Blog Archive

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.

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