Monday, January 31, 2011

Spam Spam Spam Spam....

Possy ponders the mysteries of the spam universe.

Hey, I got my first spam comment today — for a drugstore supplement I use and recommend. (I'm not telling you what it is. No way am I giving free advertising after I've been spammed.)

I will say that it's over-the-counter and not oogey. I don't use anything oogey, never fear. I've written about it here a couple of times, but not recently. That must be how the spammer found me. Ew.

Still, I feel like I've finally arrived in the Blogosphere, or whatever this strange, wordy world is called. For a brief moment, I was actually pleased. I know I'll get over my jubilation quickly if I've landed on s spammer's list.

I do love getting comments, though. I'm always excited to get them — because I haven't encountered my first troll, either. But as of this moment, I'm no longer even mildly interested in spam. All set, thanks.

Watching Egypt

I am hugely relieved that my husband flew home from Cairo a few days before protests started. Otherwise, he'd be stuck there, missing the beginning of the semester. I'm not sure if we would still be to able communicate by Skype. If I didn't know how he was and couldn't talk to him, I'd be beside myself.

If you think I worry excessively about Possum and the other cats, you have no idea of what I'm capable of when it's time to worry about people I love.

At times, my husband and I wish we were in Cairo together now, to witness this momentous situation. We realize we might feel differently if we found ourselves trapped in our hotel, forbidden to leave (as some tourists are) and living on dwindling supplies. We have no idea how the hotels, hospitals, and schools are managing. Is anyone actually going to work? Are food, water, and other supplies getting delivered to all the neighborhoods? We have no solid news about this, but we assume things will soon become uncomfortable if they aren't already.  I doubt I'd be stuffing myself with omelettes, chocolate croissants, pastries, and fresh mango juice at the Mena House's breakfast buffet these days. (And if I did, I'd feel guilty. Right after I was finished.)

We both love Egypt, and we want the country to be free to chose its own government and try solve its enormous problems as a democracy. We have many friends who live there, both Egyptians and foreigners.  We are getting secondhand reports that everyone is okay, either hunkered down in their homes, or out assessing damage to monuments at more distant sites. Almost no one's leaving the country.

We heard that the damage to the Cairo Museum was an inside job, by some of the museum's own guards. We've heard rumors that the police are the ones damaging and looting other sites, too. It makes sense: they knew just how to break in via the Cairo Museum's roof. And it's in the police's interest to convince the world that the protesters are dangerous and brute force is justified to keep them in line. However, the true story is coming out and spreading. Sure, there are thieves who would take advantage of this unstable situation and steal antiquities. But the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people are proud of their heritage, respect their monuments, and just want democracy.

You can find plenty of recent footage on YouTube, showing damage to the Cairo Museum and much more. For the latest news, we read "The Lede" on NYTimes.com. Also Al Jazeera.

You can read Zahi Hawass's excellent report on the Cairo Museum and other sites on his website. He had to fax his report to Italy, where it was forwarded to London for posting on his site. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Possum Update, and Javier

I'm very happy to report that Possum had his 20th and last antibiotic capsule this morning, and he seems just fine.


He was polite about taking his pills. He seemed to realize that I wasn't deliberately torturing him; he struggled a bit but was always gentlemanly about it. Fortunately, he's a big cat with a huge mouth, so I could position the capsule all the way in back, where he couldn't chew it, because this medicine tastes horrible and makes cats foam at the mouth. I can actually get most of my hand into his mouth with no problem. And I always gave him treats afterwards, which he appreciated.

Even though Possy has been eating, playing, and using his box normally, I've been worrying quite a bit this week. "Why?" you ask. A) because worrying is my special gift, and B) because his ears felt warm. I don't usually go around feeling cats' ears, but Possum had a fever when he got sick 10 days ago, and I thought he still felt warmer than the other cats. The other three have room-temperature or cool ears.

Naturally I assumed this was some subtle symptom of a fatal virus like FIP. One of the assistants at our vet's office did her best to talk me down, and encouraged me to buy a thermometer and take his temperature. I balked at this; our vet doesn't recommend trying this at home because it can freak out the calmest cat if you don't do it well. At any rate, she convinced me that Possum is not sick. Some cats just feel warmer than others, and Possum is quite well-upholstered, for one thing. And his ears don't always feel warm. And he's not lethargic, or losing weight (au contraire), nor does he have any other hint of a symptom.

Now, let's get down to more interesting business. We watched Eat, Pray, Love the other night, and Javier Bardem was the best scenery— by far — that movie had going for it. I liked the book. I love Italy, I don't mind Julia Roberts, and Bali looked great, but I was very restless until Javier showed up.

I was also struck, of course, by the uncanny resemblance between Possum and Javier. See what I mean? (Possum is on the left.)


I'll bet you've been noticing the resemblance for months. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Goodbye, Antique Shops

Upstairs, Downstairs, one of my favorite antique shops on Charles Street (at #93), is closing in a few days. I've been browsing there since the beginning of time. I remember when the shop had other names and owners, and I remember when there really was an "upstairs" and not just the current basement shop. My last big purchase, a few years ago, was a pair of spectacular brass andirons that were perhaps a third of the price they'd have been anywhere else. And this was on Charles Street. They usually had at least a few great deals, and you never knew what you might find. When I was there last week they still had silver, glassware, artwork, and colonial revival furniture.

Today I discovered that Antiques at 80 Charles Street is closing, too. I never spent much time in there, and I don't think I ever bought anything except for a silver-plated toothpick container. The shopkeepers always had a little too much hauteur for browsing to be fun. But I'm still sorry to see the shop close. They specialized in silver, china, and crystal as well as attitude, and they always had lots of lovely things.

Both shops have marked down their inventory to at least 30% off, so if you're in the mood for some bargain-hunting, check them out before they're gone for good. Better go this weekend... and while you're on Charles Street, be sure to stop in at Café Vanille for an éclair.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Little (Snowy) Good News

Sure, it snowed again last night, a lot. Storms are becoming weekly events but I am still NOT complaining. I'm not noble, I'm just unemployed. I don't have to commute in it so I don't deserve any credit for being a hardy, happy New England snow lover. I'm a wimpy Pennsylvanian, that's all.

I think Boston looks beautiful during and after the storms, and my only gripe is with neighbors and shopkeepers who don't shovel their sidewalks and de-ice them regularly. Brick sidewalks are extra hazardous because they stay coated with ice. Rather than risk falling, I often decide to walk in the street, flapping my arms like a penguin to make sure cars notice me. I suppose the small chance of being hit by a car or bike is the lesser of two evils; I've only come close once or twice. Last week.

But here's my good news: there was still plenty of daylight at 5 o'clock tonight. The sky was pale gold in the west and soft pink in the east, and it wasn't too cold. The combination of the pink sky, fresh snow, and golden tree lights on Commonwealth Avenue was something to savor:


We are already a month beyond the shortest, darkest day of the year. Even now there are little snowdrops and crocuses yawning themselves awake under all the drifts. Rather than burble on like a sap, I'll say no more. But spring is already on the way.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cheap Thrills: Silver, Elbow Grease

For months, I had my eye a small, silver-plated bucket in an antique shop on Charles Street. I couldn't figure out what it was originally used for, and I wasn't wild about the price: $85. But it was so pretty that I kept visiting it. The shopkeeper used it as a cachepot; a small flowerpot fits neatly inside.

I went on eBay, searching for silver-plated buckets. I discovered that it's an ice bucket, but not the kind that chills a bottle; it's sized to hold cubes or crushed ice for cocktails, and it once had matching tongs and a little perforated drain inside.

I managed to find a couple of inexpensive ice buckets on eBay that were identical to the one in the shop. But instead of looking shiny and perfect, they looked like this:


It's hard to know what you're getting when a piece is this tarnished. If the plate is worn down to the base metal, you're going to be disappointed after it's polished. On the other hand, you can get a bargain if you're willing to do the work yourself.

I hedged my bets by asking the dealer and if I could return the bucket if it turned out be missing any noticeable plating. She nicely agreed, and apologized for not polishing it herself. I paid $22 plus $10 shipping.

It arrived today and I was eager to get it into the kitchen for polishing. I love to polish silver — don't ask me why. It's hard work, it ruins your hands if you don't wear gloves, and I always forget to buy gloves at Back Bay Hardware. I was there last week, knowing I needed something, and left empty-handed because I couldn't remember what. Maybe next time, I'll notice my cracked, flaking hands and ask Eric or Lex for latex-free gloves.

After 45 minutes of rubbing like the dickens with Wright's Silver Cream (also via Back Bay Hardware), I had a beautiful, gleaming ice bucket with no signs of damage. An overdue polishing produces dramatic results, worth the effort and ruined hands:


I had forgotten how tough it is to remove ancient tarnish. I never let my own silver get that black. I was afraid I was going to remove the plating myself. I huffed and puffed and wore out the applicator sponge. (And I was already worn out: in gym class today, our instructor kept making us do planks and eight push-ups as "breaks" after he wrecked our shoulder, arm, and chest muscles with barbells and free weights. I can barely lift my glass of milk and cookies even now. But after all that agony, I can't feel guilty about the cookies.)

I remembered I had a glittery silk hydrangea spray, a Christmas clearance item from Pottery Barn a few years ago, which had never found a home. (Moment of silence for the Newbury Street store, a great place to waste time and money.) I popped the spray into the bucket and placed it on a pierced silver plate, a recent $20 find at the Cambridge Antiques Market that was serving no useful purpose. (That's a fun place to browse, by the way. With scores of dealers, it's reminiscent of Brimfield, minus apple fritters, sunburn, and dust.)

Voilà:

Fake flowers aren't my style, but this will do until I can pick up a potted primrose at the florist. (Update: Make that a Persian violet; primroses are toxic for cats.)

I should mention that we do buy things at the antique shop on Charles Street that gave me this idea. If we don't patronize our small, independent stores, they have a bad habit of going out of business. I try to do my part to keep my favorites going. I sent my husband there for my Christmas present this year and he obediently spent a bundle. We'll be shopping there again, I'm sure. But $85 for an ice bucket?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Current Craving: A Little Sunshine

I'm drinking my share of hot chocolate these days, but there are still summertime leftovers lurking in our fridge and they're surprisingly refreshing right now — even during this arctic blast we're shivering through.

I fill a tall glass with Trader Joe's Low Calorie Organic Lemonade and add a scoop of their Lemon Sorbet. I'm not crazy about either of these products separately, but together they make a tart, slushy drink that soothes a sore throat as well as tea and honey. If I could add sprigs of mint, snatched from some unkempt Back Bay garden, it would really hit the spot.

Of course, as I'm puckering up from my frozen lemonade, I'm swaddled in a fleece hoodie over a woolly turtleneck sweater, with a knitted (and moth-holey) cashmere throw wrapped around my lower half. I often wear a muffler around the house, too.

Something's wrong with that picture. With lemonade in hand, I should be sporting this:



It's Anthropologie's "Sur Mer" chemise, in a vintage French resort print. It's just my kind of dress, and it must be everyone else's kind of dress, too — it's been sold out for weeks. I couldn't resist ordering it as soon as I saw it, luckily during a free shipping promotion. I'll be getting it tomorrow. And since my lemonade is low-calorie, it might even fit. 

But I won't hide it under all my grim, charcoal-and-black winter layers. I'm not going to wear it until all the air conditioners start flying back here from San Capistrano. Or wherever it is they go.


Update: Sundress was an utter disappointment, as is often the case when one orders online. Didn't suit me at all!

Litter Box Tale (for Cat People Only)

For reasons we don't understand, Snicky decided to use our bed as a litter box at 1 am last night. I heard strange pawing noises and discovered a fresh crime scene. Washing of coverlets in extra-hot water and Nature's Miracle quickly ensued. Unfortunately, I was half-asleep and set the washer for the extra-hot, extra-long "power wash," which meant it gurgled and spun, doing its best impersonations of different jet engines, until after 3 am.

A two-hour laundry cycle? It could probably remove mortal sins as well as feline stains. I'll have to figure out how to make that happen.

Nature's Miracle really is a miracle, by the way. It probably takes away mortal sins, too.

Sleep was impossible, between the washer chugging 6 feet away and trying keep Snicky from returning to the bed. She was determined to reclaim her spot. No way, Snick. You blew it, babe. No cozy Cuddledown comforter for you, kid.

The coverlets are fresh and clean, but we're exhausted. And what's up with Snicky? I've heard her making similar noises in the night before, and I've removed her from the bed before she got any further. I wasn't sure of what she was up to, those other nights, but I had my suspicions, which are now confirmed. This kind of behavior is rarely a problem for us, and Snicky is the only perpetrator. We sometimes find that she's left a "protest poop" when we've traveled and left the cats with a sitter. Is she ill? Is she lazy? Is she old and confused? Is she mad because the Steelers won? Is she mad or feeling abandoned because we were sleeping? Who knows: She's a tortoiseshell.

If this keeps up, we'll need to consult the vet, and perhaps find a cat psychologist specializing in tortoiseshell personality disorders. Tortoiseshells must be the hardest cases to treat because these ladies often become cranky divas at the drop of a hat.

Meanwhile, Possum is swallowing his pills and seems fine, although he still doesn't want to run around chasing toys or Wendy. And Wendy may have caught his virus, too. Since I gave up box-cleaning duty after my husband's return, I'm no longer the eagle-eyed poop detective I was. But we know someone is not well, and signs point to Wendy. It's not Snicky, for sure. And Snalbert seems to be doing quite well with his daily fluids.

I hope I won't have to give Wendy pills because she's gotten a lot tamer recently. We've had some excellent breakthroughs: she lets us casually pet her when she's curled up on the sofa or the bed, and I can stick out my hand and stroke if she walks by me when I'm at my desk. She often joins us at the dinner table and demands attention. That's been great. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Boston Cream

On Friday, I spotted this headline on Boston.com:

Parker House will fete the Boston cream on Pie Day

According to the article, January 23 is National Pie Day. And since the Parker House Hotel invented the Boston cream pie, they were getting in on the celebration by offering free samples this weekend:
Actually, the Omni Parker House plans to stretch Pie Day into extra innings and make it a three-day event. Starting at 4 p.m., staffers plan to hand out free slices of this signature pie in the hotel's lobby — so long as the supply lasts. The staff thinks such a popular item could go fast.
Free Boston cream pie? I felt my ears pricking up alertly, cat-style. I love Boston cream pie and I've never tried the Parker House original.



Boston cream pie isn't really a pie, of course. It's cake: It has layers of yellow "sponge," a custard or pudding filling, and chocolate ganache frosting. I think I began to love Boston cream pie because I'm not crazy about pie in general, but here's this cake masquerading as pie, so I can pretend I'm eating pie like any pie-loving omnivore (dessertivore?) when, in reality, I'm enjoying my favorite food of all time.

I'm not picky: those flat-looking, plastic-shrouded Boston cream pies from the Shaw's bakery section are adequate for my needs. But I live for the mile-high slices that are sometimes on the dessert menu at Charley's on Newbury Street. Whenever I go there, I'm careful to ask if they have it that day, and plan my meal accordingly.



We walked to the Parker House yesterday, bundled up against the freezing cold, to see if they still had any free cake — excuse me, "pie," — left. The place was strangely deserted. I'd been expecting a mob scene: most Bostonians will respect and obey offers of free dessert. I expected to see the signature cake — excuse me, "pie," — handed out with fanfare from a buffet table in the hotel's elegant but cozy lobby. There was no sign of the pie anywhere, except for a poster advertising it at the entrance to their restaurant. But the restaurant was empty.



I went to the concierge and told him what I'd understood from the Boston.com article. He looked puzzled. Then he made a quick phone call and explained that they'd only been giving out free pie on Friday at 4 pm. The rest of the weekend, the pie is on the restaurant menu, with a donation going to the Charlestown Boys and Girls Club for each slice sold.



Silly me. I thought they were offering extra slices for sale if the free sample wasn't enough.  I could easily imagine having a little taste, becoming desperate for more, and paying for another piece.



The concierge observed my half-frozen, disappointed self. Then he asked me to wait a moment while he went off to get me a free individual pie anyway. I quickly thanked him for his kindness but pointed out sweetly that my husband was with me, wandering the lobby somewhere. He would want one, too. One Boston cream pie could result in a fierce and possibly messy dispute in his lobby. He smiled and promised to bring two.



And he did: two round desserts, neatly fitted into plastic containers, arrived in a little shopping bag.



Remember when you believed that most, if not all, hotel concierges were always this charming and accommodating? This gentleman was a professional. As I was leaving, three people came up to his counter and said, "We're tourists, I guess, and we don't know what to do." He didn't even blink; he didn't have a molecule of hauteur in his system. Instead he offered them seats at a table where he said he join them with some brochures to help them plan their day.



I'll be advising all of our visiting friends and colleagues to stay at the Parker House from now on.



Anyway, the Parker House's cake/pie looks like this: 


That shadowy presence in the corner is Snalbert, covertly investigating. He’s a carb fanatic who specializes in cake, taking after me.

The taste is light, sweet, and satisfying. With almonds dusting almost every bite, which I like. It’s a “historic” flavor, I imagine, since they say they are still using the original recipe. For example, the sponge layer is made with lots of eggs to help it rise, instead of adding baking soda or powder. The taste seems pure. The pastry-cream filling has a spoonful of rum, which I can't taste. But I assume it's authentic.



The magic of Boston cream pie is that even a small amount is satisfying — although you can also eat a giant portion without feeling stuffed. It's like eating sweet air with chocolate sauce.



I was considering trying the recipe for myself, until I noticed that, for one 10" sponge layer, you make more than a quart of custard filling. Now, what would I do with all that leftover custard?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Possum Update, and Cat Homily

A million thanks, Teri, aek, and Penny, for your kind words and advice about Possum. He seems better, although he's not running around as much as usual. But he's asking for food and eating, and he enjoys sitting on the sofa and swatting at his feather toy on a string whenever it's conveniently within reach. No more sneezing, and the litter box looks as usual, according to my husband, who handles that duty.

Possy is allowing me to give him his gel capsules of metronidazole, which I carefully dust off now — thank you, Teri. He's a sweetheart and doesn't try to snap at me, he just can't help it sometimes. So we work together and all is well if I'm quick and my aim is good. I have a pill-shooter, but I think he'd dislike that more than my fingers. He enjoys his Greenies treats afterward.

Possum takes it easy.

But I'm still worrying, of course. I'm also wondering if his illness is my doing. I visited a cat shelter not far from here on Monday night for the first time. As she let us in, the director told us that they were waiting for ringworm culture results; a couple of the cats had suspicious lesions. This was a first at this shelter, and she seemed to have no idea of the treatment her caregivers were facing; I tried to fill her in as gently as I could. I was able to see but not touch their 30+ cats, of course. But I wonder if I picked up another virus when I was there and brought it home to Possum. I guess I'll never know.

As I took a shower this morning (I do my best thinking then: if I showered about 10 times a day I'd have all of life's mysteries figured out), I realized how thoroughly our two youngsters Wendy and Possum, rescued me, and not the other way around. I didn't know Wendy was feral when I spotted her on Petfinder.com's Project Spay listing; I only knew I understood the expression on her face, which told me she had a complicated, intelligent, and probably sweet nature, and that she seemed unusually terrified. And she was all those things; I am a decent judge of cats, including kittens.

Wendy, cowering in fear in her crate at her foster home.

I thought I knew it all when it came to cats, but I learned so much from our two kittens. I learned about my own resilience, too. I was devastated when we lost our amazing Bunnelina, but my instinct was to find a new cat right away, even though I believed I'd never love any cat (or human) as I loved Bunny. Adopting seemed like a crazy, even heartless, idea so soon after her death — friends, family, and even our vet thought so. But my instinct was right; I spared myself months or years of lonely grief. I don't love the new cats the way I loved Bunny, but I love them passionately. We have different relationships, based on their unique personalities. I didn't "replace" Bunny, I just kept on loving.

I believe that we cat (and dog) people have an enormous capacity to love and care for animals. And we feel heartbroken whenever we have to stop doing it. When we lose someone, part of our grief is because we can't give of ourselves to that creature anymore. Taking on a new "project," like our wild little Wendy, gets those juices flowing again. It certainly eased my pain, anyway. And when we decided to get a second feral, Possum, it was frosting on the cake. Two new personalities to learn about, and two new little bodies to nurture and nurse.

Ringworm, calici virus, giardia, roundworms, and more. But sleeping peacefully.

Another thing I realized today: I need to stop feeling guilty about adopting kittens. Many of the best, most dedicated cat people, or "cat cognoscenti," will only adopt adult cats, senior cats, all-black cats, or special-needs cats because they're the least-wanted in any shelter. Kittens are in great demand by everyone except the cognoscenti. Therefore, kittens tend to be adopted by newbies, people who don't really understand how to care for cats, let alone kittens — who need extra care and understanding. They adopt kittens for the wrong reason — because they are cuter than cats. They always forget that, in a matter of months, kittens grow up to be the big cats they find so uninteresting

As I see it, kittens deserve a break, too. If the cognoscenti won't adopt a kitten, there's a good chance it's going to end up with someone who may not understand or tolerate kitten behavior and will try to punish or "train" it in hopes of making it mature faster. This results in a neurotic kitten they try to "train" or punish further, a horrible cycle of ignorance. When I was an active participant on an online cat health and behavior forum, I tried to enlighten frustrated owners of kittens and clever, feisty cats all the time. People who insist on only adopting kittens tend not to know how to handle their illnesses or how to give them the best care and nutrition. On the forum, I also dealt with people who grew bored with their cats when they were no longer cute babies. That's what many first-time kitten owners are like. They're the reason why so many housecats end up abandoned on the streets.

Kittens are babies and, in my opinion, they deserve experienced, understanding guardians, who are willing to put up with chaos, illness, and interrupted sleep for a year or two. So, from now on, I'm staring down anyone who tells me (in a superior tone) that they only adopt adults. I'm not doing it for the cuteness quotient; I'm doing it to make sure a very helpless little creature grows up into a  happy cat. I honestly prefer cats to kittens — less angst, less trouble! But I feel terrible when I see tiny kittens adopted by families with rambunctious toddlers, kids, and dogs. I also feel bad when I see a kitten going home with a single person who has no other pets and will leave it alone for hours on end. Animals need company, and at least one friend of their own species. I get all that. So from now on, I will adopt anyone I choose, without guilt. And I believe that shelters should only let experienced owners adopt kittens. (Good luck with that, I know!)

Cats need companions.

All our cats' illnesses (especially the ringworm plague)  taught me that I can handle whatever it takes to care for a sick cat. I had a little phobia about touching canned cat food until Bunny got sick and I discovered that she'd eat some if I smeared it on my fingers. No problem, kiddo; I reeked of tuna for weeks. I've just about done it all by now, from nose drops to chemo. My husband is equally committed: I've seen him in action. It's reassuring; you can't tell how people will behave in tough situations until they happen. If I get hit by a bicyclist or something, I've got a guy I can count on.

Even so, we've had our fill of feline health problems for now, and have no need to exercise our nursing skills any further, thank you. I want Possum to get well, and I want our elderly Persians to keep hanging in there, and I want life to settle down and be boring for as long as possible, please.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Possum

Mr. Possum hasn't been feeling well lately, which naturally has me in a state of dread and fear, since young cats can get terrible viruses like FIP. I'm overreacting at this point, I know, but I'm still overreacting.

I noticed that someone had diarrhea two days ago, and went on alert. Since four cats share one large litter box, which we had custom-built into our bathroom, it's sometimes hard to figure out who's sick. But yesterday I found undisputable evidence that it was Possy. (I'll say no more on that subject.)

The older cats were heading to the vet yesterday for their blood pressure checks, so I made an appointment for Possy, too. A kind friend and fellow cat person drove us to the vet and joined me in the exam room since my husband hadn't returned from his travels.

Both of the older cats' blood pressures are in the normal range now, thanks to their new medication. Excellent news.

Possy has gained a pound since he was last at the vet, so he isn't exactly wasting away. He is 15 pounds, and "big-boned," according to the vet so he carries his extra weight better than most cats. She thinks he is still growing — at a year and a half — and was surprised that he seemed so much longer than he did in the fall. He should lose 2 pounds to be at his ideal weight, she said.

She found that he has a temperature. Diarrhea can have many causes — some trivial, some serious, but fever suggests an infection of some kind. She put him on antibiotics for 10 days and pooh-poohed my worries. He's eating. He looks fine. She did a rectal exam and didn't find anything wrong. We don't need to change his diet, she said. We just have to give him the pills twice a day and wait to see if he improves.

This particular antibiotic has a nasty taste. It has to be broken into halves for the correct dose, and then broken up further to fit into gelatin capsules so he won't taste it. (Unless he should happen to chew the capsule. The vet assured me that I do not want that to happen.) I made a powdery little mess last night, crushing the pills with our junky pill splitter and trying to fit the surviving morsels, crumbs, and leftover bits into 20 flimsy little capsules. It took me a long time to fill all of them. I really hope they do their job.

To make sure Possy doesn't chew the capsule, I have to put it, and my fingers, straight into his snapping, toothy maw, as close as possible to his throat. I've managed to do this twice now, and neither time was pleasant for either of us. He is no longer a baby who trusts that anything we give him, even dreadful liquid medicines, is some special treat. He is warier and wilier now. That's as it should be, but I miss the days when he'd open his mouth with anticipation.

He seems less active than usual today, although he always is lazy — until he's in the mood to chase Wendy or race after a toys on a string for a few minutes. He prefers to play while lying on his back on a chair. swatting at the toy whenever it flies conveniently close to his paw. If it were possible for a cat to lie around, drinking beer and eating junk food all day, that would be Possum. He played with a ribbon this morning in desultory fashion. But he also sneezed three times, which really upset me. If he has respiratory and digestive symptoms, he's... um, sick.

I have been good about not freaking out as our teenaged cats developed chronic illnesses that have slowly progressed. I do not obsess over their test results, for example. Our vet tells us what's going on in general terms and I trust her assessment. Almost all old cats have health problems, so it's actually sort of normal. We just have to do our best to care for them until their time comes. As long as they are enjoying life, I'll gladly do all the nursing that takes.

I've been able to handle illnesses in kittens without freaking out too excessively. It's just heart-breaking and scary when they are so tiny, and they can get very sick very quickly. They are fragile, their immune systems aren't developed. They usually have intestinal parasites and are susceptible to viruses and infections. With kittens, I'm extra vigilant and run to the vet at the first hint of trouble. It works.

But when a healthy, strapping young or middle-aged cat gets sick, I'm a wreck. I still run to the vet, of course, but then I worry and wonder, lie awake all night, and worry some more. Did I pick up something at the cat shelter I visited on Monday night and bring it home to Possum? Is it nothing, or is it Something Awful? I can't bear the possibility that it's more than a passing bug. I know too many people who've suddenly lost young cats not to panic at the possibility. My vet's reassurances are only slightly comforting even though she understands my personality and does her best to calm my fears. But I can't be the least bit philosophical. Just a wreck.

We lost Bunnelina less than a year and a half ago. I can tell that I'm still mourning her and recovering from the trauma of her illness, which was difficult for her (and us) at the end. I'm still recovering from all the illnesses the new kittens brought into the household last year: Snalbert was very sick with calici virus, and so was Possum. Wendy had an intestinal bug, and both kittens had all kinds of worms. And then there was ringworm.... I can cope with Snicky and Snalbert's kidney disease, but I was counting on a long break from have to worry about the youngsters.

Only time will tell. Right now, Possum is napping on the bed with Snalbert, looking adorable. Get well soon, Poss. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Back to Wifehood (?)

My husband is on his way to the Cairo airport. He'll be home tomorrow afternoon if all goes well. I've seen and talked to him at length almost every day via Skype, so we haven't missed each other excessively.

Tonight is my last night of bachelorettedom. I had a quick but lovely home-cooked dinner with a girlfriend before rushing home to give the cats their medicine. After tonight, I won't have to do all the cat-nursing by myself.

Tomorrow, friends will stop asking me how I'm managing in kind, concerned, tones. I think my husband must have told everyone that I go off the deep end when he travels. And it's true that I whine, worry, and complain like the dickens before he leaves. But after he's gone, I deal.

And by now, after 10 days of doing mostly as I please, the transition back to wifehood is actually bothering me a little.

I will have to stop staying up until 2 am watching Masterpiece Theatre–type dramas. (So far: Daniel Deronda, The Buccaneers, I Capture the Castle, The Woman in White, The Pillars of the Earth, and, for a change of pace, Julie and Julia again. Enjoyed them all.) I'm wide awake between midnight and 2 am but half asleep the other 22 hours.

Friends won't offer to drive me long distances in pursuit of good cupcakes. They will stop delivering their own freshly baked, buttercream-frosted cupcakes to my door. There are still two cupcakes left, but not for long.

No more cheese-and-fruit plates for dinner. No more goat cheese ravioli with sun-dried tomatoes and olives.

No more dancing around the living room to early Beatles hits to get my 10,000 steps.

No more belting out "The Story" along with Brandi Carlile. (Sorry, neighbors.)

No more making the bed in under a minute because I sleep like a log when I'm alone.

The truth is, I can do almost all of these things when he's here. I'd just have to be more independent and less self-conscious. He can eat bad frozen Chinese entrées on the nights I'm eating goat cheese and olives.

Breaking news: he just emailed that his flight to Paris is delayed and he will likely miss his connecting flight to Boston. If he can't get home during the day tomorrow, he'll probably hit the snowstorm coming on Friday. He might be stuck in Paris (stuck in Paris? No, stranded in Paris is more accurate. Ah, Paris....) for awhile.

This is why I believe people should never travel in the wintertime.

And now I really MISS him. Sigh. 

So. Where are those cupcakes? And what's in the Netflix instant queue for tonight?

 P A R T Y ! !

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Simplex Resurrection?

I'm happy to share this comment from a very nice reader in the UK about Simplex tea kettles, which have been a popular subject here lately. I decided I wanted one right around the time the Simplex company decided to suddenly fly the coop after 103 years of steady operation. I managed to get one, but it took time. effort, and compromise:

Anyway, Shelley writes:
...A British consumer here, I too love Simplex, wanted a number 8, so phoned the company, they are in my home town Birmingham, then shock horror, found like you, out of business. So I spoke to a lovely lady named Lisa, she works for the company that have bought up Simplex and tell me they hope to start production again in March this year, she is sending on all requests and invoices from customers, so you could drop her a line and maybe like me, she might have one you would like from the very few in remaining stock. I managed to get a no 6, no numer 8 sadly, but still happy to have a Simplex beauty. So drop her a line on lisa@leemarkspinnings.co.uk, you may be lucky. 
I hope the new kettles are made in the same factory by the same workers, who probably had little or no warning that the factory was shutting down. Stores here in the US had no idea what happened, and company representatives didn't exist any more.

Let's hope they aren't simply buying the name and moving operations to China. But, wait, no: they are an established metal spinning company in Birmingham. Phew.

Thank you, Shelley, for telling us that Simplex will have a future again. Tea drinkers and kettle aesthetes around the world can breathe a small sigh of relief.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chilly Scenes of Winter

The South End looked beautiful covered in snow and ice on Saturday:

Iced urn

Icicles garland a fence

My favorite wreath, now hanging on Lawrence Street, still looks as
 fresh as it did when I made it on December 6.

A snowman of a different sort

Dartmouth Square

Pulling a sled in Titus Sparrow Park

Union United Methodist Church

Wendy and Possum were waiting for me to come home.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snow Folk

I've spotted several new, but temporary, characters in the neighborhood since last week's storm. Some are quirky, some are more conservative, but all are brimming with charm:

Commonwealth Avenue Mall, friend of dogs

At B. Good on Newbury Street

Commonwealth Avenue

Copley Plaza, missing buttons

Marlborough Street (?), crowned with dried hydrangea

Marlborough Street, crowned with sparkly plastic sprays

Marlborough Street, companion of with the sparkly pipe-smoker above.

Got Enough Donuts?

If you've got a hankering for donuts, I'm here to help:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sand Widow/Football Wife

My husband is in Egypt, visiting museums and monuments, having dinner with Zahi Hawass and Omar Sharif; staying in gorgeous, historic hotels (but not pigging out on their lavish breakfast buffets, as I would); meeting with colleagues; and risking his life in cabs.  Egyptians drive like maniacs but are usually good-natured about it, honking their horns with joyous abandon. It's a lot like riding in bumper cars.

Aside from Omar Shariff* and all those lovely Egyptian pastries (their love for sweet stuff rivals my own), I don't feel like I'm missing out. I've been to Cairo three times and I've seen almost everything. I just miss my husband. He professes to miss me.

So we Skype at least once a day. Our laptops have cameras, so I've seen his hotel room and heard all the details of his days. I have shown him snow falling on our street, the cats, and even this goofy ornament I found at Anthropologie:


He said it appears as big as a vulture on Skype.

It will be weird to have him come home without tons of news and experiences to share; we're already at the point where we have companionable silences on Skype and I suspect we're both surfing the web and checking email sometimes as we chatter. I'm not complaining: I'm grateful that we can stay in close contact, and I don't even mind being on camera anymore.

In fact, he was complaining the other day — about how my image was pixilating, or something — and I couldn't understand it. "This is a MIRACLE!" I said. Or, rather, yelled. "We are seeing and talking to each other while we're 5,000 miles apart, and it's FREE, and you're COMPLAINING?" In the old days, which were not all that long ago, I'd be waiting for days in hopes of a postcard or airmail letter from him. Even a phone call from Egypt was an extraordinary event. Now I can tell him that he looks tired and his hair is messy. It feels natural and ordinary but it's still miraculous.

It's still foolhardy for die-hard Patriots fan to go to Egypt in January, however. American sports broadcasting is not as state-of-the-art as Skype. Tomorrow is the big showdown with the Jets, Belichick vs. Desenex Rex Ryan, as my husband insists on calling the footsie-loving, trash-talking coach. The game begins at 11:30 pm, Cairo time, and apparently there's no way he can watch it in his hotel. He paid for streaming NFL audio service to follow it radio-style, but it turns out that even that won't work in Egypt — not enough bandwidth.

So we're going to try to Skype during tomorrow's game. I'll point my laptop's camera towards our 32" TV screen and we'll see what he can see.

Fingers crossed, for both Skype and the Patriots.**


* Husband says Sharif is still devastatingly handsome and charming at 77. Gentlemen of that age can have great finesse when it comes to flirting, and good stories to tell. Damn!


** Update: Skype 1, Patriots 0. My husband and I both watched the game on our TV even though he was 5,500 miles away. Too bad the Jets won.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stepping In

Yesterday, the Proper Bostonian discovered that it's challenging to get the recommended 10,000 steps a day when there's a blizzard outside and too much furniture inside. Her apartment is just 800 square feet and there's not much free territory to provide five miles of walking, which equals about 10,000 steps on the Holy Pedometer. (I see I have the makings of an annoying high school math problem here, so that's enough numbers and measurements.)

Here's how to get your steps: Take the first few thousand just by pacing around rapidly from room to room until you're bored — or concerned that the rugs are wearing out, or you stub your toe on the coffee table. Then march in place, alternating with jogging, prancing, and high-stepping in the same spot. Take breaks to check email, pet the cats, catch your breath, and eat chocolate-covered raisins. Finally, put on some rock 'n roll and let loose. Dancing raises the pedometer count quickly. Those 10,000 steps take only about an hour if you have a good beat, like "Refugee" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

The cats will find your activity puzzling, observing you with wary expressions from a safe distance. Ignore those lazy bums.

Indoor exercise will give your neighbors across the street — the ones who can see directly into your living room  despite your curtains — an interesting show. Best to do it fully clothed and keep in mind that it's an unavoidable aspect of city life. And after all, you've seen the gentleman of that household eating straight out of the fridge, in his shorts, around midnight, on enough occasions to call it even.

There's danger in knowing you can get 10,000 steps without putting on a sweater, coat, hat, scarf, gloves, socks, boots, and sunglasses. You may be tempted to stay indoors until the snow is forgotten and the tulip are out. You'd be comfortable, but you'd also be wan. You'd miss out a lot.

Lure yourself into fresh air and sunlight every day — save leaping about indoors for snow emergencies or when you're in the mood — by choosing your daily walking destination thoughtfully. When in doubt, head for a bakery. Cake can solve so many of life's difficulties, and it can also inspire you to exercise.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

First Snow Day, 2011

Here's the view from our window this morning:


It's eerily quiet. Usually there's construction somewhere on the block at this hour, and cars, of course, and random neighbor sounds. But right now, I can hear the cats' footsteps. Someone's drinking water from the bowl in the kitchen; I can hear that. There's not a soul on the street. And this apartment is nice and warm because the snow on the windows has stopped all the drafts. 

The lights just flickered a few times, so I'm a little nervous about that possibility....

I think I'll read, bake, and tale a  long nap today. 

Current Craving: Red Roses

... in the form of this striking "Roses Relaxing Scarf" from Anthropologie.


Most of this 70" x 10" wool scarf is gathered for an interesting, puckered and striped effect:  


Those gathers should make it less bulky around the neck without sacrificing warmth. In other words, there is some potential for us Bostonians to wrap this carelessly yet perfectly — like the insouciant French women we secretly wish we were (and never will be). I don't know about you, but whenever I wrap a wide scarf around my neck, I look like I'm accessorizing with a fancy bath towel.

Speaking of fancy bath towels, Anthropologie has those, too:


I've never seen a bath towel that looked like an oriental rug before, giving new meaning to the term "Turkish towel." They just started carrying a few other interesting, patterned towels, too.

It's January, so I'm craving gorgeous colors and patterns to brighten gray, cold days. (But have you heard me complaining about the weather, as I did during the hot summer? No. You have not. After roasting through July and August, I have a new appreciation for winter. Blizzard? Okay! Another blizzard? Super! I may often say that I'm cold, or freezing, but it's merely a statement of fact, not a value judgment.)

The scarf is $68 plus $9 shipping, since it's an online exclusive. I wish I could see and feel it before I commit because Anthropologie items often look very different in reality. The towel is the same price, but I know it will not look great around my neck.

Santa did bring me more than one Anthro gift card this year....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Watering the Cat

Both of our teenaged cats, Snictoria (16) and Snalbert (14-1/2), have renal disease. Snicky has had hers for a few years, and it's mild. We give her daily potassium supplements and an appetite stimulant. She's a fragile, skinny old girl, but she still enjoys life. Every day, she demands that I play with her and give her extra meals. If she can't get my attention by staring at me and complaining in her guttural little voice, she'll come over to my chair, stand on her haunches, and smack my leg. Every night at bedtime, she poses like a sphynx on my husband's chest, purring as he strokes her.

Snicky insists on chasing her fabric "moth" 
on a string every single morning.

Snalbert's disease has developed more recently, and it's worse. He doesn't seem the least bit unwell, fortunately, although he's too thin. We were giving him subcutaneous fluids every other day — the same bags of Ringer's lactate they use for IV fluids in hospitals. This helps to flush toxins from his kidneys because they no longer work well on their own.

As the Top Cat  of our four, Snalbert commands all the 
highest spots in the apartment, including the oak bookcase.

I just got off the phone with our vet, who had the cats' latest test results. Snicky is still stable, but Snalbert's disease is progressing, although it isn't severe yet. But she says we have to start giving him fluids daily.

Bertie is not the first cat I've had who needed hydration, but he is the easiest. He often purrs through the procedure, a sign that we're doing it well. We always heat the fluid first, by putting the bag in a sink full of hot water, so it feels soothing and warm under his skin. Then we hang the bag of fluid from a kitchen cabinet knob. Long, thin plastic tubing runs from the bag to the needle, which we change each time, and there's a clamp on the tubing to control the flow of the fluid (faster is always better).

Usually, one of us inserts the needle and holds the cat while the other person operates the clamp, keeps an eye on the fluid level in the bag — we administer 150 ml —and offers steady, encouraging banter. The hard part is getting the needle properly under the skin and keeping it positioned so the cat doesn't feel it. They have very few nerves in their coats, so you just pull up their skin, make a sort of "tent," and stick the needle into the gap you made, without touching the cat's body. If you did it right, the cat barely notices. Easier said than done sometimes....

Hydration is never fun, but it gets easier for both cats and humans over time. Some people actually take their cat to the vet for it every day or have a vet technician come to their house. But it's not that difficult if your cat is even slightly cooperative. Daily practice on my own, while my husband is away, should turn me into a pro. The whole routine takes just a few minutes — only five minutes for us tonight — when the needle is in a good spot. Keeping a positive attitude and focusing on how the fluids are improving the cat's immediate health and well-being are important keys to success, too. 

On Saturday, our vet discovered that both cats have high blood pressure, a complication of renal disease. She shaved a bit of fur under both cats' tails, and that's where the little plastic "cuff" goes. The blood-pressure machine has a speaker so we could hear the blood whooshing through the cat's tail. I'd never seen this done before, and it would have been amusing if I hadn't been so concerned. 

Both cats now need hypertension medication twice a day. We have to give the pills exactly 12 hours apart for the next two weeks, until the vet can do another reading. If their blood pressure is controlled, we can slack off by an hour or so if we're not home, but for these first two weeks we have to right on time, and even our vet appointment is timed to be when their medication level is at a low point.

So I set the alarm clock for the morning doses, and I'm not planning any evening events until after the next vet appointment. That's okay; I'm feeling antisocial these days, anyway, so this is a perfect excuse for me to stay in on these winter nights.

Snalbert loves his medicine because it's formulated as a soft, chicken-flavored treat. He takes it from my hand, licks my fingers, and looks for more. 

Snicky is less pleased with her many pills, but we have developed a clever technique with her. We hide all her pills in a soft treat called a "pill pocket." Because she's so tiny and the pills are so big, we give her a half a pill pocket at a time, sticking it behind her fangs and inside her cheek. She has to swallow it from there because she can't move it forward on her tongue to spit it out. Most of the time. It's always an adventure.

Possum waits as Snicky naps in his favorite chair.

I am trying not to think about where all this medicinal stuff is leading. I know what's inevitable, but I continue to hope that we'll be doing all this for months and years to come. It will complicate traveling, especially our summer trips to Maine. But the cats come first. It's the promise we made them on the day we adopted each one. And I think they know it.

Time Alone

My husband has flown away to Egypt (having charmed his way into a business class seat by chatting up a flight attendant on his Logan–JFK flight). He'll be staying in grand, historic hotels that are former palaces. The weather is usually warm and sunny in January. The food is wonderful. 

He has left me and the cats on our own for 10 long, dreary days.

P A R T Y !!

But only in a fashion. I'm not used to living alone; I don't think I like it. But I do seem to be unusually adaptable — take me anywhere that's reasonably comfortable and scenic and, after about two days, I feel like I've never lived anywhere else. After three days, I can barely remember where I DO live, and I never want to leave. 

Adjusting to living alone takes about the same amount of time. Or less. Which is not to say I don't miss him terribly and long for him to return. It's just that there are some benefits to living alone that it would be foolish not to enjoy when there's opportunity.

Such as: 

1. The apartment stays very neat. Drawers and cabinets stay closed, shoes and clothes stay in closets, counters stay clear, the bathroom sink is unsullied by shaving cream. Now, our boy Possum likes to scoop wet food out of the other cats' bowls and eat bits of it off his paw, which leaves a mess all over the floor. I'm resigned to that. And a small pastry box holding a Lyndell's chocolate moon cake managed to fling itself from countertop to floor as we all slept, but that's all I had to deal with this morning. (It must be a male moon cake.)

2. Possum, Snalbert, and Snicky lavish me with attention. (And Wendy occasionally notices I exist, at mealtime.)

3. I can cook with ingredients my husband won't eat. First up on the menu: pasta with olives, goat cheese, and sundried tomatoes. I'll also be caramelizing onions and picking up some smelly gorgonzola and a few Iggy's olive rolls and in the North End. While I'm there, I might warm up in Regina's with a Formaggio Bianco pizza of my very own — four cheeses, fresh basil, no sauce, pure heaven. 

4. The cats can listen to music that only they (and I) like. Wendy loves Joan Baez's plaintive English ballads. Possum is into The Clash. Snicky likes Bruce Springsteen, while Snalbert likes Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. My husband hates all of them, preferring the listless dronings of the elderly survivors of that '70's group Yes. But to each his own.

5. Marathon evenings of historical dramas and Masterpiece Theatre series via Netflix Play Instantly, on my laptop, on the sofa, under the cashmere throw. With the cats. And the moon cake.

And that's just about all there is to enjoy about being a Sand Widow.  Hmm. 

Nine more days until he comes home.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Taking Down the Tree

We had a spectacular tree this year, but it started dropping needles like crazy a few days ago, so we knew it was Time for It to Go. I spent several hours de-Christmasing the apartment, which included taking all the petrified boughs and light strings off the mantels and removing the dozens of greeting cards we taped to the front door. Putting away the holiday decorations can be a melancholy chore on a dull winter afternoon. But somebody upstairs, or perhaps next door, spent the entire day hammering away at something. (Or was it some kind of new hobby? Wii?) So I was too distracted, wondering what was going on, to be depressed. Sometimes even noise has its benefits. My decorations were down long before they were done building their ark, or canoe, or whatever.

I was glad to get rid of all the dead pine and cedar branches, but felt sorry to part with this:


Even if you aren't in the mood to set up a tall, lighted pine-needle factory in your living room, you can still get a lot of holiday bang for your buck by displaying a pile of ornaments in a big bowl. (This is the same blue-and-white transferware bowl I filled with pumpkins in October.) We liked having it on the coffee table and the cats never investigated it. They were too busy resting from their holiday revels:


But keeping a bowl piled with delicate glass balls around for more than a few weeks is asking for trouble in a four-cat household. I'll recreate it next year.

I find it depressing to take down all the decorations this early in January. I kept two "fresh" wreaths: a plump little one with a beautiful red bow that's above the bed, and the pinecone-covered one in the living room. They still look great and smell like Christmas, so they can stay a few weeks longer — until all the Christmas candy and cookies are gone, and the hyacinth and narcissus bulbs I planted a few days ago are ready to bloom.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Harry & David Sale Gets Strange

We've been back to the Harry & David pop-up shop on Newbury Street a couple more times, mainly to pick up a few tall "towers" of unwholesome but delicious treats for the folks in my husband's three offices, for a post-holiday pick-me-up.

These towers were either $60 or $80 before Christmas, depending on which sign we read, but they are insanely, irresistibly inexpensive now.

My husband went there by himself the other day. I found this in the bags he brought home:


Alert readers have reported that the store is out of hyacinth and paperwhite bulbs now, but they still seem have some flabby tabby Persians left, at 75% off.

Act fast before they're gone!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

My 2011 New Year's resolution is a guaranteed success: "Don't Make Any New Year's Resolutions."

Who relishes the idea of a stern shift toward good behavior when the kitchen is still brimming with holiday treats and the post-Christmas sales are in full swing?

I'd rather just have more fun, wouldn't you?

So, although I'm not technically making "resolutions," in 2011, I'm planning to deal with various issues that are getting in the way of my fun. I won't aim to improve myself, just my situation and conscience.

1. Family. I feel bad because we don't spend more time with my mother-in-law, because we're all so "busy." She lives nearby but we seldom have her (or anyone) over to our place. On New Year's Day, we invited her for lunch and a visit with Possum. She likes the other cats, but she's wild about Possum because he is so... Possumish. She's an art historian with a discerning eye, even for cats. We all had a good time, and then we did her errands before taking her home. It was a happy afternoon; we just need to plan more of them.

I also feel awful because I don't spend enough time chatting with my elderly relatives back home, especially my dad. I call him once a week, and for upwards of 90 minutes he talks while I try to listen. I hear about work problems he had 40 years ago, or about how cars or integrated circuits work (after decades of lectures, I haven't learned much). To fill air time, he might read aloud the ingredients on packages of frozen food or the side-effects of medications advertised in Reader's Digest. It's tough to have a conversation; he prefers to argue and disagree. But I can't believe he's enjoying our calls, either.

We should change our routine. He's lonely and needs to talk; he's my dad, and I need to connect with him. If we could have a few shorter, more meaningful exchanges throughout the week, we might both be better off. I'm going to suggest this, and maybe he won't get mad. I'll also try to come up with topics we can comfortably discuss (not the NRA, economics, or my views on Christianity). Asking him for advice is probably the best way to get going. Talking about family history is often good, too.

2. Money. I'm nervous that I'm not investing our savings as well as I should. I've tried to learn by reading books and meeting with Fidelity reps to review our "portfolio," but I doubt I've done a decent job. Since we got socked by the diving Dow like every investor, I've tried to ignore our statements and let our mutual funds take their course. Sometimes it's best to do nothing. But I'd like to do nothing intelligently, not ignorantly! We should find a financial planner — one that charges by the hour — who can tell us how to invest wisely, how to save more, and how to plan for a new condo. It will be great to stop worrying about this. It's not like we have much money, but we should be responsible about what we've got.

3. Cats. I feel guilty about giving our cats crappy canned Fancy Feast fish and Science Diet kibble. We'd given up on persuading them to eat healthier food. I tried at least a dozen high-quality foods when Possum and Wendy were small, but all four turned up their furry little noses. And our vet keeps telling us to feed the older cats anything they want to keep their weights up, even though they have kidney disease. Since the cats switch bowls during meals, everyone's eating Fancy Feast, aka Kitty Crack. It's like letting your kids live on Cocoa Puffs.

I'm about to try again. I bought five cans of Wellness (including one with lobster and one with herring) and a bag of Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul (kibble) on the advice of the folks at Brookline Grooming. Wendy and Possum seem to like the Soup, which I mix in small amounts with their regular kibble. I'll gradually mix Wellness with Fancy Feast to start, and hope it works.

4. Giving Back. I should be doing useful volunteer work since no one wants to hire me. Next week, I'm meeting with a cat shelter to discuss a graphic design project. It's a start, but I confess I'm most interested in meeting the cats.


With all this on my plate, I won't bother to improve myself in 2011. I don't feel so bad about myself anyway. I have generally healthy habits, massive sugar and chocolate intake aside. My weight is fine even if I'm not the twig I was. I like walking 10,000+ steps a day and taking strength classes; exercise is not a chore. I wish I were employed as a writer, reading more books, and spending less time online, but that's about all I may decide to change.

But I am resolved to have more fun — involving cake, The Clash, and cooking classes, among other things — in 2011.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Moral Dilemma in Tweed

Anthropologie is still offering an extra 25% off their sale-priced items through tomorrow, so I thought I'd check out the racks, mostly to see what's been returned lately. Stores get loads of returns at this time of year, so you can sometimes find great deals on things that sold out earlier in the season.

I tried on this quirky, mixed-tweed number, called the Alma Mater blazer:


Admittedly, it's a highly unusual, "statement" piece. It would raise eyebrows in conservative circles, and it's the exact opposite of an interview blazer. But I'd seen it on a sales associate recently, and I was struck by how dashing and unique it looked, worn casually unbuttoned. It's been marked down for a long time, and now it was a mere $60. I could only find one, in size 0. I was surprised that it fit, sort of — if I wore it like the mannequin, without a shirt. A size 4 would have been ideal. The women working in the fitting room told me it was the last one left in the store when — fate! — another associate walked in casually carrying one among a pile of other clothes heading for the racks. It was a size 6. It was a little too large when I tried it on. I also noticed that it was massively pilled under the arms and along the sides, as though someone had already worn it for a long time. The sleeves had that rumpled, wrinkled look, too. I stuck my hands in the pockets — and pulled out $30 in crumpled bills.

Hmm. What to do? Jumping to conclusions, my first thought was that this blazer belonged to the sales associate I'd seen wearing it last week. But what could I do? Try to locate her — I remember that she was tiny and dark-haired; I might recognize her face if I saw her again — and then beat around the bush, while trying to find out if she was guilty of wardrobing? First off, if I managed to find her, she'd likely think I was a nut for remembering that she wore such a jacket. And she might be offended that I'd suspect her of such creepy behavior in her workplace. It would be one awkward conversation, and its weirdness might make it difficult for me to keep shopping comfortably in my favorite store. I didn't want to risk being labeled a wacko.

It then dawned on me that there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of these blazers out in the world since the summer, and anyone could have returned it. It's the season for returns, honest and otherwise. I should not be jumping to conclusions just because I saw one woman wearing one recently. Chances were excellent that the sales associate still had hers, which she'd have gotten at a huge discount. I hoped so; it looked nice on her. Come to think of it, hers was probably smaller than this size 6, which was big on me....

I couldn't buy the blazer. It wasn't the right size to be flattering. And I'm not sure I want my clothing to be so eccentric and outspoken these days. I've got those two qualities covered pretty thoroughly, whatever I wear. Plus all that pilling suggests that the fabrics weren't any good.

Now I had to think about how to deal correctly with the cash. I eventually decided that it was finder's keepers. My reasoning: if someone is sleazy enough to wear a blazer until the fabric pills and then return it, it's not my business to try to find her (how would I even begin?), and return cash she sloppily left in the pocket. Nor did I think that that cash belonged to whomever tried on the jacket next, even if they bought it, pills and all. The cash was not intrinsic to the garment, like a removable corsage or belt. It was more like anonymous cash found on the street. I have always taken great pains to return purses and wallets intact to their (usually grateful) owners. But if a small amount of plain old cash is lying around, I believe it's up for grabs.

So I pocketed the money, and thanked the Anthropologie Fairy for a New Year's bonus. She knows very well that I'll spend it right where I discovered it. What goes around comes around. Especially if it's somebody's crazy tweed blazer.

Cheap Thrills: Harry & David

We walked up Newbury Street this morning, heading for Borders, since they were offering a "50% off almost anything" coupon. My husband wanted Stacy Schiff's new biography of Cleopatra. I was looking for Elizabeth Gaskell titles, since I love reading Victorian novels and realized I hadn't read any of hers, only portions of her biography of her contemporary, Charlotte Brontë. We both enjoyed the PBS productions of both Cranford and Daughters and Wives, so I was hoping to find those. Along the way, we stopped at Raven Used Books, where I found Gaskell's North and South, and Ruth.

We passed a sandwich board outside the Harry & David pop-up shop near Clarendon Street, advertising 75% off the lowest-marked price of everything. Hard to resist. I picked out paperwhite and hyacinth bulb kits, originally $20 and now $2.50. I like to grow bulbs in January, for a taste of spring after the Christmas decorations come down. And I never seem to have the right pot, or enough soil, so these kits are an easy solution. We also bought cookies, tea, spreads, popcorn, trail mix, and candy. We could also have bought gift boxes and baskets, jams, soup and pancake mixes, nuts, salsas, relishes, dips, crackers, chocolates, and much more. My husband said he was a little startled when the cashier said, "That comes to $88." But he realized we'd picked out enough stuff to fill two heavy shopping bags. Then she hit another key and said, "So your total is $22." That was better.

I plan to go back.

At Borders, I bought Penguin's pretty hardcover edition of Cranford for $10.


Now I'll have plenty to read while my husband is off in in the Middle East for 10 days later this month. (My New Year's resolution is to spend less time surfing on my laptop and more time reading. I hope these novels are gripping because reading almost anything puts me right to sleep these days.)