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Poor and Bored in 2009: Start enjoying life as a starving artist!

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We’ve all been there: It’s five-twenty-seven on a frosty Friday evening, the teller at the bank is glaring as she processes your withdrawal slip for the last nine dollars in your checking account, and you can’t pick up your student CTA pass for another week. As you go through the revolving doors from the cheery institutional optimism of the bank back into the bleak reality of your poverty-induced depression please keep in mind that the old adage the best things in life are free can still ring true for a down and out college student in the Windy City.

In addition to free admission to our museum (upcoming exhibitions at the Art Institute include Soaring Peaks, Lofty Spirits, January 16-April 12), your student ID will get you into the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography (just minutes from school) and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen. Be sure to get your Chicago Public Library card; in addition to books, movies, and CDs, you can also check out a Great Kids Museum Pass for free admission for you and three friends to the Adler Planetarium, The Shedd Aquarium, the Brookfield Zoo, the Children’s Museum, the Chicago History Museum, the DuSable Museum of African American History, The Field Museum, the Freedom Museum, The Notebart Natue Museum, and the massive Museum of Science and Industry, which is free for the rest of this month.

If you’re particularly beastly you can take a priceless stroll through the Lincoln Park Zoo; if you are feeling stifled by the Loop’s pedestrian bustle, stop by the O’Hare photography exhibit at the ArchiCenter (opening reception January 15), and there is always something interesting going on at the beautifully restored Cultural Center.

But, if after all those outings, you’re still itching for some after hours fun, collect your spare change and go to the Weeds poetry night (Mondays 10:30pm at 1555 N. Dayton Street), SAIC MFAW alums’ monthly short prose reading series Quickies! at Intertown Pub in Ukrainian Village (next reading is January 13 at 7:30pm), or the Heartland Café’s historic In one Ear Wednesday night open mike, $3 in Rogers Park. If you’re more politically minded, remember that on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month the Chicago chapter of Drink Liberally meets to drink beer and discuss progressive issues in the backroom of Sheffield’s at 3258 N. Sheffield.

Of course, the arctic wind chill could render even the most motivated explorer a hopeless couch potato on an ashen afternoon, so find small, inexpensive ways to brighten your hovel during the winter months. Instead of ramen noodles, make a small investment at the grocery store, cut up whatever’s slowly dying in your vegetable drawer, and have your posse over to make a bunch of easily frozen pizzas:

o In a large bowl combine 1 package active dry yeast and 1 1/3 cup 105-110 water, let sit 5 mins.
o Add 3.5-3.75 cups flour, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tbsp. salt, 1 tbsp. sugar (optional), and knead by hand for 10 mins. until dough is smooth and elastic
o Coat dough ball lightly with oil and let rise in bowl, loosely covered in plastic wrap, in warm place for 1-1.5 hours
o Punch dough down and divide in half, roll each into a ball, let rise loosely covered 10-15 mins.
o Preheat oven to 475, grease and dust baking sheet with cornmeal
o On lightly floured surface, roll out dough into 2 12-inch rounds, pinch crust, add toppings, bake each until golden brown.

For under thirty dollars, the resolute budding horticulturists can transform their garden (aka basement) apartments into all-year-round greenhouses. With two energy efficient daylight spectrum compact fluorescent bulbs, an electricity timer, windowsill planter, and potting soil, seeds of your favorite lettuce variety will sprout to several delicious mixed green salads in about ten weeks. Given the space, patience, and extra light, you could also experiment with tomatoes and peppers. Personally, I have most enjoyed the fresh herbs, such as basil, rosemary, and borage, which are relatively low maintenance and if properly taken care of produce continuously, which is especially enjoyable when you are feeling snowed in.

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