Saturday, July 30, 2011

10 Things to Do Before Summer Ends

1.   See the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Met before it closes (next Sunday).

2.   Get brand-new swimsuit wet. Many times.


3.   Make a mess eating a lobster outside.

4.   Push innkeeper into pool on next trip to Maine. Vengeance is mine.


5.   Go to beach, sit under umbrella, try to read, wish it weren't so sandy and hot.

6.   See All's Well that Ends Well on the Common.

7.   Have a few more outdoor dinners on Newbury Street.

8.   Bathe the unfortunate Possum on a good, hot day.


9.   Eat a tomato sandwich every chance I get.

10.  Sit outside and watch the stars.

Bonus: Try something new; kayaking, perhaps, or staying awake through a David McCullough book.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Manicures

Wendy and Possum just had their claws trimmed. It was overdue; ideally, we'd do this every couple of weeks, but they both loathe it.

Catching Wendy is difficult. She will eventually flop over in surrender, with a look on her face that suggests that we are finally, finally, going to do all the terrible things she's been imagining since she arrived, and that her starring role in a pot of Chat Bourguignon is imminent. She curls up in a defenseless ball in my husband's arms and I have to poke around to locate her paws. As I clip her nails, she is totally submissive, probably because she's busy saying Last Rites for herself.

Possum fights having his claws trimmed. He's too big and awkward for my husband to hold, so he tries to restrain him on the bathroom sink or on the floor, but Possum puts up a continuous, nonviolent struggle wherever he is. As I gently hold one paw and try to find his impressively long talons, he pushes my clipper away with his other paw. Getting him to settle down for his manicure takes a long time.

On the other hand, he adores being groomed. He will leap onto the bed, purring deeply, when the brush and combs come out. He likes to rub his face hard against the brush as I comb the rest of him. This would go on for hours if it were up to him.

I suppose he's naturally vain, being so handsome. Or perhaps it has a wee bit to do with the way I keep comparing him favorably to gorgeous movie stars. Rufus Sewell is my latest victim: See the striking resemblance? Possum is the guy on the left. Same green eyes. Same roguish, smoldering intelligence, but Possum looks much more at home in whiskers.



Here is Possum again — paws crossed politely, as always — after his grooming and manicure, showing off his aristocratic profile:



Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cruel Shoes

The yellow shoes from J. Crew arrived yesterday:


They're more chartreuse than yellow, but still a good color. They looked great on me for the approximately 15 seconds I was able to wear them. Ouch! Way too narrow in the toe area, according to my protesting feet.

Back they go, and I'm relieved in a way, because they were insanely expensive ($228) and more than I've ever paid for a pair of shoes or boots. If they had fit, I would still have returned them... and then watched and waited an eternity for them to go on sale, ideally in the store, so I could drag my husband along with his educator ID, and get an extra 15% off.

But now I can relax and forget about them. Free shipping rocks yet again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cleaning Time

Today I washed the curtains, which were varying shades of gray and ecru. Some went through the wash cycle three times. Now they are beautifully white again, and I'm very pleased. Now I want the windows washed, but that's a scary job. The last time I had it done, one guy balanced outside, on the narrow ledges, while the other guy held onto his ankles. I huddled in a corner, afraid to look until they were done.

One of the perks of my having a writing project is that my cleaning schedule takes a deep slide into non-existence and I don't feel guilty. We live in student-type squalor, sharing space with dust bunnies the size of kittens. Everything stays covered in cat fur until I get a break. I keep up with laundry, clean sheets, food shopping, and dishwashing, but everything else pretty much goes to pot. My desk looks like an ad for a hoarding TV show piled with papers, mail, books, cat toys, packages, and all the stray objects I've gathered up that had been lying around the place so that, except for the catastrophe on my desk, the apartment appears neat. Filthy but neat.

I'm getting a break for about six days; I plan to spend it scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen, vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning out cabinets and drawers. I'm actually in the mood: I'm tired of the mess. I might even clean some wood floors. It won't help that I'm feeling like I lost a prizefight yesterday, after taking my first gym class in far too long. I hurt all over. They say that activity is the antidote for post-exercise stiffness, but it's been of no use so far. Fishing Wendy's toys out from under all the furniture nearly finished me off today.

On the Apartment Therapy site the other day, someone asked what motivates people to clean? A surprising number said, "Watching Hoarders on TV." I can relate to that although I don't watch TV. We have a hoarding relative, and whenever we visit her, I can't wait to go home and start throwing things out. That's also why the clutter all over the house ends up in heaps on my desk. When you start piling things on chairs, the bed, or the floor to "help you get organized," you are doomed.

Other people reported that they get motivated to clean for company, which I also do. One person wrote that she imagines her mother is coming over, although her mom has been dead for 27 years. I might try that. (With my own mother, not hers.)

* * *

Which reminds me: I found a huge rip in one of my curtains this morning, which had to be mended before I could wash it. I'm renowned for having sewed buttons to myself instead of to the correct article of clothing, but I did my best. It took awhile, and I realized how much time sewing provides for quiet sitting and thinking. All you can do (besides think and talk) is focus on putting that needle exactly where it belongs. I thought about how important this skill had been for almost all women for centuries, and how little it's needed today. I thought about how sewing would have been preferable to more active chores for some women but not for others.  I thought about what great seamstresses my mother and grandmother had been. My grandmother would make lacy wedding dresses for anyone who asked, including me — when I was four. It was gorgeous; I loved it. My mother made me a closet-full of dresses, and she quilted, embroidered, crocheted, and knitted as well. She made me a quilt for a Christmas surprise one year when I was in high school, and I still can't figure out how she managed to do all that time-consuming sewing in secret. I don't have any of her skills. If only I'd been wise enough to ask her to teach me, and patient enough to have learned.

"Oh, well," I thought, as I finished my pathetic repair job. "It's too late now." I gathered up the curtains, headed to the bathroom, and started putting them in the washer. Just in time, I spotted an orange ladybug crawling on one. When our mother died, nine years ago, my sister and I started noticing ladybugs appearing at odd times, in odd places. They were a favorite of our mother's. And we'd had a long-running joke about my mom's weird, inimitable way of pronouncing "orange."

I was so surprised to see this orange ladybug that I said, "Well, hello!" to it before I realized what I was doing. It hopped onto my finger and let me carry it to the window, where I set it free. Was it a visitation? I think so, and my sister agrees.

* * * 

In other news, my husband has discovered low-calorie soy ice cream from Trader Joe's. He says it's smooth, creamy, and doesn't taste fake. What he really said was, "It doesn't taste like poison," as he licked the spoon. I don't know... I believe in trying all kinds of food but I can't think of soy as food. It's more like a craft material. So I'm sticking with their mini whoopie pies. They're a nice little reward for keeping both writing projects and housecleaning on track.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Current Craving: Cool Shoes

I have recently developed a theory that a perfect pair of yellow shoes will solve all my problems. At least it's worth a try.

So, how about these Valentina pumps, from J. Crew?


There's something classic and almost vintage about that pointed toe and slender, lower heel. Ideally the color would act like a neutral and work with practically everything.

Then I saw these Elevated Oxford pumps, from Anthropologie:


I lovet the menswear detailing and they look like they might even be comfortable. And they're much less expensive (although still pricey, $148 vs $228). I confess I'm feeling unusually worthy of a shoe splurge since I've already spent several months trekking around in very cheap Reef flip flops — three pairs from previous seasons.

If the golden color turns out to be a bit much, both styles come in other colors, including faded rose, coral, and brown and gray leopard patent for the J. Crew pumps:


And raspberry, which looks purplish brown for the Anthropologie style:


All of these will probably bomb since my feet are terribly delicate and I wouldn't wear these with stockings. But it's fun to fantasize... and it's also free.

Yesterday

We spent yesterday in Maine, in the Lakes Region, at a memorial service for an old friend of my husband's, known as Pippa. We'd never seen this part of Maine before, and I didn't manage to get a single photo of the various, enticing, sapphire-blue lakes we passed along the road. But maybe we'll go back someday.

I'd only met my Pippa once, several years ago, although I'd heard of her for years; she was legendary as both an art history teacher and a person. When we visited her for a weekend in Vermont, she'd made a great impression on me, as she seemed to do on everyone who spent time with her. She made us dinner and we chattered happily into the night. She was yet another of those 80-somethings we know who seem ageless — or positively young — as they talk about their ideas and many enthusiasms.

Her memorial service was fabulous, because her life was full of friendships, study, teaching, passionate interests, giving, and adventures. We should all be like her. The service was held in an arts center not far from the lake where she'd spent decades of summers with her family. It was packed, and her people had come from all over to sing and pray, but mostly to stand up and share stories, letters, anecdotes, and poems to celebrate her life. We should all be so lucky to leave such a rich, sprawling legacy of memories and connections.

Pippa's ashes sat on stage, in a gorgeous white stoneware urn, painted with pale blue flowers and birds along with her name and dates, made by one of her relatives, a professional potter. Everyone admired it and many said it would be a shame to bury something so beautiful. For once, I could see the appeal of keeping an urn of ashes one around the house. Pippa does still seem too alive and "present" in the lives she enriched to lie at rest in rural Maine.

The afternoon was a striking contrast from the standard Catholic funerals my family has. These start with open-casket viewings, which I dread and try (and usually fail) to avoid. Since the first funeral I attended, as a teenager, I've found this practice grotesque. I hate the unforgettable memories I have of each of my dead relatives lying there, doll-like and covered in cosmetics, looking completely unlike themselves as everyone sat around avoiding the sight and talking of other things. The viewings (there are at least two) are followed by a funeral mass where personal recollections and eulogies are discouraged. Instead we listen to a priest talk generally and piously about a person he barely knew. Then there's a trip to the cemetery where the funeral director hands us cheap flowers to leave on the casket. Finally we go to a very late, very heavy lunch in a "function hall."

Another of the last important things Pippa showed us — or me, anyway, since I might have been the only one there who really needed to know — is how wonderful a memorial service can be. Hers was just spectacular.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Heat Wave

As I'm writing this, the temperature in Boston is 102, and the real-feel is 103: Day 3 of our heat wave. I went out for lunch earlier, and felt like the neighborhood had been retrofitted to become the world's largest clothes dryer. Even so, my dress and I weren't getting any drier.

While I still agree with Henry James that "summer afternoon" are the two most beautiful words in the English language, "wind-chill factor" is right up there, too.

Why can't we bottle up all this excess heat and store it for January, when we crave it? If only we had heated sidewalks then instead of now. Imagine: no snow or ice to make you slip, and you'd barely need a coat as long as you stayed on the main drag.

I feel sorry for the burning feet of all the dogs being walked in this weather. Shouldn't they be wearing boots?

I went to splash some cold water on my face just now, and found this:


We keep two ancient air conditioners running on low speed almost all the time, and at fairly high temperature settings. It's tolerable but not really what you'd call cool, and while no one's roasting, we're not exactly comfortable, either. So we all lie around languishing to some degree, and no one languishes as exquisitely as Possum.

Yesterday, J. Crew introduced its fall line on jcrew.com: tweed hacking jackets, cozy cashmere sweaters, corduroy pants and shorts, tights. There's hope.

And with that hope held firmly in my sleepy, heat-addled brain, I'm about to slip on my swimsuit and head for that pool at our friend's building. There's a strange mini-ecosystem around it. Hot and sunny as it is everywhere else, it will be shady, windy, and cooler there. The water is always warm compared to the air. And it's always raining a little, which we can't figure out. But who cares? It's a pool!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Current Craving: Anthropologie Pitcher

This Czech glass pitcher is much darker turquoise in person — my favorite color — and holds two quarts. Being cheap, I kept my eye on it, hoping it would go on sale. It never did. Now it's sold out online and in the local stores. Rats.


It's hobnail glass so it's nubbly all over. I love old-fashioned things, so I find that appealing. Not everyone does, I know. When we're wandering around Brimfield, my husband likes to refer to this kind of glass as "wartware." For some reason, that makes me pine for this even more. The Boylston Street Anthropologie is going to do a national store search for it so I'm crossing my fingers that there's still one lurking out there, somewhere where people have no taste. I promise I won't say where that is if I get lucky.

Like most stores, Anthropologie is having a good sale right now, so I consoled myself with this Tracy Reese dress:


It has a swingy skirt with pockets, and it's a stretchy, wrinkle-free fabric. Amazingly, the XS size fits best. It must run very large; I was sure my XS days were over because my layer-cake and whoopie-pie days have been in full force for some time now. I've had my eye on this dress for months; sometimes patience does pay off. And what I saved over the full price would just about pay for the pitcher. And best of all, I have a gift card to cover both.

Update: Good news! Anthropologie called this morning; they're sending a pitcher from the Natick store. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Boat Drinks

We watched Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995) the other night. It took forever to appear on Netflix, but now it's an instant-play. It's a modern-day mob story, quietly similar to one of our all-time favorite films, The Usual Suspects (1995) — strong ensemble acting, with quirky criminal characters who get together for one last job, which goes wrong. It's similar to Fargo (1996) in that regard, and also features Steve Buscemi. The movie must have inspired The Sopranos (1999) to some extent — strong ensemble acting; cracked criminal characters; real-world, boring settings; similarly atmospheric music; graphic violence that suddenly kills off key characters. But the star is the gorgeous Andy Garcia as the noble "Jimmy the Saint" — a far cry from James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano. Christopher Walken plays a quadriplegic mob boss, one of those sardonic, menacing characters no one plays better.

Apparently Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity, Beautiful Girls) wrote the script in two weeks, which amazes me because the plot is riveting, the characters are mostly well drawn, and the dialogue is so entertaining. I can think of too many big-budget extravaganzas with scripts that are more enjoyable with the sound turned off. It seems that only criminals and their cohorts get great movie dialogue these days, and even that's pretty rare. Think of Fargo: "Is that your friend in the wood chipper?"

Anyway, Things to Do in Denver has messed with our English. Yes, it's a violent, often disgusting story, and it's by no means as brilliant or perfect as The Usual Suspects. But it seems that colorful language makes the strongest impression on us. The movie is full of picturesque language that veers towards Shakespeare in its creativity, including bits of mob slang that are surprisingly adaptable to ordinary Boston life. There are many amazing lines that I won't repeat here, but here are a few of the more useful, often-repeated takeaways: A "piece of work" is a job that involves murder. An "action" is a job that just involves scaring someone. "Give it a name" is a reply along the lines of "Fuggedaboudit." Then there's "Boat drinks," said instead of "goodbye," which means, "May things end well so we'll be partying together on a boat someday."

So, lately, whenever one of us starts complaining about someone — like the guy who parks his motorcycle in front of our windows and spends wayyyy too long revving it up as he comes and goes  — the other one says, "Do you want a piece of work or just an action?" And it goes from there. And when one of us is whining about something — like work or the weather —the other one says, "Give it a name." Eventually we're going to forget and start saying these things in public and friends will think we're nuts.

And when they want to know what we're talking about, we'll say, "Give it a name!"

Let's hope we outgrow this soon. Perhaps watching The Usual Suspects for the 93rd time will help us recover. In which case, we'll go around saying, "Did you bring enough guys?" and "I'm not a rat, Agent Kujan." But we've been doing that for years. If you love mob movies with memorable dialogue, try The Usual Suspects and Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead. It's always fun to sit in the dark with a bunch of crooks — and it's too hot right now to go out to the movies.

Boat drinks.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hot

The weather people are warning us to prepare for the first heat wave of the summer, beginning tomorrow.

I thought we'd been having one since MAY.

Grrrr

I spent yesterday afternoon carefully editing the first draft of my writing project, in response to the first round of suggestions from my client. When I finished, I thought I changed the name of the document, revising the date, and I thought I saw it sitting safely in its folder. Then I downloaded a copy of the original document, which was an email attachment, so I'd have all the original comments for reference.

I had a meeting to discuss the edits this afternoon, and decided to review the draft beforehand. It was gone. Nowhere to be found on my laptop. Not even deep in the in recovery files, not findable by searching, not in the Trash. Nowhere. I must have overwritten it when I downloaded the original version, even though I swear I changed the name and even added an orange highlight so I could find it easily. Hours of extremely picky work down the drain.

Fortunately, I had gone to my super-tough weight-training class today for the first time in nearly a month, so I was too exhausted to heave my laptop out the window.

Sighhh. How do I do these things? It reminded me of the time I accidentally converted my entire creative portfolio to a useless "alias" with a single badly judged keystroke. That happened as I was prudently backing it up, to have an extra copy. I was able to recover some of my work by combing through my email to find attachments I'd sent out to job prospects. Compared to that, yesterday's fiasco was nothing.

So, my meeting is rescheduled. And I have a lot of frustrating work to do, again, for tomorrow. I think that, in 2011, there ought to be an easy way to recover lost or deleted documents from a Mac laptop. (Of course, I was too cheap to try any of the data recovery software out there. I felt it wouldn't have been worth the trouble to sift through the many hundreds of code-named files those programs turn up, assuming they could even find this one, which was not deleted but overwritten. It was only an afternoon's work, but a lot of good work.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Possum

Possum turns 2 today. We had to pick a date for his veterinary records, and he liked this one.

Man, he was tiny, once upon a time:


He and Wendy will have their favorite treat, Applegate Naturals roasted turkey breast (nitrate free). And we will have our favorite treat, too:

Simplex Kettle Update

The Simplex tea kettle factory is back in business! Someone named Newey and Bloomer (you just have to love England....) took over production in England — in time to provide a copper kettle as a wedding gift for William and Kate. You can order a chrome or copper model here.

After they stopped production suddenly, just about a year ago, the remaining U.S. stock slowly ran out. Since the winter, you could only find these kettles for crazy prices on eBay.

After realizing I loathed my deadly old Bodum kettle, doing my research,  surveying the options, taking forever to make up my mind between kettles, and then a long, obsessive search, I finally got one of the last Simplexes from  a Sur la Table store (in Michigan) in December. Since then I've lived happily ever after.

The original kettle for electric stoves is $149.95 and their gas model is $165.95. That seems like too much until you compare it with other kettles. Simplex kettles — at least the ones made between 1903 and 2010 — can last a lifetime if you don't abuse them, whereas inexpensive kettles tend to wear out in a few years. (Many expensive "designer" kettles have their nasty little issues, too....)

Shipping from England is $19.95. Let's hope they're as good as they always were.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Wendy

Wendy turns 2 today, or at least this is the birthday we designated for  her, since the American Cat Fanciers Association was not hanging around the neighborhood in Swansea where she was born.

How we adore her. She's our Greta Garbo, elusive, mysterious, beautiful. We can never get enough!

Plus, we have a perfect excuse to get a cake.

Now Here's an Idea

It inspires me to see indisputable signs of progress in the world, as brave souls apply their creativity and brains to age-old problems.

Someone has created a partial solution to how to dunk two cookies into a glass of milk simultaneously. I salute that. (I say partial because the problem of the cookie dropping into the milk glass if you wait too long remains unaddressed. I know that's the main reason why spoons were invented, but I never remember to have one handy.)


You can find the recipe here.  The Oreo part seems straightforward. Just make sure you use Double Stuff. This is not an alternative to the rice cake, after all.

If you're going to make these, please do me a favor and add a few M&Ms to the dough, and dip the cookies in chocolate. Live a little. Who says you can't have everything? And please send me a photo!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chestnut Street

My wanderings in Beacon Hill seldom take me on Chestnut Street, but it's one of the most beautiful streets in Boston, so I decided to explore it yesterday during a cool-morning walk. Some snapshots — or, rather, all the snapshots I took. It's hard to take a bad photo on this street:

Weathered brick sidewalks and houses, gas lamps.... quintessential Beacon Hill.

A vine-shaded entryway with urns and the strangest "doorbell" ever...

A close-up of the doorbell, which I was very tempted to test.

The graceful double staircase to the Friends' Meetinghouse.

This dog is relaxing by the Meetinghouse stairs. 
I think he's lost; he looks like he belongs in a cemetery.

Lovely Georgian details.

Another Georgian entryway with a spider-web fanlight and 
its own purple-paned gas lamp and a lace-cap hydrangea about to bloom.

How about some ivy? 

A not-so-secret Beacon Hill garden with an unlocked gate.

This house faces that garden. Imagine coming home....

Yeah, right.  I wish.

There must be some creative condos in this Gothic Revival building. 
Great windows, at least.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Between the Raindrops

I'm nearing the finish line for submitting the first draft of my contemporary art writing project, with just two more artists to go and 21 finished or nearly so. Hooray. Here's hoping the second and third drafts are easier than the first. You never know. And I'm hoping this blog will get more interesting soon, as I'll be  free to get out of the house and take photos, read, cook, and Have Ideas. I'm also planning to shop more. It's sale time. And I'm trying to convince Possum to do more serious reading even though he feels entitled to goof off in the summer heat. He has expressed an interest in Rona Jaffe novels. Where does he get these ideas? (Fortunately, I had two ancient ones to lend him.)

I took a break and we walked to Beacon Hill for burritos last night. I was longing to get out of the house into the (finally!) cooler air. And we always love burritos. The air was wonderful, and so were the burritos.

On our walk back home, the Public Garden looked like this, with lavender-blue light as big raindrops were just beginning to fall:


Is that a hint of moon in the center of the sky or a UFO? Those little ducks are watching it.

Late last night there must have been hail because it sounded like thousands of marbles were bouncing off our air conditioner.  So happy to have cooler weather!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pool-Time

I'm missing Maine a wee bit less today because a kind friend and neighbor of ours has invited us to use her building's heated pool as often as we like, whenever she's available to let us in.

It's a small in-ground pool between Commonwealth Avenue and the Mass. Pike. Pike traffic makes swimming there a rather deafening experience. But we wouldn't care if the pool were in the middle of the Mass Pike when it's as hot as it was last night. In weather like this, I often feel feverish for hours.

I don't know why I feel such extremes; it's no fun. In the winter, I get "cold flashes." I become cold to the touch, even when I'm under a heavy down comforter with layers of cashmere, flannel sheets, two coverlets, and a hot water bottle. It's miserable and I often can't sleep from feeling cold — even though anyone else would be roasting under all that fabric and down. In the summer, it's the opposite. I can't stand wearing much of anything, or being outside, especially in the sun. I often feel so feverish that I might as well be sick. I'm constantly jumping in the shower, although it's not much help. I should mention that I've yet to have a hot flash. If I ever get them, they'd better be in the winter, when I can use them. If I ever have one in the summer, I'll probably spontaneously combust, ending my suffering permanently and making an interesting news story to boot.

Anyway, a long dip in a pool is the best thing to cool my body down and clear my head.

Last night, the three of us were the only ones in the pool area, but we still had to have a shouted conversation over the roar of the cars. My husband and I chilled out in the water, which is a blissful temperature, while our friend, who is around 90 (we are lucky to have several old, old friends) lounged sideways on a chaise near us, at the water's edge, as if she were Cleopatra on the barge.

If I get enough writing done today, we can have another swim tonight. So I'd better get to it. But before I do, I must confess that my 10,000-step daily walking program has gone all to hell in the past week or so, thanks to the weather. When it's this hot, I can't stand to stand, let alone walk, and my husband doesn't like me roaming the streets when it finally cools down, after midnight, or so, and he's right. I have about 25,000 steps to make up at the moment, including the 10,000 I'm supposed to get (but probably won't) today. But I will be able to make up for all this missed walking next week, when the first part of my writing project is over —  especially if the weather cools down, or I decide to wear out the floor tile at Copley Place. And I can always do my old read-and-jog-in-place routine in front of the air conditioner, although that's gotten very boring.

In other news, Possum really needs a bath. Surely that experience will be the exercise equivalent of many thousands of steps for both of us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Missing Maine

It's hot and humid, I have a tough deadline this week, I've skipped the gym for three weeks, I have painful puncture wounds from pilling Snicky, and I'm generally cranky.  But mostly I miss Maine and our lazy, barefoot lifestyle there, which boils down to eating, getting wet, chattering with locals, and napping. Every other guest at our inn gets up early to head to Acadia National Park for hiking, biking, sailing, kayaking, and whatever. We go to the island to do nothing but hang around outside, at the inn or around the island.

We did wrench ourselves from the hot tub to swim in Echo Lake, at a private spot our innkeeper introduced us to. The water is warm enough, and crystal clear — full of soothing minerals, according to the innkeeper. I miss the lake:

View from shore: just cool water and mountains. Click to enlarge...

But I miss the hot tub and pool much more, even though the pool heater is broken. Turns out I'm very hardy and can tolerate cold water, if "cold" means about 73 degrees.

Looking pristine: the innkeeper just finished 
with the leaf-blower, his favorite toy/torture device. 

I miss breakfast on the porch, which had been stretching to fill a couple of hours. There are multiple courses, starting with freshly baked scones and a chunk of zucchini or blueberry bread. Then comes a bowl of fruit or a cobbler, then some delicious entrée, like berry crèpes, or an omelet with pesto, tomatoes and ricotta. Then maybe more bread with our tea.... Then we waddle over to the armchairs to read, socialize, and nap. Note the catnip cigar in the photo below: it seems that Possum packed it in my husband's suitcase so we wouldn't forget him. He needn't have worried: I pine for him the whole time we're away, and his furry cohorts, too.

Almost any porch is a wonderful thing.
A porch where people bring you breakfast is heaven.

I miss the hot popovers and blueberry iced tea at the Jordan Pond House in Acadia. I can make both of the recipes at home but it's just not the same. I need a picnic table, a pond and a mountain view:

Popovers, the perfect vehicle for soft butter and strawberry jam.

I miss C.J.'s Ice Cream in Bar Harbor, where a "kiddie" size equals "medium" or "large" on Newbury Street. Their sign didn't include their frozen yogurt flavors on this particular day. I can't digest ice cream but I can handle hard yogurt. In Boston, I'm lucky to find one or two flavors, and one is always yucky old raspberry. At C.J.'s. there are always at least five yogurt flavors, including my all-time favorite, chocolate peanut butter swirl. Plus chocolate almond, Heath Bar, and butter pecan... and they taste as rich as ice cream. Oh, man....

Top flavor: "I'm Not Sure Yet," vanilla with a little of everything mixed in.

I miss rocking in an old rocker on the old porch at the old Claremont Hotel, as old WASPs play vicious games of croquet on an old court beside the sea.

We should spend a night here one of these years.
But there's no pool!?!

I even miss the Tom Cat, down the street, where we go for iced tea and other drinks when the owner decides he's open for business. Talk about rustic charm:


Sighhh. Time to go back to work.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Possum in Summer Mode

Possum has been of very little use lately. He says it's too hot to think about art history, and he has no interest in contemporary art anyway. It's beginning to worry me that he's aesthetically stuck in the 18th century; I suppose I should allow him more time to develop his taste since he's just turning 2 this weekend.

He says the best thing about most art painted in the past 50 years is that the paint smells interesting. That was the deepest insight I've received from him since we returned from Maine, and I have to admit I would not have thought of it myself.

So, I work and he lies around theatrically, leaving me to wrestle with The Art of Our Time all alone.

I'm wondering if he might like a wading pool for his birthday. He seems to be outgrowing the sink, or else it's shrinking:


I can just imagine him lounging poolside with us up in Maine. How he would love it. Unfortunately, the innkeepers won't invite him. I imagine that they think he'd cause too much commotion with his movie-star looks and magetic personality.  It's a quiet little town and they aren't accustomed to so much dazzle. I'm used to him, and it's still tough to stay focused when he's showing off. 

Snow in July

I had an appointment in Brookline Village this morning, and decided it would be a good idea to walk home along The Riverway. It was already hot at 10 am, and I was aiming for as much shade as possible.

On Brookline Avenue, I encountered this:


Yep, snow, lying on the side of the road, in July. I took it as a good omen, and resisted the temptation to frolic in it or make snowballs. Who knew where that snow had been, or what chemicals might have been keeping it from melting on a hot day? 

Later on it occurred to me that I'd been walking near Brookline Ice & Coal, the place to go for all things frozen and watery, like ice sculptures. By then, I was a hot, sticky mess despite my decently shady route. Next time, I'm helping myself to the snowbank before I trek back to Boston. Snow in July is exactly when we need it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Balloon

Cats hate helium balloons. They don't trust creatures that float around without faces, feathers, or wings.

When I caught a sad little orange balloon bobbing its way down Beacon Street the other night, I knew it wouldn't receive a warm reception from the fur people.

Wendy took one look and disappeared to her hiding place. Snicky glared at it with one orange eye (the other one isn't working too well these days) and went back to napping on the sofa. Possum tried to be brave but failed. After watching it bounce around the living room, he retreated to a safe distance and kept a watchful eye on it.

So it was up to Snalbert to confront the Strange Being. He's the Top Cat, after all, and with power comes responsibility. I was proud of him as he bravely approached the balloon. When he started swallowing the ribbon, I took it away.

Snalbert keeps an eye on an Unwelcome Visitor.

Get Thee to the Chihuly Show

You have until August 7 to see the Dale Chihuly glass exhibition at the MFA. It's spectacular work, beautifully installed, and definitely worth the trip over there — especially if you choose a Wednesday after 4 pm, when admission is free (voluntary donation) instead of $22.

It's not an overwhelmingly long or complicated show to study, it's just visual overload in the best possible way, with lots of massive, eye-poppingly vivid assemblages. It's perfect entertainment for a summer evening.

Some photos, quickly snapped without flash:


The "glass ceiling" is my favorite part of the show.



Some of this reminds me of Delia Deetz's renovation of the ghosts' 
house in the movie Beetlejuice.




Saturday, July 9, 2011

More from Maine: Perfect Pizza

Every summer, scores of young men and women from Eastern European and Russia come to Mount Desert Island to staff the inns, restaurants, and shops for the season. They work hard, practice their English, and earn money for school and helping their families back home.

We've gotten to know some of the fellows who have worked at our inn. The young women, who clean the rooms, are often shy and speak very little English. But the men tend to be grad students, and are more outgoing as they interact with guests. We see more of them because they work in the kitchen, serve breakfast, help the innkeepers, and occasionally take a dip in the pool with us.

The Serbs at our inn have all been tall, dark, handsome, quiet gentlemen. Each one is sent by the previous summer's fellow — a network of young foreigners helping slightly younger ones to get jobs abroad. They all study finance and economics, too.

The workers from our inn spend their afternoons and evenings slaving at the Little Notch, the town's best bakery and pizza restaurant. The women work the counter while the guys make pizza. With several big ovens, the kitchen is like an oven itself, and I feel really sorry for all of them. But it doesn't stop me from ordering lots of pizza. One of the advantages of befriending the inn's Serb is that he will make you a "special" pizza if he likes you.

All of the pizza at the Little Notch is wonderful, but a "special" pizza is extraordinary. Here's one our friend made for us with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, and fresh ricotta. We're talking serious topping overload:


It was one of the best and most beautiful pizzas I can remember in my life, and I made sure to tell the whole staff that. Frankly, almost all Boston pizza pales in comparison, except for the original Regina's, of course.

On our next visit to the island, we've been advised to order "Serbian pizza," which is mushrooms, ham, and bacon, among other things. We hear it's never on the menu but it's the secret password to pizza nirvana. We're looking forward to that.

More from Maine: Searsport Houses

On our trips back and forth to Mount Desert Island, we always look forward to driving through Searsport, a quiet coastal town on Route 1 with a number of exceptionally beautiful Victorian houses (as well as that abandoned charmer from two posts ago). There were some fine architects in Searsport at exactly the right time — in the 1870s, I'd guess.

We slow down and roll down our windows, exclaiming, "Buy me THAT one!" at each other until we run out of pretty houses. On this trip up north, I was busy reading an email aloud, so I missed the houses. My husband gave in to my demands and made a U-turn, doubling back a few miles so we could yell and take photos.

Here are a few of our favorites. I want to live in all of these:

My Ideal House, with a mansard, big windows, 
a sweeping lawn and deep porch. Sigh.

This one is an inn, with Carpenter Gothic detailing 
and another great porch.

Another French Mansard. It has a charming addition in the same style, 
plus a porch (do you sense a theme here?) hidden behind the trees. 
Lush old trees and a cheery color scheme...