Week 8, Day 5

Chicago woke up in a moody snit this morning. She really didn’t know what kind of weather to have today. It started out as high overcast as I set off for breakfast with Shanzeh and Courtney in the north end of Chicago. By the time we got our food, it was intermittently drizzling and pouring, and kept on this way while we ate and talked, but the sky kept getting lighter, too. I was really glad I threw my umbrella in my backpack because we needed it for the walk to the train station when we were done. We said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch, then headed in our respective directions.

Today was supposed to be an Adventure Day, but the weather wasn’t really holding up its end of the bargain. There were no indoor attractions nearby, and I didn’t relish the thought of wandering around outside in the rain, so I entered the Belmont station and climbed the stairs to take a Brown, Purple or Red line train (I had my choice!) south into the loop or all the way home. When I got onto the platform, I felt a little revulsion at the idea of just heading home. Something deep inside just said, “No.” Not angry or upset, just, “No.” So I walked up and down the platform a bit and stared at the sky. I looked north – high overcast with dark puffy clouds underneath (nimbostratus), to the south, the same thing only with rain coming down. I put my hand out, felt a few light drops, but fewer than before, and took a chance. I turned around, headed back down the stairs, put up my umbrella and walked a half block down Belmont, then headed north. I was only two or three blocks from Wrigley Field, so I might as well see the place.

That turned out to be a bit trickier than I planned. You see, I actually wanted to touch it, at least the outside (that’s how I can tell I was there). There was a lot of activity, and the surrounding streets were closed off with temporary fences. I’ve since learned that they were beginning set up for the Pearl Jam concert tomorrow. There was no way to get close to the south side of the building (security people everywhere), so I walked past it to see if the north side was any better. Not really, but that’s where they were bringing stuff in, so I was able to sneak behind a truck and touch the gate. Done.

The sky looked less threatening at this point, so I folded my umbrella, and headed toward the lake and Lincoln Park. It’s Adventure Day, you know. It’s easy to tell how far you are from the lake: just look up. All along the park there is a line of tall apartment buildings – thirty stories and more, but everything else is low. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do at the park – it had just rained, and I had only my backpack with me. I thought maybe I could touch the water in Lake Michigan or something. I ambled for an uneventful half hour to get there.

As I walked along the breakwall looking for a place to touch the water (it was about three feet below the wall and not very easy to get to), two men were walking along near by, carrying folding chairs and coolers. I thought this was odd because we were walking out to a point where there was no sand, just a breakwall. One of them said to me, “Do you think they’ll be flying today?” like it was the most natural question in world. “What’s that?” “The jets from the airshow.” I said I thought the airshow was tomorrow. “Practice runs.” With that, the adventure began. Sometimes, you just have to wait and the adventure comes to you.

I sat quietly on the top of the breakwall for about half an hour. Lots was happening. There were people gathering, eventually  about thirty at the point, but more across the channel and down the shore as far as I could see. Six or seven sailboats floated out of the harbor to my right on their way to a race. Many other powered craft left, too – most of those anchored offshore about a quarter mile, waiting.

It started as a little static way off behind me, rapidly growing, when suddenly, there they were.

When six Thunderbirds roar overhead, I am a little boy again. I can feel the tingle way down in my, um, pelvic floor, as they say in yoga. I shivered with excitement as they passed again and again, flying lower than some of the skyscrapers I could see downtown. They flew all around inside the city. After about half an hour, they flew off, so I started my walk back to the bus or train (who knows which?). I found the eastern end of Belmont again, and started west, only to be drawn back to the park by the scream of an F-18’s afterburners propelling the plane high into the sky for a loop.

As things quieted down again I walked back toward the Halsted bus line, but not without a stop at Bobtail Ice Cream for their special flavor of the day: Merlot with Chocolate Chips. Since it is National Soft Ice Cream Day, I let it get a little soft before I ate it.

My whole bus trip home, I looked down every east-west running street, trying to get a glimpse of the aircraft. I knew they were there because the calm rhythm of the bus starting and stopping was punctuated by the piercing wail of engines hurling planes into the air. Eventually, the sky quieted, the bus came to a stop, and I hopped off, walking down my tranquil street to the apartment.

And so, we come to the end of the story. Summer is slowly turning to fall here: the sun wakes up later and slips under her covers earlier, the drone of the cicadas has started to stutter, and dried, brown leaves are beginning to appear along fence lines and under bushes.

There are a few things I’d do differently, if I did this again. I’d find a way to bring Jean and Alice out here, at least for a little while. I’d get a bike sooner, a week without one was too long. If I come back, I want to start a new blog, Churches of Chicago, with pictures, inside and out, histories and stories of all the beautiful churches here, all denominations. (There is a Buddhist Temple just down the street that was clearly a Christian church before its conversion in 1992 – what was it? What is it like now?)

Before I go, there are a few people I need to thank for their support while I have been here. First and foremost is my wife Jean, who is back home holding down the fort, having sweltered all summer but trooping through all of it. Next, Alice, who has been supporting her and taking care of Scarlet (and somehow getting Scarlet to run almost everyday).

Thank you to my parents and Jennie for trekking all the way out here to see me. We had a lot of fun.

I’d like to thank Shanzeh and Courtney for being who they are and making this an awesome summer for the girls at GWC SIP Accenture and for the instructor as well. Thank you for your hard work, sharing your humor and many talents, and above all, your friendship.

Thank you too, to a certain erstwhile librarian, who has been my most ardent supporter as I’ve written this blog. Your thoughtful, almost daily comments really kept me going.

Thank you to all my readers – just knowing you’re out there means a lot.

Well, that’s it. I’m off to some kind of art party now.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.



Week 8, Day 4

Although Jennie left three times this week, today was definitely the hardest. I woke up early and worked really hard on finishing up my GWC work. I got all the girls’ programs “graded”: complete or incomplete,  and added comments to them. Jen and I went to brunch at Pleasant House Bakery. I’ve been buying their bread since I found it at the Plant Farmers’ Market, and had been meaning to go to the restaurant, but never had a chance to until today.

As good as they are at bread, they are even better at pies. I’m not a big fan of dessert pies (sacrilege, I know [I just looked up the etymology of that word, primarily because of its odd spelling. The sacra- part I knew about (sacred), but the -lege I did not. It comes from the Latin root legere which means “to take or pick up”, and is the same root as lec- (to read) from lecture and election. Mind = blown.]), but savory pies? That’s a whole other ball of lard. I love me some pot pie. That is one of my go-to dishes if I’ve got leftover anything meatwise. Pleasant House did not disappoint.

The pies themselves are about the size of a coffee cup, golden brown, and beautiful to look at. They grow some of their own ingredients. When I first came  to Chicago, I noticed an herb garden about a block away on South Morgan. There was a blown-over sign that read “Pleasant House Bakery”. The sign has since been righted and cleaned off with a muddy hand.

Jennie had the Chicken Balti, which is “all-natural chicken in fresh-ground curry spices with tomato and Nigella seeds”. I know – your thoughts immediately went to Nigella Lawson, author of How to Be a Domestic Goddess, who cooks a mean pie, and who I could watch (and listen to, because, that accent) on TV all day long, but actually nigella is a plant in the ranunculus family (no, I didn’t know that before tonight), which also has the common names  devil-in-a-bush and love-in-a-mist. Wild stuff.

The word Balti itself has quite a story behind it. I can can do it no more justice than Wikipedia did. Check this out:

Balti, as a food, is named after the steel or iron pot in which it is cooked. The word is found in Urdu (Hey, Shanzeh, look! Urdu!), Hindi and Bengali, and means “bucket.” The word developed from the Portuguese ‘balde’, meaning bucket or pail, and traveled to South Asia via the Portuguese seafaring enterprises of the early sixteenth century. One can deduce that the word made its way into the English language during the British raj.

Before I (I am just going to apologize right now for all the lowercase is (that is the correct plural, but it looks so wrong) that I’ve been plopping around all summer. I really don’t type well on flat laptop keyboards, and I have difficulty pressing both the i and the shift keys at the same time. Now you can go back and reread that sentence, and the plural thing will make sense.) sat down to write this, I thought my pie was going to end up being the more interesting one. It certainly had more going for it before I found all that Nigella/Balti stuff out.

You see, Thursday is “Special Pie Day” at Pleasant House. We did not know this going in, and the sandwich board outside which said so was pointing in the opposite direction from which we arrived (our side said “Put it in your pie hole”), but boy did we get lucky. I feel like fate just keeps smiling on us, even when she takes airline flights away. The special pie today was chicken marinated in beer and some other stuff. It had vegetables, too. I don’t remember what else ( a drawback to the internet – you look on the restaurant’s facebook page, trying to find out what the special was, only to find out that you missed out on ordering the third best fries in Chicago. *sigh*).  Anyway, you could get it “crowned” – topped with a dollop of mashed potatoes and a pool of rich, brown gravy. “Year of Yes”, am I right? Of course you get it crowned. It also came with a tiny, tiny dish of fresh corn chutney. It was all really good. The crust was crispy on the outside, but soft and buttery layered on the inside, and did that slight stick-to-your-tooth thing that truly delicious food seems to do.

After brunch, Jennie and I took the bus for the five minute trip to the Orange Line station, where I said goodbye to her, and nearly forgot to swipe her in through the turnstile. My transit pass expires tomorrow at 4:44 pm, and I have just enough cash value on it to get me to yoga and the airport on Saturday, so we were saving swipes. (I can swipe up to six people in after me, my fare is covered by the pass, subsequent fares use the cash value on the card. If I’d known how long Jennie would be here, I’d have purchased a pass for her.)

We had such a great time while she was here. I got to show her my Chicago, but got to explore parts of it I hadn’t seen yet: the natural history museum, the aquarium, the skate park, the Orange Line south of Halsted, new parts of the zoo, a new church, new restaurants and new cuisines. So much fun!

As I walked out of the station, the Number 8 bus southbound was just pulling away. On a different day, I might have hustled across the street to catch it as it completed the station  loop, but not today. I looked up, and the next bus wasn’t for 18 minutes – long enough that riding or walking was a wash, timewise. I waited for the bus to pass and crossed the street. I looked back up towards the train platform to wave to Jennie, but she was looking the other way. I knew from the heaviness in my heart that this time she was leaving Chicago for sure.

I turned away, walked around a large, hot, muddy puddle and headed home. All the way, I took as many streets as I could that I hadn’t walked down yet. Explore, explore, explore.    


Week 8, Day 3

It was a little bit of a bittersweet day here in Chicagoland. I rode Ellie for the last time. We rode to the southern terminus of the Lakefront Trail (hmm, it was surprisingly difficult to find that map), about two miles further than we had ever been before. It was a beautiful morning for a ride, almost no wind (except right along the shore). I had planned to go down 33rd Street, zip up MLK Boulevard, the over 31st to the shore, and south from there. Ellie had different plans (as she so often does – she hasn’t let me down yet). She led me the other way on MLK Boulevard down to Washington Park, then through the University of Chicago and to the trail that way. As usual, she was right. So pretty this morning. She never stops exploring – always looking for an adventure.

On our way back we found two rewards. First, there was this really amazing sculpture.


Then a little farther on, we found this.


I don’t recall if i mentioned this before, but Chicago has a project whereby dead trees are turned into artworks: Chicago Tree Project. It turns out that I’ve been by most of them. There are a few too far away for me to get to.

I left some of the background in that shot. you can almost see that Jackson Bark is spelled out on that fence. There is a pair of dog agility training courses in what used to be tennis courts.

We had another surprise on the way back. Although you can see from the pictures that the day was partly cloudy, as we pedaled to 32nd Street, I felt a few tiny drips of water. The sky overhead had just a few puffy little clouds. It was so little and so odd that I asked a guy walking his dog if we were getting rained on. He thought so. It sprinkled a little harder over the next few minutes as I rode Ellie to the bike store where she would be packed up to be shipped back to Connecticut. The store hadn’t opened yet when we got there, so I rode Ellie back home.

Jennie got stranded here again last night. She set out for a 9:45 pm flight back east, but it was delayed until 12:45 am, which meant she’d be landing at Bradley at 3:45 am, with no ride back home. All the flights today were booked, so she has a flight out tomorrow (Thursday) at 1:45 pm. We got to spend the day together again. Yay!

Hi Shanzeh!

We walked Ellie to the bike shop to get her squared away, then headed on the the Shedd Aquarium. Since it was not Adventure Day, it was OK to stand in line. They really should change up their admissions procedures. Even after we got inside, it took a really long time for even eight or nine groups of people to buy tickets. There just MUST be a  better way.

We had predetermined to buy the cheapest, no frills tickets they offered – this after paying extra to see the Terracotta soldiers at the Field Museum, but not actually seeing them. It turned out to be an excellent choice. The cheapest tickets were only eight dollars(!) for adults. After paying thirty to fifty dollars for most of the attractions here, this was a welcome relief. The next price up was about thirty-one dollars. I’m not sure what we missed (checking now – apparently we missed the Polar Play Zone and the Abbott Oceanarium). We spent about three and a half hours there, had a blast, and couldn’t imagine anything better. Such a nice aquarium. At this point it tops my list, which includes Mystic and the New England Aquarium in Boston.

Here are some pictures:


We left there and headed up into Grant Park to see Buckingham Fountain.


After that we went to Eataly, had had an excellent meal there. Now we are home.

Week 8, Day 2

I woke early this morning and got my Girls Who Code work out of the way so I could spend the day with Jennie, who woke up somewhat later. Together we made a yummy breakfast out of my leftover Heirloom Cherry Tomato Mix, some sausage, leftover rice and scrambled eggs. We know how to live.

We walked down to the local pharmacy to get some sunscreen (I am close to running out), and, having a few minutes before the bus came, stopped and got some apples at Cermak Produce. Then we hopped aboard a bus and headed to the zoo.

Even though I’d been there twice before, it was different today. On previous occasions, I had gone on weekends and in beautiful weather, and while not overly crowded, the zoo was very busy both times. Today though, was a weekday, and the crowd was about fifteen or twenty percent of what it was on my previous trips. This, I think, made a marked difference in the behavior of the animals themselves.

Many, many of the animals were visible and active; hunting around for food, swinging from branches, climbing trees, peeing (we saw a lowland gorilla and a rhino pee) and mating. [Well, almost. I think there was a thwarted attempt by the red footed tortoise to get lucky, but he had to settle for cuddling. I’m willing to be they can feel that through their shells. Never thought about that before, did you?] In other words, they were doing what animals do. And it was good to see.

Hi Shanzeh!

A while back, I was asked what a compassionate scientist thinks of zoos. I didn’t have a chance to answer then, but if I were to guess, I think they’d be OK with them as a necessary evil, but the word evil is too strong. Perhaps they might consider them a disagreeable necessity. Today’s zoos are not the same zoos of even the not-too-distant past. The focus today is less on simple entertainment and more on education, conservation and research. There is a very good article on this here.

Some examples come to mind from today’s trip. One of our first stops was to the gorilla exhibit. The gorillas had their freedom to be inside or out today, and appeared to be relaxed and curious. Their enclosures were full of different kinds of stimulating materials. We saw a gorilla climb into a tree to eat some greens, and a gorilla in another enclosure take some wood wool and make himself a pillow to lay down on. That was just before an older gorilla in the same enclosure (the Bachelor Pad), was due for his enrichment.

Although we didn’t stay for the full event, that gorilla was using a touchscreen computer to help in the zoo’s research. He first had to order red, yellow and blue circles into the right order. This was to teach him the rules of how the computer worked. Then he got to sort out his food preference: raisin or carrot first. There was a researcher interacting with him through the computer, and another keeper explaining what was going on. We left because we were too far back to see. Still, education, research and conservation (lowland gorillas are an endangered species and the zoo has an active captive breeding program: Bella turned 1 in February) were evident.

Side note: we quietly kidded that perhaps the gorilla had mad computer skillz his keepers didn’t know about, and that he was secretly ordering enrichment for his pals. “Hey, who ordered this giant ball on the end of the firehose?” “Must be those folks in research”. Meanwhile the folks in research are blaming the animal nutrition people, etc. The gorilla is probably surfing for gorilla porn, too. “Hey, who downloaded all these national Geographic videos?”

We stopped by the seal exhibit a little later, and watched the demonstration there. Gone are the days when these are done for pure entertainment. Now, the stated (at the beginning of the program) focus is training the animals to voluntarily participate in their own health care. The seal jumped up on the shore, trundled over to a large bucket, and put his head in. For all intents and purposes (intense sand porpoises?)  it looked like he was bobbing for apples. Unfair, I think, because he can hold his breath for so long. Then they explained that he wasn’t actually bobbing for apples, he was rinsing his head in a saline solution which helps prevent infections on the head, ears, and eyes. I’d rather the seal did it himself, rather than having person holding his head under.

Although some of the animal enclosures are still dated (I’m thinking about the tigers here – the large cat house dates back over 100  years), most of the animals seemed to have plenty of room and were active while we were there.

To me, the hallmark of a great zoo is when the animals are active and healthy looking. This is certainly true a the Bronx Zoo (all the WCS zoos [i.e. the five in NYC], really) and at the Cincinnati Zoo. Most other zoos have it to some degree, but not to the extent that these zoos (and I’d include Lincoln Park Zoo in that list now) do. I think most major zoos (I am excepting pettting zoos and quasi-amature efforts, here) are striving for this approach these days.

In closing, I’d like to point out how similar what zookeepers are doing is to what many high school teachers are trying to do: get their subjects to voluntarily do things they don’t necessarily want to do and are not yet ready to understand the meaning of, both for the benefit of the subject. Brothers and sisters in arms, we are.

Week 8, Day 1

It’s been a quiet week here in Chicagoland1, my interim hometown. The weather this weekend was nice2, and now that the weekend is over, Mother Nature has provided us with some much-needed slow, steady rain. That might dampen some spirits, but Doc Och is happy because he just learned that his daughter, Jennie will be in town for an extra day.

They got a little bit of a late start headed into work this morning. Doc Och woke a little bit late, noted that the forecast was for an increasing chance of rain, and decided to go for a ride on Ellie. He was unusually distracted this morning – he actually forgot his bike helmet for the first 10 minutes of his ride, and had to turn back.

He and Jennie headed to the office around 8. When they got to the Loop, Jennie set off to explore the Riverwalk and Joe headed in.

Enough of that third person stuff. I was trying to write in the style of Garrison Keillor, but I don’t really have a funny story, so….

Our security badges didn’t work today – I guess they had been set to expire on Friday. It wasn’t worth getting them renewed for what we expected to be a couple hours of work, so we snuck onto the floor. We (Shanzeh, Courtney and I) cleaned up the room. There were still post-its with ideas hanging around, giant sheets of paper from easel pads clinging to the walls echoing the status of all the girls projects. We were there to complete the return of materials to Accenture – staff laptops, security cables, security badges and unused lunch vouchers. We expected to be there until about 10:30, when our laptops were scheduled to get picked up. They did get picked up then, but it was almost noon before the other materials were. There wasn’t much we could do without our laptops, so we played paper games (Jen had returned by then) until we were done. Afterwards we went out to lunch.

Jen and I came home and hung around until it was time to head to the airport. I rode with her – the ride back is free for me, and this way we didn’t have to buy a transit pass. I got home, finished up some work, and then got a text from jen saying her flight was delayed. Over the next hour or so, I got texts saying that her flight was delayed further – most likely due to the storm in Baltimore, where she was due to layover. I was concerned that her arrangements for travel from the airport to her home would fall through. After some quick calls and texts, we got a plan going for her to stay here another day and fly out tomorrow. It works out better for her ride back home, too. Win, win, win. Now we are headed back to Jsmile51 for a reprise of Saturday night: a rainy walk to enjoy some dessert.


1not really, 26 people have been murdered in Chicago in that time.
2with the exception of that one freak rainstorm

Week 8, Day 0

Last night, we started out on the 18 minute walk to the dessert cafe.  It was a beautiful night. The sun had set. It was about 80 degrees with a light breeze. We could see the deep blue of the night sky, a few white puffy clouds overhead and intermittent glimpses of the moon.  We had walked about 6 or seven minutes when I felt a tiny drop of water on my head. No problem, probably a drip from the air conditioner in the window overhead. About ten steps later, I felt a tiny drop on my arm, then Jennie felt one, too. We looked up. The night sky was still visible, still only partly obscured by the clouds. That didn’t stay true for long.

Saturday, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, is Adventure Day. You can start out with an idea of what you might do, but then you let fate take over; let fate dictate the events of the day (it will anyway, so just yield to it early and often). Given the sheer quantity of thing we’ve done in the last 36 hours, I’ll just highlight the main events and interstitials.

I started with 7am yoga, and then met Jennie back at the apartment where we made omelets for breakfast and formulated our plan. We were to head to Unique, a local thrift store for some shopping, with a stop at Bridgeport Coffee on the way. That much, we got done (two iced chai lattes, please, and a dress and two tops). We walked the rest of the way to the Orange Line, stopping at a local park to update our profile pictures.

We boarded the Orange Line headed for the Shedd Aquarium, a destination I’ve been saving for Jennie’s visit. (She loves aquariums). We alighted at Roosevelt, and headed on foot toward the aquarium. We hadn’t gotten far when we noticed some event taking place a couple hundred yards to our left – there was an announcer and cheering, but we couldn’t see what was going on, so we wandered over. We ended up at Grant Skatepark Damn Am skateboarding championships. It looked like this. We watched that for a while, then continued our trek to the aquarium.

When we got there, the first thing we noticed was the unusually busy hot dog stand. The sidewalk we were on was below the entrance grade of the aquarium. As we climbed the stairs to get up there, we saw why the hot dog stand was so busy – a huge line of people waiting to get in. Not even the best aquarium is worth more than an hours wait, especially if time in Chicago is limited, so we walked over to the Field Museum of Natural History to see if things were better there. They were, so we went in. We saw a bunch of cool stuff, ate a light lunch at the Field Bistro (the food was good), and continued to explore. Although we paid three dollars per ticket extra to see the Terracotta Warriors, there was a long line for that, so we skipped it. Our philosophy was, if there’s a line, that’s fate telling you to skip it – too many other fun things to do.

We enjoyed every part of the museum we saw. Such an eclectic mix of exhibits. We especially liked the gemstones.  There’s a story there that has lines in it like “We looked around for museum personnel, but didn’t see any” and “We were suddenly surrounded by museum personnel,” but that’s a story for a different audience. There is a whole other Chicago story line that occasionally shows up in this one, but in reality weaves intimately through it. I’ll leave you to fill in the missing pieces. Think Lion King 1½ – the minor characters have backstories, too. Some are just as much fun as the main story line.

We left by the south entrance of the museum (we had entered at the north), to find the tail end of the Icebox Derby. We hung out there for a bit, and then caught a bus for dinner.

Jennie suggested that we find a place I hadn’t eaten yet. We ended up at a Turkish restaurant called Galata near the University of Illinois at Chicago, on Maxwell Street. Such wonderful food.

We came home, played cards for a bit, and then headed out toward the dessert cafe, Jsmile51, which I’ve mentioned before. We didn’t exactly ignore the drops that were hitting us, we simply gambled that the rain wouldn’t really get going the way it did so quickly. We gambled, and we lost. About 6 minutes later, the sky opened up. We were about half way there, so no sense turning around. We stuck to paths under awnings and trees for as long as we could, but the last several hundred yards were out in the open. We got to the cafe drenched and cold. We took our time with warm beverages and nice desserts, noticed that the rain had stopped, and walked back noticing the details in the tiny vegetable gardens which seem to be in nearly every tiny yard. The main crops in the areas seem to be these things that look like shriveled cucumbers and super long (about 18 inches) beans that are thinner than pencils.

The adventures continued today beginning with a service at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity. We chose this one because it seemed like a very welcoming church from the website, and indeed it was.We met Tom, who engaged us in a conversation about nametags (everybody wore a nametag,and they provide them for guests). I teased Tom for not having his, only to find out about two minutes that he was the pastor. Oops. It was OK, though, because he had a great sense of humor, which he used throughout the service, and kind smiling eyes. It was avery nice, intimate service. There were only about 15 odf use, so we spent a lot of the service in a circle around the altar. After that we headed to the Polo Cafe for Gospel Brunch, which, of course, was delicious.

We came home, rested up a bit, and then headed out to the Maxwell Street Market. We shopped around there for a while, then took the train to Ping Tom Park, where we watched the ultimate (as in last) outdoor production of Twelfth Night.

Jennie was interested in getting some bubble tea afterwards (we were in Chinatown). We found a fast moving line at the drink window of Joy Yee. In this case, a line was a good omen. Our drinks were so delicious.

Now we’re home again and it’s time for bed, so I bid you adieu.

Hi Shanzeh!


Week 7, Day 6

A message I sent to all my Girls Who Code:


I still hesitate when I use that term to describe you collectively. That’s a diminutive term, often used to marginalize or make what you do, as a gender, smaller and less important. You are, most clearly, beautiful young women. And yet, I’d like for each of you to always be little girls inside. When you are in your eighties, be little girls inside. When you rule the world, be little girls. And be powerful women.

The video you made for us blew me away. In those three minutes and two seconds, you told me more about your summer experience than words can express. I’ve watched it several times, and replayed it in my head many more.  This is what it said to me: you love each other, and you felt free to play. That’s it, right there, everything you ever need to know. Spend the rest of your life loving and playing, and I promise you, you will have lived a great life. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be great.

Yesterday, I spent the day watching you together. It was an incredible, beautiful sight. The way you rushed to each other’s aid, your big group hugs, your cheers, your goofiness, your happiness, your including everyone, your beautiful (cough, cough … and, not cough) singing and the messages you made for each other were all priceless gifts to me. Although I have not read all your notes and cards yet, (I am a frosting last sort of person) those are priceless to me, too. Especially because they are hand-written, and some even in CURSIVE! (Mia, I hope you are icing your wrist this morning, because I know how hard that must’ve been.) I think I got more of those from you that I’ve gotten in nine years of teaching. I will treasure each one. I will also treasure the group card everyone signed, but I will treasure even more its envelope because it has a food stain on it, and that will remind me of just how much food you all eat, and then I will laugh. (Did you know, at the end of the night, the caterer at graduation actually took a picture of all the empty warming pans because she had never seen ALL the food get eaten before?)

I was very excited about this program when I started this summer. “What an opportunity”, all my friends said. I had no idea. Like many of you, this has been the best summer of my life. OMG, how much fun. Ya’ll are the zaniest (Yu Jing, that word is for you) bunch I’ve ever met.

When I came, my intent was to create a safe place for you to simply try things (play): to try coding, to try connecting, and to try on different ways of being. Yesterday, I saw that we had succeeded. All summer long, I’ve been watching each of you morph into more of who you really are. None of you has changed, really. You are just more of who you really are.

I couldn’t have done it without Shanzeh (I only mention her name because she has a habit of searching for her name in everything I write so she doesn’t have to read the rest of it) and Courtney. They are two incredibly powerful young women, and you (and I, and everyone else) would do well to watch and learn from them. Though I never explained it to them, they intuitively knew what I meant by safe space and help build it, minute by minute, interaction by interaction, day by day. I’ve told them many times that we make a great team – where one of us is lacking, another picks up and moves us forward.

I saw that in your teams, too. You supported each other and drew on talents and skills you didn’t know you had to move your projects forward. They were all incredible. I am so proud of what you achieved in that short amount of time, and know I’ll be reading and hearing about your achievements for years to come. You will not be the women wearing purple. You will be the women who WRITE about why you wear purple. Or green, or blue, or rainbow colors.

Some of my favorite memories? Disney Day, and everyone singing along, the Syntax Rap – OMG, no words. But also, I’ll always remember noticing the changes in each of you, you helping each other, you laughing together, and you all finding ways to be together, whether you were at lunch, working on projects, (supposedly) writing your journals, and even outside of class. Those all meant so much to me. That is the important part of Girls Who Code – the relationships. The classwork is the skeleton, but the friendships are the flesh and blood.

On Monday, I suspect that there will be more than a little relief that we are gone, but there will also be be a great big gaping hole in the side of 161 North Clark on the 36th and 40th floors where your presence is missing.  “… but I kind of miss them too.”

Let me take a moment here to thank my family back home in Connecticut for allowing me to do this. If they weren’t there, suffering in the heat (heat index of 110 today), holding down the fort, I couldn’t be here. And this is the greatest gift ever.

Why? Because last summer, I suffered a painful loss in my coding career, and lost part of my identity. But no door closes without another opening. Without that loss, I would not be here. You made it safe for me. You made it safe for me to rebuild that part of my identity. “This is where I’m meant to be,” as the song goes.  Although I am a middle class white guy with all the privilege and impediments that brings, I am also a Girl Who Codes, with those privileges and impediments, too. You helped that Girl Who Codes feel safe. Thank you.

I did not have time in my graduation speech to say all these things; there were other things I needed to say in that particular place and at that particular time to those particular people. (Accenture WAS really good to us, I’ve been around enough to know it didn’t have to go that way.) Plus, if I had said these things in my speech, I’d have been a mess. I am right now. I’ve been up for hours (I started this before 5AM) thinking of everything I want to say to you. And now, one last thing. Because I am frosting last, this, to me is the very best part.

You all left the room happy and together.

And in search of food.


I love you all.

Be safe,

Doc Och


Joseph W. Ochterski, Ph.D.

Teacher, husband, father, bridge builder

And now, Girl Who Codes


Week 7, Day 5

Today was the last day of class. This video alone made my whole summer. The girls made it for Shanzeh, Courtney and I. It says more about the spirit, humor and beauty of the girls in our class than I could ever say in words. Enough said.

Week 7, Day 4

My graduation speech:

When I jotted down my list of things to be sure to say, I wrote in big letters THANK ACCENTURE.

Then I gave it some thought, and I’m not going to do that. I’m not saying we haven’t been treated well. We have been treated very well; spoiled, really.

But I’m not going to thank Accenture. Instead, I want to thank the thoughtful, kind and brilliant people who work for Accenture and who have taken care of us in every way possible.

I want to thank Jen and Bill, who have carefully organized and orchestrated our summer, making sure we had space and speakers and snacks and smooth sailing.

I want to thank Susan who, among other things, kept us fed.

I want to thank Rich for keeping us in laptops.

I want to thank Jan, who kept us connected, even when he was on vacation, or PTO as they call it around here.

I want to thank Maria, who somehow, using magic only she knows, made sure the girls had the same mentors pretty much every week, in spite of having different rosters of participants.

I want to thank the DOZENS of other people of Accenture who supported us in countless ways as mentors, panelists, media specialists, workshop facilitators, tour guides, video producers, event planners and executors, and security.

Thank you, so, so much, people of Accenture.

When I took this position as an instructor, I assumed I’d have to run the show, control the classroom, tell the teaching assistants what to do.

I was not prepared (that’s an inside joke) to have been blessed with two of the most extraordinary teaching assistants in the entire Summer Immersion Program, Shanzeh and Courtney.

Every single day, they bring their technical expertise, ideas and opinions, kindness and compassion into the classroom and make magic happen.

Anything that needs to be done: attendance, communicating with students, parents and Accenture, or making slides, lectures or robots, they do it. And they do it without question, comment, or complaint, often before I ask, sometimes even before I think of it.

I will truly miss Shanzeh’s presence, her quiet way of flitting from group to group solving problems, and her impish, teasing, unassuming sense of humor.

Likewise, I will miss Courtney’s limitless supply of bonding activities, smiling heel kicks and way of instantly calming a classroom of gabbling girls.

Lastly, I need to thank you. No, not you, girls – your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, brothers and sisters, for sending you our way.

You sent us 19 amazing young women: athletes, scholars, musicians, poets, cooks, artists, and writers.

Soon we will be passing back 19 amazing young women: athletes, scholars, musicians, poets, cooks, artists, and writers.

That’s right. We are sending back exactly what you sent us.

Just one thing has changed. All these seven weeks of classes, programming and projects, all the hard work, frustration, laughter, tears, songs, dances, long walks to the beach, but not on it, and only one thing has changed.

They have DIS-covered parts of themselves that they never knew existed.

Remember, to DIS-cover means to UN-cover, to show what was already there.

I will use words from their journals to illustrate.

They DIS-covered what coding is.

They DIS-covered robotics,

how all this information is getting to their computers,

all the logic and steps that are needed to make a website.

They DIS-covered a passion for coding,

that coding opens your mind up to so much more,

more about college and the majors they want to take,

that you can combine social sciences with computer science and create your own job.

They DIS-covered that how girls think is different from the ways that boys think,

that you can become friends as a whole class,

how to work on your own and not the depend on the teaching staff.

They DIS-covered that it’s ok not to know everything,

that they can learn things that they did not know they could do,

and how to stop and think about what is going on before reacting.

They DIS-covered that they want to be more confident,

that their confidence has been raised,

that persistence, practice, and determination are required to succeed.

They DIS-covered how to get somewhere they want to be in life, just by passion, hard work and determination.

They DIS-covered that they are inspired to continue moving forward following their heart’s desires and dreams.

I have one thing left to say to these fine young women. It stems from something I overheard in class way back on Monday of Week 3, as we pondered the possibility of taking over Snapchat for a day.

One of you, I know who and will never forget, but maybe you have, said in an excited voice:

”We could all dress really nice. We could all be like ten out of tens. We could be eleven out of tens.”

Don’t you know?

Haven’t you discovered?

You already are.


Week 7, Day 3

My regular yoga class was cancelled this morning, so I got up at about the same time and took a ride instead. I had been advised by Bill Milleker from Accenture that a dawn ride along the Lake Shore Trail toward downtown was a worthwhile experience, so I headed that way.

The side roads are all but empty at that hour; the interstates, that’s a different story. As I headed down 33rd, I heard a helicopter overhead – Channel 7 was on their way to spy on the traffic – I could see them hovering over the expressway. By the time I crossed over I90, the traffic was pretty well plugged up: red tail lights as far as I could see.

[An aside: I expected Chicago AM radio to be similar in content to New York City AM radio. I based my prediction on the rather homogeneous mix of FM stations I’ve found driving around the eastern third of the US. You almost always find, everywhere you go, a classic rock station, a country station, alternative rock station, an easy listening station, an NPR station (news, jazz or classical), a college station and a Christian station. If there is variation, it is typically in the number of stations of a particular type. Often, for example, you’ll find more country stations in the southern US, each having a slightly different flavor: classic country, pop country, etc. I blame this on changes in FCC rules that allow media companies to own multiple outlets in many cities.

In my mind, it stands to reason that AM would be similar. In NYC, there are at least two stations that offer traffic and weather together every 10 minutes: WCBS 880 (8 minutes past the hour) and WINS 1010 (three minutes past the hour). Both are all news, all the time. Heck, even Boston has one (WBZ 1030, three minutes past the hour), though that is only all news from 5am to 8pm). I’m a radio junkie. I know way more AM stations than any person should. Except maybe those shortwave guys.

In Chicago, there are no all news AM stations as far as I can tell. I don’t listen in the daytime, so they might be on then. The most interesting station overnight is WGN 720. They have multiple people who talk to each other and to interesting guests, and the topics are generally not political at all. I even like this station, when I can get it, in CT. There is a Catholic talk station(WNTD 950), a hard right talk station (WIND 560) and a middle right talk station, (WLS 890). It’s been interesting listening to the variety of (right leaning) opinions on the election.

That’s a long winded way of saying I’m surprised that you can’t get traffic reports any more frequently overnight than on the half hour. This s a big city, there is almost always some kind of traffic SNAFU happening, even at 3am. ]

Although I was about 15 minutes late for sunrise, I was not disappointed (I am, though disappointed by how fast the days shorten in August since I can’t ride as early and can’t ride as late). When I  got to the lake, the sun was about two sideways fingers above the horizon, and still that cantaloupe orange color with just a whisper of pink that says “It’s gonna be a hot one.”

The lake itself was placid. There were a few ripples out there – just enough to give the surface of the water a little cantaloupe hued texture, but with vast stretches of purple calm. A couple of seagulls flew low over the beach, looking for breakfast. They had to hurry, the indiscriminate tractor raking the sand was already scouring the beach for yesterday’s leftovers.

It was a beautiful ride. Sorry I didn’t take pictures. I’m going to get up early and try to catch the sunrise tomorrow.

Shanzeh, how’s this?