Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Annals of Stupidity: Flying Cocoa

A few years ago, I found an Aerolatte Milk Frother in my Christmas stocking. It looks like this:
Santa knows I don't drink coffee and that I'm not crazy about specialized appliances and battery-operated gadgets in general. But he also knows I'm a pushover for a cup of warm cocoa or an enormous glass of chocolate milk.

It used to bother me that strangers like Santa knew so much about me — and Santa knows me without reading my blog. Since you're reading this, you know too much about me, too, but nowadays I feel that's your problem, not mine. I don't mind being known, at least as far as I'm willing to reveal things here. This way, if we ever get together, you'll get to do most of the talking because I'll have very little news to report. I like it that way; I'd rather hear others' stories than repeat mine.

It did shock me that a reader recently saw me and guessed who I was. My husband and I were at an open house down the street. The condo was handsome and out of our league, but sometimes prices drop; you never know. I was in the kitchen, admiring it. I thought everything about it was just right, which is rare. So I wasn't gretzing in my signature PB way. I was silent. But even so, this lovely young woman came over and asked if I were the Proper Bostonian. I was stunned; my husband was more stunned. I don't look much like a PB — it's more about attitude. I was not wearing that ratty gray turtleneck I lived in last winter. I was not (noticeably) covered in Possum and Bertie fur.

When we got over our amazement, we were charmed by my reader and her husband. She said she believed she'd run into me someday since we're both house-hunting in the same neighborhood. I would love to be that intuitive; I'm sure she hadn't asked other women the same question. If all of my readers are as nice as she is, I must be doing something right. The readers whom I know are indeed among my favorite people, and that's strictly on general merits, not their blog-reading tastes.

Now, back to the Aerolatte. You heat up the milk in a mug (microwave), add the cocoa, insert the Aerolatte, and turn it on. It's tiny but powerful. You move it around, making sure the milk never slops over the rim. Your cocoa is smooth and airy, with no woebegone residue at the bottom. SO easy.

But there is a hard part. Before you remove the Aerolatte from the milk, you need to turn it off. Otherwise, cocoa will fly everywhere, and despite your best attempts to clean it up, your kitchen will resemble mine, with spatterings of brown polka dots where you least expect them.

Why can't I manage to turn the thing off? It's become a running joke as I make a mess every night. I allegedly had an IQ of 140 when a grad student tested me in high school. I'm still waiting to accomplish great things because of it — like making cocoa neatly. Yeah, we have lead water pipes. Yeah, I landed hard on my head a few times when I took riding lessons. But have I lost that many brain cells? No. I'm proof that IQ points are about as good as Monopoly money in the real world.

We discovered Swiss Miss Diet Cocoa during our recent stint on the South Beach Diet. It's mostly chemicals, but has a light, mild taste that we like. It's easier on the digestion than richer cocoa. I make it several nights a week. It's supposed to be soothing, but I feel my blood pressure rising as I approach the Aerolatte.

I'm beginning to wonder if its switch is bad, or possessed by a demon. I swear I've turned it off, and I start taking it out, and it flips back on and splatters everything. I've resorted to putting the mugs in the sink to contain the mess, but it only helps a little. Swiss Miss is surprisingly buoyant. The switch also likes to turn on as I'm rinsing the Aerolatte. Water flies everywhere; the cats race out of the kitchen. It always takes longer than you'd like to turn it off.

I confess I'm also not so talented at keeping the cocoa from slopping over the rim of the mug. That's really why I relocated to the sink. I fill the mugs only about 2/3 full, but I still make tsunamis. By the time I clean up, the half-full mugs have cooled, so I add more milk and heat them up again, and try not to dump them as I remove them from the microwave. Sometimes that works.

If you see a woman with pale-brown splotches on her glasses, that's me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Flip Flops in November

This week was the first time I ever Christmas-shopped in flip flops. I've enjoyed our balmy November. It's great to wear a sweater instead of a coat. Even snow-loving moi prefers not to be slip-sliding on ice while shlepping shopping bags.

It unusual that I was able to start shopping in November. I usually can't drag gift ideas out of my family until deeper into December. This year, several were more cooperative/frightened; I must be becoming more intimidating in my old age. I certainly hope so.

Whenever anyone let something slip, I jumped right on it. I purchased restaurant gift certificates during lunch; we ordered a knife for someone on an iPhone, while sitting at his kitchen table.

I have less free time these days, and I'm about to become even busier.

I've been arranging some matters for an elderly relative who's been managing poorly at home for almost a decade. We've finally got the legal authority to help her out. I've arranged a massive, week-long cleanup of her house, which will involve a group of relatives and teams of professional organizers and cleaners. And, in a supporting role, a 2-ton dumpster. We'll need every inch of it. The relative will be safely out of town so she won't witness the commotion. (Arranging that was the trickiest thing of all.) I've been investigating daily home care services, too, for afterward. It will be a big adjustment for her, but it has to be done.

But before that happens, it's wreath time.

On Monday, the garden club begins its annual wreath-decorating fundraiser, and I plan to work for all four days and break my 22-wreath record from last year. It's more fun than anything, but it's surprisingly hard work, especially if one's trying to be productive as well as artistic. The money we raise goes towards caring for the city trees in the neighborhood. Next week, I'll be posting photos of the wreaths I made, partly so I can remember them, and partly because I'll be too exhausted and obsessed to post anything else.

The house-clearing project begins the morning after wreath-making ends, and continues into the following week, and we're anticipating 12-hour days. Sorting out this kind of mess is my idea of the lowest ring of hell. We've wanted it to happen for a long time but didn't realize we'd need to be among those doing the work.  (I'm a strong believer in paying people whatever it takes to do unpleasant tasks.) We can't just toss everything quickly; we have to go through it all first, looking for important papers and mementos.We will play loud music to distract ourselves from the horror.

Then, finally, it will be mid-December: time to shake off the dust and get back into the holiday spirit. We'll hunt down and put up a tree, continue shopping, and start the wrapping and baking. We'll go to concerts and visit with friends. Somewhere in there, Possum must have his photo shoot for our Christmas cards, since he's the only cat who hasn't yet been our cover star.

Ho ho ho. But first: Yikes!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New iPhone Not Total Waste of Money

Well, hush my mouth.

I resisted getting a new iPhone despite my husband's daily entreaties to let him buy me one. He kept insisting I needed it, citing reasons I disagreed with or didn't understand. I suggested that it was shallow and materialistic to be embarrassed if your wife uses an antiquated iPhone 3G in public; he's said he wasn't. I think he said it had something to do with iCloud and the new Lion operating system; I care nothing about iCloud or Lion, but he cares deeply. He also said the new phones are much faster. Big deal: I use mine for phone calls, mostly, or to check email on the road. And I look at photos; I do love having an extensive photo album in my pocket. I just have no appetite for apps.

He said he wanted us to be able to see each other when we're talking on the phone. I'm more inclined to put a tiny piece of duct tape on that front-facing lens; I hate how I look on camera, I look like a sea hag.

He can't possibly have imagined I'd like Siri, the voice-activated "assistant." He knows I find "his" Siri annoying, especially when he asks her dumb questions, like, "What are you wearing?" and "What is the meaning of life?" (She answers correctly: 42. But I don't like her attitude. On the other hand, how can I blame her? He keeps trotting her out in public, like when we're sitting at the Thanksgiving table and he feels like showing off to ancient relatives who barely have landlines. No wonder there's that long, disgusted pause before she'll answer one nutty question after another in a faintly passive-aggressive tone.)

Perhaps my husband was fed up with my whining about needing a camera because Canon still isn't shipping the new pocket model I settled on several weeks ago. At any rate, I was marched to the AT&T store last weekend to order a phone and we picked it up today. One must stay up to date.

I didn't believe it when he said the iPhone's camera would be better than my Leica C-Lux, but it's true. It takes better photos in our dimly lit living room than the Leica ever did, even when the flash worked. Usually I have to color-correct and lighten the heck out of everything shot indoors; now I don't have to do much of anything.

I'm impressed, and so is Possum. See for yourself:


Tonight he helped me create a mock-up of a brochure I just designed, which is ready for the printer. He's not allowed to use scissors but he had a good time with the scrap paper.

I kept turning on Siri accidentally, so we just "disabled" her. I feel mildly guilty about this: I imagine her in a hospital bed, in a full-body cast and traction. Sorry, kid.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Possum Poses

I'm still thinking about that house. I'll get over it. Another great house will come along, probably within the next FIVE YEARS. Or so. I'm fussy.

Possum has been trying to cheer me up, although he admits he'd like to live in a real house, where he could chase Wendy up and down stairs, have his own room, hunt "things" in the basement, and nap under the grape arbor on warm afternoons. (Yes, it had a very handsome grape arbor, too....) 

The weekend after we saw the house, we went to our first Fenway Studios open house. Now that I think about it, we were looking for ways to console ourselves. We met an artist I've long admired, Sam Vokey. We bought two wonderful paintings of Boston landscapes from the "reject piles"on his studio floor, which I rooted through without asking permission. He wasn't really selling them, but he gave us a great price. Mr. Vokey is very nice.

My husband chatted with him as I went through the paintings stacked near his kitchen. Among other things, he asked if Mr. Vokey had any interest in painting an ancient landscape. Both of them got very excited about that idea.

I asked Mr. Vokey if he ever painted cats. He became even more animated. "I love cats! I learned to paint from cats!" he exclaimed. At least that's what I thought I heard. Then he said, "It's how artists have always learned their craft." By then, every visitor in his studio was talking at once: "SHE said CATS but YOU heard CASTS!"

But wouldn't it be amazing if Mr. Vokey had learned to paint from cats?

I mean, I believed what I thought he was telling me. Because people kept giving me copies of that silly book back in the day, with the artist-cat on the cover that looks like Snalbert.

Anyway, I've been thinking about having Possum's portrait painted since I saw those cat paintings at a Skinner auction preview. I'd like to have all the cats painted, but Wendy would only hide, Snicky isn't looking well these days (although she's stumping around and hanging in there), and Bertie is all one color and always looks grumpy — hard to paint, I bet.

I showed Mr. Vokey a photo of Possum on my phone and he admired him. He emailed me later that week that he thought he might be able to capture Possum's "inner and outer beauty," as he put it. Of course, we could maybe afford only a tiny little portrait. A miniature, perhaps, someday. But it's fun to dream. Mr. Vokey said he'd have to paint Possum from life because a cat's fur is so soft, and it's impossible to paint that softness and the effects of light any other way. Indeed, Possum's fur is exceptionally soft.

When I told Possum all this, he was pleased. But he confessed that he'd always imagined himself being painted by Gainsborough or Reynolds in the Grand Manner.

"Are you sure that's regal enough for you?" I asked.

He gave me a hard look and said that he's been working on developing more modern tastes, if only to please me. Therefore, he'd be happy to be painted by Ingres, Sargent, or Boldini. Rocketing along right into the Edwardian era... good boy, Poss.

But Boldini? Please. He and I don't spend a lot of time discussing Boldini, but I had shown Possum this article a while ago, which captured his imagination. And mine.

"But Possum," I said. "Gainsborough, Reynolds, Ingres, Boldini, and Sargent have been dead for ages. Even Andy Warhol is dead. Sam Vokey is alive."

Being only 2, Possum has trouble understanding things like the average human lifespan, and who's still here and who isn't. He agreed that a living artist would do a better job than a dead one.

Since then, he's been disporting himself in various nutty poses, trying them out for when the time comes. He does charm me, and distract me from thinking about that house.

He says he'll have to nap to hold still for his portrait.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.

This Native American saying appeared on the cover of the latest edition of The Back Bay Sun. If you happen to have a curmudgeonly relative or friend at your Thanksgiving table, who feels he has little or nothing to be thankful for, spring that on him.

I know I have plenty for which to be thankful, this year and every year, but it never occurred to me to be grateful for good things to come. Now I am.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Baked Chocolate Pudding

I found the recipe for Ina Garten's Baked Chocolate Pudding in Good Housekeeping magazine, which keeps showing up uninvited in my mailbox. I would never subscribe, since I have a little problem with keeping too many magazines, so I rigorously edit my subscriptions. I called and emailed to ask them to stop it but it still keeps coming.

I probably have this recipe in one of my four Ina Garten cookbooks, too, but you know how it is: Who ever has time to leaf through one's extensive cookbook collection? I browse through them when I'm in the mood, but there's nothing like being hit over the head by a recipe that's right in your hand.

This baked pudding is supposed to be more like molten chocolate cake or an underbaked brownie than pudding (unless you mean British pudding, which is anything served as dessert, I guess). That sounded perfect to me. It calls for a cup of butter but no cream; for some reason butter agrees with me while cream does not. It's a match made in Cholesterol Heaven.

I described it to my sister and she immediately told me to make it for Thanksgiving. So it will travel to Pennsylvania with us for the family feast. You're supposed to serve it with vanilla ice cream to tone down the richness. I'm tougher than that; I'll take mine straight.

As usual, I can't leave well enough alone; I tinker with every recipe I make; I can't help it. I considered using 5 large eggs instead of buying a carton of extra-large eggs just for this recipe. In the end, I bought more eggs. I didn't want it to taste too eggy. It is not quiche.

I read up on vanilla beans. According to About.com's Home Cooking, vanilla beans last "indefinitely." I disagree. I picked up some in the Khan el Khalili, the legendary souk in downtown Cairo, in 1999. (In those days the souk was more fabulous and less full of Chinese imports than now. The spice sellers haven't changed much since the Middle Ages, however. They have the gorgeous, fragrant shops, packed with sacks and barrels overflowing with every fragrant thing you can imagine...) It turns out that vanilla beans from 1999 are mostly tasteless black powder, so I tossed them in favor of pure Bourbon vanilla extract. Even the people at Cook's Illustrated can't tell the difference between beans and extract in baking, so I'm sure it's fine.

I used Trader Joe's cocoa powder; it's a special kind that's higher in cocoa butter than other brands. I used Chambord for the framboise. We've had a bottle sitting unopened for two years. Waiting for this dessert.

Finally, I use salted butter for chocolate recipes no matter what the recipe says. I think chocolate desserts need salt to bring out the flavor; otherwise they can be bland. But this recipe calls for a cup of butter, which means a lot of added salt. It's one of very few main ingredients. I melted the butter and tasted it on my finger. Very salty. But I discovered that most of the white foam on top was salt. I skimmed off more than half of it, and the resulting batter has just enough salt to keep it from tasting boring.

I baked it in my trusty French oval baking dish, which fits neatly into a 9x13 baking pan half full of water, so it works as a bain-marie in the oven. At one point, I heard some hissing; I needed to spoon excess water from the pan, which was boiling and flinging droplets onto the batter.

The baked pudding looks like it's supposed to, but lighter in color and crustier than I expected. The recipe said to bake it for exactly one hour, which I did. Next time I'll tinker. Under the crust, I can see it's darker and very moist. I wish I could show photos but the flash on my camera is dead and my photos look unappetizing.

I'm also bringing a pecan pie from Community Servings' Pie in the Sky and a triple berry pie from Cook's Farm Orchard and Bakery, picked up on the final day of the Copley Square farmer's market. Snalbert tried to get into that one in the wee hours this morning. His desperate racket woke us up.  He'd chewed and wrestled off the plastic bag and was trying madly to paw open the plastic box or push it onto the floor when I accosted him. He started at me with the eyes of a determined carb fiend, reluctant to surrender the pie. I sort of sympathized, but my family won't want a pie that Snalbert has sampled. And there will be ten of us so we need three desserts plus ice cream. All chips off the old block.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dammit

We internally kicked ourselves today (we're very flexible). A few weeks ago, I reported that we'd seen the perfect house in Somerville. We'd procrastinated over visiting it because we love Back Bay's elegance and convenience (but not its big prices, tiny outdoor spaces, and noisy-neighbor situations). We're trying to keep an open mind about other neighborhoods that have their own benefits (like whole Victorian houses for the price of a basement or 4th-floor walk-up in our neighborhood). 

I guess we're not so great at keeping an open mind. By the time we made it to an open house, the pretty coral-and-gray Victorian was under agreement. An offer had been accepted just a couple of hours earlier. So the house is gone, but we're thinking and talking about it too much. We've sunk to hoping it has termites so the buyers will change their minds.  

We're sick of house-hunting. We can't wait to move, and this house felt just right. If you've ever found and bought a house or flat you really loved, you know that feeling. It's rare, and it's instantaneous. And it's definitive. You know. That's what this house felt like. It was love at first sight for both of us. It wasn't perfect, but it wouldn't take very much to make it work for us

The kitchen was admittedly beastly. Every part of the cabinets and woodwork has high-contrast, alternating pieces of yellowy and orange woods. Awful. The granite counters are peach and brownish, with huge, wild patterns swirling across them. The combined effect is so raucous it made me woozy. It would probably induce migraines or fits in someone in poor health or with better eyesight. A coat of glossy white paint or replacing the cabinet doors and drawer fronts to match the frames would fix most of that issue. The bathrooms needed help, too. But who cares? Its layout was ideal and unusual, and it was full of natural original woodwork and graceful details. There were two porches and a lovely garden. Oh, we adored it. I email the brokers every week or so. They ignore me. 

I need to forget about that house. I'm obsessing, wasting time, and making myself sad.

So, on top of all that, how can it get any worse, you ask? 

We drove past it tonight on our way to visit friends. The "For Sale" sign is still out front; the little wooden top piece hasn't been changed to "Under Contract." (Naturally I used that excuse to write to the brokers again.) But this time, we followed the street all the way to the other end. It intersects with Broadway. And right at the corner is... Lyndell's Bakery. Yes, that's right: NIRVANA. I would have been living down the street from my favorite bakery. On a bike, it's a very quick trip. And next-door to the house, there's a great bike shop...

Just shoot me.

Kick, kick.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I'll Be Home for Christmas....

... but it's more than a month away. By then, the premature garlands on this Commonwealth Avenue townhouse will be just like poor old Marley in A Christmas Carol: "As dead as a doornail." 

Maybe the budget for this building includes two rounds of decorating: one in November, plus a refresh closer to the actual holiday. Anything is possible when people have money to burn.

Pretty. But pretty early.

It's fine that Christmas trees and lights are going up all over the city. It's okay that there's already Christmas stuff in stores. But does that mean we all have to get into the act so early? Come on, the leaves just turned in earnest last week. There are still plenty of jack-o-lanterns sitting on stoops. It's not Thanksgiving yet. 

One holiday at a time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lauren Squared

Lauren Bush and David Lauren. Photo: Bruce Weber.
When Ralph Lifshitz and his brother Terry changed their last name to "Lauren" in the 1950s, they could never have dreamed of Ralph's future success as the premier American style-setter of the late 20th century. Even if they did imagine he'd be a smashing success in the fashion business, they could never have foreseen that their chosen surname would rocket from obscurity to one of the most popular names for baby girls. According to Ralph, he just decided to pick "a nice last name."

The baby name's ascension trailed Ralph's own success by just a few years. He launched his classic men's and women's clothing lines in the early '70s. By 1978, "Lauren" ranked as #80 in girl's names; it had arrived out of nowhere. By 1985, it was in the Top 20, where it remained until 2004.

When "Lauren" hit the Top 20, it was right around the time Ralph opened his flagship store in the Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Avenue. In 1983, he'd begun extensively restoring the chateau to its former Beaux-Arts grandeur. When it finally opened, it raised the bar for the Manhattan fantasy retail experience — dizzyingly high, where it still remains.

We can speculate about whether Ralph similarly bestowed his magic on the unusual name "Madison," which leapfrogged from #628 to #366 between 1985 and 1986, and grew steadily more popular through the years. It has been firmly in the Top 10 since 1997. I doubt that a few hundred thousand parents are expressing their esteem for our fourth president or a city in Wisconsin. So let's credit Ralph (or blame him, depending on how much you like the name) for making this unlikely moniker fashionable. And while we're on this tangent — what if Ralph's flagship mansion had been located on Lexington Avenue instead? Would we now have thousands of 20-something Lexies filling the dressing rooms and hair salons of upscale America, alongside all those skinny-jeaned Emmas, Hannahs, and Laurens?

But I digress; I always do. Let's get back to Lauren.

In 1989, more than 21,000 Laurens were born; it was the peak year for the name, ranking as #9. And even last year, a decade of over-saturation didn't stop more than 4,400 mothers from naming their daughters "Lauren."

And why not? It's a simple, two-syllable name that complements many surnames. It conjures Lauren Bacall — a stunning, classy leading lady — at least as much as it suggests ruggedly handsome old Ralph himself. "Lauren" is aristocratic without being blatantly regal. In other words, it's not Victoria, a name that's stayed firmly in the Top 50 since 1987. You might say it's upper-crusty but modern. You might say it's the kind of name Calvin Klein or Marc Jacobs would choose for a baby girl.

Lauren is easy to pronounce, although many people mispronounce it as "la-WREN," as if that nice Jewish boy from The Bronx had pretensions of being French instead of quintessentially WASP. For the record, the French pronounce it Loh-RHON, making a throaty mess of the "R." Ralph's jaw-droppingly gorgeous flagship store in Paris is on the Blvd. St. Germain, but I haven't noticed a popularity resurgence of the name Germain — or Lauren — over there. (But I'm too busy eating pastry to pay much attention.)

Mispronouncing "Lauren" is still an easy litmus test for separating the cognoscenti from the wannabes. The same people who mispronounce it are likely to refer to Leonardo as "Da Vinci" and order cappuccino after dinner. (I'm not judging, I'm just sayin'... and I never forget that I'm a steelworker's daughter.)

One of the wonderful things about getting older is seeing how what goes around really does come around. It's only justice that Ralph Lauren's handsome, successful son David would fall in love with a thoughtful, accomplished, and altruistic designer/model named Lauren Bush.

Now, Lauren differs from your typical Bush granddaughter, not having sown such wild oats. She always seemed serious, even as a fashion model. She has a degree from Princeton and studied at CSM in London. David went to Duke, works for dad, and heads the Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation. It's a fairy-tale match that I'm willing to bet will have staying power. They seem like the perfect, beautiful couple, except for one awkward detail: Ralph's daughter-in-law is Lauren Lauren. She was born in 1984, a banner year for baby Laurens.

Can you have too much of a good thing? I'm not sure in this case, but I do believe that, if anyone has the grace and style to carry it off, she does. The photo above is one of the couple's engagement photos. Here are two more photos from what has to be the prettiest little non-royal wedding of the century, held at the Lauren family's Double RL ranch in Colorado.

I love the fact that she accessorized her hand-embroidered and beaded tulle Ralph Lauren gown with blue socks and cowboy boots.
Formal wedding portrait. Photo: Norman Jean Roy.

Lauren on her way to her wedding. Photo: Mark Seliger

Friday, November 18, 2011

What I Learned from Jury Duty: Lots

I'm back to blathering in my usual, tedious way:

1. Jury duty is our civil obligation. Among other responsibilities, we are obliged to be civil, no matter how difficult the trial or deliberations may become. Only judges are free to be stern, cranky, impatient, or whimsical. That's because judges are way cooler than everyone else — and not merely because they wear robes from Hogwarts and have special powers.

2. When you're on the witness stand, speak up or the judge will yell at you. If you don't speak up after the judge yells, the jury will yell at you. You don't want that.

3. Read and understand contracts before you sign them. Don't say under oath, "Oh, I didn't know what I was signing. I should have read it first." Especially if the contract is a simple paragraph that the jurors have just read in half a minute.

4. Never lie on your resumé. Imagine it enlarged on a screen in front of a jury, years later, during a cross-examination to illuminate your character. Don't even stretch the truth. Don't say you were "responsible for the company's payroll" when all you did was deliver checks. If you're determined to ignore this advice, don't squirm, look away, stutter, or change your story as you're lying. Why bother?

5. Don't take legal advice from your child until you've sent him/her to law school.

6. If a court demands records from you, provide them promptly. Make sure they are complete and accurate. Don't fudge or lie. Otherwise, the jury will hear that you were in contempt of the court even before the trial began, which doesn't portray you in a golden light. They'll also get to see all the fudged records you sent before a judge managed to knock some sense into you.

7. Don't try to convince the jury that your massive townhouse on a classy street is worth the ridiculous, piddling amount listed in tax records.We may be a jury of your peers but that doesn't mean we're stupid.

8. If you're watching a trial as spectator or participant, don't make faces when you hear something you consider outrageous. It upsets the judge, who will threaten to eject you. And it distracts the jury, who are sneaking sly peeks at you against their better judgment.

9. If you can settle, settle! Even if you can't stand to settle, do it anyway, especially if you reneged on a contract, fudged your accounting statements, or did anything that declares you to be obviously in the wrong. Any half-decent lawyer can shred you on the witness stand. Any jury can see through you.

10. The catered lunches in the jury room improve each day. By Day 5, the court officer promises that you'll soon get lobster and filet mignon. In reality, you just get increasingly fancy sandwiches. But if deliberations drag on for too long, I suspect you'll start getting stuff like chicken bones, cat food, or stale bread.

11. What you cannot get in Suffolk Superior Court is water. They can't afford bottled water or even a bubbler. You're expected to drink tap from the bathroom. We had to divide one small bottle of water into many paper cups. The court officer must have stolen it from someone sleeping in the jury pool.

12. Mail carriers love jury duty because they hate how their supervisors can track them via GPS now, to make sure they're being speedy along their routes. Their routes are extra long these days, due to budget cuts. And it's Christmas catalog time. Be glad you aren't a mail carrier.

13. Postal workers really do go postal. It's scary to witness any adult meltdown, but it's worse in close quarters, like a jury room. But if someone has to throw a tantrum, you might as well watch a seasoned pro, not some half-hearted wannabe.

14. Before jurors are allowed to deliberate, they spend long stretches in the jury room trying not to talk about the case. Consider passing this time by doing science projects — perhaps a fountain made with Coke and Mentos, which you can buy from the little stand outside the jury pool. Or bring in your own equipment for baking-soda volcanoes and such. You will bond with your fellow jurors while making a mess. The Juror's Handbook does not specifically prohibit this. You can also instruct your fellow jurors in folding paper cranes.

15. If anybody on the jury tries to lead the rest of you in prayer, don't go there. Just don't. Do not.

16. Cell phones are forbidden when you deliberate, even during breaks. Jurors go through withdrawal. They don't know what to do with their hands. Observe all the weird things they do instead.

17. The court officer will tell you he locks the jury room during deliberations, but he's only messing with your head.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jury Duty Drags On

I spent so much time talking, listening, and chewing over ideas during deliberations today that I am clean out of words. I have nothing to say. I am cherishing silence and the absence of concepts.

I'm going to bed to recover. I will resume blathering in my usual, tedious way tomorrow, probably.

Wait! I have a few words left after all: In my absence, Snalbert has claimed the new iPad.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Possum

I've only worked at home since Wendy and Possum arrived two years ago, and now Possum is feeling neglected because I've been away on jury duty for a week. He said he wasn't getting enough conversation, food, petting, toy-chasing, and love. He didn't see why I couldn't stay home if I felt like it. It's another of those situations that reveal gaps in his understanding. Remember when he thought that being on the FBI's Most Wanted List would be a wonderful thing?

Possum demonstrates "neglect and abandonment"

I outlined the basics of our federal court system for him and explained the vital importance of trial by jury. Possum didn't pay strict attention but he listened. Then he said, "Most disputes are best settled by wrestling. Afterward, everyone feels relaxed. And I still think it's horrible that you have leave me alone every day."

"But, Possum," I replied, "What if I had to go to work in some office? I did that for decades. Then you'd really miss me. Jury duty is temporary. You really are terribly spoiled."

"What do you mean, 'had to go to work'?" he asked, sitting up taller on the sofa.

"Well, working is something most people have to do. They go somewhere and perform tasks for 35 to 40 hours a week, or more. They do what they're told to do by their bosses. Or else they are the boss. They get paid money in exchange. I thought you knew all this."

"You're joking." he said. "Why would anybody do that? Is work very nice?"

"Not so much, usually, but people earn money so they can take care of themselves and their cats. When I was writing about art last summer, and you helped me, I was working. I got paid. I did that writing so we could eat and live here. I'm very lucky when I can work from home."

"Good god," he replied. "I thought you people could do whatever you wanted, all the time. When you go outside, you often come back with stuff. You go hunting, right? You catch all that stuff and put it in bags, right? That new purse I like, with the strap I need to chew on? You killed that, didn't you?"

"No, Possum," I said. "I don't hunt, exactly. I find things and spend money to get them. I don't chase and kill the groceries. Bostonians don't usually do that; they go to Trader Joe's. Surely you've never seen the neighbors stalking the wildlife in the alley? They run in the other direction."

He thought about it. "I suppose. So where does dad go every day? Does he work?"

"Yes! Now you're getting it. He teaches classes and goes to meetings so you can have Natural Balance Ultra Formula in cans, and bags of Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul Light Formula."

He was silent for a while. When he's thoughtful, his eyes darken and his tail flicks up and down.

"So that's capitalism, eh? It strikes me as an unpleasant, inefficient system," he said. "Most of what you bring home is unnecessary anyway. Our lives would be happier if you both learned to live frugally and survive on hunting. I think I can teach you, although you're ridiculously uncoordinated. You can catch and kill things with your nails or your teeth, or both. With a strapping figure, like mine, you can also smother or squash prey with your belly. It becomes instinctive once you learn, at least it was for me. And if you choose to live like a cat, you will be beyond the law. You can forget about juries and find nicer places to sit all day and nap," he said. So he does have some insight into what jury duty is like after all.

To demonstrate his hunting technique, he cornered Wendy and attempted to squash her. She defended herself vigorously. Possum was distracted and our conversation ended. But tomorrow morning, he will put himself between me and the door again and squeak in protest when it's time for me to leave. Even Possum can't buck the system.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jury Duty with Cheese

I don't watch much TV, but I have reached the conclusion that jury duty is like being an involuntary cast member on an unusually monotonous reality show. I'm not sure that's a bad thing, although I wish we had more breaks for commercials and someone to do our hair.

After today's session, I returned to that pop-up crèpe restaurant, Doré, and ordered the "grilled cheese" crèpe with some additional rosemary ham. The fellow who made it must be a new recruit. He began with a good sprinkling of mozzarella and kept adding slice after slice of Swiss and cheddar until his manager and I made him stop. It was excellent — I love blends of melted cheeses — but much too rich to finish. In fact, I think it cured my crèpe craving, at least for the savory kind if not the sweet ones. (Behold the power of cheese.)

This time I managed to photograph my lunch before attacking it:


Doré's crèpes taste authentically French, but their technique needs work (even though they offer classes in crèpe-making for a good chunk of change). French crèpistes (invented a word — pretty good, huh?) pour their buckwheat batter, rake it around into a neat circle, and leave the crèpe alone to cook until it's time to flip it. They do that with a bare minimum of activity, loosening it from the griddle, lifting and unfolding it as if it were the easiest thing in the world. The Doré guys begin by fussing too much with the little rake tool. They still drip batter over the sides of the griddle, so they have to cut off all that dried batter with their knife/spatula. They work too hard; they lack that nonchalant French insoucience that turns out perfection with no appearance of effort.

But who cares? The end result tastes FINE.

We jurors are supposed to begin deliberating tomorrow, so lunch will be catered as we'll have a full day in the courthouse. I doubt we'll be served crèpes or my favorite Così salad, my standard lunch whenever I'm downtown and hungry. But if I get stuck being an alternate or the foreman, I may just treat myself to a Nutella crèpe afterward, for old times' sake.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


This was finally the week to enjoy brilliant canopies overhead and crunching through piles of leaves. We can look forward to another pretty and mild week to come.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Melancholia (Spoiler Alert)

I rarely bother with science fiction movies. I don't care if our planet is about to be blown up or the world is about to end in some even sillier way — when the whole cast is wearing polyester unisex uniforms, like they do on the Starship Enterprise, I feel they deserve everything that's coming at them.

And in these movies, the world never ends anyway. It gets saved at the last minute, always a huge letdown. I went to Independence Day eager to see the world blow up and the screen go black. It never did; I felt robbed. That was probably the last science-fiction movie I saw except for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

But tonight we saw Melancholia, which I consider a science-fiction film with elements of black humor, although other viewers find it a typical Lars von Trier–style downer. It's a Lars von Trier movie, after all. But I still found it funny. Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, an alien bride. This is my interpretation, which others may disagree with. But here's my proof. She looks nothing like the rest of her family, who are all dark, tortured, and weird, while she's blonde, tortured, and out of control. There's more obvious proof of alien-hood: her parents and sister have British accents and never crack a smile while she's a giggling, grinning American. She also has special powers: She can correctly guess the number of dried beans in a bottle. And she knows the world is evil and is about to end. And finally, the kicker: she's a bride and she doesn't give a damn about a single detail of her high-class reception. If that's not alien behavior, what is?

The movie begins with a lot of surrealist foreshadowing that's visually stunning when you're not squinting because the soundtrack is too loud and the score keeps beating you about the head with WAGNERIAN OMINOUSNESS. Then we crash the wedding reception — my idea of hell, as the happy couple arrives two hours late and everyone is starving and antsy. Then the bride has a series of bizarre meltdowns with back-up vocals from her family. It will make any bad reception you ever find yourself attending seem perfect by comparison; it's worth seeing this movie for that comfort alone. I had a good time trying to guess how things would deteriorate further without von Triers resorting to clichés like food poisoning, fistfights, or killing off the groom.

After the reception ends, the world ends, which is less amusing but visually lovely. (Some of the people with me found it most lovely when Kirsten Dunst got naked.) It seems to take forever, though. It drags on until you're rooting for it to happen. End already! I couldn't wait. FINALLY, planets collide and the screen goes fireball white and then black. And the titles appear. This is exactly what should happen in any self-respecting sci-fi movie, but they always chicken out.

We can safely assume there won't be a sequel.

I found it engrossing overall, although it had a few little jarring problems. Justine works in advertising, but she and her boss and Mr. von Trier have never so much as watched an episode of Mad Men or they'd know that a copywriter can't be "promoted" to art director, even on her wedding day. (They are mutually exclusive career tracks, although both types can be promoted to creative director.)  That's either inexcusable cluelessness and lack of research or further proof that Justine and her creepy boss are really aliens pretending they work together. There's also a lot of jittery, hand-held camerawork that caused varying degrees of queasiness in the people who saw it with me. I never noticed, I was too busy waiting for the screen to go black. For me, that was the only point; the rest was often-exquisite filler.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Busy Day

There are more than 16,000 steps on the pedometer tonight. That's as many as I'll accumulate during a long day of traipsing around Paris if I don't get lost much. How did I get so many today?

This morning, I went to Fenway Studios to return some materials my husband borrowed from a conservator. I'd never visited there before this week, but I've been there four times now. It's a wonderful place, very evocative of old Boston during the Arts and Crafts and Boston School era. My favorite period of the past.

I picked up a refill at our vet's, in Kenmore Square. Met my husband at the eye doctor in Copley Place. Bought apples and leeks at the farmer's market; forgot to buy pears.

Lunchtime. We walked in a stiff, cold wind to One Beacon Street to find Doré Crèperie. It was worth nearly freezing to death, we both agreed. Their crèpes are good-sized and full of flavor. Mine had sautéed mushrooms and spinach, rosemary ham, and Swiss cheese. My husband chose Brie, rosemary ham, and honey. We resisted having dessert despite the looming presence of many large Nutella jars, which are stacked up just like they are at crèpe stands in Paris. Definitely going back there soon; it's gotta be soon: they close in about a week.

We walked home past the Veteran's Day parade, through falling red and yellow leaves on the Comm. Ave. Mall. I briefly assumed my favorite supporting role, as Possum's mattress, while I warmed up on the sofa. Then we met our broker for  a condo showing in the South End, where we were stood up on the front steps by the listing broker. We drove to Brookline (how I love car heaters) for cat food, groceries, and dinner at Anna's Taqueria. We were having a carb-heavy day, but we truly have reformed our habits, à la South Beach Diet Phase 2 or 3. Instead of ordering two regular burritos, we split a "super" one to reduce calories. It's just enough to satisfy our hunger. "First French crèpes and now a Mexican one," my husband observed. There's something very special about round, flat food, from crèpes and sugar cookies to blueberry pancakes  and tortillas. I think it's called "carbs."

We were briefly home again before walking to the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, which is at the Hynes Auditorium this weekend. We roamed the aisles and saw wonderful things, as always. I held a pristine first edition of A Room with a View (E.M. Forster) from 1908. It was bound in deep burgundy leather with bright gilding; it felt like satin. It looked brand-new, not a century old, in every respect but its craftsmanship. It was a mere $3,200. I saw a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird inscribed by Harper Lee and Robert Duvall (he also signed himself as "Boo").

There were Edward Gorey limited editions, miniature books, signed Beatles memorabilia, gorgeous art books of all flavors, and some first-generation photos of Bonnie and Clyde, along with bullets. I found a Tiffany Blue Book catalogue from 1916, listing diamonds I could sort of afford. Antique etiquette books, children's books, early cookbooks, pastel maps.... A three-volume set of 19th-century prints of Egypt for $264,000. "Step away from that display, sir," I warned my spouse. There was an antique velvet case filled with dozens of glass eyes; not sure why it belonged at a book fair, but books are pretty useless if you don't have eyes....

We saw many wonders but came home empty-handed. Or not quite: many dealers print glossy color catalogues that are nice to keep around for rainy-day browsing.

And we're heading to bed and A Tale of Two Cities, with a smug pedometer and a sore little toe.

We've spent the week mourning a handsome Victorian house in Somerville that went under agreement hours before we arrived at the open house.We'd had the clichéd, love-at-first-sight experience. It was a house worth leaving Back Bay for, we agreed. But maybe it's a blessing that it won't be ours. We couldn't have gotten to any of today's singular destinations from Somerville without driving, long stints on the T, or extra hours of walking. Life in Back Bay is more convenient and probably much more fun, although I'll bet it's lovely to live in 2,600 square feet, with a grape arbor in the garden, too. I guess I'd rather have everything closer to my front door, even when it makes my little toe hurt.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Current Craving: Doré Crèperie

Today I read that there's been an intriguing pop-up crèperie in town since June, and it closes in just nine days.

Oh, man! Finally! I haven't had a decent crèpe in... 16 days.

It's called Doré Crèperie, at One Beacon Street. Read all about it on Boston.com. Why didn't they tell us all about it months earlier? And why don't they ever provide the restaurant's address in their food stories these days? I keep noticing that and getting annoyed. I guess they must all be seriously stoned over there, or maybe they're outsourcing restaurant reviews to India. Or maybe they just don't want Boston.com readers crowding their favorite new hipster restaurants after they've read good things about them.

I plan to contemplate this mystery further as I'm eating my first crèpe there.

I've generously told you the address, but you should still expect to have trouble finding the place because there are no signs. (How's that for marketing genius? That thinker should work for Boston.com.) But I think it's on the Tremont Street side.

Starting tomorrow, I will commence my making-up-for-lost-time crèpe consumption. I figure I can go there at least a couple of times while I have jury duty downtown.

Those of us who walk 10,000 steps a day know that exercising is way more fun when the destination is food, especially if you know you'll be consuming many more calories than you burned. So I'll be heading there on my non-jury days, too.

Oh. Right. I'm watching my weight.

Damn.

I guess I'll be ascetic and limit my appearances there to once a day. They close at 5 on weekdays, after all. 

They're also closed on Sundays: An excuse to have two crèpes on Saturday?

Since I've been enjoying wearing my three-year-old skinny jeans without pain this week, I guess I'll stick to a savory crèpe for lunch tomorrow, even though they also offer Nutella, Nutella and bananas, Nutella and apples, and Nutella and strawberries.

Why gum up the Nutella with fruit, I wonder? It just gets in the way.

I'll let you know how they are.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jury Duty

Yes, it's that time again. I get called every three years like clockwork.

After a few hours of tossing and turning last night, worrying that I'd oversleep and be late for the 8 am orientation, I got up at 2:30 because I thought it was 6:30. I've been only semi-awake ever since.

Whenever I was lucid during the orientation video, I thought it was well done, but I couldn't agree with the former jurors they interviewed, who all said jury duty was fascinating, fulfilling, fun, and made them proud to be American. I'm proud of our system overall, certainly, but I dread being on a jury.

About nine years ago, I sat for a case where we were all convinced that the accused was guilty of raping a young teen but we couldn't convict him because we lacked sufficient evidence. Witnesses didn't show up, so the DA couldn't do his job, and the victim was vague and inarticulate on the stand. You can't convict someone on the basis of twelve finely tuned gut instincts and intuitions, and that's how it should be. But it felt rotten to let him off, so we spent a few days trying and failing to find a way around it. Afterward, we found out from the DA that the key witness, who never appeared — the accused's step-daughter — had also accused him of rape. I still feel bad about that.

Today I was impaneled. It's a civil case that will go on for about a week. I hope I won't be the foreman, which fell to me last time. In that case, one woman accused another of assault and battery over a boyfriend. I was given the evidence to pass around the jury table: a hank of bloody hair in a ziplock bag. We found the defendant guilty and it didn't take us long; we were creeped out by that bag in front of us.

I find judges interesting; they are a rare breed, often extraordinary thinkers and observers. The judge in the rape case had no patience with us because he knew we couldn't convict and wanted us to give up. But the judge in the assault case was an elderly doppelgänger for lawyer John Cage, "The Biscuit," from Ally McBeal. Remember how he'd whistle through his teeth and walk around the office barefoot as he prepared his closing statements? This guy didn't do any of that, but he had the same mild, intent expression in the same boyish eyes. And he'd get up during testimony, walk around to the back of his chair, and park his chin on the back, so that all we could see was his little, disembodied head. He was eccentrically Biscuit-like in his remarks, too. After the verdict, he spoke with each of us to thank us for our service and discuss the case. He took our jury service more seriously than even we did, and that was gratifying.

That's all I have to say about being a juror until this case is finished. I need to go to bed soon so I can toss and turn and worry about being late tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Today's News

1.  Bad... at least for fabrics and floors. Whenever you drop something that has peanut butter on one side of it, the object will always land peanut-butter side down. I've tested this (albeit informally) frequently enough to have my findings accepted by a scientific journal. Unfortunately, I've been too busy cleaning up peanut butter to have jotted down all the data required for publication. I'm glad Sir Isaac Newton didn't have access to peanut butter, or scientists would have a different, far more complicated theory of gravity to work with. Peanut butter on that apple would have messed things up royally in more ways than one. (I have not experimented with dropping peanut-buttered cats, by the way.)

2.  Bad. I have pre-hypertension. Me! I had my blood pressure measured twice into two days and it was higher than "normal." Usually it's borderline low. I didn't get any lectures or warnings, but I know what those numbers mean. The first reading could have been high because I was pretty upset after finally finding out what I weigh (more than I'd like but less than I'd expected) at my doctor's yesterday. But I thought I was relaxed when I asked the allergy nurse to check it today. Was it high because I was worried that it was high? The nurse pointed out that she'd also just jabbed me with needles, which is stressful. But I'd hardly noticed them; I was busy worrying about my blood pressure. It's Not Fair: I'm a healthy weight, I walk at least 5 miles a day, I lift weights, I never smoked, I don't drink, I avoid red meat and junk food, and I'm not that stressed. What gives? Okay, so I'm OLD... and on the Pill. Time to take up running, I guess.

3.  Good with Potential to be Bad. This is a small town. I started talking to someone I ran into at the polls. He was chatting with somebody he knew, a stranger to me. I started talking to her, and after less than a minute, I found out she knows a close relative of ours. Not a big deal, but she knew a thing or two about her that we didn't realize. It was a strange, helpful conversation; my relative has health issues and this woman shed some light on the situation. But our talk was cut short when another friend came over to talk to me. Lots of people in Back Bay know everybody and can't go anywhere without constantly stopping to chat. But I'm not one of those people — and I know them all, of course.

4.  Bad. Ayana Pressley's campaign communications team needs less caffeine and funding. I'm afraid they won't be able to stop themselves from calling, or emailing, or sending me glossy brochures after tonight.

5.  Good. Asian pears and Spencer apples are amazing sweet, crispy and flavorful, especially if you've been deprived of fruit for two weeks.

6.  Bad. Trader Joe's discontinued our favorite fresh mild salsa, the One Thing that made two weeks of South Beach Diet dinners bearable. I have one precious tub, which I'll cherish until closer to its expiration date. This salsa no cilantro. Even a pinhead-size piece of cilantro ruins a meal for me. It's like adding s squirt of moldy dishwashing liquid. Unless they offer an alternative, my Mexican-style casseroles are history.

7.  Good. KitchenWares on Newbury can sharpen pruning shears as well as knives and scissors. I must get my shears in shape for their big annual December performance, wreath-decorating for the Garden Club of the Back Bay. Order your wreath now. Proceeds help care for neighborhood street trees and help fund other plant-related community programs.

8.  Good but "Bad." A crèpe restaurant is opening on Newbury Street above La Voile. If they have dessert crèpes like those in Paris, I'll be doomed to life on hypertension meds.

9.  Bad. Kitchenwares says that Le Creuset is discontinuing one of their prettiest, oldest colors: cobalt blue. Buy it up now because it disappears early next year.

10. Very, Very Bad. But not surprising. Tonight the vet called with Snicky's test results. As expected, there's a malignancy somewhere. She's too frail to withstand chemo or invasive tests. But she's doing better these days now that she's taking steroid and anti-nausea pills, which are the palliative treatment. She purred on my husband's chest tonight for the first time in a while. She's chomping kibble at my feet right now as we play her carry-the-toy-to-the-food-bowl game. The vet says we have to take it one week at a time, as she'll eventually either stop eating or become too weak to move comfortably. We're determined that she'll enjoy as much as she can at the end of her life, and we'll do our damnedest to make sure she doesn't suffer. Here's hoping she can lie on the Christmas paper and chew on ribbons as my wrapping helper for one more year....

Monday, November 7, 2011

Beautiful Day

Today was a perfect day to walk in The Fenway. The trees were in color, the leaves were crunching, there was bright sunshine and a tiny bit of snap in the air. It's doesn't look or feel like November. And that's just fine.


The sky was vivid blue and the water was like glass, except when ducks and Canada geese ruffled it.


I always spot this big bird when I'm over there. I think it's a Great Blue Heron, but I'm always reminded of some tough old guy surveying his turf. I think he's wishing he had a cigar. And he's clearly still disturbed about the September Debacle at that other Fenway.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

South Beach Diet, Day 14

We just made it through Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet. We ate eggs, meat, eggs, low-fat dairy, eggs, and the more boring vegetables — and after two weeks, we're done. We go through loads of packaging on this diet because we're going through bottles of V8, packs of rubbery cheese, cartons of cage-free you-know-whats, and more meat than we usually eat in a few months.

We only cheated twice, putting a bit of ketchup on bun-less cheeseburgers. But we never caved; we've had no desserts, candy, sugar, or chocolate.... unless one counts Swiss Miss diet cocoa. And we don't. And we think we're several pounds lighter because of it.

We tried this diet years ago; it's less strict now that they've learned more about the glycemic index. We can eat more forms of low-fat dairy and unlimited tomatoes, a non-boring vegetable. The problem for me is that I lose not only my carb cravings, I lose my interest in all food. I mean, I'm not even attracted to the idea of a grilled-cheese sandwich, or a Regina's pizza, or Halloween candy. That's weird. Eating becomes a chore when I have to think about what I can and can't have all the time. And this diet is challenging for me because meat and eggs usually don't appeal to me. Knowing I have to eat a steady diet of them and vegetables (chew, chew.... zzzz) puts me off my feed so much that I skip meals, or reduce them to spoonfuls of almond butter on celery. (Almond butter is a new discovery; it tastes like fancy wallpaper paste. I prefer pecan butter, which tastes likes expensive, crunchy wallpaper paste with a touch of sea salt.)

The benefit of two weeks on the diet, besides dropping pounds, is that we feel better than usual. Aside from the red meat and Splenda, the food is healthy; there are just no starches, fruit, or sugar. (No wonder I don't enjoy it.) We sleep better and feel less drowsy during the day. My digestion quiets down and behaves. My skin looks better. The only drawback, besides the food choices, is that without starches and sugars, we have much less energy and stamina. So we have a reason to skip the gym for a week.

In Phase 2, where weight comes off more slowly, we can eat more luxurious things like apples, bananas, and whole-grain bread. And go back to exercising. If all goes well, we'll stick with these healthier habits and won't regress to eating candy several times a day, along with our late-night dessert(s), which is what got us into this in the first place.  We're cured of that habit, at least temporarily. Right now, even a Lyndell's chocolate layer cake has no appeal. Heavens! This is against nature!


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Just the Neighbors

We were carrying bags of groceries home tonight in the cold, as the sun was going down. Waiting to cross Commonwealth Avenue, we stood behind a group of four people with two little boys.

Our attention was drawn to the young woman carrying the smaller boy. She was casually dressed in a cropped leather jacket and flared olive-green stretch pants, which flattered her unusually long, slender legs. Her hair was scraped back in a messy bun. But what riveted our attention was her backside. I don't usually pay much attention to women's derrieres, but I like to think I have a semi-trained art-historical eye these days, and I couldn't help noticing this one. It was amazing. Tiny, rounded and high, above those equally unusual thighs... all quite perfect, in fact.

I dragged my eyes away from it to look at the man who had the bigger boy on his shoulders. He turned and, sure enough, there was a chin dimple and a familiar smile. Tom Brady. I whispered to my husband, who was still mesmerized by the stretch pants, "Is that who I think it is?" He looked up, and a great smile spread across his face.

I'd expected them to look taller, but we were on the sidewalk and they were a few inches below us, on the street. I think Tom's sister and maybe her husband (?) were with them. The adults were talking with little Jack, up high on his dad's broad shoulders, and they were clearly enjoying what he was saying and each other. It was a very pleasant scene, whether they were famous or not.

Usually, at this particular traffic light, I try to calculate how many months of my life I've wasted waiting for it to change. This time, I didn't.

We walked silently behind them after the light changed, and admired what was likely the best-looking famous couple in America (and the world's most valuable and profitable backside). They turned onto the Mall to let Jack race with his dad and brother. They seemed like a perfectly happy Boston family.

This was an exciting moment for my husband, a lifelong Patriots fan who never spotted these neighbors before. He frequently complained about this when our dog-owning friends reported sightings. I always say that it would help if we had a dog to walk on the Esplanade, where the Brady Bündchen are known to hang out.

I've also suggested that we could walk Possum on the Esplanade. He could certainly use more exercise. Possum is also a Patriots' fan (as is Snalbert) but he doesn't care about seeing celebrities in person. And he insists that his backside is even cuter than Gisele's. (It's a matter of opinion, but he is as devastating from the back as from the front, at least to my art-historical eye.) But he says he's not going out walking on some stupid dog leash with us if that's what we have in mind. (He still wants that rickshaw.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Leggings 101

Last winter, I rediscovered the advantages of wearing long shirts and sweaters over leggings tucked into riding boots. This is what I wore when I took riding lessons in my 20s, and I've always liked the look. For a couple of years now, this style has been ubiquitous. And why not? If you're in reasonable shape and your coat or sweater is long enough to conceal whatever needs concealing, a pair of opaque, dark leggings are comfortable and warm as well as sufficiently hip. Chunkier boots will balance a heavier upper leg, and black leggings with black boots will give most women a longer, leaner look. Quality leggings provide shaping and hide flaws in ways that low- or mid-rise pants cannot. And if the opportunity presents itself, you can easily fling yourself into a saddle at a moment's notice and canter down the Comm. Ave. mall.

Back Bay society girls used to do just that into the early 1950's, I've read. You could still stable your horse somewhere in The Fenway in those days.

But I digress. A snug, properly fitted pair of jeans can never be truly comfortable because denim is a heavy, unforgiving fabric. (Looser jeans may feel better, but they won't look better.) Real denim is stiff and hard. And the softer, stretchier, lycra-blend jeans often start out snug but expand ridiculously after you've worn them for an hour. I have a pair of Anthropologie Pilcro skinny jeans that grow a size or two in no time after I yank them on. Even though they are a size smaller than I normally wear, keeping them in the vicinity of my hips is a steady part-time job.

You can have the same problem with some leggings, but usually not on the first day you wear them. I've found that you just need enough pairs to throw the stretchy culprits in the wash after one wearing. Fortunately, many good brands are inexpensive. I like Lissé leggings from Lord & Taylor; I wait until they're on sale. They not only stay put, they have a slimming, higher waist. One pair of mine has a super-high, empire waist; I wasn't paying attention when I bought them. They would not only cure a muffin top, they would conceal a late-term pregnancy.

I have leggings with a fly front and equestrian styling, made of the same heavy, synthetic twill I wore in my riding era. They look sharp, but the cheapo snap at the waist pops open all the time. According to the reviews online, this is happening to everyone, so I feel less embarrassed.

Hue makes all kinds of leggings — even bootcut and faux-leather styles — but their denim-y ones (I hate the word "jeggings") look convincingly like skinny jeans, with topstitching, working back pockets, and rivets. They're heavy enough for cold weather, and it's easy to zip boots over them. They're the best of both worlds: the look of jeans with the comfort of yoga pants. The trick with Hue leggings is to try a few sizes to get the best sleek fit, keeping in mind their "growth factor."

I have corduroys from Anthropologie's Pilcro line. These have convincing jeans styling, but they pull on. It's a fact that premium jeans fit and look better than garden-variety types, and this can be true even for leggings from those brands. Pilcro leggings work well for small-waisted, curvy women. Unfortunately, they also have that Pilcro tendency to inch downward during the day.

Some women solve this problem by making the elastic in the waistband tighter. I might try this. But I think someone could make a fortune by marketing some kind of high-tech, invisible women's suspenders. In the meantime, I have another solution for pull of gravity: stay inside, remove your boots, lie down, and read or take a nap. It's starting to feel like winter, so why not hibernate in those trendy long-johns you're wearing? Works for me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Snicky

Snicky has lost a pound and a half in the past three months. She weighs 4.7 pounds, about half of her normal adult weight. She's weaker than ever. We knew she felt much thinner and took her to the vet tonight. Our vet is fairly certain that there's something seriously wrong, but doubts we'll ever figure out exactly what it is, since Snicky is too old and fragile for extensive testing. She's so skinny that it's easy for the vet to feel her organs. She had some blood tests, which may tell us something.

She stopped eating a few weeks ago, after a stressful trip to the groomer, so we did some syringe-feeding to perk up her appetite. That helped. We also give her vitamin B shots and small amounts of a steroid she's done well on before, because she probably has inflammatory bowel disease. She also gets potassium for her kidneys, high-blood pressure tablets, and she's spent the past week on anti-nausea medication. And she gets three eye medications twice a day. Snicky is a furry pharmaceutical advertisement. But you won't be seeing any recent photos of her because she really prefers to be in retirement these days, like Greta Garbo.

After the vet and I had a long phone chat about my worries on Tuesday, Snicky suddenly began improving. Cats eavesdrop, no doubt about it, but I bet either the steroid or anti-nausea pills began to help her. She's more interested in food and water, she's stopped retching and clicking her teeth (which suggested nausea to me), and she's even demanding that I play with her. I drag her piece of rag tied to a fishing pole in front of her, and she flails around to chase it, picks it up, and carries it to her food dish, where she chows down for a bit. Then we do it again, and again, and again. She's also returned to sleeping on our velvet armchair; a few weeks ago, she had so much trouble jumping up there that she abandoned it. To sleep on our bed, she learned to climb a two-step stool with the steps covered in sandpaper so she doesn't slide off them.

So Snicky is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment, which we're enjoying. As long as she's eating and is able to get herself to her litter box and some comfortable sleeping spots, we're not beside ourselves. And she's even playing, for heaven's sake. Still, I'm not looking forward to her test results. But since Snicky's been ailing semi-seriously for about three years now, I think I've also learned to be philosophical about the Inevitable. On the other hand, I may fall apart if we get bad news. Hard to know.

We've always told ourselves we'll do whatever it takes to keep her happy, but we won't prolong her life if it seems like a burden for her. But how do you ever really know? We talked to our vet about this tonight, and she agrees that it's a decision that never feels quite right, and is always controversial, if not painful, not only at the time but in hindsight. She says it's especially hard in cases like Snick's, where the cat slowly wastes away, with its quality of life diminishing gradually. Where do you draw the line?

I tell myself she's had a really good life, and that it's my job to do any suffering on her behalf from now on. She's not going to hurt if we can help it. And she's munching from her dish right now and holding tight to her toy.

Hang in there, Snictoria, we'll hold onto you as long as we can.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Possum's Wish List

Possum saw my last post about the iVictrolas and iPad typewriters at Anthropologie, and was not impressed.

"What a waste," he said, a stern expression in his handsome hazel eyes. "We have a perfectly good stereo with an iPod dock and you don't even use your iPad. You are a conspicuous consumer."

"Now, Possum," I replied, "I was just having a little fun. These are unusual, creative products. I don't want to own them, but you have to admit that they are cool, and I thought people would enjoy seeing them."

"Well, maybe. But why waste your time talking about things you don't even want? What fun is that? You people don't really know how to have fun, do you? You don't even know what you should want," he said.

From the agitated whipping of his tail, I could see he was riled up about something.

"Okay, Possum," I said. "Tell me what I should want."

"THIS!" he squeaked, scrolling my trackball* down Anthropologie's "Hobbies & Leisure" page to the Limited Edition Rickshaw. I read:
While on a trip to India, some of our team flagged down a rickshaw for a spur-of-the-moment tour of the town. Inspired by the ride and feeling a bit whimsical, we decided to design our own set of wheels, with some very special touches like a collapsible kantha-fabric canopy, handlebar streamers, a bell for brrring-bringing on the bike path and even a headlight that illuminates when the pedals are cranked. An instant conversation starter on the road or on display, we'll bet you're whisked away on the adventure of a lifetime once you hop on - or into - our quixotic carriage. No two are exactly alike.
Nothing of the like has been seen on the streets of Back Bay — that's for sure:


I said, "I imagine that you're imagining that I'm the chauffeur and you're the pampered occupant, right?" 

"Of course," he said. "My legs are too little to reach the pedals or I'd be happy to take turns." 

We took in all the details of the photos. "Look at those nice streamers on the handlebars, and the garlands on the wheels...." he said, dreamily, and I knew he was imagining batting at them.


"I do like the upholstery and all the painted detailing," I said. He pointed out that the drawer under the seat could hold "emergency" supplies, like kibble and a litter box. "For longer trips, like up to Maine," he said.


"But, Possum," I said. "Won't you feel conspicuous, riding around Boston in that?" 

"People will get used to it," he said. "They are used to those tricycles, and that man who hollers all the time as he rides his bike. Boston has an excellent climate for cultivating elegant eccentricity. Plus, this isn't just for me, you know. There's room for all four of us cats on that seat. Snalbert and Snicky could use a pleasant airing at their ages. I'll just blend in with the crowd, and I promise I won't smack anyone unless they really deserve it. And if you're still worried about looking conspicuous, we could all wear motoring goggles and dusters as disguises. Even Wendy will like it, I think. She can hide in the drawer.... the adventure of a lifetime...."


I have to admit that Possum's idea is a clever one, and I wish I could indulge him. But the rickshaw costs $2,200 and even if we could ever afford that, we'd have nowhere to park it safely. (Who would be dumb enough to steal it, though? It wouldn't be difficult to spot anywhere in Boston.)

I told Possum that, unfortunately, he was going to have to see if Santa Claws thought he deserved such a fancy conveyance, and I could tell by his unhappy expression that he knew he didn't stand a chance. Poor Possum.



*If you have a computer-loving cat, I recommend the Kensington Expert Mouse. Furry paws find a trackball easier for navigating than a touchpad or ordinary mouse. And if they manage to knock the heavy ball on the floor, they've got an exciting new toy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Behind the Times

I'm generally on the cutting edge of the passé. I spotted these wonders on Anthropologie.com yesterday and knew I had to share them — even though it seems they've been around on other sites (Etsy, etc.) for quite a while. But I love their mix of old and new technology and brands.

This USB typewriter ($798) is made by a guy in Philadelphia and can function as an iPad keyboard (clickety-clack, ping!) or a working Underwood, complete with its original case:


Anthropologies offers a Smith-Corona and a Remington, too, but they're going like hotcakes. The Smith-Corona just vanished.

As a little girl, I shared a bedroom with a big sister who did her typing-class practice into the late hours, so I find the sound of manual typewriters soothing. But since I don't write (or do much of anything) on the hand-me-down iPad my husband gave me, this cool, geeky thing is wasted on me.

I wonder what ever happened to our family's cute, celadon-green Smith-Corona portable...

I spent lots of time as a kid cranking my grandmother's Victrola (cabinet model) and listening to 78s like "My Blue Heaven" and "Sahara, Now We're Dry Like You"— my favorite prohibition song. I should point out that I was probably the only teen in the '70's who had a favorite prohibition song, lest you think I grew up in the '20s. I was able to do some serious time-shifting to earlier decades at my grandmother's house but I never got as far as drinking hootch in the back of a Pierce Arrow in rolled silk stockings and a cloche.

Naturally, I love these iVictrolas:


These one-of-a-kinds were available at Anthropologie as of yesterday but sold out (I think they were $598): 
Designer Matt Richmond of Made-Craft has harnessed the acoustics of the proto-speaker system - the victrola horn - and repurposed it for the modern era. Set your iPhone or other music player with external speakers into the hand-carved walnut base, and let your tunes waft from the vintage Magnavox horn. The sound amplification is completely, ingeniously acoustic; the dock is not plugged-in or battery powered.
Today, the only one left is the upside-down version:


A little too weird for me, and not cat-safe. Plus, I haven't even managed to put any music on my old iPhone 3, or whatever it is. Being cutting-edge-of-the-passé, I keep my music on an elderly iPod that docks to my sound system, at least. (And no, my sound system doesn't play 8-tracks, or even cassettes!)

But I'll be inheriting my grandmother's Victrola and records someday — as soon as we have a room to put them in, in fact. And then we'll be rocking to the strains of "Sahara," sung by Esther Somebody.
King Ram-ee-ses went to pieces 7,000 years ago,
And passed a law that Egypt must go dry.

He took the liquors from the slickers all the way to Jericho, 

But he kept a little toddy on the sly.

The desert of Sahara flowed with honey, so they say,

'Til Prohibition came along and dried it up one day...