My White Trash (or ‘Ghetto’) Storm Windows.

Well, it’s that time of year again. Kids are back in school. Persephone is returning to Hades. The leaves on the trees are transforming into a kaleidoscope of colors. And a chill is beginning to creep over those of us that live in the northern hemisphere. I’m not gonna lie. This six foot, two inch, manly man is a winter wimp! — Don’t laugh. I can be manly. I have power tools! 😎

Anyone who lives in a house knows the ongoing ritual required to maintain it. We make endless checklists, and then make multiple trips to the home improvement store because we forgot the list. Our South Philly home doesn’t have gutters or shingles. We don’t have a lawn or a garden that needs to be winterized. What we do have is that wretched mainstay of cheap post-war architecture and design, Aluminum Windows. I want to know whose brilliant idea it was to put aluminum windows on a house where winter temperatures can dip below freezing? And if that wasn’t bad enough, the designer, in his or her infinite wisdom, decided that marble would make lovely window sills. — Because, apparently, aluminum windows don’t make the house cold enough. :\

Our first winter here was an eye opener.

When you’re just getting started in a new home, and your relationship is all shiny and new, your mind isn’t on the little details like window sills. So imagine my surprise one morning, while going about my daily bathroom routine, when what felt like a waterfall of cold air descended upon my lap. — Brrrrrr! Talk about wake up calls.

Whose brilliant idea was it to install marble sills on aluminum windows?

Whose brilliant idea was it to install marble sills on aluminum windows?

We tried our best to be conservative with the thermostat but our heating bills were predictably high that winter. So we made a list. We took a walk through the home improvement store and made a list of all the things we could do to avoid freezing our butts every winter.

Now, every autumn, I get ready to install what we have lovingly come to call White Trash (or ‘Ghetto’) Storm Windows.

When September turns into October, I apply the double sided tape around the perimeter of each window. I learned the hard way that if you wait until winter settles in the tape won’t adhere properly to the cold aluminum, which has a tendency to sweat due to the temperature difference. The only downside is the ribbon, printed with the Frost King logo, that surrounds each window. But that’s a small inconvenience when you remember the cold flow of air descending upon your lap from the bathroom window.

When temperatures fall in a few months, we’ll apply the plastic to the windows. Until then we’ll try to ignore the little orange snowmen marching around our window frames.

Someday we’ll get new windows. It’s on our to-do list. Until then, we’ll be the couple that lives in the South Philly house with shrink wrapped windows. 😉

Advertisements

The Cardinal Came To Visit Us This Weekend…

Nope, not THAT Cardinal!

We have a family of cardinals that live in a nearby tree. They like to drop by every day for the sunflower seeds we put out during the winter.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

After missing a few opportunities, we started leaving the camera by the window. When I heard the cardinal Saturday (pictured left) I grabbed the camera for a rare photo shoot. 😉

He was looking for left over seeds from the Ferris Wheel Feeder that was tipped over and left draining after the previous day’s rain.

You might have seen the Ferris Wheel Feeder video that I posted after the last snow storm.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAIf you follow me on twitter, you might recognize the image on the right. It’s the very first picture I took of the cardinals in my neighborhood. It was a huge surprise for me to discover we had cardinals in South Philly. Seriously, I’ve lived in (or around) Philadelphia all my life. I have never seen a cardinal in the city.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

This last picture is my favorite from Saturday. The border around the image was not added. I was shooting the cardinal through some house plants. I also had the blinds down because I was trying not to scare the cardinal away. The final result is pretty cool.

There are some superstitions surrounding birds that appear after the death of a loved one. Some believe that birds “sometimes appear as envoys from the spirit world — fleeting emissaries of loved ones who have passed on to the other side.” I like that idea. It would be nice to think that my friend Fran was just dropping by to say hello. Most likely, it was just a member of a family of cardinals picking through the debris, looking for sunflower seeds to feed his family. Either way, it was nice to see him.

As the adage goes, it’s the little things in life that sometimes make you the happiest. For me it’s true. I may not win the Powerball anytime soon, but as long as the cardinal comes to visit once in a while, I’ll be happy.

Oh, and I took a short video too! 🙂

Saying Goodbye To A Dear Friend.

I had intended a Friday post about my recovery from lithotripsy, which is progressing smoothly and without complications. Unfortunately, Thursday morning I received incredibly sad news. A very close friend lost her battle with uterine cancer. I am heart broken by the loss and angry at the circumstances around which she died. The rest of my day was spent in a fog. After not being able to sleep, I found it helpful to just start writing. The following unorganized mess is more therapy for me than anything else.

In the years that my other half and I have been living on this little South Philly block, we’ve established close friendships with our neighbors. With a few exceptions, we look out for one another.

I met Fran through a friend and neighbor who lived two doors down. She was moving onto our block. With her sharp wit and wicked sense of humor, Fran fit right in. She was the kindest and most generous soul I have ever had the privilege to know. That’s not hyperbole. There was nothing Fran would not do to lend a hand to anyone in need. If it was within her power, it was done.

First Friday Sushi Lunch

A perfect example of our First Friday Sushi events. 🙂

My friendship with Fran developed slowly. We bonded over our Italian heritage, and gastronomic pleasure, which included first Friday lunches with our friend Scott. I’ve often bored you with pictures of sushi and sashimi. Fran was a vegetarian, but that didn’t prevent her from enjoying her sushi. 🙂  She and I had an ongoing dialogue about ways to recreate meat-free versions of childhood dishes. It wasn’t uncommon to see either of us carrying plates of food from one house to another. Fran was the inspiration for some of my favorite epicurean experiments.

About eighteen months ago, Fran began to experience pain and bleeding. She was in her sixties so menstruation was out of the question. After a few months of doctors and tests and more doctors and even more tests, it was determined that Fran had stage 3 uterine cancer. It was emotionally crushing.

Our monthly lunch dates continued even as Fran started chemotherapy, but tapered off as some of her experimental treatments took their toll. She was listening to advice from conflicting sources, and people with no medical training who claimed a certain food, vitamin, or magic root was a cancer cure. She went gluten free, tried a macrobiotic diet, and went to extremes to find and eat only organic fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, she was asking Scott to pick up bagels from Dunkin’ Donuts.

Now, let me stop here for a minute and assure you that I am in no way blaming Fran for her illness or worse, her death. That would be absurd and cruel. I am Pro-Choice. Being pro-choice means allowing a person autonomy. I’m angry because there is so much misinformation being disseminated out there. She was scared. She was reaching for anything that might give her hope. I feel, however incorrectly, that Fran was taken advantage of. I  mentioned the Dunkin’ Donuts because Fran needed to get food into her body. When you’re perpetually nauseous, any food is better than nothing. We encouraged her to eat whatever she could keep down. You’d be surprised at some of the odd things she craved. Fran had an affinity for pickled cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone. We asked if she might not be pregnant. {:-)

Last summer, Fran found out about a Vitamin C therapy. It’s an alternative cancer treatment that involves massive doses of vitamin c administered intravenously. Since it could be administered while a patient was also undergoing chemo, Fran signed up. The treatments were hell. Chemo was bad enough, but on the days she received the vitamin C, she was in bad shape. It often took two days for her to recover from the therapy. By January, the oncologist was refusing to give her chemo because she was too weak. The best they could do was rehydrate her with saline and send her home. The vitamin C had done more harm than good. It was clear that Fran’s time on Earth was limited.

During the worst of her illness, it was Scott who did most of the heavy lifting. When Fran needed something, it was Scott she called. Scott taxied her to doctors, treatments, and trips to the grocery store.  Fran’s illness took it’s toll on him. Her death hit him hard. He’d been through this once before when longtime friend and neighbor Mary Ann died just a few years ago. This time was worse because he and Fran were real close.

Fran was rushed to the ER Tuesday night. She was in pain and having trouble breathing. She was admitted to the hospital, where they treated her pain. There was nothing more they could do. Her siblings took shifts sitting with her in the hospital room. Fran passed away 1:00 am Thursday morning. Her brother and one of her sisters was in the room with her.

There’s going to be a viewing next week, followed by a Wiccan ceremony. Fran was a Wiccan high priestess. I’m so proud of her sister, who is Roman Catholic, for adhering to Fran’s wishes.

I’m not sure how to wrap this meandering mess up, but I suspect you will all understand. This past year has been a rough one. There’s been enough sickness in our little burg. So you’ll forgive me if I tend toward the ridiculous sometimes. It’s a hell of a lot better than dwelling on the sadness. Besides, I’d much rather remember the happy, joyful soul that was Franny T.

RIP Bertha and Creamsicle. …or was that Fish Two?

What we are mourning here…

is the passing of two 99¢ goldfish.

Bertha, Creamsicle, Ice, Fish One, and Fish Two. Bertha got his name because he eats everything. ...and it shows.

Bertha, Creamsicle, Ice, Fish One, and Fish Two. Bertha got his name because he eats everything. …and it shows.

In the spring of 2009, we re-purposed an old cast iron utility sink as a small goldfish pond. It would also serve as a makeshift water feature for the tiny 10 X 14 ft concrete space that we affectionately refer to as our “South Philly Backyard”.

100_0358

Our little oasis.

Salvaged bricks frame the cast iron sink, which served as home for a family of five goldfish. Bertha, Creamsicle, Ice, Fish One, and Fish Two. — Bertha got his name because he eats everything. …and it shows.

We made good use of a discarded plant display rack from our local home center. The steel frame footing served as a guide for the bricks, which are loosely mortared together. (We rent, so nothing can be permanent.) The bricks support the sink and raised planting beds on either side.

The magic word here is upcycling. We spent very little money on our “back yard”, but the results are truly amazing. Our small concrete lot is transformed into an oasis as winter turns into spring.

100_0348

A micro-ecosystem with plants, fish, insects, and the occasional bird.

It’s interesting how the addition of our little pond created a micro-ecosystem. Even though a small pump kept the water moving, some insects still found places to breed. Those insects became food for our fish and the birds who used our little oasis as a rest stop. Mourning Doves and Cardinals were a big surprise to me. Next year we’re going to try to attract humming birds.

100_0114

A shoveled path from backdoor to pond.

If you follow me on twitter, you might have read comical grumblings over the winter as I performed the necessary task of chipping away at the ice that formed on the top of the water. — Even frozen fish need air.

Bertha cought a slug!

Fish in protective custody.
Bertha (left) caught a slug!

Several weeks ago, we discovered a raccoon trying to hunt the goldfish. A Raccoon? Really? In South Philly?

After four years of heatwaves, blizzards, and chipping away at ice, we were not about to allow our goldfish to end up as a midnight snack for some wayward raccoon.

No sirree Bob! Not on our watch.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Makeshift pond cover deterred Mr Raccoon for a few weeks.

The simplest idea was to steak chicken wire around the open water, and lay a weighted board over the pond at night. This, along with sprinkling a raccoon repellant around the perimeter of the yard seemed to work.

After a few weeks, and no more signs that the raccoon was making nightly visits, we let our guard down. Three later, the raccoon had his meal.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

The Evil Mr Raccoon.

Five summers is a decent lifespan for goldfish, but we’re still a bit saddened and somewhat incredulous. I’ve lived in or around Philly all my life. I’ve never seen evidence of raccoons.

I’ll miss those little guys. I’ll miss the way they come to the edge of the sink whenever they heard the backdoor open. I’ll miss chipping away at the ice in the dead of winter.

And yes, I’ll even miss the disturbing image of the eternally hungry Bertha with the occasional mouthful of the errant slug. YUCK!!

R.I.P. Bertha and Creamsicle.

…or was that Fish Two?

Mr Hopper. Then and Now

Yesterday I posted a pic on Tumblr of a grasshopper that was chillin’ in the backyard.

grasshopper

Mr Hopper

My other half suggested that Mr Hopper might be one of the many tiny hoppers that we saw last spring. The little guys were everywhere! — Apparently, they love basil.

Baby Hopper

Baby Hopper

Here’s a pair of pics for comparison.

See… I told you it was like Wild Kingdom here in South Philly. 🙂

What is it about drugs that makes people stupid? …oh, right.

Can someone please explain to me the need to roll and smoke a blunt -or do any drug for that matter- on other people’s property? Seriously. Is this just a South Philly thing? …or does this happen everywhere?

I wasn’t brought up this way. I was raised to respect others. I was taught that people treat you the way you treat them. If you act like a thug, you can’t get angry when people treat you as such.

I often lament having to live within blocks of a crack house simply because we can’t afford to move. Don’t get me wrong. we live on a great block – mostly. But every once in a while reality comes wandering along with the sweet smelling cloud of ganja gas suspended above his head.

I’m not a prude. Mary Jane and I are old friends. It just would never occur to me to get blazed on the steps of a stranger’s house. It’s arrogant. It’s inconsiderate to your neighbors. It calls attention to yourself, and it’s just plain stupid. Why do it?

At the risk of sounding like the old head that I am, when I was young we smoked weed in private. We knew it was illegal, so we kept it on the down low. These days, young turks think nothing of whipping out a crack pipe while strolling down the street! What the hell, man? Get it together! Little kids live on our block! Do that shit in your own house!

Hanging out on our steps is usually enough to dissuade anyone from toking up on the street. But every now and again some idiot will think we don’t notice and light up. In those cases, just asking the person if (s)he can “please do that somewhere else” is usually enough to send them on their way. But occasionally, some little punk thinks his need to get high is more important than the rights of our neighbors.

The worst is when they try to hide on the steps of the small pentecostal church at the end of our street. Here’s where insolence rises to new heights! What the hell is wrong with people? Seriously! Have some f*king self respect!

I grew up in an Italian household. Wine was served with every meal. It was a normal part of life. As children, we were never made to feel left out. Our wine glasses were somewhat watered down, but we each had one. If we wanted to taste any of the “adult” beverages, all we had to do was ask. My family knew that the way to make something more desirable is to ban it, so nothing was forbidden. As a result, the mystery was taken out of alcohol. If there’s no mystery, it’s no longer special. We were free to pursue more important things.

Any child psychologist will tell you, the quickest way to get a child to do something it to tell him he’s not allowed to do it. When you remove the restrictions you take away it’s importance. I’m a firm believer in the legalization of marijuana to abate it’s importance. Decriminalization will help reduce drug related crime. Taxing it will help add much needed money to our treasury.

But when I see these kids hiding in doorways or shuffling down the street like zombies, I have to wonder if maybe I have it all wrong.

Good Morning, Mr Grasshopper

Baby Hopper

Baby Hopper

A baby grasshopper sits on the leaf of a Crown of Thorns plant (Euphorbia Millii) in our back yard – Which is really just a 10′ X 15′ patch of concrete behind our South Philly row home.

Grasshoppers have invaded our garden. I wouldn’t mind it so much, but they’ve been eating our basil. :\

I haven’t seen any of the adults this year, just these little guys. They’ve probably become food for the family of cardinals that have nested nearby.

In the years since we moved in, several of our neighbors have also started gardens in their small paved-over lots.

We’ve got quite the little microcosm going.