Saturday, August 1, 2015

Money on my mind

It is unusual, for a strict grammarian such as me, to willfully flout a syntactical rule, but I do, almost always, position the dollar sign after the numbers in my writing (e.g. 20$), rather than before it (e.g. $20), as we are technically supposed to do. I was scanning laboriously through my list of blog posts, looking for an explanation, but I couldn't find one. I can't believe I've never written on this matter before, but on the chance I really haven't, here's my reasoning.

When you read a price, the word "dollar" (or substitute any type of currency) comes after the amount. e.g. "This pineapple costs four dollars."

When writing a price symbolically, I say you should follow the same structure as when spoken. Thus, "This pineapple costs 4$."

The traditional way of writing said sentence would be, "This pineapple costs $4," which would logically be spoken, "This pineapple costs dollars-four," and we obviously don't speak like that!

There are lots of illogical things in the English language, and I'd be inclined to let this particular one slide, except that it introduces even more complications when working with big numbers. 

Consider the following sentence: "The construction is projected to cost six-hundred-million dollars."

Naturally, you don't want to have to write out all those words, so numerals and symbols come to the rescue! A newspaper might write out that sentence as "The construction is projected to cost $600 million." Now, because of the grouping of numbers and the separation of the word million, it is very easy to misread that sentence as "...to cost six-hundred dollars...million...Oh, I mean six-hundred-million-dollars." Having to reread a sentence is a minor inconvenience, but becomes more than an inconvenience when you're only skimming the sentence, just see the numbers (because they are logically grouped and also larger than your typical letters, they stand out) and get a completely inaccurate notion of the real price. All this trouble could be avoided entirely by reordering the words to "600 million $"—a bit odd-looking, but only because you're not used to that construction.

I've been annoyed by this backwards representation of numbers enough times that I vowed to do something about it. Granted, I have little clout in the evolution of language, but I will still try to make a contribution! You don't have to follow my system, but if it makes sense to you, maybe you should! It only takes a spark to get a fire going. Maybe, one day, everyone will follow this syntax...but until then, at least you know why I do.

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?