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!