One of the highlights of our week in Chicago was visiting with our cousins. Growing up, we called my paternal grandmother Baba (and my paternal grandfather Gigi — don't ask). Anyway, Baba was an only child, but we used to see a lot of one of Baba's first cousins — C — and her husband, L. C and L would spoil us with amazing gifts (the one both she and I recalled about 40 years later was a ride-on horse on a stand with metal springs that C somehow managed to bring on the plane with her from Chicago to New Jersey). C tells me now that Baba was her best friend. And I know C was Baba's best friend.
This is pretty similar to the rocking horse C managed to somehow bring to us on the plane from Chicago. We played on this for years and years in our basement growing up.
Because we always saw C and L when they were visiting my grandparents in various places (Jamaica, New Jersey, Palm Springs), we kids, at least, never went to Chicago to visit them, and so although I always knew of C and L's two kids and their granddaughter, I never met any of them in person.
Many, many years ago (back when I was in college) I went on a crazy adventure to visit a boy (not Mike) in Chicago and saw them while I was there. But then about 23 years passed before I saw them again — when I was in Chicago for the second annual Network for Public Education conference in 2015, which happened to be at a hotel that was across the street from their apartment building. Again, though, I called fairly last minute, and as a result of my late notice and limited time, I only saw C and L. L, a diehard/lifelong Cubs fan, passed away about a year ago, so he didn't get to see the Cubs win the World Series last fall (although as I said to Bonnie, I suspect he was up there in heaven pulling a few strings to make it happen). With that Chicago adventure two years ago, however, even though we still hadn't met in person, I connected with their daughter, Bonnie, on Facebook, and she and I have been Facebook friends ever since.
All of that changed last week, when Bonnie (and her daughter, Molly) met us for dinner at Pizzeria Due the night we arrived in town. We were fortunate to see C and Bonnie and Molly a few times while we were there — and it was really wonderful to reconnect with C/connect with Bonnie and Molly (C doesn't like having her picture on Facebook, so I'm not sharing any photos of her here and I'm only using her initial, but trust me, I got some adorable ones of her with the girls).
With Bonnie and Molly at Pizzeria Due.
Molly is one of the artists at Project Onward in Chicago, which was our final stop in Chicago. As Project Onward's website explains:
PO’s artists are faced with autism, Down syndrome, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and other conditions. They are provided with studio space, materials, professional guidance, and exhibition and sales opportunities.
I was really impressed with the artists, the art, with the Executive Director of Project Onward, and with the facility, which was gorgeous. If you're in the Chicago area, I highly recommend that you stop by one of their public events — some of the work is really amazing, and it's great to see the artists finding purpose and connection through their work.
The kids had fun playing with the Panorama mode on my camera in the Project Onward space.
We posed with Molly (and her mom, Bonnie) just before Molly finished her most recent piece.
Molly with her most recent completed creation.
If you're in Chicago or you're going to be in Chicago, I recommend a visit. According to their website, gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 11am-5pm. Give them a call and head over — it's an impressive set up, and wonderful to see the amazing art the Project Onward artists create (and if you're not on a trip around the world, you could consider acquiring some art there too).
The quote of the visit came from Julianna, who said, "My hands are yelling at me to create something." With a space as inspirational as that, it's easy to see why the Project Onward artists' output is so impressive.