Saturday, October 24, 2009


Several years ago, a group of us lobbied hard to save a historic building on a nearby corner. A bank agreed to take occupancy and the building survived, but the compromise was a bitter pill. Despite a sustained lobby to preserve the pedestrian way, the bank installed a curb cut smack in the middle of the sidewalk to make room for their drive-thru window. Harumph.

It was something of a fool's bargain. The idea was that once the bank moved in, other businesses would follow (this is a sizable building, with several additional storefronts available). That was at least five years ago. And for the duration of those five years, every storefront has sat empty, leaving us pedestrians feeling similarly empty as we imagine the building in its glory days and stop short at the drive-thru so we don't get hit.

This may explain my gratitude for our wonderful neighbor Jill, who saw the potential for a pedestrian-friendly business there and opened her doors earlier this week.

This isn't just any business. It's a language center/community hub, where you can take classes in Spanish or Russian (and other languages to be added over time), come see a movie in Spanish, take a conversation class over wine and cheese, or spend a weekend at bilingual bootcamp.

I know what you're imagining: one of those institutional spaces with a linoleum floor and metal folding chairs. Think again, little chickies. There's an exposed brick wall, paintings by local artists, a cafe, and a full kitchen (which, the day I visited, was generously stocked with cheese, crackers, and sweets).

What I'm imagining is this: Maybe 6 months from now, after some conversation classes or a weekend of bootcamp, it would be amazing -- when my Spanish-speaking coworkers tell hilarious stories over lunch -- if I could not just pretend to laugh, but actually sort of get the joke.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

November, you're not welcome here.

I've got a conundrum. Maybe you can help.

Sure, I'm eager for this crazy month to pass. Work's been slapping me around and shows no sign of relenting for the next couple weeks.

Then everyone I know is getting sick: Fevers, fainting spells, appendicitis attacks, blood clots, nerve damage, and unexplained heart palpitations.

And a wonderful public-art group in the neighborhood got burglarized last night. Every last laptop, all their accumulated archives, spirited away in the night.

Enough is enough, October. Be still your wrath.

On the other hand, we've had some early glimpses of winter, and
I'm. Not. Ready. I'm craving a nice, slow winding down, but also a quick sprint to the finish. As they say, you can't have it both ways.

I can't help but notice I'm not alone in my resistance.

This is our rockin' neighbor Annalise. She's fashioned herself a secret perch on top of their detached garage. Every day I come home, and every day I hear her tiny voice chirp 'hello!' from the trees. She's the new town crier, watching over her corner in case something interesting happens. Or maybe she's just hiding out, flying solo in the world except when she feels like announcing herself. And she'll keep returning to that spot until snow and ice dictate otherwise.

Or behold my valiant eggplant, trying to grow despite two hard freezes. There's not an ounce of nutrients left in those pock-marked leaves. But still she hangs on. And so do I, wondering what one does with a miniature eggplant, since I know I'll have to harvest while I can still close my fist around the fruit.

Last Halloween was warm enough to sit on the porch and give out candy. I'm holding out for a repeat performance, even as our 9-year-old neighbor Rose strategizes over this year's costume: a cup of hot cocoa, which I have to admit doesn't sound so bad either.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Rapture of the Deep

Chicago didn't get much of a summer this year. (Not that I'm complaining). But September more than made up for the loss. Imagine the most perfect day of the year. Now multiply it by 30. Take away a day or two for some thick morning fog or an occasional rain shower. September 2009.

The minute we flipped the calendar page to October, fall came in like a lion, and people are still struggling to adjust. It's sweater weather, and then some. The result is a kind of collective resistance: everyone sucking the marrow out of these last few weeks of outdoor occupancy. Restaurants refusing to dismantle their al fresco seating areas, families shivering through late-season yard sales. Our eggplant is fruiting again.

Yesterday the latest of our local community gardens held an art demo all afternoon. We got a fascinating paper-making demonstration and another on natural-dye techniques. The garden was partially designed to grow plants for the Columbia College Interdisciplinary Paper Department, and we got to see the process from day-lily harvesting to sheet drying. This season's milkweed was infested with aphids, so we even saw troops of ladybugs at work, destroying the attackers to save the plant.

The natural-dye process essentially involved placing a square of weighted muslin in a mason jar filled with warm water and marigolds picked straight from the garden. In two days, that small cotton square will bear whatever color is leached from the buds.

As one little girl shook the jar to distribute the color, she noticed a bee stuck inside, sloshing around in the water. 'Oh no,' the instructor said. 'It looks like he probably died.'
And then we all realized: A bath of flowers isn't such a bad way to go, especially if you're a bee.