Chicagoland

My apartment.  I love it.
My apartment. I love it.

The bedroom windows of my apartment face my courtyard.  The trees have begun to bloom, wafting in the perfume of Spring in Chicago.

Spring in Chicago is so far not so warm or sunny, but I have hope.  I live 15-20 minutes from Michigan Lake and Foster Beach.  I live inbetween Uptown and Andersonville, and am surrounded by Vietnamese restaurants on one side, and trendy boutiques, cafes and bars on the other.

Sand dunes and Michigan Lake
Sand dunes and Lake Michigan

I love my apartment.  It’s filled with old furniture from my late Grandma Wilma, and other generations of her family.  I have it decorated with old posters from Europe, and I finally have a place for my Ukranian sugar bowl and my giraffe bottle opener from the Massai Market in Nairobi, and my Polish French-press.  My foreign belongings finally have a place.

Today is the first day I’ve really been able to relax since coming to Chicago, with the craziness of moving in and starting a pretty intense job.  I have tried to take things slowly here, gradually get my life set up. And so far, so good.  Mostly, I am just happy I survived this week, with the last-minute trip to Nebraska for Grandma Wilma’s funeral, writing and delivering her euology, and then after flying back Wednesday night, going to Rockford, IL, Thursday with the executive director of my organization for a grand opening ceremony, where I “worked the press” for the first time.

Michigan Ave. in front of my office building.
Michigan Ave. in front of my office building.

It’s been a good whirlwind.  It feels so amazing to be working in communications again.  I’ll still be starting grad school, but for the moment I’m enjoying learning the ins and outs of corporate communications.  There are a lot of ins and outs.  But I’ve published a few press releases and written talking points for the top woman, so things are definitely happening.  Next week I’m planning to join the company softball team.  They play once a week in Grant Park against other companies in Chicago.  Though everything I’ve been doing feels terribly trendy after living in Nebraska and Bolivia for the last year and a half, for some reason the softball thing really takes the cake for me.  Oh, that and that the corporate Disney office is secretly somewhere in my office building.  (Ahhhh I can’t take it—I’m in the world again!!!)

It all feels very natural though, and very good.  I think little by little I’ll figure out a routine, so that my evenings can be filled more with bike rides and less with laying in my bed immediately in exhaustion.  Chicago is going to be beautiful this summer.  The trees are already blooming, and I saw the beginning of flowers at the botanic gardens two weeks ago when John and Sophie took me.  As I type this the wind is blowing and I am getting flower petals from the tree in the courtyard into my window on my bed.

At the Chicago botanic gardens
At the Chicago botanic gardens

I have been enjoying the similarities of living in this apartment to living abroad.  Only half of my windows have screens, I don’t have a microwave or dishwasher, and my heater is a hilarious old steam heat thing, that makes horrendous noises whenever it comes on.  It actually woke me up this morning, clanking around.  I can’t actually control the amount of heat I get or when it turns on and off, other than just entirely turning it off or on, but it is easy enough to control the heat with keeping windows open.  It does crack me up though, because even when I lived in Poland I had more control over the heat.  Although, in Nairobi and South America there was no heat to be had inside anyway.  (I’m thinking about Puno and the two epic nights I spent freezing my ass off on Lake Titicaca with six alpaca blankets piled on top of me.  This was during the no-showering-for-4-days stretch of “backpacking in Peru and spending as little money as possible.”)

I LOVE how it feels to live here.  My apartment is so aesthetically pleasing. I love my big windows and my little kitchen with Grandma’s old drop-leaf table and my basil plant in the window.  I spend a lot of time in there, cooking vegetables and a few weeks ago, a huge dinner of pierogis and chocolate chip cookies.

My kitchen. (I almost typed "Polish kitchen.")  It basically is, in my favorite ways.
My kitchen. (I almost typed “Polish kitchen.”) It basically is, in my favorite ways.

I do feel like I spend a lot of time alone, and sometimes when I come home from work I don’t know what to do for the first 10 minutes or so.  The best part about coming home from work or school or whatever is always talking to people that you love and relaxing.  I utilize my phone a lot.  But, it’s great to be able to do what I want when I want, it’s so wonderful to have freedom.  I will eventually get more used to the alone time, because when I am used to it I do love it.  It’s just all part of the process of moving and changing and growing, to know what to do with those first 10 minutes.

This weekend my friend Steve who I met in Bolivia is in town visiting.  I have a little bit of Singani left that I brought from Bolivia and I think we’ll be toasting the reunion with a few Chuflies.  It will be nice to see an old friend and talk about Cochabamba and Evo.

I also can’t say enough how wonderful it was this week, despite the circumstances of Grandma’s funeral, to see the family.  Peter gets cuter every day (see video of him going bananas when I walked in the house Monday night) and Neve and the Murphy kids are always a blast.  It was seeing the Murphy girls though—the girl cousins and aunts who mean so much to me, that really made the world feel right.  I first came to Chicago with them, more than ten years ago.  I still have the old black and white photo of Mary and I on the El from our first visit on my wall.  I always knew it would be a good idea to move here, into this bustling, worldly, happening Midwestern city.

Everyone must visit!

That means you too sweet cheeks! (have you EVER seen a cuter baby? Not possible.  It's not possible.)
That means you too sweet cheeks! (have you EVER seen a cuter baby? Not possible. It’s not possible.)

Wilhelmina Rose Votipka Murphy 1916-2013

Grandma Wilma looking beautiful in California.
In California

On May 7, 2013 I flew from Chicago to Nebraska to give this eulogy for my dear old Grandma Wilma.  It was one of, if not the most important things I’ve been able to do in my life.  She was without exaggeration the most loving, classy, beautiful and warm person I have ever known. I’m thrilled to have been able to help memorialize her life.

Good Morning.  I’m Sophie Vodvarka, the youngest of Wilma’s 17 grandchildren.  My mother Rose was Wilma’s youngest of six children.  It’s hard to believe we are here celebrating the life of this wonderful, loving, inspirational woman.  Because as one of my friends recently pointed out, “Czech women never die!”

We all have our own memories as her children, spouses of her children, her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and her friends and neighbors.  However we knew her, Wilma’s kindness and strength shone always.  Wilma was a caretaker, a motherly figure to us all.

Wilma lived on the farm she and Swede build when they first married.  She gave birth to her first child, Kathleen, in the farmhouse and she lived there until she was almost 90 years old.  She also mowed the lawn herself until she was about 85.

A central memory to my grandmother’s life was how cool her old farmhouse was.  When we grandkids weren’t building forts in the ditches we always took great pleasure in playing with the central vacuum system which she would use to suck up all the flies upstairs, and the laundry chute where any number of toys and household items were sent sliding down into the basement.

There were plenty of fables of the farmhouse that were before my time, like Bill’s alligator that lived in the basement bathtub and the time some of the grandkids and Wilma sewed Swede to the couch while he was sleeping.  I think we all must have memories of her in the kitchen though, filling the house with wonderful healthy meals followed by extremely rich desserts.  As Matt Harre mentioned, “She was always making a lot of noise in the kitchen!”

Wilma’s Czech heritage showed in her kolaches, which were a staple in the kitchen.  She spoke Czech when she was growing up, learning English in school.  I asked her a few years ago before going to study abroad in the Czech Republic if she remembered any words.  She told me that she remembered “pivo” which means beer, and *“Hesky holka dej mi ho bitchka” which means “hey pretty girl come give me a kiss.”

Wilma's beautiful high school graduation photo.
Wilma’s beautiful high school graduation photo.

In her later life Wilma began to travel with Swede and her siblings Vivian and Bill.  They took trips to Spain, Morocco, **China, Hawaii, Scandanavia, Nova Scotia and other parts of the US.  She kept a sand collection from all of the beaches she went to around the world.  The family has continued to contribute sand along from their travels.

Wilma was healthy in mind, body and spirit.  She kept a daily journal and attended exercise classes until late in life.  She was a devout Catholic and taught her family the kind values of the Church.  Wilma was also an excellent multi-tasker, and when she walked laps at exercise class she kept track of the number of laps on one hand and on the other, the number of rosary prayers she was saying.

Her exercises certainly showed in her daily life.  I remember her climbing ladders to go mulberry-picking on the farm and going on hikes with us on Murphy Girl trips.  I also remember the late Terry Henion, husband of Wilma’s daughter Kriss, laughing about how Wilma and Vivian were always several steps in front of everyone else.

I think we all remember Wilma as the kindest of women, who had a gentle sense of humor and always delighted in everyone’s accomplishments.  She was easy to laugh with, especially when she was beating you at canasta or bridge or pinochle.

She was wonderful at remembering everyone’s birthdays and Valentine’s Day.  Her cards were always beautifully written in cursive, the message on the card always simple and loving.  And I don’t know about the rest of you but I still have a stack of $2 bills from her.

Wilma lived at the Exeter Care Center for the last 5-6 years but it never took away her spunk.  As we all know, her room was always stocked with multiple types of chocolate and she always had ice cream bars in the freezer in the common room.  She took care of the flowers outside and watched the birds and knitted things for the family and played cards.

What not everyone knew though is that she and Vivian also always had a secret little stash of booze in their room.  Our cousin Rachael used to laugh about how they must be having a ball living together, and that it was “just like living in the dorms!”  Additionally, Wilma also kept the priest’s vestments in her closet for when he came to say mass once a week.

Grandma and Pearl
Grandma and Pearl

Wilma was stunning to me throughout my life.  As a little girl I used to listen to stories of her riding her horse Pearl to teach in a one-room schoolhouse, and how she would play in the hay bales out on the Votipka farm just like my mother did, on the Murphy farm.

She was a wonderful grandmother, giving me a taste of the farm life from an early age.  One of my earliest memories was when I would go out to visit at the farm and sleep in her bed with her, and get up in the morning and take milk out to the stray kitties who lived in the old grain silos.

I can’t imagine a better person to look up to than my grandmother.  She lived every day with love and integrity, taking care of her children and her grandchildren and great grandchildren and any other child that came into her sight.

Wilma was a beautiful woman inside and out.  I can’t help but mention one of my favorite stories told by Vivian.  Vivian took great pride in the Votipka sisters being well-known in Filmore County for having long, attractive, shapely legs.  “You know they call us the legs sisters!” Vivian said to me.  (I think we’re all going to have to fight over that cardboard cut-out of Vivian at the beach that was in Grandma’s room!)

Grandma, I am sad to have you gone but there’s a part of you living in all of us—the Votipka clan lives on with your inspiring love as an example of strength and how to live with such dignity, grace and kindness.

My grandmother was a gem, loved by all who knew her.  It has been a pleasure to speak with you about her today.  May God bless her, and all of us.

*This Czech translation is half-correct and half-what-the-phrase-sounded-like that my Aunts told me. 

**Apparently she didn’t go to China.  I was told this a day later after delivering the eulogy.  It was just Vivian that went.

The Votpika generations carry on, toasting the life and the love!
The Votipka generations carry on, toasting the life and the love!