Saturday, February 28, 2009

Notes from the meltdown

I got a letter the other day from the good people at Capital One, whose usual (weekly) correspondence consists of offers to transfer a balance to my Capital One credit card (now canceled after the letter, which was a change in terms for the worse) or to "upgrade" a loan I took out with them in 2007.

That loan came at a fortuitous time: We had an assortment of debts, from the now-paid off CRV to the costs and fees associated with being homeowners. OK, there might have been some frivolous stuff in there, too.

The loan terms were pretty good. They handed over a stack of loot eerily similar to what I needed with three years to pay, for about $1,900 in interest (7 percent, so you math whizzes can figure out how much I borrowed). I figure $50-odd a month is an OK price for peace of mind. I pay about that for Internet service, after all.

After about a year of payments, last June or so, I started getting the dear-valued-customer letters offering me the "increased flexibility" of a much larger loan. The most recent offer I got was to lend me $30,000, a portion of which would be used to pay off my current loan and the rest handed over with a minimum payoff plan of four years at 8 percent. To keep payments similar to what they are now, I'd have to opt for the 7-year payoff plan at 9 percent.

Seven years? Ouch. We're very fortunate to be out of woods with debt (unless, you know, you count the next 15 months of loan payments and the 2012 end point for the butterfly lady's student loans and the house), but I would like to remind anyone who thinks me overly smug that I work at a newspaper, which means that being out of debt is pretty god damn urgent.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Observation from Obama's speech

Just something I noticed: When President Obama was talking Tuesday night, he made a point to Democrats and Republicans and I spotted something of interest.

When he said "Democrats," he clenched his fist - not hard, like fighting, but an actual clench. I notice politicians usually feign fist clenching when it would be appropriate in normal conversation. I assume this is to look less kooky. Usually, I observe them closing their hand as if around a baton (like the ones runners pass in relays), but Obama's fist clench was the real McCoy, maybe a sign of "we are strong, we are together."

He followed "Democrats" immediately with the words "and Republicans," which he accompanied with a slightly wagged index finger, like "you bums better get on board."

Pretty cool.

You can watch - yegods - the whole thing below.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Disappearing clip re-found

I really like this poem Jesse Jackson performed on Sesame Street.

I'll post more about other stuff soon - just busy with home improvement, etc.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Almost done, photos to follow

The flooring project, which I squared the bulk of away Sunday afternoon and Monday, is nearing a close, though I'm still fooling with the woodwork that is the transition from the living room to the dining room, as well as from the laminate floor of the child's room to its carpeted closet.

Anyway, the re-org has left my aging computer untethered from the Internet, which puts a damper on blog posts, especially ones with photos.

So, trust me: It looks good, but it'll look better when you can see it!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Home improvement

This post will take a while to get to the point, depending on what you're looking for in it, so just stick with me.

So, I usually forget to take "before" and "during" photos, so it should be no surprise that the befores are missing. But here are a couple of during photos of the now-in-progress project to install new flooring in the living room and the soon-to-be-former office. Those last five words are foreshadowing, for all you literary types.
Oh yeah, the living room is getting overhauled, too. Trust me, you're glad you can't see too much detail on the carpets.
OK, here's the roundabout part:

Our office has had several names over the years.

When we lived in this city in the 1990s, we called the office "Monny's room" because that was who lived there before he moved out and the computer and all our extra crap moved in.

In our dinky apartment in New Hampshire, we still called the second bedroom "Monny's room," though we occasionally also called it the office, among other words. It was small.

Here, we've pretty much called the office "the office" from day one, but in late July or early August, Allah willing, it should have a new name. Like, maybe, "Aurelia's room" or "Ridley's room" or "Gabriel's room" or something like that.

Whatever it is called, it will not have carpet. I am not a fan of carpet. I think it might be fairer to say I despise carpet. Read into that if you like... Also, if you were looking for the big excitement, go back a paragraph.

Anyway, being as we have two leviathans hanging around - and I'm alarmingly klutzy sometimes - tile is out, as is cork, as is most kinds of wood. I'm not sold on bamboo, either, not for flooring anyway. Too many questions about the adhesives for my taste. So our friends at DuPont, who make low-emission and generally responsible flooring now have this stack, plus another behind it, ready to be installed. On Monday!
And because every big job demands the acquisition of a nice tool, the butterfly lady kindly bought me this handy dandy late birthday present.
Stay tuned. If the job goes as planned, the next "during" photos all will be a blur. But the "afters" should be good. They damn well better be, anyway.

Oh, and someone likes the same music I do:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A penny saved

At the grocery store Sunday afternoon, I spotted an acquaintance, Chalese, who wound up in line behind me at the checkout. She had her little one with her and a cart with maybe a dozen items, including two Sunday Oregonians (that's a Portland, Ore., newspaper, in case you're unfamiliar).

The checker rang them up ($2.50 each!) and was about to bag them when Chalese said, "Oh, no, I'm done with those. You can toss them." The checker looked askance, as I'm sure I did, and she said, "I already got the coupons out of them."

I needled her about sacrilege and stuff and we wound up chitchatting about coupons and such. She said she doesn't take the paper I work at - not enough coupons - nor a larger one down the road - also not enough coupons. She's pretty organized, too, a strategic shopper who uses coupons when the items she wants are already on discount at the store.

Chalese is the perfect person to have as a reader: She's smart, articulate, a mom, young and professional (she's a cop). How could you lose? By not having good enough coupons, obviously.

So I took her gospel to work with me this week and had some decent results. We're working on a project to help people get through these troubled economic times and Chalese or someone(s) like her are likely to be source(s) for a coupon-clipping story. The ad director was interested, as was the online guy. So, we'll see where things take us. And just today, I was passed an e-mail from another reader who wishes we had better coupons.

I'm sure there's irony in here somewhere. The best part of the whole deal was when we were bidding adieu at the store. I'd just asked if she'd be up for being a source if we did a story and she said, "Sure. You know how to get in touch with me." I said, "Yeah, dial 911."

Alfalfa sprouts? Nope.

One day at work, I was telling this joke to a coworker. When I got to just before the alfalfa sprouts part, another coworker who was walking through the room said that line and I said, "Well you're not in the fucking club." Everyone was like, "oh my god, you're so mean!" Except of course the other Mitch Hedberg fan.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Snazzy fountain at Miyako Westin

If you're in the underground maze near the Kyoto train station, you should try to find your way to this fountain, which runs intermittently and is near one of the entrances to the swanky Miyako Westin.

Our hanging around and shooting seemed to snag a few onlookers, but most people just hurried by.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Birds of note

While in Kyoto last week with my father and the butterfly lady, we visited the Gold Pavilion (Kinkakuji), which is notable for its, um, pavilion clad in gold and - now, to me - for its pond, which when we were there had about a half-dozen Baikal teals swimming around. Here's what they look like (someone else's video, alas):

What a treat! Not a bird I ever expected to see, for sure.

Yesterday, I caught wind of another oddball bird, a great gray owl, that is hanging around the local Corps of Engineers flood-control project, and I met up with a couple of in-the-know bird people who showed me its haunt. A half-hour of snooping around in the cold river bottom and presto! Here's a for instance, so you can see how cool it was:

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Work - where you to rest up after vacation

I'm still a little fuzzy from the time difference between Kyoto and Walla Walla, but I suppose all will be smooth soon. It is jarring to be in a place where I can understand virtually all of the conversations around me and read everything I can see.

Is that a good thing? I don't know. It's handy at the grocery store when you're trying to read labels, but not so handy when you have to listen to every cotton-picking thing everyone says.

I don't think I've used cotton-picking in a conversation, ever, by the way.