Tuesday, April 29, 2008

You Really CAN Learn From TV

I wouldn't exactly call myself a TV junkie. Maybe at one point I was: pre-knitting, pre-6 cats, pre-Todd. Yet even now there are some shows that I like to watch periodically, some cartoons, etc. I do enjoy me some British comedy and most of the shows on BBC America. Then there's Lost. Don't even get me started....

I used to watch the Food Network a lot. I liked many of the shows on there and the "chefs" they had seemed down-to-earth and approachable. Hell, I even liked Rachel Ray back in the day. I'll admit that. However, this is WELL before her funny and hokey, little 30-Minute Meals show turned into a freakish, sprawling, insane, and reviling enterprise of her screaming maw on everything from magazines, to cookware, to Triscuits, and beyond. Now I pretty much can't stand the sight of her.

I digress.

Anyway, folks like Sarah Moulton (whose show isn't even on anymore, BOO), Ina Garten, and Alton Brown just seemed so different than the stodgy TV chefs I remember seeing when I was a kid. I suddenly recall a PBS series called Great Chefs of New Orleans. In retrospect, this show was probably very good and featured REAL CHEFS. But watching it as a 9-year old, I could barely understand what was going on. Everything was so complicated and most of the chefs had heavy accents, often foreign.

Hold on, back up there. What about Julia Child?

I grew up believing that Julia Child was a stuffy, British woman, probably a grandmother of about 12, who was most likely born in a kitchen with a recipe for Beef Bourguignon attached to her umbilical cord.

Aside from definitely being a woman, she was none of those things I mentioned above. But was, quite possibly, one of the most admirable women I have ever come to learn about. And just what medium disabused me of all these WRONG notions I contrived about Julia Child? A TV show on the Food Network called Chefography.

Briefly, here's what I learned:

First of all, she wasn't British. I have absolutely NO idea where I got that idea in my head. She was, actually, from California. Free-spirited and fiercely intelligent, she despised cooking and thought it was merely a utilitarian means to make foods edible.

Julia wanted to make a difference in the world. She joined the American Red Cross after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And later, her career took her overseas to Sri Lanka where she worked for the US government's Secret Service Office, which later would become the CIA. It was there she met her future husband, Paul Child. At age 34, she married Paul and 2 years later, the couple found themselves stationed in Paris, France.

It wasn't until 1949 that Julia Child seriously thought about cooking. She was 37 years old. Living in Paris certainly influenced her desire to learn, as well as her husband's cultured past as a poet and artist. She attended cooking school at Le Courdon Bleu. Julia was fun, smart, and practical with an ordered mind, yet a sense of adventure: a perfect combination to excel at the art of cooking.

And she did.

I'd like to say "...and the rest is history." But that would be an extreme disservice to Julia Child. I don't think many people realize how significant this woman was. She started her own cooking school with 2 of her friends; a real, gourmet cooking school for women. She wrote the compendium on French cooking, in 2 volumes. I'd like to own these someday, if they are still in print.

It wasn't until 1962 when anyone actually saw Julia Child on a television set. And it wasn't a cooking show. It was a book-review show on WGBH, a PBS station in Boston. On that show, Julia cooked an omelet right there, live. TV audiences wanted more Julia! In 1963 her cooking show, The French Chef, debuted on PBS. Julia was 51 years old. This was one of the first TV cooking shows to be met with resounding success. The show ran for 10 years, and then ran in re-runs until 1987.

It was probably during the 1975-1980 time-frame when I first saw Julia Child on TV. How little I understood, then, about what her life was like, her experiences, her fire, and her brilliance.

By the end of Chefography, I was nearly in tears. I loved everything about the real Julia Child. And how sad I was to have had this epiphany about her at this point in my life, age 35. But then again, as someone who didn't so much as pick up a frying pan until she was my age, Julia would have understood.

Thanks, Julia, for being you.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Well, Look Who It Is!


Sorry I haven't been posting in a while. There's been a LOT going on over the last few weeks.

In brief:

My sister and her family visited over Easter. We threw her a surprise 40th birthday party, albeit it was 3 weeks after her actual birthday. She suspected nothing and a great time was had by all. Well...except my niece, Aubrey, who is terrified of Todd. Poor Todd. She seriously would wail every time he got beyond her personal line of demarcation.

The week following, my nephew, Ethan, stayed up in Philly and spent Sunday-Tuesday night with his grandmother and Wednesday-Sunday with Todd and me. A lot of Warcraft was played and a lot of deliciously-bad-for-you food was had by all. I have some funny stories to report. Will do that later. But let me just say that when Todd and Ethan are together it's like having two 13-year olds in the house....

While Ethan was over, we had an electrical malfunction in our house in the office. Basically, all the outlets in the room shorted-out. One of them was so bad that it was pretty much charred beyond recognition. About a year ago, we had an electrician in to do some work fixing an outlet for the dryer. He mentioned that because we have aluminum wiring in the house, that all the electrical outlets and switches should have copper "pig-tailing" done to them to prevent a potential electrical disaster.

A note about aluminum wiring: Aluminum wiring was THE standard back in the 70s for new home construction. My house was built in 1970. The one time ever when anything I touched would be state-of-the-art? Before I was born. Anyway, fast forward to 2008. The average American home today is very different than the average home of 1970. I mean who had a computer in their HOME in 1970? Digital cameras? DVD players? Heck even VCRs? Nobody. Everything has to be plugged in now.

So our 2008 home, with 2 computers and plenty of other electronic peripherals, just ganked the 1970 aluminum wiring. We knew that this could have been a problem, but we never thought it would be as serious as it got. So we called the electrician in to fix everything and to install 4 ceiling fans in the bedrooms, which have been sitting in their boxes for nearly a year waiting for installation. He also put a home surge protector on our circuit breaker and fixed the lights in the basement so that I wouldn't have to stand on a chair and screw in light bulbs when I went down there.
A note about the ceiling fans: Yeah, the "workmen," a.k.a IQ-75 humanoids with a vertebrae (maybe) who "renovated" our house put our overhead light fixtures RIGHT IN THE CEILING. They didn't bother to anchor them into a beam in the attic or anything. So we couldn't install a heavy ceiling fan ourselves that way, or else we'd have been torn to ribbons in our sleep when the thing came crashing onto our faces. Nice.

$2150 later, it's all done---correctly, safely. And the ceiling fans are freakin' awesome.

Next home tragedy: The WINDOWS OF DOOM.

So, yeah, because I love you guys, I am going to try to not hash out all the back-story about the windows. Suffice it to say that we discovered last year that one of them (in the office upstairs) was leaking. We tried to do a quickie fix on it. No luck. By the end of 2007 we discovered that 2 additional windows on the 2nd floor were also leaking; these WORSE than the office. It was so bad, we had to DUCT TAPE PLASTIC CUPS TO THE WINDOW in the master bedroom. We'd be awakened at like 3:00 am to what sounded like a waterfall behind my head. Swell. It still beats Hobo Orgy Jumanji house, though.

Something had to be done. I will also spare you the ghastly details of my dealing with our homeowners insurance except to say that I am STILL dealing with their idiocy (since Feb 19) and I had to report them to the Delaware Insurance Board. Yup. Travelers. Don't use them.
So we finally get a guy in to look at the windows.

It was a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Here's how the exchange went:

Window Guy (WG): Ok, so which ones?
Gina & Todd (GT): Start with this one here in the master bedroom. It's the worst.
WG: Ok...let's see [opens screen and leans out]. Oh...God...this is aluminum siding.
GT: Yeah? Is that bad?
WG: Well, no, but it's damn near impossible to work with. Oh these are new windows? Dammit. Sigh.
GT: Yes. See this house was like completely renovated before we bought it. I guess the siding is old.
WG: Yeah, ok, this is the original siding. Nobody uses aluminum siding anymore. It's all vinyl now. See these windows? They are not meant for aluminum siding. There is NO flashing or sealant around this window at all. I can take out this trim thing they put in there right now. Jesus. You have to make special accommodations when installing windows in aluminum. So there is nothing preventing water coming in, and it's coming in around the entire window, not just the top. This is going to rot out your entire window frame. Yeah, well, whoever did this did it 100% wrong.
GT: Why am I not surprised? [We went on to explain the details of the leaking.]
WG: What?! How long have you lived here?
GT: A little over a year.
WG: [Shakes head in dismay]. Jeez. ...And how many cats do you have? Every time I turn around I see a different one.
GT. Um, yeah, we have 6.
WG: Man, seriously?! Wow. Look at that one! [Points to Mr. Chesterfield] Is his tail supposed to be like that?
GT: Yeah. He's a Japanese Bobtail. Can you seal the windows?
WG: Well really, I can pretty much put a band-aid on it for you. It's not going to be a permanent fix and I can't really guarantee how long it will last. What you really need to do is change the siding. That will have to be replaced.
GT: O_o. Well...ok. I don't think we can afford that, now, especially with the electrical work. But give us an estimate anyway.
WG: ...What's wrong with your electric?
GT: [We explain the electrical issues.]
WG: [Shakes head again.] Jesus Christ. Ok I'll do a count of the windows up here and give you an estimate of what it will cost, probably sometime early next week.
GT: Ok thanks.

Later that same night, I get an email from him. He said he just could not let us stay with those windows like that and gave us an estimate for $380 to at least temporarily seal all the windows on the second floor. I thought that was very reasonable. He also noted that our flue did not have a cap on it. This is bad because rain, debris from the trees, and animals can get in there. He installed a nice steel one on it for $150.

So after $530, that job was done at least temporarily. He did give us a quote of $4200 for the siding. This is going to have to wait until next year.

Next chapter: THE SQUIRRELS, Satan's most beloved pet.

Where do I even begin here? Ok shortly after we moved in last year, Todd thought it would be "nice" if we tried to feed the little "woodland creatures" (as he calls them) in our neighborhood. He lumped birds, squirrels, and bunnies all in this lot. Well, the squirrels took over. And whatever food (corn meal and seeds and such) we put out there, they took. At least the cats enjoyed watching them scurry around the front yard, chasing each other up a tree.

About 3 weeks ago we started noticing some strange sounds coming from the ceiling and walls in the living room, towards the front of the house, and in the floor and walls of the master bedroom, again, towards the front of the house. We would repeatedly look on the eave of the first floor roof (which sticks out about 5 feet from the wall) and never see anything.

When the electrician was finishing up his work on the ceiling fans (about 2 Fridays ago) he said to Todd, "Yeah, I think you have a squirrel infestation. They are chewing on the wiring."

I went ape shit. Try to be nice, take pity on them, and feed them, and this is what happens. No good deed goes unpunished.

We called a wildlife specialist because an exterminator won't handle these types of critters. The guy came over that same Friday. Tells Todd that he just came out of a 4-month coma. Why anyone would return to THIS type of work is beyond me, but anyway, he examined the property and found 6 places where the little buggers were getting in. He set 3 or 4 traps around the house (2 on the roof, 1 in the attic, and 1 on the front lawn). By the time I got home from work that day, one was already caught in the trap on the lawn.

We decided to dispose of them humanely. Trap them alive and unharmed, then release them in a state park somewhere. We didn't want them dead, just GONE. It cost $175 to come and do the inspection and set the traps. Then it was $75 per squirrel removal. Killing them and disposing them was $65. So for $10 more, we felt it was best to take them alive.

A few days go by. He comes and picks up the one we trapped. Monday afternoon, Todd and I has just returned from Saturn. Yes...the car was acting up...again.
To explain briefly: all Saturn Hybrids had a battery recall (something about the potential to leak acid). I brought the car in for the recall service on Saturday. They fixed it. Sunday night, the car had the "engine malfunction" light on. We called them Monday and they took us that afternoon. They kept the car overnight, and outfitted us with another shitty rental car, this time a Chevy Cobalt, which was the equivalent to driving an empty can of peas. They realized that one of the NEW batteries had a voltage problem and then replaced them all over again. Now the car is fine. WHEW.

So Monday afternoon, I was beat and went to take a nap. Twenty minutes later I was awoken by some odd sounds coming from the front window. I look out there and lo and behold, we caught another squirrel on the roof! AND there was one in the trap by the tree. So we caught two more, in total.

The wildlife guy was convinced enough that we had gotten them all and came Thursday to do the work to seal the spots where they are getting in and to prevent them from getting in again. This cost $650.

So, let's review: $175 initial visit + $75 per squirrel x3 = $225 + $650. I make that $1050.


Over a THOUSAND DOLLARS for fucking squirrels.

At least they weren't those scary-ass, mother-humping, Canadian black squirrels. Those are the size of cats. Not kidding. Here's what one looks like:

I'll wait for you to stop screaming in terror.

Ok, better? Good.

So, anybody want to venture a guess to what's been left out of this litany of home repairs/improvements?

My fucking NEW STOVE. Which I have wanted from DAY ONE in this new house. My parents and sister took pity on me and each gave me $250 to help me get the stove. So, all is not lost.
My birthday is just a couple of weeks away, so hopefully I can convince people to chip in further so I can call the plumber to come in and renew the gas line for the stove. I just can't do the electric.

Anything else? OY, MY LIFE!