Volunteering with Chicago Cares

I’d been in a bit of a rut with volunteering.  I’ve been working toward some certification exams and my travel schedule has been hectic and two scheduled weekly volunteer gigs were suffering.  I felt like I couldn’t be counted on, which is the opposite of what volunteering should be.  I made a couple of changes and I am liking this new thing enough to talk about it.

I forget where I first saw Chicago Cares, but I’m sure Twitter had something to do with it.  It is an organization that partners with local programs to coordinate and promote volunteer opportunities.  Programs are vetted, volunteer leaders are trained, and opportunities are posted online in a calendar for people to sign up and participate.

The events are posted in a calendar form and can be sorted by type, but I just looked at the whole month.  On whatever random day that was, I saw an event that evening for volunteers to bring their dogs to a senior living center to socialize with residents.  I clicked in, figuring the dog would have to be therapy certified, which I am too lazy to do.  But, no.  Just a friendly dog with proof of vaccinations.

I emailed my vet, who sent me a pdf of Fiona’s vaccination record.  I registered on the website and signed up for the event the same day.  I was a little bit worried because I was new and I wasn’t 100% sure how Fiona would do with wheelchairs and walkers, but she was great.  We signed up for a similar event at a rehab center a few weeks later.

Then I decided to try something different and have done two events working with – or maybe just entertaining – kids.  Dog not included.  It is so easy to just get online, see what is available for any given day and sign up.  You know the only thing that is difficult?  The slots fill up so fast!

Chicago Cares has been tweeting that they are partnering with fifty new non-profits, so I expect there will be plenty more opportunities for one-shot volunteering with organizations all across the city.  Maybe in your own neighborhood, maybe getting out and seeing other neighborhoods.  It’s like the video says, we should be taking care of each other.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/164622761″>The Heart of a Volunteer by Chicago Cares</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/chicagocares”>Chicago Cares</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



Women Hold Up Half the Sky

A couple of weeks ago, I received a program in the mail for a special exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  It is called Women Hold Up Half the Sky, and is based on the work Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn highlighted in their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity.  I read the book and loved it several years ago.  The exhibition opened today with a keynote by Lisa Madigan, so I went over to take a look.  Madigan was speaking at 2pm, so I figured I would check out the exhibit, stand in the back of the room while she spoke and book out as soon as she was finished.

Not so much.

I arrived shortly after 11am and the place was nearly empty.  It seemed that they really didn’t want people in the special exhibition until after the event.  As it happens, I hadn’t actually visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum yet..even though it is practically in my backyard.  Yes, I am ashamed of myself.  I went in and am very glad that I did.

To state the obvious, it is smaller and has fewer artifacts than the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.    It felt somewhat less overwhelming, but rather more personal.  Skokie, you see.  Those are our people.  I could still hear the voices from one video interview as I walked on toward the next, which seemed very natural.  There is an awful lot to read, if you have the time.  The lady at the front desk suggested it would take an hour or so to go through and I took more than two.  I also didn’t bring any Kleenex.

When I finished the main exhibit, I went downstairs to grab a cold drink and read my book.  The crowd started to arrive – there  were actual shuttles to the overflow parking lot, so people came in big groups.

The room was packed.  The program started with the usual Thank Yous and acknowledging sponsors.  Lisa Madigan spoke only briefly, but noted that the fight against domestic violence and human trafficking is also very local.  Chicago is one of the U.S. hubs.  One in five women in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and one in four will be physically abused.  Then she pulled out the same program I had been mailed and noted that it contained the names of local organizations working on behalf of women and they have plenty of ways for us to get involved.

I’d had enough of the crowd, so I didn’t go through the actual exhibition today.  But I became a member of the museum and will be going back soon.  There are several more programs and panels running over the next few months and I plan to make the time.


You can find more details, including that list of partners, at the website of the  Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

I am going to hug my dog now.



Singleton Travel

I am a single woman and I like to travel.  Nothing too exotic so far, just the usual places on everyone’s bucket list.  Because the world is big and I only have so much vacation time (and there are several places I return to again and again), the decision factors are Cost and Safety.  Tour groups are great for safety if you are going someplace for the first time, but the “single supplement” often makes it cost prohibitive.  The hospitality industry has made great strides in catering to singletons, but it is still easier to manage travel in pairs.  In fact, there are a couple of tour groups that were created to solve this problem – they manage guided tours for women and will hook you up with a traveling partner.  I still might do that someday.

Last winter, my friend K posted a question on Facebook:

Can a single woman go to the Caribbean for Spring Break and feel safe without spending a fortune?  There was a really good discussion thread that concluded..not really.  I lamented that she is on a school district schedule, or I’d invite her to winter vacation with me.  But late February is as long as I can wait before getting cabin fever in Chicago.

This past Spring, I decided to plan a trip to Europe and I immediately thought of K.  We went to high school together, and I can’t say we were particularly tight; “inside school friends” as opposed to “neighborhood friends”.  But I’ve always liked her and she has the same problem I have and she lives in the next town over and why in hell haven’t I seen her in 20 years?

So I sent her a message with my thinking and asked if she wanted to have coffee and talk it over.  She agreed and we met on a Sunday at the coffee shop in our hometown.

We didn’t shut up for three hours.

Then we traded messages about places we thought we’d want to go and found plenty of common ground.  We found flights and hotels and sketched out an itinerary.  We’re going to do this.

I really love Facebook.


Discussing Gun Control and Other Important Matters

At a conference last week, I walked in to the hospitality suite to find a group watching Fox News. I almost turned around and left. Somehow, I landed in a discussion about gun control that led to my feverishly Googling for statistics on my phone while my friend Tim did the same on his. I couldn’t find the chart I wanted, so I asked Facebook.

The immediate response from my friends was Get. Out. Of that. Discussion. But Bill found it for me:




Then my friend Steve, a conservative and a scholar, asked me to consider this one:




Which, of course, did not help my argument.

I went several rounds with Tim that night over statistics and several more with Steve the next day on a topic where people are unbelievably entrenched. With Tim, I had to concede that you can generally find statistics to prove anything you want. With Steve, I had to concede that statistics generally don’t prove Cause and Effect. But I left both of those discussions feeling good and believing that there are plenty of people on the other side of this issue that are also trying to be thoughtful and realistic and engaged. Here are my conclusions:

  1. We should all do a better job of doing our homework and considering different points of view.  This isn’t going to get resolved in one conversation, or with one new law. It’s going to take lots of conversations to hash out.  It is going to take some compromise.  And there might be unintended consequences to address.
  2. We will only be able to do that if we believe that we are all in this together.  Acting in good faith.

Sometime online, during the election primaries, I was on a thread about how the world is not going to end if “the other one” is elected.  No one is really moving to Canada and Texas isn’t actually going to secede from the Union.  We’d better find a way to work things out.

Department Outing

I believe I have mentioned that my Awesome Employer sets aside budget money each year for every department to have a group outing. They always involve food and generally involve an activity of some kind. This year, Lisa suggested Cook Cork & Fork, a place in Palatine that teaches groups to cook and then everyone stuffs their faces.

Groups are offered a variety of seasonal menus.  Since Lisa and I are the pickiest eaters, process of elimination led us to the Italian menu.  Chicken Marsala, herb risotto, grilled vegetables, and tiramisu.

I have been to several places that do cooking classes – which is weird since I really do not cook at home – and the difference with this place was that there was no Front of the Room Demo.  We were split into groups and told what to do.   I snagged the tiramisu.  It was a job so easy that..it was like the first time I saw guacamole made table-side.  That’s all there is to it?  And they charge what?  The most difficult thing is blending the mascarpone and cream just until it is smooth, because if you over blend, it will curdle.  And that would suck.  But it was so easy and people make such a big deal out of it.  The lady fingers are dipped into a mixture of espresso and Kahlua and then you layer it up and put it in the refrigerator.


Then I went to watch the rest of my group.  They had finished their prep and were on to cooking up the dishes.


I somehow missed taking pictures of the final products.  Except for my tiramisu.


There was plenty of what I call Adult Supervision and everything turned out great.  In addition to group events, Cook Cork & Fork has regularly scheduled events for individuals or small groups.  They are located in Palatine and I can happily recommend them to grown ups in the Northwest suburbs looking for something to do together.


The Lava Lake

You might know that I have been vacationing in Hawaii – the Big Island – for the past several winters.  And I plan to continue doing so until I run out of miles, points, and money.  With each trip, I stay on the Kona side and take a day trip to Volcanoes National Park.  Because it is a volcano.  And it is active.  And that is cool.  This is the view from one of my favorite lookout points:

View 1

When you walk up to that ledge, and look down, you can see a great big, flat surface of lava rock.  And depending on the weather, there are hikers down there.  The first time I saw it, I went right back to the car to look at the map and try to figure out how to drive down.  I couldn’t figure it out.  It took two more trips (there’s other stuff to see!) before I realized that the only way down there is to hike it – the Kilauea Iki Trail.  And of course, if you hike down there, you have to hike all the way back up.

This year, I looked at the map and read the stats:  four miles and 400 feet – which doesn’t sound bad at all.  The catch was “moderate to challenging”.  The estimated time to hike the loop is two to three hours.  I had one bottle of water and one package of trail mix.  It was 10am, the sun was shining and I had stopped to pee a half hour before.

I went for it.

Obviously, the climb back up is physically more difficult.  But mentally, when one might still change one’s mind…the entire climb down, there was an argument in my head:

Voice 1:  It’s not too late to turn back.

Voice 2:  Shut up.

Voice 1:  You’re old, you’re fat, you’re out of shape.  You think one yoga class a week makes you a hiker?

Voice 2:  …..

Voice 1:  Look at this pre-Columbian staircase!  If your mother could see this…

Voice 2:  (starts taking steps two at a time)… (Not really)

Voice 1:  You’re going to pass out!  In public!

Voice 2:  It wouldn’t be the first time!  Wouldn’t even be the first time in a National Park!

Strictly speaking, that second part isn’t true, either.  But you get the idea.

And then, I was at the bottom of the lava lake.

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The trail is not difficult to follow, once you figure out which “stacked rocks” you are supposed to follow.  And once you’re at the bottom, there is nothing to do but keep going.  I did see a couple of fools hiking around in flip-flops, though.  And you know what?  The climb back up was not a problem.  I turned back for a last look before leaving the rock and getting back on the dirt trail, and I realized that I’d already been climbing.  I was all, “That must have been 100 feet!  Only 300 more!”  It was probably less than half that, but whatever.  The steepest part of the climb was more of a natural ramp than stairs, so I picked the right direction for my loop.

This was easily in the Top 10 Best Things I Have Ever Done on Vacation.  For 1.4 seconds, I considered taking a selfie.  I’m totally doing it again next year.

(Note to self:  Parked at the first lot, as opposed to the Lava Tube lot.  And turned right, away from the Lava Tube.)