Thursday, March 31, 2005

Another "Aha!" Moment

Cul-de-sac n.

  1. a. A dead-end street.

b. An impasse

2. .Anatomy. A saclike cavity or tube open only at one end.


Translated literally from the French, “cul de sac” means “ass of bag.” Which means the first thing my dad said to me when he held me as a newborn was “You live on an ass of a bag.”

Quels jolis mots, cette langue française!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

My Taxies

... are done! And even though I owe the federal government $50, I am expecting a refund from both the Massachusetts and Illinois D.O.R. I don't know why or how that works, but I'm not going to question it...

Last night, as I was going through the final steps to e-file my federal and Mass. returns, H&R Block tried to charge me $29.95 for what was supposed to be a free federal e-file program. I flipped. So I clicked on the "Live Help" link and busted my way into the live program support chatroom. I accosted a "live help assistant" whom I think was named Sinead O'Connor, typing long, complicated explanations to him/her about how I'd specifically followed the link from, like they said to do, so that I'd get to H& through the correct feed to the free service, bla bla bla. Finally, Sinead just gave in. He/she gave me a code to put in a little hidden box that popped up in the upper right hand corner. And suddenly the $29.95 was subtracted from my bill. Who says nagging customer service representatives doesn't yield results?

So all I have to left to do is drop this stupid Illinois paper return in the mailbox and I'm done. Now let's just hope I don't get audited. I just figure the I.R.S. is going to take one look at my adjusted gross income and laugh. How much more of my $17,000 yearly earnings can they, in good conscience, take?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Welcome Back...

I’m back. Back in Chicago, back to chewing gum, back doing what I was doing before. Trying to work hard. Trying not to stress out. Trying not to think too much about all the reading, studying, and thinking I have to do in the next 6 weeks and 5 days (or so) before my master’s exam. And I haven’t even started classes yet this quarter.

But even though I’m back to my old ways, I’m ready to develop a new mindset. I want to stop worrying so much. I want to relax and enjoy myself more without feeling guilty about it. I want to stop fearing failure so much. And I’m sure you’re ready for me to stop doing these things because then maybe I won’t write so much about them here.

So I’m open to suggestions. Either comment or email me or just send me good vibes I guess.

Day 1 looked like this. I took a yoga class. It was a good stretch but I’m not sure I’m ready to be enlightened by the deep soothing breaths. But I’m not going to give up on it. I’m going to try to go again next Monday and see what happens. I think this new mindset should include the axiom: “There are no quick fixes” or something along those lines. No one activity is going to immediately provide relief from all stress.

Although running comes pretty close sometimes. I just came back from a short jog around Promontory Point in the crisp but delightfully comfortable early spring evening air. Everyone was out soaking it up. And tomorrow it’s supposed to be near 70. Which brings me to another part of my new mindset, a rhetorical question this time: Why stress when it’s gorgeous outside?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Bon Appetit

Last night, my mom and I drove an hour and a half through a snow storm to go to our second ever cooking class. We had high expectations for this one, especially after our experience at the CIA, which was more military style basic training than lighthearted day in the kitchen.

Because of the snow and the crazy twisting backroads, we arrived a little late, mid-way through the preparation of the first course, a blue cheese and caramelized onion sandwich. This, along with the last thing we made, (which I'll get to in a minute) were by far my favorites. I think I could just keep a jar of the caramelized onion mixture - sweet onions cooked until brown and gooey, chopped up golden raisins, and a little rice vinegar - in the fridge and add it to whatever I was eating. Dare I say it could replace BBQ sauce as my favorite condiment...

Throughout the rest of the night we worked through feta puffs (eh), broccoli with hollandaise sauce (eh), smashed potato parmesan cakes (really just vehicles for massive amounts of butter, garlic, and more cheese), rib eye steaks (mmmooo), and, last but not least, the dessert. I had been waiting for this one. Even the name of the recipe had me salivating for days ahead of time: molten chocolate cakes with raspberry sauce.

It was almost 11 by the time we got to making these babies, and people were dropping like flies. There were 5 of us (down from 9 total) by the time they emerged from the oven, and good lord was it worth the wait - and the work! Even in our state of steak-bloated exhaustion, the teacher had us double buttering and flouring 15 little fluted cake pans because "that's what Jean Georges says to do" in preparation for the rich, gooey batter.

As I cracked through the delicate outer crust and the molten chocolate oozed out, I understood the pan treatment. And I'd have done it all again just to yield the same result. The raspberry sauce and the vanilla whipped cream melted down the fluted sides of the cake and into the goo, and all I could do was nod my head vigorously as I ate. It was all I had hoped it would be... and more.

Amazingly, the roads had been plowed and the light snow that was falling when we walked out of the cooking store was nothing compared to the thick curtain of wet flakes that had been coming down when we arrived. We left full and happy, even though the class kept my mom up way too late on a school night. (Luckily, she had a delayed opening this morning.) The next culinary challenge I hope to tackle is bread-baking. We already have our sights set on a cooking school out west...

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Pounding the Pavement Again

Today I ran the Spring Equinox 8k race here in Connecticut for the third year in a row. This year, without having done any training, without any kind of cheering section, in the cold and drizzle, I ran my fastest time on this course. Does this make any sense? No.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a pattern for me. The more training I do, the more my times seem to suffer when it comes to running races. Maybe it's that I overtrain when I go on a training program. Maybe it's that I set my expectations too high and psych myself out. The only thing I'm sure about is that it's a frustrating phenomenon.

Regardless of results, though, I still love little, local road races. The experience is often bizarre and sans frills, but nonetheless, I almost always leave giddy and happily exhausted, gnawing on my free bagel and clutching my free tee-shirt.

This year, I started slow and got to pass a lot of people, which is always fun. Most of the people I passed were larger, middle-aged, out-of-shape men, included one sporting teeny tiny shorts, thick gardening gloves, and bags of ice wrapped around his ankles. That was a new one.

And despite my recent twice-a-week runs over the flat-as-a-pancake Chicago streets, I was able to haul myself up the giant hill at the 4k mark without too much trouble. And cruising down the last few miles was just plain fun.

Sure the running community is full of weirdos, but I have no problem admitting I'm one of them. I can tell you for sure I won't be doing a marathon next fall, but this way I might actually get to run more for fun this summer than I did last year. And I'm eyeing the Chicago Half Marathon in September... anyone want to join me?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Girls Gone Mild - Spring Break '05

Tomorrow I head back east to spend spring break basking in the same weak sunshine and 40 degree weather I've been living in the past few weeks... except I'll be on the east coast instead of here in the middle of the country.

I am excited, but I must say, I've never really had a crazy, rip-roarin,' let loose type of spring break. All four years in college I worked my butt off, rowing in South Carolina, with nothing but a creaky metal bunk bed and a plastic dish full of biscuits and gravy as a reward at the end of the day. Sure, it might have been a little warmer there, but that didn't make much difference when it was pouring rain.

So I'm not really suprised that my spring break this year is going to feature a paper rewrite, at least one 400 page 19th-century novel in French, and a few books on the explication de texte method of writing. I do have a few things to look forward to though: my bed, my Fuzzy, a cooking class with my mom, my dad's birthday, the final four, and a night up in Woo-stah with Anne.

So there's no chance you'll be seeing me with my shirt off on any crazy spring break videos. But I will probably get a lot of sleep, a decent meal or two, and some good company out of the week. What more can I ask for really?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Registration Period

I managed to engineer my schedule for next quarter so that my work week will start at 10:30 Tuesday morning and end at noon on Thursday.

Too bad those four-and-a-half day weekends will be consumed by studying for the most mammoth test I have ever had to take.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Mission Impossible

I woke up at 5:30 this morning, mostly due to the whining, sputtering and massive heat-projecting capabilities of my crotchety old radiator. ( I have to add that I find the silver paint and swirly rococo bas relief decoration slapped on this baby amusing in their attempt to disguise the radiator's very obvious presence in the room.)

But I couldn't fall back asleep as I usually do because I became consumed with thoughts of this paper I'm working on. I've arrived at that point of near helplessness, where I've cut and pasted so many times I'm not sure anymore what I'm trying to prove or whether there's any hope left.

I wish I had actually learned to deal with the rigors of revision at any earlier stage in my education, but to be cocky and to the point, there just wasn't any great need for me to learn that skill in order to satisfy the requirements of the system. I managed to do fine even through college simply by giving my papers a quick once-over before handing them in.

And now here I am almost paralyzed by the process. And what really throws a wrench in the whole operation is that these papers are in French. I feel like I can't rely on any instinct I have as a writer anymore. And when you feel like your idea of who you are is based largely on your ability to write, it's more than a little disconcerting to find those instincts unreliable. I'm doing all I can to ignore the voice in my head that's crying, "Abort! Abort!" and to resist the urge to scrap the whole kit and caboodle.

Sigh. Frustration abounds.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

This is Your Brain on Drugs

I must admit, it's pretty nice when a CVS opens up a block from your apartment approximately a week before you get sick. So I've been shopping frequently at this aforementioned pharmacy now that my symptoms change on a daily basis.

Yesterday it was Advil and today Sudafed, or to be more precise, the cheaper store brand versions of each drug. This evening, I found myself confronted with an entire arsenal of nasal decongestants: 24-hour, night-time, allergy, multi-symptom cold relief, even non-drying sinus. I read the back of that last one, wondering exactly what it did with the mucus if not dry it up. I quickly found out: "makes coughs more productive," the box read. I put it back, pretty much convinced I don't want my coughs to be more productive.

Finally I discovered the shelf on which the plain old, no frills decongestant should have been. Except in it's place was a sign telling me that the government of the state of Illinois is now monitoring the sale of any drug containing Pseudoephedrine, and that I had to go to the pharmacy counter to ask for this medication.

So I went back to the counter and was promptly handed a box of the stuff I was after. Then I was asked to fill out a form, providing my name, address, and driver's license number.

"Just out of curiosity," I said to the pharmacist. "What's this, you know, all about?"

She gave me a long-winded response, basically reiterating exactly what was written on the little sign that was posted on the shelf.

I wasn't exactly sure how to phrase the question I really wanted to ask. "But I mean... what is it exactly...?"

"It's cause the kids are making crystal meth with it."


So every month, the store has to send to the government the list of those people who have purchased anything containing Pseudoephedrine. So that they can, you know, keep track of those of us who might be selling it in large doses on the black market. Can you imagine that? Me? A crystal meth dealer? That would be an interesting career change. No doubt I'd be making probably 75 times the amount of money I'm making right now.

But money is the last thing on my mind this week. All I ask for is some dried out nasal passages and a good night's sleep, so that I can build up my reserves again and avoid getting the stomach flu my roommate is currently struggling with. CVS will be getting a lot more of my business if it means being able to avoid the puking disease...

Monday, March 07, 2005

Cruel Winter

I tell myself every year I'm not going to let it happen, but I fall for it every time. When that first warm day rolls around every March (i.e. yesterday), I always take it for granted. "Oh," I think, "spring has arrived."

But oh how dangerous that is. I went for a gorgeous run, soaking up the sunshine along the lakefront in just a tee shirt. But my body apparently wasn't ready for the abrupt change in temperature and the longer run. And now I feel like poo.

It didn't help that I left the house this morning in just my anorak because it was fifty degrees. Who knew the temperature was going to fall twenty degrees in twelve hours?

I knew, or at least I should have known. It's March 7th for goodness sake! It's still winter. And yet I never learn. And here I am, shaking, every muscle fiber aching, and I have only myself to blame. (Well perhaps that's not entirely true.)

Damn you, March, and your cursed spring teaser days. Next year, I'll show you. Next year I'll wear hat and mittens through till April, no matter what the temperature is.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y... Night!

Yes, it's the craziest night of the week and I'm celebrating by... cleaning the kitchen floor. I know what you're thinking: "Dana, stop it already! You're too crazy!"

Well I had to find something that would top the Saturday day spent working on my paper. Seven hours of near silence in the med school library demand something huge as a follow-up. So I opened up my good friend Mr. Clean and we made it a party. (Please don't think I'm implying I drank any of that stuff. Would I be here typing if I had?)

Anyway, I'm five pages into my first paper and feeling like I'm on a semi-roll (a sesame roll? nah, more like a kaiser roll), so I can't complain. As you can see, I'm actually kind of punchy. Maybe it's the lemon scented fumes emanating from the kitchen floor or maybe I'm just exhausted.

All I know is I'll be up at quarter of 8 again tomorrow and headed back to the library right after my bowl of cereal. And I thought I left Berkshire so I could have a life again on the weekends. Ha!

Friday, March 04, 2005

East Meets Middle East

Tonight I'm going out to dinner with my Chinese friend, and I'm going to introduce her to middle eastern food at a Lebanese restaurant in Hyde Park. I hope she likes it, but it's a tough one to predict. She can't tolerate cold beverages, and she told me she once passed out after drinking ice water with a meal.

Aside from that the theme of this weekend is Baudelaire. I'm going to be getting quite cozy with the bitter, Parisian dandy and a few of the critics who have dissected his work ad infinitum. I hope to emerge with something half-readable.

So, Keskun! I'll be enjoying hummus and baba ghanoush tonight, hoping chick peas and eggplant don't have adverse effects on my friend's delicate constitution. Happy weekend to all.