Monday, April 27, 2009

Never a City so Real

This little, 159-page book is well worth an afternoon. Kotlowitz offers a textured portrait of life in Chicago: while one leaves the book with no doubt that he loves the city, this is hardly pure booster literature. Focusing on a diverse handful of Chicagoans - including the likes of Oil Can Eddy, a labor organizer, and Millie and Brenda, two women from the rough-and-tumble West Side - he illumines not only the wonder of this place but also its underbelly. Food is a major theme, as Kotlowitz gives a shout out to "hole-in-the-wall" establishments like Manny's deli and Edna's soul food restaurant; and so is change. In a short chapter on Wicker Park he laments the impact of gentrification there, though in his reflections on South Chicago and Cicero he makes clear that the past was far from perfect. In the end, Kotlowitz's book evokes a Chicago long brimming with vibrant communities, and where neighborhoods are today "simultaneously moving both backward and forward in time." We're proud to call it home.

p.s. I'm always happy to loan out the books in my collection, so don't be shy about asking.

Rebuilding Together | 2009

This is our third year participating in Rebuilding Together. You can see pics from last year's outing at this link. For those of you who need a refresher, RT spends all year working towards the last Saturday in April when thousands of volunteers and skilled professionals come together to do repairs on homes in lower-income areas of Chicago. Many of the homeowners are older and don't have the financial means to make their homes warm, safe and dry.

This year, the ResCov team worked with a woman named Debra and her 14-year-old son, James. Our team captains—TK, Andrew and Colin—did a lot of work before the 25th rolled around, fixing up Debra's floors so that we could do the necessary work in the kitchen.

In addition to new flooring, new pain and new appliances in the kitchen, we fixed the railings on her front porch (bringing them up to code), installed grab bars in the bathroom to help her legally blind father, and worked to clean up the front and side yards—removing debris and doing some minor landscaping.

Heath couldn't come this year since we had Marty in town (a separate post on this later!). I woke up early to meet the rest of the ResCov crew at 6am at the church. We then carpooled to Malcom X College and, after fueling up on Starbucks coffee and apple fritters, got on our bus to head out to Debra's home in Austin. Since the kitchen area was small, most of us spent the day outside working in the yard. The weather held up for the most part, waiting to totally downpour until just moments after we laid down the last of the mulch. For those of you laughing at the idea of me with a shovel and a trowel digging up plants and worms...believe it!

Here are some pictures from the day...

[house in progress]

[getting the beds in order]

[the volunteers]

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Johnson's Baby Shower

Our church had a baby shower for Aaron and Lenore this past Thursday. It was fun, chill and featured the church's go-to shower activity: customized bibs, onesies and burp cloths. Without fail, this always leads to cute, practical and hilarious gifts for the mom- and dad-to-be.

[decorating extravaganza]

This was also an opportunity for my first homemade shower gifts. I borrowed some interesting books from Sarah and tried my hand at a baby blanket, bib and stuffed turtle. They weren't perfect, but the fabric Heath helped me pick out was very cute and they were definitely made with a lot of love.

[my wares]

Baby Johnson is due on May 13th. Can't wait!

Black Noise at Red Kiva

Funny story...

Susan originally extended the invitation to head down to Red Kiva, this bar in the West Loop, for Chick Flick Wednesdays. Each week they project a different "chick flick" on the wall and offer drink deals — we hoped to catch Dirty Dancing, a classic.

So in we go, only to discover that the evening has been turned over to an open mic night sponsored by a group called Black Noise. So instead of watching Baby and Johnny find love one summer, we had the chance to listen to all of these amazing spoken word poets and vocalists. It was so great!

[the interior]

In general, this isn't the type of thing we would have found other than as a fluke, but I hope that won't always be the case. I couldn't find any good YouTube clips of the acts we saw since so many were new to the scene, but instead, I decided to post a short clip from HBO's Def Poetry Jam to give you a taste. Enjoy!

Welcome, Eva!

We have a lot of posting updates, but before anything else, we must announce the birth of our newest niece, Eva Primrose Carter, born Friday night.

We feel very fortunate to have two beautiful nieces to love.


In case you haven't already noticed, Heath is doing a lot more writing on the blog. Yeah! In general, any posts on religious books or NPR are probably coming from him. :-)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Way of the Cross

As our family prepares to move into community in Lawndale, I've been doing some reading on the belief and practice of the earliest Christians. First I read John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus, in which he attempts to unearth the social implications of the gospel. Yoder, a Mennonite and pacifist, finds a very challenging message in the New Testament witness. His reading of scripture leads him to the conclusion that Jesus rejected both quietism and revolution, though he was tempted especially by the latter throughout his life. Yoder extrapolates from the Lord's example a belief that we in the church should engage in "revolutionary subordination" to the passing powers of the world. I am intrigued by this idea, though I found myself rebelling against it throughout - thinking to myself, as a child of the post-Constantinian church, that we Christians must seek to reform and improve the empires in which we live. Yoder utterly rejects this notion, tackling even the now-classic counterexample to his pacifism, the problem of Hitler and World War II. He argues that the assumption of Christian realists - namely, that the right thing to do was to pick up arms against the evil of Nazism - reflects a decided lack of faith. After all, he points out, amongst the facts of our faith is the reality that God has already triumphed in Christ. In following after him, we must not pick up guns, but instead the cross. I left Yoder's book challenged, but also wondering, what is the substance of this "war of the lamb" of which he speaks? And most pressingly, in what ways is it different from the quietism that Christ so clearly rejected?

From Yoder I moved on to Wayne Meeks' The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. The book offers a window into the wider contexts - Roman, Jewish, urban, etc - in which early Christian communities lived, as well as into the internal life of the same. He investigates questions about authority, ritual, belief, and social position within the early church. I enjoyed the book, though I was left still curious about two questions of profound interest to me, particularly as we embark into intentional community: 1) the ways in which imperial opposition impinged on local church life, and 2) the nature and longevity of the "apostolic socialism" - the sharing of all things in common - that is so clearly described in the book of Acts.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


This week I [Heath] was in DC, primarily to visit Mackensey, whose first year at Georgetown is winding down. In addition, I enjoyed the hospitality of the Pietrangelos - staying at various times with Renee, Tony, and Tania - as well as my first-ever Nationals game, good times catching up with old friends, and some quality time with my mom, who came into the city on Wednesday evening to watch Mackensey play (my dad made a guest appearance just in time for a joint Pietrangelo-Carter family dinner, but had to take off bright and early thursday morning).

Here are some pictures from the week:

Renee and I at the Nationals game. It was a bit chilly for their home opener, but particularly cold were the Nats, who couldn't field a ball if their lives depended on it, resulting in a 9-8 loss to the world champion Phillies.

Mackensey and her friend Demi also came out for the game. Trying to cram ourselves into a packed train headed for the ballpark was a bit of a challenge...


I spent Monday evening as well as the first part of Tuesday spending time with the Hansen family, also visiting from Chicago. Their son James, who I've tutored the past three years, was checking out Georgetown.


One of the highlights of the trip was being able to watch my sister play collegiate softball for the first time. Her team eked out a hard-fought, 2-1 victory over University of Maryland [Baltimore County]. These Hoyas are definitely becoming more dangerous as the season moves along.

Also fun was being able to meet so many of Mackensey's friends, including Sophie and her future roommate Skye [pictured above with the glasses];

as well as her softball teammates [pictured above on the way to Relay for Life].

And of course it was wonderful to spend time with my mom. We enjoyed people watching on Healy lawn on a beautiful Friday afternoon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Celebration

This Sunday we had a few good friends over for Easter dinner. By a few, I mean 16.

I was, admittedly, a little stressed in the planning, but Heath was great and by Saturday evening a card table and clearance plates from Target cured most of my anxiety.

As appetizers we had mussels cooked in white wine and shallots along with some delicious cheeses and crackers. Our first course was inspired by something we had in Paris: shrimp, avocado, sun dried tomato and a little cayenne pepper tossed in olive oil. The main dish was a spring pasta: capellini with zucchini, yellow squash, red onions and grape tomatoes — yum!We had a green salad to go with as well as this crusty "rustic" bread Heath baked.

Our guests provided dessert, drinks and poetry.

It was a full house, but a lot of fun.

[some of our guests]

[shots of the table & mussels]

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Paris | Au revoir

All good things come to an end, or, as the French say, "toute bonne chose a une fin."

Our final day in Paris took us to the city's very top and bottom. We started at the bottom: The Catacombs.

A short walk from our usual breakfast spot, the Catacombs is a famous underground ossuary housing the bones of many of the people originally buried in Paris' largest cemetery, Les Innocents. During World War II, Parisian members of the French Resistance used the tunnel system as a headquarters of sorts. Having some of this history in mind, Heath was initially pretty excited about the tour. That changed when we saw a sign stating that walk-throughs usually took about 45 minutes. As we began our descent down the windy staircase underground, Heath looked a tad bit nauseous.

For comic relief, there was an American professor and her daughter tagging along and the mother kept wanting to give Heath dissertation advice. Hilarious.

Here are some of the pictures from our underground adventure...

From the Catacombs we hopped on the train and headed directly to the Eiffel Tower. The first thing you notice at the base of the tower are two long and one short. The long line is for all the people interested in taking the lift (or elevator) to the "second floor" roughly 50 stories up. The short line is for all the putzes who think the stairs are the way to go. We were just those putzes.

It's funny because Heath was all about the stairs and was kind of teasing me for lagging behind. No shock to any blog follower: I'm not much of a stairs girl. But when we got to the second floor and needed to take the lift to "the summit," the tables were turned. Heath was NOT a fan of the elevator or, as he put it, the death trap. When we got to the very top he was hesitant to even go too near the railing. I managed to pull him over for a couple pictures. If he looks a little worried in one or two, now you know why.

[eiffel's structure]

[me in the cage]

[eiffel's views]

After our descent, we caught our breath in the little park next to the tower. From Eiffel we stopped to view the Grand Palais further along the river. Alas, we never made it to the Latin Quarter — next trip!

[the park]

[towards the palace]

Our restaurant of choice this evening was Bofinger, near Bastille Place. Highly recommended by several co-workers as well as our guidebook and Michelin guide, Bofinger opened in 1864 and has served some of the most well-known Parisians since. Our experience didn't necessarily live up to the hype. The building itself was gorgeous, and the food was good, but not GREAT.

I had oysters, salmon with spring vegetables and then chocolate mousse. Heath had pumpkin soup and the beef tartare, which essentially looked like a big, uncooked hamburger patty. After unsuccessfully trying to convince me to switch with him he did manage to dive in and enjoy it. He did not finish it, but he made the best of it. He followed up with the same dessert I had...we obviously didn't pay close attention to each other's orders.


So now we're back in the room, packed and setting multiple alarms so that we don't miss our plane tomorrow. We're ready to head home and hug our dog. :-)

[our little corner of paris]

[views from our room]