City sidewalk safety, part 1 – Strangers and dangers

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When Marilyn Monroe (by Seward Johnson) visited Pioneer Court on the Mag Mile in Chicago

If you didn’t catch my two previous articles, you missed some important information. We’ve discussed city etiquette including what to do and, more importantly, what not to do if you happen to find yourself in downtown Chicago — or any large city — especially at rush hour. This article is about your comfort, safety, and well-being.

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    One of the four iconic Millennium Park fountains at night

    Be aware and alert, holding your possessions close to your body for two reasons: so you won’t bump others with your bags or get bumped and also to deter thieves.

  • Folks might ask you for money. Whether or not you decide to give is up to you; just be careful. Don’t let strangers peer into your wallet, and keep a tight grip on it.
  • If someone looks or acts certifiable, they might be. If such a person approaches you or shouts at you, move away and do not make eye contact; do not take it personal and do not engage. Go on your way, enjoy yourself and forget about it. Don’t let one jerk spoil your city adventure.
  • Obey your signal and also, if one is present, the traffic cop. It’s important to comply with “Chicago’s finest.”
  • At any crowded scene, be suspicious of unattended bags and find someone to report it to. That said, sometimes activists or product promoters leave their stuff off to the side.
  • Don’t be surprised if some very friendly person jumps in front of you with a merry “hello!” You probably don’t know each other. I’ll admit even I was fooled for a nanosecond the first time this happened to me. No, it’s very likely a volunteer campaigner/activist trying to get you to sign a petition or donate money. The strategy is rather annoying, but if you feel the cause is worthy, go for it if they’re legit.
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    The city: Mix and mingle and make new friends — but play it safe

    It’s almost always noisy in a bustling city. Sirens and other sounds can be loud enough to damage hearing. Cover your ears, and don’t worry about what anybody thinks. Later when they’re hard of hearing, you’ll be glad you protected yours.

  • You may find yourself in the South Loop campus neighborhood. A lot of rowdy people hang around some areas there, especially Pritzker Park and the Harold Washington Library (which truly is a great place), even blocking the sidewalk at times. Don’t let them deter you from your path; you have a right to walk there. There are also a lot of police in that area.
  • Although Chicago is a beautiful and exciting city, there are some unsavory areas and stinky areas, even downtown. Simply pass through these quickly and don’t give it a second thought. Chicago is beautiful!

Welcome to the jungle! My next article in this series has more important ways to enjoy the big city safely and comfortably.

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The 30-foot eyeball (by Chicago’s own Tony Tasset) that watched over Pritzker Park for awhile
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International Yoga Day: Strike a pose

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This is my cat’s version of cat yoga: taking over my yoga mat just when I am about to start yoga

We interrupt our normal programming (the ongoing series on learning to walk like a city slicker) to bring you a special announcement: June 21 – and every year on June 21, typically also the first day of summer in the North, the Summer Solstice – is International Yoga Day. In case you think this is no big deal, look again. And if you think yoga is just for girls or is simply stretching and deep breathing or meditating, listen up!

First, a funny yoga story: Years ago, a gal pal and I decided to do a yoga class at the Garfield Park Conservatory. What could be more serene than doing yoga in such a setting! On the way to our class, I spouted that I’d been doing yoga on my own since the age of 13. So when we set up our mats, she said she was going to put hers behind mine so she could be in the back of the class. Thus I found myself positioned between her and the instructor and several exotic trees. Was I in for a surprise: I discovered for the first time that yoga can be extremely difficult! We found ourselves getting into impossible poses and holding them for impossibly long periods! My friend eased off – but I kept going. I didn’t want to look like a fool after bragging I’d done yoga since my teen years. Wow, was I ever hurting after that class – for days! It was then I realized that what I had been doing all my life was simply mild stretching!

Flash forward a decade later when I was taking weekly yoga classes at a local gym. A big hulk of a guy, obviously a weight lifter, sat in front of me in yoga class looking tough in his armed forces t-shirt. Noting several strong looking fellas in class that day, our yoga teacher apparently decided to go all out. About half way through class, the hulk was grunting and groaning. Later as I glanced at him from my downward dog position, I saw he was sitting there resting…By the end of class, he was soaked with sweat and could hardly rise to his feet while yours truly bounced lightly to her feet, feeling energized and glad to be a disciplined yoga regular.

But enough about me! I told you those two stories to demonstrate what I said above: Yoga is not wimpy, and yoga is good for both guys and gals. Plus don’t worry that you will find yourself in a yoga class sitting around chanting – unless you sign up for that specifically. Sure, yoga can be a spiritual experience. But among the many types of yoga, general yoga classes help one’s body develop strength, stamina, flexibility and balance as well as benefiting the psyche. Yoga offers something for everyone: There’s laughing yoga, aerobic yoga, hot yoga, power yoga, cat yoga and so much more.

“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 21 International Yoga Day per the suggestion by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. This day was suggested because, being the longest day of the year in parts of the world, it carries significance in many cultures. Also, June 21 is said to be the day that Shiva, the very first yogi and guru, introduced yoga.

“Exercises are like prose, whereas yoga is the poetry of movements.” ~ Amit Ray

One of the reasons the idea of Yoga Day was so widely accepted by leaders of many countries is because yoga is believed to bring its user a sense of well-being and inner peace. The rationale followed that if everyone had inner peace, there would be a chance for world peace.

“Yoga is not a work-out, it is a work-in…so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are.” ~ Rolf Gates

The very first Yoga Day was exciting indeed, breaking two Guinness world records: one for the largest yoga class ever of almost 40,000 people (held in India) and the other for the largest number of nations participating at once (84). There was a yoga class of 5,000 in San Francisco that day. Yoga Day has grown every year, with special events added. In 2017, the Indian Prime Minister, along with numerous top Indian businessmen, participated in a yoga class of 51,000. New York City, Japan, China, Athens and Dublin also hosted major yoga gatherings.

“In truth, yoga doesn’t take time – it gives time.” ~ Ganga White

This will be the fourth World Yoga Day. Countries and cities all over the world are gearing up for this. A quick internet search will yield plenty of articles and events heralding Yoga Day along with amazing photos. Chicago has many yoga festivals at this time of year. Check your local listings. Even if you live in a small town, I guarantee your local yoga studio is aware of International Yoga Day and will be holding some kind of event. If you haven’t given yoga a chance yet, 2018 can be the year to personally discover the welcome difference yoga can make in your life.

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and endure what cannot be cured.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

What to do in Chicago while waiting for spring

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Barren wintry trees along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue

No one likes stinging cold winds, icy pathways or snow in April, much less discovering that crack in the bottom of your boot was for real and having to traverse with cold wet feet through all the slush between you and home. Winter wasn’t too awful in Chicago this year…but it has turned into a prolonged winter, making a lot of people unhappy. So here’s a list of just some of the unique and enjoyable events to help us Chicagoans live a full, exciting life this month, despite this seemingly endless winter:

Baconfest Chicago
Friday, April 6 & Saturday, April 7
University of Illinois at Chicago Forum (725 W Roosevelt Rd)

Love bacon? Go hog wild at Baconfest Chicago! Enjoy bacon-dominated meals Friday night and Saturday for lunch and dinner prepared by top Chicago chefs. Tip: Do not watch the cute little TV commercial that’s on lately of a family giving their piglet a bath!

C2E2: Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo
Friday, April 6 – Sunday, April 8
McCormick Place, South Building

Superstars, events and merchandise galore combine to make this a spectacular event. You can tote your kids along or party all night at this convention. Hooray for superheroes! Where would we be without them?!

Chicago White Sox Winter Hat Game
Saturday, April 7
Guaranteed Rate Field

Although Opening Day for the Sox in Chicago is Thursday, April 5, because winter hasn’t made its exit yet, on Saturday, April 7, showing up at the game can get you a nice winter knit cap which you can still wear this season: Offered to the first 15,000 fans who arrive at the ballpark for Saturday’s game. Learn some White Sox trivia here, compliments of the Chicago Public Library.

Chicago Cubs Opening Day
Monday, April 9
Wrigley Field

Yes, the wildly popular “Cubbies” can pull off a Monday home opener on a cold day in Chicago and still expect to draw crowds. At the time of this writing, tickets are still available. You might want to snatch them up while you can and notify your boss you’ll be absent Monday. Find out some trivia tidbits here that you may not have known, compliments of the Chicago Public Library.

One of a Kind Show
Friday, April 27 – Sunday, April 29
Merchandise Mart

Be there! The One of a Kind Show is held twice a year, in the winter (a great opportunity to score truly unique holiday gifts) and in the spring. This is a bountiful kaleidoscope of amazing goods, most of them handmade and indeed one-of-a-kind, from artists and artisans all over the world. There’s even unique food and entertainment to enjoy while you shop.

Tip: Try to go at a time when most people will be at work, because it gets very crowded. Also, check your coat or at least don’t bring a large bulky one to carry nor even a large bag, because that will make it harder to squeeze through the crowds. Honestly, though, this event is worth it.

National Poetry Month
Saturday, April 7 – Monday, April 30
Chicago Public Libraries

Calling all poets: April is National Poetry Month, and the Chicago Public Library celebrates it all month at various city libraries. Click here to see them all; there are many almost every day in April. There’s even a “poetry party.”

It culminates with a special one-day Poetry Fest for poets and poetry lovers at the Harold Washington Library Center from 10:00 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 28. Featured are: poetry readings by celebrity poets (Safia Elhillo and sam sax as well as Growing Concerns Poetry Collective), local poetry publications and organizations, rubbing elbows with editors and publishers, writing workshops that feature Chicago’s own poet celebs, award ceremonies and open mics – and you can even have a poet write a poem to your specifications while you wait.

Randolph Street Market Festival
Saturday, April 28 & Sunday, April 29
1341 West Randolph Street, Chicago

Love vintage? Then this is a must! Let’s hope we finally get warmer weather by April’s end for this indoor/outdoor gigantic sale. Shop till you drop while acquiring jaw-dropping antiques and vintage goodies from 10 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. both days. What do you desire? Clothing, accessories, artwork, furnishings, furniture, artwork, books and records, kid stuff…The possibilities are endless.

America’s Beauty Show
Saturday, April 28 – Monday, April 30
McCormick Place

It’s a beautiful world! End April on a high note, surrounded by beauty. Although this exhibition is geared toward professionals in this line of work, you can go too and be wowed by wall-to-wall beauty products. Hopefully your stylist will go…so you can benefit from the latest in cutting edge (no pun intended!) techniques and products. Be among the first to learn what the new image trends will be.

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As I type, I’m looking out the window at the snow blowing by (sigh). I leave you with hope, from poet Percy Bysshe Shelley: “O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?” Spring will come, and it will be glorious. Be patient, and in the meantime, have fun!

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Blossoming foliage – Spring in downtown Chicago

Find your voice…and use it!

Chicago Ideas Week’s 2017 “Finding Your Voice with VOXX and Queens Brunch” lab was geared toward women, but men can use these techniques too, because we all need to find our voice and speak up. To not do so is stifling.

Every women has a voice, but women aren’t always encouraged to use their voices (and are sometimes even discouraged from speaking), so not all women are used to sharing their voices. And it’s hard to use your voice if you don’t even know your voice. This workshop and what I will share with you here will assist you in finding and utilizing your voice. Once you do, things should start to look up in your life.

The workshop started out when we were asked to do a couple of small exercises. The first, although so quick and simple, felt extremely liberating: We wrote down on a piece of paper something we wanted to expel. Then we crumpled it up and threw it away. Next, we were asked to stand up and shake various body parts to loosen up, something we should do any time we feel tight/stressed. That of course felt good too.

The organizations VOXX and Queens Brunch were described and a bit about each group’s founders (Lisa Sorich and Rosetta Lane of VOXX and Shayna Atkins of Queens Brunch).  VOXX is about bringing women together to give them the chance to share their voices. Queens Brunch is an organization that brings women together to find their voices over brunch. A practice at VOXX is two women sitting on a couch sharing what they have learned.

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Kari McGrath and Torri Shaaron were invited to come up to the stage and make themselves comfortable on the couch. What followed was a conversation between them that was very frank and open, thought-provoking, inspirationally stimulating and potentially life-altering to those in the audience who needed to hear these women’s stories so we too could find our voices.

McGrath said she had been feeling “like a bird in a cage” who couldn’t find her song. She described this feeling as energy-draining, especially as she was the type of person who really invested herself and “gave 110 percent.” When she was let go from her job, it felt like she was set free out of the cage. She described this as a beautiful shift. Subsequently she got into coaching and built a business helping others to “show up.“

Tidbits of McGrath’s wise advice:
We each have a story. Write your story the way you want it to be.
Follow other story tellers because it’s helpful to learn that somebody else has a similar story.
We have several characters living within us. For instance, there can be chatter in our heads that tries to discourage us, makes us doubting whether we are good enough, whether we should even try to do something amazing. Ignore all that; hear a different voice!
Get rid of preconceived notions; let go of what you think it should be like. Throw all that away. One concept to throw away, for instance, is that of “perfect timing.” Don’t wait for that!
When what you are doing comes from your passion, it makes sense and it all falls into place.

Shaaron quit her job in engineering, and although still not employed, she now has her voice. She believes in disruption: Speaking up and challenging the norm, throwing away the rule book. When she does re-enter the workforce, she knows she “wants to work only with nice people.”

Some of Shaaron’s words of wisdom:
Sometimes you don’t know what “there” looks like much less how to get from here to there…but you know you have got to get there. Her motto is “Just start.”
Sometimes you voice is challenged and you have to stretch our of your comfort zone. The biggest challenge can be you own self-doubt. We all want to be liked and respected. Sometimes you need to stand up and speak out.
Important values: Respectful honesty, being kind, staying true to the mission.

Kari mentioned that our center is where our voice lives. So she had us get quite, comfortable  and close our eyes while she led us on three visualization journeys. Readers, try these feel-good confidence-boosters yourself:

  1. Think back to when you were at your best, the top of your game, confident, you were in the right place at the right time and things were going your way. How did that feel?
  2. If you had your own billboard, what would it say?
  3. Imagine yourself about to go on stage to make a presentation and a voice addresses you by name and says, “In the next few moments, when you get on stage, you will make an impact that affects everyone in the audience for the rest of their lives” What would you want that impact to be?

Next, we were given brief questionnaires to fill out. Readers, fill in the blanks for a better understanding of when your voice gets locked and how to unlock it:

  • When I am passionate, I sound like:
  • My voice gets small when:
  • What I want to say more of, more often is:
  • My voice is unlocked when:

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After another similar fill-in-the-blanks exercise, a request was made that two folks from the audience volunteer to go to the couch and talk about how these exercises helped them. Here are some of the highlights of two one-on-one couch conversations that followed:

A strongly patriarchal upbringing can lead to an ongoing fear of authority.
Many of us have lost jobs; this led to the discovery that often it takes losing a job in order to find our voice. This is not unusual.
You can say you were “fired” or “let go.” The second way of looking at it is obviously more positive and, in fact, freeing.
We are all making it up as we go. So it’s okay to say, “I don’t know. I have to think about it.” And also to call on others for help or advice.
First things first: You have to “be there.” Being more present to one’s own heart, soul, gut will enable you to know exactly how you feel about a situation before you speak.
No matter what you’re going through, “You’re going to get through it.” Keep going.
Let your light shine — but also let the light in!

Atkins of Queens Brunch wrapped up by imparting some gems of wisdom:
When people network, most people seek to network up. But what is often overlooked: It’s very important to network across as well.
She feels most fervent when she knows she has a tribe at the end of her journey. Women, find your tribe or collect a tribe around you.
“You can start over. You can do anything!”

If statues could talk – Yo, they can!

When you are in Chicago and you come upon a monument, don’t you wish you could know more about the person being represented other than the brief explanation, if any, on the plaque? I’ve often wished I had the inside scoop on what their lives were all about. And there are also non-monument statues sprinkled all over Chicago, too, which I’ve often wondered about: Who was the artist and what was his or her life about? Whom were they depicting when they created the statue – is there some message inherent in the statue or was it simply commissioned for decoration?

Statue Stories Chicago now provides answers on many of our monuments and statues! And this is why I had a keen interest in attending the Chicago Ideas Week lab “Bring History to Life with Statue Stories.” Fortunately, this happened last week while the weather was still very pleasant, since part of this lab involved a walk to a nearby work of art (which happened to be the Cloud Gate a/k/a “the bean” in Millennium Park) for a listen.

Julia Bachrach introduced herself as a historian, preservationist and author who has written several books for the Chicago Park District for whom she is the historian and planning supervisor. She mentioned that for anyone who is interested, there is an archive of about 70,000 statues available at the Harold Washington Chicago Public Library.

Statue Stories took about four years to put into play and has been in place for three years, with more statue recordings coming; some of them are contests one can enter, even children – not just for statues, but for some of the dinosaurs and cows on display. Bachrach gave us a history of how Statue Stories came about and how it works. It’s very easy. You need a smart phone with the swipe (a/k/a scan) app on your phone. When you find a participating monument or statue (see Who’s Talking Where for an online index), you look for the tag code. Shortly after you swipe, your phone will ring. It will be the statue calling you to tell you about him/herself! There’s no charge for this, other than what you would normally be charged by your provider for a call.

Local writers, actors and celebrities wrote and recorded the statue monologues. One original requirement for a qualifying monument is that it have a face. But after it was discovered there’s a dearth of women’s monuments, some exceptions were made so there could be more female statues in the project. Some statues, like Bob Newhart at the tip of Navy Pier, are in popular locations and tell their stories often. Others are more far-flung.

Bachrach herself wrote the monologue for the Alexander von Humboldt monument in Humboldt Park to be recited not by von Humboldt himself, but by the lizard toward the base of the statue. She did this to represent his worldwide travels, and then it was recorded by Colombian-American actress Sandra Delgado; Bachrach felt the casting was perfect and that Delgado had done her monologue justice.

After Bachrach introduced Statue Stores, we watched a “Chicago at Play” video which started out, “One day, 30 statues came alive and started speaking.” Because of my love of Chicago and the monuments and statues I’ve happened upon over the years, I found this moving: Finally we could learn about these statues! As Chicago has one of the world’s most important collections of public art, this project gives even more of a sense of pride in Chicago, its history and the fascinating personalities who have been a part of that history.

After we all took a jaunt over to Cloud Gate and back, we got to create our own Cloud Gate compositions. Lead by MT Cozzola in coming up with our own monologues, Quraysh Ali Lansana in creating poems and social media guru Jessie Jury who taught us how to share effectively online,  it was another wonderful Chicago Ideas Week lab that was full of learning, first-hand experiences and creating,

As class wound down, we were asked if anyone wanted to read their piece aloud. One of the exercises was to write what the Cloud Gate might say if it recorded a voice mail message. Somehow I found my hand in the air volunteering to read mine: “Hi. This is Cloud Gate. I am always here, so come on by. I will welcome you in any season at any time of day or night. Let’s be friends.” Why did I add “Let’s be friends”? Because, Cloud Gate’s monologue sounds open and friendly — but you’ll just have to go and listen for yourself.

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