Greetings from Chicago...the city that has produced some of the best and worst of the current political scene! The last time I updated this blog was on election night, and we all know how that turned out. Being in Chicago has been simply exhilarating, both on Nov. 4 and in the weeks after. Chicago is definitely feeling a little full of itself, evidenced in part by big banners around downtown congratulating Obama. Chicago has been kind of brought back down to earth this past week though, as all anyone is talking about now is Governor Blagojevich's arrest and its repercussions. As one mother put it on Tuesday when she came to pick up her student: "We live in the most corrupt state in the country." And it certainly seems that way, as the governor before Blagojevich just landed in jail as well, and there are way more examples from the past. So now Blagojevich, whose name I could not pronounce for the longest time (it's bluh-GOY-uh-vitch), has taken the limelight from Obama, but probably not for long.
Back to election night, which actually ended up being quite the adventure. So while I was sitting at a cafe called Argo Tea taking advantage of their free wireless and typing my previous entry, somebody was taking advantage of me by pickpocketing the entire contents of my wallet. And I say the contents because this person didn't take the actual wallet...or anything else from my purse (which was on the arm of my chair)...but just my cards and cash. Of course since then I have thought of a million things I could have done differently, like sit in another spot (my table was in a weird corner backed up to a booth that people had to squeeze by my chair to get to the booth bench), or pay more attention to noises around me, or not have gone to that particular cafe. But it happened, and now I'm super-sensitive, more like I was when I was in France and constantly in the mindset of being "out of place" and on guard. My co-workers did tell me the theatre district (where I was, to go see Wicked) is notorious for pickpockets since people are out on the town, usually with money, and usually from the suburbs. So the two lessons are: photocopy everything in your wallet, or at least make a list of it, in case it's ever stolen or lost. I am so glad I had photocopies of my debit and credit cards at home so my parents could cancel them while I enjoyed Wicked. And the other lesson: stealing is wrong. It's been over a month now and the whole ordeal has been pretty much wrapped up, after getting new cards, filing fraud claims, and ordering a new driver's license. Since that takes a while, I ended up buying an Illinois state ID as well. So even when I get a new Washington driver's license, I'll just use my Illinois ID in Chicago.
So that was the not so enjoyable part of the evening, but then I went to go see Wicked. And it was awesome. I had heard it was good, and I had heard some of the songs, but I had no idea it would be so hilarious. I loved the costumes and the set and the amazing fake rain and especially the Emerald City scene, where the whole stage is bathed in green. As soon as it was over and the crowd started leaving, I heard cheering and hollering. They had the tv's in the lobby set to CNN, which was announcing that Obama had been elected. As I made my way out to the streets, there were people everywhere and car horns honking and more screaming. Since I was downtown, I wanted to walk over to Grant Park, but I also needed to get back to the apartment and file a police report, etc. So for a while I stood in front of the giant ABC Chicago studio on State Street, which has floor to ceiling windows where people on the sidewalk can watch the newscasts. Then my roommate Kate called to say she was at a bar off Belmont, so I hopped on the L to meet her there and watch Obama's speech. Our other three roommates were in Grant Park, so we vicariously heard from them that it was fun to be there, but super crowded and they were too far back to see Obama.
The rest of November was full of activity--going on a retreat, my friend Robbie visiting from home, and Thanksgiving festivities. The retreat, sponsored by LVC, took us to Wisconsin for five days with all the volunteers from Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities. It was fun to hear other people's stories about work and living situations, and it was great to hang out with my roommates outside of our busy daily lives here in Chicago. We had an anti-racism workshop, which was very powerful. We also talked about what poverty in neighborhoods looks like. It was a wonderful time to relax, read, eat good food, and take walks around the Wisconsin countryside. Oh and I saw the Mississippi River out the car window on our way there! Then it was such a treat to come back and have a visitor, especially after meeting so many of my roommates' friends and family. While Robbie was here, we went to the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the John Hancock Tower. While I was at school during the day, Robbie went to other museums that are now on my to-see-in-Chicago list, which is always growing. We also tried Chicago-style hot dogs (they have very specific toppings like NO ketchup) and Chicago-style deep dish pizza. The crust is super rich, like pie crust, and delicious, but I definitely still prefer Italian-style thin crust pizza.
Quick story about our time at the top of the John Hancock tower: while looking out the window of the 97th floor observation area, I spotted a police car far below with its lights flashing. What caught my eye was how it was turned sideways, blocking traffice on Lake Shore Drive, but there was no car accident around that necessitated such a move. As I was mentioning this to Robbie, and we were watching the traffice pile up behind the blockade, out from this side street comes another police car followed by many black cars, all traveling with a purpose onto the open Lake Shore Drive, not bothering to stop for any traffic signals. When the motorcade had all passed, the police car blocking traffic drove off. Come to find out, as I read in the paper later, the Obamas were in one of those cars traveling from a birthday party on the Gold Coast down to their home in Hyde Park. Crazy!
Then for Thanksgiving, one of my roommates who didn't go home and I joined the other LVCs who stayed in Chicago for a potluck dinner. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we took a walk to Humboldt Park for some fresh air. We had a wonderful dinner and went around the table to take turns saying what we're thankful for. Afterwards we had dessert and played board games. It was a luxury to have the next few days off school...at that point I really needed a break. Overnight, Chicago was transformed into a sparkle of lights and holiday decorations, so that weekend we met up to wander around downtown. Now that it gets dark by the time I commute to my apartment after school, I also enjoy looking at the Christmas lights along my bus route.
It really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, as it has officially snowed here three times (there have been many more days with snow flurries that didn't stick), and I absolutely love it. While the locals are already grumbling, it is such a novelty to me to see so much snow stay so long on the ground. Granted, they put enough salt on the streets to sink a ship, and it melts into slush on the sidewalks pretty quickly, but there's enough snow left on buildings and trees and grass to keep me happy. I don't know where the kids play around here, because it is so flat I can't imagine there's a decent sledding hill anywhere in the city. The snow is so pretty though, and our apartment is so high that we can see the rooftops all around us covered in white. When the wind gets going, it whips the snow into a swirling mass, and it reminds me of sand blowing around on sanddunes.
The only thing about the snow that I absolutely cannot reconcile is the feeling that I should be staying home from school. All my life, waking up in the morning to a blanket of white has only meant one thing: no school! Time to play and drink hot chocolate and have a day off. But no, here I still go to work, and I'm told nothing short of a blizzard cancels school in this city. I mentioned how it feels odd for me to go to school with "this much" snow, and the secretary at school told me "Oh honey, you ain't seen nothin' yet!" Let me tell you, it is a piece of work to deal with snow at school: to make sure the kids don't throw snowballs at each other, to remind them to stomp their boots before going inside, and to help the younger ones stick every finger properly in their gloves. Some of the littlest ones are so bundled up, their arms can't even hang properly at their sides and you can't see their faces. It is such an endeavor to get off and on all the snow gear. They do this in the morning, then before recess, then after recess, then when it's time to go home. The craziest part is they all bring a pair of shoes to change into and leave their boots in their locker. I have learned that it takes me like an extra five minutes in the morning to get all my things on before braving the cold: fleece, jacket, hat, scarf, gloves, etc. My parents got me a down jacket from LL Bean for my birthday, which pretty much saves me from freezing on a daily basis. Like I've said before, it's the standing still that will get you--waiting for the bus or monitoring the playground. Moving is better, but then of course you have to watch out for the ice and slippery slush! Every morning though it is the wind that continues to amaze me with its strength. I can be walking along, feeling relatively warm and comfortable, when all of a sudden a giant blast nearly knocks me over. The air temperature means nothing in Chicago--here the number to watch is the wind chill factor.
Earlier this week we had our staff Christmas party at school. They served us wine and hors d'oeuvres, dinner, and dessert. We sang Christmas carols, and I enjoyed hanging out with the other teachers outside of the little snippets of conversation here and there in the hallways. I really do work with a fun bunch of people. I decorated the main office the other day, and all day long Mrs. Hawkins the secretary has her radio set to the local all-Christmas song station, which is all well and good until the songs like "there's no place like home for the holidays" come on! I have been counting down the days on my chocolate Advent calendar til my flight leaves O'Hare on the 20th. For one of our weekly community nights, my roommates and I made an old-school-style paper chain. We didn't have any construction paper, so we cut strips out of white printer paper and decorated them for the countdown to Christmas (red and green) and then the countdown to the inauguration (red, white, and blue). For our next community night, we're going to make old-school-style gingerbread houses out of milk cartons and graham crackers (also my idea) since I go through so many milk cartons at school.
In other house news, we moved our microwave and toaster oven to a new location, away from the kitchen, because we've been blowing fuses at least twice a week for about a month. Our sockets are ridiculously touchy...we can't have the hot water pot and toaster oven going at the same time, for example. So to cut back on the phone calls to our poor landlords on the first floor, we switched up what we had plugged in where. And speaking of switches, next week our first room rotation is happening, with Katie moving in with me in the double and Kate moving into the single. Then in April, I will move into the single, and Kate and Katie will room together in the double. This is what we figured out in the beginning to be the most fair, but it's hard to think about moving our stuff around, because somehow it has grown.
I have been spending a lot of time in the Holy Family Lutheran School library lately. Last week I was the librarian for a day, since our regular librarian is a volunteer and she needed the day off. So she taught me how to check in and out books and print up overdue notes. It was fun to help the kids look for books and to see how surprised they were to see Miss Dunning in the library instead of the office. Then today I helped set up for the book fair that starts tomorrow. It brought back all the good memories of my own elementary school book fairs. It's going to be hard for me to stay away from it and not buy the books right under my nose!
Tomorrow I am meeting up with other LVCers after work to go caroling at the Bean downtown. Every Friday there's a different choir singing at the Bean and the audience can sing along if they want. After that we're going to walk over to the Christkindlmarkt for dinner, which is a giant German Christmas market in a plaza in the Loop. They apparently have bratwurst, pretzels, waffles, and spiced hot wine, which reminds me of the Christmas markets when I studied abroad in France. Also this weekend is our LVC Christmas party, and at some point we're going to Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo. There is plenty to do around here for the holidays. Then I leave for Kirkland on the 20th and I'll be home until January 1st. I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season!