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By Cara Jepsen

MAY

FRIDAY 17

There are so many things wrong with me: I'm controlling, I procrastinate, I have a quick temper, I take too many naps. The seminar Making Changes That Last promises to help people like me, who see the error of their ways, by teaching them how to assess the benefits of change, make a plan, build in rewards, and make it happen. Participants will even get a worksheet to help chart progress. Conducted by licensed mental-health counselor and psychotherapist Maria Ray, the event is free, but preregistration is required. It's from 8 to 9 today at Rush Corporate Health Center, 500 W. Madison, fourth floor. Call 930-9006.

House plants, hanging baskets, fruits, herbs, vegetables, wild flowers, shrubs, annuals, and perennials will be on sale at this weekend's garden fair in Hyde Park. Street gardeners who want to beautify public areas in Hyde Park and Kenwood may apply for $30 worth of free plants, which they'll be expected to tend throughout the growing season. The fair is sponsored by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference and takes place from 9 to 6 today and 9 to 4 tomorrow at 55th and Lake Park. It's free; call 752-8072.

Imagine life without electricity--no refrigerator, no E-mail, no ten o'clock news, no caller ID. In the southern Guatemala village of Plan de Buena Vista it's a reality; villagers cannot call for emergency help, tune in to the news, or pump water without it becoming contaminated. For an initial investment of $15,000 the people there would be able to do all these things and more. Tonight, Star Missions, a group that works to support southern Guatemala, holds a fund-raiser for Plan de Buena Vista called "Light Up the Night." WMAQ's Roberta Gonzales emcees and Smoking Fish will a play a plugged-in set or two. The $25 event is from 6 to 10 at North Beach, 1551 N. Sheffield. Call 244-3681 for more.

With all that yelling and perspiration, the lower trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange seems like the perfect place to have a frat-style party. And that's exactly where the American Cancer Society will hold its "Party in the Pits" fund-raiser for cancer research, public education, and patient assistance. Attendees can drink caffeinated water and learn what all those hand signals mean at a mock trading session; the event includes live music by the Mighty Blue Kings and a dinner buffet. It's tonight from 6:30 to 11 at the Merc, 30 S. Wacker. Tickets are $45 in advance, $55 at the door. Call 951-8083 for more.

SATURDAY 18

For all those Chicagoans who don't receive regular health care, today's Complete Health Fair is an initial remedy. It will offer confidential HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, physicals, lead tests, school physicals and immunizations for children, breast exams, diabetes and cholesterol tests, blood pressure readings, dental and eye exams, and prenatal exams. Spanish, Arabic, Korean, and Vietnamese translators, among others, will be on hand. It's from 10 to 3 at the Albany Park Community Center, 3401 W. Ainslie. All tests and exams are free except for the cholesterol test, which is $5; people should fast for 12 hours prior to taking the diabetes test. Call 583-5111 or 847-328-1620.

When Jay Leno was in town, he did a lengthy Tonight Show segment on the difference between LA and Chicago cuisine. The gist of the obvious bit was that Angelinos nibble on sprouts while Chicagoans gnaw on bones. Today a community cookbook fair will showcase Chicago's culinary diversity, including such recipes as the Anti-Cruelty Society's vegetarian dog biscuits and such cookbooks as the UIC Children's Center cookbook for children (made up almost entirely of pictures) and the Matousek Family Cookbook (full of Czech-Cuban hybrids). Barbara Kuck, curator of the Culinary Archives and Museum at Johnson and Wales University, will give a slide lecture, "Chicago Cookery and Culinary Imprints," at 2. The event takes place from noon to 4:30 at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State. It's free; call 747-4975.

Most Americans remain Homer Simpson-like in their devotion to that heady mixture of hops and malt. This weekend's Midwest International Beer Exposition will feature beer tasting, speakers, and seminars. Today's events run from 9:30 this morning to 10 at night and include the programs "Secrets of Beer Tasting," "Steps to Homebrewing Happiness," and "Along the Ale Trail." It takes place at the Bismarck Palace and Hotel, 171 W. Randolph. Although the event has six sponsors, tickets don't come cheap; sessions range from $24 to $45. Tomorrow's 11 o'clock brunch with chef Paul Prudhomme is $50. Attendees must be 21 or over; call 847-678-0071.

SUNDAY 19

Open Hand Chicago, which provides meals for men, women, and children living with HIV and AIDS, will hold its annual croquet tournament and garden party fund-raiser today. Food and a raffle are included. It takes place from noon to 5 on the posh grounds of the Prairie Avenue Museum, 1800 S. Prairie. Tickets are $25. Call 665-1000 for more.

MONDAY 20

The Chicago Artists' Coalition is holding an artists' salon featuring Museum of Contemporary Art curators Lynne Warren and Lucinda Barnes. They'll address such topics as whether local artists will be more widely represented in the museum's new digs, which open in June. The discussion starts at 6:30 tonight at the coalition, 11 E. Hubbard, seventh floor. It's free but reservations are required; call 670-2060.

Every holiday season, National Public Radio replays former house cleaner David Sedaris's SantaLand Diaries, an engaging, caustic account of his tenure--and torture--as a Macy's Christmas elf. It may be the former Chicagoan's best-known work, but it's not the only thing he's done; he also contributes fiction, essays, and articles to fancy magazines like Harper's and the New Yorker, wrote last year's short-story collection Barrel Fever, and coauthored a play with his sister Amy. Today he'll read new work and old favorites as part of WBEZ's "Stories on Stage" program. It takes place at 8 at the Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington. Tickets are $25. Call 975-7171 for more.

A B-day Bash at the Closet tonight celebrates the birthday of the self-proclaimed hostess from hell, Pate. The club promises an "amiable ensemble of greasy-haired, head-banging, homosexual freaks" as well as music, sliders, beer bongs, jello shots, and B movies. It's from 7 to 11 at 3325 N. Broadway. Admission is free; call 477-8533 for more.

TUESDAY 21

This month the Art Institute unveiled two related exhibitions featuring African-American art. "Alone in a Crowd: Prints by African-American Artists of the 1930s-40s" contains 125 rare prints by African-American artists involved with the New Deal Works Progress Administration. They went on to influence a new generation of African-American artists, some of whom are featured in "Since the Harlem Renaissance: Sixty Years of African-American Art," an exhibit that was culled from the museum's permanent collection. Elizabeth Catlett, who cofounded Mexico's cooperative print workshop Taller de Grafica Popular and has photos in both exhibits, will speak about her work and that of her colleagues tonight at 6. Both the exhibits and the lecture are free and at the museum, Michigan at Adams. The lecture is in the Fullerton Auditorium. Call 443-3600 for more.

Five years ago I took a writing class from novelist Maxine Chernoff at Truman College. She was always encouraging, and she had a knack for picking out the nuggets of corn in the general dungheap of our work. I would have taken more classes from her, but graduate school and her move to California got in the way. She's back in town this week to read from her new novel, American Heaven. Tonight she'll be at the Guild Complex at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, at 7:30. Admission is $5; call 907-2189 for more.

WEDNESDAY 22

Composting always seems like a good idea, but what exactly does it entail? You put food and yard waste into a bin, where worms turn it into a rich soil amendment called humus. The process reduces waste, enriches the soil, and eliminates the need for chemical fertilizer. Chicago Recycling Coalition executive director Anne Irving says people can compost in their apartments without excessive odor or fear that the worms will escape. To find out more about composting attend today's CRC meeting, where the lucky doorprize winner will walk away with a $70 bin, complete with worms. It's free and starts at 6:30 at the River North Center, 920 N. Franklin, suite 301. Call 862-2370 for more.

THURSDAY 23

On September 30 the city's lease with the Chicago Park District for Meigs Field will expire. The city and Park District seem to agree that the space should be a park. Today Joe Zehnder, from the city's Department of Planning and Development, and Edward Uhlir, from the Park District, will give a free presentation, Northerly Island: The Argument for a Park in the Park v. Airport Debate. The brown bag luncheon is sponsored by Friends of Downtown and takes place at noon at the Chicago Cultural Center's fifth floor East Meeting Room, 78 E. Washington. Call 726-4031 for more.

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