's done maybe I'll post photos for public comment. I'm going to regret this when I get this winter's heat bills, too. Why did I waste money on paint I don't even like when this winter's gas bill may double last year's?

Science and Ethics

In case anyone's interested, I saw some cool research on the speed of gravity while surfing Google after talking with Joey on Sunday. Yes, someone pointed out the real reason is that everything is moving forward at the same speed, but it was still cool to think about how fast gravity works.

Now for the ethics. Another recent poster wanted to know if I found it difficult to draw a line between trying to be helpful to someone and getting in their business/habits in an intrusive and patronizing way. I do worry about this. Am I just some missionary colonizer in taking away Priscilla's crack pipe? And yes, that's part of why I asked her if she wanted it back. The other, more practical part is, she was in my house and she could probably kick my ass if I took away her stuff without her permission.

And really, some days I don't want to be friends with people, I just want them to get off the block and out of my hair. But I'd rather lean to the missionary side and push myself to be open and friendly than take the tack of buying one or more Dobermans and not extending myself to the people who are here. Yes, you've got to be prudent, but I'd rather open the door, literally and figuratively, than close it. What kind of moral position would I be in if I acted like everyone on the block was scary and dangerous? A friend of mine in Little Village made fun of her white neighbors for jogging accompained by both their Dobermans. They probably don't even realize how deeply they offended their neighbors doing that.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Smart or Not?

Yesterday I went to St. Joe's for the 5:30 Spanish Mass. There was a baptism. When Fr. Ed and the family went to the font, all the kids came out of the pews to bless the water and we all turned around. And there was Dawn and her whole family in the front of the back section. (I was in the back of the front section.) So I went over and sat with them.

Afterwards they invited me out for dinner, so we all piled in that infamous white van--which their dad fixed before driving to Indianapolis last week for a cousin's birthday--and went to El Tio for hamburguesas and tacos.

While we were in the van, I told Joey I found the old MRI's of my knee from when I tore my ACL. He has to do a report on bones and joints and they said one way to do it was to bring in an X-ray. Hopefully an MRI will do. We were talking about his report, and out of the blue he said, "I used to be smart when I was seven." He's eight now.

"So what happened?" I said, teasing.

"I don't know. But I think I'm not so smart now."

"Oh, I don't know about that," I said. "I think you're pretty smart. And you're going to get smarter from doing this report."

"I'm pretty smart about bones," he admitted. But I know he's worried about school.

However, five minutes later, as we were stopping at a red light on Ashland and 49th, he asked me, "Why doesn't this hit me in the head?"

"What?" I said. He'd been tossing a football up in the air. He wanted to know why, when you throw a ball straight up in the air inside a moving vehicle, you don't catch up to the ball before it falls down. Now that's a pretty brilliant question from somebody who thinks he's not that smart, right?

I think the answer is because gravity pulls the ball down faster than your head moves toward it, right? Any Mr. Wizards out there with a better answer? I'll have to do some Internet research.....

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

October CAPS

Good news: lots of people showed up, the sergeant told us about what had been done over the last two months, asked us if we'd seen any changes, which we told him, and clearly defined what his priorities will be in the next month, based on what we said.

Bad news: no Spanish translation, the former facilitator (Blonde) is back, very apologetic and not as difficult as before, but I don't know how she was restored to power. And I didn't find a way to ask the leaders of the coup what happened.

Apparently the reason we've had a sudden flood of dealers, hypes and hookers (a la Priscilla's appearance) in the last month or so is that the camera on 51st and Wood has been displacing the action to other blocks. Now the word is that because crime went down in that area, the camera will go away. I've been told each camera costs $11,000 a piece and there aren't enough of them to go around to all the neighborhoods who want them.

For any of you pro-privacy folks who don't like the idea of cameras recording everyone's every move in a public place, I share your distaste, but when I hear that business went up substantially in restaurants on 47th when they had a camera because people felt safe enough to go out, it makes me rethink my position somewhat.

A few lucky breaks

The Big Picture High School a couple blocks from my house announced it has five openings for freshmen. My neighbor, Victoria, who is friends with Dawn and came to do yoga at my house once, got one of them. Whoo-hoo!

I went by Victoria's house last night to congratulate her. She wasn't home but her mom was. "She should be congratulated," she said. Her mom was an elementary ed major and a basketball player at a college in Pennsylvania, but dropped out when she became pregnant with Victoria. Mom is excited about Victoria going to a school where parent participation is welcomed and encouraged.

Dawn asked me last night to talk with School Lady about sending her oldest daughter there, too. I expect to see her at the Chavez LSC meeting tomorrow. Let's hope my Spanish is up to the task of persuading her to give it a try.

The only worry I've heard is that the girl who jumped Dawn last year might be trying to get in. I'd really rather not have them in the same school together. Much as my inner idealist would like her to have the chance to change her life, I'd really rather not take the chance that she won't seize the opportunity in a constructive way.

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