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.


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."


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.

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