Why do apartment buildings make you get an electric bbq?

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There is no doubt I have one of the largest, greatest balconies in my apartment complex overlooking the pool.  As my friend Allison, would say “This is what you pay a premium for – to have what amounts to an entire extra room with a great view”.  I have a table and chairs, 2 outdoor lounges and footrests, flowers, herbs, a decent size bar and a BBQ.  For any self-respecting Aussie, this would normally mean a charcoal weber and probably a gas grill as well – we believe you’ve got to have options!

However in nearly every place in New York there is a strange phenomenon – you MUST have an electric grill (it’s safer they say), no gas, no charcoal allowed.  Many times I’ve had this discussion with home-owners and apartment dwellers alike.  How is it safer I ask?  “Well, a gas grill could explode and catch fire” they tell me.  When did this last happen I ask?  “Well I can’t remember, but you know it’s America, it’s a liability and someone could sue etc” they tell me.

This leads me to explain how I lived in Australia, in Melbourne CBD on the 13th floor of a high-rise apartment building with both charcoal & gas grills on my balcony (as did all my neighbors) for years. None of us ever demolished the building with a fire or wiped out the casino opposite with flying sparks etc. “Amazing” they say with big round eyes while thinking “any day now a building will go up in flames and wipe out the city of Melbourne and it’ll be on CNN”.

So, when I moved into my first apartment last year, I gave my gas BBQ to a family that didn’t have one. This would be unheard of in Australia – not having one I mean. I bought my first electric grill in a state of mild terror assuming the end of my happiness.

Behold the weber Q electric grill!  So it grills well (not the same as gas/charcoal) but I did not give up on barbecues as a result (which was my fear).  In fact I’ve become really adept at this electric grill thing and it works really well.  Meat is juicy and gets a smoky flavor since you have to grill with the lid closed.  I even treated some locals to grilled peaches with honey, crushed nuts and cream or rum soaked pineapple with brown sugar and coconut ice-cream!  Grilling fruit for dessert is a novelty here.

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Lulled into a false sense of security I was happy, “was” being the operative word until last night’s grill fire.  All these “it’s safer” warnings rang in my head as my friend and I decided what to do about the ensuing fire.  I always pre-heat my grill, the problem started when I opened the lid and brushed the grill off as it was getting hot.  I saw something small drop down between the grate and closed the lid as it still needed more heating time.  The next thing you know our margarita time is interrupted as we notice the orange flames and smoke billowing (safer they said).  I took a quick look under the lid and the flames got way bigger – this can’t be good I think.

My friend, slightly alarmed, suggested an extinguisher but given I didn’t have one that was not an option.  Although, she did offer to run out and purchase one or ask if they had one downstairs.  So after some, quite frankly, ingenious work to pull the electric plug out, and close off the air to stop the flames – it died out after about 15 mins. Thank you to Dad who taught me how to manage these small crises – no air, no flames and understanding electrical fires are different to grease fires etc – though this turned out to be neither.

After more margaritas, and some reflection, I did mention that we missed the perfect opportunity to call the fire dept. We could have had them carry us down a ladder off the balcony, perhaps I’ve got far too attached to that Chicago Fire show.

I think of my best friend from home at the same time.  All the times in the 80s (you could smoke at work back then) when she accidentally set a bin (trash can for my American friends) in our high-rise office on fire with emptying an ash-tray.  We dreamed the fire department would come save us before someone poured a jug of water on it and said get back to work!  How different the world is now…

This morning the grill was an absolute mess.  So, let me be clear, this was in no way a Weber manufacturing or electrical issue.  Just in case you’re wondering, I took off to the wilds of New Jersey and bought the exact same model today.  I even went without my bear mace (this bear/NJ thing requires a whole other post).  I also purchased a fire blanket and extinguisher – in the words of boy scouts everywhere – be prepared.

“So how did this happen?” you ask.  Well last week was a bit rainy and it turns out small animals like to hide in the grill in inclement weather.  Electric heats slowly with no flames so I’m fairly certain a gas grill would have had an animal scurrying instantly rather than thinking “wow isn’t the weather getting warmer – how nice” to themselves (safer for animals – clearly not).  Note to self – check for small animals before heating your grill.  Thank god I didn’t open it after it cooled last night, whilst my animal-loving friend was still here!

But my point is, the exact same thing could have happened in a gas or charcoal grill – so I’m still not convinced electric is safer.  Has this happened to you?  Has anyone actually burnt down an apartment building using a grill of any description?

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Why snow is better when you live in an apartment

IMG_1737Normally the first time it snows for the year I’m thrilled for about 5 minutes and then the horror of reality kicks in.  Namely, shoveling a driveway (mine was about 200 ft on a hill – NEVER buy a house with a hilly driveway in a country that has snow), digging a path to the wood pile to get wood (do I hear you saying “surely that’s boys work” – yes, yes it is), getting snowed on while you dig your car out so you can drive and actually see out your windows (apparently this is optional for some people) and finding that snow can become ice where you fall over repeatedly and get to look at your black and blue legs for months on end.

Behold the new me – I love snow now and all this is because I moved house!  I now live in an apartment that has no hilly driveway (but if it did, the apartment people would clear it), undercover parking (sheer bliss) and a gas fireplace that turns on with the flick of a switch!  I can barbecue on my balcony all winter long under cover (essential for an Aussie).  There is no need to head out and fall down or get snowed on to get in the car to go to the supermarket!

IMG_1739I also love that I can go to the gym, sit in the spa and watch the snow falling over the outdoor pool & waterslides which makes it seem kind of fun.  This year winter seems so much better and I may actually live through it without spending months in the foetal position willing it to end.  I’m ready for Thanksgiving tomorrow where I’m charged with bringing the wine – leave it to an Aussie to sort that out – got it covered and who cares if it snows!

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Why a swanky gym is better than, well, the alternative!

Why a swanky gym is better than, well, the alternative!

So I have a new gym. The murder at the Y really put me off my gym program, so a new one was in order. Good news – this one even has a sign on the front door saying “Firearms not permitted on the premises” (yay).
Gym Pics Here https://www.lifetimefitness.com/en/clubs/westchester-ny/gym-hours.html
I have so many amenities, I almost want to move in here – separate yoga studio, indoor pools, outdoor pools, fitness machines in the hundreds (literally I do not wait for anything), 3 change rooms with sauna/steams (and a restriction on kids in those areas – double yay), cafe, spa services with massage, mani/pedi, tennis, squash, basketball courts, spin room with 80 bikes and the piece de resistance A BAR. Yes you heard me, after an exhausting workout you can actually collapse with friends and have a quiet drink! How very Australian of them.
The people are really friendly and here is the best part (why I don’t actually need to move in here), sitting in the sauna I met some girls who recommended an apartment complex given my impending move and I now have a new apartment to go to at the end of June (bliss). In the beautiful village of Mamaroneck, I have found nirvana – well to be confirmed but so far seems like it.
OK, so I guess I should now mention my new apartment has awesome facilities as well, huge balcony overlooking a pool, function room, bbqs (thank god) and the usual cool things.
Living la vida loca – or something like that – and that my friends is why a good swanky gym membership is awesome!

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Is there a legal requirement to use an indicator here in New York?

IMG_0989I’ve finally discovered why car insurance is so expensive here – it’s because of the accidents.  “Of course, you idiot” you mutter as you read this.

But here is why there are so many accidents – apparently using an indicator to signal that you are turning is optional at best.  This week alone I have witnessed three accidents.  All, in my estimation as a witness, occurred because the idiot that got ran into did not signal they were turning (they then had the audacity to get out and start yelling at the poor person that ran into the back of them).  It doesn’t matter where I drive, in Manhattan, up here in Westchester County or the neighboring state of Connecticut I see the same thing.  This leads me to believe it must be optional to signal you are turning.  Less than 20% of people (ok so it’s a rough estimate but it’s based on three and a half years driving here) actually bother to use their indicators.  Public request to NY & White Plains police departments, please start ticketing people for failing to indicate – the situation is driving me mad and  a complete reduction for all drivers is the only way my insurance will ever go down in the near future.

It is with irony, I mention that my car insurance is more expensive ($1824 annually) than everyone else’s.  My driving record of 28 years does not count as Australia drives on the opposite side of the road, and with no accidents or tickets since driving here in all this time I’m still told it won’t actually reduce any further until I swap my license over.  At which point it will go up  by 50% for 5 years, until I’ve got a US license driving history (WTH???).

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Meanwhile, chief complaint number two of mine is the continued situation with the laziest shoppers in the world – is it really necessary to encircle my car with shopping carts?  This normally results in at least one of them rolling into my car door panels and leaving a great scratch or dent on it, again it all adds up in the insurance stakes.  I hesitate to point it out, but the cart return is literally once space from my car in the photo.  When I see people doing this I normally roll down my window and ask “Are you really going to leave your cart there?” They then either, sheepishly head towards the return, or respond with “People get paid to go and get them so why should I take it back”, ummmmm I really don’t think the cart collection was intended to be a job with added degrees of difficulty!  So that’s my week in the car/driving stakes – let the next one be better.  So fill in the poll below….I’m curious to know what people really do – it’s anonymous so you can answer honestly 🙂

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The Immortal Aussie Ugg Boot is so much more here in the US than we have at home!

IMG_0929Well, what can I say, Uggs rule here in NYC.  Well, it snows there you might say and people need warm feet.  This is not a winter situation at all.  We have them for all seasons and events.  Thong uggs for summer (flip flops for our American friends), glitter uggs for clubbing (I kid you not) and my personal favorite behold the  Bridal Uggs.  You need something to wear whilst you are spending your day getting ready for the “big day” so you could be wearing a pair of the these beauties.  Why did none of my friends getting married drag me out shoe shopping for the big day and gasp “oooohhhh I must get those bridal uggs too”? (actually there is a bridal ugg bag too)

How did I not know about this phenomenon where it’s unthinkable that you prepare for your big day without the “Bridal Uggs” amongst other traditional bride day things?  The differences in our respective cultures often give me a smile (the occasional bit of fear), but this was a day of laugh out loud, stomach hurts so bad and I can’t breathe kind of fun that it was worthy of a blog post!

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Why I love service in the US…

So, Friday I worked down in Manhattan and caught the train from White Plains.  Mostly I drive down but feeling like the parking costs for 12hrs might give me a heart attack when I’m attempting a responsible spending program, I decide to enjoy the transport experience. Services you have here that you CANNOT get at home anymore:

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1) You can buy a ticket on board….from a real person…who asks how your day is.

2) You can relax in comfortable seats and watch stations whizz by on a “real” express train…White Plains to Grand Central 35 mins and 2 stops.

3) If you mistakenly get on a “super express” train, which is not actually stopping at your station (ok so I screwed up) and you are confronted with the possibility of going another 5 stations past your stop, then catching a train back, the nice man from option 1 above will shake his head, explain the difference between the multitude of express trains, explain to you he loves Australians, your accent and wants to visit downunder one day but the plane flight is too damn far and then smile and tell you they will stop the train at your station anyway and unlock the door to let you out…..god bless the train conductors of America!

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What a difference 3 weeks makes…

What a difference 3 weeks makes...

Finally there is hope…not to end global warming, but certainly that this “hell froze over and I live in it now” state of affairs in New York may not be permanent (my greatest fear). For the first time today, I didn’t need a winter coat and strangely the front lawn is covered with these little purple flowers – I’m not sure when it happened, but thank god it’s here! Hello Spring, please do not rush through to Summer – I’m warding off the next Winter already…

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Who says everything is bigger in Texas?

Who says everything is bigger in Texas?

Well here I am at Costco, considering steak for dinner – then I look at the pack for 2 steaks and as I almost faint considering the portion size and feel the need to ask my buddy to put a hand there to show some perspective. At this point I’m thinking 2 things – 1. steak is not on for dinner and 2. what kind of shock will I experience on my first trip to Texas (where everything is bigger and better I’m told)? Fred Flintstone did not eat steaks of this size on a cartoon – and now I’m supposed to just pick them up at Costco and go home – how many weight watchers points would one be do we think? I’m fairly certain that it would feed a small village for a month.

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Chill out and Cheer up Winter

Chill out and Cheer up Winter

So this last weekend I headed off to a retreat for some Yoga, Meditation, Vegetarian food and general peace at the Hari Krishna Ashram in the Catskills. A mere 2hrs away is snowy peace – along the way we noticed these people had decided to cheer up their winter yard with beautiful hanging baskets of fake flowers all around their yard! Arriving we dropped our luggage off and headed straight for the sauna house. Yoga started at 4pm – a 2hr class and a vegetarian banquet for dinner left us happy. Meditation and chanting at the temple ended our night which sent us off to bed. 5.30am (I kid you not) we were up and getting ready for our hour long silent mediation walk. Sounds great until you realize it is pitch black as the sun is not even thinking about getting up. Walking in the dark in snow and cold should be enough to have you thinking “she’s finally lost it”, but I have to say (after light started and I was absolutely sure I would not fall, break my neck or get eaten by a bear – yay for hibernation), I loved the hour long walk. On to another 2hr Yoga class and brunch – considering my own superhero outfit at this point. Next is clearly some more sauna time and an afternoon nap which left me waking just in time to rush down to the 2nd yoga class of the day for 2hrs (that is 4hrs people – where is my cape?). I’m feeling particularly proud of my first shoulder stand. More delicious dinner, meditation (how does anyone sit cross-legged for over an hour?) and chanting (finally a place where no one would even think of pointing out that I can’t sing and should shut up immediately)! There is definitely a lot to be said for a chill out weekend that I will be repeating every couple of months….blissed out!

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Martini Madness is a great way to spend Christmas

Martini Madness

Christmas starts with magical martinis…so I spent Christmas this year in Chicago again although this time with Jackie and Nigel who stayed home this year (yay).  Xmas eve on Monday night was a night of catchup, dirty martinis (North Shore Gin really is the best gin in the world), lots of wine and fantastic snacks.  Xmas day on Tuesday started with a lazy breakfast before opening presents and planning the day’s movie going (1. Skyfall – he really is the best Bond after my beloved Sean and 2. Abraham Lincoln – who knew he was shot? Certainly not covered in my school history classes, but hey now I know and by an actor no less).  A great way to spend Xmas day is actually going to the movies, lots of fun.  Dinner meant Jackie cooking up a storm (Moroccan Chicken) and more dirty martinis (Deaths Door Gin really has the potential for putting you there actually), lots more wine, too much port (final count only realized a day later) – yes we were all a bit dusty the next morning (well OK Nigel and I were – Jackie actually worked) but a good time was had by all.

Then it was Wednesday = recovery day – I bicycled off to get more spices from the most incredible spice store in the world that just happens to be in Chicago (in 0 degree weather – I am a legend), I found an amazing French bakery with the best coffee and macaroons, which were essential after my Scott of the Antarctic adventure (OK so I did feel virtuous after riding around in the snowy Chicago weather and a little deranged, yet somewhat French with a baguette in my bicycle basket – albeit a frozen one by the time I got back).  A healthy dinner of delicious sushi (sans martinis lest we actually land on Deaths Door) and a movie.  This movie was the most amazing combined effort in movie ordering – Step 1 – order a movie from Netflix (1st one – not so good, so find another one after 10 mins of deciding we should put it out of it’s misery), Step 2 – Discover Netflix is now down and we can’t watch better movie that we ordered, Step 3 – Try millions of times to get to Netflix on TV, PCs, Macs etc….then give up that movie and attempt I-Tunes  for another movie “Arbitrage” (an hour to download – really?? and then some online help to deal with the stupid new I-Tunes interface, Steve Jobs would be horrified with what they’ve done wouldn’t he?  Well I damn well am and now have a lesson to go learn how to use the stupid new version which is not intuitive at all), Step 4 – aaaaahhhh there is Richard Gere and all is well again in the world (really going to the actual movie theatre was a lot less hassle).

Thursday dawns and it’s snowing – sooooo, you know you are a dedicated massage devotee when you walk a mile and a half through snow to get there (I know I’m sounding old right now but at least it’s not trudging with bare feet to school through snow etc etc)….but damn if I don’t feel great now after a fantastic massage and the very delicious Vietnamese sandwich from my beloved Saigon Sisters before I left Chicago.  Finally back home in NY – after the flight which saw me staring out the window fascinated whilst they sprayed stuff all over the plane wings to deal with the snow – at least that’s what I assume was happening given no one else on the flight seemed remotely concerned with this situation going on out my window and I didn’t want to be the only person (read here – Aussie with no clue about the effect of snow) on the plane with NO idea what they were actually doing – what was that stuff anyway???

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