Week 6, Day 0

All around Chitown, I’m gonna let it shine

All around Chitown, I’m gonna let it shine

All around Chitown, I’m gonna let it shine

Let it shine

Let it shine

Let it shine

It is truly a pleasure and joy to bring two people who’ve travelled the world to a place which surprises and delights them, especially when you didn’t know what was coming.

I had thought, way back on Week 2, Day 3, that I had experienced the most unusual restaurant I’ve ever been to in my life: Kimski, the Korean-Polish fusion restaurant. Oh, how I underestimated Chicago. Completely, totally underestimated Chicago. Even more impressive, as close as I am to Kimski (0.3 miles – a six minute walk), the new bombshell was right across the street, in the form of the Polo Cafe.

I’ve been meaning to stop there for weeks, but it’s never been open when I have been seeking sustenance. I has unusual hours – 11 to 3 weekdays, open latish (9pm) on Fridays and Saturdays, and for brunch on weekends. We decided to stop by after church today.

The first sign that this would be a different sort of experience greeted us at the door as we stepped in: he was thirteen or fourteen years old, wearing a too-large, black button down shirt with the restaurant logo, a black apron, which despite being folded at the waist to shorten it, reached the ground. “Do you have reservations?” We didn’t, though there wasn’t much of a crowd – maybe a third of the restaurant was filled.

As we sat, our eyes met when we recognized the tune being played (live) on the Rodgers organ (though it sounded like a Wurlitzer to me) – “Here I am, Lord”. Though the sign outside said “Hallelujah! Bridgeport Gospel Brunch”, nothing could really have prepared us for what was about to happen. As the song ended, the organist asked us to open our hymnals to number 412 and sing along. Yes, there were hymnals at the table – there were hymnals at ALL the tables. Enough for everybody. This was not your average run of the mill Catholic hymnal. Heck no. It was none other than “Lead Me, Guide Me” , a  “complete hymnal and service book designed to give African-American Catholics a worship aid that draws from the music of the African-American religious tradition as well as past and contemporary music familiar to Catholics” from the late ‘80s.

We were entertained by hymns while we perused our menus, though the menus themselves were entertaining, with entries like:

  • St Joseph: Mayor’s Steak and Eggs
  • St Mary Magdalene: Creme  Brulee French Toast
  • St Benedict: Eggs Benedicto XVI
  • St Matthew: Bacon-Dicto

…and so on.

Dad and I ordered St Edward: Belgian Waffle and Homemade Chicken Tenders (it is not clear whether this meal’s sobriquet refers to Edward the Confessor or Edward the Martyr. My guess is Edward the Confessor, who is the patron saint of difficult marriages – isn’t waffles and fried chicken a difficult marriage? Well, in this case it wasn’t – especially with Fig Vodka Butter Syrup. My mom ordered (although she didn’t realize it until the waiter explained it) the St David: Combo Prix Fixe which included the Creme Brulee French Toast, Vegetable Frittata, Bridgeport Potatoes, bacon, grilled sausages and a fruit cup.  St David is the patron saint of Wales, and I fail to see the connection, unless it refers to the fact that that is a whale of a lot of food (mom shared).

The surprises continued as a waiter carrying a pair of lit red candles passed our table and placed them on another. We were at a loss to explain this until the table next to ours got the candles. They were placed on the table with a silver framed photo of Pope Benedict XVI as a result of ordering the St Benedict, and remained there through the meal or until another table placed (and received) that order.pope-benedict-1-sized

As we were eating our meals, the restaurant filled with patrons, and the excitement crescendoed when the owner/chef came out to sing hymns. He’s got a really good voice and presence. Nearly everybody in the restaurant was singing along hymn after hymn, but especially to his rendition of “This Little Light of Mine”  to which he added verses about our lights shining over local communities, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Comiskey Park, and others, then he took suggestions from the audience, and made sure to include Canaryville at the end. A little boy, maybe four or five years old, who was familiar with the owner wanted to sing a song. After a shy start, we all sang “Take Me Out to the Ballpark”, and he sang along.

Throughout the meal the boy in the black shirt and several other wait staff kept our coffee hot and even offered to refill my orange juice. The food was excellent to boot! My waffle was among the tastiest I’ve ever had, and the tenders were good as well. I ate a portion of Mom’s frittata – the texture and flavor were sublime. The sausages were spicy, but not too, and flavorful.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the whole event were the wide smiles on nearly everyone’s face – they were LOVING all this, and it was FUN! What was a memorable meal.

A shoutout and thanks to Mom and Dad for travelling all the way to Chicagoland to see me! What a great weekend!



Week 5, Day 6

It’s late, and the only question left is: Scharf Semi or Scharf Milk? I know my wife knows what I’m talking about here. The correct answer is of course, “If you have both, why not both?” By the way, the combination is sublime. Just a minute. I need to move those to another  room.

Two people who are VERY close to me literally, figuratively and emotionally have asked me to give them a shout out, but because I am currently indulging myself in a double thick extra rich swirl of recalcitrance, I shall not. However, tomorrow is the Christian Sabbath, and I may be feeling more penitent at that point, so I might deign to mention them then. But certainly I shall not mention my parents today. Nope. No way. No how.

I went to the Art Institute of Chicago today with said people, which is a story unto itself. I left with two nagging questions, neither of which I shall answer here.

  1. Why are there so darn few women artists represented at the museum? European art before 1900? I can understand. Maybe. Modern art? Special exhibition on immediate post-Depression Art? Not so much.
  2. Why were Southeast Asian artists from 9th to the 16th century apparently so fixated on large mammary glands? I know the likely answer to this, but still it’s a little overwhelming. I know some of you more lascivious types are chomping at the bit for me to show you what I mean, but I won’t.  

On the way home from an excellent dinner at Kimsky, one of the aforementioned couple asked why this area is called Bridgeport. Um. Um. Um. IDK. Actually, I’m not sure of the origin of most of the names of Chicago’s neighborhoods (or community areas, as Wikipedia calls them), except maybe “Back of the Yards”. I know though that YOU are just dying to find out, so ever gracious me shall endeavor to appease you, at least to some trifling extent.

Bridgeport – This is where I live. On a map of Chicago, it’s pretty close to the dead center of the (very large) city, just a bit south of The Loop. Here is what wikipedia says about it’s name:

The area later became known as Bridgeport because of its proximity to a bridge on the Chicago River, which was too low to allow safe passage for boats, forcing cargo to be unloaded there.

One interesting tidbit is that it is bordered on the west by Bubbly Creek, which is so named (if you are eating your breakfast, or even some other meal, it is best to turn away now, and resume reading in the next paragraph) because the entrails and blood from the stockyards was dumped here, began to decompose, and released noxious gases. Here’s the catch: to this day, it still does it! It really stinks. Curiously, I’ve gone by on really hot days, and not bubbles, not stench.

Canaryville is the next place I ever went in Chicago that seems to have a name. I’m not including The Loop here. Chicagohistory.org says:

Canaryville’s name may originally have derived from the legions of sparrows who populated the area at the end of the nineteenth century, feeding off stockyard refuse and grain from railroad cars, but the term was also applied to the neighborhood’s rambunctious youth, its “wild canaries.”

Some parts of the neighborhood are nice, the industrial parts, not so much. This is where my yoga studio is. Speaking of which, there was a substitute instructor at yoga this morning. She focussed on alignment, which made the class both amazing and tiring at once.

Back of the Yards – This is a big industrial area just to the south of Bridgeport. There are some old (prior to 1930) factories and many sites which are simply concrete slabs with weeds (and trees) growing out. There are also many new buildings. Some of them look like they have questionable activities going on. This one has a particularly odd smell many days.

Bronzeville I’ve got energy for about one more of these, and this is it. Bordering the east side of Bridgeport, it was named in the 1930s when the local newspaper was the first to call the neighborhood Bronzeville for the color of the residents’ skin.

That’s all I have energy for, for now. More later.


Week 5, Day 5

We hit upon a good method to generate many novel final project ideas, narrow them down, and assign group members. We used a traditional teaching tool called a RAFT, which stands for Role, Audience, Format and Topic, but changed it up a bit.

Role is the role the project will play, such as educate, entertain, or organize.

Audience is who the project aims at communicating with: high school students, parents, children, corporations, etc.

Format is a description of what form the project will take: website, app, program, and what language it will be done in: Python, Scratch, Javascript, etc.

Topic is what the subject of the project will be: global events, body positivity, stereotypes, etc.


Prior to the brainstorming session, a couple of students mentioned that they had ideas for projects, and people to work on it. This presented a little problem for us. We wanted to honor the girls’ ideas, but allow other ideas to enter and compete fairly. We also thought there may have been some pressure applied to some people to work on certain projects, and we didn’t want students feel compelled into working on projects or coerced out of them. We assured the students with ideas that there was room for their ideas in the process we were going to use to select the final projects and the groups to work on them.


Our activity went like this.

  1. We put up a Google Doc with a four column table, one for each of the RAFT characteristics.This document was partially filled in with examples. There is a partly filled template version you can copy.
  2. We explained what RAFT was, then asked the girls to give more examples. Originally,  we had intended to go column by column, but ideas came for topics and audiences first, so we went with that. Eventually, we got many suggestions in each column. The result looked like this.
  3. We had the students generate three ideas each, writing each idea on a separate Post-It note. To do this, they took one suggestion from each column to create a new idea. They take one role (say, education), an audience (children), a format (interactive timeline) and a topic(survival skills). From this, they get one potential project (this one was my personal favorite, though it didn’t make the final cut), in this case an interactive timeline which educated children on survival skills. Awesome! We ended up with about 45 unique ideas – there were a few duplicates, which we gathered into clusters as we got a chance. Mostly, the girls did this during the gallery walk (see below).
  4. The girls posted their notes on the “Idea Wall”. We used a lot of space for this – the length of our wall, which was about twenty feet, and from about three and a half to five and half feet off the ground. Ideas were a foot or two apart, which made them easier to read given the crowd of students.
  5. We told the girls that they would be given six stickers (red, blue and gold glitter stars! Yay!) to vote on their favorite ideas. Before we gave them the stickers (we actually had to cut the stickers into groups of six), we gave them time (15 minutes or so) to read all the ideas in a gallery walk.
  6. They voted with stickers, and we tallied the votes. We ended up with five projects that were clearly of the most interest to the girls. There was a substantial gap in the number of votes between these five and number six. Here’s what they came up with:
    • Space app  – an app to alert people to space events and good viewing sites.
    • Creative Community – an app to help disenfranchised writers and coders find safe places to ply their crafts.
    • Commuting App – an app to wake people on public transit when they get close to their stop.
    • Educate youth on politics – website to do just that
    • Getting to know yourself – and app to help young people get to know themselves.
  7. We wanted to end up with only four projects. With nineteen girls, five projects would’ve left one team with only three members, and fewer than that if there was an absence. The next step took care of that.
  8. We listed the five projects up on the big screen. We had the girls choose their top three and write them on index cards (to make our sorting job easier later). We collected them up, and found that one project had only two first place votes, the others all had four or five, so we eliminated the straggler. Next we sorted the girls into project groups based on their first choice, and in some cases second choice. We also made sure to put a strong programmer and a strong presentation personality into each group.

An aside: we did have a moment when we thought we weren’t going to be able to give every one one of their top two choices. Then we noticed that one girl had listed her choices out of order with numbers in front of them (she almost accidently got her last choice – oops). Once we got that straightened out, the groups fell into place.


The benefit of doing this is that in the end, we ended up with groups of girls which had members who hadn’t worked a lot together, and didn’t follow friendship allegiances. Side note: we have a pretty strong bond among all our girls, otherwise we’d have made sure to address pairs we knew couldn’t be in the same group.

Another benefit is that WE controlled who end up in what group, although it won’t appear that way to the students. We were able to make sure no one got left out. We were also able to make the groups well balanced in terms of skills and personalities. Finally, they all got their first or second choice – a point which we reiterated throughout the process. This will help ensure student engagement.

Who says you can’t teach old dogs (RAFT) new tricks?

Final Project Guidelines

I should mention that we took some time at the end of the day to establish (and re-establish guidelines for final projects, akin to the classroom contract for the first day. We felt that the high pressure of the situation warranted revisiting these ideas. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we solicited and wrote down guidelines, using a stuffed animal (George, the pot-bellied pig, who was filling in for Athena the baby spotted owl and class mascot) to pass around so only one person would be talking at a time.

After accepting all the guidelines, in order to form a consensus, we asked if there were any guidelines anyone felt they could not live by. One student didn’t like the negativity in the way one was worded, so we rephrased it. Instead of “Don’t take over other people’s projects (aka the ‘Stay in your lane rule’)” we used “Take ownership of your tasks” and spoke about asking for help if you needed it.


Week 5, Day 4

I just got done talking with Ed Christiansen, who has 3 kids, 34, 31, and 7 (yes, 7). It was a little bit of a difficult conversation to have, for several reasons. First, we were standing outside Johnny O’s on 35th Street, where traffic is fairly heavy and we were streetside. It is an example of a type of restaurant I’ve seen a few times around the city, but don’t recall seeing any other place I’ve been. It is a 24 hour walk-up restaurant. The first one I saw (and later ate at) is Maxwell Street Depot, which offers (and I took them up on it) a pork chop sandwich (bone-in, as I discovered) which you can order with or without mustard and onions (with). All their sandwiches come that way, and no other way. Another is Express Grill, though there, apparently the difference is that with “everything” included hot peppers (same as at Johnny O’s).johnnyos

These places (there are more, I’ve seen them, but don’t remember where) have a few things in common:

  • Menus: hot dogs, hamburgers, Polish sausage, fish sandwich, chicken sandwich, fries, cheese fries.
  • Fries are free with every sandwich.
  • No indoor seating (Johnny O’s is the only one with outdoor seating).
  • Low prices (cheeseburger, fries and a drink $4.59).
  • Open 24 hours.
  • Yellow wall menus with black writing and red highlights.
  • Three or four staff at all times.
  • Pretty good food.
  • Independently owned.
  • Been around 50 or more years.
  • It’s a thing here.

The second thing that made my conversation with Ed difficult was that he had a quiet voice.

The third thing was his tendency to elide the first word or two of every sentence.

“Have you been coming here long?” “M’whole life.”

Finally, he had a rather thick Chicago accent.

He’s a union guy. He told me what local, I thought it ended in “97” (elided syllables again).

“Been at it 45 years. Started with the Sears Tower.” (which is the ONLY thing it’s called here by actual people. Signs and brochures use Willis Tower, but no people as far as I can tell.) He was pretty pro-union (“Health care benefits. That’s what matters. Right to work is right to get paid less.”) He took a dig at certain presidential candidate when I told him I was a teacher. “Teacher? God bless ya. Trump won’t do you no favors.”

The last thing that made conversation tricky was that there was clearly a lot of thinking going on, but only part of it came out as words, so sometimes I had to stretch to get sentences to connect. The previous one is a good example. I kind of had to figure out his frame of reference and fill in the gaps on the fly. Nice guy though.

I smiled a lot today in class. One of the girls suggested a “Disney Day” for our background music. The girls were singing and swaying and coding all day. Mulan, Little Mermaid, Lion King, they knew them all. So much fun. All that plus they learned how to embed Google Maps in their website.

There’s more, but it’s late. I saw my roommate for the first time in almost two weeks, so we had a lot to catch up on.

Week 5, Day 3

Ugh. I’ve been putting this off for almost a month. Then it came up again yesterday, and Shanzeh and Courtney mentioned today how much I’ve been talking about it this week, but still, ugh. 

Way back on Week 1 Day 5,  Sheri Rubin came to our class and talked about a great many things. There was one thing I noticed about her that wasn’t much a part of her presentation: part of her shirt was the same purple color as the border color of her slides. It seemed a little too much to be coincidental, so I asked her about it. She said it was part of her personal brand – she always wears a bit of purple to every professional event she attends. If you had met her, you’d not be surprised by this at all.

Yesterday, a number of Accenture employees organized a career preparation workshop for the girls. The topics were: Networking (Rashi, Sharan and Tabitha Flatt), Social Media (Erin Harris), Resume Writing (Maureen Bossi) and Interviewing (Suehaila Nabulsi), with activities built in to give the girls practice with each. Bonzer workshop.

I’m pretty well set on most of these, but the one that’s been stuck in my head a lot lately came from the Social media presentation. Erin said, “You are a walking brand.” (This is why we take notes, kids.) I’ve never thought about it in such stark terms, but she is dead on. How much thought do you give DAILY to how people think about you? A ton, am I right? Of course I am – that is part of my personal brand, though I wouldn’t put it in just those words.

So, without further ado (I’ve been procrastinating actually doing this for over two hours, not counting yesterday or the past 4 weeks), I present my personal brand, as I see it. This is kind of a hard thing to do, because I am telling you who I intend to be, though I frequently face plant short of the goal.

First, my brand name. You already know it: Doc Och. Although I am Doc Och, Doc Och is not me. If this seems confusing, it is because there are many “behind the scenes” aspects to me that don’t necessarily show in the brand, but they support the brand.

So, what is Doc Och?

  • Prepared. I try to be as prepared for as many situations as I practically can. This means I almost always have some or all of the following with me: tools, knowledge, food, knowledge, phone, knowledge, keys, knowledge and access to money. In certain situations, I keep first aid supplies,  rain gear, and maybe some books and maps too, should my knowledge fail me.
  • Reliable. If I say it, I’ll do it if it is at all possible, regardless of personal inconvenience. Underpromise, overdeliver.
  • Humorous. Lol.
  • Positive. I try to never criticize, condemn or complain. [Dale Carnegie]
  • Compassionate. So many people need more kindness and deserve it simply because they are people.
  • Patient. I’ll come back and help a someone twenty times if they need it and are still really trying. If they don’t need it, but ask for it, I’ll help them become more independent. If they stop trying, I’ll try to find out why and work with that.
  • Calm. I try to react calmly in crisis situations. Evaluate, plan, then act.
  • Respectful. Sometimes, respect is shown through sarcasm. No, really.
  • Creative and flexible. I always look for the hard limits to problems when looking for a solution, and play freely with soft limits (Is this limit really necessary? What if we ignored it, can that help us achieve the real goal?) I try to think outside the box. Heck, I live there sometimes.
  • A little magical. Every once in awhile, I like to do something that seems impossible. This helps spread the brand.
  • A little intimidating, but not too much. This helps prevent people from taking advantage of kindness or misinterpreting it as weakness.
  • Weird, but in a safe way. This allows others to be themselves around me.

These are traits I consciously try to project in everything I do.

The mantra I use to remind myself:

Who I am –

Teacher, father, bridgebuilder

How I am –

Attentive, responsive, compassionate

Peaceful, radiant, unstoppable.


Week 5, Day 2

“I’ve got nothing.” This was my thought as I was about a mile from the end of my bike ride tonight (and indeed, it WAS a good night for a ride.) Well, not nothing, only MOSTLY nothing. There was that one little thing. Maybe we can tug on the end of that and see what unravels. If it snaps off, we’re doomed. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Grumpy wizards make toxic brew for the evil Queen and Jack. Word of the day: pangram. Runner up: lipogram. Poe’s Raven is a lipogram, though perhaps unintentionally. I once taught two-thirds of a class omitting the letter “s”. The students asked me to do it again. My thought, “Are you crazy?”

That one little thing: as I descended the stairs to get Ellie, I heard a cheerful little voice from across the street “Hello!”. I couldn’t see the source of it because a tree was in the way. I got Ellie out of the garage, opened the gate, hopped on, and “Hello!” It was the MOST adorable little girl, maybe three and a half years old, walking down the street with her mom. There is only one thing to do with such an enthusiastic greeting: “Hi! How are you?” “I went to Chinatown!” she said with a grin like the Cheshire Cat. Clearly, this was a BIG DEAL! Her mom smiled meekly, as if to apologize for her daughter’s behavior, I did my best to smile back that she had the cutest kid in the world.

If I wasn’t suffering from a bout of logorrhea, I’d stop there. There may have been one other thing. I rode up to Maggie Daley Park today. I’ve been looking at it from above from the cafe at Accenture, without knowing what it is. It looks really interesting from above, and it is even when you get there. There are a ton of activities there. The Play Garden (sadly, I am above the age limit) was a really cool design – lots of small spaces for kids to play in and big spaces for running around.

While I was there (you have to walk your bike through) an eight year old kid passed me excitedly pointing out places he could go play to his father, who followed about seven yards behind. About seven yards behind him was a little boy, who, as he approached, stuck his arm straight out at me, hand raised as if to say “Stop”. Then his hand started to slowly wave back and forth, to say “Hi”. He silently passed, his message as clear as if he had shouted it.

That, too, would be a good place to end. However, both yesterday and today, I noticed something I hadn’t heard in almost a week: cicadas. Their buzz has been growing over the last few weeks, but was silent during the heat. At first when I got here, I heard just one at a time, lonely in a tree. Since then, it’s grown to a cacophony. They sound different here than they do in Buffalo or Connecticut. In those places, the call is a steady rising hum with quick vibrations, whereas here, I hear more of whew-whew-whew. This is of course because they are different species. Lest my research be called subpar, I have found the species I hear here in Chicagoland. Here is the Buffalo one I hear most frequently (discovered by Linneaus himself). By the way, did you even KNOW that there is a site called cicadamania? Everything you could want to know about the buggers (a word which has its root in the the Latin for “Bulgarian”. What was it we did before the intertubes were invented?)

That of course, would be an adequate place to end. Not great, but OK – IF there weren’t just one more thing. As I was riding by Palmisano Park, I noticed more activity than usual: a bunch of kids running up the hill, more Pokemon Go players on the sidewalk and a big crowd at the top of the hill. I have no idea what was happening up there, but it might have been a concert. The Chicago Parks website lists no events for tonight. The sidewalks that lead up to the top of the hill were too narrow and crowded for Ellie and me to explore more. What pleased me so was the sight of beautiful kites in the air over the park – not the simple ones you see everywhere, but the fancy two-handed variety. I remember seeing a hawk kite bobbing as if about to dive for prey.

Again, an excellent place to stop. Instead, though,  I’ll leave you with this, to save on typing.sunset2


Week 5, Day 1

If my writing seems a little (more) loopy (than usual), it is because I may be writing with a contact high. Apparently, bike riding is not the only thing such a nice night is good for.

Hah! I was right! I’ll tell you about what in just a bit.

The temperature was about 15 degrees cooler today, and the humidity was down, so it was a perfect night for … baseball. Cubs versus White Sox at US Cellular Field. Start time: 7:10pm. Everybody in Chicago came, and most brought siblings, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles and whoever else they could dig up. I know this, because I rode eastward toward the stadium (and the lake) around game time. Mind you, I did try to skirt the traffic by riding a mile north of the stadium, but it was still packed. Earlier, I had occasion (due to a poor choice of  public transportation options which landed me right next to the field [and also reminds me that, I don’t care who is wearing them, a person wearing sunglasses on a subway is unsettling]) to walk by many of the parking areas surrounding the area. It is clear that if you are tailgating at a White Sox game, the following are essential: a smoky grill, beverages, and Cornhole (preferably with the Sox logo), which apparently was invented in Cincinnati. I know Cornhole has made it to Buffalo, but there is scant evidence as to whether it’s made it east of the Hudson. I’m sure someone will let me know. It is worth looking at the link to find the meaning of such colorful terms as: Drano, Cornfusion, Slippery Granny, and Screaming Eagle.

I rode south along the Lakefront Trail, my destination was a Jackson Park, which is just past the Museum of Science and Industry. I’ve been in the area several times (including my very first ride with Ellie, who was so excited to get out that she carried me several miles past my intended turn off), but never turned right into the park. The park was well laid out, but the paths were in rough condition. Thank goodness Ellie is a hybrid, and has no trouble with gravel, potholes, chunky pavement and even the occasional detour over grass. I try to stay off the grass, but at one point it was unavoidable. Due to last night’s heavy storm (many large branches are down all over today), a portion of one path was under about a foot of water; too much for us, so we detoured around it.

After passing over even more rough terrain, we finally found a proper bike path to lead us under Lake Shore Drive. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, as it turns out) that underpass was also flooded about a foot deep, so we turned to find another route.

We headed west, and came upon a huge golden statue which was none other than the Statue of the Republic. Much of the park is under restoration, in a sense. What were once likely open, grass-covered areas are being replaced with native prairie grasses and flowers. This is happening all over the city. It is easy to spot them since the bright yellow prairie cone flower and pale lavender wild bergamot are blooming.

We continued up the west side of the park, along a path that nearly paralleled Cornell Drive. I say nearly because at one point, the path took an extra lazy curve in toward the park and back out again. No clear reason for it, just a different, pleasant view. That’s when it struck me. I’ve been on meandering curves in a park like that before, in Buffalo’s Delaware Park. Meandering curves, water features, little bridges, it’s got to be Frederick Law Olmsted. When I started writing this, I looked it up. It sure was FLO. Designed in 1869 and finally built in 1893 for the Chicago World’s Fair. Classic.

Week 5, Day 0

Well, I’ve come up short. I tried for an hour, but could not find anything to explain what I noticed at church today. I attended 8:30 mass at All Saints – St Anthony (ASSA) Parish today, about a 22 minute walk away. I don’t know how long I can keep up going to a different church every week, they’re getting farther and farther away. I suppose I could ride my bike or take public transit, if it comes to it. [There’s another thunderstorm in town, almost a daily occurrence in this hot weather. The lights blinked a minute ago. We’ll see what happens. I feel bad for the other AirBNB guests (a dad and his 15yo son) here today – they are going to the outdoor Cold Play concert that starts in 7 minutes :/ ]

As I walked up to ASSA, it looked like a pretty normal Catholic Church of its era, about 1915. I remarked the colorful mosaic over the front doors – it was clear that color would play an important part inside.

ASSA ext front door

(I apologize for not including more pictures – the website they’re on doesn’t let you link directly to the images.)

I was right, colorful stained glass windows, marble pillars, a beautiful mural on the dome, church20mural20-20copy a huge organ in the back of the church (you can see photos here). As I sat down though, I got the sense of something incongruous, but I couldn’t immediately place my finger on it. Then it hit me – no altar. A church like this should have some sort of very ornate altar, but instead, I was looking at the bare curved wall of the apse with a crucifix on it. There was a three step platform with a Louis XVI chair (OMG, the research I do for you people) the priest sat on, a plain marble altar table, a tiny tabernacle on a pedestal, and that’s about it.

“Well,” I though, “I’ve GOT to look into this.” So I did. And it seems like POOF it was gone. There is no mention of it in the (lengthy) church history. There is one photo of the ornate altar in 1957, and another in 1946 if you look around, but nothing else, as far as I can tell. Here is a pretty good shot of what it looks like now.

All of this research has taken kind of a long time, so the rest is more of a summary. Ellie took me up to the Maxwell Street Market, which is like a large flea market with lots of Latino and Cuban food. I got some Crayola colored pencils for my classroom – a bargain at $5 for 50 pencils. I bought two. Somehow those things disappear at a slow but steady rate from my room. It was really too hot to eat – the heat index was over 100, so I ate a cup of elotes and a watermelon Italian ice, but that’s all.

We headed back home, but got distracted by “Hey, I wonder what happens if I turn here?” at 21st street. I ended up on Canalport street, and then on Cermak. [OK, you find out so much when you go down the rabbit hole of the interwebs. Cermak is a big name around here – there is a produce chain by that name, but the road is named after Anton Cermak, who was assassinated while he was greeted FDR in Miami in 1933 (FDR was the putative target, but a woman hit the assassin’s arm with her purse at the critical moment). At the time, Cermak was mayor of Chicago, having won partly because a rival made a slur about his name, to which he responded, “He doesn’t like my name… it’s true I didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but I came over as soon as I could.” Ethnic Chicagoans related.]

The thing that is interesting about Cermak Road now is that it is (or was in 2012) the “greenest street in America”, which is ironic because it is in the middle of quite the industrial zone. Take a look for yourself. It is though, quite possibly the most sustainable street. It has signs along it describing bioswales (which are basically areas to catch rainwater and use it rather than dumping it into the storm/sewer system), permeable pavement, and many of the other features.

Ellie was having a bit of a cranky morning when we started out. Due to the combination of my sunscreen-laden palms and her sticky gearshift, we couldn’t get out of the high gears. This is mainly a problem when you have to accelerate at an intersection, not that we have any of those in Chitown. I actually detoured a bit because I was worried about accelerating fast enough to make a left turn – I went straight and then looped around to the right to get left. Later in the ride, after the market, we were doing better – most of the sunscreen had wiped off on a napkin, but things still weren’t right; we had more gears, but not the bottom three (which I don’t use too often anyway). I was a little worried that I would snap the shift cable because I had to apply so much force. I resolved to fix it when we got home.

On the way home, I realized that her left pedal was no longer grinching everytime I put any kind of strain on it. It would stick and sometimes get stuck in a vertical position (if you consider horizontal normal for a pedal), and my foot would suddenly slip off. Also not good for acceleration. I bought a bottle of PTFE (aka Teflon) lubricant and squirted a whole bunch in about a week ago. It took a ride or three, but the grinding sound is gone, and my foot stays on the pedal.

At home, I squirted a ton of the stuff into all the moving joints in the derailleur. It worked like magic. I took a short ride, and all the gears were back, so I put Ellie back in the garage. Until a week ago, she lived on our second story porch because I didn’t have a key to the garage. She liked the view from there – she could watch what was happening down the street, but she was exposed to the elements – not a good thing for a bike. I was worried that she wouldn’t like the garage – nothing to see, but I knew it would be better for her. Then today I looked around in there and saw that there are two other bikes (Ethel and Tessie) from the same shop. I am sure the three of them talk all day about their adventures. I’m so glad she is happy.

Week 4, Day 6

You could almost hear the sidewalks here in Chitown relax and breathe a sigh of relief as the first big raindrops smacked against them. It’s been hot here, and the air is heavy. It somehow feels different than it does back on the East Coast, as if simply combining heat and humidity doesn’t get the whole story. Certainly city heat is different from suburban heat. It radiates from and off buildings in a way you can’t get away from, except maybe in parks and along tree-lined boulevards. In Connecticut, I can often get some respite from it by stepping into a forest, which are so plentiful there. I’m not complaining, mind you, I tolerate heat well. I’m just saying there’s more to the story than just two numbers.
It’s Saturday, which has become something of an “Adventure Day” for me, a day to get out and explore and try new things. Today was no different, though it started with a now customary activity: 7am Hatha yoga class. It’s always a small class – I thought I might be the only one today, but another classmate arrived just before we began. Slow and relaxing, it is a great way to end a week, or start a day which holds unknown activities.
I did have one planned activity on my agenda today: I planned to attend an outdoor yoga class with my TAs up near Logan Square at 10am. “What?” you say, “TWO yoga classes in a day?” Sure. There’s nothing like warming up for one yoga class with another. Besides, I had already paid for the first, and the second was free.
Owing to a complicated series of events I shall not go into here, I arrived for the second class without my mat or a towel. Prior experience has taught me that grass makes an excellent mat for certain poses: downward dog, all the lunges and all the balances. It has really the perfect amount of friction to hold you in place without slipping. It is also fairly comfortable for ground poses as well. The only time it distracted me today was in poses such as child’s pose and puppy pose where my face was virtually planted in the grass. The air was a bit close then. I was a bit concerned about a repeat of a final relaxation from an outdoor class last summer when I had ants occasionally crawling over my arms. It was a challenging mind practice to see if I could find a way to tolerate them without moving (they weren’t going to hurt me). It was interesting to try to track them individually. Where are they on my arm. It is surprisingly hard to tell.
After class we ate lunch and I continued on to the zoo. I only saw a bit of it last week, and wanted to see more. I saw a few more animals and then wandered over to the boardwalk which surrounds South Pond. I was just thinking to myself, “Hmm what should I do now?” As I got under the bridge over South Pond (I was on the west side), there was a young couple on the other side of the pond, also under the bridge, doing something unusual (No, not THAT. I said UNusual. Get your mind out of the gutter for a change, would you?). The woman was tearing leaves off a tall stocky plant, and fishing it through the fence that ran alongside the boardwalk into the mud below. I could barely make out what it was she was after. I called out “Are those your keys?” She said yes. One of the couple had dropped the keys over the rail into the mud about 5 feet below. I sensed an adventure. “I have a selfie stick. Do you want to try it?” They said OK, so I found my way around the pond. On the way, passed a group of about 15 people all staring at their cell phones as they walked (two biked). I surmised that this was some sort Pokemon Go posse, having confirmed about ten minutes previously that Pokemon can be found in the zoo. (Do you get the sense that I talk to a lot of people here in Chicago? I really do. I talk to three or four strangers a day. More on weekends. People are really nice here and like to talk. Also, it’s a kind of safety technique. Last weekend I found myself waiting for a bus [Google maps is great at bus times, but has no info about neighborhoods] in kind of a sketchy neighborhood where my skin color made me stand out. I struck up a conversation with an older woman who was working on getting her GED. I definitely feel safer having a conversation with a older local than just being awkwardly alone. I can see others’ tension relax when they see me just having a normal conversation.)
I was able to retrieve the keys with my selfie stick, and in return, they let me take a picture of them. That is not as awkward and weird as it seems. I actually asked them if I could take a picture of them with George, my traveling companion and explained why. (You can see him there – he is a pot-bellied pig. How he became my traveling companion is a story for another time and another audience.) I also took a picture of Rocky, their dog.

After that, I played a bit of bus roulette. That is when you get on a bus that you don’t know where it is going, and trust that the transit system will work out. For this, I only take buses headed in the general direction I want to go. I get to see parts of the city I would not see if I always knew where I was going – it IS Adventure Day, after all. Eventually, I made my way to my familiar Number 8 Halsted bus to head home.
I hadn’t traveled very far when I realized I was going to pass through Greek town, I rode my bike there yesterday morning, and was interested to get back.
[ That reminds me. I rode Ellie (my bike) to my first yoga class this morning, and stopped at the bakery across the street for something to eat and drink before my second yoga class. No baked goods for me, I opted for two fruit cups instead. Mmm, watermelon. As I came out of the bakery and unlocked Ellie, a man stopped to admire her (she blushed) and said how beautiful she was. It turns out he also has a Schwinn (two actually, a boy and a girl), which he can no longer ride because of an injury. He loves them very much. He bought a springy gel seat for his, and loves how smoothly it rides over bumps. He is looking to sell his bike, but not to just anybody – they have to love Schwinns. He said if I knew anyone, to let him know. His name is Roger, and he delivers ice to the bakery. I told you I talk to a lot of people. People really want to be listened to and heard. They all have stories. [That word just reminded me to do something. I just got a ticket to the GrandSLAM Championship. I’m vviiibbbrrraattiingg. Man, I love stories!]
Anyway, I’m in Greektown (some of the street signs are in Greek I love Google street view. I can show you stuff I didn’t take a picture of ), hungry and thirsty. I was going to go to Meli just because it looks so nice. But then, I turned and Artopolis called me, I don’t know why. As a decision, it didn’t suck.
I choose what to eat by the “I never had that before and I don’t know what it is” method (remember, Adventure Day). I ate (descriptions stolen from their online menu) “Yuvetsaki – Oven braised lean beef, with Orzo pasta, red wine tomato sauce, Kasseri and Myzithra cheese.” So good. The sauce barely tinted the orzo pale red but had SO much flavor, and the beef had a really nice cinnamony flavor to it. I was thirsty, so I had “Vissinada Refreshment – Traditional sour cherry beverage”. I had to drink this slowly, because I did not want it to end. Ever. As I sipped the last, I kept thinking “No, no, no… oh.” It was very sad.
On the way out, I got some baklava and something called diples, which is like a deep fried thing. I haven’t tried them yet. When I got them, I noticed the box she was putting them in was too large. At the end, she added two melomakarono. I brought all this home with me, but have put off eating it since I’ve been eating the last few times I’ve written. I can wait no longer.

Week 4, Day 5

A moment of ignorance cleared cleared for me today. I was sitting on the edge of a raised garden just behind the bus there [if you click on the link, you’ll see a nice picture of the place]) at the Halsted-Orange Line station after alighting from the Orange line waiting to board the Number 8 bus on my way home. I look up at a sign I’ve seen a lot, but hadn’t really read. It said “Paratransit boarding/alighting”. My first thought was, “What’s the difference between boarding and alighting?” You see, in my head, they were synonyms. Of course, in your head, you are thinking, “Don’t be ridiculous, Joe, they are antonyms.” That is because either you are a genius (most likely, given the material you read, exempli gratia, this post) or because I clued you into the correct usage in the second sentence.

You see, my association with the word alight is in reference to birds landing (or alighting) on a branch or twig, from which I got the meaning to be “get on something” rather than the proper “come down from (or off) something”, like a horse or train, and thus make it lighter – I’m serious, that’s the etymology. A logical mistake, I’m just shocked that it’s lasted in my head so long sans correction.

I must give a shout out to Christina Marshall, our speaker on our field trip to 1871 a startup incubator. They do all kinds of things for startups: provide office space (which may be a shared table when you are just starting out), mentoring, legal advice, cash, idea focussing, peers, collaboration and a whole host of other services a start-up might need (confidence boosting).

Christina, like so many of our speakers, was simply outstanding. She told the story of the vicissitudes on her journey to entrepreneurship, and how she kept being called back to what she is doing now, namely, building a business (Elu, which is a native American word meaning beauty) which creates made-to-measure apparel for GWC (not Girls Who Code, but Girls With Curves).  It is nearly impossible not to get swept up in the whirlwind of her passion (I’m not kidding, ask any of her investors). She was MADE to do this.

She got the idea when she (who is plus-sized, herself) was invited on a business yacht cruise and didn’t have a dress. She found one that she didn’t particularly like, but it was the ONLY one there was, so she bought it and wore it on the cruise, only to discover that the four other plus-sized women on the cruise had the exact same dress (she showed us a picture), and they all hated it for different reasons: plunging neckline, color (white), no sleeves, low quality (sequins were popping off), etc.

She resolved that night to fix the problem. You can see her solution on her site (yourelu.com). You can also see her, too – she is her own model, because she’s all she can afford right now. The girls (of all sizes and shapes) loved her and related to her.

Her main points:

  • Defend your idea
  • It doesn’t happen the way you plan it
  • Anchor to the vision
  • When you finally align with something, you’ll feel this zen/calm/peace around it.

It was a great trip.

Lest you think everything is all peaches and cream in the old GWC classroom, I did have to admonish the girls yesterday. One student had mentioned during our one-on-one meeting this week something I verified for myself yesterday. It seems that some girls were leaving a mess behind them after lunch (think high school cafeteria, only this is a business). I had noticed for a while that when I went to get lunch (I always go up last, after performing a security check: laptops secured, no purses or valuables left in the classroom), there was a mess on the floor and some of the counters around the salad bars: squished beans, dropped lettuce, dressing on the counter/floor. I generally clean it up, and have suspected that it might be our girls who are doing it. When I checked the table where many of the girls were sitting, there was spilled food on the table and seats. We (the TAs and I) formed a plan, took a picture, made it into a slide, and I talked to the girls after lunch. I essentially reminded them that I respected them and that respect for all people was a hallmark of a GWC classroom (I didn’t use those words, but you are more sophisticated, so I feel free to), and that it was immensely disrespectful to the Accenture employees, especially the custodians, who had to clean up after them. I went on a bit about that. The result? No smashed food on the floor at the salad bar today, and I saw one girl wipe up her spilled dressing from the salad bar. We ate outside at Daley Plaza today, so there were no tables to check.

But then… while we were outside, some of the girls didn’t finish all the (good) food that had brought out, and rather than throwing it away, wanted to give it to a homeless man who was asking for food. I was really torn about this. On one hand, kindness and compassion, on the other, security. I let them go with a TA, and watched from near by. This man was older and moving very slowly, so I don’t think the girls were at any real risk. Still, the decision was tough. I’m not sure why.

So there you are. Incredible compassion and interest in doing what’s right mixed with casual disregard. This is the life of working with teens. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.