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Monday, July 29, 2013

Sneak Preview of "The Lady in the Lazaretto"

"The Lady in the Lazaretto" is the second book in the Lazaretto Trilogy.  Watch for more information on it during the month of August.  The book will be released at the end of the month.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Microsoft Remodeling Company

I have to share my good fortune in finding a wonderful, quality home remodeling company to help me upgrade my older home.  And first let me assure you that no one at the Microsoft Remodeling Company has paid me in any way to pass on this glowing review of their services.

Our house before the Upgrade.
First, a little background:  My home is about five years old.  I know, I know, you're wondering how in the world I can stand to live in such an outdated house.  But give me a little credit, I was trying to be a good steward of my money, not wanting to completely lose out on my investment in what was supposed to be a top-of-the-line home when I bought it way back then.  Yes, it's true that its incandescent lights, while providing a soft, golden glow that makes my whole family feel warm and fuzzy, are ruining this earth by their very existence and need to be destroyed and replaced with the harsh glare provided by earth-friendly light-emitting mechanical orbs.  And lest you accuse me of dodging my responsibilities as a future grandparent, the sheer number of deadly pitfalls lying in wait to maim and sicken defenseless little children who might run innocently through my house is staggering.  I assure you that these dangers have been rooted out and banished as far as humanely possible.  (And of course, we'll be sure to teach those little blessings that running in a house is a safety no-no.  They'll learn it is much safer to sit and read the latest Consumer Reports warnings than actually run around and have fun.)

Okay, so I was surprised to find that when I advertised for bids to remodel my home, Microsoft Remodeling Company was the lowest bid to come in.  Actually, there were only two bids, and the higher bid, from iAAA Apple Construction, was not only nearly twice the lower bid price, it also came with some rather strange stipulations.  No matter what redesign I wanted, I had to make my doors so short and narrow that none of my friends (and most of my family) would never be allowed to use my house.  The garage door would have been so bizarre that I would have had to buy an entirely new car made exclusively by iAAA Apple Construction's sister company iCar Manufacturing.  They also demanded that I use 170 instead of 110 in my outlets.  (This seemed very strange indeed, and I spoke with my local electric company who assured me that while it would work, and it would have more power, there were no electronic devices that I could ever plug into 170.)  Needless to say, I did not go with the bid from iAAA Apple Construction.

Microsoft Remodeling Company assured me that they could provide everything I would want in my remodel.  They did, however, inform me that they would have to make some slight alterations.  Since they were the only company I could hire, I decided that I would go along with their slight alterations.  I'll admit I was a bit shocked at what they considered slight, but my friends and family assured me that I would eventually get used to the changes, so I allowed them to proceed.

Our house after the Upgrade.
Of course I see why they called the changes slight: they did not change the number of bedrooms, they did not change the layout of the rooms.  And their minor readjustments were really rather interesting, if I am to be honest with you.  When they told me they wanted to relocate the refrigerator from the kitchen to my bathroom, I was struck with the boldness of such a move.  After all, who would have thought of such a thing?  It was certainly ground-breaking.  And when they rerouted all of my water lines, which had originally run inside the walls and floors, to run on the exterior of the ceilings, I admit I had my doubts.  But when they pointed out that not only would repairs be simpler this way, but I would feel a leak as soon as one started, I had to go with the flow, so to speak.  Other changes came fast and furious, so much so that I cannot name them all here.  I will, however, mention one or two more.  It took some getting use to the fact that my driveway, which was on the left side of my house, and connected my garage to the street, now runs along the back of my house, out of sight (which is certainly a better aesthetic choice) and connects my back door to my neighbor's compost heap.  The fact that they completely eliminated my wife's greenhouse to de-clutter the backyard, insisting that she can use an off-site rental storage service for her plants, bothered me a little.  But as I said, I think I'll get used to this over time.

I only have one small complaint about my business dealings with MRC.  Though I have asked them to stop, they often show up at the house, usually in the middle of the night, and make even more minor adjustments to my home.  Last week they moved all of my outlets four inches to the left.  The handle that is used to flush the downstairs commode has been removed, and now the handle on the master bath commode flushes both commodes simultaneously.  Just last weekend, they ordered us all of out the house, insisting that they had to install an upgrade that would require shutting down the entire house for an hour.  The gas was shut off (and this meant all of the pilot-lights had to be extinguished) the electricity was cut off, the phone/Internet/cable line was disconnected, and my two cats and one dog were sedated.  By the time everything was turned back on and we were allowed back in the house, I could not find one thing that had changed in the house save for the fact that my older cat was suddenly more sluggish and drooled like a man in a dentist's chair.  The hair has begun to grow back on his tail so I'm pretty sure that was not one of the updates they worked on.

But really, I can't complain.  My house is now modernized, and continues to be modernized on a weekly basis.  And since they were cheaper than that bunch of crooks at iAAA Apple Construction, I'm completely satisfied.  The changes just take a little getting used to.

One last thing.  I sent a letter to MRC to ask where they moved the pilot light to my water heater.  They responded by saying that while they couldn't answer my question, there is a local community group of customers who get together to discuss topics like this.  They felt quite confident that another customer would be able to help me figure it out.  Now that's what I call service.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Look Back at Life, September 5, 1955

By now readers of Room With No View know that I love all things retro and I get a bit nostalgic from time to time.  You also know I have a stack of old magazines from my wife's uncle and I love to peek through them for advertisements that give us an idea of what was really going on during those years.  The articles are nice, sure, but advertisers have their fingers on the pulse of the readers far better than those writing the articles.

And so we dip yet again into the ad-world of Life magazine for September 5, 1955.  And remember, the things you'll learn here are completely true.  I don't make any of this up.  Honest!
We start with this eye catcher from the inside cover.  I have no idea who Forstmann is, but they make a snazzy business suit for glamorous women on the go!  However, that's not quite true.  The small print tells us that Forstmann is a woolen company.  They make the finest woolens in the world.  And this wool, "oriola" in cornflower blue, is a lovely, soft wool that can be found in stores near you.

You can also purchase this fabric by the yard.  It doesn't tell us which yard you can buy it by.  I suppose it should read "you can buy it by a yard near you."  Which always leads us to the question: how do they know where you are?

Forstmann Woolen Company was founded in Passaic, New Jersey in 1904.  They were in business until the 1990's, when they were eventually bought out by Victor Woolen Products after a financially troubled decade.  Does anyone out there remember this company?

Here's an ad that will make your mouth water.  Who didn't love these tasty metallic treats?  Here you get turkey and gravy, peas, carrots (or is that sweet potatos?) along with a surprise helping of stuffing.  Everything you want in a turkey dinner.  But wait!  There's more!  In this great magazine offer, Swanson is offering to reimburse you for a package of fruit pies.  That's right, go ahead and buy your family fruit pies to top off that dinner with a tasty dessert.  When Swanson sends you 35 cents, you'll be more than reimbursed.  You'll have your money back, your husband and kids will have already enjoyed their flaky, fruity treat, and you'll be happy knowing that you were able to feed them all from metal plates.  That's really cool.  After all, in 1955, everyone knew that the future was heading towards a society that would be based on metal, plastic, and synthetics.

I'm not so impressed that the 35 cents more than covers the cost of the pies.  I'm impressed that it was worth sending 35 cents through the mail back then.  Currently, that is 11 cents less than what one stamp costs today.  Enjoy your pie!

You know I'm gonna try to find a great car ad to show you.  And although there were no car ads in this magazine (what was up with that?) I did find this wonderful Sky Chief layout.  And what a beauty it is!  Here you learn that Sky Chief  gasoline gives your car three types of power.  Count them, go ahead...1,2,3!

Of course the first one is Petrox.  You knew that, right?  I mean, this stuff is awesome.  It actually protects as it powers.  Essentially, since it cannot leave harmful deposits (that's right, it is some sort of law, it can leave no harmful deposits--go ahead, read it right there in the ad) it will make your engine last longer and you'll get more, money-saving miles from every gallon.  Petrox.  You gotta love this stuff.

After pouring 75 million dollars into an octane increasing project, Texaco wants you to know that this gas, which is now the highest octane Sky Chief gasoline ever available, will enable you to "enjoy a brand new power-feel every mile you drive!"  (The exclamation point is theirs, so don't think I am terribly impressed by their expensive project.)

And don't forget number 3:  This gasoline is 100% climate-controlled.  Seriously, I had no idea gas could be air-conditioned.  And the great thing is, that in all 48 states, you are assured top performance from Sky Chief which means...oh yeah, you wouldn't have guessed it...faster getaways!  (Now that exclamation point was added by yours truly, because I'm impressed that Texaco would be marketing their gasoline to bank robbers.  That's just unique, in my humble opinion.)

Now hear is an ad I can really get excited about.  RCA Victor wants us all to see that their 5 new Orthophonic "Victrola" phonographs bring you a new concept in High Fidelity performance.  Incredibly, the price spread here is from $129.95 all the way up to $1600.  That's a pretty big spread.  And really, it starts at a pretty steep price.  I mean, if you can buy a package of pies for 35 cents, shouldn't you be able to buy a stereo for about $60?  Well, I guess that's the price you pay for quality.  And RCA Victor is nothing if it is not quality.  Just consider the following:

The "Mark VI" table model has a 3-speed phonograph.  You get two choices for the finish--Mahogany or Light Oak.  And if you'd rather put your table model on the floor, you could add legs for it.  (An extra charge will be added for the optional legs.)

To add an FM-AM radio console, you'll have to move up two models to the "Mark III", which is gonna bite you for $325.  Ouch.  But then again, you get all that free music on the airwaves, along with great radio dramas, something we don't get anymore, unless you count the news.  I'd tell you all about the "Mark I" twin-console, which includes not just a radio but a tape recorder (I know, you must think I'm making up this magical technology) but why tell you about it?  Even if you could get back to 1955, there is no way you are gonna be able to afford $1600 for a Hi-Fi.  Who did you think you would be, Frank Sinatra?  Be serious.

Oh, here's one that is near and dear to my arteries...uh, I mean heart.  My grandma Alice used to keep Meadow Gold ice cream in her freezer, which was on the bottom of her refrigerator--remember those?  Meadow Gold ice cream was the best ice cream I've ever eaten.  I still believe that.  After all these years.  And it was simply vanilla that she kept there.  Not even this enticing Butter Brickle flavor you see in the ad.  What I don't recall is ever seeing a playful cartoon on the box.  The box always just bore the Meadow Gold standard, which was all we needed to know that yummy goodness was waiting inside the end flap.  (My kids don't know what I mean by "end flap", but you older folks like me know.  Are there any ice creams that still come in square boxes?)

So let's get to the good stuff...the fine print.  First off, we're promised that there is a wonderful candy surprise in the ice cream.  That's the butter brickle, of course.  But then we are given a recipe for making a delicious mocha topping.  What I found interesting here was that the instructions tells us to melt chocolate in our double boiler.  Anybody out there still have a double boiler?  To be honest, I'm not sure what a double boiler is.  Would this be something that is steam-powered?  It sounds terribly dangerous.    

And as an extra, you get a coupon to buy a doll.  That's right, the lovable Little Meadow Gold Girl, who has saucy pigtails.  (That would be mocha saucy pigtails, I'd guess.)  She's lightweight, soft and unbreakable.  I would bet you that if you put her in a double boiler, she would not be as unbreakable.  Sorry, it was just a thought.  Anyway, this great $12 value can be had for $3.50.  Sorry to all my friends outside of the United States, the coupon is only good in our fine country.  

Our extra ad today is one readers of this blog should recognize.  That's right, a second Veedol ad.  I'd been intrigued by Veedol, since I'd never heard of it until I found it in another issue.  I've been assured by my father that Veedol was indeed commonplace back in the day, though he does not remember it being particularly well liked.  For those of you who didn't know, Veedol comes from the Tide Water Associated Oil company.  If I didn't have to rush off to work, I'd tell you all about them.  Maybe another time.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Summer's View of the French Quarter

The French Quarter, New Orleans.
A Jazz Band tries to cool things down in Jackson Square.

The French Quarter, New Orleans.  It is known for its Mardi Gras and Halloween celebrations.  Yet, for those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to visit it throughout the year, we know there is more to this very unique city than her festivals.  This week, I took a walk around the Vieux Carré and thought I would highlight a few of the sights you might see if you take a July vacation in the Big Easy.

Right away, when you get to Jackson Square, you're gonna find someone, or some group, playing jazz.  It won't always be Dixie Land jazz, but you can be sure it's cool, hot, sweet, and spicy.  You'll usually find them out in front of the Café du Monde, or between Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral.  In the picture above, I found this group in front of the Cabildo.  That's Café Pontalba behind them, which is one of the best places to eat some gumbo, red beans and rice, fried alligator, and jambalaya.  (That last item is my favorite.)  If you look closely, you'll notice that not all of the bands have traditional instruments.  This one has an honest-to-goodness broom guitarist.  You've got to hear him to believe it.  He'll sweep you away.  He can really kick up some dust with that baby.

Speaking of the Cabildo, here you can see that in July, the flowers are in bloom, including the bougainvillea, shrub roses, and especially those on the crape myrtles, which are a Louisiana specialty.

The Cabildo was built by the Spanish in the 1790's.  Aside from being the home to the Spanish government, it was also the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer in 1803, once the New Orleans City Hall, the Louisiana State Supreme Court (which saw the landmark Plessy vs. Ferguson decision in 1896), and was used as a prison before it eventually became the Louisiana State Museum in 1908.

Not far from the Cabildo, which is on the right hand side of Saint Louis Cathedral, you'll find Orleans Street, which runs into the backyard of the cathedral, connecting Royal Street, the home of so many art galleries and antique shops, with Bourbon Street, the home of so many bars and strip clubs.

In July, the heat can be pretty rough.  While I was there, it was not bad in the shade.  As you'll notice, even the cigar shop Indian is wise enough to hang back in the shade on the banquette.  (The raised sidewalks in the French Quarter are called this because way back when, the small blocks were called islands, which led the French people in town to call the sidewalks banquettes, as in the banks along a shore.)

Speaking of the heat, if you need a place to get out of the sun, most of the hotels in the Quarter have these little passages that lead to their courtyards.  It is in these courtyards where you'll find respite from the midday sun where there is lots of shade, and more often than not, the cooling presence of a fountain.  

During my walk, it wasn't hot enough to seek out shelter.  Though I must admit those fountains looked terribly inviting.

In July, you'll get to see the splendor and variety of the houses in the Vieux Carré.  So many of the homes in this area are gaily painted to reflect the traditional decor associated with this French-influenced American neighborhood.  And many of them are kept in perfect condition, despite the damaging effects of the sub-tropical heat and the near constant high humidity.  There's also the effects of tropical storms and hurricanes to consider as well.  So with all of these elements attacking the wood, you'll find that there are many shutters and doors which have been mistreated.  However, I am always glad the residents don't repair every one of these at the same time.  They add such a wonderful flavor to the Quarter.  It would be a shame if every home there looked perfect.

My purpose for this day was to keep searching for shots to use for my calendars for 2014.  I am never sure which is better, the older, run-down look of the Quarter, or the fresher, painted, restored sections.  I really couldn't choose one over the other.  They're both inspiring in their own way.

But if you're looking for perfect, or at least something close to it, you'll find plenty of homes that will catch your eye.  Here, on Dumaine Street, just north of Dauphine Street, I was intrigued by the colorful display of paint along with the flags waving in the summer breeze.  How delightful it must be to live in such a colorful and cheerful home.

Not far from here I sat down to rest on a stoop and chatted with Louis, a photographer from New York, who was taking a break in the shade.  Though born and bred in New York City, he was down in New Orleans for the coming Fourth of July festivities.  We shared the shade and a little companionship before I moved on in search of more targets for my camera.

Because it was July, and many of the northern tourists did not realize it was actually a pleasant day (by local standards), many of them felt the best way to see the Quarter was to take a ride in the shade of a carriage awning.  You'll find plenty of carriages awaiting you on the south side of Jackson Square.  The drivers/guides will be more than happy to drive you around, dishing out as many legends and myths as you're willing to swallow.  The indefatigable mules, either a Jack or a Jenny, will pull you along, no matter the heat.  The clip-clop of their hooves is often the only sound you'll hear on the lesser traveled streets at noon.  Everyone else is inside a restaurant eating great food and having a few drinks.  (But easy on the drinks in the hot weather, okay?)

Now if you've seen enough of the Quarter, or you just plan to hit it later in the day, you can always grab a ride on the steamboat Natchez.  

Using steam engines built in 1925, the Natchez, one of only a few steamboats still plying the waters of the Mississippi today, will take you on a two hour trip along the river.  Leaving every day from the Toulouse Street wharf behind the Jax Brewery, the Natchez takes you down around the bend of the river past the Chalmette battleground.  Along the way you'll learn a little bit of history about the Mississippi and enjoy a cool breeze up on the top deck.

And when the cruise is over, you don't even have to walk back to your hotel.  The Toulouse Streetcar station is nearby, and so are a few guys willing to peddle you home in their pedicabs.  But if you can stand to walk just a little, I always suggest heading back to Jackson Square so you can grab a milkshake at Stanley.  Trust me on that one.  They're the best!

I'll leave you with a little tune from the Natchez, as played on their steam-powered calliope.  We filmed this as we were heading back to the car.  Look closely and you'll see the man standing at the organ.  Yes, they really do play it live.  It is not a computer programmed calliope, as I had once thought it was.

Use these links for 2014 calendars featuring my photography from New Orleans:
French Quarter Balconies Calendars
French Quarter Balconies Calendars by jreeser1

Also, you might enjoy this wrapped canvas photograph of Central Grocery.

View more gifts at Zazzle.