Sunday, February 26, 2006

All the color has gone out of my life...

I am sick and have spent the weekend doing little besides moaning and lying on the sofa between brief attempts at getting work done (which have been unproductive, to say the least.)

Meanwhile, I have let more than a week pass since my last post, and I am heading into the last three weeks of the quarter, better known as "grad student hell." If you were expecting to come here and find something witty, uplifting, or poetic, stop reading now.

I haven't got much to say. My brain is swimming with analysis of Diderot's depiction of pantomime, dream sequences in Georges Perec's work, and the tension between similarity and difference in Louis Le Roy's view of French history. Never before have I had to write 3 15-page papers over the course of one final's week. I tried to start early, but I fear it wasn't early enough.

If you are looking for some light-hearted humor, I do have one suggestion. Hunt down the episode of Trading Spaces in which the production staff hires Chicago actors to play the homeowners and the whole team pulls one over on Hildi and Doug. It is absolutely hilarious, even if you're not that into Trading Spaces. Trust me, this is some funny stuff, especially when you stumble across it after realizing you have to bail out on a game of Lazer Tag with friends because you just too feel too crappy to play.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Bowling and the Brauhaus

Last night I bowled for the first time in forever. And even though I was wildly inconsistent and ended up with a whopping total score of 79 for the first game and 78 for the second, I did hit two strikes and a spare.

We played at the decidedly old-school Lincoln Square Lanes, where scoring is still done by hand and you might be missing a pin or two when the lane gets reset each time. It had the ambiance of a typical seedy bowling alley, which is exactly what you want when you go bowling. I still remember the old Rip Van Winkle Lanes in Norwalk where I used to bowl growing up. It had an awesome mural of the sleeping giant painted all along one wall and one of those old arcade games with a big glass box full of stuffed animals and a metal claw you could steer around in hopes of grabbing one.* Now it's a nightmare in teal, orange, and violet with computerized scoring and a deluxe snack bar that sells soggy pizza for $7 a slice.

OK, so I may be exaggerating. I have no idea how much the pizza is, but I'm sure it comes freeze-dried from the AMF corporate headquarters somewhere in Missouri or something. And that's just not the way bowling was meant to be. Am I right, or am I right?

Luckily, time seems to have stood still in Lincoln Square. After a few games, we hit up the Brauhaus where certain members of our party got to cut a rug with one of the older gentlemen who seem to frequent the German restaurant, prowling for pretty young things. It was all in good fun, though, and the night of retro entertainment left me so exhausted that I'm planning to be in bed by 10 tonight. What else would you want to do when it's 2 degrees outside?

*Rip Van Winkle was never quite as cool as Bowlarama in Stamford, which, according to the the Internet, may or may not have gone out of business by now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

European Wanderlust

What with all the television coverage of the Olympics, I've begun to miss Europe a bit. It's been six or seven months since I left France, which is just enough time for the memories of blazing summer heat, pathetic bathroom facilities, and surly shopkeepers to fade. Now all that remains is the images of the bucolic countryside, the lilting sound of the French language in the air, and the taste of actual, honest-to-goodness cheese.

I've never actually been to the Alps, and the current omnipresent panoramic views of the snowy peaks and the pale blue winter sky have left me yearning to go. Just to see varied terrain would make me happy at this point. Here in Chicago, the only change in elevation I make is when our car goes over a speed bump.

If it weren't for the ridiculous cost, the miserable overnight plane ride, and the complete lack of convenience in everday life, I'd be planning my next trip overseas right now. But alas, I don't see it happening anytime soon. I'll just have to content myself with my current Francophile tendancies and the Olympic hype. But I won't stop mourning the absence of cheese.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Tax tips from yours truly...

My taxes are done, and gosh was it painless! (Not that I want to rub it in the faces of those who find themselves juggling returns from multiple states... )

Since I find myself with all this extra time originally dedicated to tax-related activities, I have decided to write "Dana's Guide to Bustin' Up Dem Taxes." Here are my top three tips:

1. Forget about incidental deductions.
Let's do the cost-benefit analysis on this one. Are you really going to save that much by itemizing all your little expenses, like your books for school or your moving van rental? No. And filling out all those extra boxes takes so much time!

2. Use H & R Block online.
The benefit of this doesn't really kick in until you've used it a couple years in a row, but start now and you'll be thanking your lucky stars next year at tax time. They save all your information from one year to the next so all you have to do is punch in is this year's numbers. Name, address, AGI from last year? It's already all up in there, baby!

3. Make very little money.
This one may seem counter-intuitve, but when it comes to doing your taxes it really helps to have an income of next to nothing. Hey, the less you make, the less the federal and state governments can pry from your impoverished little fist!

So there you go. Take it from me: you follow these three simple guidelines and you too will find yourself with a much easier task in front of you when it comes to filling out those 1040's, those schedule M, R, and T's and any other incomprehensible forms they can throw at you. Good luck, my friends!

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Olympic Spirit

Sometimes it's difficult to keep up with all of the various hysteria being stirred up by the media at any given time, but I for one am making the Olympics a priority this year. I've been reading about various athletes, from the crazy to the cutesie. I've also been learning about the various sports, some of which demand amazing athletic ability, others of which seem to be more about show-boating and putting on display that all-American, cowboy, dare devil attitude.

I'm trying to be open-minded, though. Figure skating can't really be called a "sport," can it? But it's probably the most-watched winter event. Still, I hold a special place in my heart for those who take part in the more hardcore events, those that demand pure athletic prowess, those that are based on ancient methods of survival and show man's triumph over nature.

What? What about the guns? You're asking me how I feel about a sport that involves shooting a fire arm?

Oh. Yeah, I guess I'm against that. Hmm.

Let's just politics aside, shall we? The Olympics are about international brotherhood and the glory of the athletic spirit. Let's enjoy ourselves as we watch those athletes pummel down the frozen slopes and glide across glassy sheets of ice. To quote Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, let's cheer for those who go "Citius, Altius, Fortius" or "Swifter, Higher, Stronger."

p.s. Image posted above comes from:

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Huntington

Large cactus bloom

One last photo essay to share from my Christmas vacation spent in California...

These pictures are from the Huntington Library, a gorgeous mansion/library/museum/garden extravaganza in Pasadena. It's like Disneyland: you can't do it all in one day. You could go back three or four times and look at plants and flowers alone.

The shot above was taken in the desert garden, where our tour guide led us first. My mom and I have never been super-enthused when it comes to succulents, but these cacti, aloe plants, palm trees, etc. were pretty amazing.

The blooms shown below are mostly from the rose garden, which, I must say, pretty much took my breath away. The weather was variable, going from spotty sunshine to misty rain. Hence the perfect drops of water on the rose petals.

This last shot is, of course, one final cactus. I liked its size and shape; it's almost like a little starburst.

Thus ends my Christmas in California series, seeing as I'll be going back in only a little over a month and it is, after all, almost the middle of February.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

I Heart Valentine's Day

Red lantern

I love decorating our apartment for holidays. So I was more than a little pleased to find a package filled with Valentine's Day lanterns waiting for me when I got home from work yesterday. Don't you wish you had a mom like mine?

Double lanterns

These babies even light up! And they went perfectly with my existing Valentine's decorations, which were meager at best. (See doiley garland, etc. in photo below.)

Valentine window

And while the cool thing to do is to curse and spit on Valentine's Day, to call it just another Hallmark Holiday created by corporate bigwigs to induce people to waste their hard-earned money on cards and flowers and to make single people feel like crap and coupled people feel guilty if they don't adequately prove the extent of their love and devotion to their significant other, I choose to ignore all that and revel in the cheesiness of it all. I've never been one to ignore an opportunity for festive decoration and spirited celebration.