Monday, May 2, 2016

Why I hate to travel


If you haven't noticed yet, my boyfriend and I travel a lot. Probably 3 times a year, we're jetting to some far-off locale for a week or a weekend. The most common question I receive when small-talking with one of his friends is "So where are you heading next?" followed by "Are you excited?" Which always leads to an awkward spot in the conversation, because the only honest answer I can give is "No."

I hate traveling.

Don't get me wrong. I like adventuring. I enjoy exploring. I love seeing new places and sights. And I'm happy for every break from work and responsibilities I can arrange. But I hate the actual process of traveling. And since I can tell (from the puzzled expressions I get whenever I tell people how little I want to go on my next vacation) that no one understands, I am going to attempt to explain why.

I hate living out of a suitcase, not having all my stuff at my fingertips. At home, no matter what horrible thing may happen to me, I'm prepared. On a trip, no matter how much you prepare, something inevitably happens that you're not ready for. Every tiny forgotten supply causes a major ordeal, and usually the resolution is to purchase an expensive replacement that you'll never use again because you already have 3 backups at home. 

If that's not enough, I'm sure you can understand why living out of a suitcase is especially painful for someone who loves her extensive wardrobe as much as I do. Not only do I have to limit my packing in quantity, but I also have to limit it in practicality. Everything must be wrinkle-resistant, must be layerable in case of unexpected weather, must be comfortable for long walks and long trips in a vehicle, must frequently be conservative and plain so as not to mark me as a stranger in a strange land, and, if space is especially tight, must match everything else in the suitcase so I can re-wear them in different combinations. With all these restrictions, there are only a poor few garments that pass muster for travel, and consequently, I have to wear the same old things every time I go on a trip.

I also despise flying. I would hands-down prefer to drive 16 hours to get to my destination than spend 2 hours on an airplane, but sometimes, you are forced to fly. When I fly, I have to agonize over what to pack in my carry-on, beat up my conscience over the amount of fossil fuels I'm wasting, spend hours sitting in a germ-infested airplane cabin trying to avoid disturbing my seatmates, die of boredom going through security, die of boredom waiting for the flight, die of boredom waiting for layovers, and spend the first hour of every flight in a state of abject terror (seriously, the more I fly, the more I am convinced I'm going to die in a fiery crash).

I hate being the foreigner. Traveling within the U.S. is not so bad, but whenever I'm in another country, I know I stick out like a sore thumb. I'm looked down on for being American and preyed on for supposedly having money. I hate speaking another language badly, and I feel like a lazy snob when I default to English. Even something as simple as having to ask for directions to a landmark, or where I can find a supermarket, is terrifying. For someone with crippling anxiety even in relatively familiar social situations, being in a different country is enough to send me back home with a case of hypertension.

Traveling always makes me sick. Being around a slew of new people harboring a slew of new viruses is a sure recipe for infection. Almost every time I go somewhere new, I come back home with the worst kind of souvenir: a cold.

This Friday, we're off to New Orleans for a week, followed by a Saturday's rest, then I'm heading to Richmond for my brother's Monday wedding, then on Wednesday it's back into the air for a week-long trip to Hawaii for another wedding. If that's not too much travel for a travelphobe, I don't know what is! You could wish me a bon voyage, but I think it would be more appropriate to send me your condolences.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Li'l Language Lady again admits to being wrong.


Recently I boasted about the list of words that I, unlike the author of the article that inspired me, have always pronounced correctly. Not to make you think I'm some kind of linguistic egomaniac, I am now here to list some words that I have had the wrong idea about.

Quite a long while ago (long enough that I should have forgotten, but I didn't, because it was embarrassing!), I claimed quite adamantly that "informatory" was not a real word. After all, we already have "informative" and "informational"—why would we need yet another variation of the same adjective? But sure enough, according to Webster, "informatory" is legit. This reminds me of the time that I smugly (and wrongly) believed that "problematical" was a made-up word.

Now onto a topic that is only related in the sense that it's also a word I had no idea of the meaning of—crudités. I knew it's a food, because I read it in stories where fancy people are serving finger food. It sounds like a food that would be fried, or at least crispy, but not very tasty really, just a bland cracker-like thing. Turns out it's really raw vegetables. Bonus! It's always spelled in the plural, even when used with a singular verb! I only learned that last year.
 
And lastly, here is a word close to my heart. It has become so familiar to me that I hardly believe I was once so wrong about it's nature, but indeed I was—Serif. 
 
This word is used extensively throughout the design (and web development world) but I had been confused about it for a long time before I was finally set straight. While I was aware of which fonts were serif fonts (those like Times New Roman, for example, with the little crossbars at the tops and bottoms of vertical lines) and which were sans serif (those like Arial, without such ornamentation), I could not wrap my head around their names. Why would serif fonts — the ones that were all fancy and covered with extra fiddly bits – have such a simple name, while the simple ones have the longer, more complicated name? Finally, all was made clear to me: serif is the word for the extra fiddly bits, and "sans serif" means "without serif(s)." At this point in my life, I had yet to figure out that "sans" is the French word for "without." I don't remember when I learned this valuable tidbit, but I do remember that it was quite a revelation to me, since I'd been so confused for so long. And it doesn't stop there. At the same time that I learned the proper meaning of serif, I also learned I had been pronouncing it wrong in my head (fortunately I'd never had cause to pronounce it out loud) as "sir-EEF" when it's actually pronounced "SARE-if."
 
So there you have it. We all make mistakes, but when I learn I have made one, I'm probably going to share it on my blog so no one else can make the same one!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bosty Tea Party Cookies

You didn't think that, when I went to Boston, I would content myself with cookies from just one establishment, did you? Oh, no! I found giant cookies at the café at the Boston Tea Party site, so naturally I had to give them a try!

Peanut Butter Cookie 

It was love at first sight when I laid eyes on this gem of a cookie. Just look at those huge chunks of Reese's cup strewn all over the top! Fortunately, the taste lived up to the hype, and I had a pleasant time eating this bit of candy-coated eye candy.

The texture was wonderfully soft and chewy, with the perfect amount of crispiness just around the edges!

Peanut butter cookies do tend to run on the cloyingly sweet side, and this one did as well, so I knock off one minor point for flavor.

And of course, the price, as with any truly wonderful product, was far from a bargain at 3.50$ a cookie or 2.92¢ per gram.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 4 out of 5 stars
Texture: 5 out of 5 stars
Price: 1 out of 5 stars

Chocolate Chip Cookie

Unlike the peanut butter cookie, this classic confection didn't blow you away with sweetness at first bite. Its taste was more subtle, bordering on dull even, as it tasted just about like any other chocolate chip cookie I've ever eaten.

It was a nice touch to include two different kinds of chocolate pieces (chunks and mini cups) for my intellectual pleasure, even if they all tasted the same.

As far as the texture, it was chewy in the middle like the peanut butter cookie, but the edges, rather than going crispy, just got even more chewy, to the point that they were almost too tough. This didn't combine well with the chocolate, which despite being recently removed from a refrigerator, were still too soft and almost melty.

On the whole, this was a perfectly acceptable chocolate chip cookie, even though it didn't quite blow my mind.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 3 out of 5 stars
Texture: 3 out of 5 stars
Price: 1 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Cookie Monstah Cookies

I did not know this until I traveled to Boston a weekend ago, but people from Boston supposedly have an accent. I hardly heard anybody actually speak in this accent, but all the souvenirs were emblazoned with words that were spelled in ways that I suppose represent the accent. Apparently in Boston, the word monster would be pronounced "Monstah." Hence the name of the "Cookie Monstah" food truck that I ran across just outside of Boston Common.

I bought two cookies and carried them around with me very carefully in my purse all day, finally eating them a few days later at the office.

Sugar Cookie 

Oops, I forgot to photograph it before I started eating it!
On the simple side of things, I purchased a sugar cookie for 2$ and ate it a few days later at work. You would think, with my "more is more" mentality, I would find sugar cookies boring, but I actually usually enjoy them for their rich buttery flavor. This sugar cookie was no exception—it tasted delightful!

Despite crumbling a bit more than I prefer, it also possessed a decent texture that was chewy in the middle and a bit thin and crisper on the edges. The sugar crystals on top gave it that extra crunch  that I love, which means the rest of the cookie could have afforded to be a little less crunchy and a little more chewy, but I guess that's splitting hairs.

The worst thing about this cookie was the price. Barely qualifying as giant at only 75g, it was quite a costly purchase,  2.67¢/gram. I probably wouldn't buy it again unless I were desperate.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 5 out of 5 stars
Texture: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: 1 out of 5 stars

Stuffed Oreo cookie


Now here's a novel concept—a chocolate chip cookie with an Oreo cookie inside. I was sold on the idea alone, but sadly the actual experience was less of a treat than I had been expecting.
The chocolate chip portion of the cookie was too dry and crumbly, and the taste wasn't anything to write home about. It was strangely salty, and while I like salt in my sweets, this was too much even for me.

Costing 3$ but having slightly more mass than the sugar cookie, the stuffed Oreo cookie was a marginally better deal at 2.61¢/g. But marginal doesn't cut it, and this cookie was definitely not worth the price!

The Bottom Line

Taste: 2 out of 5 stars
Texture: 2 out of 5 stars
Price: 1 out of 5 stars


Saturday, April 9, 2016

In the dog house

For someone who never wanted a dog in the first place, I sure have a lot of dogs.

When I last brought up the issue, my attention was focused mainly on Bubalou, as he was a new addition to our family and so neurotic and needy, he was as much work as 3 dogs all rolled into one. Now, however, we actually have 3 dogs! We'd only had Bubalou for a few weeks before Jack Jack mysteriously reappeared at our apartment. And of course, my roommate has always had a dog. For the most part, I avoid the worst of dog ownership, but my boyfriend has left me home alone with the dogs for the entire weekend! Which is just serving to remind me of how crazy life is  when you have three dogs and one apartment.

On Barking

Imagine you have one dog who likes to bark. A lot. Now imagine you have two other impressionable dogs living with it. I'm not saying who's the instigator here (because they seem to have agreed to take turns), but once one starts, the others always have to follow suit. When one dog gets tired of barking, he'll stop for a second, but if another dog is still barking, he'll start right up again. Three dogs together bark exponentially more than three dogs separated. 

On Feeding

Bubalou is still on his special urinary diet, so he's not allowed to eat the same food as Jack Jack and vice versa. But both of them are spoiled little buggers from receiving too many table scraps, so when you feed them, they will just wait around, not eating, until someone gives them human food. They won't hesitate to starve themselves for their cause of a more  luxurious diet. Jack Jack hates his own food the worst, but, if driven to desperation, will eat Bubalou's. Bubalou will do the same with Jack Jack's. And that's of course exactly what they do when we're not around and we leave their food bowls out. Since their indulgent dad is out of town, I have put them on an eating schedule. They will get fed when I do (but not what I do). If they choose not to eat their assigned dog food, tough luck. They'll have another chance the next time mealtime comes around.

On Bodily Functions

Taking the dogs to do their business (we tell them to "Go busy," which I think is a phrase unique to Al's family) is only slightly easier than herding cats. You have Ralph, who is basically a good boy who comes when called and stays close, but likes to pee multiple times on every vertical surface in sight. Then you have Jack Jack, who (being lazy and also very independent-minded), doesn't want to move until you're ready to go back inside, then he suddenly needs to find the absolute perfect spot to take a dump. Bubalou recently completed his obedience training...but none of it seemed to stick. When you take him outside, he immediately runs for the bushes and becomes selectively deaf. Only copious amounts of yelling and angry stomping will get him to even look at you, let alone come back to you. Technically, we're supposed to keep the dogs on leashes when we take them out, but handling three leashes attached to even one extremely excited dog (Bubalou) is a recipe for entanglement and getting nowhere fast.

On Walks

My boyfriend bravely lets the dogs go off leash when walking them, but for me, that turns a physical exercise into a purely vocal one, consisting mainly of shouting things like, "Bubalou! No! Bubalou! Come! Bubalou! Heel! Bubalou!" over and over again until you get hoarse. You could substitute Jack Jack's name for a little variety. So despite the perils of entanglement, I choose to walk the dogs on leashes. This means another kind of exercise in which we mimic a suspension bridge, with the Eager Beaver Bubalou prancing along at the front, the lazy Jack Jack trailing sluggishly behind, and their leashes rising up to the pillar in the center – me – who must stop every dozen steps or so to extricate a leash from under someone's leg.

On Abandonment


Neither Bubalou nor Jack Jack takes very kindly to being left home alone. Bubalou has improved somewhat from his early days in that he no longer succumbs to hysteria as long as you don't lock him in a small space, but he does still pee frequently and everywhere if unsupervised (even in another room), so he has to wear a diaper whenever we leave him. Jack Jack knocks over all the garbage cans and eats everything he can find (I still haven't decided whether he's just really that hungry, or if he's being vindictive about being left behind), so we have to put all the trash cans on tables whenever we go anywhere. Leaving the dogs at the house is such a huge pain that we tend to take them  with us wherever we go. Which is a hassle in itself, as I'll leave you to only imagine.

On the Value of a Pretty Face

As you might have gathered, life with a pack of dogs is not usually what I'd call a charmed one. But there is one thing about the dogs that makes me happy—looking at them. They are so obnoxiously cute that even though they are the most annoying creatures on the earth, I still like them. They are my favorite photographic subject and almost certainly the focus of most of my posts on Facebook. Here are some recent favorite pics I haven't shared anywhere yet.
One dog, two beds!
It's too late, Bubalou. I already ate it.

At least someone enjoyed the blizzard we had in January!

Yes, he's licking his dad's head.

The life of a dog is so hard...
But Bubalou thinks life on a lap is just fine!
For someone who never wanted a dog in the first place, I sure like these guys a lot.

...Just don't tell my boyfriend that!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Lazy-girl spinach quiche: an Adventure in Cooking!


Let the fanfare begin; it's time for the annual occasion on which Valerie makes food from scratch that isn't a dessert, and lives to tell about it! What is it? It's one of my famous Adventures in Cooking!

Ingredients:
    • About a pint of cooked baby spinach that's been in your freezer since October 
    • About a cup of pie crust dough that's been in your freezer since last March 
    • 1 egg 
    • A few handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese that's been in your freezer since summer 
    • Don't forget the salt!
      Prep time: 3 days
      Oven temperature: 350° F
      Cook time: 22 minutes - 6 minutes + 5 minutes + 5 minutes + 5 minutes
      Serves: 1—no, 2, and possibly 1 more if that person subsists on cooked spinach

      Begin by looking in your freezer and getting really tired of seeing that half-empty quart container of spinach taking up space in there. After the last time you used it to make the worst spinach cheese squares you ever ate, you've kind of lost interest in spinach, but you really have to get that container out of there and make room for some Ben & Jerry's!

      Wonder what you can make with about a pint of frozen spinach...obviously not spinach cheese squares!

      Notice that you also have about a half-pint of pie crust dough that's been sitting around for ages, and realize you have most of the makings of a fabulous quiche! Find a bag of mozzarella cheese that was left by one of your Airbnb guests back when you had Airbnb guests, look in the fridge for eggs, and realize you have all the makings of a fabulous quiche!

      Prepare by putting the spinach and pie dough in the refrigerator to thaw, and wait two days. On the designated baking day, be so hungry at 4:00 from skipping lunch that you cannot possibly wait around for a spinach quiche to cook, so wait one more day.

      On the second designated baking day, preheat the oven to 350°F.
      Remember how stringy and gross the spinach was when you used it in a spinach-and-garbanzo dish, so decide to chop it into smaller pieces. Spoon the majority of the spinach into your blender's chopping cup. Don't use all of it, because that looks like it will be too much to fit into the mini pie plate that you'll be using.

      Blend away! When the spinach looks evenly chopped, remove it from the chopping cup to find you have accidentally pureed it completely. Wow! What a blender!

      Dump the pureed spinach into a small mixing bowl. Instantly regret it, realizing you could have just mixed your quiche filling inside the chopping cup and saved yourself one dish to wash. Oh, well. Can't hold onto the past!

      Most quiches are egg-based, which would indicate the use of several eggs. Since you don't much like the texture of baked eggs and you prefer to get your cholesterol from cheese anyway, you will only be using one egg. Mix the egg into the spinach with a fork.

      Next, add the cheese. Feel free to add as much as you want. Mix it in until there's a good bit of shredded cheese interspersed with the spinach. It probably would be a good idea to use all of the cheese remaining in the bag, but you're trying to eat somewhat healthy here, so I won't be surprised if you leave an insignificant amount to clutter up your freezer and cause you infinite distress for the next 6 months.

      The filling done, it's time to turn your attentions to the crust.

      A traditional pie crust would be rolled out on a floured board and placed neatly into the pie tin. But this is lazy-girl quiche, so you should just grab small hunks of the dough and press it into the pan at about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, until the whole surface of the pan is covered.

      Pour the filling into the crust. 

      You definitely have more filling than will fit in this crust, but fortunately, you have extra crust! So prepare a second pan just like the first.
      Realize you don't have quite enough filling to make a second full-size mini quiche, so line the bottom of the second crust with some of your leftover un-pureed spinach. Pour the remaining filling into the second crust, then top it off with some filling that you've skimmed off your first crust.

      When the two pies look approximately equal in size, pop them in the preheated oven.

      It is crucial to be very indecisive about the baking time. Start with 22 minutes, but then decide that most brownies cook in that amount of time, and they are cooked in much bigger pans, so surely you won't need quite as much time. Change the timer to 16 minutes. After the cook time is almost up, realize your quiches aren't even close to finished. Add 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, find your quiches to be still as watery as a swamp, and add another 5 minutes. Do this as many times as necessary until the edges look brown and the top looks dry.

      Remove quiches from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes, then eat.

      Guess what! You forgot the salt! Sprinkle salt onto the top of your quiche, making sure to overestimate the amount you need. When you have successfully converted your healthy dinner into hypertension on a plate, you are ready to consume it! You will find that the crust is still undercooked and there is not nearly enough cheese, but you won't mind, because you happen to be watching the pilot episode of Fringe, and that will surely help you work up a hearty appetite!

      Enjoy your meal!

      Sunday, March 20, 2016

      Meme


      Today, I was perusing a list of words you're pronouncing wrong—I like to read things like this because they make me feel intellectually superior (though I did miss one word on this particular list: "mauve"), and I found the word "meme" on it.

      I remember the first time I encountered the word "meme." It was probably around 2010. One of my friends kept saying it on Facebook, using it to refer to those once-ubiquitous surveys where you answer random questions about your yourself and post them on social media.

      I puzzled over the meaning of the word but didn't look it up (because needing a dictionary is a sign of weakness!) and so came to the conclusion that "meme" was a survey one shares about oneself. And it was pronounced "Me me" because it was all about me!

      Well, after some time passed, and I read of other things being referred to as memes (things that were far from personal surveys—LOLCats come to mind), I eventually had to admit my weakness and consult a dictionary.

      Dictionary.com defines meme as 
      1. a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition and replication in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.
      2. a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way.

      Once I looked up the definition, it became clear that any resemblance it had to the word "me" and any narcissistic implications of such were completely coincidental. 

      At this point, I also learned that the word is pronounced "Meem," and I never looked back.

      Until I read that list today and was reminded of my past stupidity. My misunderstanding of the word meme is probably one of the more amusing linguistic mistakes I've made in my life, but I'm glad that chapter is over. Here's celebrating 6 years of knowing the meaning and pronunciation of meme!