Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Now I Know

This was a great day. We have a beautiful new kitten sound asleep in her crate in the study. Our friends are happy for us, and several have helped us get her settled in her new home. We're drinking sparkling cider to celebrate her arrival because we can't digest champagne.

More about the kitten later. She has requested privacy during her Important Life Transition.

I learned a few things today. Here's what I know tonight that I didn't have a clue about this morning.

1. If you ever need to borrow a dog crate, the Animal Rescue League has a few they lend, no questions asked. If the receptionist denies this, ask to speak to the shelter manager. She'll help you out. She and her team of volunteers (especially Susie) are great.

2. If you plan to take paint off a cast-iron radiator with a wire brush, you'd better be furious about something. This is a rotten job: it takes a ton of energy, it's boring, and the wire brush does a lousy job. If you're not feeling really pissed, do some other chore because, every 4 minutes, you're going to get thoroughly sick of it and remember that you urgently need to do something — anything— else. If you are in the mood to take out your aggression on an inanimate object, have I got a project for you.

3. My friend J. knows a ton of dog owners in Back Bay, and all of them hang around the house during the day when they aren't taking yoga or walking their dog. And none of them has a dog crate to spare.

4. It is possible to go Bollywood dancing in flip flops. Had I known this last night, I would have gone Bollywood dancing with J., and other friends, at the Hatch Shell. Now I have to wait until next year.

5. There is a universal cooing sound that everyone makes over a photo of a cute kitten. And everybody thinks that your kitten looks exactly like some old kitten they once had....

6. Those frozen breaded chicken breasts from Trader Joe's taste just as soggy and bland this year as they did last year. But TJ's can be forgiven for having the rare, dud product.

7. Geraniums are poisonous to cats. Getting into the wrong houseplants can put a cat into kidney failure. Goodbye, geraniums.

8. My husband secretly hated my geraniums (until tonight) because he thinks they look gangly. And here I was, so proud that they often grew more than 4 feet tall, blooming year round on their long, weird, leafless, flopping stems.

9. There are two new 50th Anniversary Special Edition Mini Coopers. Oddly enough, I don't like either of them. However, as an accent color, "Toffee" has a certain appeal. (When doesn't toffee appeal?)

10. If you want to put a kitten to sleep, start telling her about art history. I just introduced mine to the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, using their convenient, kitten-sized pocket guide, and her eyelids started to droop just as I was getting into showing her Watson and the Shark.

11. If you're going to scrape paint off a cast-iron radiator, wear gloves and a cap, or you'll find chips of paint in your hair as you're writing your blog.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Waiting for Wendy

By this time tomorrow, I will be owned by a longhaired, torbie-and-white feral kitten, whom we plan to call Wendy, short for Wendelina Pantherina. (The name is a variation on a name I found mentioned in Harry Potter and the name of a poisonous mushroom, Amanita pantherina, which was too cute to be wasted on a fatal fungus.) Like T.S. Eliot, I believe that every cat needs to receive both a unique name and a name that won't embarrass anyone in public.

I am now on a mission to borrow a wire crate, so Wendy can hang out with us instead of disappearing to hide in some secret corner, making an occasional skittish appearance at the food bowl around 3 am. Some feral indoor cats live like this their whole lives; their owners seldom see them. We have other plans for Wendy; we hope she'll develop into a debutante, presiding over social gatherings, just like Eliza Doolittle. I plan to teach her to enjoy people and Persians, petting and cat massages, and all kinds of good food. I also need to help her learn to purr and to play with toys.

How the heck do humans teach kittens to act like kittens? I've been reading a lot of instructions online. Some people withhold food and use it to entice the kitten closer and closer, into their laps. Nah. My theory is that I'll just have to become a kitten myself. I spent two years in a theater school and did every stupid acting exercise there is. I have no dignity; I'll do whatever it takes, short of sampling her kitten chow or using the litter box.

If all goes well, in coming months she'll develop into a happy lap cat, or at least a bed cat, keeping us warm at night. I intend to talk to her all the time, mainly on educational subjects and her own wonderful self. If nothing else, this cat will have high self esteem. With any luck, she'll start talking back, as our other cats do.

Soon, no doubt, as she moves into adolescence, I will need to start reciting from my unpublished collection of sermons for cats, entitled Nice Pussies Don't! While I love kittens, I love grown cats even more, especially those who have complex, sociable personalities, which I believe come from being told repeatedly, in hundreds of different ways, how fabulous they are.

I presented our scheme to our vet today. After just three weeks of mourning Bunnelina, I expected the doctor to tell me, sensibly, that it's still too soon for us to bond with a new cat. (I know she was appalled when another client showed up with a tiny kitten just 6 weeks after her cat died of lymphoma, claiming that her late cat was the "spirit guide" that sent her to the kitten.)

But our vet thinks Wendy is a good idea. She thinks a feral baby, who isn't aggressive but is just scared, might turn into an easy, unthreatening companion for our teenaged cats. She says the kitten probably won't be as crazy-playful as regular kittens (no doubt because my kitten-acting skills won't be up to snuff). She also understands that I have too much time on my hands right now, and I need a cat-project to take my mind off Bunny. I will always miss Bunny, so I just have to get used to it. Might as well make myself useful.

It's nice to feel hopeful for a change. Wendy is a little more than 10 weeks old, so socializing her will be much more of a challenge than if she were a 5-week-old baby. According to one article I read, every day after 8 weeks makes the socializing process more difficult. But Wendy seems to have a good character — no biting, hissing, scratching, or giving dirty looks. That's more than could probably be said about myself at her age. So here's to a new, fur-filled beginning.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Strolling Salem Street

Salem Street in the North End seems pretty darn yuppified since Dairy Fresh Candy was replaced by a yoga store and Acquire, a home accessories store I can't resist despite my longing for those courtly Dairy Fresh shopkeepers and their wares. I know I'm supposed to embrace change rather than become petrified in my ways. I'd feel better if I could figure out where to go for white chocolate Easter candy in the shape of tombstones, and the white-chocolate-covered cherries on a stem that my relatives like to get for Christmas.

Thank goodness Polcari's Coffee never changes; the guys behind the counter are the nicest in town. I really don't care if the candy we buy there tastes like spice, and the spices taste faintly like coffee. Actually everything from there smells faintly of coffee, including the risotto. But who cares? It's all good.

The Salem True Value remains the most staggeringly overstocked hardware store in town; I always get lost in there. I went in recently for a new mortar and pestle, and there were so many choices I couldn't make up my mind. I left, empty-handed and confused.

Boston Common Coffee Co. is another welcome addition to the street; a nice place to linger over coffee and something delicious while you meet friends. They sell hibiscus iced tea, known as karkade (car-ka-DAY), which I've only seen in Egypt. One sip and I'm back in Cairo.

And the Mercato di Mare is still taking its seafood seriously. Note the lip liner in the crusher claw and the lipstick in the cutting claw:


Hmm, this lobster appears to be wearing boxing gloves: it might have two crusher claws. Yum!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Turn Off

I was surprised to find myself agreeing with conservative Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby for the very first time, this morning, as I read his diatribe against TV, Silence that idiot box! He says television is making Americans and our kids stupider every day. Because I seldom watch TV, I'm not desensitized to its overall crappiness, so it hits me like a ton of bricks whenever I'm trapped in a doctor's waiting room, for example, with a giant screen looming over me, tuned to some talk show. I also hear it in the background when I call my dad, whose favorite shows are "Touched by an Angel" and "Walker, Texas Ranger."

As Jacoby says:
For turning brains into mush, you can’t do better than television. The “vast wasteland’’ Newton Minow deplored in 1961 is infinitely vaster now - a largely unrelieved wilderness of mindless, stupefying entertainment, where dysfunction vies for predominance with vulgarity, and where the insatiable hunger for ratings eventually overpowers every consideration of taste, morality, and intellect.
Gee, Jeff, tell us how you really feel.

When I visit my family in Pennsylvania, there's always at least one giant-screen TV on in the living room, and usually there are more of them going, in adjoining rooms. I know this is normal in American households. But there's never anything good to watch! The Food Network is popular with my family, and so we'll sit watching ditzy women in revealing tops jabber while making nachos. After spending a couple of days around a TV, I need to recover. Everyone else in America is used to this level of sensory stimulation but I'm out of practice. I do this by not watching much more than an hour of non–Red Sox TV weekly for the next year. I find TV every bit as as annoying as construction noise, cigarette smoke, and sports radio.

I wasn't always this sensitive; like all children of the '60s, I grew up in front of the TV. Some of my earliest memories are of staying up until after 11 as a tiny kid, huddled under an afghan, watching "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Peyton Place," and "The Twilight Zone" with my mom and my sister. And being creeped out by all three, which were highly unsuitable for a preschooler. I also watched late-night movies with them, most memorably, The Birds. (What was my family thinking?)

The family gathered around our Zenith to watch "Gunsmoke" and "The Jackie Gleason Show." I watched TV as I played with my Barbies, colored, drew, painted, read, crocheted, and did homework (and got mostly As). And even as a kid, I had some taste (although I also watched "Laugh-In," "Benny Hill," and "My Mother the Car"), I discovered PBS early, so "Masterpiece Theater," "Upstairs, Downstairs," "Doctor in the House," and documentary series like "Leonardo" and "Elizabeth R" helped make me into the Anglophile nerd I am today. During high school, I spent Friday nights watching silent films instead of drinking beer behind the bleachers. Public TV helped me become that kind of kid.

Nowadays, my husband turns on our 32" TV (which I thought was absurdly large, but he insisted) to watch the Red Sox and the Patriots in the background while he works on his laptop and I read nearby. If he puts on the news or some late-night show before bed, he uses headphones. Sometimes, Red Sox games are better with sound off, anyway. When we watch a DVD, I enjoy it more on a 15" laptop screen, sitting side-by-side on the couch. It's a more intimate experience.

We do watch "Mad Men" every week. We try to find one, or at most two, shows per season worth anticipating and watching regularly — we aren't snobs; we don't feel we are above pop culture. It's just hard work finding shows worth watching. For many years, it was "Seinfeld," then it became "The Sopranos," then "Queer Eye," briefly, along with various Austen and Dickens "Masterpiece" series. We also had brief forays into "Big Love," "Deadwood," "Six Feet Under," and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," but they all became boring, stupid, or annoying after a season or so. (I was hooked on "Ali McBeal" for a long time; I have no idea why.)

I know there's more intelligent, edgier, classier, better TV out there, somewhere. As a matter of fact, my friend Some Assembly Required is a connoisseur of such TV and tries to keep me in the loop. But until he can make the commercials go away, I won't be hooked.

Beyond the bad writing, bad acting, and crudeness, crassness, stereotypes, and generally poor quality of most of the TV I've been subjected to during family visits, I loathe commercials. I've been known to leave the room or turn off a show because I hate the commercials more than I care to see the show. Even when they're muted, the flickering and flashing bother me. I used to watch the SuperBowl for the commercials but they've deteriorated over the years; it's been downhill since the unforgettable, 2006 "Herding Cats."

I don't find contemporary TV comedies funny — not since "Seinfeld." (Or, going way back, "The Carol Burnett Show": my mom and I would practically roll on the floor as Tim and Harvey tried not to crack up.).

And it's still impossible for me to just sit and stare at the screen like a lump. While I don't weave potholders or play with my Spirograph anymore, I still need to read magazines, browse catalogs, surf the Web, or do something while the tube is on.

I confess that, while I'm far from a TV addict, I am an Internet addict. I spend far too many hours a day online, but I'm reading, writing and/or learning for the most part. Or searching for cats, real estate, work, clothes, foreign hotels, or antiques to potentially improve my life. The Internet is my lifeline to useful information — from news of the world to recipes to the research I do to write healthcare articles to the many friends I keep in touch with on facebook. I can't imagine that, used this way, its effects for the brain are as bad as TV's.

But I also know I should spend even more time than I do reading books, exercising, amusing my cats, and, well, vacuuming.

According to Jacoby's facts, the average American household watches an average of 8.2 hours of TV a day. If I were Queen, the only time we Americans would be allowed to watch that much TV is during the Winter Olympics. Ice dancing, ski jumping, and the giant slalom are all worth staying glued to the set for days on end. But I can't think of anything else.

I keep forgetting how to turn on our TV because I do it so infrequently. The last time I successfully used two remotes was to watch Obama's inauguration. I also have no idea of what most of the current shows are about, or what they're called, or when they are on, and I don't care enough to look at a program schedule.

As experts have found in their studies, I've seen a vast difference in the general brightness of the kids I know that correlates to their TV-watching habits. The ones who can't (or don't) watch TV read like crazy instead and are educating themselves remarkably. The ones who had unlimited access since infancy... don't (or can't) read.

Somehow, I grew up unscathed and unmoved by TV, despite my own thousands of hours in front of the set — probably because I was continually doing other educational or recreational activities at the same time. On the other hand, maybe I'd be a brilliant lawyer, a genius entrepreneur, or a Pulitzer-winning journalist today — if only I'd turned off that set.

Caturday

We spent yesterday touring around Southern Mass looking at selected felines I'd found on Petfinder.com, including the two from my last post. We started out in Scituate, where we drove past the shelter's large wooden sign twice before we saw it. The shelter is brand-new and shiny, and the volunteer's eyebrows flew up when we asked to visit Tessie.

Because Tessie has a well-earned reputation as a diva:

Tessie proves my point about how you can read some cats' personalities by their faces and coloring. Tessie's calico bandito mask and — there's no other way to describe it — nutty facial expression scream "cuckoo cat!" to me. I knew she'd be one of the more extreme calico personalities. Her listing on Petfinder pussyfoots around her true nature despite strongly hinting at some of her issues. At any rate, we weren't expecting her to melt into our laps — or melt down. Which she did: I was minding my business, chatting with the volunteer, when Tessie walked over to me, wrapped her paws around my leg and held on tight as she considered how to bite my knee. Then she leaped into her bed and posed for this photo.

Tessie is gorgeous, and loves to be petted, fussed over, and complimented... until she suddenly doesn't. She's also not always fond of other cats. So we went to another room to visit Penny.

My husband adored Penny, who is very kittenish despite being a mother. Unfortunately, the volunteer told us that Penny kept attacking her kitten until they had to be separated. We had fun playing with her and watching her slip-slide across the room, chasing balls. But she's nowhere near as friendly with cats as she is with people. There was an application pending on her, and I hope she went to a nice, cat-less person.

Then we drove like mad because we were late to visit Bree, formerly known as Kitten 6. She lives in Swansea, and it took a long time to get there because we had somehow set the iPhone's Google Maps app to find "Walking" routes. I kept wondering why it said we'd need 33 hours and 19 minutes to get to Swansea.

But we got there somewhat sooner than that, and had a warm reception from Bree's foster owner. Unfortunately, Bree trembled and nearly had a coronary in her cage when she met us. We discovered that she and her brother are feral. They were rescued just two weeks ago from a field, and they are not socialized. Bree is terrified of people, and is too afraid, at 10 weeks of age, to play. She doesn't know it's fun to chase a ribbon. She doesn't know how to purr. She allowed me to pet her and briefly hold her and she stared at me a lot with her wide kitten eyes. I noticed that, no matter how scared she was, she never hissed, growled, or tried to scratch or bite.

A feral kitten is an unknown quantity, a surprise package. I've recently learned that there are basic techniques to domesticate them, and for Bree, this must happen very soon if it's going to succeed. Her foster mom explained that she works full-time and has other commitments and doesn't have the time to give Bree the attention she needs. Which is weeks or months of careful handling, training, and attention as she stays in a confined space — and slowly learns to trust people, relax, and act like a kitten. And you'll never know how affectionate the kitten will turn out to be. Kittens' natures are partly genetic, and ferals' parents are wild.

I started this quest with the goal of finding another perfectly sweet, beautiful, and sociable lap cat like our Bunny. Now, here I was looking into a pair of troubled but intriguing kitten eyes. It might be extremely rewarding to spend weeks on the floor, helping this kitten to purr. If I could teach it to purr. I have no idea if I'm any good at this sort of thing. I told Bree's owner I'd have a talk with my vet and find out if she thought I was crazy.

Then we raced up to Raynham (we took the walking route, 9 hours, actually) to visit Pansey, the cat in the flower arrangement in my previous post. Pansey's energetic and capable foster "mom" had about 10 cats and kittens roaming around her house, which was spotless and clean-smelling. She even had a Persian who'd been rescued from the infamous hoarder Heidi Erickson's latest multi-cat seizure.

Pansey's mom brought her to us from her shed, where she keeps even more foster cats. She is extremely experienced with stressed and sick animals and she told scary stories about rescuing and fostering cats, including feral kittens, as we petted Pansey.

Pansey is a very sweet cat but there's something about her that made me nervous:

The little gray mustache you see is feline acne, and she's actually much, much prettier than she looks in this photo. She's surprisingly tiny and very affectionate, but she seemed to most enjoy repeatedly rolling herself into a ball to hide behind my arm as I sat beside her on the chair.

I found myself thinking that we'd always look at her and wish she were Bunny; she looked just similar enough for it to be a problem. I should have thought of this before, I know.

Her foster mom understood our hesitation and our feelings. We said goodbye. Then we dashed home to meet friends who treated us to an amazing, delicious dinner at the Capital Grille for our 12th anniversary. Throughout the meal I kept mentioning the cats we'd seen, even though our friends aren't cat people in the least. Finally Ed looked up from his plate and said, "You'll just have to follow your heart."

That's the right answer. And my heart seems to be following Bree. I spent most of the night awake, trying to figure out the logistics of domesticating her. We'd need to confine her to my husband's tiny office, which has a few bad hiding spots we'd need to block. We'd have to provide her with safer places, like cozy boxes. We'd need to cancel our trip to Maine next month; she'd need me all the time. And I'd have to resign myself to the fact that she may not be anything like a lap cat once she's socialized. I need a lap cat, so I may end up being her foster owner, not her forever owner. Then there's this: I've been strongly advised that giving Bree the company of a well-socialized kitten will best help her learn how to be a kitten herself. It would also free our senior cats from having to put up with her when she starts to play.

Instead, we'll all be dealing with the craziness of two kittens together!

My head is spinning. Bree goes to the vet for her infectious disease tests on Tuesday so I don't need to decide anything before that. But, whew, two kittens? In this little apartment? I just don't know....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Calico Prospects

This weekend, we have a date with a kitten. I've been hunting for a new cat every night on Petfinder.com, and have applied to meet three prospects in our area. I've also found amazing cats as far away as Arizona. But I've come to realize that a New England cat is more likely to share our political and sports affiliations.

Here's our first prospect:


She reminds me very much of our dear Bunny, who had a similar, heart-shaped face, almond-shaped eyes, and calico markings. I miss her like hell. I keep telling myself that I will never have another cat as marvelous, but part of me clearly isn't getting the message and is determined to try. I can't shake my belief that cats who look the same should have similar personalities. I know I'm probably setting myself up for a fall, but I can't help it.

Because this kitten is so young, she hasn't developed her "people skills" yet, so it would be up to me to help her learn to love petting, conversation, laps, cheese, sprawling on our bed pillows, and bossing us around. I think I can do this, if she's at all willing to cooperate. I hope she likes us. It would be great if she liked our male cat, too. I think he needs a playmate; he's never had one. And he's been so bored lately that he's been sneaking onto my computer — rather skillfully.

I'm also waiting to hear about my application to meet this cat:


She is the most Bunny-esque cat waiting for adoption in New England, and she has a hard-luck story. She was abandoned in a house with 15 other cats and not much food. They were flea-infested, and she's missing a lot of fur on her tail from that.

Imagine moving out of your house and leaving 16 cats and kittens behind. What kind of person would do that? I can't fathom it, and I have a good imagination. My dad told me that, back home, they rescued 80 sick and starving cats from some poor old lady's filthy house. I can understand how that situation can happen, through misguided thinking, love, and hoarding tendencies, over a stretch of years. But how do you lock the door and walk away from 16 helpless animal friends forever, not caring if they'll starve?

I have to admit that this calico doesn't strike me as the sweetest-looking cat — she looks like she's considering biting somebody, actually. But it also seems that someone plopped her down in the middle of a prickly silk flower arrangement for her photo, so she has every right to be annoyed. Her foster mom describes her as sweet and friendly, and she also has extra toes on her front paws, which I love.

So, fingers crossed.... I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's Fall


It only started yesterday, so this tree in the Public Garden had an unfair head start.

New Ideas for Newbury Street

Here's my wish list for businesses I'd love to see occupying of all of those depressingly vacant storefronts on Newbury. If my dreams came true, I'd be fat from all the good food, out of shape from no longer having to walk to other neighborhoods, and broke. Fortunately, I never get anything I wish for these days.

1. Anna's Taqueria. This is a delectable no-brainer. And it would save us two or three trips out of the neighborhood every week.

2. Iggy's Bread of the World. Back Bay does not have a bakery, unless you count the Paradise in the Pru. Which I don't. Iggy's makes the all-around best bread I've ever had.

3. Lyndell's Bakery. Now that they've opened an outpost in the North End, they can spread the frosting goodness around here. If we had their cakes, pastries, and Danishes, Iggy's Bread, and an Anna's, the collective weight of Back Bay's population would rise to the point where the whole neighborhood might just sink back into the swamp from whence it came.

4. ABC Carpet and Home. Such a prosaic name for a paradise. My favorite store in New York or anywhere, this is a theatrically designed temple to housewares, exotic imports, antiques, retro furnishings, luxury bedding, textiles, oriental carpets, vintage jewelry, and much more, including chocolate. Shopping just doesn't get more wonderful than this.

5. Pottery Barn Bed & Bath. I hear we're going to lose Pottery Barn, leaving us with only Crate & Barrel. I don't miss Restoration Hardware, except for the stocking stuffers at Christmas. I found their furniture overpriced, pompous, and often ridiculously overscaled for city apartments. And half the year, the store was stuffed with patio furniture and grill accessories, which are also low on the needs list for city dwellers. Pottery Barn is probably suffering from similarly wrong merchandising, focused on suburban McMansion living despite its urban location. But if PB converted their store to a Bed & Bath, like the one in NYC, we'd all live happily ever after.

6. Another bookstore. I remember being able to walk to Waterstone's, the Harvard Bookstore Café, Avenue Victor Hugo, Buddenbooks, Barnes & Noble, Rizzoli, and a few others. Borders is great, and the Trident is good, but I think we need another independent bookstore to be able to hold up our heads as a well-educated and literate neighborhood.

7. The perfect clothing store. I don't think it exists, but the perfect clothing store would offer mid-priced, well-made, timeless, chic clothing for men and women, including those of us who are over 35. I know... good luck with that.

8. A witch's store. If you had a notion to brew a potion or cast a spell, you'd have a devil of a time finding ingredients outside Salem. A store selling dried wolfbane would add diversity to this 'hood.

9. Art galleries. The exodus continues, and if any of them are replaced with another nail salon, dry cleaner, or cigar store, I'll be upset. Come back, galleries, come back!

10. Mohr & McPherson. Again, come back! The new store on Washington is lovely, but the store on Boylston is sorely missed. On the other hand, ABC Carpet & Home runs rings around them. So maybe we need a consignment home furnishings and antique store, like Garage Sale, instead.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday in Beacon Hill

Today, we wandered over to Beacon Hill to visit some open houses. The first place turned out to be a basement duplex, which won't work for us because I have asthma. Too bad: it had a shady, two-level deck that was so tightly enclosed that our cats could safely go outside. The young couple who owned it were selling it themselves and were very friendly. We asked about their neighbors, and they said they were great, and that they sometimes all got together for cocktails or dinner. "Wow!" we said. Then they asked about our neighbors, and we said that, in a nutshell, we wouldn't be having cocktails or dinner with some of ours anytime soon.

At the next condo, which was packed with browsing couples, we saw the handsomest deck so far, complete with a big tent-canopy lined with fairy lights, many flourishing potted plants, and comfortable reading chairs. I could live on that deck for four or five months of the year. Unfortunately the apartment attached to it was too small. We need room for a giant desk and at least 300 linear feet of bookshelves, so a tiny second bedroom is not going to work for us anymore. In our price range, Beacon Hill is not the place to find large rooms and big, empty walls for shelves. Or your own parking space. Still, I love walking over there for food (Iggy's bread at Savenor's), antiquing, hardware (Charles Street Supply has a friendly calico), and old Boston charm.

We split a super burrito at Anna's for lunch; we'd eaten there just the day before on our way over to the Haymarket. We rarely get tired of strolling the mile-plus to the Anna's on Cambridge... but when we do, we're still happy with the same burritos at the five other Anna's in Brookline, Cambridge, and Davis Square.

Walking down Charles, we passed a small street fair, so we checked it out. While my husband watched a geezer rock band wail on their guitars, I checked out the booths. At the best one, I met Isabelle English, the teenage owner of Curly Cakes, the new cupcake shop on Charles, opening in late October. I think she's delightful, and not simply because she was handing out free samples. A friendly cupcake shop should be a perfect addition to Charles Street. I hope she'll be as successful as her father, the famous Todd.

The best place for dessert on Charles now is Café Vanille, which offers breakfast croissants and Danishes, as well as a terrific selection of French pastries, including a perfect Parisian eclair. They also have a lunch menu and all the coffee drinks you'd ever want.

Still, I think I'm happier living in Back Bay, where the streets aren't the least bit steep, and the wide sidewalks and front gardens make the neighborhood feel less claustrophobic. Here, we have a supermarket where one bag of groceries only sets you back $40, not $80, like Whole Paycheck on the Hill. We've also got two bookstores (I remember when there were six), the library, Trader Joe's, two farmers' markets, heaps of interesting stores and galleries, and three Green Line stops (when it's running). Our hardware store doesn't have a cat, but it has Eric, who knows everything.

And since there's no Anna's, we're prevented from eating there every single day.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Paper Anniversary

I forgot to mark the one-year "paper" anniversary of this blog, which was yesterday. I've had a lot of fun while getting some writing practice, and I hope someone's had a laugh or bought a cake because of me.

Actually, this is a perfect excuse to get get a celebratory birthday cake.

I'd like to thank all my tolerant readers, who've refrained from telling me how boring and silly I am. I already know it, but there's not much I can do, although I'm trying. I've received only one nasty comment so far, which was not interesting enough to print. Maybe by this time next year, I'll have found an idea as good as cooking one's way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But don't hold your breath.

Once again, I'd like to thank Some Assembly Required, whose persistent persuasion over more than a year finally got me off my duff and blogging. I'd also like to thank my husband, who doesn't freak out if I tell somewhat embarrassing stories about him, and who tries to say only encouraging things about this blog.

I hope to have fewer excuses for whining and weeping in the year ahead and that I'll be able to report more positive things and exciting changes. A new home, new cat, new jobs, and another World Series win would be a fine start. After all, I Said Repeatedly, through late July and August when everyone else had given them up for dead, that they would come back. They generally do, people. How soon you forget.

I may not know much — and if you think I'm being modest, read more of this blog — but I've been around long enough to know a few things.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Close Encounter

We went the MSPCA to look for a cat late yesterday afternoon. I went into one of the high-ceilinged rooms where multiple cats roam free. These rooms are airy places, with big screened windows, cat-proof but comfortable plastic sofas and armchairs, and fancy wooden ramps and steps for climbing.

A young, yellow-eyed calico with a feathery plume of a tail looked at me. I looked at her. "Hey," I said as I headed for the sofa, "Get over here!" She chirped and jumped into my lap, purred, and settled down. My husband was watching. It appeared that I'd been chosen by our next cat. She had short, silky fur that was a crazy quilt of gorgeous dark red and black patches. I've never felt such irresistibly soft, fine fur on a shorthair. I always prefer longhaired cats, but this one was unusual.

Then, just as quickly, she jumped off me and ignored me for about a half-hour. I watched her parade around, tear the hell out of a scratching pad, and wrestle energetically with a black cat. Finally, as I was petting her one last time before we left, she looked me right in the eye and bit my hand.

Okay, sister, I get it. I'm not worthy. Still, I hope you don't end up in a household with three toddlers and six dogs. The hunt goes on.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Club Strength

I am a machine. Yesterday was Member Appreciation Day at the Boston Sports Club, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Before the Club Strength class started at noon, the manager came in and thanked us very graciously for being members. She said the instructor was going to make the class "extra hard" and that we might win prizes.

I am seldom in a position to know if Club Strength class is "extra" hard because it's always borderline too hard for me. I can do a respectable number of military push-ups, X push-ups, and 30-second planks, and I can heave barbells and dumbbells with the best, but there's always at least one moment during the 55 minutes when I'm lying panting, with my face on the mat, unable to persuade my muscles to perform whatever painful activity we're being exhorted to do. Our instructor likes to work certain muscles to exhaustion— and then make us do an even harder exercise that works the same muscles. We might have to do a long series of push-ups after a few minutes of chest presses, for example.

Yesterday, our instructor turned off the music (a sure sign that we are about to suffer) as we alternated pec decks and shoulder presses. He'd warned us to make sure our weights were light because this was going to drag on for awhile. Whenever someone dropped his or her weights, he made an obnoxious buzzing sound to "disqualify" them. Soon there were just two of us left, a very fit young father who is a regular, and me. We were side by side, lifting our weights in sync, while everyone watched us and waited. For some reason, I don't find those exercises hard and I was only using 3-pound weights, having paid attention to the instructions. But I was getting tired. So I called over to the guy, "Keep in mind, I'm old enough to be your mother!" As everyone laughed, he dropped his weights.

We both won black BSC T-shirts that say "Strong" on the front. I also got a BSC knapsack and a talking key chain that says things like "You've lost weight!" The manager tried to give me a jump rope, too. Now that I think about it, that would be an ideal way to drive neighbors crazy, indoors and out, but I foolishly declined.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wanted: Fluffy Calico Lap Cat

I'm in the market for a new cat. After losing Bunny, I didn't expect that a long mourning period would coincide with cat-hunting; I thought I'd interested in meeting new cats only after a decent interval. But life is short and I seem to have strong survival instincts, which are telling me to start looking for another cat now.

Either that, or I'm cold-hearted and deluded enough to think Bunny can be replaced. I honestly don't believe that, but I'm lonely. I miss her terribly; even with two charming and personable cats doing their best to fill the void. There's a sad emptiness around here without her; she had tremendous presence, awake or asleep. We miss stepping over her when she's spread out on her back, snoring with four white feet stuck in the air. I miss the way she'd appropriate my lap, or my pillow, or a third of our bed. I miss her swearing at us under her breath because we're not feeding her quickly enough. I really miss talking to her; we had so many long, heart-to-heart conversations about how wonderful she was. I need a similar bond with a similar cat.

Unfortunately for the adoptable cats around Boston, I'm ridiculously fussy. Unlike my sister, who aims to take the hardest case in the shelter — the cat no one wants because it bites and scratches, or doesn't like people — I'm seeking perfection. With two humans and two cats in close quarters in this tiny apartment, we want a cat who'll be a good friend to us or and a non-threatening companion for our Persians (one of whom doesn't like cats). And while we're at it, we want a decorative cat. I think cats are the most beautiful creatures on earth and I admire ours every day. I don't need another purebred, but I do appreciate a lovely face and a fluffy coat. I'm shallow, I know.

I've been through this before. About 12 or 13 years ago I began haunting shelters after losing another beloved longhaired calico. Margalo. I wanted a similarly affectionate and sociable cat with a certain look. Margalo had wildly patterned fur, a raccoon-like bandito mask over her eyes, and a massive body with a huge, ringed tail to match. She looked like a wild forest creature who'd had a run-in with an abstract-expressionist painter. After losing her, I visited the MSPCA and Animal Rescue League about every week for more than a year; it might have been closer to two. I saw hundreds of cats and kittens but none were right. But when I finally saw Bunny, I just knew she was mine. She was asleep with her back to me; I couldn't see her face and she didn't have Margalo's wacky patches, but I knew. I took the papers off her cage to adopt her even before she woke up, looked at me, and sneezed. And that settled it: a sneezing cat doesn't stay alive for long in a shelter. Her information sheet said only, "Fluffy is a lap cat. She likes to play with toys." Well, I'd been looking for a bona fide lap cat and here she finally was. Fluffy — renamed Bunnelina — became very ill in the next few days with an upper respiratory virus and adopting her saved her life and gave us 11 years of everyday joy and companionship.

That was back in 1998, before Petfinder.com. It's a whole new ballgame now, and I hope to be so lucky again. I spent last weekend surveying the more than 6,800 calico cats for adoption across the country as well as hundreds of purebreds and purebred-mixes. I am so neurotically particular — or else the photos and descriptions of the cats are so sketchy — that I didn't immediately discover the "one." I want a longhair, so that rules out the majority of the cats. We think a young adult cat or "old kitten" might settle in best with our teenaged Persians, but I wouldn't rule out an older cat with the right personality. But what can you learn from photos? Something, I hope, because I see expressions on the faces of some of the cats that speak to me.

So I found a few prospects I'm inquiring about, from as far away as Arizona. I figure that flying somewhere for a cat could save me zillions of trips to the MSPCA — I might break even if I add up all those Charlie Card fares.

I'm already being lectured by my family that there are plenty of great cats who need homes in Boston and told that "all cats are alike, so just pick one." I disagree!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thunder

I like waking up to a rainy Saturday, and this morning came complete with thunder.

Thunder always sent Bunny sashaying into the kitchen to take cover under our tiny kitchen foot stool, which she had determined was the safest place in the house. A small portion of her would be sheltered from a possible building collapse, while the rest of her ample furriness overflowed in several directions. She'd purr under there, and wait for us to feed her cheese. How I miss her.

My volunteer slot at the Garden Club booth for the NABB Street Fair was canceled due to extreme wetness. I suspect the organizers were worried that some of us volunteers would dissolve if we came in contact with water, like the Wicked Witch of the West. No worries about me — I get soaked all the time. For someone who likes rain, I'm ridiculously unprepared for it since my old Barbour coat started leaking. I'm scared to wax it myself (it's a messy job that requires a hair dryer) and too cheap to send it out, plus I don't want to part with it for all those weeks. I have silky black trench coat that's very Belle du Jour, but I recently developed a violent hatred of coats with belts. I can't stand to fuss with them, even though I've sewn the belt to that coat so it can't slink its way out of the loops and try to escape. Which is its only goal in life. I know it's silly to hate belts as much as I do, but there it is. At least I'm saving a fortune by not owning a Burberry. The very idea makes me shudder.

I ordered a zippy black microfiber travel coat from Garnet Hill a month ago and it finally shipped yesterday. I've been hunting for more than two years for an affordable raincoat like this, which promises to fold up into nothing so I can stuff it in my bag or pack it in my one little suitcase on trips. Considering that it was back-ordered until Thanksgiving, I should be happy it's on its way. But all I can think of is how much I needed it yesterday morning, as I slopped around the Brimfield Antiques Show for hours in the rain in a fleece hoodie and muddy flip flops. It wasn't supposed to rain until the late afternoon, so I was clever to have brought an umbrella. Speaking of umbrellas, mine is pathetic. It's a teeny-tiny automatic that fits well in my bag, but likes to furl itself on my head whenever it feels like it.

I also need rubber boots; in warm weather, I'm stuck wearing flip flops, and the soles get slippery on both the tops and the bottoms, which is both hazardous and uncomfortable. Yesterday I had a slick coating of mud and grass on both surfaces of my Reefs. Not pleasant. I've been procrastinating about boots because I can't decide whether to settle for cheap ones or invest in a pair of Hunter or Aigle Wellies. I think they're all ugly, which is one reason why I'm not inspired to shop for them. Boot shopping strikes me as an expensive, boring, inevitably disappointing experience anyway — probably even worse than suffering in wet flip flops. I have the world's most delicate feet and a fussy sense of taste, and almost all "comfort" shoes, sandals, boots, and sneakers either hurt me or offend my sensibilities. I won't wear trainers when I'm not exercising, and I often walk around town for miles, so I'm currently reduced to wearing Reef flip flops in warm weather and a few pairs of low-heeled boots when it's cold. Everything else gives me blisters. So what are the chances I'll find a pair of comfortable, attractive rubber boots? I tried and failed about a year ago, after all. I guess I'll bite the bullet again soon and keep you posted if I find some miraculous footwear.

I've been to Brimfield in the rain before and had fun, even in my leaky Barbour. But I think that very bad weather during several Fair weeks in the past year or so has beaten down the dealers. I saw many of them packing up early in defeat yesterday. The rest of them were in pessimistic moods. I saw lots of empty lanes and whole sections of fields had been abandoned. Some of the remaining tents were so tightly battened down that browsers couldn't get in, even though we could hear a dealer muttering inside.

Bad weather improves one's chances of getting good deals, however, and so I snagged a pair of wildly ostentatious antique brass andirons from an English couple packing their truck to head back to the Hudson River Valley. I bargained them down to $100, which is what they told me they'd paid for them. I'm trying to feel bad about that, without success. I do feel slightly bad because this is our third set of andirons and we only have two fireplaces. But I was soaking wet and they were a really good deal.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Final Bunny Report


Well. That was hard.

There's nothing like euthanizing an animal you have loved and been loved by for many years. There's nothing like it simply because we can't offer this mercy to each other when we're suffering at the end of our lives, of course. And it's too bad: it's such a painless, peaceful process, at least for the patient.

It was neither painless nor peaceful for us. Rushing our cat to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital at 10 on a Saturday night was better than "making a death appointment," as our vet puts it in her usual, colorful way. When we did that for our last cat, whose time had clearly come, it felt grotesque to go about that day realizing that, at 2:10 in the afternoon, we were going to put our feeble tabby in her carrier and drive her to her death. At least we were spared that surreal experience with Bunny.

On Saturday night we'd just come back from a family dinner, given Bunny her chemo and heart pills, and were settled on the couch watching Prizzi's Honor when we heard her moaning behind us. She was on her side, struggling for breath, her feet flailing, her eyes wide, black, and terrified. When her breathing didn't slow down after 20 minutes, we followed our vet's instructions and took her to Angell. Our vet has no emergency service, so we were at the mercy of strangers who didn't know our cat.

I have issues with Angell —their liaisons can be rude and unhelpful on the phone, and they won't even answer an abstract question about a medication, no matter how hard one begs for advice. But this time, we were fortunate to be handed over to a very gentle and understanding young vet. She explained that Bunny wasn't having a heart attack and that she could stabilize her with oxygen and do some cardiac testing. We began to list all of Bunny's issues: lymphoma, anemia, enlarged heart, upper respiratory virus, weakness, plus the scary attack that had brought us to Angell. Then she began to ask us more questions about Bunny's quality of life.

We knew that, for nearly two weeks, she had been enduring life, not enjoying it, spending whole days and nights lying half-awake under an armchair, emerging only to eat and use her box. We'd asked our own vet more than once if she thought it was "time," and she was hesitant because she felt that a lot of Bunny's distress was due to the respiratory virus. If that went away, and she could breathe easily again, she might have much more energy and enthusiasm for life. The vet at Angell asked us to think about the five things Bunny most enjoyed doing, and how many she was enjoying now. We drew a blank; even eating was a chore because of her blocked nose. I'd been feeding her cat food on my fingers, and baby food off a baby spoon, and holding up her bowl so she could breathe.

The vet then told us that when cats have a latent respiratory virus, like herpes — which Bunny had — chemo will reactivate it as it depresses the cat's immune system. And then it never goes away. We'd been watching our poor, exhausted cat lying helpless in her carrier through this discussion and, somehow, we just knew it was time. She'd been struggling for at least 12 days with that virus already. So the deed was done while we cried, said goodbye, and thanked the vet through tears for stopping Bunny's pain. The vet was tearful, too.

I have no idea how people who have suddenly lost a human member of their household handle that tragedy. Coming home to find Bunny's medicines and food dishes awaiting her demolished me. I've never lost a person I actually lived with, and now I realize I've been spared the very worst kind of heartbreak. In bad times, I need my family. I called my sister in Pennsylvania, and she was a great comfort.

But I still felt terrible. I spent the night in bed, trying to read, crying and thinking, "What did we just DO?" Our vet had told us to wait to see if the virus went away; we hadn't. My sister had always told me that when cats stop eating, they want to stop living. Bunny had eaten Fancy Feast, turkey, and baby food that evening. Had we made a terrible mistake? Had we killed our cat because she had a stuffed-up nose? Was I going to be missing my #1 Cat of All Time because I had made a bad decision in an hour of panic and confused thinking? Or had we done the most merciful thing at the right time? I had no idea. These thoughts tortured me for the next two and half days.

I cried so hard that I couldn't breathe through my nose anymore. So I closed my mouth and tried to stay alive. Wow, I thought, if that's what Bunny had been going through, we did the right thing after all.

Our vet was finally back in the office this afternoon, and she called us as soon as she could. When we described the attack that Bunny had had, she said it sounded like a seizure. She asked for more details and explained that lymphoma can spread to the brain, and it probably had. We had certainly done the right thing, she said. And she repeated what I always say myself: "Cats don't fear death — only pain."

Phew.

When I told her how lost we'd felt without her guidance on Saturday night, she said that the next time we are dealing with a seriously ill cat, she'll give us her cell phone number. Her practice stopped its emergency service because clients were calling in the middle of the night with very stupid questions. She trusts us.

I'm feeling much better now. I'm free to mourn and miss our lovely cat, without feeling terrible guilt that we acted too soon. There's a big hole in my life, but it couldn't be helped. I hope I'm not neurotic enough to start beating myself up because we possibly acted too late. I think we did fine, actually.

There are no American traditions or rituals for memorializing a cat. We lit some candles at St. Clement's, but Bunny was not Catholic. When the ancient Egyptians mourned a cat, they shaved off their eyebrows. That wouldn't do it for us, either. I know there are tacky web sites where you can post photos and send your cat over the Rainbow Bridge, but that's all wrong for us.

My husband tried retail therapy, buying his first electric guitar, a beautiful Gibson Les Paul. He can already make wonderful music with it. It's the Bunnelina Memorial Guitar.

Me? I suspect it will take nothing less than a bushy-tailed calico kitten to make me whole again.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Good-Bye, Bunnelina


She was the most wonderful cat I've ever had, and I've had many amazing cats. I hope we did the right thing last night. The gentle, understanding vet at Angell seemed to think so, after we brought her in, terrified and exhausted from a breathing attack. I wish I felt more certainty.... More later.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ready for Fall

The students are back. The other night, the lines at Trader Joe's on Boylston stretched all the way around the cereal aisle. But that line always moves quickly and waiting allows you to ponder what you forgot to buy (I still forgot the orange juice).

Soon there will be the obligatory wild party at the MIT frat house on the corner, but those usually wrap up around 12:30, and there's always a chance that the screamers who linger in the alley will find something more entertaining to do.

I like seeing school supplies in the stores. Lord & Taylor is packed with winter coats where the swimsuits were just weeks ago. (At least the Christmas shop isn't open yet.)

I miss my sweaters and boots. I'm looking forward to leaves turning, chilly breezes, the smell of woodsmoke on Marlborough Street on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. I want to see pumpkins, gourds, and cider at the farmer's market.

I'm finally getting into the mood to bake again, which heats up the apartment. I'm thinking about tollhouse cookies, banana bread with chocolate chips, pumpkin pecan bread... I might even make the Jordan Pond popover recipe, even though these occasionally explode all over my oven.

I can't wait for the air conditioners to go back into the storage.

I'm ready to switch from iced to hot vente skinny white chocolate mochas, no whip. Call me crazy, but this was a long, tedious summer and I'm ready for a change.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dangerous Bread

Some of my alleged friends think that, in the absence of mice, cats are useless except as lukewarm companions and decorative objects.

Not so. Our Persian cat, Snalbert helpfully installed a software update on my laptop the other day. He has many special talents — in addition to being both ornamental and a very talkative, affectionate companion.

Last night, for example, he saved us from a marauding French baguette. The baguette must have gotten rowdy during the night and planned to storm the apartment, possibly attacking us as we slept. Snalbert bravely wrestled the evil baguette to the floor and subdued it by biting off its foil-wrapped head.

So courageous! What would we have done without him?

Our hero and Bunny at the crime scene this morning.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Extra Grateful

I just wrote about gratitude and forgot to mention the story that inspired me.

I am extremely grateful not to have tonsil stones. Follow that link to the New York Times story and be thrilled that you don't have these foul-smelling things growing in (and occasionally popping out of) your tonsils, either:

Formally known as tonsilloliths, the stones consist of mucus, dead cells and other debris that collect in the deep pockets of the tonsils and gradually condense into small, light-colored globs. Bacteria feed on this accumulated matter, giving rise to the odor. Most commonly, the stones are no bigger than a pencil eraser, although doctors have reported individual cases of patients with stones more than an inch wide.

I know, I know, it's wonderful how our bodies can surprise us. Or frighten us. I wonder what South Park will do with this information.

Grateful

Life could be better these days. We've "got issues," as our favorite innkeeper, Fred, often says.

Here's a partial list. I think that Bunny, our beloved cat, is dying of heart disease and/or lymphoma complications. I have to find a job, since my freelancing projects aren't paying the bills (especially the vet bills) and I've had no steady work for more than a year. My elderly relatives are very fragile these days. My husband is stressed out, overworked, beleaguered by evil bosses, and anxiously awaiting news, probably coming this month, about the one-and-only job of his dreams, which he interviewed for last October. I'm officially middle-aged, going very gray, but still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. We need to sell our condo and move, but we can't find the right place, and we couldn't sell this place in its current ruinous condition anyhow. I miss my mom, my grandmother, my aunt, my cousin Ed, and all my other precious family members who are gone.

And we're going to be in trouble here in Massachusetts without Ted Kennedy. I won't bother to get started on our government, the economy, or global issues. I don't know a single person over in Iraq or Afghanistan. I'm that sheltered and fortunate.

I do realize that I'm whining, and that many, if not most, people have as many problems as we do, if not far worse ones.

So I also realize that this is the time to be grateful for all we do have and enjoy, which is bountiful. We're healthy, we have a lot of nice friends, and we're actually pretty far from despair (except perhaps about the cat). There's some money in the bank (enough for those vet bills, in fact). We can keep this roof over our head even if we're not very comfortable beneath it.

I'm lucky I'm not working in some office at the moment because I can spend my days trying to feed Bunny, talking to her, and keeping an eye on her. We trust our vet, we're determined to base our decisions strictly on what's best for the cat, and I have faith that we'll make the right choices, hard as they may be. At least our other two cats are chipper and playful, even though they are getting old, too.

Some of my elderly relatives are having a swell time, having discovered the penny slot machines at the new casino in our home town. My dad's still as sharp as a tack at 95. (Maybe I'll finally be a sharp as a tack if I live to be his age.) My mother-in-law is an intrepid inspiration as she cheerfully finds new ways to get around town without driving a car these days.

Hmm, what else? The nights are getting cooler, so sleeping is easier. Strategizing about all my husband's work troubles is an interesting creative challenge that is bringing us "closer together," as they say. We were already pretty close. When friends wonder how we can live so happily in such a small apartment, we admit that that we're always happiest when we're in the same little room together, cramped as that may be. That's a lot to be grateful for right there.

But maybe there will be a wonderful little house in our future somewhere. Last night I was looking on Redfin as far as Lynn, where there are beautiful Victorian condos, and single families, for bargain prices. But I don't know how I'd handle leaving Back Bay, with its perfect walkability score, for the distant North Shore, where I'd need to learn to drive and get a car.

But I guess there's still hope, and possibilities. I think I'll wander over to St. Clement's, old sinner that I am, and light a few candles and sit in the silence for awhile. Whenever times are tough, I find that ritual very comforting.