Sunday, July 5, 2015

Macaroni and cheese from Cafe Deluxe, and an announcement

 
I'll get right to the point: despite the name of the establishment, the macaroni certainly wasn't deluxe. As you can see from the picture, it lacked any of those little details – bread crumbs, cheese topping, interesting seasonings – that can really set a macaroni apart. This was just your run-of-the mill, regular-old, mac & cheese (although it does get a fraction of a point for using spiral noodles instead of regular ones). I have to say I preferred the sweet potato fries that came along with it.

So, I thusly rate this macaroni and cheese with just one happy noodle, because it tasted fine, not earth-shattering.

1 happy noodle

The Mood Noodle rating system is not based on a fixed scale, but is a much more subjective system based on what makes me happy and what makes me sad.
Any number of happy noodles and comparatively few sad noodles constitute a good rating. 

And now, the announcement

I have a confession to make: lately, I've become tired of reviewing macaroni and cheese. After you've tried 26, you've tried 'em all, it seems. I no longer get excited about trying new macaronis, and I have found that sometimes when I go to a new restaurant, I feel pressured to try the macaroni and cheese, even if I'm in the mood for something else, simply because I feel like I ought to review it. It kind of takes all the happy noodles out of eating one of my favorite dishes. But no one's paying me to review macaroni, so I think I'll just follow my own bliss and leave the food writing to the professionals.

So this will probably be my last MacaroniQuest post. But never fear: I'll probably still keep reviewing Giant Cookies, because Giant Cookie reviewing is a more leisurely activity, and there's more variety in cookies.

So until next bite...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

That thing I call labyrinthitis

It's been over a year since I wrote about labyrinthitis—the affliction that caused me to feel spacey, dizzy, and out-of-it for several weeks running last winter. I call it labyrinthitis, as a kind of working title, though really I'm still not sure that's what it is. What it is, is just an odd feeling of being  disconnected from reality. It's sort of like being mildly drunk, without the accompanying mood lift.

Though I haven't brought it up much here, it brings itself up often enough. In the past year, every time I've caught a cold, I've ended up with some degree of spaciness about a week later. I had a cold last week, and I'm experiencing it right now. I'm used to it now, so it's not as scary as it was the first time, but it is undeniably annoying. 

It takes away my appetite. It ruins my ability to concentrate. It makes me feel sleepy all the time, even when I'm not remotely tired. It is, in short, a minor annoyance that becomes a major distraction. But never fear—I think I know how to beat it!

I think it's triggered by dextromethorphan, the cough suppressant!

I'd never before felt like this after a cold, until that epic coughing cold last January. It's a good thing I like to blog about my sorrows, because reading my posts from that time is giving me all sorts of vital information about my actions and symptoms, which I can compare to what I'm going through right now.

Early last week, when I was still in the feverish stages of my cold, I was trying to avoid getting one of my Stuffy Noses from Hell, so I took a 12-hour decongestant pill in the evening, then before bed, I took a 12-hour cough suppressant pill. Then I tossed and turned all night, unable to sleep even a wink! And lo, about a week into my infamous cold of last year, I had a similar experience of sleeplessness after consuming cough syrup and decongestants.

The plot thickens! The next day (last year) I was in what I called "zombie mode." I attributed it then to lack of sleep, but later I realized it might have been the first onset of my own special brand of "labyrinthitis." Similarly, a few days ago, the day after the night I couldn't sleep, I also spent the day fully awake but spacey and like a zombie. I attributed that feeling to lack of sleep too, but I marveled to myself how similar sleep deprivation feels to my labyrinthitis. Is it really a coincidence? Or was that spacey feeling actually a side effect of the dextromethorphan? Recreational users refer to this drug as DXM, and for the sake of brevity, so will I.

This week and last, I've only taken a cough suppressant twice—the night that I couldn't sleep, and last night. And both times, I've spent the next day in a stupor, regardless of how much sleep I'd gotten. Last night, I slept just fine. I think maybe it's the combination of DXM and pseudoephedrine that keeps me up all night, but the DXM alone makes me spacey. Last year was the first time I ever took cough suppressants, and I really went on a spree—I believe I referred to myself around that time as "swilling" cough syrup. So if indeed the DXM was in some way responsible for my spaciness, it's no surprise that it took me weeks to get over its effects.

If I can avoid labyrinthitis (or whatever that weird feeling is) just by avoiding cough suppressants, I'm all for it. I hear honey is just as effective. But I'll have to wait until the next time I get a cold to find out...and if I never get another cold again, I won't mind missing out on that learning experience.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Compare and despair

Since I've been shopping for houses, I've never been more aware of how little your money can buy around the DC area. Thinking back on the house that I spent my childhood in, I realize now that it was a mansion. It had 3 regular bedrooms, plus a master bedroom with 2 closets and 2 sinks, 2 additional bathrooms, a "mud room", a huge kitchen with room for an island counter AND a kitchen table, a family room, a parlor, a foyer, a dining room, and a library! Don't even get me started on the 2-car garage, the semi-finished storage space above that, and the attic and basement we never bothered to do anything with because the rest of the house was plenty big enough, thank you very much! Oh, and it was brand new when we moved in. In my old home, I never would have had to worry about spilling out of my space.

I bet my parents spent less on that house than I am likely to spend on 2 or 3 dinky bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a cramped kitchen without even enough space for a table, a living room, and, if I'm lucky, a basement which has been clumsily converted into a living space, all in about a third the square footage. The houses that I'm looking at, the ones I'm preparing to blow my entire life savings on, are decrepit old things, built 60 - 70 years ago and sized for, uh, coziness?

What I can find in my price range is invariably run-down or sloppily repaired. Part of me likes the idea of buying a fixer-upper, because it means I can put my own stamp on it, but part of me cringes at the thought of dropping a fortune on a house and then continuing to drop small fortunes over the course of years, to make it into a home.

So that you can see what I'm working with, consider the last house I looked at. This house has been the best prospect in a long string of houses I've visited. Yet, before I would consider it up to snuff, I'd have to:
  • Renovate a bathroom
  • Add a driveway
  • Fix a leak in the basement
  • Add attic flooring (this could be as simple as a few sheets of plywood, but currently it lacks even that) 
  • Enlarge two windows
  • Rearrange some walls
  • Add flooring and kitchen appliances in the basement
The last three in that list are just to make a livable space in the basement, which is a necessity in order for me to have renters, which are a necessity in order for me to be able to afford the house in the first place.

And then, within a few years, I'd have to:
  • Replace the carpets
  • Refinish the deck
  • Replace the air conditioner
  • Replace or repair half the windows
And this, let me remind you, was the only house I considered good enough to even consider twice. Sometimes I wonder whether home ownership is a reasonable goal. Sometimes I'm just too morose to even feel like finishing

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Architectural deja vu

I went to look at more houses today. Four in a row, in fact (after which, I decided that for my sanity and for my ability to actually make a good decision about buying a house, I probably should not go visit so many in a row, because now I can't remember which one had the bar in the basement and which one had the sump pump and which one didn't have a shed and, well, you get the picture. In related news, I've also decided I'm going to start making videos of my walkthroughs, so I don't have to rely on my goldfish-like memory).

One of the things that struck me during this marathon visitation session was how so many of the floorplans look exactly like those of houses I've lived in. Sure, I guess there are only so many ways you can lay out a rectangular space, but it did serve to remind me just how many houses I've lived in.

From 2005 to 2010, I went on a veritable housing binge, starting when I moved to Maryland and set up residence at 9741 Narragansett Parkway (Two weeks ago, I visited a house laid out just like that one, right down to the weird alcove above the water meter in the basement).

I stayed there until June of 2006, when I started living alternately in an apartment in Greenbelt and a luxury condo in Falls Church (each one was convenient to one of my two jobs at the time).

Pretty soon, I had given up Falls Church, and in January of 2007, I moved back into College Park, into a group home at, uh, something-or-other 53rd Ave? One of the houses I looked at today had the same floor plan.

I had another six-month residency there and then I moved two streets over, to 51st Ave., where, again, I forget the address, even though I stayed there for a whole year this time. The layout of that house was eerily similar to my maternal grandparents' house back in Toledo.

The next house I moved into (with all my housemates from the previous house) was right next door, in July of 2008. It also had the exact same layout as the last house, plus an extension! And there I stayed for over two years, until finally I couldn't bear my slovenly housemates any more and decided I needed to take control of my living situation.

The house I moved into in 2010 ended my house-a-year average, as I haven't yet left it. It is the most distinctive of all the houses I've lived in, in that I've never seen its shadow in any other house I've toured. That alone is enough to think maybe I'm wrong in trying to move out... but nah, now I'm committed.

If I keep shopping for houses in North College Park, I'm almost certain to end up either on a street I've already lived on or in a house just like a house I've already lived in. And that is my new goal in life.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Much Ado Over Due

Like many people who speak English, I say "due to" a lot.
Recently, for example, on my eBay listings, I added a note: "Due to the Christmas holiday, handling time on this item may be extended." According to grammarians, this is an incorrect usage.

The phrase "due to" (or, specifically, "due") is an adjective, and adjectives describe nouns, not entire sentences. So I would be correct in saying "The extended handling time on this item is due to the Christmas holiday" (in which sentence "due" describes the "handling time"). But saying "Handling time is extended due to the Christmas holiday" is casting "due to" as an adverbial phrase (like "because of"), and if you want "due" to become an adverb, you spell it "duly".

So what to do?

I first learned this little intricacy of English (much to my astonishment and puzzlement — it took me forever to comprehend why the common usage is wrong) thanks to Claire Kehrwald Cook (who neglected to clarify whether using "thanks to" in this format is equally wrong) in her book, Line By Line: How to Improve Your Own Writing, back when I was still studying for my master's degree. In this book, Cook explains that while most grammar guides advise against using "due to" as an adverb, hardly anyone actually cares.

So I (and you—come on, I know you like to start sentences with "due to" too!) am off the hook. Except for that little anal-retentive part of me that makes horrified faces at the other part of me whenever it tries to get away with this usage. Being your own worst critic is so much more uncomfortable than having hordes of hecklers.

Until next time, fellow language lovers, I'll be around somewhere, self-flagellating. You can say I'm doing it due to guilt.

*Editor's note: I wrote this post in January of 2013 and then promptly lost it until today, when I happened to notice the "drafts" tab in my blogger settings. So, while you might be wondering why I would be talking about the Christmas holidays in June, now you know. And if you were wondering whether I still say "due to," let me put the answer this way. If someone were assert that I don't say "due to" any more, I would have to respond, "I do, too."

But I still can't stop thinking about it, usually trying to replace the incorrect phrase with something else, unless the resulting sentence becomes too clumsy.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Beach Bummer

I went to the beach last weekend. People really love beaches. Supposedly, the epitome of a good holiday is to be lounging on the beach with a drink in your hand and your toes in the sand. Thus, is it heresy to say that I really don't like the beach? I used to. Family vacations in tropical locales were mostly spent splashing in the waves for hours on end, and I never seemed to grow tired of it. However, my modern adult mindset brings a new perspective. 

With my pasty-pale skin and propensity towards burns, I really wasn't built for long hours in the sun. When I was young, I didn't need to worry about cancer or wrinkles. A sunburn would hurt, but it would fade and leave me with a tan to be proud of! Now that I'm well aware that sun damage is forever, I have to be oh-so-much-more careful. 

To survive a day at the beach, I have to make a choice between two evils: to slather myself with sunscreen, or to bundle up like a bedouin. The former option leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth (usually figuratively, but sometimes literally) because sunscreen is just plain gross. It's sticky. I can feel it resting on top of my skin like an oil slick—even the oil-free varieties. If I put it on my scalp, it makes my hair stringy. If I put it on my face, it gives me zits. 

But if I choose to forgo sunscreen, I have to protect my skin some other way, usually with clothing. Yet I look forward to summer all year so I no longer have to wear confining winter clothes! To have to cover up from head to toe to shield myself from the summer sun seems like the cruelest irony!

To avoid the necessity of sunscreen, I've become quite fond of using a parasol when walking from place to place, but that becomes less effective when at the beach, where wind speeds are so high. And trying to keep a sun hat on my head in those conditions? Forget about it!

So half the fun of the beach has been sucked away by the necessity of skin protection, but my distaste for beach-going goes far beyond the ravages of ultraviolet light.

There's also the simple matter of endless discomfort. You're either too hot or too wind-blown, and you're getting covered with sand no matter what you do. Half your mind is staying vigilant to ensure that no part of your body has accidentally slipped out of the shade. But the other half of your mind is likely feeling bored, sitting around with nothing to do. Sure, you can read at the beach and enjoy the sounds of the waves and the birds...but you can also read at home and be a lot more comfortable.

If you're getting restless loafing on the sand, you can always go into the water, which brings up a whole host of new problems. It's cold! It's the ocean, after all, and it's never fun to get into. You get used to the water temperature after a while, but you never get used to stepping on broken seashells. Or squishy anemones. Or a jellyfish! (This has never happened to me—knock on wood).

I'll admit that playing in the waves can be kind of fun – for maybe 20 minutes! – but the price of that fun is a swimsuit full of sand. Even if you don't get driven butt-first into the ocean floor by an unexpected breaker (and good luck avoiding that!), you still somehow end up with sand embedded into your suit. Swimsuits are like flytraps for sand—once that stuff gets in, it never comes out again.

So passes the 20 minutes of fun. You then leave the water, your hair is a godawful mess, your bottom is dragging with the weight of ten thousand grains of silica, all your repulsive sunscreen has washed off and been replaced by a film of salt, and you're about to get the sunburn of your life. The end.

Epilogue: Can someone please tell me where's the fun in that?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Making Space



Recently trying to clean up my sinkhole of a closet combined with my ever-disheartening search for a house have combined to bring you this blog post.

One of the biggest limitations in my housing search is the amount of storage space I require. I would happily live in a condo, never to mow a lawn or pluck a weed again in my life, except, compared to houses, condos offer around half the space for the same price. After looking at a couple houses and a couple condos, I am pretty certain I could not live in anything less than 800 square feet—and even that would be pushing it.

I don't want to be so high-maintenance. I care little about luxury, and I'm kind of embarrassed that I demand the equivalent of a penthouse suite for my day-to-day living. It's just that, between my boyfriend and I, we have a lot of gear. Way more gear than could ever fit into an apartment.

Originally, I was going to list all the things I own that contribute to my clutter, but that would take up almost as much space in my blog as it does in my home, so I'm going to practice the art of efficiency. The only thing that's important is how much space they take up (beyond  a few bookshelves and the cabinets and closets that come standard in any home), and that is as follows:

  • 2 standalone wardrobes
  • The area under my loft bed
  • A corner of the basement
  • A quarter of the shed outside
  • Under the front porch
  • The area around the access door to the attic
With my stuff scattered about the entire property like this, I feel like I need tons of storage space, but when I actually got out my tape measure and did the math, I could only account for about 600 square feet of living space and (very approximately) 200 additional square feet of storage space in use. 

In addition, there are plenty of things I own that I don't really need. If I were to vacate the premises, I'm pretty sure I could leave these behind without many regrets:

  • My dining table (pretty much spends all the time with the chairs stacked up on top of it anyway)
  • My soap-and-candle-making supplies (I'm pretty sure I won't want to invest in another block of glycerin once the ones I have are used up)
  • My airbrush (I love it, but when you use it only once a year, you begin to wonder if you couldn't just make do with spatter-painting when needed)
  • My holiday decorations and huge tub of Christmas lights (nice to have for parties, but really, who likes stringing up Christmas lights anyway? And wouldn't it be better not to waste all that electricity?)
  • My stockpile of containers (these take up a couple of 13-gallon tubs and a small bookcase. It's ironic that I require storage for storage, but you never know when a sturdy box or a lidded tin will come in handy! Nonetheless, in good time, and by the grace of Freecycle, all things come, empty containers being no exception)
  • My large collection of gardening supplies (kind of moot if you don't have a garden)
  • My exercise bike (it's a pretty regular part of my life in the winter, but many buildings have a gym, and I'd probably get more bang from my workout buck if I took up running, which requires no equipment whatsoever)
So could I actually downsize? Well, there are many other reasons not to live in a condo, foremost among them being fees, but the lack of bike storage coming in a close second. If, however, the price was right, and I could find a place to keep our bikes that wouldn't make me hate my life, I might survive. It's a scary thought, but if ever I still haven't bought a home and my housemates decide to move out, I might try to move out, too, into an apartment...just to see if I could do it.