Thursday, October 30, 2008

10 Good Things about Winter

Every year, I wrack my brain to find reasons to enjoy winter. Every year it gets a little tougher, but here we go:
  1. Baking and roasting as much as I want — without overheating the house.
  2. Cashmere and shearling. Warm, soft, good-looking.
  3. Cocoa. I drank sugar-free Swiss Miss year-round to stay warm at my former job (in fingerless gloves and a fleece, while blasting a space heater). But I'm no longer there, so hot chocolate tastes like fun again. Our favorite brand is Penzey's.
  4. Christmas. By mid November, I'll be getting in the mood for holiday displays in stores. And twinkly lights and fragrant greens always make me happy, even the day after Halloween.  Then there's Christmas music, and food, our lovely tree, and presents!
  5. Boots. My only classy, comfortable alternative to flip flops. Every fall I order many boots online from Zappos and ShoeBuy and spend weeks making up my mind. I've got four promising styles at the moment and one more on the way.
  6. Clementines. The wooden crates have just appeared at DeLuca's. Of all fruits, I think clementines taste the most like candy. 
  7. Blizzards. Even when I don't have a job to go to, I love being trapped at home, especially when my husband gets a snow day. All I need is bread, cheese, chocolate, and a book.
  8. Bed. We use flannel sheets and a thick down comforter throughout the year, but this winter we're going to be warm. We bought a Level 3 down comforter for half-price at the Cuddledown outlet in Freeport. Most customers buy a "Summer" or a Level 1 comforter if their house has normal winter heating. Level 2 is for people who are always cold and turn the heat way down. Level 3 is for people who are always cold and live like pioneers, with bedroom temps in the low 50s. Level 4 is for people who always feel cold but are dumb enough to live in an unheated chateau or cabin. Cuddledown clerks are thrifty Mainers who try to talk you into the least expensive option. They were stunned and almost horrified when we told them we used a heavy comforter in Boston in July, with the windows open. And that, although our bedroom is drafty, we get decent heat. They practically begged us not to buy the Level 3, as if it were a Level 3 biohazard instead of 4 pounds of goose down and feathers. But we insisted. And we're putting a coverlet on top.
  9. Winter Olympics. There's no better way to waste time on a freezing night than watching guys in mullets and velvet unitards throw sequined, bleached blondes across the ice to music from Goldfinger. Too bad we have to wait until 2010.
  10. Wreaths. For the past few years, I've volunteered as a wreath decorator for the Back Bay Garden Club's holiday fundraiser. They sell hundreds of wreaths, and dozens of us spend days in a church basement on Marlborough Street, getting coated in pitch and punctured by flower picks as we turn plain balsam wreaths into elaborate yet sturdy creations. I suspect that everyone in the club except me has a second home in the country, and they gather bushels of pinecones, berries, boughs, holly, and dried flowers, plus every possible item from the flower market for decorating material. My first year, I had to make two huge, matching wreaths for Tom Brady's front doors. The pressure! The Garden Club women are talented, hard-working, wise, and fun, and I feel honored to be among them. Wreath sales support tree pruning and planting projects in Back Bay. But what I love most is hanging out in the alley in a mask with a can of spray paint (gold pinecones are essential), knowing I can't possibly be arrested.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Autumn in Mount Auburn Cemetery


Last weekend, the fall color show had not yet peaked in Mount Auburn. There's still time to take a walk in the leaves and enjoy the beauty of one of the world's finest 19th-century cemeteries.

We were "members" of Mt. Auburn for awhile, and we may join again when/if our finances recover, but it seemed odd to belong to a cemetery while we are still pretty good at breathing.

On our walks there, we sometimes try to imagine what sort of elaborate, overwrought monument we'd have chosen for ourselves as wealthy Victorians. If I were ever to start my own business, I'd manufacture reproductions of Victorian tombstones in some sort of impervious, stone-like material, so people can have graves with character and artistry again. Mourning ladies, benevolent angels, baskets of wheat sheaves, loyal dogs, lambs, obelisks, books on pedestals, draped urns — all a thousand times more eloquent than any modern slab of granite.

Then there's my brother's plan. He wants to build a mausoleum, with lifelike statues of him, our sister, and me sitting inside. A recording of us yelling at each other would play 24 hours a day. I think it's a great idea: it celebrates one of our top skills, and no passerby could possibly feel sorry for us.

On this walk, my husband asked if I would mind if we had a monument in Mt. Auburn someday, a place where our names would be carved. And that sounded good to me. (A nice plot costs well into six figures, so this is highly speculative.) This is a change. Previously, we'd both said we want no marker, just cremation and ashes tossed in the wind. I guess our plans are evolving. We don't have children, so it's likely no one else would visit us, but if he wants his name on a stone, it's certainly going to be there.

We passed a new, curb-style stone belonging to a Boomer: "In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." We puzzled over another one: "Yellow Always Wins." I wondered if mine should say: "She was passionate about trying to discover her passion." Then I realized I'm not even passionate about that, and got really depressed. My husband recalled Mel Blanc's epitaph — "That's All, Folks!" — which we saw years ago in Hollywood. Short and snappy. I suppose ours could be equally truthful and succinct: "Too Many Burritos."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Clothes Call

To protect his dignity and privacy, I should not blog about my husband's sartorial disasters. It's simply his destiny to ruin so many of his clothes in strange, sometimes hilarious ways (including two lambskin coats, a few elegant blazers, and numerous shirts, sweaters, shoes, belts, and pants). It's no one's business but his, and perhaps mine. Telling such stories could pose a threat to our marriage — in addition to being just plain wrong. It would be especially wicked to do so without asking him. If he ever posted anything like that about me, I'd brain him.

But I can't resist. (Who reads this blog anyway?)

For the past couple of weeks, he's been preparing for a long day of interviews for his Dream Job of a Lifetime, a newly endowed teaching post, which hasn't had a professor in his obscure field since about World War II. He prepared his lecture extensively during Red Sox and Patriots games, got a haircut, and tolerated my asking him endless, annoying interview questions day and night. Late one sleepless night, we even debated the pros and cons of his pulling a live lobster out of his laptop bag during his meeting with the search committee. We decided against it because — while it would make him an unforgettable candidate, and handling lobsters is new skill we're both proud of — lobsters smell.

We also spent time on his outfit. He has many suits, shirts, ties, and dress shoes, but these tend to be elderly since "office casual" has long been the rule where he works. He usually wears an old blazer just to have extra pockets for his iPhone. 

We settled on a heavy charcoal flannel suit with a simple jacket cut like a blazer (patch pockets, no breast pocket). He looks great in it and said he didn't want to look like a banker or lawyer. He wore a blue shirt and my favorite burgundy tie. Knee-high socks with black wingtips. He'd polished two pairs the day before and we chose the nicer, Italian ones. And for luck, he carried a pocket watch that belonged to that WWII predecessor, his hero. This morning, we pulled every speck of cat fur off both the suit and the car seat. He looked wonderful. He left the house an hour early.

About an hour later, he called me. "You won't believe this," he said. (But I believe everything these days.) "I got out of the car and was walking toward the lecture hall, and I noticed some stuff peeling off my shoe." It seems that the heels and soles of both of his wingtips chose this morning — of all mornings — to crack and disintegrate to the extent that he was practically walking on socks instead of shoe leather. 

I can only imagine the impression this might have made on the dean and the search committee. Fortunately, he had time to hobble to a store for a pair of glossy Bostonians.

I've almost never heard of quality Italian shoes suddenly falling apart like this. Except that it happened to him a couple of years ago, too. In Vienna, on the way to a business meeting. The hideous Austrian emergency shoes he bought were recently donated to the Salvation Army. 

Should we have his closet tested for shoe-eating bacteria?

After we were done laughing on the phone, I walked to St. Clement's and lit a lot of candles. I'm not very spiritual, but there are times when this seems like the only thing to do. I'm still waiting  for him to come home and tell me about the rest of his day. I wonder if he used that stuffed lobster I put in his bag, just in case.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sunset in Southwest Harbor

To escape from the mold removal process, we took off for a long weekend at our favorite inn in Southwest Harbor, Maine. We stay in the poolside bungalow three times a year, and we've been going there forever. We've calculated that we spend more time each year with the innkeepers than we do with our families. They are wonderful.

The leaves were at peak, Acadia National Park was full of hikers, and the popovers at the Jordan Pond House were piping hot. 

Even though it was fleece jacket weather, we stayed in the pool and hot tub every afternoon for as long as we could stand it. The pool was a chill 80 degrees; on other October visits, it's been cranked up to at least 9o — heaven when the air is cold enough that you can see your breath. 

We were visited day and night by a friendly local cat who spent five hours curled up with us as we watched the Red Sox and the Patriots.

I took this photo wearing a wet swimsuit and a towel, after racing to the parking lot by the bungalow, where the Cranberry Island Ferry docks. When that water turns pink, it's one of the prettiest places in Maine.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Squash? Or Art?

I visited my favorite farmer, Aidan, at the Copley Square Farmer's Market today. Along with the apples, tomatoes, carrots, red onions, and corn, I found a beautiful carnival squash, which will sit around our apartment as an obj√©t d'art until it starts to soften and look a bit suspect — round about March, judging from last year's model.

Aidan thinks it's hilarious that I buy his vegetables as sculpture, but anyone might admire my squash's lyrical, curvy stem and enjoy watching its slowly shifting colors, from greens to golds to orange, as it matures. I couldn't bear to slice it and roast it. And I'm not so crazy as to try the same thing with, say, one of his heirloom tomatoes.

I scheduled my last two part-time jobs so I'd be free to make my morning visits to the Copley market: Tuesday and Fridays, 11 to 6, from May to Thanksgiving. Many of the farmers know us steady customers on sight, and I've gotten helpful cooking and gardening tips over the years.

We head to Iggy's bread stand first, because their best stuff sells out quickly. (The only bread that tops Iggy's is the pricey little golden raisin and pecan wholegrain loaf from When Pigs Fly.) There are many other bakery stands these days, but I pass them by. Except for the coffeecake-and-pie lady, who sometimes proves irresistible.

All winter long, we long for fresh, local vegetables, berries, sunflower bouquets, and butter-and-sugar corn. In spring, I buy plants and potted herbs for the front steps; in the fall, I carry home leeks for soups, and red beets, Yukon Gold potatoes, and yams to roast. But, of course, the real treasure is a bag of ripe, red field tomatoes. We stock up as soon as they appear in July; by late September we keep our fingers crossed that their season will stretch into November.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My Boyfriend

We met years ago, at his ground-floor apartment on Beacon Hill. He lives on the last steep slope of my exercise route. We bonded instantly, and now we see each other as often as our schedules allow. He has tawny hair, intelligent eyes, and an endearing habit of flopping on his back, waving his feet in the air, and blinking his baby blues at me.

My husband is tolerant of our relationship, a cosmopolitan attitude that I find rather attractive. They've met a few times and had civil exchanges. But my boyfriend and I are devoted to each other. (Just don't tell that possessive roommate of his, the dame who keeps him locked up behind the screen and the barred window.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My Best Photo: Prague

I love this photo, taken in 2001 with my Nikon CoolPix. The perfectly angled boat makes all the difference.