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David Malki over at Wondermark recently delved into what he calls the "Oenophile's Quandry".  When is an occasion special enough to merit that special bottle of wine?  It's a common problem facing those with collections of tasty beverages (see, for instance, this conversation over on Snooth), and I have in the past encountered champagne past its expiration date because that special occasion never arrived.

Psychologists have examined this problem, too, and perhaps it's wiser to approach it from that point of view instead of the economist's.  Basically, opening that special bottle is a special occasion all on its own, so please go for it.  Drink up!

my_beautiful_bike.jpgBicycles are far more common in other countries than they are in the United States, so it is very likely that wherever one ends up, one will be renting or buying a bicycle to get around. It follows that learning basic maintenance on a bike is a helpful skill and will save both time and money.

Unless one happens to be a really hard-core cyclist, a single-speed used bicycle will probably be perfectly sufficient.  One should of course always take the bike on a test ride, and then give the bike as much of an examination as possible.  If one already knows how to tune and inspect a bike, that will be a huge advantage.  One should try not to spend more than is comfortable, but also remember to compare the price of the used bike with the cost of long-term rental.  For instance, in Costa Rica we paid ₡25,000 (about $50) each for our ugly used bikes.  This seemed like a rip-off until I compared that price to the price of renting bikes for even just a month or two.  (Note that the beautiful beach cruiser in the photo above is actually back home in storage and cost considerably more than $50.)

Before riding a bike in a foreign country, make sure to learn the basics of the traffic laws there, and try to figure out the basics of bicycle safety in that country.  Will there be a need to travel at night, for instance?  Which side of the road should a cyclist be traveling on?  If there's a lot of heavy traffic and hand-signals are expected or required, figure out what they are before needing to use them.

Among the things that one should learn about a bike are the very basics, such as adjusting seats and handlebars, to the slightly less-basic like changing tires and tubes and tightening bike chains. One should also become familiar with basic maintenance, such as lubricating bike parts and inspecting spokes and wheel alignments. Here's a list of resources for learning basic bicycle repair and techniques:

tropical_beach.jpgThis has been my first trip to the tropics as a somewhat responsible adult, and there have been a few interesting lessons learned along the way.  For instance, choice of clothing needs to be adjusted for a long stay in the tropics.  Even though Fall approaches in the northern latitudes, down here the weather remains the same.  All of my tweed and worsteds remain in Oregon where I left them.  I should also note that I'm not a big fan of weird modern fabrics, and tend to stick with old-fashioned natural fibers most of the time.  However, I will write about a few exceptions to this in the future.

I was very worried about the heat down here.  It is warm, but not so hot as high summer in Southern Oregon.  It is humid; in fact, far more so than Oregon, but not so humid as Georgia in the Summer.  My ability to handle this sort of climate for a long period of time was completely unknown, so it was difficult to know what to pack.  The following are a few lessons that I hope our readers can benefit from.

Planning for Long-Term Travel

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Chris Guillebeau recently wrote an article called The Calm Before the Storm, about the stress and unpredictability of a big event in one's life and the difficulty of planning for it.  No plan should be so inflexible that it cannot adapt to new situations.

Long-term travel can be difficult to plan.  It's not exactly the same as a three-week vacation in another country, because you have to decide what to do about everything.  Recurring bills are a big one:  what should one do about car insurance, telephone bills, and even rent?  As Mr. Guillebeau writes, it is a process.

Among the times to think about for long-term travel are the following:
Since we've been in the tropics, I've found the climate to be too humid to wear a sportcoat all of the time.  However, I've still found that carrying a pocket notebook is absolutely essential, so I've found a way.  Read about the importance of carrying a notebook in this recent article on the Art of Manliness.

Beeradise Lost

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As a seasoned world traveler I know that different destinations offer their own plusses and minuses.  When I did my stint in Antarctica I was surprised by how many women bemoaned the loss of their favorite hair stylist or manicurist.  Or the fact that extreme cold makes nails break.  I however missed my guilty pleasure of hitting up Taco Bell after an evening of drinking.  But the plusses were palpable; beautiful vistas, the shock and adrenaline of negative fifty degrees, the camaraderie that comes with being stranded on the edge of the world.  Everyone had something they missed.  Everyone had something that they would miss when they left.  Which brings me to my current predicament, primarily, Beer.

The first time I stepped foot in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica, I felt a liberating exhilaration.  The lazy pace of the people, the cool ocean breeze, the smell of jerked chicken, combined with being able to go topless on the pristine beaches left me feeling like I had finally found my home.  Indeed, I tried to make it my home, spent a year and a half in a tent on the beach until I had to leave due to extensive drug use.  When I arrived home in Medford, Oregon, my father took one look at my 90 pound body with scars and bug bites and for the first time, broke down and cried.  Coke is hell of a drug:  something I will write in a later post.  The plus side is that I seem to have developed an allergy to it, and even the sight of it leaves me nauseous.  That aside, I have developed another addiction that has put a slight dampener on my home town.  Again, Beer.

I fully blame my beloved boyfriend for my current dilemma.  I should have known, I met him in a beer store:  an oddly erudite and well dressed man with a curly handlebar moustache and a boyish smile.  I was a beer punk.  I wanted it cheap and preferably in a can I could crush on my forehead afterwards.  He introduced me to a line of high alcohol content beer, which was a plus for me because why drink if not to get drunk?  I slowly started discovering that I was put off more and more by the prospect of PBR.   When we moved in together in May of last year and the idea of moving to Costa Rica was raised one of the first questions he pressed was "What about beer?"  I was incensed!  How could he pose such a frivolous question when the purpose of life, we had both agreed, was to travel the world!  Beer, shmeer! I wanted to go back to Costa Rica and see it through sober eyes (coke sober, that is).  Now, after a year of him exposing me to the greatest beers in the world, I know what he meant.  Jerk.  If it were not for him I would not be sitting here craving an IPA or Stout, or Rogue's delicious Chipotle Ale.  If it was not for him I could sit with my ignorant bliss on the shore with an Imperial happily in hand.  Now I feel like I am forced to drink piss.  Ahhh, Beer.

We have found some gems, but all at ridiculously high prices.  Lindeman's Framboise is here, along with Duvel, Leffe, and Guiness Export Stout, a really delicious version of the usual we buy in the States.  The lack of taps is disappointing too, as an Imperial from the keg has got to elevate its flavor somewhat.  I haven't figured out the mailing system yet but as soon as I do, I fully expect my friends to send us some Dogfish Head, or even Nikasi, I need my hops!  So while loyal reader may be jealous of our stint in Costa Rica, know at least part of me is jealous of your delicious beer selection.  Enjoy one for me.  Beer.
I missed Earth Day, which would have been the perfect time to write on this subject, but recently caught an article about the greenness of clasic style on Off The Cuff.  Chris Hogan argues that quality clothing is environmentally friendly because it can last for decades without going out of style, and usually can be repaired instead of simply discarded.  These are great arguments, and are entirely true.  I would also theorize that custom-made clothing and shoes have a smaller carbon footprint, though I have absolutely no data to back up that idea.

We should also consider again Lord Whimsy's tramp æsthetic, however, and that most people who dress themselves well do so for only a short time, and their clothing ends up in thrift stores.  It can be a hunt, and will rely more on serendipity than the careful planning espoused by Mr. Hogan, but the finds can be glorious treasures.  Tweed jackets in interesting patterns and colors, neckwear of all variety (including ascots and knit ties), and interesting footwear have all been mine for a song.  Classic braces (suspenders, you know) can cost $60 brand new, but are often found at a thrift store for $3 or less, needing just minor repairs.

Lord Whimsy's approach to style is not for everybody, however, and the tramp æsthete can frequently spend more time among the shabby aisles of Goodwill than a man willing and able to frequently spend a handful of large bills on brand-new high-quality clothing.  But for one with time, dedication, and just a bit of good luck, thrift stores and their gems and treasures should not be overlooked.

Beer and Taxes

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Once in my early twenties, while taking a break from my taxes, I decided to write up a list of where my precious, measly pay had been spent.  Housing had accounted for $6,000; books and music an estimated $1,300; and I worked in the restaurant industry so food costs were nominal.  To my great surprise, when I had calculated out my beer budget, a whopping $2,100 had gone to---you guessed it---the glorious Pabst Brewing Company.  It was a staple that continually needed to be stocked: a welcoming offered to every visitor and consumed with relish, like Irish soda bread or tea.  Not once do I remember a nose being turned up at it, as I can only imagine my nose would be prone to do today.  I don't know if there were many beer snobs in Richmond, Virginia, at that time, but if there were they certainly weren't running in my circles.

Upon moving to Southern Oregon from Costa Rica, the only libation I craved was the cheap, clean, astringency of guaro (sugar cane rum) and coconut water.  There was none to be had.  I had noticed that the convenient store coolers here in Medford carried more than the average Coors, Miller, and Budweiser trio.  I spotted numerous Ninkasi and Lagunitas branded hoodies on the same scenesters that I once would have assumed were PBR diehards.  It wasn't until boredom brought me into the specialty bottle shop, Bear Creek Beers, that I did begin to comprehend how vast the world of beer truly is.   Confronted with hundreds of glistening bottles, I requested anything with a high alcohol content and the dapper young beer monger directed me to the Celebrator doppelbock from Ayinger.   A relatively high 6.7% was cloaked under a taste that I simply couldn't put a finger on, and to be quite honest, repulsed me.  It seemed to my untrained palate like a Heineken that had been reduced on a slow burner for hours.   At $3.70 a bottle I choked it down, the perplexed salesman trying to puzzle out what caused my face to pucker so.  Upon multiple returns we determined that a rich Black Boss Porter was more to my liking and the most likely offender was Munich malt, used in many German beers.  It was a revelation that such an subtle aftertaste could be pinned down and  attributed to a region and style.  Beer was beginning not to be just beer.

The first day I heard of Hollandaise was the very same day I was attempting to make a half gallon vat of it to the sounds of a moaning and very frustrated souse chef at a job I had chanced my way into.   For two years he patiently introduced me to the basics of the culinary world.  Mirepoix and truffles and duxelles, oh my!   After my stint at The Jefferson  food was never the same.  I wonder at the homogeny of my former diet.  How I could have lived in a world void of the occasional daikon salad or 12-year aged balsamic dressing?   Now, after a season of winter warmers, drinkable session lagers,  rich barley wines, effervescent Belgians, smoky rauchbier, and nectar-like lambics, I am left pondering much the same.  The ever-hoppy IPAs help to define the Northwest in my mind, as ESBs leave me looking forward to trips to London.   Guiness is left by the wayside behind heady coconut porters and Young's Double Chocolate Stout.  Beautiful experimental  beers such as Dogfish Head's World Wide Stout or New Belgium's Lips of Faith series continue to challenge the palate.   Luckily my area also has two fantastic microbreweries, Caldera and S.O.B., to satiate my desire to support local businesses.
If you are interested in expanding your beer horizons don't be shy.  Like Guinness?  Try a Murphy's Irish Stout.  Is New Castle your style?  Try a Samuel Smith Nut Brown.  I've found many ladies who gravitate to the more fruity beers also love the over the top IPAs like Russian River's Pliny the Elder or Oscar Blues' Gubna.  But most of all, keep trying, because tastes, like all good things, mature.  To which I owe the illustrious Munich malt an apology, for now I find you absolutely delectable.

I have never had a very impressive palate for wine.  Most of the time I can tell what I like and what I don't like, and from time to time I can be lucky enough to pick up on one of those elusive aromas wine geeks are always talking about.  "Blackberry," usually.  Sometimes "pepper."  I have never really had the best of luck with tobacco, leather, pit fruits, flowers, duck fat, or any of those other weird things that people pick up in wine flavors.  But I am sure they are there.  I have seen people identify wine regions, grapes, alcohol content, and other impressive things by taste alone, and there is one isolated case where I usually can do a good job, too.

It was a bottle of 2007 RoxyAnn Claret that first made me stop and think about this interesting flavor I was tasting.  I think I would describe it as "peppery," but what I knew for sure was that it was delicious.  It was a flavor I ran into frequently in Claret-style wines, and I just couldn't figure out what it was.  Clarets were delicious, but usually rather expensive.  Why did they taste so good?  Was I just paying for quality?  These questions plagued me, and obviously deserved some investigation.  So I put on my favorite battered fedora, pulled out my magnifying glass, and grabbed some Riedel stemware, and began to work on this puzzle.
Last weekend, our intrepid beer sleuths (that's Vera and I) managed to visit eight Oregon breweries in four days.  This isn't such a huge feat if you're in Portland, but we didn't travel within 100 miles of that fine metropolis.  First we visited Newport, and then Eugene.

Newport is home to Rogue Ales, perhaps one of Oregon's most famous larger microbreweries.  Their beer is incredibly popular, and after tasting over a half-dozen of the varieties they had on tap, our favorites ended up being the smokey, slightly spicy Chipotle Ale and the remarkable estate beer, Dirtoir Black Lager.

In Eugene, we met up with New Belgium Beer Ranger Ryan Stahel, who gave us plenty of tips on breweries to visit, beers to try, and things to see.  It being just a little over a month after the KLCC Microbrew Festival, everybody had their KLCC Collaboration Beer on tap.  This beer is an incredible Cascadian Dark Ale made with four varieties of hops, a portion of rye, and a Belgian yeast.

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