Today was our first blue skies, sunshine, and over 70 degree day in about 2 weeks. The rest of the time, we've had rain, thunder and lightening, humidity, overcast skies, and wind, wind, wind. According to the Chicago Tribune, the last 18 months--from January 2008 to June 2009--have been the wettest ever of that period in Chicago. This June alone has been the coldest in the last 50 years. I'm managing fine since I am of course used to who-knows-what-the-weather-will-be-like Junes, but it's funny to hear the Chicagoans complain...they feel entitled to hot weather as soon as the calendar says June. The one big difference here though is the humidity that comes along with the rain...it could be 75 or 80 degrees but pouring rain. Also we have storms about every other day, with more thunder and lightening that I've experienced in the past month than in my entire life! Another difference is that I carry an umbrella here, whereas I have never done that in all my rainy life in the northwest. First of all, everyone does it. They look at you funny if you don't have one. Second of all, it's really quite useful when I have my purse and a bag and I'm waiting at a bus stop or doing all the walking I do. If I had a car, it would be a different story. Plus it's often so hot and humid that I don't want to be wearing any jacket, much less a rain jacket. And third of all, the rain often comes out of nowhere, so I've discovered it's good to bring it to just be prepared. But you should hear the reactions I get when people compliment me on my recycled-plastic blue umbrella (thanks dad!) and I tell them I got it for living in Chicago.
As soon as the weather is nice, it seem the whole city comes out to celebrate. Every single restaurant and bar in town, even including places like Panera and Starbucks, put as many tables and chairs on their sidewalks as the ordinances will allow. This morning at the church I go to, they had a blessing of their garden. We spent the last part of the service outside among the flowers and grass and being warmed by the morning sun. This church is in Wrigleyville, four blocks west of the stadium, and today was a Cubs home game, so fans were streaming by, on their way to have brunch at one of the sidewalk cafes/bars before the game started. I love how Wrigley Field is just stuck in the middle of a city block...you can't even tell it's there until you get up to it, for all the apartments and restaurants around it. There's a scoreboard on the outside of the front entrance, so even when I'm just walking or riding by, I can check who's winning. I did get to go to one game, back in April, but it was a school field trip so I spent so much time taking the students to the concessions/bathrooms/souvenir stand that I barely saw the game. So I would like to go back! I will say this though: it is a very compact stadium, and I don't think there's a bad seat in the house it's so small. Also, absolutely everyone wears some form of Cubs gear. I'm not even kidding, I don't think I saw anyone without a shirt, jersey, hat, some even had Cubs shoes. This Tuesday is the cross-town rival game between the Cubs and the Sox. And what a rivalry it is! It kind of follows north/south city lines. I've gotten an earful from both sides, but remain attached to both. I've been to two Sox games, and they have a bigger, more commercial stadium on the south side, where there's more room for that sort of thing I guess. They do fireworks before the game, after home runs, and if the Sox win, which they did not at the game I went to when the M's were in town. That was fairly awkward to be the only people cheering for the visiting team, but fun!
After getting lunch today, we went on a boat ride on Lake Michigan, something I've been wanting to do my whole time here. It's just such a different experience to see the city from the water! Today was half price day at the Tall Ship Windy (think pirate ship style boat), which sets sail from Navy Pier. We happened to catch the Sea Shanty Sing, so we had fun bumbling along with the tunes. Afterward we walked along the Magnificent Mile and tried bao at a place we've had our eye on for a while.
Yesterday I woke up to the sound of a tile cutter and the scraping of grout. Our landlord, Julio, is in the process of putting in a new tiled kitchen floor. In Chicago (or maybe the whole MidWest) parlance, he is "rehabbing"--what I would call "redoing" or "remodeling" or "renovating." I had honestly never heard rehabbed used in this sense before...it catches me every time, because I think of rehab like for drugs or alcohol. But that is what I'm always reading in the Homes section of the Chicago Tribune, and that's what everyone says: that apartment for sale was rehabbed, or we're rehabbing our bathroom this weekend. So Julio has been rehabbing all week, starting on tuesday. Did I mention we found out about this monday night? So basically all week we've been without our stove/oven (unplugged in the middle of the room), our kitchen sink (doing dishes in the bathroom is challenging), and our fridge, which is in the middle of the dining room. Fortunately LVC gave us some money to eat out since we couldn't exactly make dinner beyond PB&Js! I did have a nice chat with Julio though, despite that he lives in Guatemala (his two sons manage our building in his absence) and speaks minimal English to my non-existent Spanish. He told me he has 6 grandchildren, 1 great grandchild, that he lives in Guatemala because it's apparently better for his psoriasis (at least I think that's what he said he has), and that the best Guatemalan food can be found at a restaurant on Foster & Paulina. I mentioned the rain we've been having, and he goes "Oh no problem, I like the rain, it is rainy season in my home country" and I thought to myself, hey I like the rain too, and it is rainy season in my "home country" of Seattle. He also gave me a lesson in laying tiles: you put the grout on the back of the tile, let it dry a bit while you put the grout on the floor, then make sure the lines go different ways on each, then place the tile on the floor. He said that the workers here in America try to skimp and only put the grout on the floor, skipping the back of the tile step. So an interesting morning with Julio!
Then for the rest of Saturday, once the rain cleared up a bit, I took one of my adventures around the city. I do these every saturday, and they usually involve errands I have to run along with other random things going on, such as farmers markets, a store I heard about, free samples somewhere, the zoo, a festival, or whatever is in the neighborhood I'm going to. I try to ride a new bus route or get off from a different L stop and walk. I've been off every L stop on the Brown line now except 2, and from walking places I have a really good sense of the city. And of course I love how Chicago is on the grid system so I know exactly how far it is to get somewhere! One exciting thing that happened is they have now put every bus route on Bus Tracker, where you can go online and check to see when the next bus will be pulling up to your exact stop. I absolutely love doing this in the morning so I know when to leave the apartment. It has definitely cut back on my sprinting-for-the-bus routine! The best kind of bus to catch is one that is across the street, halted by a red light, so you know you have time to make it to the stop. One of the most disheartening feelings is watching the bus or L pull away right as you round the corner or go through the turnstile. Overall though I've had positive experiences and still feel that the L is like some Disneyland ride, being above the rooftops and streets.
Let me tell you about the last two weeks, and then you can multiply that by the last few months and you will understand how full my life is here in Chicago. Every Monday is my cooking night and watching the Bachelorette with my housemates, pretty much the only thing these days getting us to spend time together, since our schedules have gotten so busy. Last Wednesday was graduation at my school, for the Kindergarten and 8th graders, and it lasted into the evening for nearly three hours! It was a wonderful way to wrap up the school year though, as was the all-school bowling field trip the next day and the last day of school picnic on Friday. On Thursday I helped my roommate Katie, whose placement is the Aids Foundation of Chicago, post flyers and give brochures about their upcoming run/walk fundraiser. We went around Boystown and Wrigleyville, two neighborhoods with plenty of bars and restaurants to post in.
Last saturday, as in a week from yesterday, was my turn to go grocery shopping for the apartment. After that I wandered around the Printers Row Lit Fest, a giant book extravaganza that took up three city blocks downtown. Booths were plopped in the middle of Dearborn and Congress, which were closed to traffic, an odd feeling in a normally car-crowded part of town. There were old books and new books and used books and lots more. I limited myself to buying one book because I keep thinking about everything I'm going to have to ship back to Seattle come August! That night I went over to the other LVC apartment and watched Slumdog Millionaire (my third time and I still love it--if you haven't seen it, rent it!), ate avocado tacos, and spent the night. Sundays are always church in the morning then some form of going out to coffee/brunch/lunch after that. I enjoy reading the paper too, provided it hasn't been stolen off our front walk. Last sunday I helped my roommate Kate move into her new apartment in Bucktown. We then measured all her windows and went to Jo-Anns to pick out fabric so I could help her sew some curtains. She's getting married the Fourth of July in Cincinnati, and we're going to take a road trip out there to attend.
Monday was the first day without students—very bittersweet! We had an end of the year staff barbeque, complete with a round of Taboo and homemade banana pudding (one of my new favorite foods) for dessert. On Tuesday I went to visit my friend Juliana, one of the other LVCers, at her work. We walked to the library and then met her roommates for dinner at a cheap Vietnamese sandwich place in Bucktown, near their apartment. I had the pork char siu with carrots and ginger. That night I tried to bake chocolate chip cookies, but found I couldn't use the oven because the gas was off for the kitchen tiling project! The cookies were supposed to be for a picnic we had Wednesday with our small group leaders. The night was a little breezy, but we sat on the lawn across from the Sears Tower and ate our hummus, bread, coleslaw, and fruit salad. Then we warmed up with hot chocolate at Ghirardelli Café, a great place for a treat. Thursday was a free day at the Planetarium for National Astronomy Week, and they have a new exhibit showcasing early star-gazing tools, like astrolabes and sundials. After that I volunteered at a benefit dinner for an organization called Growing Home. They employ homeless people at their farm in Wisconsin, then bring the produce to Chicagoland farmers markets and sell it through CSAs. The other LVC apartment subscribes to one of their CSAs, which is how we found out about the benefit. It was a $125 a head dinner and auction, but we got to enjoy it all for free because we helped clean up at the end! This is the third such benefit dinner we’ve done that at, an excellent deal in my opinion for a little extra volunteering. We like to joke that we’re professionals. My favorite food from that dinner was the cherry chocolate sourdough bread served with our goat cheese mixed greens salad. The wildflower honey ricotta cheesecake for dessert was delicious too.
I got my haircut with Juliana and Emily on Friday, which will be nice to have shorter hair once we actually start getting hot summer weather. We got $5 Friday pizzas at a restaurant called 160 Blue, which is west of the Loop. We then walked into the Loop to check out the Blues Festival going on in Grant Park. I am telling you, there are at least
a half a dozen festivals every weekend. Besides the Blues Fest this weekend, there were 2 arts festivals, a MidSommarFest, a RibFest, and probably one or two I’m forgetting. Upcoming ones on our calendar include Pride Fest at the end of June and the famous Taste of Chicago the first week of July.
So that is just the first couple of weeks of June, but that is the pace I’ve been going at since like the middle of March. Other highlights from the spring: my family came to visit at the end of March; I saw the plays Chicago, Jersey Boys, The Arab-Israeli Cookbook, and an improv show; I went home for Spring Break; my school had a spring concert; I switched rooms and now have a single; my friend Lindsay came at the end of April; we hosted a barbeque at our apartment; I went to San Francisco to scatter my great-great-aunt’s ashes on a boat ride on the bay; and I have eaten and walked my way around this city. Look at my photos for more from this spring…sorry I have not posted more often, but there is just always something going on around here!
Tomorrow is the first day of summer school and summer camp. So in case you are wondering what I’m going to be doing all summer now that school is out, helping with those is the answer! I’ll also be ordering supplies and books for next year, helping some teachers move classrooms, getting paperwork ready for new students, sending home summer reading lists, and probably more that I’ll find out when I have my weekly meeting with my principal to get my marching orders. The secretary at my school, Mrs. Hawkins, is a dear lady who has kept me sane and smiling this year, and she has been working at Holy Family since in started in the 80s. She just found out her husband has cancer and has 2-3 months to live (he’s in his early 80s I believe), so please keep Ted and Marilyn Hawkins in your thoughts and prayers.
Ps, in case you are also wondering what my plans are for after my LVC year, I don’t really know but I’ll keep you posted. One thing I do know is that we get a free week at Holden Village for doing LVC, so I am going there with a group of 6 after we’re done in August. Then I will unpack and look for a job! If you have any ideas for me, let me know :) Hope life is good for everyone!