Blog Archive

Monday, June 30, 2008

Camp Marshfield Archaeologists

Earlier this evening, the Marshfield campers started digging a hole in my back yard, just behind the garden boxes. I sat on the back porch and listened to the squeals and admired the treasures they discovered: two snails, some interesting rocks and something that looked like a piece of tile. I was grateful they didn't find any crack pipes.

Memory Girl read another few sentences of the spider book with me, but then got sucked into the exciting dig happening before her eyes. She remembers that there are two kinds of spiders: web weavers and hunters. I was happy about that. We read just a little about how spiders build their webs. Another day.

After I went back in the house, I heard Sarah yell, "Gold dust! We found gold dust!"

Not likely, kiddo, but maybe tomorrow morning I'll go look in the hole and see what the yellow streak was. I imagine just a layer of sand.

By the way, thanks Siouxs for the book about cats & kittens! The littlest Brady girl already took a look at it. And one of her older cousins is already into chapter 5 of her Magic Tree book.

Notes to Self for Next Year

I learned three things I want to remember for next year's BBQ, so I'm posting them here.

One: designate someone for inventory control. On Sunday I ended up making taco meat out of 10 lbs. of hamburger patties because they never made it on to the grill. Oops! At least they went to a good cause--the farewell party for Fr. Ed Shea at St. Joe's.

Two: don't forget to put the sign up that tells people to come around back. For security reasons I don't want the front door unlocked and unattended (or attended by people who don't know everyone).

Yup-yup got in my house because the people in the living room didn't know not to open the door. Ouch! Fortunately, one of the living room crew was a former Catholic Worker with the nose to smell alcohol on his breath and the eyes to track his progress through the house. He went straight through to the back, but imagine my horror when I saw Yup-yup walking OUT my back door. Ay, Dios! Never again!

Three: Get on Evite. Some folks from Holy Cross/IHM were going to come but they forgot the date, address, etc. I was so busy managing shopping and details I didn't do such a great job on the inviting this year.

Despite these glitches, it all went fine in the end. Here's to next year!

Guest Post on Party

Medicine Man wrote his own blog entry about the party, and I'm stealing his description of managing the pinata:

I had the kids line up by height, which they did in an impressively ordered fashion, and then we commenced the succession of blindfolded, broom swinging contenders. The youngest children are really fun to watch because they can’t get much power behind their cuts. They rapidly tap the piñata, and as the official I like it because the risk of injury is very low. The little ones also love the entire piñata experience. They sport large smiles as they wait in line, during their turn, and after they are done.

For some reason there is a huge difference between a 9 year old and a 10 year old when it comes to swinging a stick. If a 9 year old swings like Randy Johnson, than a 10 year old can swing like Jim Thome on speed and juice. When the heavy hitting lumber jacks start chopping on the piñata I have to hold back the anxious little ones. It’s funny how children will totally disregard their safety to get closer to the action. But really, who cares about taking a blow to the head when candy is on the line?

One of the larger boys smacked it pretty squarely, but instead of breaking the piñata came off the rope and flew up into the air. Before the papier-mache star reached the apex of its flight all the children had gathered under it. I have never seen kids move faster than when a piñata is defeated. The object landed in the middle of the pack and then there was a huge dog pile. It reminded me a lot of a pile onto of a fumbled football. The older kids were at the bottom scratching, elbowing, and kneeing each other while the little ones got tossed around on top.

I remember John Madden saying, “You don’t want to know what happens on the bottom of those piles,” and I got a glimpse of it from the piñata experience.

All the adults just stood around and watched for a while as the children fought it out. I decided to snap a few pictures. Then some sensible woman yells, “Hey stop, break it up!! Stop it right now!” Evidently she did not condone the barbaric practices implemented by the children. As the official I stepped in and helped her break it up. The little ones could be peeled off the pile easily, but we had to fight with the older ones to get the piñata free. One of the guests then ripped open the piñata and threw the candy everywhere. It was fantastic.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Well, it's all over, and I'm sitting down with a cup of tea and a very messy house to be dealt with tomorrow, but a more-or-less immaculate yard, thanks to Dorothy.

So I think the barbecue was smaller than last year and had a higher proportion of kids to adults, but everything went fine. "It's the most integrated party I've ever attended," a friend from Rogers Park told me. Some of that was thanks to Medicine Man's work buddies, who made a strong showing and brought family along. They raised the African American percentage significantly higher than it was last year. And Medicine Man's friends are mighty diverse, too, so we had representation from the four major people groups: Latino, African American, white and Asian. That's probably the order of greatest to least attending. Just as an aside--there were a number of people who came who had been at the Dyke March in Pilsen today, so we had diversity of all kinds and everybody had a great time. That's a big reason why I bust my butt to do this once a year.

It actually sprinkled around water fight time, and it wasn't that hot today, so we did not have the traditional water balloon fight. But we did have the cake from BomBon Bakery again--this time the flavor was Tutti Frutti--and everyone raved about it. I broke the bank and bought a bigger one this year because last year's ran out so fast. This year's was totally eaten, but I think everybody got at least one piece--I heard no complaints of not getting any. "It's juicy!" someone exclaimed. It's that moist and good.

Before we ate the cake, I took a moment to tell everybody how great it's been having Medicine Man here this year and we all gave him a big cheer.

After the cake vanished we had the pinata. We rigged it up on a rope between the back deck and a ladder out in the yard. I saw some of the whacking, but was told later that the pinata did not actually break. Someone knocked it off the rope to the ground, and the kids all dove and either they or some grownups tore it apart and spilled out the candy. Some guys on the back porch threw the extra candy down when the ground frenzy subsided slightly. One of them, an 8th grader too old to play but not too old to enjoy watching, told me excitedly afterwards, "I had to wait to throw the candy because they were just too crazy!"

Related to having fewer adults this year, we had a much smaller third shift. Every year this party moves through three phases: setup, when we have a bunch of kids and me and whatever few pair of adult hands are about to help get ready; the big rush, between four and nine or so, and then the late shift. This year the party had nearly folded when the late shift (four people) arrived, which persuaded the last two or three people still hanging in with me to stick around a while longer. This year there was some drama between the dregs of the big rush and the arrival of the late shift which made me very glad the late shift did arrive. I'll write about that tomorrow. Everything turned out fine.

Although Dawn came by early and had something to eat and met my new prospective roommate and some other people, and her dad actually cut my grass early this afternoon, their family did not come to the party for the first time since I started throwing it. I really missed them, both for the company and frankly for their very competent help with the grill and cleanup. Dawn's parents went out someplace together earlier this week, and he was over a couple of other times this week at the house, so I don't know if that is a sign of some level of reconciliation or what. Whatever it is, I hope it's good.

For me one of the greatest things at this party was that some of the kids, especially the girls, who had gone on the Museum of Science and Industry trip spent time with my contact over there. I saw her chatting about bugs with the kids. She also brought Camp Marshfield some very cool stuff--comic books on science topics and a big box full of wood and cardboard shapes that look like puzzle pieces but are actually material from which you can build things and create objects. One of the Brady Boys quickly figured out how to make a cool-looking cube out of a bunch of them. I'll have to see if I can scare up a Rubik's cube for him to play with.

We also had an alley basketball game going on for a while, but during cleanup I found the ball, deflated, at the back of my parking pad. I just got it from Target and they said it was an outdoor ball. Man, that didn't last long.

The only disappointment for me is that there is still a box that may have hamburgers in it in my refrigerator. I thought we cooked all the burgers this year. Maybe somebody just left the empty box in there. I'll have to fight my way through the leftover beer tomorrow and find out.

Oh, and just to be safe, I'll go check the microwave for defrosted burgers one more time before I go to bed!

We did have one microwave incident this year, early on. I forgot to take the wire twistie off the plastic package of hamburgers before I put it in, and it caught on fire. The kids spotted it and told me, so we turned off the microwave and pulled it out. The fire went out quickly and the machine and the burgers were all fine. Whew!

Lord willing we will have no other microwave disaster this year, but I'll run back downstairs and open the door just to make certain. Good night and more tomorrow.

Friday, June 27, 2008

New Mile Square Health Center Open

I see someone clicked here looking for the new Mile Square Health Center clinic in Back of the Yards. I can't get an exact address, but it is in the shopping center at 47th and Loomis, home of Farmer's Best Market, AJ Wright, Little Caesars, America's Best and more.

The hours and days are posted at the door, but since I'm not there right now, I can't remember them. They are open Monday through Saturday.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Camp Marshfield's Backyard Jungle

Well, did I get any more work done yesterday? No, of course not. I knocked off and went out back to see how the butterfly/grasshopper/lightning bug hunt was going. We all ate some granola bars (or parts of them) and then they weeded the garden boxes and my big white pots to get them ready for some new seeds--cilantro, which I should have plated a couple of weeks ago but didn't.

They wanted to dig down in the dirt and see what they could find. I think they found an earthworm--yay! They definitely found spiders, centipedes, and a daddy longlegs or two. They thought the daddy longlegs was a spider until I made them count its legs--daddy longlegs only has six legs. "How many legs does a spider have?" I asked.

"Eight!" they all yelled cheerfully. So now they know.

I made the mistake of leaving them to their own devices once planting had started. I wanted to give one of the Mrs. Bradys a crack at the vegetable box. She took the cilantro. Junior's mom was out with the new baby, whom I hadn't seen since his big brother graduated 8th grade. So I went over and hung out with them. Junior's mom took the broccoli. She was trying to figure out which girl Junior likes. I don't even know. Junior's little brother and his best buddy both like age-appropriate Brady girls

Junior's mom is funny--she has very blunt opinions about her kids and is not shy to express them. We agreed the baby looks like his daddy. "No es guapo/he's not cute," she told me. "Oscar, he's cute."

"That's cause he looks like his mom," I said, grinning. She kidded back, flashing me a smile and tilting her head model-style.

A little while later, the small troop of children came out of my yard and back on the street. Sarah told me she planted her seeds but she thought another kid had dug around in there after she was done. Hopefully the Brady girl in the garden box was able to finish her row uninterrupted.

Jay-Z and Sarah like to eat green beans raw. True to form, Jay-Z kept asking for more. I got a little bag for him. He kept trying to get his pals to eat them too. If I didn't have a name for him already, I would switch it to Mikey, in honor of the old Life cereal commercials with the line "He likes it! Hey, Mikey!"

If you're not old enough to remember the commercial, You Tube has it here.

Sarah invited me to join the bug hunters in her backyard, where they were going to release all the lightning bugs they had captured over the last few hours. They had quite a few in there. We all cheered when the first ones flew away.

There were some slowpokes too. "Look, they're married!" Sarah said. "They want to be together." One was on top of the other one and they weren't going anywhere.

"They might be trying to make eggs," I said. These kids might have caught in the air and picked up off the ground, so it's possible there was a hookup in the jar, I don't know. By the way, in a quick search effort to find out how fireflies actually do make eggs, I found this article from Tufts about a firefly researcher.

Later on, Jay-Z asked if we could play Memory, so I brought it out, plus another little container for lightning bugs. It just amazes me how so many kids of so many different ages like playing that game. We have the animal cards and it is actually a help to their vocabularies--that's not just a red bird, it's a cardinal, not just a blue bird but a peacock, etc.

We had to declare my front stoop a water-free zone because there were a few water guns being toted around and squirted, even though it wasn't that hot. The mosquitoes have finally arrived--time to invest in some calamine lotion.

For once, Memory Girl was not the first in line to play. She wanted to ride her bike. Later she came back and played with one of the Brady Girls until they got called home. Then we played a game and read more about spiders. We reviewed a little of what we read on Sunday--she remembered things--and moved on to the part where they talk about how spiders spin silk. She read some, I read some, and we read together. (Reading out loud together is good for kids' fluency.) She doesn't always stop at the period, and it's pretty easy to tell when she's just sounding out the words and when she really knows what she's reading. Hopefully we'll have more one-on-one reading time as the summer goes on.

The Magic Tree books all disappeared instantly. The Brady Girl who planted cilantro in my garden box took the guide on Twisters with her to school today. She had read all but one of the first four Magic Tree books, so she took the one she hadn't read already. Sarah took the first two and another Brady Girl got the second one. The littlest Brady Girl asked if she could borrow "the poem book" (Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic). Her cousins have it but she doesn't, so I sent it home with her. I think somebody else took Eloise, too. I saw one of the Brady's reading the Magic Tree about mummies underneath the front porch of Sarah's house--it's a great little clubhouse/hiding spot for kids. The girls hide in there and play with their dolls, too.

They're Hired!

So the two older Brady girls who applied for Radio Arte's summer paid training were accepted! This is the "Salud" program, in which they will write short radio novelas related to health issues faced by immigrant communities in Chicago. They'll draw from their own experiences, plus some formal research and interviews with health workers and community residents. They start next week.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Camp Marshfield Bug Hunt

Well, after the sun broke out late this afternoon, a small band of Marshfield campers were spotted in Maritza's backyard with a butterfly net and a yogurt container.

"We're catching butterflies!" Sarah and one of the young Brady Boys shouted while running to the back of the yard.

I actually ended up getting a second week in a row of my Growing Home share. Much as I would have liked to take the girls back over there, between the wet and the press of my day job I jumped on my bicycle instead and left them bug hunting.

When I came back, their target had shifted to grasshoppers. "We've got lots!" Sarah told me. Some, however, escaped the small box they made for them. Sarah asked if I had anything like the single-size yogurt container she was using. I had a couple of generic plastic cups with lids about the same size, so I went in and got them.

We had fun going through the various boxes that appeared today. First, their eagle eyes spotted a grasshopper in my vegetable box. Joys of organic, right? Then Sarah begged me for a green bean. She likes to eat them raw. I had one, too. Her enthusiasm for them prompted one of the Brady girls to give it a try, but she didn't come back for more. Sarah kept on asking, then demonstrating how fast she could eat them.

"Why don't you slow down and enjoy this one?" I suggested. "It's your last--we're cooking the rest of them."

The first box of Amazon goodies arrived today, too, so Sarah helped me open that box. It was the books I bought with the gift certificates from California--you know who you are--thanks again! We got four Magic Tree House books, and fortunately at least one was new to all the campers (one of the oldest girls had read the first three, but not the fourth one). I also gave her the research guide on Twisters since she had been learning about tornadoes and hurricanes in school. The youngest Brady girl dived right into Eloise--she even quit bug hunting to sit on the back steps and read it. She really liked the page that folds out to double its height and shows how Eloise rides the elevator in the hotel.

The rest of the kids asked me to hold on to the books here in the house so they wouldn't get dirty. I'm now debating whether to squeeze in a bit more work before I get tired, or quit and invite them to plant some seeds with me. I'm still recovering from yesterday's mosquito bites, which may tip the decision toward the great indoors.

Monday, June 23, 2008

NYT on Neighborhoods

Today's New York Times op-ed, "Won't You Be My Neighbor," talks about one man's efforts to connect with his neighbors in a middle-class suburb of Rochester, NY.

Comments are closed, but they are worth reading. People from all over the US and from countries like Germany and India wrote in with their reflections and experiences in their neighborhoods, good and bad.

Here's the comment I was too late to add to the NYT site. I invite you to share your comments on the state of your neighborhood, too (especially if your neighborhood is my neighborhood!).

Thanks, Mr. Lovenheim, for your reflections on what it's like to make a conscious effort to get to know your neighbors in a time when most people don't bother. When I moved to my neighborhood four years ago, I was a single woman who knew one person on the block, in a rough Chicago neighborhood. I had to make friends fast. Online and phone friends are fine, but if you get hurt or your house gets broken into, they aren't going to be there to help you. If you know your next-door neighbors, you might have a chance.

Almost four years later, I'm good friends with about half a dozen families on the block, including my immediate neighbors on either side, and have a nodding acquaintance with many more. Because I happen to like kids, all their children are my good buddies now. I think it's been good for them to have a new grownup take an interest in them and I know it's been good for me to have their energy, curiosity and dogged efforts to win my attention in my life. (Even if that leaves me exhausted sometimes!)

One last observation--poster number 42 said New Orleans was the only town where a prostitute would be a valuable member of the neighborhood block watch. Well, here in Chicago, I haven't put my friend Dorothy to work on that yet (at least not officially), but yesterday she helped me entertain a group of children. Do retired prostitutes as babysitters count?

Please add your comments. I'm really interested to hear from readers about your experiences of your neighborhoods, wherever they are.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Camp Marshfield Weekend Activities

Well, this afternoon pretty much said it all. A friend gave me a ride to the Costco up on Damen and let me use his membership to get stuff for the barbecue I'm having next weekend. We may have a real block party in August, but this is kind of the unofficial one. It's also Medicine Man's goodbye party.

(By the way, if you know me and you live in the neighborhood, you're invited. I've done a bad job of tracking who I invited and who I didn't.)

When we got back, of course the car was full of stuff, and my friend, his friend and I got ready to roll it out and get it into the house as quickly as possible. The minute I got out of the car, half a dozen kids ran over with questions:

"Can I borrow your bike pump?" (The boy who borrowed my bike pump before, and whom I told to pull up his pants a few days ago. His pants were pretty much above his underwear today, I'm happy to report.)

"Can we play Memory?" (Memory Girl, of course.)

"Is that stuff for us?"

"Can we help you?"

I took 30 seconds to say: the stuff is for the party next Saturday, no you can't help because my house is too messy, yes, I'll bring out the bike pump in a minute, but Memory has to wait because we're going in and out of the house.

--a chunk of this post was lost between composition and publishing, sorry--

I wrote about how after all the food got in here and the key stuff got into the freezer and fridge, I went back out with Serpentiles, Memory and a book from Smithsonian Press about spiders. Plus an umbrella, because it was drizzling off and on.

At first, the five of us all sat together and I read the book. I had the book on my lap and the umbrella over our heads in case of drizzle. My next door neighbors: eight-year old aunt and five-year-old niece, sat on one my left, niece on auntie's lap. Memory Girl sat on my right with Jay-Z's little girl cousin in her lap. My eight-year-old next-door neighbor, who is the budding naturalist in the group, has become a good enough friend of mine to warrant a name on the blog. She's now Sarah.

However, the two littlest girls got bored and wanted to play with the games, so we let them. Because Sarah's niece only speaks a little English, Sarah had to work with her when she and Jay-Z's cousin weren't getting along. Jay-Z's little cousin can be a tough cookie to play with, and Sarah's niece was complaining. As a result of all this, Sarah missed the page in the book about how spiders spin silk, which I think she was pretty interested in. We'll go back to that another time. I'd love to just read the book with her since she's the one who is most interested, but Memory Girl was holding her own and getting in some reading practice, too. Sometimes I read aloud solo, sometimes one or the other of the older girls tried while the other was occupied with the younger girls, sometimes all three of us read together. We stopped a lot to talk about things, like how boy spiders are usually smaller than girl spiders and how that is different from humans, what camouflage is, and how spiders are different from insects. They asked questions. Sarah used some schoolspeak--once she raised her hand and said, "I have a connection."

"Tell me your connection," I replied. She explained that one of the younger Brady boys had found a spider that had something in common with whatever the spider on that page was being featured for.

Dorothy stopped by in the midst of this, looking for five dollars to get a bus card for a bunch of trips tomorrow. I asked her if she could wait until we got through with the book, and she said OK. She came up and kept Jay-Z's cousin busy for a little while. Cousin was asking what all the animals on the memory cards were. "Kangaroo. Butterfly. Frog," Dorothy told her. "She's really smart!" she noted to me. Jay-Z's cousin is really smart, but I fear she will be in trouble all the time at school because she is not one to contain herself much.

After the bit about the silk-making, I thought we were at a good stopping place, so I put the book down and talked with Dorothy. Just as we wrapped up the rains began in earnest. All the girls squealed and huddled under my umbrella, leaving the book and the games out in the rain. I started grabbing all the stuff and ordering them to go home now!

They all fled for shelter except Jay-Z's little cousin. "Maritza, I've got something to tell you," she repeated endlessly. "I need an umbrella so I won't get wet." This was on a repeating tape.

I repeated my own tape back at her, "You need to go home right now! This is my only umbrella and I need it so you can play games next time! Go home now!"

We gamely shouted back and forth at each other until she realized I was not kidding and went down the steps. Once she was out on the sidewalk, she called back to me very rationally, "Bye, Maritza--see you later."

"Bye, honey," I said, equally rational. "Go home quick so you don't get wet."

That was today. Yesterday, Sarah and Jay-Z and I went to the Holy Cross/IHM picnic at Davis Square Park. Sarah's dad gave us a ride in his truck. We put Sarah's bike in the back and tied mine to the roof so the two kids could ride bikes in the park. They rode bikes and I hung out with people from church and then they came back and we had free hot dogs, nachos and soda. I watched the Mexican folkloric dancers while they played Frisbee (I got a bunch of Frisbee knock-offs at the dollar-store closeout) and looked for bugs in the grass. Eventually I joined the bug hunt and then we went over to check out the pool. I got the pool hours and have to remember to give them to people, and put them on the fridge for myself and maybe for Camp Marshfield some afternoon. Oh, and the church had a toy giveaway, so Sarah got a white stuffed bear and Jay-Z got a small Tigger. The time went really fast. Sarah's dad came into the park when he returned to pick us up and was telling me he'd been past the park but hadn't really been inside and didn't know much about what they had before. Maybe Sarah will get to go swimming over there now.

The rain has stopped. If it's dry around sunset, I'll haul out my ladder and we'll pick mulberries off the tree in the vacant lot.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Camp Marshfield Wishlist Started

Well, thanks to Harriet's prodding, there's now a Camp Marshfield wishlist on Amazon. You can find it by searching for Maritza from Chicago. (It came up 10th of the Chicago Maritzas).

Now if I can figure out how to apply my friend's gift certificates, some of those items will get bought. But not all of them. And maybe I will get some more requests.


Dorothy's on the Lam

Ran into Dorothy this morning. Yup-yup got locked up Friday, she tells me. Not before he ran a hustle involving LINK cards and left her holding the bag. Now there's a lady a couple blocks away who wants to punch Dorothy's lights out. She's already got a badly bruised jaw from another bad debt situation.

Unfortunately, she tried some aspirin for her jaw but I don't think it stayed down. She went in the bathroom right after she swallowed, and I bet it came right back up.

We had better luck solving her wardrobe malfunction problem. Dorothy had on a blouse that looked like hospital scrubs and it kept falling wide open. She doesn't have much of a chest--she told me she never wears a bra--but it was clearly embarrassing her to be that exposed. I took her and the little boy she is babysitting today in the house and got her an undershirt and a t-shirt to wear. The t-shirt is from St. Joseph's and has a logo of St. Joe with the baby Jesus. "You get an extra blessing bonus with this one," I said. She smiled.

When they were ready to go, she told her charge, "Didn't I tell you I had a godmother?" Then she said to me, "He thought I said grandmother."

I laughed. "I would be a very old lady if I were her grandmother," I told the little boy. Dorothy laughed with me on that one. I hope she makes out OK. Whew. She still hasn't called her PO. She didn't have the number with her this morning because she wasn't expecting to see me. Hope we can do that soon.

Camp Marshfield Field Trip And More

Four girls went with me yesterday to the Growing Home garden at 58th and Wood. We met the guy who manages the garden there, Tyler, and he gave the girls and me a tour of the hoop houses--big greenhouses on frames with a double layer of plastic sheeting for insulation. Tyler showed us how the Growing Home hoop houses have a ventilation system that sucks the warm air out from between the plastic sheets and fans it through the greenhouse to keep plants warm when it is cold. When it gets hot, there are vents that open automatically to let the warm air out.

They are growing kale and collard greens, salad lettuces, spinach, cucumbers, herbs, carrots, and just starting basil and tomatoes. Through a snafu, we ended up not getting my box at the site--my friend Larry who lives on their farm outside Chicago brought it over to my house later--but the box had spinach, kale, beets, dill, asparagus, romaine, scallions. It turns out my next door neighbor to the south was hoping to get beets, so I gave her some of mine to take home to her mom. Dawn's mom and School Lady split the spinach kale and romaine, among other things. I kept the rest of the beets and the asparagus, among other things.

For two of the girls, the best thing about the field trip was that I let them climb the hill up the viaduct next to the garden. (Two girls had flip-flops on and I wouldn't let them go for fear of prickers, poison ivy, etc.) I had some reservations about doing this, given that the viaduct in my neighborhood gets used as a sniper's seat with some regularity, but it was so nice and there was a clear patch over the bridge so I figured we could see anyone coming. Plus Tyler and his mom were around.

I remember how much I liked going to the stand of pine trees in a patch of undeveloped woods near my house when I was a kid. Years later, my mom told me her heart was in her mouth every time she let me go in the woods by myself when I was about 10. But going there gave me some of the best memories of my childhood. So I had all that in mind when I told the girls they could go up. We had a second crack at it later (a friend called me for help with a writing project and agreed to pick us all up and save us the walk home), so I went up with them and the other two stayed with Tyler. Then they got to chase dragonflies across the bridge and look at the view and watch the seagull that flew by, etc.

When we got home, I asked them what was the best part of the trip and Oldest Brady Girl said, "Going on top of the viaduct!"

Later, some of the younger kids and I played frisbee (faux frisbee, from the dollar store, but it works), picked mulberries, read half of a book about cooking Venezuelan sancocho, and watched a very impressive home-grown fireworks display we could see going off east of Ashland. They were setting off such colorful fireworks even I wanted to watch.

This afternoon I have to bow out of Camp Marshfield and work--I left a book from Smithsonian Press about spiders in my mailbox for the young animal lovers, but that's it for today.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Camp Marshfield, Of Sorts

Well, shockingly, there may be something of a Camp Marshfield getting off the ground after all. My other Big Picture buddy, whom we'll call Gladys here, is taking a Spanish class for heritage speakers at National-Louis and doing some work with the Mikva Challenge, but she has time to help out. She also has to watch her nine-year-old sister, who is just the right age to hang out with the Brady Girls and their buddies.

Gladys and Little Sister came over to the block tonight, after we made a run to the north side to pick up my computer from the repair shop. (Yep, more tech trouble, but we've survived.) We also squeezed in a trip to Women and Children First--they each picked a book--and a pit stop at Foster Beach because I wanted to stick my feet in the water for the first time this year.

Gladys found a book by Rosario Sanmiguel that she and I are both going to read: Under the Bridge: Stories from the Border/Bajo el Puente: Relatos desde la frontera. The first half of the book is the English version; the second half is the Spanish.

"You should read the Spanish part, too," Gladys advised. [She knows I'm trying to improve my Spanish. We spoke some in the car on the way home, too. She's a good practice partner--she's patient and she corrects me. We may have to do that some more.] Apparently Gladys is extra right about reading the Spanish--the review to which I linked above, by someone from Berwyn, says the English translation does not live up to the original Spanish, which includes a lot of slang and geographic description that the English translator didn't do justice to. Hopefully Gladys can help me catch that stuff, too.

Her little sister picked a "very funny" book called Ducks Don't Wear Socks. It is pretty hilarious. When we got back, one of the Brady Girls tried reading it on her own. She is not as strong a reader as my next door neighbor of the same age. Maybe if they read together over the summer, the stronger one will rub off on the weaker one. Keep your fingers crossed.

When we got back here, there were a half dozen girls on my front steps and a couple of boys riding bikes out in front of the house. Perfect. I introduced Gladys and she introduced her sister, and within minutes all the girls were happily stringing beads on thread. They need more needles, preferably with bigger eyes. Gladys knows a thing that you can use to string beads that is easier than a needle, but she doesn't know where to find it. If anyone knows what you call that gizmo, tell me, or tell me if you know where to get them in Chicago (preferably cheap). I read a couple of poems from Meet Danitra Brown in between helping thread needles. We had a nice chat about the one that explains why she wears purple all the time.

It is possible that Gladys's sister and one of the Bradys might be in the same class next year. That would be nice, since Little Sister is transferring from Hamline to Chavez. Spending some time on our block this summer might help her make friends.

After Gladys and her sister left, we played the ever-popular Memory Game. At some point, I remembered I had three bananas on the kitchen counter, nice today but overripe tomorrow. "Who's hungry?" I asked.

"Me," said Jay-Z, who is a 12-year-old boy, and thus always hungry. He and my next door neighbor and I ate most of the bananas, cut up with a little honey drizzled over them.

"I have a watermelon in my tummy," Next Door Neighbor said.

One of the other girls took her literally. "I think she means she's really full," I said.

"Yeah," she agreed. Then we talked about what else could be filling her tummy. A watermelon. A car. The ice-cream truck. Two cars. Three cars. A stretch limo. Two stretch limos. A Hummer. A tank.

She lost it laughing. "I'm a gigglebox," she told me. We had to stop and pay attention to the Memory game to calm down.

On one of my many trips in and out of the house-- for food, drinks, paper towels, only once for a Band-Aid--they started one of those chants you do when you're a little kid:
Who farted?
You farted!
then something that gets you pointing at people around the circle
Point! wherever the finger lands, you're it.

The littlest girl picked up the "Who farted?" chant right away, and her mother will probably not be too happy, if she understands English. I will have to come up with some camp songs that don't involve passing gas. Unfortunately I could only remember part of "God Bless My Underwear," which is not a big improvement.

We have had more book requests from the kids: books on cats--they are making friends with a neighbor cat--and The Magic Tree House book series, which apparently is up to 40 books right now, so that could keep them busy all summer. I think the middle school girls will be reading The House on Mango Street. They haven't read it before, but Gladys and I have.

It's now time to order from Amazon with the gift certificates a good friend of mine from California donated to me. Plus, the dollar store at 50th and Ashland is going out of business, at least temporarily. I stopped by today for the closeout sale and the owners told me if I get stuff for the kids in bulk they will give me an extra discount. So for sure I'll go back and clean them out of construction paper, glue sticks, scissors, flash cards, that kind of stuff.

We may also be able to recruit a second camp counselor. Meg is still working on getting into Lozano--she turned in her application (I think) and has to go back and take a test--then she'll be in the lottery for a spot in September. If she doesn't get picked for September she can start in January. She's also got a job lead. But she says she has time now, so I hope that means she and Gladys can go with me and whoever wants to go on Camp Marshfield's first field trip tomorrow late afternoon, to the farmers market at 58th and Wood. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Peace & Education Scholarship Winners

Yesterday at the Holy Cross 10 a.m. Mass, students received scholarships from the Peace & Education Coalition. In all, $70,000 will be awarded this year.

This year I was able to help interview scholarship applicants. The seven young people I spoke with were all juggling school, work and volunteering. One is an architecture major at Illinois Institute of Technology, commuting from far away, holding down a job and teaching catechism on Saturdays. Another is graduating from Kelly High School after having gotten pretty close to the gang life. This person is now going on to college and mentoring other young people to help them make better choices for themselves. A third will go to UIC as a music major, and turned down opportunities to leave Chicago in part to stay connected to Back of the Yards.

Congratulations to everyone!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big Picture Graduation 2008

Big Picture graduated its class of 08 last Friday night. Here's just one photo of some happy grads and friends after the ceremony. I like the way Big Picture graduations give every student a few moments to speak, not only one or two students. Many gave thanks for their parents, principal and teachers, who never gave up on them, even when they were not doing their best. Some talked about how the school supported them when family members wouldn't or couldn't be there for them.

I still really hope Dawn will be on that stage next year. Stay tuned.

Chavez Class of 2008

So here are just a few photos from today's 8th grade graduation at Chavez. After the ceremony, Junior's parents invited me out for dinner with them and with their neighbors and their graduating son. We went to the new China Buffet in the 47th & Damen shopping center and ran into lots of other graduates and their families. Quite a chunk of our block was celebrating at the buffet.

Junior was really sweet--after we got back home I shook his hand one more time and he said, "Thank you for all the support. I was going to call your name out when I got up there for my diploma today to say thank you, but they didn't let us."

I talked to two or three of the girl grads briefly after the ceremony about doing a book club, and they seem game.

Two of the younger Bradys rang my doorbell after I got home from the post-grad buffet. They said, "We want to talk about the camping thing." They meant Camp Marshfield, as I am referring to my half-baked attempt to provide some things to do on the block this summer. We talked about books--they haven't read The House on Mango Street and they thought it looked interesting--and they already know how to swim, so we could go up to Davis Square. They want to do some arts and crafts, too. We didn't have time to look at all the books I got over the weekend, so we'll do that sometime soon.

Dawn Update

I called Dawn last night while waiting for the Ashland bus at the Orange Line station. I was worried that she might be mad at me for calling her out about her exhibition last week, but when she answered she said, "Hi, Maritza" and I could feel the happy vibe coming through the phone.

Dawn went to school yesterday. Big Picture took all the juniors out to lunch at Maggiano's on Taylor. She said it was nice.

We didn't talk about anything much--just the fiesta last weekend, the weather, the lunch today, how her new advisory went these last few weeks--but I think she got the underlying message I was trying to send: I'm not giving up on you.

When school is out she will change her work schedule to 9 to 6, which means she and I could go to events like Proyecto Latina in the evenings once in a while this summer. And my summer resolution is to quit nagging her about school and just spend time with her as best we can manage with everything else going on.

Monday, June 09, 2008

One Found, One Lost

Well, Dawn and Joey's mom was out in the yard when I opened the front door last night, shortly after the worried post below. I asked if Joey was in the house and she said yes. That's all I had the energy for then. At least they found each other.

On Saturday she told me she did go over to the Perspectives Math & Science Academy event, but it was all in English and her youngest was making a lot of noise, so she didn't get a whole lot out of it. She got to talk to Daisy and got her some of the documents they need, so that's progress, and he hasn't lost his seat. Joey refused to go with her to the event. Great.

Now Dorothy's lost again, sort of. I told her to come over this morning to call about the study, but she hasn't shown up. I'm kind of relieved--I got some work done this morning without interruption, but the found are lost and the lost are found. Those two categories bounce around quite a bit.

The other big mystery is whether Dawn went to school today. It's an easy day--they were all going out for a nice lunch. Dawn's advisor told me she didn't come to school on Friday. I called her yesterday and she didn't call me back. Both of those things are not good signs.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

One Lost, One Found

The found is Dorothy. I ran into her yesterday afternoon. She was pushing a grocery cart into the alley north of 48th St between Marshfield and Paulina. She looks terrible--she's getting skeletal and hollow-eyed, so I think she must be using again. I told her the sheriffs were out looking for her and she said she would call her PO on Monday. She also told me Yup-yup had given her her mail--I saw him the day before and gave him the mail to give her because I hadn't seen her in so long. I was afraid it might not make it to her, but it had.

The one lost is Joey and Dawn's mother. This is the third time now I have been aware she's been out late at night and left Joey to his own devices. Twice Dawn was around and didn't know where she was. It is now after 11 and Joey was here 15 minutes ago looking for her. I should have stopped him but I was tired and not thinking too clearly. I'll have to go look out and see if they are all back. And I'll have to have a talk with his mom.

Fiesta Back of the Yards 2008

It was a true summer carnival, complete with an early afternoon thunderstorm followed by more sweltering heat, cold brews and pops, crazy heavy food--think funnel cake and tacos--and plenty of carnival rides and games for the kids. In addition to the usual skeet shooting and so forth, I think the rock climbing wall was new this year.

Here's the action at the No-Manches booth at the fiesta on 47th street this afternoon. These two are wearing one of my favorite t-shirt designs of theirs, "Elemento Frijol". The green shirt between them reads "Juan Deere", which you can't see, under the logo, which you can see. Later today, I saw a little boy walking home with another one, "The Paisa Is Right."

I'll post some more photos later on.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

One Up, One Down

Down first. That's Dawn. I went to her exhibition today. She scraped it together at the last minute and it was terrible. There were some good parts--I really liked the photos she took at her job and she did a pretty good job of explaining what she is doing there.

Unfortunately, she did not even integrate her classwork on propaganda into her job doing banners for advertising, which was in her research proposal from back in April. She remembered some of what had happened in class and made some effort to connect it, but it wasn't very thoughtful. She had no learning goals document for people and no clear idea of how to connect the skills she wanted to work on with the work she is doing.

Back in April I knew I would have to call her a lot if her project was going to happen. I called some, but we didn't connect much, and she didn't call me. And I was busy, and sick this last do-or-die week. Last night, after the scary incident, I was still awake at midnight and there was noise on the street. I called 911 and the dispatcher, surprised, said that cars had already been sent this way. Then I called Dawn. She was not at home and told me flat out she wasn't coming home. The night before her exhibition. I begged her to contact her mother to ensure the gate was locked, and explained why. She was afraid for me and said she'd try to reach her mother, though her mom's cell phone isn't working well.

Her new advisor tried to be very generous about her presentation, pointing out the good parts and looking for ways to connect what she was doing to her goals. Alfredo was more critical but pretty quiet and not too hard. It was my turn to be the hardass. "You were doing better exhibitions your freshman year," I told her. Then I started crying and said, "I'm going to say this in front of everyone. I called you last night at midnight and you were out somewhere. You're not doing what you need to do to stay in school. Do you want to come back next year? If you don't, I won't push you to come back any more."

Dawn started crying. Alfredo took it from there and told her if she wants to come back next year, they will be happy to have her. But it is on her to decide what she wants to do and to put forth a serious level of effort.

Dawn says she wants to come back in the fall.

We talked afterwards and I asked her to do two things--talk to her counselor about her credits and figure out a recovery plan, and make one commitment to doing something for her mind this summer on top of working her full-time job. "Read one book," I said. "That's enough."

I left and walked around two or three blocks before coming home, partly because I saw some guys I didn't recognize across the street in front of my house and I was afraid they might be the same guys as yesterday, partly because I was upset and just wanted to walk it out.

Finally I walked up from the southern end of my block and saw Meg on her front stoop, playing with her next-door neighbor's toddler. I said hi and she gave me a big smile.

"I have good news," she told me.

"Are you in at Lozano?"

Almost, is the answer. She called them, found out what she needed, went to Richards and got her transcript. She needs one thing from Chavez or from a teacher there--not sure exactly--and she'll get it tomorrow and go on Monday to register. She gave me a big smile and we shook hands.

I asked to see her Richards transcript and she let me. She only failed two classes. Her GPA was about a 2.2 and she was in the top 20 percent of her class when she quit school. "My teacher [from Chavez] said I wasn't doing too bad," she said.

"You weren't," I agreed. "That's actually pretty good."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Ironic Punchline

Warning: for the best effect, you should scroll down and read "Good Cop Bad Cop & Burning Down the House" before reading the post here. This is the ironic punchline to the earlier post.

So by the way, in between the 911 phone call and the sheriff's cop on my doorstep, Jay-Z and Joey walked up the street toward where the fireworks were going off. They had some, too, and they were looking for a place to shoot them off.

They saw me on the sidewalk and came to say hi. When I realized what was up, I said, "You don't want to go over there. I just called the police on those guys."

They asked why and I said because they were throwing the firecrackers toward where people were standing, which isn't safe.

"Can we light them in your backyard?" Jay-Z asked me.

"Why don't you light them in the alley behind my house?" I suggested. "I'll come out on the back porch and watch." (Truthfully, with the police report, I never got there. I opened the back door but I didn't see them.)

Good Cop, Bad Cop & Burning Down the House?

I was on my way home tonight a little before 9 p.m., riding my bike the wrong way down Marshfield toward my house. I got to the intersection where my block starts and a lit firework landed on the corner about 10 feet in front of me. It was one of those popper things that mostly makes a loud noise but has a bit of a flame, too. There was a little girl in a green t-shirt on the sidewalk, about 5 feet from the firecracker. More were being thrown from the alley, in the direction of people walking by and up really close to one of the houses on the opposite corner from where the little girl was.

People to the west were yelling "stop that!" and so forth. Some woman said she was pregnant and they were going to give her a heart attack. The little girl in the green shirt looked scared.

So I did something I have never done and swore I would not do--jumped off my bike and publicly called 911. In the middle of the intersection, in front of maybe five or six people watching. I did that because I wanted them to quit and I figured it would get them to stop and the police probably wouldn't ever show up, certainly not in time to catch them.

When I finished the call I walked my bike to the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. Meanwhile the guys doing it came out of the alley and started walking east, toward the corner about 20 feet north of where I was standing.

"Did you call the police?" one of them yelled at me.

"I sure did."

"Everybody lets off fireworks!"

"Yeah, but not at people! That's dangerous."

"You live here? Mind your business."

"Yeah, I live here. Do you?"

"Yeah I live here. How long you live here?"

"I lived here four years."

They shake their heads. "We been here years and years."

"I don't care how long you've been here, don't do stuff like that. Keep it in the alley."

"Mind your business."

"I'll mind my business when you mind yours," I yelled, just as I heard one of them say,

"We'll burn down your house."

They walked away, toward Ashland. I know they don't live on this block, and I don't think they live on the next block north.

Then I looked over at my doorstep, and there was a gray-haired white man at the door. I don't think I realized he was a police officer until after he said, "I'm looking for [Dorothy]."

"She doesn't live here," I said. "She just gets mail at this address."

I was coming to the front steps just as the door opened and Medicine Man looked out.

"Does [Dorothy] live here?" the officer asked.

"Sir, he doesn't know her," I said with some irritation in my voice. (Yes, I was stressed out from what happened three seconds earlier. "I am the owner of this house and you should be talking to me." I may have cut him off as he was continuing to ask Medicine Man another question.

His partner, an African-American woman about my age and height, got offended. He probably did, too, but she was the one who made a big deal. She got out of her car, walked up behind me and started lecturing me about how nobody speaks to her partner that way, blah blah blah. I shut up and took it.

When she was about out of steam, I said very quietly and very politely, "Ma'am, may I say something?" She nodded.

I explained what had just happed half a block away and tried to explain that I had not intended any disrespect, I was just upset from what had taken place seconds earlier.

"Well, you didn't intend disrespect, but that's what you gave, so that's what you got," she said. Then she inquired what happened. I explained, trying to emphasize that I would never call about firecrackers except that these looked like they were going to hit people.

She wasn't listening. "This is Chicago. Everybody lets off firecrackers," she explained as if I were two years old or fresh from the suburbs (which maybe she thought I was by now). It wasn't worth trying to respond. They left. I'm guessing they weren't district cops--they had on black uniforms, and I just assumed they were from the sheriff and there's a warrant out on Dorothy, whom I still haven't seen since the last time I said I haven't seen her.

I went in the house shaking. Medicine Man tried to distract me with some conversation about Fr. Mike Pfleger and the reaction in Auburn Gresham to the whole flap this weekend, but I couldn't get into it. I started crying and told him for once the house extrovert needed a few minutes to herself.

I decided to call a friend from church and the local CAPS meeting who has had plenty of experience with the police. I figured she would understand and I'd feel better if I talked to her. So I called and she was home and she listened to me very well and told me a story or two of similar experiences she'd had. (If you're reading--and I know you do--thanks. You know who you are.)

I wanted to ask her advice about how seriously to take the "we'll burn your house down" threat. I was pretty sure it was just some offhanded thing they said to be annoying, but when you're one of two white people on the block, everybody knows where you live, your house was burnt to a crisp before you owned it and your neighbors can't be bothered to lock their gate or rebuild the fence between your yard and theirs, there's a reason to be scared. So I am.

My friend advised me that yes, it's probably nothing and more than likely nothing will happen, but she suggested it would be a good idea to make a police report anyway, just in case something actually did happen.

Talking to my friend calmed me down enough that I called the 9th district number, and they told me to call 311 because they don't take police reports over the phone. So I called 311, but by then I was upset again. A woman officer answered and my voice started breaking as soon as I started talking.

Fortunately, she was very nice and patient. She explained that normally the police don't take reports of threats against property. While a threat against a person warrants a police report of assault, they don't have a way to track a threat against your car or your house, not you. I told her I hadn't planned on making a report until a neighbor advised me it would be a good idea. I also played the race card and explained that I'm one of two white people on the block which makes me stick out a little. She said she would speak to her sergeant and see whether they could take it.

She put me on hold. That helped me calm down a lot. By the time she came back, I was fine. She said her sergeant had said yes, she could take the report. So she asked me a bunch of questions, which I answered very calmly. I suck at physical description so probably that was pretty worthless, but I tried to work as best I could with the fleeting picture in my head of what they looked like. She gave me the number of the report and said it'll come in the mail in a few days. I will probably mention it at the next CAPS meeting and go to Home Depot tomorrow or Friday to get those fire safety ladders I've been meaning to get for years. As long as the only fire that results from this is the one now under my butt to get those ladders, we're fine.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Immigrants, Aliens, Dreams

First, I want to apologize for the long delay between posts. I wasn't feeling well last week and then went out of town over the weekend. I'm still not really 100 percent, so I'll let Greg Michie do the heavy lifting today.

About a month ago, Greg posted a reflection on the Teaching Excellence Network website about the DREAM Act and how badly we need it to help undocumented youth have a reason to pursue academic excellence. Greg used to teach here in Back of the Yards. Here's a little of what he had to say about their chances of going to college:

I tried to help my students see college as a real possibility down the road. And I tried to impress upon them that, clichéd or not, working hard and doing well academically would give them more options after high school.

Turns out that I lied.

You see, most of my former students are from Mexican immigrant families, and some—more than I realized at the time—are undocumented. So even if they remain focused, stay out of trouble, study, and graduate from high school with exceptional grades, going to college is still a long shot at best. For many, it’s simply not possible.

Along with Greg, Senator Dick Durbin and many others, I've said it before and I'll say it again: children who were brought to this country by adults should not be penalized for decisions over which they had no control. The United States should not waste the talent, intelligence and energy of these young people by preventing them from going to college and building a life in the only country many of them have ever really known. Local communities like Back of the Yards are held back when our youth are told they can't pursue their dreams to the fullest. The DREAM Act would fix this by giving young people who arrived here before age 16, have lived here for five years, stayed out of trouble and completed high school conditional legal status while pursuing college or the military. Whatever else you think about broader issues of immigration, this looks to me like a winner for everyone.

It also took me until just now to post a comment that came in about Brady Girl's Radio Arte essays. Here's what Andrea had to say:

She is describing illegal aliens, not immigrants. What honestly amazes me is that (1) she doesn’t seem to be aware of the difference and (2) you don’t point that out in this post.

It pains me to state the obvious, but even though I wasn’t “born here” I “have health insurance”, “get paid like actual citizens” and was “able to get a visa to go and visit family”.

Defenders of illegal immigration, who can’t or won’t see the difference between having “papers” and not having them, put off people (like me) who do and end up hurting their own cause.

I responded to Andrea back at the Brady Girl 2 post--feel free to check back. My basic point was that I've personally known way too many people who have fallen in and out of legal immigration status for various bureaucratic reasons, to the point where I don't personally see the line as starkly as Andrea does. People who come to one country from another are immigrants; sometimes they are in the country legally, sometimes not. I myself came pretty close to being an illegal alien in France--I had to leave briefly in the middle of my stay and come back on a new 3-month tourist visa in order to reside there legally.

By the way, the immigration committee at Holy Cross/IHM appears to be gearing up for some new activity. Stay tuned.

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