The Laneways

Good morning, folks. Coming out of this morning’s iGov meeting, I had an idea that I wanted to run past people, something that might help out some of our struggling businesses. (This is mainly aimed at locals, though others with relevant experience are welcome to weigh in!)

In Melbourne, there’s an area called the Laneways. (Also sometimes referred to as the arcades.) This is a vibrant shopping district in the alleys behind buildings. It is utterly charming, full of cute little restaurants and tiny shops, plus lots of great graffiti-style street art. I think sometimes businesses split the back of their space to rent to a separate business that operates out of the alleyway, and sometimes it’s all the same business, street side and alley side.

We’ve had a tough time here with street construction + COVID seriously affecting local businesses. I heard that while some businesses are about to have to close down their sidewalk patios for construction, they may be allowed to set up alleyway options.

I think that’s great, but I’m a little worried that unless there’s a concerted effort to support that, people just won’t even think of venturing into the alley to find their open-air dining (and I know it’s rainy today, but with a canopy, I think you could eat outside for another month at least, maybe more with a patio heater or two?)

I’m wondering whether we could use a local community group to work on a Laneways project here, something that might extend beyond the pandemic time, and add a rich additional bit of cultural bustle to the shopping districts. It would beautify the relevant alleys too. They might have to shut down for winter, but once the pandemic is no longer an issue, hanging walls might also help extend the season.

I’m trying to think about what downsides might be. Would neighbors object? It’d be a little extra noise in the alley, but that might be counteracted by additional safety with more people around. It’d likely feel a bit more urban, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing?

This is just a brainstorming post (cross-posted to Shop Local Oak Park and Oak Park Development Watch, as well as my own wall). I’d love to hear people’s thoughts.

If it seems worth pursuing, I’m envisioning a coalition of business owners and interested consumers coming together to discuss and shape the project, defining parameters of a first test alley or two, to present a plan to the Village Board for their approval, to perhaps raise funds to help businesses who need financial assistance with supplies, but mostly to help get the word out and patronize those businesses once it’s up and running.

(I cannot take on another thing to run, but I’d be happy to be part of the committee, at least for the initial brainstorming, which is my strong suit. :-))

Photos of Melbourne’s Laneways for inspiration.

Sewing for Librarians

Sewing tonight for my librarians, who are getting ready to go back to work-in-the-library instead of work-from-home, whenever the governor decides we’ve entered phase 3. It could be as soon as June 1 (limited service, checking out items placed on hold, for example, no patrons hanging out in the library), which means they need masks pronto.

This morning, I spent a few hours cutting, and tonight after the kids went to bed, I spent a few hours sewing in elastics. These masks aren’t done yet — they still need to be pleated and have nose pieces attached, but I should be able to get that done in the next day or two.

We have 146 staffers at our three libraries (not all librarians, but all of great value to our community). I’m not saying I’m going to sew a mask for every single one of them before this is over…but I might. At least one from each of my fabrics, so hopefully they’ll have some fun picking out which ones they want. (This is about half of the fabrics I have on hand.)

I mean, our library can budget to buy them masks, of course, and will do so for any I (and one of the other trustees who is also sewing!) don’t manage to produce. The director will make sure staff go back to work protected. Thankfully, we seem to be past the phase when elastic couldn’t be had for love or money.

But I admit, I am feeling personally protective of our library staff, and maybe even a little superstitious about ironing a little good luck into each of these. This is not what I expected I’d be doing when I ran for office, but we serve how best we can; right now, this is where I have a useful skill. Thanks to those of you who bought masks from me — each purchased mask funds a donated mask, so this week, you’re funding protection for our librarians.

Don’t worry, I’ll also be virtually Zooming in for tomorrow’s monthly board meeting. I won’t even try to sew through it. 

Fundraising for the SLF

Folks, I need to do some fundraising for the SLF fairly urgently if we’re going to be able to keep giving out our grants, and I am very low on capacity for fundraising. If you’re able to help me with putting together a short campaign, let me know? It’d mean things like:

– requesting donated gifts (books, critiques, etc.) from prominent people in the community
– brainstorming other donor rewards (ideally ones that are cheap or free to produce and distribute)
– setting up the Kickstarter page for the Portolan Project (free online writing education)
– helping to coordinate the transcription and release of teaching videos we’ve already done during the campaign
– keeping me on track with all this!

Help? Drop a comment (ideally with your e-mail) or PM me if you can help out.

Opening Day Bagel

I had to go get myself an Opening Day bagel at The Daly Bagel, 130 Chicago Ave. Woot! Go, Amanda Daly! If you didn’t manage to pre-order, locals will be glad to know that they can walk in (between 8 and 2) and pick up a fresh, delicious bagel, chewable and luscious. Please wear a mask to help protect her staff! Shop small, shop local!

(Note: I had the lox in my fridge already; they’re not doing bagel sandwiches yet!)

Weird Moments of Sadness

Weird moments of sadness ambush you, moments you don’t even want to indulge. Yesterday, I cleaned up the backyard firepit area, which has enough seating for eight or so. We were just starting to get to the age when Kavi might have friends over to hang out back there, and I had imagined keeping an eye on them from the windows. Might there be kissing in the evening, by the firelight? Maybe. I was just about her age when I first became seriously interested in kissing.

My own life is finally slowing down enough that I’d been hoping for more inviting friends over for grilling and marshmallow toasting and beer and cider on long summer nights. Liz and Nara and Roshani and Valerie and Pam and so many others. I’d imagined inviting my friends with little ones, Nivedita and Deborah and others, over to chase fireflies through our backyard. Getting to know them all better…

For this summer, though, it’s probably going to be just the four of us. A tiny loss; it feels ridiculous to even count it in the midst of so much greater grief. Every day, my sisters are putting on their PPE and walking into fire to treat patients at the hospital. I should just shut up and sew.

Yesterday, I read a thread, parents on local parenting groups mourning their kids not getting a proper 8th grade graduation, fretting about the fall transition to 6th grade and what that already difficult passage will look like if entirely online. A part of me was frustrated by that — all around the world, people are dying. All around the world, children suffer so much worse.

So this school year will look a little different? In 1983, Black July hit Sri Lanka, thousands of Tamils murdered in the capital in ethnic violence. Despite being Tamil myself, I was safe in CT, and my 7th grade to 8th grade transition went along completely unencumbered. While in Sri Lanka, my aunt Priya, only a year older than me, faced war and devastation and having to flee her country entirely. Deaths all around.

Children might have to cope with the trauma of losing parents to Covid-19, if we don’t physically distance as much as we can. Too many children have already lost beloved grandparents. In the face of that, the loss of a graduation, the difficulty of a transition to online learning, seems almost not worth counting —

— and yet, of course, it’s not that simple. Some children will handle the shift with ease and grace; others will struggle. Some of those who were already struggling will fall further behind, and of course, it is the most marginalized, the black and brown and poor and disabled children who will bear the brunt of this, as always. So we have to worry about them, we have to fret, we have to weigh the cost to the next generation of what we ask of them today, this spring, this fall, this next year.

As a teacher, I do think we can make up the lost time, that we can even perhaps use this as an opportunity to find better ways of teaching, opportunities to use online learning to reach students who were not well served in the physical school. My own ADD son is so much happier learning at home, even if it’s in a mostly unschooled sort of way.

But if we want those potential unschooling benefits to extend beyond the privileged children of professors who have good computers and stable internet connections with plenty of broadband, it’s going to require a massive restructuring of how we do education in this country, perhaps how we do it around the world. It will take a sustained, conscious effort by parents, by teachers, by school administration, by voters and elected officials. I am not sure if we’ll pull it off; I can’t guarantee that to the parents in my community, and so I can’t blame them for worrying. There’s plenty to worry about.

Just because there are worse losses out there, doesn’t mean our own griefs aren’t worth counting. And sometimes, when we are bearing up under a great grief, it’s the little ones that break us. Marshmallows by the fireside. Fireflies in the garden.

There it is. Loss piled on loss piled on loss. Today, I’m grateful for a sweet cat, bringing a quick smile in the midst of sorrow.

Tomorrow, I hope to wake up with enough energy and courage and strength to try to help build a better world.

The Easter Bunny Has Visited Our Block!

(for my neighbors, posted on our little free library, but here just in case people are more likely to see it here)

“The Easter Bunny
has visited our block!

The bunny has brought eggs with tiny toys suitable for small children (no candy, sorry), and would love it if kids would take some home with them. You’ll find eggs up and down the block near the sidewalk (not in people’s yards or gardens), and also lots in this front garden (332 Wisconsin). Please feel free to wander through this front garden hunting for eggs on Sunday.

The Easter Bunny will come through again Sunday night and collect any leftover eggs (and just so you know, the bunny wore bunny gloves when distributing eggs, and the toys inside were packed at the bunny toy factory).


A Little Bit of Relief

A friend posted this, and it made me feel better, and I don’t think she’d mind if I shared this:

“[My husband] was to leave for NYC today–he was assigned to Bellevue where he did his residency–but we just heard that they have all the healthcare volunteers they need right now (over 20,000 people volunteered to help!). He’s now on emergency standby for NYC and Detroit.”

A little bit of relief. Thank you.

Sewing Masks and Wishing for Walks

Took an hour to sew masks for the four of us, so that we can go on walks still; we don’t feel like it’s socially responsible of us to go out beyond the boundaries of our yard otherwise, given that we live in a pretty crowded urban environment.

Kevin would be perfectly content to stay indoors for months on end, but I hate it — I can manage a week or so, but after that, I start feeling like I’m clawing at the walls of a glass cage. Walks are pretty key to my sanity, and I think they’re good for the kids too.

I’ve started getting people messaging me asking if I can sew them masks, and I’m sorry, but no — all my time and energy for that (I can only sew for about two hours a day before my back starts to really hurt) is going to sewing masks for healthcare workers who are still critically short of them. It looks like you can buy masks on Etsy for about $10 right now, and there are quite a few no-sew patterns out there if you google.

If I have energy, I’m hoping to update my mask FAQ ( with some discussion of different patterns and why you might want to do what, maybe even some tutorial video. But even if I don’t get to it, there are a lot of patterns and tutorial videos out there already now.

If you’re interested in learning to sew masks yourself, now might be a good time — sewing your own means you can pick your fabrics too, which adds a little fun to an otherwise disheartening project. I went with a Middle-Earth map for Kevin, some spring-y glass terrariums for me, Kavi picked out a blue (it was too bright for her taste, but I flipped it so the underside is facing out, and the muted effect is much more what she likes), and Anand went for space!

Once you know how to use a machine, it’s super-easy to hem pants and hem curtains, and not too hard to do things like taking in clothes that are too big. (Tailoring trick — buy something that fits well at the largest part of you, then take in everywhere else, to end up with a nicely fitted garment.)

A very basic sewing machine seems to run around $80. I’d recommend taking 2-4 hrs of online sewing classes as well; there are a few things that are not intuitive, and it’s MUCH easier to start out if you have someone to problem-solve what you’re doing. Specifically:

– winding the bobbin
– threading the machine
– inserting the bobbin and catching up the thread
– getting the tension right
– helping fabric progress (esp. if you’re making masks with pleats, this can be tricky), so you don’t end up with nasty thread tangles
– solving the nasty thread tangles when they inevitably happen (they happen a LOT to beginners)

At this point, I can make the basic Deaconness Hospital pleated mask (which I’m doing with two layers of cotton and one layer of non-woven filter fabric sewn in, not removable) in about 15 minutes, so doing four for my family took about an hour. Maybe a little longer with ironing, but not much.

So if you’d like to make masks for yourself and others, that’s about how much you’d need to invest in learning and doing — maybe $100 – $125 for supplies (fabric, thread, elastic, sewing machine, scissors, ruler; an iron is helpful, but not strictly required for this). Maybe 2-6 hours in learning, and then I’d allow 1 hr to make your first mask, with it speeding up a lot after that.

And then, like me, you can sew masks for healthcare workers, first responders, and other front-line workers who need them, many of whom can’t afford to drop $10 each on masks for themselves and their family members. If you have the time and money, join us. We could use you.