It was a Very Busy Weekend – Weed Scouting

This weekend was very busy, almost like “before the war.” I am going to write about all the things which I did, because it’s important for me to feel that life can be filled with activities even under the circumstances. The good thing about being a weed scout is that although this is a volunteering activity, you can do it solo, and you have to go deep into the woods. I can’t even describe how grateful I am for this opportunity to do something positive.

So, Anne, consider this to be my first report of the season: I went to check my spring area yesterday, and there is no vegetation yet! It’s not even funny – I even looked under the oak leaves :).

I used my last year parking permit, as instructed, and I put on my Forest Preserve monitor vest, and I had my ID with me. To be honest, I got the impression that people who were walking on the path worried that I might ask them what in the world they are doing there:)

The Disappearance of Volunteering

This week was a week of thing falling apart. Ok, maybe not falling apart, but shutting down, with speed I could not imagine. It’s true that two weeks ago we lived in a different country and a different world.

We were ordered to work from home last Thursday night. The four of us still showed up in the office on Friday, for a variety of reasons, including one co-worker who was off on Thursday and didn’t check corporate emails:).

I wrote about the rapid museums and cultural venues closers, which followed. I was able to catch “the last of” most of them. And no matter how much my mind can understand the necessity of closers, my soul weeps.

As I’ve already mentioned, I went to escort last Saturday. It didn’t go great, and I promised to return when it is warmer. A woman with two boys stopped her car by the clinic and came out with a huge box of Girl Scout cookies – that’s for you guys! Each of us picked one:).

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The State of the United States

I don’t understand how officials of all ranks issue their orders without even thinking about the consequences—both for the economy in general and for each person.

I can’t imagine the impact on the entertainment/catering/restaurant business. All so sudden and so abrupt. I talked to Vlad yesterday; he said he would be fine, but he worries about other employees in the bar, people who are paid hourly wages, and who now will get no paid time off, and no tips. That is such a significant portion of the country’s population! They have no safety net, no savings. When I was talking to Vlad, just twenty hours ago, he was saying that the closing will only apply to bars and restaurants, that the fast-food cafes will stay open – not anymore!

I do not understand how people are expected to manage: schools are closed, daycare facilities closed, and you should not ask grandparents to babysit, and you are still supposed to work. And some are not even allowed to work from home.

Last week I was saying that the world is canceled. But I was optimistic – this week, it is even more so now. I could not even imagine how many things could be canceled. Most of my volunteering is canceled, including the youth shelter; they do not reply to my emails, although they sent a generic email about preventive measures. I do not want to think that I was the only person who answered that I could come. The Forest preserve volunteering was canceled last weekend, which made me mad – ten people outside – really? The weather was bad anyway, but I was still upset with the fact itself. The only volunteering which is keeping the schedule is Clinic escorts. I went to escort on Saturday. It was a bad idea because it was cold, and I do not tolerate the cold when I need to stand in one place. But I felt I needed to do at least something good.

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“An American Summer”, and What This Book Means to Me

An American Summer is one of the more recent books by Alex Kotlowitz, and to be honest, I am not sure whether it makes sense to anybody who did not read any of his books before, or didn’t see any of his documentaries. 

I first learned about Kotlowitz when the Interruptors documentary was released. At that time, I was already quite involved in homeless charities, and I knew quite a bit about Chicago schools and existing issues. It just happened that I got tickets for Igor and myself to “Chicago Live!” where the first episode was the meeting with the “Interrupters” team. After the show, we talked to Alex Kotlowitz, the film director Steve James, and with amazing Ameena Matthews. And then we went to see the screening of the movie in the Siskel center, and there was more conversation there. In shots, for me, there is a history behind that book.

This book is just a collection of episodes. No plot. No conclusions. No judgment. But still, it shows, very painfully, how difficult it is to get out of poverty and violence. And how easy it is to fall back. Story after story, different people, the same scenario.

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Postcards to Wisconsin

Half of Illinois (at least half of its Democratic half) is participating in the “Postcards to Wisconsin” events. I was already invited to three, but could not participate because of the times/days of the week. So when I finally got an invite for an event, which took place on Saturday, and in the middle of the day, and not so far from us, I happily RSVP’ed. Also, I decided to take Mom with me, because her penmanship is outstanding, and she could be really useful, and what’s more important – she could feel useful. Also, she has never been to our Democratic office before, and I thought it would be interesting for her to come with me and see how it all works.

It all worked pretty well. Together, we wrote twenty-five postcards, and Mom did at least a third of them. On the way back, she was asking me (one more time) about all the details of how primaries are held, and what will be next, and how the Democratic convention will choose the candidate. And since she never got any negative propaganda about these things, she liked it.

Mom is working our list

Prairie Restoration

Friday’s Tribune article talks about prairie restoration in the prairie state. It touches upon many problems which I became aware of since I started volunteering for the forest preserve.

The Deer Grove Forest Preserve is also situated on the land, which was used for agriculture for many years. As a result, we also have many invasive species, which we (Friends of Deer Grove) are trying to get rid of. Our work in the forest preserve includes two major components: exterminating invasive species and re-growing the native plants. Somehow it feels like 80% of our work is “negative,” aimed towards destruction, and only 20% is rebuilding something good :).

Last Saturday, I had an opportunity to do some planting: the weather was great, and since I was already in glasses for two weeks, I’ve somehow adjusted to them (although I still can’t see what’s under my feet:)). Anyway, the weather was great, there was a great turnout of volunteers, including aspiring scouts with their dads, and I was able to join a small group of old-time volunteers, who did the sowing in the prairie and in the woods.
We had separate buckets with the seed mixtures for different areas, and I can only imagine how we looked like for the passers-by. In fact, I know it precisely, since half of the people who saw us would stop by and ask what in the world we are doing?!

Buckets with seeds
Our work area – did you know it’s the best to sow in the snow?!
The process
I think it was a squirrel

Saying Goodbyes at the ODS

Yesterday, a big group of youth from the Open Door Shelter was “graduating.” It is always a happy moment when somebody can start a new chapter in their life.


Sometimes an individual leave the program by just not coming back one evening. And it’s not much you can do. This individual was just not ready for a change yet. It’s different when somebody is leaving because they are being transitioned to the long-term program or if somebody got a housing option. It is very happy. They can have their place; they can start the new page in their lives. But it’s also sad because almost always you won’t see this person agai

Two years ago, one young woman told me: I am very thankful for the program, but I am so happy that I am getting out of here! And I understand that. Almost always the young people won’t reach back, because they want to go ahead with their lives.

I had several in-depth conversations yesterday, which I am not going to share because they were very personal. I am touched and honored that these young people trust me enough to share their thoughts and desires. I hope that they all will do great.

That was a wonderful group of residents, and I will miss then the same as many others. Next week, there will be all new people, how do not know who is Ms. Henrietta, and who never tried Mom’s Soup, baked salmon, and chicken strips. Who hasn’t been to the Art Institute or the skating rink with me. And once again, there will be months of work to build trust. Good thing – I know that things can work out, and I am not afraid of starting all over

Cooking & Talking: the Magic of Baked Salmon

One more time -I thought I published it on Wednesday; I did not, but do not want to edit the dates now, just imagine, it’s from Wednesday :).

I have lots of things to worry about at the moment: I need to find a replacement for my leaving DBA. I need to complete the end-of-the-year reviews for my team and myself. I worry that my glasses are not ready yet, which can put my surgeries dates in jeopardy. For the next week’s conference, we were asked to shorten our presentation to 18 minutes. 

I have a lot of things to worry about, but I am not going to. Because what I am thinking at the moment is the last night’s dinner in the Open Door Shelter. 

A Baked Salmon is always a hit, along with mashed potatoes, and when I make baked salmon, I always purchase it myself and bring in to the shelter in the insulated bag. 

When I entered the kitchen, it was empty except one girl who never showed interest in cooking with me, and would always make her meal, when I was making dinner with the others. 

— Hi, what are we making today? – she asked. 

I realized that, like many others, she didn’t want to compete for my attention and approached me only when there was nobody else around. I pretended to be not surprised, and we started peeling potatoes together. Later, other young people arrived and joined us. My most favorite staff was present, which always makes my job easier. 

All the easy tasks: lay the foil in the baking sheet, cut the lemons, chop the onions, make it easier for multiple people to feel that they are included in the process. Even now, on my way to work, I am smiling recalling their yesterday’s exchanges:

— Is it ready? Shouldn’t the salmon be darker?

— Shut up, she knows what she is doing! She is a pro! 

— Can’t you wait? Do you thin I don’t want a second? But I am waiting. We need to make sure everybody got a piece, and then go for seconds!

As always, there were a couple of people who tried salmon for the first time, and as always, the fish was gone fast, with only aluminum foil left 🙂

Another treat was that the girl who was in the program last year came in to lead a group activity. I was thrilled to see her. Most of the time, I have no idea how it turned for those who graduated from the program. It was a delight to learn that she is attending college and that she is giving back.

We sat and talked about the goals for the new year, about plans and hopes. And then there were hugs and goodbyes, and see you next time. 

The staff walked me downstairs and even outside. And as much as I am annoyed when my mother says she will wait till I turn around the corner, it feels different when leaving the ODS.

How I Started the New Year

After I returned back from Helsinki, I felt that my life started to get back to normal. I know that I will be busy with new things, and I even know what those things are going to be, but still.

I went to the forest preserve workday; I went to the movies. I started to blog more. And also, on the first day of the year, I went to political fundraising – I didn’t do any political activities for several months.

I was thinking with anticipation – how many people will come? Who will come? Do people remember me? The fundraising took place in the house of our old friend, who at some point engaged all of us starting from Anna, into political activism.

There were a lot of people who I knew! And they remembered me! And we had conversations, which I didn’t have for months! Suddenly I remembered why I like to participate in this kind of event so much, even when there is no political urgency.

At gatherings like this, you talk to your kind of people, you get feeling that you are not the lonely warrior, and you are not insane to think what you think and to feel what you feel. Lots of meaningful discussions, new ideas, new opinions – that was such a great way to start the New Year!

Last Forest Preserve Workday of 2019

Both November and December were extremely busy because of work, professional commitments, and health issues. As a result, I had to cut on many of my usual activities, including most of the volunteering. I limited it to the youth shelter, as this is an activity, which does not allow interruptions.
After Christmas, I felt like I started to have my life back, and one of the first things I did – I went to the Forest Preserve workday. It was the last workday of the year, and we had quite a crowd.
It was before the snow started, and the day was really warm and not wintery at all. We were cutting bushes and burning the wood.

I was happy to catch up with the folks I know and to chat with new people. One of the new volunteers was trying to pull out a small dead tree, whose roots were loose in the soil. He suggested I would try to cut the tree close to the roots, but I told him, he should be able to pull it out, He said – I tried, it does not go. And I told him: let me help! I was ready to pull it together, but just one person (me) was enough:). He was… well, impressed :).

Everybody was encouraged to bring Christmas leftovers to share, and I brought some of my cookies, and they were a hit! I hope that by next Christmas, people will still remember that they can join me in the cookies decorating activity and also get some cookies for themselves.

Here are some pictures:

On the way to the work site
Waiting for the fire to die out
The last of my cookies 🙂
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