Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fewer than Approximately 1,390 words

As I recently searched online for various website freelance writing opportunities, I came across a developing site called Fewer than 500. Fewer than 500's premise is to showcase short fiction and nonfiction stories in 500 words or less to keep and gain the attention of the Millennial generation's ever decreasing Twitter-effected attention spans. Having written a few short stories in the past, I revisited them with the possibility of submitting them. In doing so, I discovered two things: 1.) I'm even worse at estimating than I estimated because my stories were well over 500 words and 2.) I am pretty damn funny.

As I've stated in a previous blog, I'd like to occasionally take the opportunity to use this blog for a little storytelling and that's what I intend to do now. I'd like to make the disclaimer that my father has already read and may have distributed the following story to friends. So the story may not be brand new to some readers and to them I say- get over it. Also, I'm fully aware that I'm risking my very life by publishing this story which particular members of my family may be portrayed in a less than flattering light, but it's a good thing they know that I love them very much and find them hilarious and beautiful and smart and awesome. That being said, I present to you...

Shit Happens
My father closely resembles Santa Claus which makes it difficult to find him threatening in most situations. I find the same holds true for most men with full beards- except for Rob Zombie, who I believe would not hesitate to unexpectedly pull a knife on me should we ever meet. There’s something unintimidating about a beard, and my dad wears it well. He’ll occasionally pull a small black comb from his pocket, quickly run it through his hair and beard, and return the comb next to the felt-tip pen he uses to write checks, which, along with the beard, seems to be a dying fad among most men. In fact, even if he merely mentions the idea of shaving his beard, my sisters and I protest in a violent revolt.

In addition, my father stands at a rather unthreatening 5’8”. Coupled with the fact that he usually refers to my sisters and I by adding the suffix “belle” to our first names, it would suffice it to say that our weekends with dad were usually quiet and filled with MarioCart on Nintendo 64. So, when he did choose to raise his voice, it immediately gave a sense of terror and panic to any situation.

Something he found, and still finds, especially annoying is bickering between my sisters and me. Usually the quarrel would happen between my older sister and myself, and was almost guaranteed to happen if we were forced to sit in the back seat of the car together. You may be thinking, “But kids will be kids...”. However, these fights continued well into our teens and even currently in our twenties. And Sara is a big brat.

The fight would usually begin with Sara making a comment I found to be offensive because of my teen-angst and would escalate because Sara was unable to recognize the comment’s offensiveness. Talking would turn to yelling, and then my dad would intervene.

“You two are always fighting. Why are you always fighting?! Jesus.” He said these words as if our fighting was a personal insult to him. There would be an awkward silence before one of us chose to defend ourselves, to which we were usually told to “cut it out” and “let me finish.” This would go on for a few minutes and usually ended with one of us (most often Sara) being told to stop being a “smart-alec” along with the threat of grounding. All the while, our younger sister Grace would sit silently in the front seat, no doubt playing with her various Nano Babies or choosing what she would hide under the couch next. Bickering was, as they say, one of my father’s “buttons.”

On the occasions when Sara and I were not trapped in the backseat, my father took advantage of one of his favorite devices, “SmashFace.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. After a fight, when the tension in the room between Sara and I could be cut with a butter knife, my dad would beckon us over to him. Once in close enough range of his unsuspecting daughters, my father would excitedly and repeatedly shout, “SMASHFACE!” and proceed to take each of our heads in either hand and mush our faces together, cheek to cheek. This would last for about a full minute until we managed to squirm away. Of course, we wanted to laugh afterwards but doing so would have discredited the reasons we were fighting so viciously in the first place. Instead, I went with my usual route, pouting like a toddler and acting offended.

However, bickering was surely not his only button. What would be a quiet Saturday afternoon at my father’s townhome could quickly turn sour. In fact, it was inevitable that it would happen practically every Saturday.

As I sat downstairs watching television, I would hear my dad enter the upstairs bathroom. His footsteps would stop and there would be a slight pause before muttering whatever profanity he felt fit the severity of the situation. At that moment, we knew what was next. My sisters and I would nervously glance at each, either determining the perpetrator or attempting to hide our guilt.

“Alright,” he’d shout from the top of the stairs, “who clogged the toilet?” Even though we could only hear his voice, we could have guessed his expression. His tone had a slight sense of surprise, which in and of itself is surprising because, as I said, this was a weekly occurrence. He also did a terrible job of hiding the anger and exasperation that lay just below the surface of this question.

At some point along the years, it seemed as though he stopped being angry about the clogged toilet itself, but more so about the fact that none of us had learned our lesson. Weren’t we listening the last time the toilet clogged? Hadn’t he taken the time to walk us to the bathroom to demonstrate the correct amount of toilet paper to use when wiping? Weren’t we aware his townhome had weak plumbing?

After his initial question, Grace and I would usually shout something along the lines of “Not me!” while Sara chose the defense of “It wasn’t me this time!” It was usually necessary to include “this time” in Sara’s response because, more often than not, I choose to believe that it certainly was Sara each and every time. Usually, my father would attempt to remain calm and reassure us that, “I won’t get mad if you just tell me who did it.”

Even though at one point in my life I may have momentarily believed that water polo was a sport that did, in fact, involve the use of horses, but even I was not gullible enough to fall for that line. It was bait, and none of us were willing to bite.

Inevitably, no one ever ‘fessed up to the crime, as we all opted to hear the same speech about the perils of water leakage and toilet paper waste rather than learn what happen to the brave sole who confessed to such a deed. Having once seen my father heave a pocket knife at a running mouse’s spine and hit it with frightening accuracy, I was not willing to know the unthinkable things that the pooper would be subject to. So, I usually took this time to throw menacing glances at Sara and curse her incredibly active and efficient bowels.

This became such a regular occurrence that even when the toilet wasn’t clogged, my dad took the time to occasionally remind us just how much toilet paper was actually necessary for a proficient wipe: about two squares. However, perhaps his breaking point came when I was about fifteen.

Plans were made for the four of us to go bowling with my father’s friend, Mr. Krone, and two of his sons. As it happens, Sara had just begun dating one of those sons, Justin. Minutes before leaving, the shout came from the top of the stairs. As per the usual routine, the clogger never came forward. We were even called to the bathroom this time to face our offense. We stood huddled around the porcelain bowl, each of us vehemently denying ownership of what lay inside.

It escalated to a point where my father, so determined to find the culprit, threatened to call Mr. Krone and inform him that bowling would have to be cancelled on this particular night because one of his three daughters had severely clogged his toilet. We frantically looked to one another; giving eyes that said “someone just take the fall for God’s sake,” though none of us were actually willing to do so ourselves. Sara immediately begged and pleaded my father just listen to reason. Her voice became tense and high pitched as she wavered between tears and nervous laughter at the thought of her new boyfriend knowing our shameful family secret. Eventually she convinced my father to reconsider his threat, but I’ve always wondered why she didn’t choose to confess for the good of the family. We all know it was her doing anyway.

That was the last of any major plumbing issues at my father’s townhome. I’d like to say that we finally learned our lesson that night, but it seems unlikely. Rather, I think we were all just scared shitless.

Thursday, January 21, 2010 25

When the opportunity presents itself- I like to regularly remind my readers of my unrelenting genius. You might be saying, "You'll have to be more specific Ann, I'm always reminded of your genius." To which I would say- Exhibit A, Nancy Gibbs' commentary in Time on the state of toys and value of Playdoh:,9171,1946960,00.html

Aside from this being evidence that my edgy and thought-provoking blog is on par with TIME's journalistic standards, Gibbs' Playdoh revelation sounds a little familiar doesn't it Bulla fans? If I'm not mistaken (I'm not), I believe I extolled the virtues of Playdoh in my very own blog not so long ago. I'd like to thank Gibbs for expanding on the subject and she'll be hearing from my lawyer regarding copyright infringement soon. Nonetheless, Gibbs' article presented me with the opportunity to revisit the toys I held dear to my heart and investigate today's current selection.

Until recently, I thought I had lost my knack for whimsical imagination and play because I found the current selection of children's toys to be lame. On my regular visits to Target, I perused the toy section to take a look at the newest Barbies, follow the trends in new Cabbage Patch Kid naming, and generally reminisce about a childhood gone too fast. But I always wondered, where's the creativity? the challenge? the uniqueness? I was a walking cliche that began sentences with, "When I was a kid..." and "What's a Zsu Zsu Pet?" But now I realize that I haven't lost my imaginative prowess- these new toys really are lame. So I've compiled a short list of the only toys really worth having.

Ok, I know I've discussed Playdoh to death but this one really does top the list. It's cheap, it's colorful, and it's non-toxic. It provides hours upon hours of imaginative play. Of course, I always end up molding food everytime, but I'm sure young minds would quickly see other ideas spring to life.

While Chicago children will get, at best, 4 months of use for sidewalk chalk, it's still a summertime staple. As with playdoh, it's cheap and colorful, and it's also as easy as turning on the hose to clean-up. My mom made sure our house was never without a box of chalk. My sisters I would spend hours on our driveway drawing hopscotch squares, writing our names on every inch of sidewalk, and outlining the shape of our splayed bodies to make our house look like a grisly crime scene. However, our proudest chalk creation was Chalk City. Living in a tiny cul de sac, we rode our bikes around the entire perimeter of our neighborhood and drew chalk establishments along the pavement. The library, DMV, Jewel, and even a chalk Chi's Chi's Restaurant. We spent summer evenings endlessly riding our bikes around Chalk City as if we were adults driving our cars to various errands. To this day there a few things that so vividly remind me of my childhood summers, but a new box of sidewalk chalk is one of them.

These little plastic blocks have a special place in my heart not only because Sara stuck one up her nose but also because I associate them with my Papa (my father's father). My memories of him always place him at his kitchen table or the old bar in his basement, tinkering on something. The only thing that was ever on the TV in the background was a Cubs game as he sat sketching a tree with his thin-tipped markers, enveloped in a cloud of smoke. Dotted around the house were tiny sailboats he constructed out of balsa wood and even the Wrigley field replica he built. And he would sometimes sing old songs to himself that I never recognized. He loved to create. And it was he who taught me the proper way to construct a wall of Legos. I would stack Legos one on top of the other, forming tall columns that were weak. He taught me how to stagger the bricks, like those on a house. Of course, I have infinite memories of spending hours with Sara and Gracie playing with our well-crafted Lego house, but it's the connection to my Papa that I love the most.

Duh. I would wager that 75% of my childhood playtime was dedicated to Barbie. I would also wager that, given the opportunity, my mom would dedicate 75% of her time today to Barbie. But really, what's not to love? The glamour, the outfits,'s every little girls' dream. Sara and I would spends hours at our neighbor Diana's house because she had a Barbie Dream Mansion (working elevator and all!) despite the fact that Diana and her whole family mostly just scared me. But I risked it for that otherwise elusive Dream Mansion. The point is, for most girls, Barbie defined what being a girl meant.

Like Playdoh, I still own and use several coloring books. Personally, I love the restricted creativity that coloring books allow. I'm lousy at drawing freehand, but sometimes I just get a creative itch that only a coloring book can scratch. It's just the right allotment of creativity necessary to color a picture but not have to actually draw it. And I've been occupied with coloring books for as long as I can remember. Like chalk, our house was always fully stocked with Barbie coloring books. And upon receiving a fresh Barbie coloring book, I would immediately color Barbie's lips and eyeshadow in EVERY picture because everyone knows that's the best part. I'm sure my mom bought the books to just shut us up sometimes, and I continue to buy them to shut myself up sometimes too. Great for plane rides, rainy days, or anxious 25 year olds.

My sisters and I collected Cabbage Patch Dolls like it was our job. Each of us had distinctive Cabbage Patch families- I had brown hair dolls, Sara had red, and Gracie had blonde. Each of our collections were comprised of, at least, nine dolls apiece. Any respectable girl will tell you that the BEST part of a Cabbage Patch Doll wasn't their dimpled cheeks or "Xavier Roberts" signed on their butt checks, but the moment you tear open a Cabbage Patch Doll and go directly for their birth certificate. Each doll was given a first and middle name, and it was a cardinal rule of Cabbage Patch ownership to never rename your dolls. Even now I can remember Felice Carmen (Crimp n' Curl circa 1992). I know the Cabbage Patch Doll had its heyday in the 1980's but even in 2010 you can't go wrong with a Cabbage Patch Doll.

Obviously I know Grandmas aren't a toy but they're an invaluable childhood experience nonetheless. The memories I have from my grandmas are plentiful and hilarious, and I'm lucky I had two such distinctive women in my life. My Grandma Tena died when I was about ten but I still remember the sound of her voice and that every time she and my Papa babysat us, they ALWAYS brought a dozen Dunkin Donuts. Recently, at a family gathering, I was wearing one of my many giant plastic rings and my cousin commented that I take after my Grandma Tena. I had never really thought about it before but when I got home, I checked out a photo album, and sure enough, my grandma was decked out in gaudy plastic jewelry. I'd always been fond of my ring collection but had never made the connection before. I was happy to have unknowingly shared my taste for accessorizing with my Grandma Tena. And, of course, my Grandma Anna is the whole reason behind this blog. I'm afraid there's just not enough space for me to adequately describe Grandma Anna and do her justice. In short, she's just a funny little Polish lady who is always good for a laugh. I remember cooking lessons in her kitchen, sleepovers at her house, the lamb pound cake every Easter, trips to 7/11 for her cigarettes, rainstorms on her porch, and feeding the birds stale bread. And even now, each time I visit her, I leave with a funny new grandma story to tell.

Please note that no where on this list is something that requires batteries or an electrical outlet. Of course, I had video games and computer games growing up, but when I think of my childhood, I don't think of being glued to a screen. Instead, I remember riding my bike in summertime evenings until my mom screamed my named through the neighborhood or playing catch in front of the house with my dad. It sounds like a 1950's sitcom but it's true. This list compiles the elements of being a kid that are engaging and creative. To this day, when I find something cute and miniature I still refer to it being 'Cabbage Patch size,' referencing the miniature houses we used to build for our dolls and my sisters know exactly what I mean. And just yesterday, I spent my evening coloring a masterpiece from my Disney Princess coloring book. Some of my friends and coworkers look at me like I'm nuts when they find out I still color or play with Playdoh, but who's to say that spending three hours watching Jersey Shore or Top Chef every night is any more productive or engaging? Maybe if I pull out the Barbies, then they'll have something to worry about....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

'Tis the SeasANN to be Jolly

Ever since the age of 19- my first Christmas out of high school and therefore void of a two week "Christmas Break"- I've had to force myself into the holiday spirit. Those two weeks off, full of nothingness and pajamas and snowfall, were Christmas to me. But now, at 25, getting into the "Christmas mood" has been a pain in the ass.

That's not to say that I don't love Christmastime. In fact, I WANT to love it so much more. I'd love to savor the twinkling lights, walk leisurely through a delicate snowfall, and listen to obnoxious Christmas songs on an endless loop. But things like work and bills and chores get in the way- the same things that get in the way the other 11 months of the year- which just makes it feel like the other 11 months of the year. I always find myself saying "It doesn't feel like Christmas yet." And I'm afraid that it'll never feel like Christmas again until I get my two week vacation back. Sometimes I come across the occasional inkling of holiday spirit with an especially good hot chocolate or watching Fraggle Rock's Spirit of the Bells, but the feeling is fleeting and the all-inclusive warmth of the season still escapes me. Well not this year readers! Join me as I raise a defiant fist in the air and painfully force myself to reclaim this holiest of holidays!

Step #1 Visit Walgreens' seasonal aisle
Seems simple enough (because it is) but it really does the trick. I happened to have a few minutes to kill the other day and found myself wandering the aisles of my local Walgreens. As I rounded the corner to the seasonal aisle, I was expecting to find the usual garland and ornaments (which I did), but I also found a rush of holiday memories I forgot I had. Apparently, in my brain, Reeses Peanutbutter Cups in the shape of bells= Christmas. As I found a bag sitting on a shelf, I began to vaguely remember the delectable little treats in a glass dish on our kitchen table during the holidays. Lovely little morsels dressed in red, green, and gold foil. Before I knew it, I was gently caressing the bag of Reeses with the tenderness one might caress an old baby blanket, softly saying "awww" and creeping people out. Just that little spark gave me the indescribable excitement of recalling something I hadn't remembered in so long.

Step #2 Watch every holiday movie in existence
Now, to be fair, I know time is a scarce commodity during the holidays and most of us don't have hours to dedicate to cheeseball holiday movies. However, I have found that renting these movies, watching them late at night, getting way too comfortable on the couch with your Snuggie, and falling asleep for a majority of the movie still works just fine. This way, you still catch the beginning and the very end as you awake from your impromptu nap, and those are the most important parts anyway, right? We all already know Scrooge is visited by three ghosts, George Baily is visited by Clarence, and Clark W. Griswold is visited by Cousin Eddie. However, the very essence of the movie is always at the end. We find out what happens every time a bell rings, Scrooge de-humbugs for Tiny Tim, and the Griswold's get the bonus needed to build that pool. See? Nap+Movie= maximum viewing efficiency.

Understandably, some of you may want to actually view a movie in its entirety. In this case, it's essential to weed out the lame ones and watch the ones that will warm your heart. The following list contains the only holiday movies worth seeing.

1. It's a Wonderful Life- duh. I'm a huge fan of old movies. Especially ones that refer to unmarried women as "old maids"

2. National Lampoons Christmas Vacation- it's a classic (plus Sara has a thing for Clark Griswold)

3. A Muppet Christmas Carol- the Dicken's classic made even awesomer with masterful muppetry

4. A Christmas Story AKA a biographical depiction of my dad's childhood

5. The Christmas Toy- another Henson favorite that my mom recorded onto VHS when it aired on TV, 1980's commercials included

6. Elf- a recent addition to the list but all the worthy and heartwarming

And that's it. I'm sure my somewhat abbreviated list will spark controversy in that there's no Miracle on 34th Street or White Christmas or other more lame Christmas movies, but I don't care. A girl can only fall asleep to so many movies.

Step #3 Make REAL hot chocolate
If making hot chocolate for you involves water, a packet full of a fine brown dust, and a microwave, then you oughta be ashamed of yourself. Making delicious velvety hot chocolate from scratch can involve as little as two ingredients and do as much as help you to reclaim your culinary dignity. First, warm milk (skim, 2%, whole- your choice) in a small saucepan. When the milk begins to bubble ever so slightly, whisk in a handful of chocolate chips or chop up half of a chocolate bar until melted and VIOLA. No processed brown powder involved. Once you've mastered this simple technique, you can really get creative and add some chopped Andes Mints, or a teaspoon of vanilla extract and cinnamon, or even a splash of rum (I wouldn't know anything about this though). Holiday in a cup!

Step #4 Slip on the ice
I know you probably don't want to do this, but it's bound to happen (at least to me anyway) so you may as well enjoy every terrifying moment of it as though it were a holiday gift you weren't expecting. And if, by the grace of God, you don't slip on the ice, the holidays are prime viewing time to watch others slip. I had the fortune to do so last winter. It was moments after my friend Rick and I had just snickered at the man in front of us teetering dangerously on a patch of ice when Rick himself slipped on that SAME ice. Like icing on a cake (get it? icing?), Rick also spilled the soft drink he had just purchased all over himself. It was the greatest.

Step #5 Sweat in your winter coat

The moment the holiday season truly struck me this year wasn't when I heard the Salvation Army ringing bells on Michigan Avenue or when the Daley Plaza tree was lit, but when I wandered through a crowded store wearing a coat that had promptly turned into an oven. It was hot, it was crowded, it was Christmas.

Step # 6 Catch a cold/sinus infection/flu

It's your choice really- there's so many to choose from. Sara went with the sinus infection this year, just to spice things up a little. I was thinking of waiting until January or February to get one. Whichever you choose, nothing says holidays like lying corpselike on the couch with a bottle of Nyquil and breathing heavily through your mouth.

Step #7 Gain 25-30 pounds

Now, I don't mean to brag or anything, but I can pretty much do this step with my eyes closed ANY time of the year. So around the holiday season when everyday presents a new treat to enjoy, gaining weight is about as easy as stuffing your face with cookies and candies all day long. Actually, it's EXACTLY that easy. And nothing says holidays like looking back on pictures of yourself when your face appears to be nothing but a bloated likeness of your former self. Embrace it people.

And there you have it- my seven easy steps to recapturing the essence that is Christmas. Of course, these are loose guidelines so feel free to omit some (except #7, it's gonna happen) and add others. And, yes, I realize Christmas is in two days and no one can possibly begin to complete almost any of these steps in that time. The truth is, I began writing this blog over a week ago and haven't had a chance to finish it until now...while I'm at 6:30am. So I suppose if there's any actual value in today's blog, it's that maybe my new Christmas spirit means being frazzled and tired to the point of insanity, broke to the point of tears, and eventually having a marathon baking session until the point of pure bliss. I wouldn't call it "Christmas New and Improved", let's just call it Christmas 2.5.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sweet Home Shikaakwa

I was closing in on my hour of cardio at the gym when the voting was being broadcast. I knew there were another 15 minutes or so until the results were announced and, get this, I KEPT DOING CARDIO UNTIL THE ANNOUNCEMENT. That's how excited I was to witness Chicago's historic win for the 2016 Summer Olympics. My usual routine involves staring at the clock and watching the seconds crawl slowly and painfully by as I wait for the sweet moment when my workout is done and I'm free of the shackles of the treadmill. But I was so excited to see my beloved city take the gold that I kept up the cardio. If that's not love then I don't know what is. And then I think we all know what happened. Chicago's collective ego took a huge hit as the President of the IOC with his fancy European accent (and a bit of snootiness, if I may say) uttered rather tersely and emotionless, "Chicago will be eliminated." I read an article in regards to the Olympics titled, "Used to Losing, Chicagoans Still Wounded" which suggested that the Second City identifies with frequently losing. Chicago used to losing? What's that supposed to mean? I immediately felt defensive of my beloved city. It's like the idea that you can make fun of your family because they're your own but nobody else can. Just back off people! I mean, what has Rio de Janeiro got that Chicago doesn't? A reputation for men with mustaches? Nope. A rich history full of organized crime and corruption? Uh-uh. A baseball team with no World Series wins in over a hundred years? Not even close! Rod Blagojevich? They wish! The fact is, Rio de Janerio is a snooze compared to sweet home Chicago. Not convinced? Read on...

Hey Rio de Janeiro, I dare you to beat Chicago's hot dog awesomeness! Scared? You should be!!!! People like to gush over Chicago's magnificent architecture but if I want to look at something beautifully designed, I find me a Chicago hot dog. And then I eat it. There was a time in my life when I actually ate hot dogs with ketchup. I know, I'm not proud to admit it and my dad would regularly badger me shouting in a strained voice, "You can't put ketchup on a hot dog!" How right you were father. My first bite into a Chicago-style dog and I was sold. Anthony Bourdain, famed food critic and close personal friend of mine (ok, I only met him once) even named Hot Doug's, a Chicago gourmet hot dog stand, as one of his top ten places to eat in the world. THE WORLD. I think the capital letters speak for themselves. And no one is more fully devoted to the hot dog than Sara. If she's not eating a hot dog, then she's probably talking about eating one. So yeah Rio, we got the hot dog covered.

You know, the season after summer? Well Rio's average annual temperature is 73.5 degrees. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Rio's history was 40 degrees in 1928. However, it's rare that the temperature ever drops below 50 degrees. Boring!! You can kiss the picturesque autumnal reds, oranges, and browns that practically sprinkle the city with color and life and signify the start of a new month, or a new school year, or even a new sports season goodbye if you live in Rio. Yes, it gets cold in Chicago, very cold. And most people whine about it for four months (myself included), but that's why the title of this entry isn't named "Winter." Fall means new sweaters and scarves, a reason to get cozy with a book on the couch, and time for tea! There's a very crisp woodsy smell to fall, especially on a cloudy day, that will forever give me butterflies in my stomach at the thought of a new school year, no matter how old I get. I love the slight nip in the air that leaves the tip of my nose cold. I love that every tree is practically begging for its picture to be taken. I love that I can drink a White Chocolate Mocha without guilt because fall makes it feel right. I love that every day is a good hair day because the humidity is gone. And I love that it all happens in Chicago. Beaches are nice and all, but I need some seasons.

Chicago is practically bursting at the seams with museums, theaters, and festivals. Every year is packed with events like Taste of Chicago, Jazz Fest, Blues Fest, Lollapolooza, and the Chicago Film Fest. Perhaps you're an indoors-y museum-y type of person? We've got a little something called the Field Museum or the Museum of Science and Industry or The Shedd Aquarium or the Adler Planetarium. Ever hear of 'em? Thought so. What's Rio got? Carnivale? Big deal. Chicago has a celebration every June called Gay Pride Parade, and I will wager my next paycheck that there is far more feathers and body glitter at Gay Pride than at Carnivale. There's also probably a lot more partial nudity and religious protesters. And so what if Rio's National Library is ranked 8th largest in the world? No one is visiting Rio for its libraries. They're visiting for Canivale, and we've already established that Gay Pride Parade is better than Carnivale. So, by the transitive property, people are visiting Rio but wishing they were at Gay Pride.

I know frighteningly little about sports but I know enough to be positive that Chicago is and always will be the quintessential sports town. From what I can deduce, the Cubs, Sox and Bears comprise what is considered to be the Holy Trinity of which all Chicagoans devoutly worship. There are three centers of worship in the city- Cellular Field, Wrigley Field, and Soldier Field. Obviously, it is mentally and spiritually impossible to support both the Cubs and the Sox without spontaneously combusting or alienating family and friends, but the everlasting Spirit of Baseball creates an unbreakable bond between all fans while also forging a lifelong, generations-old rift between Cubs fans and Sox fans. It's uncomfortable. However, when the Apocalypse is upon us and we stand before the pearly gates on our Judgement Day, we know Cubs fans will be ushered into the welcoming arms of Heaven while Sox fans will be damned to the fiery depths of hell. Or so I'm told. My last name is Lindsay and therefore I am a Cubs fan FOR LIFE. Ya see? I don't know the first thing about baseball but my blood runs Cubby blue. That's dangerously blind passion, Chicago-style. If there's any city in the world to host a sporting event, it's Chicago.

In the most technical sense, Rio de Janeiro has a solid 272 years of history on Chicago. But Chicago's historical richness can't be measured in years. From the Great Chicago Fire to the Haymarket Affair to the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago's history is full of rivalries and tragedies and triumphs and losses. Our history has molded our neighborhoods and lent to our endless traditions. I guess I'm biased because my own Grandpa Joe was a Chicago cop and my Papa helped to build the Hancock Building with his own two hands. I get misty eyed every time I stop to think that I not only live in this beautiful city but that my family is so thoroughly ingrained in it. And ok, maybe my personal family history has little to do with Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics, but I can't manage to separate the two histories. They're one and the same to me. And if I'm forced to brings facts into this historical argument, we need only to look to the origin of each city's name to understand Chicago's superiority. Founded at Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro (or "January River") was named thus by Portuguese explorers because it was believed the bay was a mouth to a big river...which it's not. EMBARRASSING. The name Chicago is derived from a French rendering of the Native American word "shikaakwa," meaning wild onion. Wild Onion? DELICIOUS.

If only the International Olympic Committee had asked my opinion first, maybe we wouldn't be in this mess. Maybe Chicago would be well on it's way to becoming a world class city and host to the 2016 Summer Olympics instead of boring ol' exotic Rio. I guess in the meantime, Chicago will just have to remain the greatest culinary, autumnal, cultural, athletic, and historical city in the world.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ann- New and Improved!

I would be remiss in my duties as world's most awesome blogger if I didn't address the fact that it's been awhile since I've blogged. A LONG while. While there is no legitimate excuse for leaving my readers longing for more Life Without a Bulla, I do have my reasons. For starters, I struggled to find a topic. After nine months, I'm still grappling with the fact that I'm no longer a student. I've yet to adjust to the idea that my week consists of work. And only work. SO MUCH WORK. This foreign monotony left me confused and uninspired. So, I attempted to infuse creativity and newness (and some 'oldness') into my life again. And, whad'ya know? It worked. The following is Summer 2009, Ann Style.

All Work and No Playdoh Makes Ann a Dull Girl

I pose this question to my readers: Is there anything that Aldi DOESN'T have?

88 cent boxes of turkey sausage links? check
$1 cartons of strawberries? check
Any food in existence found in canned form? check
A 24 color variety box of Playdough for $9.99? CHECK

And with that being said, I think we all know where this entry will be taking us. It goes without saying that I didn't hesitate to throw that box of Playdoh in my cart next to my turkey sausage and canned corn. And it was, perhaps, one of the best purchases I made all year. Moments after getting home, I was on my living room floor with 24 colors and endless possibilities. The smell...the touch...I was hypnotized. It didn't take long for Sara to join me.

But being 24 years old and playing with Playdoh brought about an odd juxtaposition. The last time I played with Playdoh, I was probably around eight or nine and my biggest concern at the time was not getting blamed for making Gracie eat the purple balls of Playdoh which she was somehow led to believe were grapes. Other stresses included making sure I had the latest collection of Limited Too clothing, campaigning for an American Girl doll (Kirsten) and memorizing the words to "A Whole New World" from Disney's Aladdin.

But as I rolled out the dough for my Playdoh Pizza, different thoughts went through my mind this time, like "Is there a job where I can get paid to make Playdoh food?" and "When are my library books due?" and "Is there enough dishwashing liquid left to mop the floors?" So no, I didn't completely revert back to the carefree playfulness of an eight year old, but I still found the whole process familiar and therapeutic. Playdoh Therapy. Click the link below and take a moment to enjoy the awesomeness...


And now for the 'oldness.' I was recently transported back in time with a trip to my mom's house. After pulling out a box of one of my favorite old toys, I spent a solid hour with Grace and Sara "playing" Polly Pockets. I'm talking vintage Polly Pockets. Not your sissy 3 inch Polly Pockets today. Back when "choking hazard" wasn't slapped on every toy. Of course, memories quickly came flooding back to me as we organized the Pollys and tried to remember the names we had given each one. There was Alice, the chef, the two Anitas (I guess naming wasn't our forte) and a 20+ other characters I couldn't remember.

But after a few minutes I began to realize that I wasn't quite sure how to play with Polly Pockets. Granted, I'm at an age where I probably shouldn't know how to play with toys like Polly, but not only that, I couldn't remember how I used to play with Polly. How did I pass the hours with these inanimate objects? What did my Pollys say and do? And what happened to the Ann that played with those toys? Oh right... she plays with Playdoh now.

Art Institute-a-paloozza

I live in what I would argue to be one of the greatest cities in America. There's fine dining, exciting nightlife, free street fairs and festivals, great sports teams (well- kinda), and more theaters and museums than you can shake a stick at (for those English majors out there, I realize I just ended that sentence with a preposition but I don't care! It's my blog!). Yet, I visit these museums a dismal ONCE a year- if that! I know, I'm embarrassed. So I've begun what I hope to be a revival, of sorts.

One lovely Thursday evening, Gracie and I took advantage of the Art Instutute's free night (of course). Having been to the Art Institute quite a few times, I was most excited to visit the Institute's new Modern Wing. I figured we'd breeze through most of the Institute, having seen it all before. To my surprise however, I quickly became enraptured by all its old standbys I'd seen a million times. I think of it as similar to watching a movie you haven't seen since you were little. You think you'll love the movie for all the reasons you loved it when you were little. And that's true. But there's always the element of surprise after watching it as an adult. You find yourself exclaiming, "Weird, I remember this part! I just never knew what it meant..." You realize there were jokes that you never caught onto when you were younger (I seem to have this experience EVERY year with National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation). You wonder why you ever loved the movie as a child because obviously you weren't comprehending half of it. So it's still the same movie you once loved, but different at the same time. It's strangely new and... familiar.

Such was my experience at the Art Institute. I got everything I expected from the visit but viewed through a different filter. Paintings I once glanced over were the ones I loved the most this time. And Grace and I found the most fascinating piece of the night tucked away in the Art Institute's "basement." In a deserted section housing mostly ancient Indian and African artifacts was a necklace from THOUSANDS of years ago. My brain is incapable of comprehending that date. What business did a woman from 1000 BC have wearing a necklace?!? What purpose did it serve? Did it indicate status? Was it a gift? Or was she just a girl looking to spruce up an outfit? It was an experience that created an eerie connection for me because I WEAR NECKLACES TOO. Is this creeping anyone else out??

Necklaces aside, it was a productive and enlightening visit (take a peak at Note- this album also includes my trip to Ye Olde Bristol Renaissance Faire. LIFE CHANGING) With the Art Institute being only a bus ride away, I plan to make more regular visits. The same goes for The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo and The Chicago History Museum. On their respective free days of course...

Giant Sandwiches and Bridges Yunz!

After two years of her attending the University of Pittsburgh, I decided maybe it was time to pay Gracie a visit at her college campus. So in late August, Sara, Grace and I all hopped on a plane with ten thousand of Grace's suitcases and made our way to the City of Bridges. Pittsburgh is a lovely city full of unexpected hills and a mediocre mass transit system, albeit much cleaner than the CTA. I liked Pittsburgh for it's ambiguity. Is it Midwestern? Or does its relation to the Appalachian Mountains categorize it as eastern? I was reminded of Chicago's Midwestern qualities in that there were obnoxious herds of footballs fans roaming the streets, shouting obscenities and urinating publicly. On the other hand, Pittsburgh certainly has its own distinctive qualities too. For example, Pittsburghers have a local dialect called 'Pittsburghese' in which they use the term "yunz," the Pittsburgh equivalent of "y'all." Admittedly, I never actually heard the term used but there certainly were lots of T-Shirts and stores that advertised it enthusiastically.

As I said, this was the summer of culture, and so we visited Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art and its neighboring Museum of Natural History. Again, I was mesmerized and fascinated. We spent hours wandering the Museum's strangely deserted halls and faced the dangers of quickly plummeting blood sugar. I shall now describe our trip in full detail...through pictures! Let your eyes do the listening....

In the end, it was a fun, exhausting, and hilarious three days. Pittsburgh certainly has its charm, but I will always consider Chicago to be superior to any city I visit. I suppose I just prefer my publicly urinating football fans to be wearing a Bears jersey. But 'youse guys' knew that already.

So, you see? My blogging absence wasn't without reason. I needed to recharge my batteries, discover new things, and eat a giant sandwich in Pittsburgh! And I urge you to do the same (especially the sandwich part). So visit a museum, book a flight somewhere you've never been, or just make a Playdoh Pizza.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Broke, Scared, and Desperate: My Life on Student Loans

It's official. My student loans are now in repayment. This is depressing for two reasons. 1. This means that I have graduated more than 6 months ago. It also means I have been job-searching for six months...with no success. 2. It makes me broke. SUPER broke.

The thing is- my private loan payments are relatively (I stress relatively) low compared to other people I know, and my federal loans are currently in deferment for one year because I qualify for an economic hardship (Yay?). But none of that really matters because before my loans were in repayment, I was already teetering dangerously on the edge broke-dom. Simple math will tell you that low paying job + rent = trouble. Now factor in student loans and that's some kind of crazy equation I don't even wanna think about. Of course I did and still do live comfortably. But 'pre-loan repayment Ann' could order her favorite iced decaf tripio in a Venti cup from Starbucks without feeling guilty. The current 'loan repayment Ann' shops at Aldi. Old Ann would treat herself to a movie currently playing in theaters. Current Ann only sees free screenings offered by marketing companies for movies she doesn't even care to see. Old Ann would buy $5 Garnier shampoo. Current Ann buys $1 Suave and mops the floors using dishwashing soap. Old Ann would buy toilet paper in bulk. Current Ann will occasionally take a roll of toilet paper from the gym to bide time before buying more. I'm not proud of my behavior people! So, until some genius employer realizes what they're missing out on and hires me, I've devised a list of things to make a few extra bucks.

1. GET SENT MONEY WITHOUT DOING ANYTHING. This seems like the most obvious way to earn extra cash. I accept cash, check, money order and all major credit cards. You might think that I'd be ashamed to blatantly ask such for such charity but no, I'm not. If you offer, I will accept. This also goes for major businesses. The way I see it, there are some major corporations out there who have financially benefited from my endorsements, and I haven't seen a penny! The following entities should consider paying me for my patronage and contribution to their livelihood: Target, Subway, Disney, Taco Bell, Aldi, the city of London, YoBerri, Queen Elizabeth I, Borders Books, anyone who grows watermelons, OPI Nail Polish, and Daniel Radcliffe and the rest of the Harry Potter cast.

2. GET SPONSORED. Okay, I understand some of you might be a bit leery about sending cold hard cash and receiving nothing in return (besides my gratitude and you can't put a price on that!) so I have developed an alternative plan. If you have a small business you would like advertised, I will be happy to wear its logo on my T-Shirt, paste a sticker on my purse, sport a temporary tattoo, or even just find opportunities to mention it frequently in casual conversation. Even if you don't have a business to advertise, I'd be happy to just promote a general idea or particular thought you'd like to be made known. For instance, I hate Velcro. Maybe I'd want to spread the word about the atrocities of Velcro. A casual conversation could go thusly:

Me: "Hey Amanda, cute shoes."
Amanda: "Thanks, I got them at Aldo."
Me: "Wow, you know what I like about Aldo?"
Amanda: "What?"
Me: "They don't use Velcro on their shoes! You'll never find Velcro on Aldo shoes."
Amanada: "Well gee, what's so bad about Velcro?"
Me: "What's so bad? More like, is there anything good? Have you ever heard the sound Velcro makes? It's enough to make your ears bleed. And talk about unfashionable! Yeesh! No siree- no Velcro for me.
Amanda: "I had no idea! But you've sure got me convinced. Velcro stinks!"

Imagine the possibilities...

3. GROW A GARDEN. Refusing to buy Ramen for its attractive cheapness (think of all the sodium!), I'm sure I spend hundreds of dollars a year on fruits and vegetables. Why pay for something I can do on my own? However, an apartment in the city of Chicago doesn't allow much space for gardening (or much of anything else for that matter). So that would require someone to lend me their backyard for free in which to grow said garden. In addition, I would also need to someone to lend me their green thumb.

4. GET A BIKE. Well, I should say- get a better bike. I have a 12 speed bike meant for 6th graders (literally, it's Grace's bike from when she was 12) sitting in my apartment building's foyer unused save for one ride about two weeks ago. My bus pass had expired and determined not to spend an extra $2.25 on a bus ride, I dusted off the old bike to ride up to a soccer field about two miles away where Eric was playing a game. Of course, the tires needed air and the closest place was a FANCY bike shop a few blocks up. I once saw a bike in the window going for $700!! My plan was to sneak to the air station, pilfer the air, and flee without being seen on my ridiculous children's bike. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out the air pump for the life of me so I had to ask a clerk for help. His conversation with me went as follows:

Clerk: "Are you gonna attempt to ride this?"
Me: "Um, yes. I know it's for 12 year olds."
Clerk: "Nothing about this bike looks comfortable."
Me: "Oh, it's not."

And then I walked off in shame. Having a grown up bike would not only save me embarrassment, ridicule, a sore ass, and bruises on the palms of my hands, but also God knows how many dollars on bus passes. Actually, I know how many dollars. A CTA week pass is $23. That's $92 a month! That could be used for, well, student loans!

5. SELL MY EGGS. It seems drastic, I know, but Sara and I both are very attracted to prospect of $5,000 to $10,000 in our pockets. The way I see it, if it's advertised on the CTA, it must be legitimate. Yes, there's talk of a long, painful, and invasive process, and not to mention the psychological effects of knowing there's a child in my likeness roaming the planet but that's worth about eight grand, right? Just ask any twenty-something woman if she's ever Googled "Egg Donation" and I think you might be surprised. As an alternative, I would also consider surrogacy- for the right price.

6. GET PUBLISHED. What I mean to say is 'Get published and get paid for it." Anyone can publish a blog (though probably not with the finesse and hilarity of mine) but not everyone gets paid for it. My readers may not believe this but- I don't actually get paid for blogging. I know- I think it's ludicrous too. So, I need to find opportunities that allow me to do what I do best- write thought provoking and earnest prose- AND receive compensation for it. I've decided to specifically direct my efforts to The Onion. For those of you unfamiliar with The Onion, it's a weekly nationwide satirical newspaper that's uproariously funny and just plain awesome. To get an idea of what I mean, visit With that in mind, I have written a mock article similar to what one might find on the pages of my beloved Onion.

Scientists Develop 'Romantic Comedy' Theory

CHICAGO- Scientists at the University of Chicago's Center for Sociological Studies have developed what they've dubbed the "Romantic Comedy Sequential Equation." In a press conference on Wednesday, the scientists and media alike have hailed the discovery as "groundbreaking," "earth-shattering" and other similarly geological descriptives. The study aims to dissect and explain the long unknown Romantic Comedy, or RomCom for short, succession of events.

"We've spent years decoding the intricacies and plot twists of hundreds upon hundreds of RomComs. Some said it couldn't be done, but my colleagues and I have developed what we believe is a solid base for future RomCom dissection," said Dr. Ian Pinkerton at Wednesday's press conference. When asked to elaborate on the theory, Dr. Pinkerton explained, "Essentially, Romantic Comedy Sequential Equation can be applied to most RomCom's and prove true. In laymen's terms, the equation states, if boy meets girl, boy will fall in love with said girl, boy will lose girl in a series of unfortunate and often hilarious circumstances, and boy will then win girl back. The equation allows room for minor variables such as the 'cooky friend' or 'persistent ex."

Dr. Pinkerton and his collegues cite classic RomComs like When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, and Sleepless in Seattle as evidence to support the theory. In what's known as the Meg Ryan Effect, audiences will come to know a particular actress only for RomCom roles. Actresses Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston have come to suffer from a mild variety of this effect.

However, Dr. Pinkerton stresses that the study and resulting equation is still only considered a theory. "Films like The Breakup have really thrown us for a loop. In this instance, we see the complete obliteration of 'boy wins girl.' While these films are still categorized as RomCom, we firmly believe they are, in fact, a species all their own," states Pinkerton. Until such a distinction is made, the Romantic Comedy Sequential Equation will not be labeled as fact. Dr. Pinkerton's next pursuit will be improving upon the existing Meryl Streep Nominations to Wins Ratio.

7. APPEAL TO A HIGHER POWER. Oprah. The fact of the matter is, Oprah has loads of cash and I would wager that she wouldn't miss a measly few thousand dollars. I'm not even talking spending cash, just student loan cash! And with my powers of persuasion, I think I can make it happen. But here's the secret- she always wants to help people who've had some kind of hardship like illness or loss or blah blah blah. Frankly, aside from the whole broke thing, things have been going pretty well for me. So I will just own up to the fact that I don't really deserve the money per se, but it certainly wouldn't go unappreciated and, she will, in turn, appreciate my honesty and frankness. Isn't being shackled to the mediocrity of middle class enough to warrant a helping hand? I think so Oprah.

8. ROB A BANK. I recently saw Public Enemies, starring the incomparable Mr. Depp as John Dilinger and I liked what I saw. It's not my first choice, but if push comes to shove- you may soon know me as the Blogging Bandit.

9. GET A MASTER'S DEGREE. Getting a Master's Degree doesn't directly supply me with money but it does aid me in circumventing my current student loans. If I were to go back to school, they would defer my loans until I've completed my degree. Some of you might be asking, "But aren't you only creating more student loans for the future?" The answer- yeah, for sure. But- that's another time and another blog.

10. GET A JOB. This should probably be number one on the list seeing as how it's the most likely to happen. However, as the days go on, it continues to seem more unlikely, but it's not for lack of trying. So if you know someone who's looking to hire an Ann like me, I would appreciate it. And even though my degree is in Public Relations, I'm actually quite skilled at a number of things such as writing (duh), taking naps, reading books, painting nails (mostly my own), sipping tea, baking, and watching Arrested Development on DVD. I have a current resume and references available upon request. Obviously, if I were to get a job, numbers one through nine can be disregarded- except maybe number one, I'm still up for that.

I'm happily accepting further suggestions or money saving tips. I'm also accepting money.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

To the Millie I hardly knew but will never forget

This past month my family lost a dear friend-Millie. Usually when speaking of someone who has passed, it's customary to highlight their accomplishments and attributes. I'd love to reflect on Millie's life and give her the kind of dedication I know she deserves. But for my sisters and I, we only knew Millie as our babysitter. I never asked where she went to school, where she grew up, or what she did for 40+ years of her life before she babysat us. All I knew was that Millie would be there when I got home from school. So in honor and remembrance of Millie, the following is the life of the Millie I knew.

1. Millie was deathly afraid of snakes. Millie grew up in the south- this much I deduced from her thick southern accent. I've since been told it was somewhere in the Virginias. I can only assume a traumatic childhood confrontation led to her irrational and lifelong fear of snakes. I don't quite know how Sara and I came across this information, but we treated it like gold. A trip to the Dollar Tree later, and we were in possession of two rubber snakes. We then used these props to terrorize Millie and exploit her fear as often as possible. Knowing that Millie would make Sara drink her milk, Sara would wrap the rubber snake around the gallon of milk to scare Millie off. So intense was her fear that the very sight of snakes, rubber or otherwise, sent her screaming. I once wrapped the snake around a jug of juice, and then politely asked for a cup of juice. Sara and I spiraled the snake around the doorknob and ding-dong ditched our own house. We laughed, she cried, and a good time was had by all (except Millie).

2. Millie was family. Sort of... My Grandpa Joe had a sister. His sister married a man who shall remain nameless due to his 'sketchy' history and subsequent ex-con status. She passed away. John Doe married Millie. Got it? She was my great-half-aunt-ish.

3. Millie liked to fatten up the kiddies. Well, Gracie specifically. Everyday after kindergarten, Millie would take Grace to the McDonalds down the street. Grace would have a Happy Meal that included French Fries, a Cheeseburger, and a Chocolate Shake- she was 5 years old. Practically being in a food induced coma, Grace would fall asleep on the couch while Millie caught up on her soaps. Occasionally, my sisters and I would walk up to the local restaurant, The Purple Onion, with Millie and Grandma Anna. It was approximately a ten minute walk, but Millie and Grandma (or 'Gramaw Annie' as Millie referred to her) would pick berries from questionable bushes along the way as though we were preparing for a long winter ahead. They would then INSIST that we ate the berries. Sara and I would adamantly avoid them, but Grace was too young to know better. Once at The Purple Onion, Millie would tear open a few servings of Half & Half and have Gracie drink them, exclaiming, "Yeah, you can drink it!" Well sure, you can drink it, but it's up for debate whether a 5 year old should down a few shots of Half & Half.

4. Millie was perpetually 29 years old. It seemed like every day I would ask Millie her age. Even as a six year old, it was obvious to me that Millie was an older woman. She wore T-shirts with cats on them and could drink coffee at any time of the day. Plus, she was friends with my Grandma so I assumed they must do old lady things together, like read The National Enquirer and smoke Virginia Slims Ultra Light Regulars. But everytime I asked her age, Millie would reply,"I'm 29 darlin'. "

5. I once drove Millie's car. It was an accident, and I was six. Here's what happened: It was the first week or two at our new school and Sara was in third grade, I was in first and Grace was about 3. Sara missed the bus home so Millie, Grace, and I had to leave our new house to pick up Sara. When we all returned home, we quickly realized that we were locked out. Millie didn't have a key yet, and none of us knew the code for our garage door (We later found out it was 1234). We were stuck outside until one of my parents could get home to open the door. The blistering August sun began to bother Grace and me so Millie turned on her car's air conditioner and had us sit inside. I was six and curious so, of course, I yanked on the shiftstick and put it in reverse. Slowly, at a snail's pace, we began rolling backwards. Soon enough, the moving car caught Millie's eye and she darted to the car, ran alongside my window, and frantically tried to motion at the emergency brake. I was screaming, Grace was screaming, and Millie was screaming. The car was probably moving at all of two miles per hour, but at the time I thought I was accelerating violently into my friend Diana's house. Eventually I found the emergency brake, and Millie had us wait outside. Of course, I never told Millie I pulled the stickshift- I acted confused and said I kicked it.

6. Millie may have been a hooker. This nugget of information comes from my Grandma. It was after Millie had already begun babysitting us when my Grandma casually mentioned to my Mom, "She was a hooker ya know?" Of course her days as lady of the night were years ago. Perhaps she was mixed up in the wrong crowd when she met her John Doe, but decided to start anew with a family. I urge you to consider the source (my Grandma). The details are sketchy.

And that's what I knew of Millie. She was what you'd call a tough cookie. She never hesitated to speak her mind and often did so loudly. She was also a warm, loving woman who cared about my sisters and I like we were her own, and had a boisterous scratchy laugh that I'll never forget. She spent her last days at her home in Las Vegas. She moved out to Vegas after Gracie grew up because the weather made her feel good, and she loved the atmosphere. When she passed away of stomach cancer she was 29 (okay, 77).