Thursday, December 12, 2013

Week 14: Chicago beginnings. . .

We'd spent two days in Chicago on our way through the mid-west. At that time, my friends invited us to house sit for them while they took their honeymoon in India. They have a sweet long-haired Dachshund, Chester, and a lovely home in the Avondale neighborhood in north Chicago. Avondale is a working-class neighborhood, really down to earth, with plenty of Mexican groceries and Mexican-American immigrants. We love it.

Street where we're staying after first snowfall
My friend, Kendra, who we're housesitting for, works at 826 Chicago (, the Chicago branch of San Francisco's 826 Valencia, a program that tutors youth in writing and offers writing workshops and creates writing projects in classrooms. We arrived Monday night and on Tuesday night there was a reading of a new book of long-form journalism, written by local high school students at 826CHI. It was held in the Den Theater, above 826 and it was a sweet night, hearing about this project and the work that had gone into it over 26 weeks that tutors came in to work with students in English classrooms. I expected the house to be packed with proud parents, but I don't think any parents were there, even though Kendra told me they sent handwritten invites to each of the parents of the students who were published in the book. They had a beautiful reception in the 826CHI office and classroom afterwards, and I had the readers sign the book for me. Kendra showed us where she shared the tiniest space with the other three full-time employees at 826CHI. The walls for the office are bookcases and there's no ceiling. All afternoon, a mass of young people are just outside the alcove being tutored. This is special work Kendra does--and it doesn't surprise me. Kendra's a talented artist who has always been passionate about empowering youth through creative endeavors.

Super colorful house where we are staying

The next day, we took Kendra to the airport, where she met her husband, Kapil, who had taken a taxi from work. Both Kendra and Kapil were working up until the time they had to go to the airport for their one month stay in India, where Kapil's family is from. We said goodbye and then headed back to what we gladly would be settling into as home for the next month.
Our Chicago home for a month: Thanks Kendra and Kapil! 

We rested a lot, unpacked our overpacked truck (we didn't know where we'd end up or what we would need as we originally thought we'd be gone a year), went grocery shopping, and planned out some things we wanted to do over the next month.

I had some work to get done on a project for my teaching job--a teaching portfolio. We decided we didn't want to eat our way through Chicago. I know, a strange city not to eat through, but our waistlines and our health were feeling the lack of prudence when it came to food on this trip, so we have given up flour and sugar and are eating simple healthy meals at home.

Thursday, I happened to see that an old friend, someone I'd read poetry with in Berkeley maybe ten years ago and who is now a well-established poet, Carmen Gimenez Smith, was giving a reading at the Poetry Foundation downtown. I heard four amazing Latino/Latina poets read from their work and it was amazing to have been at two literary events having been in town four days.

We then settled into a couple more days of rest and routine--I got started on my teaching portfolio, wrapped and packaged Christmas presents that I'd collected on my travels, wrote Christmas cards, etc.

On Sunday, it snowed! We decided that was the perfect time to buy a Christmas tree, so we went to Home Depot and picked out a tree. They had so many more varieties of trees here than I've seen in California.

Bringing home the tree

Did I mention snow! Boots and hats. No high heels and stockings, no need to do my hair. Everybody has hat hair! Hooray!

We unpacked Kendra and Kapil's Christmas ornaments and decorated the Christmas tree with Christmas music. It was a joyful night, ending with a magical nighttime dog walk for Chester.

Evening walk with Chester
The most exciting day was on Monday when we went to Costco to have our tires rotated. I know that sounds boring and tedious to you, but it's the small errands and routine things we have missed the most. While we waited, we sat at a Starbucks in a grocery store reading. (We're both reading Stephen King's 11/22/63, but I'm also reading Gulliver's Travels with a global reading group, so I was in the land of the giants and Larry was time traveling with Stephen King.)

We picked up some groceries at Costco and the grocery store and came home and cooked lunch. Oh, perfect day.

The beautiful kitchen where we get to cook
The rest of our time has been spent reading, watching movies, me working on the teaching portfolio, and us sitting in coffee shops. We've found people in Chicago to be so pleasant and thoughtful. I don't hear a lot of honking horns and people actually pull over when ambulances rush by. Larry took Chester to a couple of dog parks, including a dog beach, but mostly, we've been giving him neighborhood walks a few times a day. However, we do have plans to see more of the town.

Last night, we traveled to Uptown to hear Gypsy Jazz music at the historic Green Mill, an old speakeasy. With a cover charge of $6, we were dazzled by amazing musicians who play there every Wednesday, Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan. With guitarist, violinist, upright bass player, drummer, and cimbalom player (which I'd never seen before; it's a stringed instrument that's hit with padded hammers--it sounded like a vibraphone). The place was packed at 11 PM on a Wednesday night, but folding chairs were brought out for the overflow. The crowd was a mixture of 20-something beautiful folk and middle-aged people, including several hefty men who looked like they were members of the Chicago mob.

We didn't stay too late because we had appointments with personal trainers at our gym-for-a-month in the morning, which I'm really looking forward to. It's the little routines I've been missing.

And each of you.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like being snug in a snow-covered holiday house is the perfect time to enjoy domestic routines. I, too, am looking forward to such a feeling; we will be in Tahoe for 4 months starting in January. By the way, there's extra room there for guests, so if you two find yourselves in California in Jan-April, come visit! oxxo