Book Review: Dearie by Bob Spitz

Title: Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child
Author: Bob Spitz
Genre: Biography
Format: Hardcover
Year Published: 2012
Source: I purchased this book.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child is Bob Spitz’s long but entertaining biography of the woman who transformed the American culinary landscape, in addition to being an important figure in television history.

Julia McWilliams Child was an entertaining character. She didn’t become famous until she was around 50 years ago, but she led an interesting life well before then. Born in Pasadena, California, into wealth and privilege, she attended Smith College, but she still had no idea of what she wanted to do. She had no interest in being a mere housewife and country club matron. Julia was never one to go unnoticed – she was about six feet three inches tall and had a unique, warbling voice, and a great sense of humor. Julia was an original.

Julia had an adventurous spirit and decided during WWII to go to Washington, DC, to work for the government and eventually joined an intelligence agency and went overseas. In Ceylon, she met Paul Child. They eventually married, and theirs was a lifelong and devoted love affair.

Paul was in the foreign service, and they eventually settled in Paris. Julia’s first taste of French cooking changed her life, and she went on to attend the famous cooking school Le Cordon Bleu.

She eventually published Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which was a cookbook geared towards Americans to learn how to cook gourmet French food. The book was so popular that she ended up on television to promote the book and was such a success – partly because of unique persona – that she ended up hosting “The French Chef” and various other television programs, most of them on fledgling PBS. More than anyone else, she is responsible for the success of PBS!

The American public immediately fell in love with Julia. If you are not familiar with Julia Child, let me present to you one of her most famous moments: Julia Child and the Chicken Sisters!

Dearie is a very affectionate look at Julia’s life. The author admits in the acknowledgments that he had a powerful crush on her when he met her even though she was around 80 at the time! That said, he doesn’t hesitate to mention some of Julia’s less admirable traits. Fortunately, most people really liked Julia.

The book definitely could have been shorter. Sometimes the author rambles on a bit, but he is also very funny at times. Despite the length of the book (over 500 pages!), the book is very entertaining and an enjoyable read.

Black Friday — From the Other Side

I used to work in retail and Black Fridays were like a death hole of shopping.

None of the workers in my store could enjoy Thanksgiving because we were approaching the next day with fear and loathing. We had to show up on our scheduled work day before Thanksgiving and also our scheduled hours on Black Friday, or we wouldn’t get our holiday pay for Thanksgiving. In other words, if we didn’t show up on Black Friday we lost TWO days pay. That was our incentive to show up.

My first Black Friday was by far the worst. We didn’t open until 6 a.m. but they opened the store 20 minutes earlier without warning (while we were still opening registers) and the lines were long by 6 a.m. The lines snaked down the aisle and around the escalator.

The customers were difficult but it was MANAGEMENT that made us miserable. I quickly decided that retail management intelligence must be an oxymoron. Of course they weren’t the ones who had to ring the customers up and deal with their anger when they continually changed the rules.

Our store manager – from here on known as THE GENIUS – knew that there were MORNING coupons for $10 off a $10 purchase. Can you imagine such havoc such a coupon caused? FREE STUFF! Now I know that was an idiotic corporate decision, not the store manager’s fault, but she still somehow managed to make it even worse.

There was only supposed to be one coupon per customer. Guess what? THE GENIUS decided the customers could have as many of these free stuff coupons as they wanted! These customers must have bought dozens of newspapers for the coupons! Of course it was a MORNING sale but the “morning” went from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

THE GENIUS also decided that our 9.99 store brand towels could be included in this promotion. So for every one of these towels the customer brought to us, we had to manually change the price to 10.00 (easy, but time-consuming). THE GENIUS also decided that we were supposed to ring up each towel (while changing the price and scanning their accompanying coupon) SEPARATELY (in separate transactions). Some of these people had 25 towels and the line was HUNDREDS of customers long. This was incredibly time-consuming. After a few minutes of this I just decided “to hell with it!” and rang up all of a customer’s towels TOGETHER and scanned all of their coupons all on the same transaction. What difference did it make anyway? They were getting them FREE! The managers never said a word to me afterward.

The merchandising manager had decided that there was only going to be ONE stock person — for the whole store — from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. He not only had to put stuff out on the floor but take customer-bought stuff down to customer pick-up – stuff in housewares, bedding and china can be VERY heavy.

Customers wanted their items sent down to customer pick up but there was NO ONE to do it. We had to call the stock kid over the radio but the poor kid – an excellent worker BTW – was completely overwhelmed by having to do this for the ENTIRE store – I felt so bad for him. The paid-for stuff sat by our registers for hours and we kept tripping over it. Finally customers started STEALING stuff out of those bags (for which others had already paid.) I finally called my extremely lazy department manager and told him this. That finally got his lazy ass in gear and he started taking some of this stuff to customer pick-up even though it was BENEATH him (and he made sure that I knew this).

But even worse than Black Friday was the NEXT day, Saturday. Word had spread that there was FREE STUFF! and there were even more customers waiting to get in! The same sales were on Saturday morning but now THE GENIUS decided that customers could only use THREE of the coupons (remember that there was only supposed to be one per customer to begin with). Many of the customers in line had been there the day before and had come back armed with fresh coupons. When they find out that they could only use THREE that day instead of as many as they wanted, havoc ensued. There was nearly a riot.

Customers started screaming at us and refusing to leave, management started screaming at us because the lines came to a complete standstill, and it was a nightmare. Remember this is at 6 a.m. I’m cranky and tired and struggling with PMS – you don’t want to mess with me when I have PMS! I’m trying so HARD not to start sobbing. I was always very good with customer service but this was just too much!

One customer was reeking of heavy perfume. Because of my exhaustion and lack of sleep, this triggered my allergies (I’m allergic to perfume, wool, dust, etc.). I started sneezing uncontrollably and feeling even more wretched. Finally at 7:30 I had had ENOUGH. PMS combined with a fierce headache combined with miserable allergies drove me over the edge. Fortunately by this time more salespeople had showed up. I called a manager over and told them I felt sick and was going home. I had to call my mother to pick me up and I went home and went to bed for the rest of the day. I really felt terrible and did not feel the least bit guilty.

 When I came in the next day (Sunday) all of the towels were gone — and so were the customers — no more free stuff! The funniest thing though is that later some customers tried to return some of the free towels and thought we were going to give them money back!

Fortunately the next year things were better organized. The morning coupons were changed to $10 for a $25 purchase. Still incredibly busy but nothing like that first year. The biggest problem is that you can’t use a morning coupon on morning specials — the customers just LOVED that *insert sarcasm*.

I also had a better department manager who wasn’t so frigging lazy as the first one. He was actually nice, although he was later fired for stealing from the store – he had a gambling problem.

So my favorite time of year to NOT be working in retail anymore is Black Friday. I so enjoy sleeping late, and not dealing with crazy management and customers. I plan to sleep late and then sit in my chair and read books all day.

The sad thing is that I really enjoyed helping customers under normal circumstances. Sometimes I really miss it — but not enough to work evenings, weekends, holidays, and be available 24/7 during the Christmas season.

The sad thing is that retailers don’t really give a fig anymore about customer service — I was continuously told that I was TOO helpful and spent TOO MUCH TIME with the customers. The stores only care about sales and SELLING CREDIT CARDS.

I could tell you stories . . .

Written for and linked to

Mama’s Losin’ It

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Fiction/Mystery/Crime
Format: Hardcover
Year Published: 2012
Source: I purchased this book

Nick and Amy Dunne seem to have the perfect marriage. They are bright, very attractive, and talented writers. Amy is the daughter of well-known psychiatrists who have created a series of children’s books called “Amazing Amy”, based upon their own daughter. But on their fifth anniversary Amy disappears from their Missouri home she shares with Nick, leaving behind signs of a struggle.

As the media turn up to report the story of the missing beautiful “amazing” blonde wife, Nick’s problematic behavior comes under increasing scrutiny. He doesn’t seem to be the grieving husband that everyone wants him to be. As public suspicions turn  towards Nick, a closer look reveals the unraveling seams of the seemingly “perfect” marriage.

Both had lost their jobs in New York and had moved back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri. Amy was unhappy with the move. Nick was having an affair with another woman. Was this motive enough to want to harm Amy? Has Nick murdered her? Or is there any other reason for her disappearance?

This very popular novel is interesting in that alternate chapters are “written” by Nick and Amy. I found this a little confusing at first, since Nick’s chapters are at first written in the present and Amy’s chapters, are told in the past tense, by necessity, from sections of her diary.

There are several major characters in the book: Nick, Amy, Nick’s sister Go, Amy’s parents, Nick’s senile father, Nick’s selfish mistress, and several other key characters. As the story goes along, however, it becomes increasingly clear that none of the main characters are very likable, except perhaps Nick’s sister, Go, who is a not a fully fleshed out character. As a matter of fact, most of the characters are pretty loathsome, and one of them is a certifiable psychopath.

Flynn does have an amazing imagination, and is able to tell a great story for the most part. However, the book is quite graphic, and anyone squeamish about strong language and sex scenes should not read this book.

The ending, which I shall not give away here, has been controversial. Some readers have not found it satisfactory, partially because not everything is resolved in a tidy little way. It may be somewhat realistic, however, noting the strange, twisted relationships that these people have. I find myself ambivalent about the ambivalent ending!

Leave A Light On For Me

The last several weeks have been difficult in the New Jersey and New York area as we recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

After two major storms last year, Hurricane Irene and the weird Snowtober storm, I learned my lesson and made sure that I did not have too many perishables in the refrigerator. Because of several power outages, we lost a lot of food last year and since we have a very limited budget it was gut-wrenchingly expensive to replace, not to mention that we had to out several times. My husband and I live in a tiny apartment so a generator is not an option.

On Monday, the night of the storm, the lights stayed on for longer than we had hoped. But then the lights started flickering and finally around 9 p.m. the lights went off and we were plunged into total darkness. Since the lights did not come back until Friday, we mostly subsisted on granola bars and dry cereal out of the box, washed down with water. The internet service flickered on and off, and occasionally I was able to check out the internet on my smartphone, for which I was very thankful that I received earlier this year. Only occasionally could we make calls, however, since the phone service was sketchy.

Most of the businesses around us were closed due to lack of power. After a day or so, we started venturing out to see what our area looked like. We live in North Jersey, not near the shore.

 In the town of Nutley, we saw this:

The area we live in had many downed wires and trees, but that was about it. However, the beautiful Jersey shore suffered heartbreakingly extensive damage. Many homes, cars, and businesses were totally destroyed. The Jersey shore’s topography changed dramatically. It has become a different place now.

Many of the areas suffered not only those damages, but there were many gas leaks in the area and even now, more than two weeks later, many residents have not been able to return to their ruined homes to check the damage. Many towns will never be the same.

Some residents on Long Island and Staten are STILL without power, more than two weeks later.

I got tired of trying to read books by flashlight, so I finally gave up. Taking showers by flashlight, however, is pretty interesting!

My husband and I were lucky, because food can be replaced. On Friday, we got our electricity back; the thing that made me smile most was having electricity and light! Light for the lamps and the television! It felt so luxurious. Once we saw on television what had happened, we were heartbroken. That night we watched the “Concert for Sandy” and luxuriated in the light.

Linking up with:

Mama’s Losin’ It