Thursday, April 27, 2006

welcome to the occupation

Because Tuesday is Jim's birthday, because we had a gift card to Best Buy, and because we're going to a wedding and to France, we bought a digital camera.

Happy birthday sweetie! I know you like it because you picked it out. No takebacks! Haha!

I'm sure the cutting-edge early-adopters will tell us that this camera is already obsolete, but we don't care. It has a lot of megapixels for not a lot of money; it has optical zoom; it has a very large little viewscreen doober; it can even do video, if for some insane reason we so desire to take a video of something, like, I don't know, our feet walking up the steps of the Eiffel Tower.

So we plan to test the capacity of this camera to capture insanely embarassing and awesome moments this weekend, and then we will take it to France. I will, of course, be shooting both color and black-and-white on my trusty, been-to-France-twice, broke-lens-at-Chenonceau-once (yes, I...dropped it, in the chateau parking lot) Nikon 6006 35-mm, but Jim will be documenting in digital wonderfulness everything else.

Wish us luck. La technologie, on arrive!

Monday, April 24, 2006

hello, gorgeous

This weekend, the ever-lovely Torie Gorges came to town for Sunday brunch.

Torie and I used to work in a shared mini-cubicle nicknamed "the playpen." It was so named because it did, in fact, resemble those collapsible mesh boxes you put babies in so that they can entertain themselves. It was also so named because if we hadn't called it something amusing, we might have killed ourselves.

Thank goodness we had each other. Torie was really the only thing that made life in the playpen bearable (well, Slappy, too, but she was in the other's a long story). However, she'd been there longer than I and thus managed to escape a good five months before I.

And escape she did -- all the way from Boston to Palo Alto, for a stint in the hallowed halls of a phenomenal international educational policy program at a school whose campus looks absolutely nothing like a gigantic Taco Bell, really! In all seriousness, Torie is rather brilliant and wholly dedicated to the improvement of education worldwide, and she's done some great work out there, no matter how much I tease her about being all "left coast"-y now. She's really not at all uber-Californian, but I have to have some payback for her ongoing hilarious insistence that my husband is perpetually twelve years old.

She received her Master's in what seems to me to have been record time, and now works in educational research; I'm sure she'll wind up with a Ph.D. not too long from now and I'll start sending her silly missives addressed to The Gorges Doctor or some other horrendous pun.

Anyway, she had to fly out to the Hub this week to do some research and came out early to visit her family on the north shore, so I was able to convince her to make the two-hour trek north and have brunch chez nous.

I made a frittata that, thankfully, we all saw looking beautiful in the pan, because it did not decide to make the transfer to the plate in one piece, and became rather more of a giant, well, scramble. The lemon-poppy scones and balsamic berry salad with mint were all delicious, but I think the best part might have been the several mimosas. Whee! Champagne!

We spent an absolutely wonderful afternoon chatting and catching up. It was a dreary rainy chilly day, which is a shame because it would have been nice to walk around the Old Port, but I also relished the opportunity to talk to a Torie who seems really and truly happy, centered, and flourishing. Northern California -- and the, ahem, people there -- definitely agree with her, and I'm thrilled to see her looking and sounding so wonderful.

And of course, we spent a good deal of time poring over the wedding album and discussing the upcoming honeymoon. Torie's wedding gift to us was the promise of a phenomenal bottle of wine while we're across the pond celebrating. (Torie and I, it should be said, go waaaaay back when it comes to wine. And I think that's all that should be said about that.) Torie may have California wine country out by her -- and I fully intend to explore that to the deepest extent of my ability to finagle a table at The French Laundry -- but in the meantime, I've got Paris in less than two weeks! Oh, les fromages, les chocolats, les plateaux de fruits de mers! I've been busy dialing abroad and I've got five dinners already reserved and one more to go, keeping one night free for last-minute decisions or revisitations. We got to share a bunch of the plans with Torie, and talking about all the details with such a close friend made it start to seem that much more real. Paris!

The other great thing was being reminded how well good friends really know you. After all, even with all that to look forward to, Torie could probably tell you that I just might be most excited about that bottle of excellent wine. I think we might have to bring some of it back for posterity, no?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

no reservations

Jim and I just had another amazing meal at a restaurant here in Portland.

Seriously, if it weren't for the fact that it's a full day's travel to visit either set of our parents (either via car or via plane, depending on which parents you're talking about), there would be very little reason for us to leave this city.

OK, granted, the weather is, more than occasionally, vile. And I clearly function better in good, warm, sunny weather than in massive drifts of snow and endless gray skies. However, Portland does an almost outrageously inappropriate job of supporting fantastic, well-priced restaurants.

I think a good part of it is that it's entirely possible to sustain a 40-50 top (maximum) restaurant here. You can't do that in a major market; it's just too few tables, even with great turnover. But here, you have a public that truly enjoys imaginative food, that is willing to eat out, and that looks forward to trying new and different places opened by the local innovative chefs, even if there are only 22 seats in the whole place, and they have to wait five weeks for a reservation.

Jim and I have enjoyed utterly underpriced delicious wines, amazing ingredients, and phenomenal preparation and presentation at almost innumerable restaurants up here. And goodness knows I enjoy a good restaurant meal.

Tonight we went to Caiola's, the newish place opened by a former cook at another great restaurant in town. Caiola's is tiny, and we sat in the "back room," which is a sometimes-private, sometimes-overflow room that you access by walking through the kitchen.

We shared our appetizers, an arugula and citrus salad with several rounds of an excellant piquant cheese, and a possibly-worth-dying-for black bean cake with avocado and harissa. For an entree, Jim had a special of a calamari rippini, a calamari body stuffed with shrimp and spinach and grilled, served with more shrimp and braised greens. I had halibut cheeks (yes, cheeks) with haricots verts, tapenade, and a purple-potato-cabbage salad that was worth getting a container full of, if they sold it at the grocery store instead of the insipid things that pass for "potato salad" and "slaw" in the deli.

Oh, and for dessert -- an insanely rich vanilla panna cotta with fresh blueberry sauce, and a singe caramelized walnut biscotto that Jim joked looked like Zwieback, a resemblance put entirely to rest after one taste. That ain't no teething cracker.

We also enjoyed a really lovely bottle of wine. And did I mention the place is in walking distance?

It's sort of unfair how many similarly wonderful places there are in this town. I hate the fact that I can't see my mother more than a few times a year, but with food this good, if I stay here, well, maybe she'll come visit me.

Friday, April 21, 2006

speaking of hot...

"Like watching paint explain global warming."

That's how "Stephen Colbert" -- I put it in quotation marks because I am referring to the character played by the intensely liberal man of the same name -- described the PBS documentary Journey to Planet Earth.

Which both makes me laugh hysterically (remember how Grandma Ethel used to laugh? Yeah, like that) and want to watch that show.

"Get your paws off me, you damn dirty grizz!"

Although I do have to say, the shot of the oceans catching fire from Dimming the Sun was frightening as hell. Jeez.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

feelin' hot hot hot

Long long ago and far away, I used to go over to my dear friend Sudeshna's house for sleepovers.

Sunna's family was Bengali. Her relatives back in India used to send them crates of the world's most delicious mangoes....oh those were the days. Anyway, Sunna's mom didn't often cook for us sleepover girls, because I think she feared we wouldn't like the traditional dishes she usually made. She would, however, stock up the usual sleepover-required junk food, which was just fine by us.

Including Jalapeno Krunchers.

If you are not familiar with Krunchers! potato chips, then, well, frankly, I'm sorry for you. They might be the best potato chips ever made, or right up there with the best. St. Louis Bread Company used to give the regular flavor out with sandwiches and that's probably why BreadCo became successful enough to sell to the Au Bon Pain dude and go national as Panera.

Jalapeno Krunchers were ambrosia. Except for the fact that of all our highschool friends, I was the only non-Indian kid who could stand the spice. I'm not known for my tolerance of painfully hot foods, but Sunna and I could decimate a bag of those ridiculously delicious chips while our compatriots looked on in astonishment and focused on Cool Ranch Doritos.

One of the many reasons I so love my husband is his adoration of spicy foods, not least of which is a good jalapeno potato chip. He actually knows and loves Jalapeno Krunchers, despite their no longer being available on the East Coast. We have often reminisced over the amazing quality of the Kruncher spicy chip -- the flavor was baked in, rather than merely dusted onto the chip, and it was not overly salty. Oh, what a chip.

Ahem. Anyway, to fill the void, we have tried many brands of jalapeno and chipotle chips, but most were mediocre at best. (One was so spicy that I actually lost taste sensation in my tongue, and that was enough for me.)

Yesterday, though, Jim had to run an errand to the store, and he came home with some news.

"You know those Wise chips?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"They have a new jalapeno chip," he said.

I looked at him. His eyes were shining.

I was skeptical. "Didn't we already try those?"

"No," he said. "That was their weird chipotle cheese chip. This is a kettle-baked jalapeno."

I pondered. It sounded good.

"Did you get some?"


But my curiosity was piqued, and when I was at the store today, I saw the chips. So I bought a bag.

Jim very commendably restrained himself until after dinner, but then he could wait no longer, and he poured out a small portion of the chips.

He ate one.

And again, his eyes shone.

"May I have one?" I asked. He nodded.

I popped it into my mouth. The crunch, the spice, the utter kettle-cooked perfection all came rushing back to me: This was a Jalapeno Krunchers chip.

I looked at him. He looked at me. Screw the fancy dinner I had made and we had just eaten. We devoured the chips.

When the crumbs had stopped flying, I Googled "jalapeno Krunchers." Guess who makes them?

You knew, didn't you? They are produced by Wise, Inc.

Heaven...I'm in heaven...

i'm ok, you're allergic

Either I'm coming down with a cold, or...I have allergies.

I really don't want to have allergies. I used to be allergic to things as a child, but it was never really clear to what, and I was lucky enough not to have those life-stopping allergies that make people so miserable.

But in the summers I've spent in the northeast part of the country, I've had more and more frequent and numerous "summer colds," and I'm starting to think it ain't no virus no more. The last year I spent in Cambridge found me running my bedroom air conditioner all the time, and I was miraculously cured.

Up here, though, we don't have the A/C installed. (We could, but we'd have to get management to do it since the windows are wonky, and we just haven't bothered, because seriously, dude? It's Maine.) We keep the windows open a lot, and today I started noticing that I've had a raging headache for, oh, about a week now.

Granted, we've already had one massive pressure change today, and that's usually what causes skull-crushing pain like this. However, I was out running some errands and after two minutes with the car window open (hey, it's sixty degrees! Positively balmy!), my nose was kind of runny. Odd, since I don't often have a runny nose, even with a cold -- it tends to pack my sinuses and then inhabit my chest.

Still -- southern coastal Maine appears to be having a low pollen day, so I'm not sure that a brand-new allergic reaction makes so much sense. When I was driving home, I yawned and my ears shut down with great force. Ever had that? Where your ears close completely and rend you utterly deaf for a split-second? Yeah, it's fun.

Anyway, when the ears cleared, they had this weird itchiness and tetchiness deep in the inner ear tube or sinus cavity (or whatever a good otolaryngologist would call it) that usually signals some kind of cold or sinus thing with me.

Also, I'm slightly nauseated, in the manner I often notice when I have post-nasal drip on an empty stomach.

Frankly, I don't know which I would prefer right now. Another endless cold? Or seasons upon seasons of allergies?

Oh, the paradox of choice!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

don't call me grown up

There are few things less depressing than watching rock stars get old and, you know, respectable. Like watching Pearl Jam perform on Saturday Night Live wearing freakin' polo shirts.

Seriously, dudes. You're shopping at Banana Republic now? My world is ending.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

ma nishtanah

Lord knows I'm the least observant (Reform) Jew out there, but Jim and I were discussing the Four Questions tonight, and I looked up the Dr. Seuss version.

One year -- I guess it must have been spring of 98 -- when I was at college, Aurora and Sam joined my parents at my grandparents' house for the seder. This was the only time I can recall that Aurora was there when I wasn't. In any case, she brought a copy of the Dr. Seuss Four Questions (which, it seems, were not actually written by Theodore Geisel, but just in his style). Sam, I think, sang the Hebrew version -- oh Shmoo! -- and then Aurora read the Dr. Seuss poem.

I was told that my grandmother absolutely adored it. And for that, I will always be thankful to Aurora.

If anyone is interested, the Seuss-style seder passage is as follows.

The Four Questions

Why is it only
on Passover night
we never know how
to do anything right?
We don't eat our meals
in the regular ways,
the ways that we do

on all other days.

'Cause on all other nights
we may eat
all kinds of wonderful
good bready treats,
like big purple pizza
that tastes like a pickle,
crumbly crackers
and pink pumpernickel,
sassafras sandwich
and tiger on rye,
fifty felafels in pita,
with peanut-butter
and tangerine sauce
spread onto each side
up-and-down, then across,
and toasted whole-wheat bread
with liver and ducks,
and crumpets and dumplings,
and bagels and lox,
and doughnuts with one hole
and doughnuts with four,
and cake with six layers
and windows and doors.
on all other nights
we eat all kinds of bread,
but tonight of all nights
we munch matzo instead.

And on all other nights
we devour
vegetables, green things,
and bushes and flowers,
lettuce that's leafy
and candy-striped spinach,
fresh silly celery
(Have more when you're finished!)
cabbage that's flown
from the jungles of Glome
by a polka-dot bird
who can't find his way home,
daisies and roses
and inside-out grass
and artichoke hearts
that are simply first class!
Sixty asparagus tips
served in glasses
with anchovy sauce
and some sticky molasses--
But on Passover night
you would never consider
eating an herb
that wasn't all bitter.

And on all other nights
you would probably flip
if anyone asked you
how often you dip.
On some days I only dip
one Bup-Bup egg
in a teaspoon of vinegar
mixed with nutmeg,
but sometimes we take
more than ten thousand tails
of the Yakkity-birds
that are hunted in Wales,
and dip them in vats
full of Mumbegum juice.
Then we feed them to Harold,
our six-legged moose.
Or we don't dip at all!
We don't ask your advice.
So why on this night
do we have to dip twice?

And on all other nights
we can sit as we please,
on our heads, on our elbows,
our backs or our knees,
or hang by our toes
from the tail of a Glump,
or on top of a camel
with one or two humps,
with our foot on the table,
our nose on the floor,
with one ear in the window
and one out the door,
doing somersaults
over the greasy k'nishes
or dancing a jig
without breaking the dishes.
on all other nights
you sit nicely when dining--
So why on this night
must it all be reclining?

Thursday, April 13, 2006


So on one of yesterday morning's interstitial news breaks during Today, Somber Reliable Newscaster (so noted by his salt-and-pepper almost-buzzed haircut) announced that Maine ranks #1 in state and local tax burden on its citizens. He added with a half-smile, "We're number one -- ahead of, you guessed it, New York."

Uh, dude? Red Sox Nation pride might actually be going a little too far here. "You may have Johnny Damon, but we carry the heaviest tax burden!"

Yeah, not so much.

Then today, while Perky Female Newscaster and Grizzled But Mildly Entertaining Meteorologist were discussing the weekend's rather crappy forecast, PFN announced, "Well, I can remember when it's snowed on Easter Sunday, so I guess it could always be worse, right?"

And GBMEM responded, smiling and nodding enthusiastically, "Oh yes! It could always be worse!"

Something tells me these people didn't quite understand Newscaster Lesson #1: Putting a Positive Spin on Negative News.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

and he could not frame to pronounce it right

Jim was playing guitar just a few moments ago, playing some Beatles tunes, and then somehow we got on the topic of Bob Dylan (ah, good old Robert Zimmerman -- happy Pesach to you!). Jim sang the line from The Times They Are A-Changin' wherein Dylan sings "Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen," and then he commented, "Oh, not the word you meant, Bob."

Me: "No, prophesy, he meant."

Jim: "Yeah. They do the same thing in The Matrix."

Me: "It's like a shibboleth."

Jim: "I...forget what that means."

Me: "No worries. I learned it from that episode of West Wing, after all."

But if you go to the Wikipedia entry (linked above) and scroll down to read about some interesting examples of shibboleths in history, you learn that the town outside Den Haag called Scheveningen was, in fact, a shibboleth during World War II. (This makes sense, as I cannot with this keyboard even remotely approximate the phonemes needed to pronounce it correctly.) Scheveningen is at the end of the tram line that runs out from the center of the city in that direction, which I know, because we always stayed in a hotel on the beach there when we attended The Hague International Model U.N..

From the hotel, you could see the memorial to the Dutch who fought the Nazis who tried to invade Holland. We couldn't entirely read the Dutch historical marker, but I think the idea was that, essentially, one army pushed the other back into the sea. Because I am, apparently, a horrendous student of history when traveling abroad with little supervision, I am not sure how that battle turned out, and which army ended up in the cold cold North Sea.

There was also a great little bar across the street. Normally it was a gay bar, but during the week we were all there, it didn't matter much -- it was twenty feet away and we were of legal drinking age in that nation.

Good thing they didn't ask us to pronounce "shibboleth," though. After a few drinks, there was no way we'd have gotten that out correctly.

jean fool

So after I found myself continuing to lust after the awesome pair of Joe's Jeans (remember this and this?) I found online at this amazing discount site, I decided maybe they were worth the splurge.

But before I made any financial commitments, well, I just happened to be on eBay selling a no-longer-needed cell phone on behalf of my mother, and I decided, what the heck, might as well search here.

Lo and behold, I found a pair of the jeans, in my size, in an auction ending soon with no bids. Sure, they were coming from Canada, so the shipping was a bit much, but they still wound up being about a quarter of the original retail price.


I bid, and won, and transferred some money to PayPal, and paid. The seller was clearly Quebecois with a less-than-perfect grasp of English, but more than enough to complete the transaction.

And then: The Weirdness. to me

Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2006 14:45:14 PST

Dear eBay me

Please be aware that the following listing:

Item Number - 6864499123

has been removed by eBay for violating of one or more of our policies. Any offers or bids placed on this listing are now null and void. Because the auction was ended, you as a bidder are not required to complete the transaction.

Please review eBay's Listing Policies and User Agreement at the following locations:

We thank you in advance for your cooperation.

eBay Trust & Safety

Perplexed, I wrote to eBay and PayPal. OK, I get that if they cannot verify the "authentic" claim when it is part of a listing, that violates their rules, but I had already paid for this item, so...what the hell were they doing? I wanted my jeans, dammit!

Both responded that if I didn't care that they could not verify the authenticity of the item ("A counterfeit jeans ring operating out of my car-hole?!"), I could go ahead and purchase it. Woo-hoo!

However, unbeknownst to me, the "instant transfer from bank account" in PayPal is instant from the transferer's account, but not to the transferee. So the conscientious -- if, technically, rule-breaking -- Quebecois did not send my jeans until the PayPal payment cleared.

And when they did, they didn't send me the tracking number.

I started to grow nervous. Should I file a dispute on PayPal to retrieve my money? Should I pester the seller with e-mails asking for the promised tracking number?

Damn eBay.

Yesterday, Jim brought the mail up and in the pile of mostly junk was a small peach-colored card that said a package was being held at the post office. The addressee was listed as "Leigh Miller."

I thought it was all becoming clear. The seller had misspelled my name, the postal carrier was concerned, and left me the notice.

Except, of course, the notice got into the proper mailbox just fine. (The plot thickens!)

Today I went to the post office. I handed my card to the nice man behind the counter and he went off in search of the package.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Lest you jump in to lecture me that this is the general modus operandi of the United States Postal Service, I should mention that the office was fairly empty at 9:40 this morning and I didn't even have to wait in a line to get to the counter clerk. So the delay was rather bizarre.

Finally he returned to the desk, still emtpy-handed. "Could this be under a business name, perhaps?" he asked.

Me: "Uh...noooo..."

Him: "O....K..."

Me: "Well, maybe this is the problem: My name isn't Miller, it's Maltese."

Him: "Ah!" He disappeared into the back and returned in approximately 8.4 seconds with my package.

Which was not only not addressed to "Leigh Miller" but was in fact addressed to "Leigh Maltese" in two separate and entirely legible locations.

Me: "Thank you!!" {pause} "Any idea why the card had the wrong name?"

Him: "Not a clue. I...can't even speculate, since the package..."

We both looked at it, then at each other. Clearly neither of us wanted to insult the carrier, but...damn.

I arrived home around 10, jeans (in package) in hand. They fit like a dream. I adore them.

Jeans: $64.95.
Time spent trying to figure out what the hell happened with the system: $22/hr, oh, for 10 hours of fretting and so-forth..
Looking like I actually have a curvy ass: Priceless.

The post office, however, might do well to give my postal carrier another eye test. Or invest in some glasses. $0.39 to mail a letter adds up after a while -- it has to pay for some decent frames eventually.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

i have a question for the governor of south dakota

If a pregnant woman insists she will take her own life immediately if denied an abortion, is an abortion necessary to save the life of the mother?

A world in which this becomes the next koan is frightening.

Interesting note: El Salvador, profiled today in the New York Times Magazine as a "Pro-Life Nation" (at least partly due to its post-civil-war government leader's strident conservative Catholicism, the article says), employs forensic vagina inspectors. That's one job that I don't think we need to bring to America, and if we do so, I'd say it's time to move.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

iron age

Yesterday I bought an iron.

I had this dinky little travel iron that stopped working probably the third time I ever used it back in college. For Christmas, though, my aunt sent us some really lovely napkins that, I soon learned, are not so much wrinkle-free after a wash.

Then Alisa was asking me what my "something borrowed" was because she didn't have one yet. While I, horribly, couldn't remember (unless it was the lucky ha'penny that fell out of my shoe and I will never forgive myself for losing), I offered her my bridal handkerchief as her "something borrowed," which she gladly accepted and which makes me happy to no end.

So I got it out and realized, Damn. This needs to be ironed too.

I had to go to the hardware store on my way to class because I was out of tape for class. It's uber-important that I tape out the stage exactly now that we're in rehearsals, so I caved and decided to buy some tape rather than fudge it with the remnants. I was walking back up to the counter when the Appliances aisle caught my eye -- there, for a mere $12, was an iron. An iron I might go so far as to call "cute," in fact.

And I thought, All right. Suck it up, and let's just get it over with.

I don't really know why I've put off buying an iron for so long. It seems like it is one of those items that everyone just has, even if it sits in the closet unused. I think on a subconscious level, avoiding this particular purchase was one last bastion of "I'm not really a grown-up!" protestations. After all, Jim's shirts go to the cleaners to be laundered, and until the napkins and the tablecloth and the handkerchief, I didn't really have anything that absolutely required ironing.

(I'm sure my mother is horrified by this. This is a woman who used to wear ironed jeans. Then again, that might just be because our housekeeper, Burnette, ironed everything. I'm pretty sure that included underwear.)

I have to admit, though, I'm actually kind of excited about the iron. I enjoy doing laundry -- it's my form of meditation -- and now ironing can be a part of that.

Just don't make me buy an ironing board. Given my klutztastic tendencies and the fact that I never had one of these to practice on,that can only result in disaster.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

that's what friends are for

Me: "Oh! Here's something I did today: I made a spreadsheet of the things we want to see in Paris, their costs, discounts, closing days, and other notes. Because I am an enormous dork."

Elizabeth: "You made ... a spreadsheet."{pause} "You are, in fact, the biggest dork I have ever known."

Me: "Well, first I was making a list."

Elizabeth: "I mean - useful! But - dorky."

Me: "But it was all messy, so I made a table in Excel."

Elizabeth: "Did you color code?"

Me: "No."

Elizabeth: "But there is formatting involved? Did you background-color the top row?"

Me: "No."

Elizabeth: "Okay, so you're not the biggest dork in the world."

in my family, he's what we call an "S.D."

Studs Terkel was on the Daily Show last night.

He's 94 years old. He doesn't speak clearly and hears even worse. But he did say one thing that I think I may remember forever:"A commoner can tell the royalty to "Bugger off!" I have a public servant -- you have a public servant -- I have a president (so-called). And the fact is, I can tell the President to bugger off! That is being American."

Yeah, that was pretty great.

I think I'd like to read his new book. Although I doubt he talks about Jon Stewart's next topic -- "Race: The AfroSpanicIndioAsianization of America."

Good times.

exchange great

I've been doing a lot of reading about the best way to handle money in Europe. I'm starting to feel like my head is going to explode, or that I'm in a bad dream where I'm about to sit for an economics final exam.

Credit cards, you see, have started adding extra fees to foreign transactions. In the recent past, credit cards were the go-to for European travel because you got a better exchange rate when using them, but the issuing banks decided they needed to make more money off of this process, and add anywhere from a 2% to 5% extra fee. (For a while, CapitalOne and Providian weren't doing this at all, but apparently someone clued them in and they wised up. Heh.)

Traveler's cheques have somewhat fallen out of fashion -- again, banks charge rather exorbitant fees to exchange them. Even if the cheque is in the currency of the country, there's a fee to change the cheque into cash. Fun!

ATMs, however, are a pretty good option. You can get money from your own checking account, and you get the best available exchange rate. Sure, you might pay a 2-euro surcharge and the couple of bucks your own bank charges, but if you take out large sums, it kind of comes out in the wash.

American Express and Visa both offer Traveler's Cheque Cards now, which addresses the liqudity problem (i.e., keeps you from drawing solely on your home bank account right after sending in the rent check). You buy a certain amount on them in either dollars, pounds, or euros, and you can use them either as debit cards to purchase goods, or as ATM cards to withdraw cash. You can purchase them with credit -- just like any gift card, essentially -- but you avoid those ridiculous 18% "cash advance" fees you would get if you were to use your credit card at a foreign ATM. As with a regular ATM card, withdrawing large sums generally makes the fees come out more in your favor.

Then again, that means you have to carry around large sums of cash, which is the least replaceable form of currency.

Sigh. It's a pain in the butt, is what it is. Or, I guess, a pain in the pocketbook.

Monday, April 03, 2006

canon fodder

The newly redesigned New York Times had an article today about the amateur short videos hosted on YouTube and the online phenomenon they have helped create.

One of the videos referenced in the article is called "Guitar" and is five minutes of electric-guitar virtuosity set over an electrified arrangement of Pachelbel's "Canon in D."

I have never been a huge fan of the "Canon." It's a lovely but vastly overplayed piece of music, particularly at weddings. (I guess it's easy to walk to?) I was so anti-"Canon" in terms of our own wedding that I did not even consider using it. Then again, Jim and I are fantastically geeky, so we chose:

"Wedding March," W. A. Mozart, Le Nozze de Figaro (groom's and attendants' processional).
"Brightly Dawns our Wedding Day," A. S. Sullivan, The Mikado (bride's processional).
"Overture" to H. M. S. Pinafore, A. S. Sullivan (recessional).

But I have to admit, as cliched as the "Canon" can be, if this guy had been available to rock out for the wedding? It just might have been worth it.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

big baby

Jim and I went out to dinner tonight, just casually, since otherwise it would have been one of those "all day inside" weekend days (except for my teaching in New Hampshire this morning).

The great thing is that I say all sorts of random-ass shit when I've had a few glasses of wine.

For example, I expounded on the fact that I have come to believe fully that the biological clock actually exists, because when I see children I sometimes want to abduct them. The other day, I pulled up at a stoplight next to a minivan full of children. A young girl was definitely coloring, while two young boys in the way back (do people even say that anymore?) were having what was apparently a highly entertaining conversation. I almost started crying.

Of course, then I said to myself, "Shut up! You hate minivans!"

I also had to admit that I'm scared about the prospect of possibly leaving Portland. Granted, I hate that this town is so obscenely far away from my parents and from my best friend. I am also clearly a Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferer, in that I'm a depressed pain in the winter despite all the Prozac (hi, Mom! -- eh, not like she didn't already know) and that I get ridiculously energetic and bouncily happy about life when the days get longer and warmer -- none of which would have my forehead stamped with a "Life in Maine" tattoo if anyone got the choice.

But I also appreciate how easy this place is to navigate, how much time I have to get done all those daily chores that pile up, how great our supermarkets are (and how close), and how wonderful are the friends we've made here. Going somewhere else where I won't be as comfortable and as able to spend time learning the ropes -- even if it's only a vague possibility -- is frightening.

However! Given that our next move will probably land us wherever it is we're going to settle for at least the first big chunk of our life -- i.e., where most likely we'll have at least one child -- the prospect is intriguing. (Oh, right, and the job prospects that accompany it. Heh.) Regardless: Yes, I know that children don't arrive as fully formed toddlers, but if I have some small arms to wrap around my neck and call me "Mommy" in the next four or five years, I'll be pretty happy.

Tonight, the Final Four will have to suffice. Root for UCLA, as Jim is the only one in his pool who has any members of the Four correct. Not that he'll win anything but respect, but it's still rather exciting. Wooo! Bruins! Wooo!