Blog Archive

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Little Post Office That Could

Here's a happy holiday story from Back of the Yards. We have a small post office location in the shopping mall at 46th and Bishop. It's official title is Finance Station L, and it's official address is 4642 S. Bishop St.

As you may know, the US Postal Service has lost a lot of business in the last few years. Stations are being closed. Our little station here was notified earlier this fall it was being considered for closure. I have a P.O. box at the station and it's an easy walk from my house. Even though there's a larger station on Halsted only a mile or so from the shopping center, it's not a pretty mile between here and there. You would either go through the Stockyards Industrial Park or take 47th from Ashland to Halsted and go north a little. I've biked it but didn't enjoy it much--there's a lot of trucks and it's pretty deserted. The road isn't in the greatest shape either (though it's much better than at 51st). And it makes a huge difference to me to be able to walk to the post office from my house rather than driving or riding my bike. (Someday I hope to ride my bike again!)

Anyway, it's not just the location, it's the service. The two clerks at Finance Station L are friendly and helpful and patient with all kinds of customers. I was just there this afternoon mailing belated Christmas cards and packages to faraway family. Rick helped me find a box for one batch and get my other box taped up and ready to go. Service beyond the call of duty. Two other women were in the station at the same time and said that our station is much nicer and friendlier than other nearby locations (I'll leave those to your imagination).

Then I noticed a sign on the window that said something like "due to the large response from customers, Finance Station L is no longer being considered for closure." I asked about it and Rick told me that people not only filled out the questionnaire the Post Office sent asking about service, not only signed the petition, but even took it upon themselves to call and say how much they would miss the station if it were closed. "They're still trying to respond to all the calls and questionnaires," Rick told me.

I'm delighted. Power to the people! Let's hear it for the little post office that could, and did. And thanks to all my fellow customers who, like me, put in a good word to the U.S. Postal Service. Our station is a treasure and I'm glad it's not going away.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pros Arts @ Hedges




UPDATED: Here's the flyer inviting people to the Hedges performances earlier this month. The visual art exhibit continues through January 28, so stop by after winter break.

Pros Arts Studios and my friend Irasema Gonzalez spent "an eight week playdate" at Hedges Elementary here in Back of the Yards, teaching writing, art and theater to 8th-graders. Irasema, a poet, and her teaching artist colleagues Lungelo Kuzwayo (theatre), Krystin Grenon (visual art) and Maria Gaspar (performance art) wrapped up on Friday, December 11 with two performances and an exhibition of student artwork. The art exhibition runs through January 28, 2010, so if you're in the neighborhood, stop by Hedges and take a look.

The students wrote a play called Trouble @ Bubbly Creek. Just in time for Christmas, Irasema graciously shared some quotes from her students' writing:

"People don’t need to move to another neighborhood to live in a better one. People that live in our neighborhood can have a good future.” --J.L.

“…its important to follow our dreams and stop at nothing until we’ve completed…we can change our community if we don’t like it.” –D.A.

“The memories or items we gather along the journey can shape our future.” –P.O.

"We should keep luchando for our dreams" --D.

"the stuff that happens to us now can help us in the future…” X.O.

“maybe you can change your neighborhood without changing to a new house.” R.C.

“You can make a change in our city, country or community. You can shape your future and help others shape theirs as well.” --J.L.

Someone reading these quotes initially thought they were from students in Pilsen. When told they were young people from Back of the Yards, she said: "Viva back of the yards! Often the forgotten ones but great talent emerges from there ...in all forms. Heck, maybe the next President will come from B.O.Y."

Maybe so. With these hopeful thoughts in mind, I wish all the Tattler readers happy holidays and peace on earth, especially here on Marshfield Avenue!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Food, Glorious Food

I need to come up with a system to make sure my babysitter gets lunch. Dawn's mom just knocked on the door with a can of Coke and a box of Church's Fried Chicken for her. (They are friends.)

I invited her in, but she said she was on her way to Casa Catalina, the food pantry run by Holy Cross/IHM. I have a bag of cans of food here I meant to donate during the pre-Thanksgiving food drive at church and never brought up there. I gave the bag to her and asked if she could take it with her to the pantry, adding, "And if there's anything you want, take it first."

After she left, the baby woke up and was hungry. I took a break from writing to nurse the baby while Sitter ate lunch. We were joking about how neither of us had eaten lunch yet. She brought me a hard boiled egg from the fridge, with salt. The baby nursed, I ate an egg and Sitter ate her chicken. She invited me to have some, but I'm avoiding meat exposed to antibiotics (long story) so fast food is out. I offered her a hard-boiled egg, but for whatever her reasons were, she said no.

In addition to accepting donations of non-perishable food, Casa Catalina is looking for cash donations to purchase ham and turkey dinners for families. I am guessing they purchase the food for the dinners from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Each meal's cost is very reasonable--about ten bucks for a turkey dinner, eight-fifty for a ham dinner. Click on the link above for details.

In case I don't get to post again for a while--Happy holidays, all!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

HIgh School Hunting

Well, it's that time of year again, when I play high school admissions counselor for whichever kids are in 8th grade within a two or three-block radius. This year its Ines, Jay-Z and Tone-Loc. Ines will get into Rauner on sibling preference--her older bro is a freshman--but I should check with her and see if she wants someone to help with her application essay. Jay-Z and Tone are tougher nuts to crack. Both are special ed kids with lousy test scores, grades, and behavior records.

THis morning I am hoping both are going to the former Creiger Multiplex, which became home to the Noble Network's Chicago Bulls College Prep Campus back in August. I've lost track of things a bit in the high school openings world--I thought Bulls College Prep wasn't open yet, but it's still young enough they should have a better shot in the lottery than at some of Noble's more established campuses. And as I pointed out to Jay-Z's aunt yesterday, Noble has been working hard to find seats for applicants who don't win a spot in their first-choice campus, so they may get a spot somewhere else. Noble is planning to open a campus in Englewood next fall--depending on where it is it might be easier for Marshfielders to get to.

A couple of days ago when it was really cold I managed to drag myself out of the house and knock at Tone-Loc's door. HIs aunt was home and told me he has applied to Dunbar. I was glad to hear they had made some efforts themselves. I gave her the Options for Knowledge book with the standard application in it. I need to get them copies of the College and Career Academy application--it's online at The Office of Academic Enhancement web site, but my printer's ink cartridge is toast so I can't print.

If folks are interested in the hot topic of the new proposed admissions policy, the link is on the site's home page.

Tone-Loc's aunt was hoping I'd go with them to Cregier today, but between a three-month old, the weather, and a recent stomach bug, I'm not going anywhere today.I talked to Jay-Z's aunt yesterday and suggested maybe she could take Tone and one of his adult relatives--I think she's friends with one of his much older sisters. She was open to that idea.

Joey is in 8th grade, too, but his dad says he and Dawn are moving to Cicero and they want him to come with. I was hoping they would move farther west in Little Village so he could go to MAS, but I think that's not going to happen.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Chavez News

Amanda Rivera is the interim principal at Chavez Elementary. Mr. Correa has left. I don't know what's going on regarding the search for his replacement. The Local School Council is now alternating morning and afternoon meetings--I think the next morning meeting is in January. Maybe I'll be able to make that one and find out how the search for a new principal is going.

Sarah, who was having such a hard time adjusting to Orozco, has returned to Chavez. I saw her walking home from school the other day with her big sister and her nieces. She looked perfectly happy. It's a good reminder that academics aren't everything when it comes to a child's school experience.

Right before the holiday I stopped in at Chavez to let them know I still have school supplies left over from last summer's block party. The gentleman I spoke with took my name and number and said someone from school could come by and pick them up. That would be a big help. That's also how I confirmed what I had heard about the interim principal. Ms. Rivera was the founding principal at Ames Middle School in Logan Square, where she was highly regarded. I'm glad someone with strong middle school experience is at the helm at Chavez, even temporarily. I have heard negative comments from parents about the state of affairs at the upper grade center (grades 5-8). I hope Ms. Rivera can straighten that out a bit.

Dorothy Update

I have seen Dorothy here and there since the baby was born. She was on an ankle bracelet--house arrest--for a while--but I think that's over with now. She is staying down south of 51st, across the street from Junior's family's new house. A couple of weeks ago she left a blue snowsuit for the baby hanging off the knob of our front door. Thanksgiving night (yesterday) around 10 p.m. there was a knock at the door, and I suspect it was Dorothy. It was either her or Tony the car wash guy. Either way, we didn't answer--Papi and I were just finishing our late-night turkey dinner for two after the baby went to bed. The baby and I had gone to a vegetarian Thanksgiving feast earlier while Papi was working. We picked him up after work, came home, put the baby to bed (he'd fallen asleep in the car so we just hauled the car seat up to his room and left him in it), then sat down and had a little turkey and pie. Dorothy's knock came just as we finished the dishes.

"Who on earth is knocking at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving?" I thought. "There is no way I'm answering that door." Sometimes Tony Car Wash knocks late when the lights are still on, so it might have been him, but I'm trying to retrain my late-night pals to quit bothering me at those hours. It's so rare I'm up past 8 p.m. these days, and when I am, I just want to enjoy some peace and quiet.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trouble

Day before yesterday I ran into Picasso as he was coming out of Joey's house. I had been out walking the baby for the previous two hours or so since it's one of the few sure-fire ways I can get him to sleep in the daytime at the moment.

Picasso and I stood in the twilight in Joey's front yard near the wrought iron fence and talked for a bit. He says his grades are good except for one or two classes--he didn't say which ones. He likes his American Lit teacher this year much better than he liked his freshman English teacher. The way he smiled when he said school is good made me believe him.

Then I went for it. "Try to stay out of trouble, OK?" I said with a knowing smile.

He smiled back, embarrased. "I'll try."

Just at that moment, a police SUV pulled up and flashed the spotlight on us. The baby stirred in his carrier. "Are you waking up, buddy?" I asked my son, jiggling up and down on my toes. The cops turned the light off and drove away.

"That's trouble," I said to Picasso. "Listen, if you get picked up and you need help, call this number: 1-800-LAW-REP-4."

"Law Rep four," he repeated.

"They give free legal help to teenagers who get picked up by the cops. If you get picked up, make them your first call. And let me know if you ever need anything," I said, and went in the house, thinking about how I wish I could do more and yet being OK that that is all I can do for Picasso at this point. He's not my kid. I hope to God nobody ever has to say stuff like that to my son.

Picasso was a good boy when he was in fifth grade, sixth grade. He still is when he's not screwing around. He knows how to be polite and respectful. He's still the same bright young man, with artistic talent to boot. But he's in deep trouble and I don't know how to help him through and out. Dawn and I were talking last weekend about how we both thought when he and Joey started to hang out that he might help Joey stay out of trouble. Looks like it went the other way. This is the kind of thing that makes me afraid of staying here when my boy is a teenager.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Belated Halloween Update

I really wasn't wanting to post this and have been using the baby as an excuse not to write about what happened on Halloween this year. We didn't get very many trick or treaters--don't know if it was the weather or the economy. We did get a couple of knocks on the door from the Chicago Police Department. They were looking for Joey and Picasso. Apparently the boys had been seen on Joey's front porch with spray cans and then there was "a disturbance" as one of the cops put it.

The first cop knock was a male officer asking if anyone lived in the house next door. No wonder they asked. There's broken glass all over the front yard and graffiti on the front stoop. ("He tagged his own house!" Jay-Z's aunt said to me months ago, utterly shocked.) The living room window is broken and hasn't been repaired in months. It's going to be a cold winter in there--if they are still there. People have been by to serve foreclosure papers.

I told the officer, yes, people do live there and gave their last name and a few other things. I had mixed feelings about this. It was an interesting insight into the culture of "don't snitch"--it's not just the fear that someone will retaliate, but the knowledge that people you know and care about are wanted by the police. Even if you know they are a menace, it's not fun to set the cops on people you know.

Then another officer, female, came to the door thinking it was a two-flat and looking for the other occupants. I explained only one family lives here. She admired the baby. I offered her candy; she laughed and declined.

Later, Picasso's mom came to the door. Some mail for me had come to her house by mistake, plus she wanted me to interpret for her so she would understand what the police were saying. I came back out. The cops, at least one of whom had seen me before, were surprised I came out on her behalf. "And who are you?"

"I'm her neighbor and friend," I said. "I speak some Spanish, so I can help you talk with her."

They told her she needed to watch her son more carefully. I told her they said that and added, "you know." I know she knows. Picasso is 15 years old, and she is working. I don't know how often he sees his dad these days. She does her best to keep a leash on him. She already lost an older son to this kind of madness. The cops were just useless.

She wanted to know what would happen to Picasso. "He'll be out of the car in a minute," one of the officers said. I said it again in Spanish. That was probably the only helpful thing that happened out there.

I called Joey's dad that night and told him if he didn't get his truck off my parking pad I was going to have someone else do it the next day. I had heard that people are out to get Joey. A couple of weeks ago, someone threw a brick at the truck and broke the windshield. More recently, someone broke into it and took out the radio. I had been bugging Joey's dad for months about moving his truck--he hasn't paid rent on the space in over a year--to no avail. Until Halloween, when I said, "The cops were after your son today. People here tell me they think this is his house because your truck is on the pad. I have a little one now and I'm afraid."

The next afternoon Joey, his dad, Dawn and Picasso all came to get the truck. "I still want to know who your teachers are," I said to Picasso.

"OK," he said.

Haven't seen him since.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

You Just Never Know

...where life will take you. Back in 2005 I chose the four digits 2-0-0-9 for something because Dawn was starting high school and was part of the class of 09. Until she wasn't anymore. Soon after that, 2009 became the year my son would be born, which I had no idea would be the case when I picked the four digits. Now I'll keep on using them, but with a totally different meaning behind the numbers.

Dawn and her mother came by a few minutes ago with some big news. Dawn is six months pregnant--due in late January. She's not working right now and has not started back to school. I am just at the point now where I need some help to be able to start working from home again, so I asked her if she would want to get paid to come and help me with the baby for a while before her own baby arrives. I would never leave her alone with my son but I would be delighted to have her around to help out with him and with household stuff for an afternoon or two a week. So we're going to try it out on Thursday.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Uncle Yup-yup Stops By

Yes, Yup-yup is back. A couple of weeks ago I was up early with the baby and heard the cry on the street. "Aw, no," I thought. A while ago I asked The Groundskeeper if he knew what had happened to Yup-yup--it was quiet around here for months.

"He did something really bad," The Groundskeeper told me. So bad that even if he wasn't in jail, he wasn't going to hang around here. "IF he comes back here people will be looking for him." So that's all I knew.

But I guess the heat is off now. Maybe a week or so ago there was a knock at the door and Yup-yup was there, looking for an odd job (or a handout). Sarah and her niece were here in the house--Sarah had been doing homework--and I was about to send them home.

"Well, Uncle, want to see my new baby?" I said to him.

"Sure!"

I had the girls leave--I escorted them past Uncle Yup-yup--I'm afraid that was a little scary for them but they managed it well. Then I went and got BJ out of his bassinet and went out on the front step. He was awake and his eyes were wide open.

"He's going to be a leader," Yup=yup predicted. (I did not let him touch the baby, just look.)

Then Yup-yup launched his pitch. "Maybe this isn't a good time right now..."

"It sure isn't," I said. I also explained I've had a financial setback. "Maybe in a few months I'll be looking for outside help again. I'll let you know."

I have not seen him since, but I doubt that will deter him for long.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Quick Sarah Update

Well, Sarah stayed home from school today. She was out in my backyard in the afternoon with some of the other kids. "I had a fever this morning, so my mom let me stay home," she told me. She looked very happy.

Some of the neighbors are getting worried about her. Late last week and yesterday morning I could hear her from inside my house, up in the baby's room, sometime around 7 or 7:30 a.m. when it was time to leave for school. She was making a horrendous fuss, screaming "No!" and crying. This morning Jay-Z's aunt told me people across the street were worried her family was abusing her. I explained what was going on to her and to Picasso's mom, which hopefully will get the word out so no one calls the cops or DCFS.

And, yes, I slept through the mural celebration last Saturday. If any readers have news to share, feel free to comment.

Last night I was out on my front stoop chatting with a friend visiting from out of town. A couple of our local beat officers drove by in a large police van. "Is that your baby?" asked the officer on the passenger side.

"Yes."

"We were wondering where you've been. We miss you at the meetings. There's one tonight."

"I'll probably be back by December."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mural Celebration Saturday

Here are the details for the mural celebration. Mothers for Peace/Madres por La Paz and Precious Blood Ministries are sponsoring a celebration of the new mural at 49th and Throop (by the railroad viaduct), from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday September 19. Mothers and youth worked together to design and paint the mural, which features a host of quotations from famous peace activists: Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, and Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few.

I'll try to get out there and get some pictures tomorrow if at all possible, but life with a newborn means there's no telling whether we'll get there or not.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Upcoming Events

This Saturday September 19, there will be a celebration showcasing a new mural recently completed on 49th Street east of Ashland (I have to get the exact address, sorry). Oscar Contreras and the mothers against violence worked with local youth to design and paint the mural. I'll try to get some photos if I can.

On Monday, September 21 at 6 p.m. at the Chavez Lower Grade Center (4747 S. Marshfield), the UNION Impact Center will hold registration for fall youth and parent classes. Registration is free but space is limited. Youth programming includes soccer, art, guitar, video and photography. Parent programs include aerobics (women only), women's support and leadership, and art for the whole family. For more information, contact Rafael YaƱez at 773.600.1601 or email yanezr@unionimpactcenter.org. Classes begin September 22.

CORRECTION/UPDATE: Some class programming has changed slightly as of September 17. Guitar is now a family class; art has been dropped. A parent class in dance has been added.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sarah Update

Well, I don't know how Sarah felt about school today, but she's over here now working on homework. She got to read Robert Blake's short story Akiak for homework tonight--it's a good story. She doesn't seem to be freaking out about doing the homework, so that's a step forward.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Maritza Seeks Help for School Phobia

Dear Readers:

This afternoon/evening, Abuela and I sat out on the step with Sarah, her neices, her mom and her big sister and had a big chat. Sarah has started at Orozco but she is having a lot of anxiety about it. The orientation went ok, but on the first day of school she got so nervous she threw up. The second day it happened again. Today her mom let her stay home and called me for advice. They're going to try to send her tomorrow but maybe she will just talk with someone and not go to class. On Monday her mom intends to speak with her teacher.

I asked Sarah to tell me about her experience. She said the building is very big and unfamiliar and they didn;t really walk around it during orientation. She made some friends during orientation and two of them are in her class, but they sit pretty far away from her. I gather on the first day the bus was late--it's supposed to pick her up from Chavez at 7:45 but it didn't arrive until 8:20, so she was late to class. Perhaps that was also a factor. She said she got nervous when the teacher gave homework, although when she got home and tried it she found it was pretty easy. She clearly misses her friends and teachers at Chavez andwants to go back there.

The problem is, as Tom Wolfe said, you can't go home again. Her mom tells me Mr. Correa has left Chavez and things are very disorganized now. She's also heard the stories about drugs and gang recruitment in the upper grade center (Sarah wouldn't be there yet, but soon) and she won't have her daughter go there. This sounds like a fairly titanic struggle of wills between mother and daughter. Sarah, like her mom, is a pretty determined person, but it's not in her long-term best interest to go back to Chavez. How to help her understand that, I'm not too sure.

If anyone has tips on dealing with school phobia, new school anxiety, etc., we are all ears here on Marshfield Avenue. Thanks!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Dual Language School Info from a Reader

Somosamerica sent in this comment for an earlier post, but so people can see it I'll repost it here as an entry:

Maritza et al...

In Chicago, I'd like to make sure parents know that to get into Inter-American's school's dual language program, you need to apply for preschool (4yo), not kindergarten. By the time kindergarten rolls around, all our preschool slots are filled -- no one leaves and there's no room.

In reality there should be more programs like this. There is a dual language strand at Talcott and heritage language programs at Tepochcalli and Whittier that I know of.

Good luck! ,

Welcome Baby Party

Well, I managed to have the official "come see the baby" soiree with at least some of the neighbors yesterday. All the kids have been bugging me about seeing him. Two of my friends were coming down from the north side for a visit, so I thought it would be a good time to open the floodgates and let the baby be officially seen while I had two extra pairs of hands around to help out.

Abuelita (Granny, here from Mexico, who deserves a note of her own at some point) and I went out for a walk yesterday afternoon with BJ (for Baby Jaime, not baby's real name) to show her where El Guero (nearest Mexican grocery store) is and go to the bakery for some pan dulce to go with the fruit I had from a lovely edible arrangement. Yesterday was the St. Joseph Summer Festival, so we stopped by on our way to 47th Street. Abuelita got to chit-chat with some real Spanish speakers--whew! I introduced her to a bunch of friends from the neighborhood who were around and they all chatted while Tony and I sat in the sun and watched the ballet folklorico. Abuelita knew the songs and sang along a little bit. My friend Lety took her under her wing and they went to get some food--she had sopes and a quesadilla. (I bet she was glad to have good Mexican food she didn't have to cook.)

I also got to ask Lety, "What is it with all the Mexicans worrying that he's cold all the time?" Abuelita has him bundled in three layers almost all the time. It is an unseasonably cold August, but it's still August. And he has jaundice and needs some skin in indirect sunlight sometimes. Lety was a good person to talk with--she was reminding me most Mexicans would say I shouldn't have even been out of the house (40 days confinement, and there's good reason for it, but I would go crazy inside that long), and that yes, the way they protect babies is to keep them very warm. We are managing some balance, Abuelita and I, but it is interesting. Lety was telling me her mother-in-law was very protective when her kids were infants, too. "Just remember it won't last forever," she said.

"True. And she is really a godsend," I said. "So many women don't have that kind of support--someone who is always there and has experience with their own children."

Then we took a look around the grocery store and went to the bakery. I forgot I had spend a wad of cash at Whole Foods and had to dig hard in my pocketbook to come up with the cash for almost 10 bucks worth of baked goods. We got it.

When we got back to the house Junior's mom was out front with Junior and his little brothers. The youngest is about 18 months older than BJ--I'm hoping they'll be friends when BJ is a little older. Apparently they already have a lot in common--similar birth weight, both had jaundice. Junior's mom and I were comparing notes. She's working nights I think; she looks really tired. Her older boys offered to come by and help out. They will get their chance, I bet. For now, I encouraged Junior's mom to stop by and talk with Abuelita any time since we have trouble conversing. Abuelita has made friends with Dawn's mom next door, which is good, but I'm hoping to help her find some more women she can have a good platica (chat) with now and then. (I'm not feeling so chatty in Spanish these days--the extra step to figure out what to say/what's being said is slowing me down big time.)

A little while later Liz and Lisa showed up and we got the pan dulce and the fruit out. Then a young friend of mine, F, who just graduated in June from Big Picture came by. She had a baby two weeks before I did. He's a boy with an amazing head of black hair. She had a tough labor followed by a C-section. She is up and about and getting ready to start a new class at Morton College with a three-week old. I have a ton of respect and admiration for her. I had invited her over to pick up extra baby clothes and gear--I got a ton of hand-me-downs and have been trying to share the wealth with neighbors and friends who have new babies but don't have as many friends with gear/clothes to spare and share. Sarah's niece, the boy down the street and now this Big Picture grad's little boy have all benefitted from the largesse. We had a teary new mom moment upstairs while F was looking through my stuff. She has been trying to breastfeed but it's been really tough between the C and sore, cracked nipples. Right now she is pumping and supplementing with formula. By contrast, I've had a really easy time getting the hang of it (the first week was hard but now he latches well and my nipples don't hurt and he's gaining). I felt almost guilty when F looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "It's hard, right?"

"Yes, honey, it's really hard getting started," I said. "And it stays hard for some people for a long time." I gave her a spare nursing pillow plus a ton of extra bottles and nipples. And a bagful of clothes we hadn't even sorted out yet.

Then the deluge. I'd say we had a dozen or so kids show up, and when the word got out there was food, kids I didn't even know (people's cousins) came in--I just sent them to the back to get food or pop. A couple of moms from down the street swooped in and had to hold the baby. I knew that was coming. Tony was quite mellow about it. I figure one of these moms has six kids and the other has at least two or three, so let them at it. My friend Christina told me the mom I don't know as well (with fewer kids) joked in Spanish, "I'm going to take him now. You can have him back when he's five."

"You know what--that might be OK," I joked back in English to Christina. (I'm not sure if she passed it on. I like school-age kids; I could save a lot of diaper changing and toilet training, right? So kidding.)

The kids I knew who wanted to hold the baby all washed their hands and lined up. Most of them have handled very young brothers/sisters/nieces/nephews, so I wasn't too worried. One youngest had to be shown how to support his head; the rest of them probably know more about the whole business than I do. One girl who I know by sight but keep losing her name helps her aunt out with her cousin, who is now seven months old. She clearly knows how it is for new moms. She came up right away and put an arm around me, and was clearly very interested in and competent with BJ. I still think Ines is my first choice on mother's helper, but they are buddies so maybe as time goes on they can help me out together.

The party gave me a chance to get a couple of key messages out to the kids--we won't be so visible/available for a few weeks, and we'll put a sign on the door to let you know when visits are OK and when not. I want to get someone to take pieces of red and green construction paper over to Kinko's and get them laminated together so I have an all-weather sign. Red=no visitors; green=welcome. Simple enough.

One of my friends brought a camera and took pics. Both helped me throw everybody out when I got tired. I may post some photos when I get them. Really glad that's over with, at least for now. (Some neighbors who want to see the baby couldn't make it.) One person I'd like to stall is Mrs. Ribs across the street, whose daughter told me she apparently insists on feeding babies potatoes the first time she meets them. Can I hold her off for six months??? :-) We shall see.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Maritza Takes Maternity Leave

My son was born last Friday night. He's now seven pounds and healthy, but still a little jaundiced. Obviously I'll be taking a break from chronicling the neighborhood goings-on for a while. Lots of neighbors have wanted to see the baby--a few squeezed in, but until the jaundice clears we're not having visitors.

More in a few weeks, most likely.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Unofficial Block Party Celebrates Street Resurfacing

I got home tonight about 9 p.m. and the new asphalt was on the street. Whoo-hoo! A couple dozen kids were celebrating with bikes, trikes, wagons and mini-cars. Fernando's mom and Peter Pan's mom were out in the middle of the street with the kids. The Brady dads were sitting on their front stoop keeping an eye on their joint brood. The south end of the street is still blocked off with cones because they're going to paint the crosswalk tomorrow morning, I think. So tonight there's nothing but empty, newly asphalted street.

"It's another block party," I said to some of the parents. They nodded.

Mrs. Traback was out with her new dog viewing the action, too. I think she might have been talking with the kids and their moms before I arrived. Please keep her in your thoughts/good energy/prayers--she's been having some health issues lately.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Overheard on the Orange Line earlier tonight: a young woman was on the phone with her mother explaining that she and a disabled friend who has a service dog had tried to get a meal at Golden Thai on Taylor, but the restaurant refused to serve the friend because she had the service dog with her. Her friend is looking into what she can do but in the mean time I won't be eating at Golden Thai for a good while and wanted to let others know.

Golden Thai is at 1509 W. Taylor.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Streetlights Are Back On!

The streetlights on Ashland Avenue between 47th and 49th streets are back on again. Yay!

Thanks to Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council for staying on the city to get the work done.

Block Party 2009

Well, this year's block party went off pretty well. The weather was cool and it sprinkled a bit, but it didn't prevent us from doing any of the activities. The mask-making was definitely the best part. I couldn't watch it too carefully--we were setting up the food then, which was a bit of a production, but the kids could paint and use a variety of interesting materials. They made 3D objects as well as masks. My favorite was Brady Bughunter's boat--he made something with a long (maybe four feet?) broomstick in the middle. You probably could tie a sail on it and float it somewhere.

Hopefully I will have pictures soon and post them. I know the kids had more fun last year because it was hotter and we had the jumping jack and water balloons, but I was just happy it went off calmly and everyone had a good time. "It was lovely," Jay-Z's dad told me afterwards.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bradys at the Beach, Plus Block Party Update

Well, the good news is they did not start resurfacing the street this morning, and the signs are down. We need to put up block party signs but there's a good chance of rain tonight, so I think we'll do that tomorrow.

Today I took the afternoon off and drove a chunk of the Brady kids up to the north side for some time at the beach. Originally I had planned to take girls only--it's a five-seater car and there are four of them who play together a lot--but at the last minute we squeezed Brady Bughunter in, too. His older brothers left this morning for two days in Michigan with their dad and uncle, and Brady Bughunter was going to be heartbroken if he had to stay home all day with just his mom and Littlest Brady. I was a bit concerned because we don't have enough seat belts for five kids in my car, but he and his younger sister are small and skinny. We put them in the middle of the back seat and put one seat belt across both of them. Obviously I drove very carefully. Everything was fine.

So we went way up to Foster Avenue Beach on the north side because they have a lot of parking and it is very kid-friendly. It is a smaller beach and since it wasn't super-warm today the kids got cold in the water pretty fast. They had a good time looking for shells and burying each other in the sand. I had been thinking we should at least see the edge of the bird sanctuary at Montrose Beach, too, so we decided to pack up everything, take a walk around the rocks and the pier at Foster, then go down to Montrose and decide whether to swim some more or go look for birds or a little of both.

The rocks and the pier were a bigger hit than I expected because the lake was clear enough to see fish swimming. Some of them were very big. Brady Bughunter was so excited that his big sister Ines had to hold the back of his shirt to keep him from peering too far over the edges of everything. Ines did a very good job of looking out for her little brother today--she wanted to know if he can come help put the school supply bags for the block party together tomorrow, too, so he won't feel lonely while his brothers are gone. I said sure.

They definitely preferred Montrose Beach--it's a lot bigger, and you can go farther out in the water. I think the water was warmer, too. It was a longer hike from the water's edge back to the washrooms (which was a little bit of hassle for me, but we all survived). One of the Brady Girl cousins is a little water baby--she was always the last one out. Brady Bughunter and his sisters got colder easily--they're all very skinny. "I'm a skeleton!" BB proclaimed at one point, and he's right--not much meat on those bones. When his teeth started chattering I got him out of the water and wrapped him up in my extra-large beach towel. He was OK with playing in the sand for a while until he warmed up. The girls can all swim, though the youngest is not a strong swimmer yet. Brady Bughunter doesn't swim yet so I kept my eyes most closely on him in the water. Even though he really wanted to go way out in the water, he knew his comfort level and would stop when the water got higher than he was comfortable with. Part of me wanted to teach him to blow bubbles in the water, but he was more interested in just playing than learning to swim and I wanted to keep my hat and glasses on. I wasn't up to swimming, but I played "shark" (tag in the water) and monkey in the middle--another group of kids let us use their ball for a while.

At the very end, after we were back in our clothes and had had some fruit cups from a cart for a snack, we took a walk along the edge of the bird sanctuary. We only saw one bird, but we heard a few more once I shushed them. I said, "If you stop talking you'll probably hear and see more birds"--they all went "Shhh!" and then were quiet--we could hear bird calls then. We found tons of milkweed and they all made wishes. Right after we saw the one bird (might have been a female blue jay--we were pretty far away so it was hard to see), it started raining a little so we headed back.

Shortly before we got back to the car, BB hollered, "A bunny!" and ran toward a tree. We all followed him. There was a big hole in the bottom of the tree trunk. I'm not sure if the rabbit went in there or if there was no rabbit and BB just faked us all out, but we had fun looking for the bunny in the rain. Then it rained harder so we went back to the car and went home.

Clearly they had a good time, since in the car they wanted to know when we were going to do it again. "Probably next summer," I said.

Later, Water Girl Brady said, "So next month when we go again--"

"Um, what am I doing next month, you guys?" I asked.

"Having a baby!" they all chorused.

Yeah, so I think it will be next summer before we have another beach trip. But I'm glad we got to do it once this summer.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Block Party Drama?

Well, this morning signs went up all over the block (and the adjacent blocks east and west) warning that street resurfacing will start on Marshfield Avenue tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. Resurfacing has already started further north--the asphalt was off the street last Friday at 48th and Marshfield.

First, let me say I'm delighted that we're finally getting the street resurfaced all the way from 51st to 47th. It's just what we were hoping for, and it crosses two wards so probably wasn't so easy to arrange. But the timing is not the best, given that the block party is set for Saturday.

Jay-Z's aunt called the alderman's office this morning. Latrece Thompson got back to us saying that they will hold off on the street resurfacing until after the block party. I hope that comes true. I may be up early tomorrow morning just to make sure a construction crew doesn't start tearing up the street. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hoops on Marshfield A Rousing Success

Hoops in the Hood made it to the parking lot at 48th and Marshfield tonight. Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council also blocked off the street at 48th and Marshfield. Kids and families from the surrounding blocks came by as well. The basketball action went on for two hours, and non-players enjoyed face-painting, hopscotch and riding their bikes in the street. Peter Pan and Tone-Loc played on the UNION Impact Center team--I'm glad to know they are hooked up with them. My friends whose son made his First Communion recently held a birthday party in the street--I saw Peter Pan's parents and some of the Bradys over there. Members of Jason Gill's family also have friends on the 4800 block and were sitting out with them in front of their house during the festivities. It was nice to see people from multiple blocks enjoying themselves together.

Everything seemed to go quite smoothly. I gather there was one incident where someone showed up and wanted to play ball but hadn't been on any of the organized teams that have been playing all summer. They let him join the court briefly but it became clear quickly he just wanted to draw attention to himself, so some of the officers present escorted him out, and that was that.

There were some nice freebies for everyone, too. Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council had hot dogs, icies, popcorn and water for the crowd, and gave away tote bags. Teen Living Programs gave away pen key chains and let people know about their services. We're not so used to free stuff around here. A lot of the kids took a minute to realize they could just get something to eat. "It's free?" asked my buddy Eddie.

"Yep. Go ahead and have a hot dog," I told him.

Lots of neighborhood stalwarts were out and about at the event: Sandy Traback and Officer Tony Mejia, CAPS beat facilitator/NHS Advisory Board member/ Richards LSC member Veronica Lopez, Officer King (who regularly comes to Beat 914 meetings), Rafael Yanez of UNION Impact Center, and tons of folks from the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council.

Congratulations to Maria Raygoza, who has been doing excellent work on the 4800 S. Marshfield block. She's formed a block club and they are working with Ald. Cochran to get street resurfacing. Signs on the block show that work should be starting next week. They've already gotten some sidewalk repairs and tree-trimming.

My camera isn't working, but I hope to get pictures from others early next week.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hoops on Marshfield Tomorrow Night

Hoops in the Hood will be hosting youth basketball in the newly-paved Chavez Elementary parking lot at 48th and Marshfield tomorrow night. I think game time is 6 p.m. but am not totall sure of this. Anyway, it should be a good time.

Quick notes on other upcoming events--our block will be having its block party August 1. We missed the chance to get a city jumping jack for free, but if any readers know someone who can rent us one for a couple of hours we would be interested in talking with them. We expect to have basketball, soccer (I think), a blessing of some sort from Holy Cross/IHM and perhaps an art activity. A neighbor will DJ in the evening. The kids are thinking up games they can organize among themselves.

Special thanks to a number of local groups who have donated food or school supplies. The Su Casa Catholic Worker has large numbers of frozen hamburgers and buns left from the Fourth of July, plus a new arrival of beverages. Ald. Joann Thompson will provide chips and some beverage, and we are hoping to get hot dogs again this year from Rep. Esther Golar. Her office put us in touch with the 9th District CAPS implementation office, which may also be able to help. Park Federal donated bags and pens for our school supply kits. NHS may also be able to help with that. No Manches has agreed to donate some t-shirts as game prizes and Cafe Cedahlia will also help with refreshments. Meanwhile, Jay-Z's auntie and I have been hitting the back to school sales for pencils, rulers, scissors, folders, etc. A couple of neighbors have said they would help kick in more substantial amounts toward the expenses, and we'll probably go door-to-door and ask folks for a few bucks to help with the DJ (who's a lot cheaper than the person we got last year--whew!).

We may still be looking for someone to coach soccer and could use a high school or college student to supervise kids' activities like a bicycle race, water balloon toss, etc. (I would do this but at 8+ months pregnant I'm trying to limit how much physical activity I'll have to do day-of-event.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Update on Ashland Avenue Streetlights & Friday Night Hoops

This afternoon I was at the corner of Ashland and 47th when I ran into the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council's Sean O'Farrell. He let me know BYNC is working on getting the Ashland streetlights back up and running. Thanks, BYNC, and I hope it can be done soon!

Sean also let me know that Back of the Yards is participating in Hoops in the Hood for a second year. They are hoping to play on the new parking lot at 48th and Marshfield, across from Chavez Elementary, next Friday night, but that is not yet confirmed. Tonight they are playing somewhere on Ada. Hoops in the Hood is a great way to bring neighbors together and make the streets a fun, safe place for kids on summer nights. To get a feel for what it's all about, click here and scroll down to "B-Ball on the Block," the original Little Village program that grew into Hoops.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Is CAPS Going the Way of the Dodo?

Sorry to rehash old news here, but I just found this great WBEZ piece from June about how drastically CAPS beat meeting attendance has fallen since 2002. Both the story and the comments below make excellent points about how people do not trust police officers, how gang members' friends and families attend CAPS meetings and thus silence real discussion with officers, and how recent cuts are likely to make the situation worse. You can also see the contrast between police service in West Town and in South Chicago on display in the comments section.

I'm just now trying to get in touch with the CAPS implementation office--I have a contact email but not a phone number. Well, thanks to CLEARpath and a few minutes of digging, I now have a number: 312-747-9987. But now they're asking me for my party's extension and there doesn't seem to be a way to leave a general message. It's now awfully close to 5 p.m. on a Friday in July, so I can't say I'm surprised. Will have to try again next week.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What's up with the Streetlights in Back of the Yards?

So this has been bugging me for about a month. The streetlights are still out on Ashland Avenue between 47th and 49th. Last night I drove home along 47th from Western to Ashland and discovered the streetlights are also out for a few of the half blocks between Damen and Ashland. Is all of that from the building explosion near 48th and Ashland in early June? Is there something else going on with the 47th Street lights? And what is the holdup about getting them fixed?

All I can say is, I bet if two major commercial strips on the North Side had streetlights out, it wouldn't take over a month to get them back in action, building explosions or no.

This Week's Vegetable Winner

...was Sarah and her family, since she hasn't been to the farm since last summer and the trip was canceled. She got a small bunch of carrots with the greens still attached, a zucchini or two, two heads of red leaf lettuce and a bagful of peas. On the way home from the craft store she was about the only one who said she liked peas, which also factored into my decision.

Camp Marshfield Goes Mobile, Part II

So today was supposed to be another trip to the Growing Home urban farm at 58th and Wood, but between the drizzle and a last-minute meeting, I ended up having West Town Bikes deliver again. Instead, I took five girls with me to Merceria Maria on 47th Street near Wood. It's a sewing/craft store with a lot of decorations for weddings and baby showers. The girls like to do craft projects, so I figured I could invest $20-$25 in their efforts and they would be less bored now that the summer community arts program at Chavez is over.

"So here's your challenge," I told them. "You have about 20 dollars total to spend, and you want to figure out how to get the most out of it." At first they were pretty set on dividing that into four dollars apiece and each picking out stuff they wanted for their own projects. Before we left, Youngest Brady Girl was saying, "Wait. I could go back to my house and ask my dad for some money."

"No, honey, that's not the point," I told her. "Your mom and dad have enough things to spend money on--food, gas, the house."

"Yeah, the house is expensive," said her older sister. I gather the family is thinking about trying to refinance their mortgage. Her mom has taken a part time job--night shift at a laundry on weekends, Thursday through Sunday. She works 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. I think it sounds killer hard just because it's night shift and she has five kids in the house (granted some of them are teens and working this summer). One of the girls said her mom likes it because it's not hard work and the money is good--$890 a month. The girls all have to be very quiet in the house on the days their mom sleeps in before she goes to work.

So we walked over to the craft store and talked about snakes on the way there. We went past the hole in the viaduct where the garden snake lives, which sparked the discussion. Ines said she was taking a shortcut to McKinley Park (if I weren't pregnant I'd walk with her one day to see how she gets there) when she saw a really big, fat garden snake and she got scared and ran. We were all laughing about how the guys at the farm told us there were lots of snakes on the viaduct at 58th Street last week, but they didn't tell us that until after we came down, so the girls got a little scared after the fact.

When we got to the sewing/craft store the girls took a long time checking out the inventory and admiring the pretty shower decorations. They eventually began to understand what I was saying about pooling their money--for example, if they bought larger bags of beads and shared them, it might be cheaper than buying individual bags. But I don't think they could all agree on a color scheme, so it ended up being a mix of larger and smaller bags. Sarah got very interested in the felt squares and foam boards. Ines' little sister had her own project in mind that required a single piece of something that was part of a larger shower object (they sell it in pieces and the owner was OK with just selling her the one part). Ines and her two cousins were pretty set on making bead bracelets, I think.

But they kept having these secret conferences and giggling in the corner of the store. I knew they were talking about making baby-related things for me--not actual stuff for the baby, but little showery-type things. Once they had their items picked out, we took a minute before going to the counter to estimate how much everything would cost. Each girl had an armful of items she had picked out and we estimated their costs. Most of the girls had it figured out before I even asked, but when we got to Youngest Brady Girl, her face was a blank and she shrugged. Her sister, with a slightly exasperated air of 'do I have to do this for you again?' grabbed the beads out of her hands, looked at the price, rounded it up and started calculating. (By the way, youngest Brady Girl's mom is no dummy-she voluntarily put her youngest in academic summer school this summer. Hopefully our trip was a little nudge in the direction of the idea that math actually helps you in real life.) When we added everyone's items together, we thought it would come in between 20 and 25 dollars. (We didn't figure the sales tax--since I guess it's still an easy, and outrageous, 10 percent, we could have.)

Anyway, we went to the counter and it came out to be something like $22.60. The owner gave us a couple of discounts and threw in a freebie, probably because he's nice and could see I was treating the girls, and maybe also because it was a fairly large order of small, random items. (I"m sure he and his wife make their real money on the shower goodies.)

"I was afraid it was going to be like 30 or 40 dollars," Ines said as we left the store.

"If it had been that high I would have made you put some stuff back," I said. "But you came in right where I thought you would. Good work shopping and estimating!"

"It's hard deciding when there are so many choices," she said later.

"Yeah, sometimes that's the hardest part about shopping," I replied.

When we got home, the girls had a craft fest out on my back porch. They brought over stuff from home so they could make flowers out of tissue paper and pipe cleaners. They also made cards out of construction paper as well as some of the felt. And yes, the cards were in shades of blue and said "It's a boy." Ines made me one with blue and purple felt hearts that said, "I'm always here when you need help." I'll take her up on that. She's 13 and the oldest of six; I was her age when I had my first babysitting gig (with a toddler, not a newborn, but I had learned baby stuff on my youngest sister). I wouldn't leave her alone with the baby until he's older, but she's definitely top of my list of candidates for mother's helper this fall.

Meanwhile, Peter Pan's youngest sister, Youngest Brady Boy and Angel were running around in the yard chasing each other. So we had about 10 kids out back, including the bun in the oven. As the crafts wound down, a couple of Brady Girls wanted to feed the composter. So I looked in the fridge and found some bagged broccoli florets that had seen better days. They dumped them in, then they wanted to mix and water everything. Oldest Brady Boy had stopped by at this point, and he had the longest reach, so he got in there with a trowel and mixed everything up. Then they watered it with the hose.

Around that time we also got a very special guest--the first appearance in my back yard of Baby D, Sarah's five-or-six-month-old niece. Tia Sarah, who's nine, and Baby D's four-year-old big sister brought her over in a stroller. Baby D was very quiet and watched everybody with her big eyes. She was very patient with all the attention from the girls. Youngest Brady brought over a toy accordion and Tia Sarah tried playing it for Baby D. "Sometimes she turns around suddenly if you make noise," Sarah said.

They also tried getting her attention by calling her name. Sometimes she responds and sometimes she doesn't, Sarah and Baby D's big sister told me. Then Baby D's big sister tried waving one of the little rattles from the craft store at her. She wanted to hold it. "Don't let her put it in her mouth," I said. "It's too little-she could choke on it."

Of course, once in Baby D's hand, it went to her mouth in an instant. One of the Brady girls swiped it and handed it back to D's sister. Since she's only four, she started to show it to her again, and Baby D started to cry in frustration.

"Don't let her see it," I said. "Watch, she'll forget about it." One of the girls hid it, and I started playing a different game with Baby D, just waving my fingers at her or something. She stopped crying within seconds. "Right now she thinks it just disappeared for good," I told them. "When she gets older she will realize it still exists, and then she won't stop crying for something she wants right away if you take it from her." I got a kick out of explaining object permanence in pretty basic terms to the girls.

Camp Marshfield Goes Mobile, Part I

Well, it's interesting how Camp Marshfield seems to be evolving this summer to fit two key changing circumstances: the new car and the impending baby. The new car means I do more road trips. On Tuesday I took Picasso, Joey, Jay-Z and Peter Pan's brother to Pros Arts Studio in Dvorak Park in Pilsen for their street art class. I've only been talking about this since February, but hey, we finally got there.

We were late. I had the time wrong, and then Peter Pan's brother was getting a haircut from some guy down the block. Bro got a Nike swoosh shaved into the back of his head. Jay-Z got a cool, abstract kind of design shaved into his head recently, by somebody over on Ashland Avenue.

"The first one is free. Next time it's five bucks," Mr. Shaver told me while we were all standing around watching him put the finishing touches on Bro's swoosh. Peter Pan's older sister went by and so did one of the older Brady Girls--the boys were teasing them about did they want a haircut. "Oh, no, I worked too hard to grow my hair this long," said the relevant Brady Girl. Peter Pan's sister just squealed in disgust at the idea.

When the swoosh was done, we all got in the car and drove to Dvorak Park. When we got there I had no idea where in the park the class was. At first I thought it might be over by the pool because that building is painted over with youth art. But no, that was the locker rooms. One girl peeked out and didn't say anything when I asked, "Is the art class in here?" But then she saw all the boys and suddenly there were a couple of girls screaming at them to come over. We all laughed and walked to the field house. The guy at the desk wasn't very clear about where the room was, so we spent some time wandering in a maze of locked rooms before we got down to the basement and saw the little room on one end where a bunch of kids were at a table, drawing.

"Hi, can we join you?" I asked the young Latina teacher.

"Sure," she said. "Come on in." I came in and hung out with them--normally I wouldn't be such a helicopter mom-figure but I really didn't know if Jay-Z and Bro had the stamina for an hour of an art project. I also didn't know if there would be any trouble since the guys weren't from the neighborhood, so I thought it was worth hanging out on the sidelines. I passed some wet wipes around and asked Jay-Z and Bro how it was going once or twice, but mostly I just let them alone. The vibe in the room was good--with our guys it was 14 young people and they were all concentrating hard on their projects. The teacher gave some kids suggestions here and there but mostly just let them go at it and made sure they all had the materials they needed.

The teacher got the guys set up at the table (they split up except for Joey and Jay-Z) and gave them pieces of paper and pastels. The task was to pick a word--your name, some other relevant word--write it out big in whatever style you preferred (block letters, bubble letters, Olde English, the really hard to read graffiti style, or whatever) then work on a color scheme using blended pastels. Once you were done you could take it outside and spray it with fixative. Picasso jumped in right away and Joey was not far behind. Jay-Z and Bro took a lot longer to decide what they were doing, as I expected. Eventually Jay-Z got bored and went outside to watch basketball. Bro surprised me--he hung in there and actually had something I thought looked cool by the end. The teacher gave Picasso and Joey registration forms to take home, get filled out and bring back next week if they go back. Bro didn't get one, but when we got home he said, "I want to go next week." I promised we'd get him a paper then.

Picasso said it was "not bad" and was noncommital about going again, but if it's raining or he's bored I bet he would go. I think Joey would go--I get the feeling he is pretty bored hanging out here this summer. I wish I had more to offer him.

Just as we were turning on to Marshfield Avenue, the New Boyz song "You're a jerk" came on the radio. I had never heard it before and started making fun of it instantly. "You're a jerk," I said, real nasally, and all the guys cracked up.

"They get paid to do that," Picasso said in semi-mock amazement.

"Yeah, I know," I said. "I could do that. I could put it on YouTube." We were all laughing.

I double-parked in front of my house to let them out and run in to grab something for a meeting. Picasso and Joey's moms were on the other side of the street, so I went to talk to them. "I think they liked it," I said in Spanish. "They have papers that need your signature to register. It's free but they have to take the papers back next week."

"Is it far?" Joey's mom asked.

"No, it's in Pilsen, at a park," I said. "I can help drive."

They each said they could drive sometimes too. So maybe this will actually happen. If Picasso actually liked it enough maybe he could get a job with them next summer. The guy I think was the paid student intern/apprentice--he asked where the timecards were--didn't strike me as the most dedicated. He did his own thing, didn't seem to interact with the other young people, and left to play basketball when his own project was done. Maybe it was an off day. I bet Picasso would be better, though.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Block Party Fever Begins to Rise

Last night Peter Pan told me his mom wanted to know if we could do the block party on July 4. Good Lord--that's like next week! "I think we need more time to plan, but your mom can call the alderman's office and see what they say, " I told him, and gave him the number.

This afternoon he called me and said his mom had spoken to the office. "They said they can do it, but somebody they already worked with has to come in for the permit." I said I could go with her tomorrow afternoon. I think we should talk to a couple other people on the block first, though, and decide for sure about the date. I think Peter Pan's family wants it on the Fourth so the street will be blocked off and they can shoot fireworks, but I don't know what else they are willing to do to make the party nice. (They did get the DJ last year, so maybe they can do that again on a week's notice.) I doubt I could get In the Paint or the Chicago Children's Museum to show up on a holiday with so little lead time. And just scanning their websites, In the Paint is at the Taste of Chicago on July 4 and I don't see a link on the Children's Museum web site for the traveling programs they had last summer.

But if they want to do it July 4 because people are off work, let 'em. I personally want to get out of town if at all possible. I hate street firecrackers--they make me very nervous. And boy, they are hard to avoid around here.

Summer on Marshfield Avenue

Well, the other day four or five kids were on the front step and we were talking.

"I might not be as much fun this summer as I was last summer," I warned them.

"Because of the baby?" Alicia asked.

"Yep."

One thing I think I'm good for is a weekly field trip to the Growing Home urban farm at 58th and Wood. I got a discounted share of vegetables for the summer on condition I share it with the neighbors. So far Su Casa got the kale and lettuce the first week, the Bradys got the strawberries last week, and Junior's mom got carrots, zucchini and lettuce this week. A lot of the early vegetables, like kale and asparagus, are unfamiliar to the Mexican moms on the blook. I tried to give Ines's mom the pick of the box the first week, but she said, "I don't know how to cook them," and it's a bit difficult to teach cooking unless we're going to actually sit down in the kitchen and do it together, which I didn't really have time to do. When the tomatoes and more squash come in it will be easier to share.

Last week with the car out of commission I was lucky to get West Town Bikes to deliver the box to my house on short notice. Some of the girls got to meet the two young women who stopped by with it along their bike delivery route.

Now that the car is back in action, I piled two Brady Girls and Peter Pan's two sisters in the car yesterday for the trip.

"It's fresh in here," said Mary Brady on entering the car. "My dad's car is hot!" (By the way, "fresh" is a literal translation of Spanish fresco/a, which would really be "cool" in standard English, but I hear it so often I know what it means now.)

"It's only because it was parked in the shade," I told her.

When we were about a block north of the farm, we ran into a couple dozen kids in the middle of the street with an open fire hydrant. I drove through them very slowly. One boy had a big plastic box full of water. He looked like he was thinking about throwing it at the car.

"Don't even..." said Peter Pan's big sister. (The windows were shut; he couldn't hear her.)

I wouldn't really have minded if he had, but he didn't. They all ran off to carry some girl into the hydrant's spray.

"That's hard when they hold you in there," Peter Pan's big sister said.

We parked, got the box, then waded across a giant puddle to go see how the veggies were growing in the hoop houses. It was so hot they had the plastic walls rolled up to let the heat out. Mary noticed the three compost bins across from the hoop houses. "Is that like your composter?" she asked.

"Well, these are a lot better maintained," I said. "And look, there's a thermometer in one of them. Let's see what it says." It read 100 degrees, which was probably not more than 10 degrees above the air temperature, but that's a lot hotter than the temperature in my compost pile. We had a little discussion about that.

Then we got to their favorite part--going up the viaduct. "We can go farther today, because I feel good and I'm not in a hurry," I told them.

The girls chased butterflies and looked for other bugs and interesting things buried in the long grass as we walked eastward across Wood. It was so hot I don't think we quite even made it to the next block. "Do you guys want to go to the lake?" I asked them.

"Yeah!" So we walked back, eased our way back down the steep slope by the hoop houses, got in the call and called their moms to make sure it was OK. It was. So we went to 31st Street Beach. The only hard part was that the parking lot was very full. We drove through all the teeny lots and I let them get out at then end and go walk in the park while I kept looking for a space. "Do not go near the water until I join you," I warned them. "BUt you can stick your feet in the shower or play on the playground."

I got almost all the way back to the 31st Street entrance when someone pulled out of a handicapped space. I swear I have never parked in a handicapped space before in my entire life, but I knew we weren't staying very long and I was desperate to get out of the car and go find the girls. They were walking along the stone pathway next to the lake when they saw me and came running. We went to the bathroom and then out to the lake. They had a grand old time splashing each other and looking for shells and pretty rocks in the lake bottom along the edge. Nobody went out past their knees and we all kept a close eye on Peter Pan's baby sister. "You can't drown or Mom will kill me," her big sister told her.

I kept a close eye on the time and hauled them out after 10 minutes or so. It took us another ten minutes to get the sand off everybody's feet and walk back to the car. Just as we arrived, a cop was walking around my car looking for the handicapped tag. "I'm leaving right now, sir!" I called. "I'm pregnant and I just had to stop to pick up the girls."

"You're lucky," the cop told me. Whew!

The girls agreed with me that Brady Bughunter should come next week since he will have such a good time looking for bugs on the viaduct.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Job Hunting

After the car saga came to a successful conclusion, Oldest Brady Girl came by tonight to do her online application for a summer job through the Youth Ready Chicago website. They are taking applications through July 6, but some programs have earlier deadlines, so if you haven't signed up yet, do it soon!

Oldest Brady Girl's two sisters did their applications here last night, and another girl from the next block up did hers here a while ago. Here's what I've learned about the application process. It seems to go a lot more easily if you know the organization you want to apply to--if you're just applying for everything it takes a long time to work through all the stuff. Last night for some reason some of the girls found themselves accidentally logged out and had to start all over--I'm still not sure why that happened. The After School Matters programs are listed by sponsoring organization, and that's the easiest way to find the program you're looking for. So if you want to do an ASM program, it's good to do your homework first and know the organization you want to apply to.

While Oldest Brady successfully completed her application tonight, her sisters and cousins were wanting to help me out. "Do you need us to clean anything?" Ines asked me.

"Yes I do," I said. "Want to sweep the floor?" They did. Then they organized the vast pile of baby gear in the room that will eventually become the nursery. They found this goofy doll somebody gave me that I kept mostly to practice with baby carriers (especially the sling wrap that a dear friend and regular reader of this blog recently got for me--thanks so much! Now that the car works again I can go pick it up.) Tonight Ines came downstairs with the dolly in a Baby Bjorn. It was flopping around and we were all cracking up.

"You don't fold your own clothes that nicely at home," Oldest Brady Girl teased one of her younger sister, who had been organizing and folding baby clothes.

I had leftover baby shower favors from a shower with my relatives out east, so each of the younger girls picked out their favorite animal-shaped cookie cutter to take home with them.

I hope the older girls actually do get jobs out of this. I have contacts at a couple of the organizations they applied to, so we sent emails to those contact people saying they have applied on line and is there anything else they have to do. We'll see.

Car Trouble Fixed!

So, the saga of the car picked up again around 5 today, when some young Brady came and said, "My dad says to come to the garage." So I went. The two Brady dads were out there with the car and Mr. Upstairs Brady was ready to give me a ride wherever to go get the part. I called the Auto Zone at 53rd and Ashland this morning and they said they had an alternator for my kind of Camry and it was cheaper than the parts place down 51st. At first Mr. Upstairs Brady thought we were going to the Auto Zone at 56th and Western, but we got it straightened out.

At the Auto Zone, they checked the battery and it was dead, as expected. Then they checked the alternator. At first the guy used a bad serpentine belt and he got a bad reading. Another guy gave him a better belt, and the reading came out better. He checked it twice to be sure, but I admit I felt a little skeptical. I bought a new battery and we took the old alternator back.

Back at the garage, the Brady dads put the new battery and the alternator in, then started the car. I hung out and watched them. Occasionally Littlest Brady would come in and visit--he and his brothers and Peter Pan's little sister were running around out back. Once they got the parts back in, the car started fine, the radio worked and so did the headlights. They suggested I take it for a test drive, so I took it out and drove it around in a big square from 51st to 47th and back to the garage. At this point, the car was back to how it had been running on Saturday--lights, radio, but no windows, no speedometer, no tach. I came back and told them that and they said they'd look at it some more and let me know what they found. So I went home.

I have to admit at that point I was once again ready to say "give it a rest guys--I'll just take it to Castro's tomorrow." I kind of thought there must be some other problem that maybe they wouldn't find and it was time to spend the money on the pros. But I was wrong. After I had been home for a while, another bunch of Bradys came to the door with the message, "My dad says the car is ready."

When I got there, the a/c was on, the headlights and hazards were on, the radio was on full blast and the windows were down. Truly, I was amazed. The oldest Brady girl told me later some gear wasn't turning right--they had tried to tell me something about what they figured out but I couldn't understand them. I drove the car and the speedometer and the tach worked. Yay! I went back and shook all their hands very formally to say thank you. I sent strawberries over to their house earlier this afternoon from my Growing Home share. Unfortunately, right now the share is mostly greens, which aren't vegetables they are familiar with. Oldest Brady Boy's mom stopped by this afternoon with my raincoat (I loaned it to her son while we were out in the rain yesterday), and I showed her the box and asked if she wanted anything, but she said she really didn't know how to cook any of the vegetables in it. Later in the summer when we get tomatoes and squash, they will get dibs.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Car Trouble and Good Samaritans

Well, there are some good reasons I have assiduously avoided car ownership for the last 20+ years of my life. I'm not the most organized person on the planet when it comes to paperwork. I like not spending money. I'm a mechanical idiot.

Most of these weaknesses have come into play rapidly since I bit the bullet a month ago and bought a friend's old Toyota Camry. The car looks like a dream--one owner whom I know, no major repairs, meticulous records on the vehicle and the friend hasn't driven it very much (less than 75,000 miles in over 10 years). Just my luck, something went wrong with it less than a month after I bought it.

Saturday afternoon I took Jo, Beth and Amy over to 57th Street Books so they could go shopping--Jo wanted more James Patterson; I think Amy got a Japanese anime book and I forget what Beth picked out. On the way back, the speedometer and the tach stopped working.

I knew I needed to take it to the shop, but I took a chance and drove it twice--once yesterday and once today--to take care of some meetings, thinking once it went to the shop God only knows how long it would take to come back. Besides, my dad used to keep an old bomber around and the speedometer didn't work on it, so I am familiar with judging one's relative speed without a reliable gauge. Yesterday the car drove fine. Today, not so much.

I had a meeting in Bridgeport today--not far but not convienent by public transit. So I went out and started the car. The radio died before I got to 35th Street. The wipers began to slow. The car had trouble accelerating after stop lights. Uh-oh. But I was committed--had to get to the meeting. I got it into the parking lot and was pretty sure I'd need a jump to get home. Fortunately, after the meeting, someone there had cables. As I suspected, the car wouldn't start. He looked at the battery, said it was corroded and warned me the alternator might be in bad shape too, from working extra hard to start a failing battery.

It was daylight but raining heavily.I drove home through the rain with wipers that moved very slowly. By now the car's headlights had quit (flashers and turn signals still worked). Fortunately the car seemed to accelerate decently after stop lights. I got it all the way to Castro and Sons, the repair shop just south of 50th on Ashland, pulled into a parking space on Ashland, and the car died with the back end still sticking out of the parallel parking spot further than I'd like on a main artery. After a few moments to breathe and call a friend for advice, I got out and went over to Marshfield Avenue to look for some neighbors who could help me push the car into the space.

In the end, I got a lot more than I bargained for. On the way down the block I called Junior's house but his dad wasn't home, so I told his mom not to worry and I'd try someone else. Over at the Brady house a couple of guys were bringing in a microwave. I asked one of them in very slow, simple English if he'd be willing to help me push my car (I couldn't think of the Spanish). He got the idea, gave me a smile, explained he was bringing in the microwave, and disappeared. I figured he'd be back, but it was really raining hard and he didn't come back for a while.

Then I heard a noise over my head. Mr. & Mrs. Brady from upstairs were looking out their window at me. The window was up and the screen was down, so they could hear me without my having to yell. "Necesito poquito ayuda," I said. (I need a little help.) They sent one of their daughters down to find out what was going on. I told her about the car and how I needed some help to push it into the space.

"I"ll get my dad," she said. Meanwhile, her aunt and cousins on the first floor came out. Her aunt said something to me I didn't understand, but we all kind of hung out and waited for the guys to organize themselves. We joked around about Littlest Brady Boy coming to help push and tried to get him to show off his muscles. He didn't bite. When the other Mrs. Brady heard what was going on, she sent Oldest Brady Boy to join the car-pushing force. Her husband came out, too. Evenutally we had three adult men, Oldest Brady Boy, Ines and her cousin. Off we went.

When we got back to the car, it wouldn't budge out of park. All the Brady men tried it, I tried it. Nada. So they decided to try to pick up the back end of the car. Two grown-up Bradys on the left rear wheel, the Brady Girl and her dad on the right rear wheel, and Oldest Brady Boy on the back bumper. Ines and I held all the umbrellas. If I weren't seven months pregnant I would have joined the back bumper crew, but you gotta give up some things while the bun's in the oven. One, two three--with a mix of lifting and serious pushing from the two Brady men on the outside, the back end was hauled right up to the curb. Whew!

"So, you feel strong?" I asked Brady Girl.

"Yeah, she said. "I always wanted to push a car. I see people doing it and it looks like so much fun." I couldn't believe she was saying that in the middle of all the rain and wind, but I was glad she felt that way.

So at this point, I'm thinking we're done, I'll say thank you, and everybody gets to go home and dry off. Oh, no. Forgive my stereotyping here, but when you have three Mexican men in front of a car that needs fixing, there is no stopping them. (Ironically, my significant other, who is from Mexico City, knows nothing about fixing cars and has no interest in learning. He was at work during this escapade and I'm sure that was just as well.)

"My dad says he's going to go get another battery and see if it works," Oldest Brady Boy told me. I figured there was no fighting this. I explained to Oldest Brady Boy what my friend with the jumper cables had said about the battery and the alternator, but I'm not sure if he got it through to his dad. I took a break and went back to the house to drop off some stuff that had been in the car.

When I came back, the girls were gone and Oldest Brady was watching his uncles take the old battery out. "Do you like cars?" I asked him.

"Yeah. A lot," he said.

"Do you know anything about how to fix them?"

"Not really."

"You should get your dad and your uncles to teach you. It looks like they know what they're doing."

They put the new battery in and the car started right away. Oldest Brady told me his dad and uncles wanted to take the car back to their garage to check out "what you said" --the alternator. His uncle told me in Spanish to go home and they'd let me know what they figured out. I was ready to go somewhere dry, so I said, "OK, thanks," and let them have at it. (Actually, I didn't totally understand what Oldest Brady told me at first--I thought they were taking it to a garage where they knew somebody, but they were just taking it back to the garage at their house.)

About half an hour later Oldest Brady was at my door. "My dad wants to speak to you," he said. So I went down the alley with him to their garage. Sure enough, the battery had quit almost as soon as they got it to the garage--the alternator is worn out. Oldest Brady's uncle called Auto Zone and had me speak with the clerk to find out how much it would cost to buy a replacement alternator. The clerk said $139.99 but then said something I didn't understand about $80. The main thing was they didn't have them in stock and would have to order one.

So then we walked over to see if the parts place on 51st was open, but it was closed. On the way Mr. Upstairs Brady said something to the effect of, "Castro's is expensive. You work hard for your money. Save some." I couldn't muster up the Spanish to say "but I've really eaten up way more of your time than I intended." For tonight, the car is in their garage and after 3 p.m. tomorrow we'll work on getting the part. I'm going to do some looking on line tonight to see if I can find it.

To be continued...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Last Day of School Water Fight

Around 3:30 this afternoon I heard a lot of noise and suddenly Joey was at the back door asking if they could use my hose to fill water balloons.

"Sure, do whatever you want," I said. "Just watch out for La Chismosa's car."

"Yeah."

A few minutes later, Sarah and her niece were at the back door. "Could we look at the bug book?" It must be summer. I had to go fish it out of the basement. Sarah showed me a bunch of pictures of bugs she and Brady Bughunter have seen around the block.

After we looked at the bug pictures for a while, it occurred to me that they might be good helpers for a long overdue project. "Hey, would you like to help me with my garden? I need to pull all the weeds growing in the boxes," I said.

"Sure," Sarah said.

I went and got gloves and a trowel. Sarah's niece used the trowel and Sarah and I mostly used our hands to pull the weeds out of the boxes. A little bit of cilantro and some other greens from last year are back again, so we left those alone.

The water fighters were mostly using Joey's spigot next door, not mine. The mostly boys (there was one girl on that team) would jump over the fence and run around to the other side of my house to scope out the opposing team's position. I held a lot of water balloons while Joey and his pals jumped the fence. One of Peter Pan's brothers got interested in what we were doing and helped us pull a weed or two. He also liked using me as base so he wouldn't get thrown at.

The girls and I were a little bubble of calm as the horde of water fighters ran in and out. Eventually, all the kids were at my hose dunking people, first Oldest Brady Boy and then Joey. The girls and I went up on my back porch to get out of the way. We were all laughing at the very soggy people--squealing girls and boys whose sneakers would squish when they walked. My significant other even came out with his camera, but I'm not sure whether he got there in time to get good pictures.

They got a little out of hand here and there--somebody threw a rock and hit one of the girls in the water fight, who she said she was OK--but basically they were fine and enjoying the first sunshine we've seen in a while. Not to mention celebrating the end of the school year--today was the last day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Beauty in the Yards



(Photo courtesy Beauty in the Yards web site. It's a north-facing view of Ashland Avenue taken from the railroad viaduct at 49th Street. It looks like it doesn't fit well into the Blogger layout, so all the more reason to go see these on the host web site itself.)


As part of their work through the Mikva Challenge Issues to Action program, Big Picture High School students took photos around the neighborhood this spring. Their goal was to offer a different perspective on Back of the Yards from the shootings and other negative images of the area most commonly found in mainstream media. Photos were auctioned as part of the Big Picture scholarship fundraiser held in May.

You can see more digital images at Beauty in the Yards, and I hear the webmaster has more yet to put up, so check back there more than once if you like.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Recent Graduations: Big Picture HS and Chavez Elem

Unfortunately, my camera is having problems, so I don't have pictures of graduation ceremonies right now (I may be able to retrieve one from Big Picture), but wanted to write up a little about each of the graduations.

Big Picture graduated its last class of 20 students on Friday , June 5. The vast majority of the graduates will be entering a number of two- and four-year colleges, including Northern Illinois University, Northeastern Illinois University, St. Xavier University, Chicago State University, Morton College, Daley College and Harold Washington College. The class valedictorian was Gleidy Flores, who won both a Mikva Challenge scholarship and a Big Picture scholarship toward her expenses at Northern Illinois University next fall. Salutatorian Arlet Correa won four scholarships, including one from Big Picture, and will be attending St. Xavier University in the fall.

At Big Picture graduations around the country, the tradition is for each student to say a few words upon receiving his/her diploma. Here are some quotes from the graduates:

"I didn't think I was gonna make it, and here I am." Juan Serrano

"Daddy, thank you for always pushing me to do better. Mom, gracias por apoyarme." Zuleyma Alatorre

"Big Picture has helped me discover my passions....Thanks to [College Bridge] I'm confident on attending college next fall." Jonathan Salgado

"I want to thank my son, whom I did this for, to prove no matter what, you can always make it in life." Elsa Gomez

"I never imagined myself up here. I wouldn't have made it without Alfredo [Nambo, principal]. He never gave up on me," Martha Bacilio

"I would like to thank my classmates, especially the ones who encouraged me to continue my education." Mara Jimenez

"My teachers encouraged me to pursue college. I became a responsible, organized and strong person. If it wasn't for all of you, I wouldn't be here giving this speech." Gladys Medel

"Education is the most powerful weapon in life." Mayra Banuelos

This afternoon Chavez Elementary held its 8th-grade graduation ceremony. There were four students from our block walking across the stage today: Peter Pan and his brother, the third of the four girls down the block-Meg's little sister Beth, and a girl I didn't know. (I think she's the younger sister of the boy who was sneaking into his girlfriend's window at night. She is now pregnant.) I knew a couple of other grads from nearby blocks as well. Oldest Brady Boy did not get to cross the stage today. He will be in summer school for math. I saw Mr. Correa today, who told me his test scores are OK, so all he needs to do is show up and he will graduate in August. Oldest Brady says as long as he graduates in August he is OK to go to Rauner.

Meanwhile, Beth will be going to Curie High School in the fall, and her older sister Jo is doing fine at Kennedy. Meg has moved in with a guy up in Logan Square and is expecting a baby in September. After the baby is born she is planning to go to the Northeastern Illinois University extension campus near there to get her GED and then go on to college. I hope it works out for her.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Hood Heats Up

Well, even though the temperature isn't that high, summer is here in the hood. Last night there must have been about 15 kids up at the north end of the block arguing loudly and semi-fighting with each other. At first I thought it was Jay-Z's family two doors up, so I ignored it, but it got really loud and there were so many voices I figured it had to be more serious. I peeked out the window and saw the mob of kids pushing somebody against a neighbor's wooden privacy fence, so I called 911. I'm not convinced the police ever came.

Eventually I heard a male adult voice telling people very calmly to go home, but I figured that might have been one of the neighbors either from this block or the next block up. Things calmed down after that, then got loud again, then subsided for the night.

Someone I know north of 47th had a much worse experience yesterday. She lives by 46th and Wood, near Seward Elementary and Holy Cross Church, and apparently the bulding next door to her is run by a negligent landlord who doesn't screen tenants and doesn't make repairs. There's a woman renting there who is dating a Latin King. My friend's husband was outside putting new license plates on the car when he was harassed by about 20 gangbangers. They are still not sure whether it was a case of mistaken identity or what, but someone flashed the husband a gang sign. He didn't respond and suddenly this giant group of guys were chasing him down. He ran in the house, locked the door, and told his wife to come upstairs. The guys smashed glass and broke through a steel door to get in the house. The couple called 911 three times and had to wait 20 minutes before police arrived at the scene. Fortunately, she and her husband are physically find--the cops did arrive before the gangbangers reached them, but just barely. And their house looks like it's been in a war zone, she tells me.

"How can that happen in a city?" she asked me. "We might as well not have police at all." She has been trying to contact her alderman's office--it's Willie Cochran, 20th Ward--without a response so far. After all the nice things I said about him recently I'm sorry to hear his office hasn't responded to her yet.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Richards LSC Meeting Postponed

Well, I got to Richards this afternoon, and one LSC member was there. She told me the meeting has been postponed until next week. Unfortunately, if it's next Thursday at the same time I won't be able to attend.

I will keep in contact with her and other LSC members to find out what happens at the next meeting.

LSC Meeting at Richards High School Today, 4 p.m.

Today's LSC meeting at Richards should be a doozy. I spoke with some LSC members earlier this week who told me the main item on the agenda is principal evaluation. It looks like Principal O. Joyce Smith got sent to the woodshed. Her contract is not up for renewal until next year, but if I were here I'd start thinking about the next thing now.

Readers of this blog have seen posts here in the past about safety issues, high dropout rates, lack of academic progress and extracurricular activities at Richards. Other than their well-regarded culinary program, I can't see a reason to put a young person in the school right now. Many community leaders, LSC members, and neighbors of mine who have children who have attended Richards have complained about the principal's lack of leadership and reluctance to work with the community over the nearly five years since I moved here.

To see for yourself, come to Richards High School, 5009 S. Laflin, 4 p.m. today, Thursday, May 21.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ted O'Keefe, Art Velasquez Honored @ Peace & Education Fundraiser




Ted O'Keefe of the Chicago Police Department received the 2009 Arturo Velasquez Community Leadership Award tonight at U.S. Cellular Field during the 12th annual Peace and Education Coalition of Back of the Yards scholarship fundraiser. O'Keefe is known as the founder of CAPS (Community Alternative Policing Strategy). Mayor Richard M. Daley and Fr. Bruce Wellems of Holy Cross/IHM Parish are with him in this photo.




CAPS Coordinator Marina Alonso hugs 9th District Commander Eugene Roy. Alonso was instrumental in building the community-police relationships necessary to solve the 2007 murder of Leticia Barrera on the 4800 block of South Seeley.

Arturo Velasquez, Sr., who died recently, was an important figure in Back of the Yards and a mainstay of education and scholarship efforts in the neighborhood. He was honored with a video tribute. His family turned out in great numbers for the event, including his daughter Carmen, who founded Alivio Medical Center.

Year after year, Mayor Daley has consistently attended the event, although he did miss last year, if memory serves. The year before, there was a lot of media attention and he had to dash out pretty quickly. This year there was no mainstream media present that I'm aware of and he was able to relax and stick around a bit longer. I'm guessing he may have wanted it this way to spend a bit more time with the Velasquez family.

His remarks also seemed more relaxed than I've seen in some of his public appearances. Right off the bat he teased Fr. Bruce, who has been exercising and losing weight to control diabetes. "I thought he was getting ready for 2016," the mayor joked.

Daley went on to express his appreciation for all the people in Back of the Yards who offer a helping hand to young people, especially those who are most in need of help. "There are many great stories in Back of the Yards that I wish the media would tell. When a kid falls down, there's a helping hand to get him up. You all are the helping hands, and I want to thank you for your passion," he told the crowd.

This year, 61 college and graduate students who have served the Back of the Yards community are applying for Peace and Education scholarships. Another nine students in private high schools have also applied. One of the college applicants is Melissa Rodriguez, who is planning to return to the University of Illinois and study biochemistry after having to shift her studies to community college in order to save money. In her application essay, she writes, "I had the choice of quitting school and finding a job or continuing my education but in a community college where the tuition would be more bearable. I chose to continue my education. I refused to surrender in defeat."

15th Birthday and Mother's Day Surprise

Well, I have fallen behind again. Earlier this month, a buddy of one of the Brady Girls invited me to her quinceanos (15th birthday party). She didn't even tell me it was her birthday! She just said, "We're having a party at my house this Sunday. I hope you can come." Then I forgot, and she and Brady Girl called me that afternoon and reminded me. Whew!

Although the Wikipedia article I linked to above makes much of the traditional Church ceremony and formal reception, what the girls I know actually do for their 15th birthdays varies widely, for a mix of reasons. Brady Girl herself already turned 15, but it was in the winter and her parents suggested they hold the party until the summer when it would be more fun and it could be outside. Brady's buddy did not get all dressed up, nor did she have a church ceremony-perhaps her family is not all that active at church, I don't know. But her dad works in a restaurant, so they had nice servingware and great food out on a table in the backyard, plus a DJ. Dawn never had a 15th birthday--her parents were too broke. They suggested a sweet sixteen instead, but by then I think her dad may have been moving out and they had other things on their minds. I was thinking about having a graduation party for her but at the moment, she's not graduating. (But she may yet be--more on that below.)

Also, I know some churches insist that girls complete all their sacraments before they can become a quinceanera. For families who aren't all that regular about church, that's a big barrier to a formal ceremony.

Meanwhile, a girl on the other side of the block had the whole nine yards for her party a year or two ago. I stood on the street with some younger girls and watched the big stretch limo pull up and all the girls in dresses and guys in suits get in it.

Meanwhile, back at Brady's Friend's bash, the big highlight was her friends slamming her face in the birthday cake. This is a Mexican birthday custom that I admit I have never understood. Everyone thinks it's hilarious. I'm one of those meanies who does chuckle watching other people subject themselves to this, but would hate it if someone did it on my birthday.

Now for the Mother's Day surprise. I actually spent last weekend out on the East Coast with family (including spending time with my mom for Mother's Day). But yesterday I ran into Dawn's mom and she went in the house and emerged with a bouquet of flowers for the mom-to-be from her daughter. They're on my kitchen table. I left her a thank-you message and said, "Let's talk about getting you back in school." She saw me the same weekend as the quinceanos and said she's ready to find a school now. Stay tuned.

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