Friday, December 11, 2015

NuVegan Café Macaroni and "Cheese"

I know I swore off macaroni reviewing, but today I want to break my silence and give a shout-out to my neighborhood NuVegan Café for really doing vegan macaroni right.

If you've ever eaten vegan cheese, you know it's a poor substitute for dairy-based cheese—usually squishy, slimy, and relatively flavorless. If given the choice of never eating cheese again or substituting vegan cheese for the rest of my life, I would choose to give cheese up. 

However, the vegan macaroni from NuVegan does not gross me out the way most vegan cheesy dishes do (in spite of its somewhat questionable appearance). The cheese, instead of being a stringy ooze, is crumbly and subtle. There's even a browned top layer with bits of parsley!

Another problem I have with vegan food is it is disproportionately high in onion content (onions being top on the list of foods I don't eat). For some reason, chefs seem to think, "If we can't have meat, and we can't have cheese, we must make up for it with more flavor! What's the most flavorful vegetable I can add to this dish? Onion!" However, in the case of the NuVegan macaroni, the extra flavor seems to come in the form of some kind of spice (maybe paprika?). Which is both interesting and not too painful (a common problem with spices).

I have been wrong about onion content before. I usually learn of my error a few minutes later when I start to feel really yucky after eating), but so far I have not had any adverse reaction to the NuVegan macaroni. It was a little mushy and I probably ate too much, but on the whole, it is hands-down the best vegan "cheese" dish I've ever eaten.

Cheese and onions are the two biggest obstacles between me and a vegan lifestyle. I'm not saying I'm about to jump on the vegan bandwagon, but if I'm ever ready to take a step in a more compassionate direction, I think I would start by removing mac & (dairy) cheese from my diet and replacing it with the dish from NuVegan Café!

I rate this macaroni...
One happy noodle for being the only vegan macaroni that every made me a happy noodle!

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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bad Dog x 2

Behind that endearing face...
My boyfriend doesn't have a great track record of pleasing me when it comes to dogs. This time, he (bless his heart, don't strangle him, don't strangle him!) decided to adopt a rescue dog just a few weeks after we moved into our apartment. I had strong objections and tried to encourage him to wait until we were settled in a house again, but he ignored me.

Actually, it was a little amusing, because he kept trying to go to shelters to look at potential adoptees without me catching on. We were out on a shopping trip with a couple of friends when he started driving to this unknown location. "Where are we going?" we asked him. "Oh, there's just this thing I want to see." Turns out it was a pet store holding a dog adoption event. A week later, it was...He: "I have to go somewhere." Me: "Where?" He:"Just going somewhere with my mom." Me:"You're going to the animal shelter again, aren't you!" He:"..."

Well, despite my disapproval, he went anyway. And despite being told by the adoption agency that the dog in question (which he found online, making this into one of those bad Internet dating stories) doesn't like being alone, he decided it would be the perfect pet to spend 8 hours every day in an empty home. And despite knowing that the dog was used to being kept outdoors and wasn't well house trained, he was confident that he could teach the old dog new my home. Are we having deja vu yet?.

He planned to give the dog to his mom eventually, but our shared apartment was to be the training grounds where the beast (we'll call him Bubalou, because that's his name, as given by his previous owner) was to learn basic social skills (in the meantime, Jack Jack was relinquished to his mom temporarily since I did draw the line at one dog per household).

When he first arrived in our apartment, I had to admit he was cute. He was a puffball of fur and energy, and he had an adorable face with a wide-open smile.

Bubalou in his favorite position: Standing behind his favorite person. You can catch a glimpse of our housemate's dog hiding back there as well.
As soon as he was set loose, he began running around the place, panting, sniffing everything...and trotting into the kitchen to pee on the washing machine.

This uncivil first impression would have been bad enough on its own, but the substance that the dog emitted was like no urine I'd ever seen. It was brown. And it reeked to high heaven of something resembling mushrooms. I was so confused, I wasn't even sure he'd actually peed. But within a few minutes, he had done it again on the door to my bedroom. And within a few minutes more, he had vomited on the floor from overexcitement.

If I hadn't been certain before, I knew now that getting this dog had been a very bad idea.

The next day, while I went to work, Al stayed home to help the dog acclimate to his new environment, during which time he apparently imprinted on Al, becoming so attached that from that point on, he could not be out of Al's presence.

Staring adoringly at his true love

The next few days, we kept him in Jack Jack's crate (too small for him), from which he sprayed his urine all over the surrounding floor. After that, Al put an old shower curtain under the crate to protect the floor. Bubalou, in his fierce anxiety, managed to claw the shower curtain into the crate, and proceeded to chew it to pieces. Then Al purchased a heavy-duty tarp, which met the same fate. The neighbors left a note on our door claiming that our dog had been barking for hours, and could we please do something about it. I began to fear we would be evicted.

Meanwhile, Al took Bubalou to the vet, where we learned that he had a stone in his bladder the size of a marble, which explained the constant urination and brown color (old blood). To treat the urinary stone, Bubalou would have to be on a special, acidifying, diuretic dog food and not allowed to eat anything else until the stone had dissolved, which could take months. Let's read that again. Months. On a diuretic. This dog was destined to be peeing on an hourly basis for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately for me, when I first had the inkling that we might have to be moving into an apartment, I had made a deal with my boyfriend that if he wanted to bring his problem dog Jack Jack (who's actually a little angel compared to Bubalou) with us, instead of making him stay with his parents, he would have to be solely responsible for taking the dog out to go to the bathroom. And the same rules would apply regardless of who the dog was. So when Bubalou gets his midnight urges to empty his bladder, guess who has to crawl out of bed, put on his shoes and coat, grab his keys, and walk out to relieve the dog? Not me! That doesn't mean I enjoy getting woken up in the middle of every night (because I still do; it's kind of hard to ignore a frantic dog walking all over you); it's just a small consolation that things could be worse.

And at least I'm not bearing the financial burden of this dog. As soon as I learned about the bladder stone, I told Al this dog was way more than he had signed up for, and there would be no shame in returning him to the rescue home. After all, I had already decided that an apartment was no place even for a rabbit (let alone an incontinent anxiety-prone dog) and I had given Hansel up to a rescue family (that's right; the rabbit is gone).

But Al was more stubborn; he felt a sense of duty; and he has not yet learned the joys of spending a whole month's income on an ungrateful pet. But he will. The initial vet bill, even after pet insurance, was over 500 dollars.  His teeth need a deep cleaning, which will require anesthesia and big bucks. After the note from the neighbors, Al was forced to put Bubalou into doggy day care, for 35 dollars a day. The prescription dog food is 40 dollars a bag and lasts about 3 weeks. To help Bubalou overcome his separation anxiety and get properly toilet trained, Al had to hire a dog behaviorist at a cost of over a thousand dollars.

Al also invested in some stylish doggy diapers to keep Bubalou from flooding the condo and the office
(where he gets to spend the day when the boss is gone).
I will stop now, but I'm sure this story is far from over. Prepare yourselves now. In the book of Badly Behaved Dogs, Bubalou's chapter has just begun.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

'Ment to be apart

This weekend, I renewed my lease for another 3 months. Much to my disappointment. 
I so wanted to have found a permanent home by the end of December, but now it seems I'm stuck in my apartment until March at the earliest. Although I have definitely lived in worse places, I have come to realize that I never had it better than when I was living in a house. Apartment living is just not for me. 

Apartment living turns pet ownership from a pleasure to a major hassle. I actually relinquished my rabbit to a rescue home within the first few weeks of living in my apartment, because it was too difficult to feed him, exercise him, and especially keep his cage clean without convenient access to the outdoors and a good strong water hose. And that was just a caged rabbit! Can you imagine the trials of living in an apartment with a dog? Especially a neurotic dog? Well, if you can't imagine, I am about to tell a future post. For now, just suffice it to say that keeping a crazy, needy dog in an apartment is a tribulation of great proportions.

You know what else is a tribulation in an apartment? Keys. Want to get into your home? Be sure to grab your keys—first the keys that get you into the building, then the keys that get you into your unit. Want to get your mail? Be sure to grab your other keys, then wrestle your letters, wrinkled and crumpled, out of the tiny steel box they place them inside. Want to take out your garbage? Be ready to walk down several flights of stairs and out to the dumpsters...and don't forget to bring your keys! Forgot your keys? Got locked out because your door shut itself behind you when you ran out to catch your dog who was running away? Well, there's no hope of hiding a spare on the premises, so you'll have to call your boyfriend from a neighbor's phone and have him bring his key home from work.

Apartments are no place for a solar-powered being such as myself, because they only get 1/4 the natural light of a freestanding house! I never considered how much this would bother me until I moved in, but basically we get full sun for about 3 hours every morning. Even during those 3 hours, because the sun is only coming in one window, it doesn't even reach the back wall of the rooms. We have a triple-wide glass patio door, which keeps the living room acceptably well lit for most of the day, but even that patio is shaded by the patio above it, so we get half as much light in there as we might if we were on a top floor. Altogether this equals less happiness and higher electricity bills.

Apartment living also means that washing... anything other than yourself... is a major undertaking. In many apartments, doing laundry would mean paying several dollars for the privilege of using one of 3 machines that are shared among dozens of units. In our apartment, we're lucky enough to have our own washer and dryer...which are so tiny and inefficient at drying that one load of laundry (or what would have been one load at my old abode) takes 3-4 hours. Bonus! We do have a dishwasher, about which I have no complaints. But as for washing your car (something I've always done at home), you have no alternative but to pay for an automatic car wash to do a sub-par job, and if you want to vacuum, your only option is the gas station vacuum, with nozzles so big you can't get into any of the cracks.

Living in an apartment is also a terrible struggle for those who like to travel by bike. Most apartments do not have bike parking, so you must keep your bike in your unit. This chews up your available storage space like nothing else, and heaven help you if you live in a walk-up. You'll be getting plenty of exercise lugging your bike up the stairs, but you'll also be getting plenty of chain grease on your clothes and plenty of injuries wrestling it through all those doors (that require all those keys!)

Apartment living means you're never truly alone. Of course, we've taken on a roommate to help pay the bills, but even if we were alone in our unit, we'd have our neighbors upstairs and downstairs. The ceilings in our building are what I believe is commonly referred to in the construction industry as "weaksauce." I'm afraid to work out because 1) The floor is suspiciously springy and 2) I worry I'll be thundering on the tenants below us. The ceiling certainly transmits every footstep from the unit above. And I have actually heard conversations through the floor in my closet (though I could only make out a word or two).

Because moving forced me to re-evaluate my priorities, get rid of a lot of junk, and organize the junk that remained, having enough space really isn't as much of an issue as I thought it would be. But I still do miss my space-hogging collections—especially the extensive array of shipping supplies and things I planned to sell on eBay (and the extra income it brought in) and my eclectic collection of odds and ends for crafting. Whatever am I going to give people for Christmas if I can't make something from scratch?

Woe is me, to have sacrificed so much! But the one thing that I'm grateful for, in the midst of this less than delightful living situation of mine, is that I have finally answered a question that was weighing on me. Should I consider the possibility of buying a condo? Finally, I can say with confidence that I should not.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Going for Broke

I'm still not quite sure how it happened, but in the middle of the night a few Sundays ago, I hopped out of bed to turn off the heat and somehow landed, not on the sole of my foot as is right and proper, but on the tops of my left toes. My foot and ankle did an extreme backbend, and, finally registering that something was wrong but unable to recover from my awkward position, I relieved the pressure in the only way I could—by tumbling to the floor in a noisy heap (Good 3AM, downstairs neighbors!). I then proceeded to writhe around on the ground for a minute or two because of the pain!

Returning to bed (but only after hobbling over to the thermostat to finish what I'd started), I spent the rest of the night with my injured foot on a pillow, sleeping fitfully and dreaming of attending a fancy event where I had to crawl on my hands and knees in a beautiful dress because my foot would not support me.

In the morning, I soon learned my dreams had been quite premonitory, as I could not put any weight on my foot at all... But, fortunately I guess, I did not have any fancy events to attend. I borrowed my boyfriend's ankle brace and rapidly learned that I could get around the house by hopping on my hands and good foot like a three-legged rabbit. And as the day went on, never one to let a minor disability stand between me and watching a spectator sport (do you feel the sarcasm?), I accompanied my boyfriend to Applebee's to see the Ravens game, hopping about on one foot much to the puzzlement of citizens everywhere.

Over the next few days, my condition improved pretty rapidly. By Monday, I could hobble around on two feet again, and I limped to the doctor's office to confirm that my injury wasn't too serious. On Tuesday, I retired the ankle brace. On Wednesday, I realized my ankle was doing great, but my shoes were all pinching my bruised toes, so I cut a slice into my oldest pair of sneakers to give them a little more space. Soon I was able to walk normally, then get around in a standard un-mutilated shoe, then I re-learned to walk fast enough that I'm again overtaking all the pedestrians in my path! It was a big moment for me when, a week and a half after my accident, I wore a boot with a three-inch heel!

The joy was short-lived, though, because 2+ weeks later, I am still in pain! On Thanksgiving morning, I was poking around at my injury when I noticed my left fourth toe was a little puffy compared to the same toe on the other foot. I decided to pinpoint the problem by bending it up (not bad), bending it down (a little painful), and finally twisting it left and right. Ayoooooo! I felt a crunchy sort of resistance, almost like my toe was made of densely packed wet sand and I was slowly molding it into a new shape. Yuck! My newly aching toes refused to forget that stupid move for the remainder of the day.

Let me tell you, when I say this has been agony, I do not exaggerate. The proof is in the way I scream whenever I unexpectedly move my foot the wrong way. Of course, there is psychological agony, too...the inability to move faster than a off-kilter jog, which is seriously cramping my workout style...the torment of having 2/3 of my shoe collection off limits (including 4 brand new pairs that arrived in the mail the day after my injury!)....For all these indignities, I feel like I deserve some compensation, and that compensation is...yes! An injury upgrade!

I hereby declare I have broken my toe. Possibly both the fourth toe and the pinky toe. I probably won't be going to get them X-rayed, because I don't imagine that there's anything I can do about them even if they are broken (except maybe lay off the gratuitous twisting!), so I'll never know for sure, but I'm gonna claim it as truth.

Part of me is thrilled I finally have a real, crippling injury to call my own. I've reached an important milestone in life—getting to join the Broken Toe Club (I have met two people in the past day who had broken toe stories of their own to share), yet deep down inside, another part of me wishes I had acquired this trophy in a less ignominious way than falling out of bed. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

2 Wawa giant cookies

Wawa Rainbow Cookie

These cookies don't earn any points for durability. I've actually purchased 2 (both times forgetting to take a picture), and they fall apart before I even get them home.

This could mean, at least, that they don't have the constitution of a brick, which can only be good, but it also could mean that they are too dry. But why speculate when you can just eat one and find out?

This cookie was fluffy and airy and pleasantly soft in the middle, graduating to crispy and still airy (thus fragile) around the edges. It wasn't my favorite texture, being rather too inclined to crumble, but not the worst either.

Where this cookie really failed was in the taste department. It had that signature flavor of a mass-produced cheap cookie—a little too much sweet and not enough substance. The chocolate candies did nothing to add to it, since they were also a little too sweet. This is one case where bittersweet chocolate would have really made a difference... but of course in a cookie clearly made to appeal to children, that's a lost cause.

While you can't go wrong with the price (whaaaat? 99 cents? That's just a little over 1¢ per gram, or, very affordable!), cookie connoisseurs out there will probably want to pass this one up.

The Bottom Line

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

Wawa Chocolate Chip Cookie

After my somewhat disappointing encounter with the rainbow cookie, I was ready to swear off Wawa cookies for life. But then, at a late night trip to the gas station to pick up a sandwich, I saw the appetizing-looking chocolate chip cookie and decided to give it a try. 

At the same price of 99¢ for 96g, the chocolate chunk cookie is a steal as far as Giant Cookies go...and, I discovered much to my relief, a real treat to eat!

Unlike its candy-cookie brother, the outside edge was not a brittle crumb factory, and in fact, the cookie was chewy and tasty right clear through! If I had one complaint, it would be that the chocolate chunks were a little too gooey at room temperature, but overall, the texture was perfect. I even detected some nice crunchy granules of sugar in the mix!

The flavor as well was everything you could ask for in a chocolate chip cookie—sweet, salty, chocolatey all in one. I think I've found another winner, and I'll let my friendly neighborhood Wawa be my new solution when a cookie craving comes to call.

The Bottom Line

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

Goldilocks gets the tables turned

I'm tired. I have spent the last 4 months on a housing roller coaster, looking for roommates, looking for a new rental, giving up all hope of ever doing either, and then repeating! All because I decided to buy a house.

The Hyattsville House

It all started in July, when I found what looked like the house of my dreams in a neighborhood near the Prince George's Plaza Metro. Things got off to an un-reassuring start when I had to offer 25,000 dollars higher than the asking price to beat out other offers. It only went downhill from there, as I continued to meet resistance from the seller's agent for every little repair or financial compromise. A week or so into the process, I began to question whether I actually liked the neighborhood and wonder why I was agreeing to spend so much money on a deal that I wasn't sure about. I canceled the sale, but only after I had already notified my landlord that I'd be moving out.

He was pretty nice about my backflip, agreeing to let me stay on in his house as a month-to-month renter, as I had been for the past 2 years, but the seed had been planted, and it was only a month before he in turn notified me that I'd have to leave. He had decided he wanted the house for his mother-in-law to live in. I still wonder, if I had just kept my mouth shut about my impending real estate deal, if he would have let me stay on indefinitely. But alas, that is water under the bridge now!

I spent the end of August and early September searching, increasingly desperately, for an acceptable rental. It is astonishingly hard to find a place in this area that's big enough for 2 and allows pets and short-term leases and isn't a ridiculous luxury apartment. I needed a short term lease because I was still trying to buy a house.

The Short Sale

I was, in fact, waiting for bank approval on a short-sale that I had bid on back in August. Although everyone had warned me that short sales involve a long process that frequently ends in failure, at the time, I felt like I had all the time in the world, and the price was wonderfully low, so I was willing to wait. It was then, at that particularly inopportune moment, that my landlord gave me notice, forcing me to scramble for a new rental without knowing if I would even need it once I'd signed the lease.

Finally finding an apartment that met all my specifications in mid-September, I signed a 3-month lease ending at the end of December. Originally, I had planned to sign for 4 months, but originally, the plan had been for us to split the apartment with another unknown person the landlord had found, who subsequently backed out. I agreed to pay the whole (too-high) rent, thinking that I could survive on sporadic Airbnb income until my real estate deal went through (by this time, the bank had responded to my offer and we were engaged in some final price negotiations, so I felt like the end was in sight!).

But then, within 2 weeks, my offer was declined (the seller became current with their payments) AND my new landlord informed me that I may not rent the room via Airbnb. I started looking for a housemate, which I can now say from experience is nearly impossible to find on short notice for such a short period, especially at such a high rent in such an inaccessible area. But I decided to keep plugging away. I had a couple months.

The Fakeout

There was another house on the market I liked, with a newly finished basement that would make it a breeze to take on a few housemates/guests to help with the mortgage. I made an offer, it was accepted, and everything was going peachy keen. Third time is the charm, I thought. I stopped looking for a housemate. We came in for our home inspection at the beginning of November, and things went rapidly downhill. First, the inspector turned on the heat, but nothing happened. Then he found termite damage in a beam supporting the main floor. The kicker was the crack and bulge that ran along the entire foundation wall, which he estimated could cost up to 100,000$ to fix. I declined to continue the inspection, and found myself back at square 1, albeit 200$ poorer.

By now it was a week into November, and I still had no clue where I was going to live at the end of December. I called my landlord to see if he'd allow us to stay on after that, renting just the single room we'd almost ended up with at the beginning, but he had changed his tune. He said that would be too much work for him, but he'd let me renew my lease for the full apartment. Well, without any housemate to help with the rent, that seems like the last thing I'd ever want to do! So I'm back to looking for roommates or a new (smaller!) apartment.

The Last Resort

Over the weekend, I visited another house that would work for my needs. The asking price was high, but still within my limits, and it had no offers after 43 days on the market and 2 open houses, so I placed a lower offer and waited. And waited. And waited.

In my first 3 experiences with bidding on a house, the seller had always responded within a day. Finally after 3 days, the seller responded with a counter offer that doesn't suit my thrifty nature. So, while there's still a chance we can come to an agreement, it's getting slimmer by the minute.

If this doesn't work out, I am finding a nice cheap apartment with a long-term lease and taking a break from house shopping. The last four months have been the most stressful, suspenseful months of my life. I first began this process because I'd decided that buying a home would be a more economical choice than renting for the rest of my life, but if there is a single lesson in these four failures, I would have to say it's that I'm not destined to be a homeowner.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cavalcade of Costumes

It's almost time for the best dress-up day of the year, and I'm embarrassed to admit I only have one costume planned. One costume is not enough! You know me, I never like to wear the same outfit twice, and the same goes for Halloween costumes. In recent years, I've done up to three separate costumes for all the different events I go to in one season, and although I only have one event on my calendar this year, I expect that number to rise significantly as the big day approaches! And (gasp!) I have costumer's block!

I lay part of the blame on my high standards for costumes, for which I credit my parents, who once went to a Halloween party dressed, respectively, as a dining table and a microwave (or was it a flashlight?). Those oddball (and entirely homemade!) costumes set the bar pretty high for my future Halloweens.

Nowadays, I feel like I've failed if my costumes don't meet certain standards. They have to be handmade or thrifted—nothing from the costume store will serve! They have to be something that's not too overdone—you don't want to be the 7th Where's Waldo at the party! And, when I can, I particularly enjoy doing a costume that's a bit of a joke.

Meeting all these criteria is hard enough, and it doesn't help that my recent move and possessions-purge have deprived me of much of the vast stockpile of clothes and crafting supplies I once possessed, so I've had to be more creative with even less stuff.

Add to that that, after 32 years of living, I'm running out of costumes I haven't already worn before! Every time I come up with an idea, I remember that I've already done it! So, since I'm thinking of them anyway, I might as well take a break from the search for the best costume of the future, and spend a moment to share some of the costumes of the past!

Cat. I realize this is not high up there on the novelty scale, but it was entirely home-made, with my mom's help, so I was the most unique-looking cat (made out of a man's chenille shirt) in my class!

Statue of Liberty. Through most of my youth, I had an obsession with the Statue of Liberty, so at least twice in my life, I mortalized (Neologism by Valerie!) this inanimate object with a Halloween costume.

The Phantom of the Opera. Another obsession that ran its course during my elementary school days, I had to play the Phantom for Halloween. I remember we made the mask with papier-mâché so it could be an exact replica of the mask worn in the off-Broadway production!

Carrot. After I decided I needed to up my creativity game, one of the first off-the-wall costumes I invented was the carrot. With a leafy top constructed of a baseball helmet, some tissue paper, and an artificial plant, I proudly stepped into a bold new era.

Snowman. Boy, was I glad I was wearing this costume, made of a full-body furry jumpsuit, when I went trick-or-treating! because it was coooooold outside, but in my snowman, I was as cozy as I've ever been on Halloween!

Christmas tree. I remember doing this costume in high school. This year, I was tempted to repeat it, but ultimately I decided that the artificial tree I found in my new apartment would be better donated than reconstructed into a (no doubt very uncomfortable!) costume.

Toilet. Possibly the one worn the last time I went trick-or-treating, and undoubtedly a feat of engineering, the toilet had a bowl that actually flushed candy! It confused people, but it entertained me!

Fairy. For a few years during and after college, I don't remember wearing any kind of costume whatsoever. To usher me out of those dark ages, I made a fairy costume out of a bridesmaid's dress and some wings out of curtains in 2009. And then I caught a cold and spent Halloween huddled in bed, never to bring my fairy to life (OK, fine, I wore the costume a few months later to a baby shower, much to the awe of every female under 7 at the party). Also my first costume since the advent of digital photography, which is why there are no pictures of the prior costumes!

Unicorn. The first (successfully worn for Halloween) costume of my adult life was a fairly simple affair, with a horn made of paper, mane and tail made of yarn, and white clothing. I thought it was a pretty great costume until Fall Fairy (with her leaves and blinking lights) totally blew me away. I knew I would have to do better the next year. And the next year was... 

Bridezilla. If there had been a costume contest at the venue I wore my Bridezilla costume, I'm sure I would have won at least something. Alas, an ingenious costume wasted on a contest-free party! Never again! Now a costume contest is a requirement for any Halloween party I search for.

Spiderweb. You probably remember this one from my other blog or Facebook, because I proudly announced it as the first (and only...yet!) costume that ever won me a prize—and it won me two! I guess my rule of never repeating a costume was a good one to break.

The Sea. Also appearing in my blog last year, this costume was something I threw together at the last minute, but it involved one of my best hairdos of all time!

The White Rabbit. As one of many people masquerading as characters from Alice in Wonderland, I chose the White Rabbit because it would give me an opportunity to wear my white furry boots (for what ended up being the last time—R.I.P)!

Thirteen costumes! What is there left to do? Well, I have a lot of ideas, but most of them will have to wait until next year when I am better prepared to construct them. In the meantime, I just hope I won't have to settle for one of the boring Big 20.

Friday, October 16, 2015

"The Brownie Baker" cookies from Las Vegas

I once was told they make the food cheap in Las Vegas, because they want to lure you in so you spend all your money on gambling. Well, in my experience, that just isn't true! I found two Giant Cookies while in the city (probably my second-best find next to the 100-dollar bill I discovered under a roulette table!), and each was priced 2.99$ for 156g. Of course, I did find them in a convenience shop, which are not known for having the best of prices, but still, that averages out to be 1.92$ per gram, or a bit above average.

Let's see if the quality was above average to match.

Chewy Caramel Cookie 

I started with the Chewy Caramel Cookie, which did, indeed, live up to its description of being  chewy. That said, it was baked in some kind of mold, so it had the shape of a muffin top, and the outside edge was very crumbly because it was thinner than the rest. The inside held together better and was a good consistency.

The caramel chunks inside were a novelty (I've never had a cookie with actual pieces of caramel in it!). They were chewy and gooey. They were also the only part I could taste. Overall, the cookie was fairly devoid of flavor. The saltiness of the caramel pieces was probably its best aspect. There were also a few chocolate pieces, equally soft. I would have preferred if they had given my teeth a little more resistance.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 2 out of 5 stars
Texture: 3 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars

Peanut Butter & Brownie Cookie

Since these cookies were made by The Brownie Baker, I had high hopes for this particular flavor.

But, if anything, they were even worse than the caramel cookie. The chocolate was bitter, which is not unheard of, and can even be somewhat pleasant if done right, but I detected a note of caraway seed, which definitely isn't what I look for in a chocolate cookie.

Oddly, this cookie was even more chewy than the caramel cookie. Biting into it was almost like biting into taffy. And taffy is not my favorite candy. On the whole, I found this cookie highly disappointing.

The Bottom Line

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

Friday, October 9, 2015

But can you pronounce it?

Thanks to reading voraciously throughout my young life (and semi-voraciously throughout my adult life), I have a prodigious vocabulary (so they say; I personally would never be so vain). Finding just the right word for a thing that I need to describe satisfies some primal need deep inside me. 

Yet for all the words I bandy about in my writing, there are some of them that I admit I have never heard spoken aloud. There are some words that I read regularly but would hesitate to speak aloud myself, because I have no idea how to pronounce them! 

Today, I'm going to set the record straight and finally learn the correct pronunciation for some of these less-uttered words.


I'm sure I heard this spoken at some point in my childhood, because I attached a rather unintuitive pronunciation to it in my mind: "RES-pit." But my confidence in its pronunciation was shaken when a friend in high school  (a fellow voracious reader) spoke it as "Ree-SPITE." So after all these years, I'm finally consulting the dictionary...and it says in America, you should say "RES-pit," although in British English, it is apparently common to pronounce it "RES-pite" which is an odd hybrid pronunciation that I never even imagined.


It's a very useful word to describe the facial expression of someone who is quite angry, in a sulky, not shouty way. But how do you pronounce it? My money is on "GLAH-wer." The dictionary says: I'm right!


Another negative facial expression, this one I always assumed was pronounced "GRIM-iss," much like the McDonald's character. But the same high school friend (I think; it might have been someone else) pronounced it "Grim-ACE," so it's back to the authorities to find out the truth. The correct pronunciation is: either one! Although my way, with the accent on the first syllable, is usually listed first. So far I'm 3 for 3!


This is another word that I always thought was pronounced with the accent on the first syllable until I heard someone else pronounce it differently, making me doubt myself. Is it "KON-flu-ence" or is it "Kun-FLU-ence"? In this one, all the dictionaries seem to agree it's the former... except maybe Webster's, which, if I'm reading their phonetical notation right, indicates that the latter is an acceptable alternative. 


This word has come up so frequently in fiction, I am almost ashamed that I still don't know how to say it out loud. Although I'd guess "Deb-OCK-l" if pressed, it's such a strange spelling that I would hate to have to guess. Fortunately, it looks like all dictionaries clearly indicate the OCK as second syllable to be correct, though opinions vary as to the exact vowel sound for the first. 


I've always been puzzled by this word. I think it's pronounced "ARK-e-type," but one can never be too certain with CH's. Phew. The dictionaries once again have my back.


I know this word from the software company that made Commander Keen back in 1990. But I never bothered to confirm how to say the name...until now. It's, just as you'd probably think, "AP-uh-jee."

And that concludes my list of written words I was hesitant to pronounce! As it turns out, my hesitation was pretty unfounded, because my instincts (or suppressed memories) for each word proved to be correct. So the moral of this story is, If you're uncertain how to say a word, just go ahead and say it. Because 7 times out of 7, you'll get it right. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Moving (again)

After 5 years (to the day) in my adorable rental house in College Park, I have finally moved on to other digs. I probably won't be posting an entire photo album of my new place on Facebook because, no, I didn't finally buy a house of my own, as I've been going on and on about for the past 6 months. I was forced to move out because of factors beyond my control, and I consider the current place to be but a waypoint on my journey.

Months before I moved, I pondered whether I could actually live in an apartment. Well, I am about to find out. As it happens, after jettisoning much of the excess baggage that I accumulated during those luxurious years of living in a house, my boyfriend and I fit quite comfortably in a 1-bedroom condo (it's actually 2 bedrooms, but we've reserved the extra bedroom for a future housemate).

Moving was nothing less than absolute torture (some highlights: being obliged to sell or give away about half of my possessions, backing a pickup truck into my housemates' car, spending an entire morning getting rained on while carrying furniture without assistance).

To help myself have a positive attitude about the whole thing, I'm focusing on the annoying things about the old house that I've escaped.

I won't miss being an Airbnb host. I do love the extra income, but having to be cheery and welcoming to a new batch of strangers every couple of days has taken its toll on my introverted self.

I won't miss yardwork. In however many months I'm paying the exorbitant rent on this apartment, I can console myself by thinking of how I'm not wrestling a lawnmower up a dew-slicked hill, raking leaves until my shoulders burn and my fingers blister, or dooming myself to an armful of itchy welts from all the plants I touch while weeding.

I won't miss the stupid toilet seat that's always coming loose, or the guest room door that's always falling off its hinges, or the idiotic drainage system that turns the driveway into a swamp in the summer and a treacherous ice slick in the winter. I won't miss the gate on the right side of the house with the latch that's too tight to close, or the gate on the left side of the house with the latch that's too loose to close, or the rock I have to kick aside every time I want to open that one.

I won't miss having to spend half my commute time at a certain traffic light on my trip home every day.

I won't miss my neighbors across the street who yell instead of speak, and I won't miss my neighbors on the left who gave me the evil eye every time I come home. My neighbors on the right were all right, but I won't miss the man's horrifying winter cough that should be coming back any week now.

I'm sure that as time goes by, I will grow to hate this place too, as is right and proper, but for now, I will enjoy the things I have gained. To wit, a bigger bed, a bigger kitchen, and walk-in closet!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Pet Names

I enjoy naming things.

I have a name for every houseplant that survives over a year. Despite having no intention of ever becoming a parent, I still keep a list of human names that I would enjoy naming a child (so, future parents out there, consult me first if you're struggling for a name for your little one). Sometimes I won't publish a blog post until I've cooked up just the right witty title (like this one—don't miss the double meaning that will become clear as you read on!) I once spent a week and a half mulling over what to call my rabbit

It had to be the perfect name, because after all, you only get to name your rabbit once, right? Wrong. The thing that occurred to me today is, I cannot seem to stop myself from serial nicknaming every animal that walks into my life. 

I name pets after their species – Hansel is, accordingly, "Rabbity Boy" – and their obvious attributes – "Fur Boy" – and then when I get bored with these elementary appellations, I start adding suffixes — like "Rabbitrocious."

I name pets after their names—Hansel is also "Handsome," Jack Jack is also "Jackelope." Junior became "Jujubee"; Pumpkin, "Sweet Punky Doodle"; Tierra, "Erra-erra-erra," and on it goes. 

I have a whole arsenal of nicknames based on traits that I find annoying. Hansel is also known as "Piglet," thanks to his enormous appetite. Jack Jack, who is a holy terror, gets the special title of "Little Stupid Stupid," inspired by a hilariously censored radio version of a Big Sean song (sadly, I could not find that version on the Internet).

I name pets after the sounds they make (Past ones were "Gromble", "Yomble", "Chuffles," and "Squee", for example) and then go on to develop variations (including "Grombeezler," "Yombat," "Chuffle-uffagus," and "Peebles & Squeeps").

I even nickname my friends' pets. My former housemate's cat, Nox, was, to me at least, all sorts of things including "Mr. Knick-Nox." And my current housemates' dog, Petey, is (only in my mind), Peetricia.

I just can't seem to stop. Whenever a word for my pets pops into my head, I feel compelled to adopt it into permanent usage. For every one of the innumerable pets I've had over the years, I probably have at least 3 alternate names. 

Weirdly, I never give nicknames to people—I rarely even use accepted shortened names. Even my boyfriend doesn't get anything except the most tame variations of common terms of endearment. You can't nickname a person without risking the possibility of causing offense, so I think the main reason I keep my indefatigable nickname engine restricted to animals only is that, unlike people, a pet won't object no matter what you call it. Remember "Booger Kitten," anyone?

Probably not. I don't think most people (except my family, who probably had a hand in creating many of the nicknames mentioned here) know of any of these, I wonder if this is really something everyone does—hoard a secret library of alternative names for their animals, that only get used behind the safety of closed doors?

What do you say, readers? Do your pets get new aliases every month like mine? And if so, what are they?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The writings on the wall

Every so often, they will appear, unannounced and unbidden, upon the stall doors in the bathroom at my office. They're not really passive-aggressive notes so much as patronizing messages, from the mysterious and unnamed mother-figure who apparently watches over our building.

Did you remember to wash your hands?

Ladies please remember to flush when you're done

All female hygiene products must be placed into the recepicle —Someone helpfully inserted a T into that particular misspelled word, but neglected to replace the errant I with an A. I shake my head. The responses to any syntactical error on our restroom PSA's are always merciless, and frequently entertaining.

Last year, the message was a long diatribe about bathroom courtesy and how we should pick up any paper that we happen to drop on the floor, culminating with a preachy "It was harder to get into UMD than that!" and though I unfortunately have forgotten the exact words of the replies, a long handwritten conversation followed, mainly regarding the author's failure to use proper English.

I don't know who comes into the bathroom armed with a pen (I guess a lot of people, if they happen to be students carrying backpacks), but I don't, and sometimes I feel the sorrow of missing out.

Today, when I was unable to dry my hands because of a lack of paper towels in the dispenser, I was tempted to add my own little question to the mix: Did you remember to wash your hands? Yes. Did you remember to stock the paper towels? I would etch it out using the residual wash water that still soaked my fingers--my own little way of writing in blood. But sadly, I didn't think my hand would stay wet long enough, nor would my message fit on the remaining open area of paper. Or last long enough to really be appreciated.

Alas, I am doomed to be ever the observer in the grammatical battleground that is the ladies' room, my smug redactions and wry observations never to see the light of day. Except here. Enjoy them.

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 " 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?

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.