Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Snow? Really?

They have been predicting two days of snow, totaling perhaps 4 to 8 inches in the city. I was skeptical, like so many of us locals who have been let down before by winter storm false alarms. (Did you know that in Italian, it's falso allarme, and in Spanish, falsa alarma?  This knowledge might come in handy when the alarm goes off in your foreign hotel.)

Anyway, it's only been raining tonight. I wonder if we saw the most snow this afternoon, in the first hours after the storm began:


I'll be curious to see if we find to white stuff or just wet stuff when we wake up tomorrow. Good night.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Everything I Know I Did Not Learn from Possum

While we can learn much about living wisely and well from our animal roommates, some of their ideas should be ignored. Here are a few of Possum's theories and practices that I have rejected, and so should you:

1. Bathroom window shades are delicious. (None of those bite marks are mine.)

2.  Like to snack? Dip your paw in wet food and quietly smear it on the cabinets, walls, and fridge. If your people are lazy, it will be there later, when you're hungry.

3.  Starving? Lick the kitchen floor. (This usually gets Possum some kibble because he looks so pathetic. But if you try it, I won't fall for it.)

4.  Inside the refrigerator is the happening place to be.

5.  If your sister is resting conveniently nearby, it's probably so you can bite her.

6.  A large belly should be proudly exhibited at every opportunity:


7.  You can't take too many naps. (I'm still evaluating this one.)

8.  Vacuum cleaners, SodaStream machines, ironing boards, and whistling kettles only want to kill you. (He might have a point with some of these.)

9.   People who seem sound asleep are actually longing to give you attention. Walk around on them and nudge them with your cold, wet nose until they awaken to find that their dreams have just come true.

10.  It's okay to smack your elders on the head if you wear a thoughtful expression while doing it.

11.  Being adorable will get you far. (Works for him, never for me.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Today's Adorableness

Wendy has a kitten — a big-eyed calico with face markings just like her:


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Current Craving: Persian Style

Needing a short break from wearing myself out over whether to buy that Victorian house in Quincy, I decided to browse through some old bookmarks in my "Decorating" folder. Big mistake. On Bradbury & Bradbury's art wallpaper site, I stumbled upon their new "Persian Roomset,"which has nothing to do with cats:

All photos from Bradbury & Bradbury.

I know just the turreted parlor in Quincy that could use some new, exotic wallpaper. I suppose that this, ahem, rather lively Persian style is an acquired taste for most people in the 21st century, but my husband and I love it, having relished the splendors of Egypt's beautiful hotels, palaces, and mosques. Lest you worry that the ceiling looks too plain with just that border, let me assure you that there is also a magnificent medallion to set off your Persian chandelier.


We're all used to seeing this much color and intricate detail in a Persian carpet on the floor. What's wrong with letting it go up the walls to the ceiling? Not a thing!


This wallpaper would coordinate nicely with our three inlaid Syrian tables and my collection of Islamic-patterned candy tins from the early 20th century. I've got a Persian carpet, wicker and bentwood furniture, and some old paisley piano shawls, too. Oh, and two Persian cats, plus two more that could pass for Turkish Angoras if you ignore the big guy's Norwegian accent.


It seems that all I'd need to make a room like this a reality are one or two potted palms... and the right Victorian parlor. 

This was exactly the wrong way to distract myself from my housing dilemma. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Pensive Possum & Picture-Framing






































Cats are the ultimate decorative accessory, see above. But we like to hang pictures on our walls, too. In November, we bought two landscape oil studies by Sam Vokey during the Fenway Studios Open House. Mr. Vokey gave us bargain prices — he is very friendly, and he was also clearing out his studio to relocate up north. He warned us that frames would be expensive because (as I knew) his work is an investment that deserves handmade construction and gilding; gold is very expensive these days. He mentioned Guido Frames, Stanhope Framers, and a couple of others. He said it was not uncommon for good frames to cost as much as, or more than, an oil painting. We'd had no idea; but we weren't about to give up those paintings on account of that. We took them home and let them sit around as canvases, postponing the daunting task of choosing frames and shelling out what Mr. Vokey said would easily cost us in the four-figure range.

As I was walking down Newbury Street yesterday, I noticed a banner hanging on the front of Guido Frames, on the second-floor of 118 Newbury Street — to the effect of, "Buy One, Get One Free." I went right up there to get the details. It's an excellent deal: buy one frame and they'll only charge you for the labor on a second (lower-priced) frame. The saleswoman told me I had to come back today or on Tuesday, which is the last day of this month-long promotion. They are closed Saturday through Monday this week.

I'm glad I noticed that banner before it was too late.

We trotted back there this morning with the bubble-wrapped canvases. The saleswoman led us through the contemplative process of selecting a frame for the larger canvas. I expected this to be agonizing — I often have a terrible time making choices — but it wasn't so bad. With her guidance, we both came around to agreeing about whether we liked or disliked each style, which is miraculous given that I'm picky and inconsistent while my husband has a curator's eye and offbeat tastes. When you find the right frame, you know.

We chose a hefty wooden frame with classic detailing and 22-karat gilding over a dark blue painted base (this affects the tone of the gilding over it, apparently). We did not faint when we heard the price, but only because Mr. Vokey had prepared us for sticker shock. For the smaller canvas, which is not that small, we settled on another handmade 22-karat gilded frame with graceful detailing. The price of that one? $40. We left feeling very pleased because we had managed to spend less on the frames than the paintings, while fulfilling Mr. Vokey's wishes as far as quality. Our two Sam Vokeys togther, framed, cost much less than half of a similar Sam Vokey in the high-end galleries that represent him.

It will take a month for them to be ready, and in the meantime, I'm going to keep practicing my selection skills by settling on a house. We are still talking about the one in Quincy, even though we are hopelessly spoiled by living in the heart of Boston. But I've always dreamed of having a Victorian house, and if we don't go for it now, when we will we?

In Quincy, we can have a drop-dead-gorgeous, sprawling Victorian mansion on nearly an acre for the price of a small, middling-quality, two-bedroom, 1-bath Back Bay condo with no outdoor space, no parking, neighbors above and below, and no soundproofing. It's kind of a no-brainer if you look at it that way. But we're being careful: we still need to figure out how expensive it would be to maintain and heat the house. Who knows, maybe that will cost a fortune. And we still need to come to grips with such a big relocation. But it's not Kansas, even if it seems that way to me some of the time. Although I don't drive, the Red Line is 10 minutes away, plus I learned that there's both a cupcake shop AND a cake shop with a quarter-mile of the house. Even Quincy may have its consolations.

And did I mention it has a butler's pantry? I would kill for a butler's pantry.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pairs Slacking Training Continues

Last fall, I reported that Wendy and Possum had begun training for a competitive cat sport called Pairs Slacking; I discuss the some of its basic elements in that post. If you happen to follow the sport, you know that almost all of the commentators and judges take their inspiration from figure skating's legendary Dick Button. I suppose that's because he was relentlessly catty; a fussy attitude suits Pairs Slacking because, like skating, minute stylistic details matter enormously. While it "only" consists of lying around and not moving a whisker, it's still a persnickety, grueling, high-pressure sport. And there is zero room for new ideas or generosity of spirit in Competitive Pairs Slacking. Possum and Wendy face huge challenges as they work their way up the competition ladder. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they make it up the first rung.

They remain at the Beginner, or Pre-Junior Level, since they are still being coached for the preliminary exams that would qualify them to compete in performance. If they continue to work hard and study, they may be ready for the exams next year. 

While they are developing nicely in the areas of Lack of Energy, Lack of Choreography, and Graceful Foot and Tail Positions, they are consistently weak as far as Lethargy (Wendy), Sleepiness of Eyes (Possum), and Sloppiness of Pose (both). They are trying too hard, in other words. As far as Flopping Down in Unison, they have their good days and bad days. And Wendy still gets spooked if she hears a noise; judges would detract loads of points for that. Possum can't resist flourishing his magnificent tail — another big point deduction because it expends energy.

Here they are, practicing:


As you can see, Wendy is quite talented at the sleepy-eyed pose, although her cocked right ear betrays a touch of alertness — a 3-point deduction. Possum's right ear is even worse. But since he doesn't have much of a left ear, some judges will tend to be more lenient. Note also that Wendy's legs and feet are parallel and tucked one behind the other. While Dick Button would think that was terrific if she were trying to land a double axel, she isn't — she is lying on a table trying to look semi-comatose. Such self-conscious neatness has no place in Pairs Slacking.

Possum's casual sprawl is more desirable, having natural feline grace while also being suggestive of sloppiness and lack of choreography. However, Possum's tail has slipped off the table. Sloppiness has limits even in Pairs Slacking. That's a major point deduction. I told you it's a nit-picking sport. These two have a long way to go.

And I mean a long way to go: here is Wendy a few seconds later, looking hopelessly alert. She is clearly contemplating a leap off of the table. Possum realizes this and looks annoyed. He had finally gotten his right ear in the correct position, to no purpose:


Every young athlete has to begin somewhere. While these two seem naturally talented, I sometimes wonder if they will have the determination and grit to succeed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Our Downton Tabby.
Or, Possum's Long, Fluffy Tale: Part IV

We now come to the conclusion of Possum's family saga. See previous post.

After we finished rejoicing over Matthew and Mary's engagement, We turned the TV off and returned to Possum's story. My husband and I offered profuse condolences and sympathies over the deaths of his Uncle Podmere and two cousins. Then I said, "Possum, tell us how it happened."

He looked away. "There was an incident. A robbery." 

"You mean their estate was being robbed? How awful. They must have died protecting the rest of the family."

He said, "No, not exactly," and paused. "It happened to take place in a convenience store."

"Armed robbery? Were they trying to protect the cashier?"

He was silent. I never thought about whether cats can blush, but he looked pinker around the nose. Then he did what I think was his imitation of the Earl of Grantham's imperious stare. "I won't lie to you; you know I never do," he said. "The three of them were trying to rob the convenience store. No one knows why. I suppose a steady diet of fish can get boring, although I can't imagine that for myself. But they were trying to run off with something called a slurpee machine. I don't know what that is. I'm trying to find out. There was an unfortunate sequence of events. First they accosted the cashier. They didn't attack; they just threatened. But he apparently died instantly of a heart attack from laughing too hard. There were no puncture wounds, although there are indications that they tried to resuscitate him. And then, as they tried to take away that machine, it fell over on them. They were flattened."

There was nothing we could say to that. 

Finally, I said, "So, Possum, what does this mean? Who inherits the estate? Surely your uncle had other sons and heirs?"

He replied by giving us a lecture on Norwegian inheritance law as it pertains to cats. As in old British law, there are immovable rules about ancestral titles and estate entailments. This, I remember, was a subject he'd followed closely during the first season of Downton Abbey. The gist of his explanation was that the first litter that produces a son, or sons, for the head of an aristocratic family, is the only litter that counts. Succeeding litters cannot inherit titles or property; they rely on the generosity of their eldest living brother. Possum is the eldest son of a second son of a first litter. His father, Osmus, was Podmere's younger brother. They were the only two sons in their father's litter.

"What's with all the names beginning with 'P' or 'O'?" I asked.

Possum explained that there's a naming system in place for male kittens because cats have very large families, thanks to multiple litters, and the names help everyone keep the "line of heritage" clear. At this point, in his family at least, the heirs' names all begin with "P" while second sons begin with "O." Possum's brother was named "Orphemius," which became "Ossipee" when he arrived here in the Norwegian Witness Protection Program. (As you may recall, Possumus's pseudonym was "Passamaquoddy," which he uses as a surname now.)

Possum then said that his grandfather, Querilus, was actually a third son and sole survivor of some violent times on the fjiords. But his "Q" name got us all confused, and we dropped the subject. I think the explanation has something to do with there having been no male kittens in their great-grandfather's first litter. Geneaology always confuses the heck out of me. 

"So, Possum," I said. "What's the bottom line? What does this mean for you?"

Possum said, "Unless we find my father in the Witness Protection Program, I seem to be the head of the family. They have already given me the title. I said I didn't want it, because my father could be alive, even though I think it unlikely. Still, I don't want to snatch a title that's rightfully his. But it appears that I have no choice. Besides, thanks to your heathen practices on cats in this country, I can't produce heirs. Nor can Orphemius. It's tragic, but there it is. When we're gone, I have no idea who will be next in line. Probably some raggedy tom with fish breath and no upbringing."

"So that's why you were so upset for Matthew when we found out how badly he was wounded." I said. "You jumped off the bed and ran out of the room."

"Naturally!" said Possum. "If only my injury were magically reversible. No tingles at all."

"What's your title?" I asked, bracing myself for the worst. Possum is already pretty full of himself. 

"Baron. I am now Baron von Rümpüsspüssë," he said, looking down his nose, like this:


"Oh, lord!" I said. "That's a mouthful." My husband said, "I don't think we can afford that many umlauts. And are you sure that Podmere didn't have any other sons, believed to have died at sea, who may come crawling out of the Canadian woodwork at an inconvenient moment?" 

"Don't joke about this!" Possum erupted, looking all Robert Crawley-ish again. "We Norwegians take our family titles very seriously."

I tried it out. "Von Rümpüsspüssë. It sounds familiar; I wonder where.... hey, I remember: You suggested it when we'd just gotten you and were trying to figure out what to call you."

"I was young, foolish, and presumptuous then, and I don't want to talk about this now. You don't have to call me 'Baron' all the time. One cheerful greeting with my full title, maybe first thing in the morning, will suffice. As you were."

He trotted off to the litter box.

This will get awfully tiresome, I reflected. I'm American. Wars were fought so we don't have to bow and curtsey to aristocrats. We're all equal here. I prefer it that way. But I see I'll have a hard time convincing Possum.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Our Downton Tabby.
Or, Possum's Long, Fluffy Tale: Part III

Possum had been distracted and quiet for days, and on Sunday night, he finally began telling us his secret during the Viking cruise ads that always run on Channel 2 around episodes of Downton Abbey. 

This poor timing was my fault; Possum and my husband will do anything to keep me from yelping "Tip! Tip!" and leaning sideways at an acute angle whenever I see a cruise ship in those ads. I know it's rude and probably immoral but I don't care. It amuses me. Except for transatlantic crossings where you shut yourself up in your cabin in New York and read Evelyn Waugh through foul weather until you emerge in Southampton, any so-called "luxury" cruise is my idea of utter hell. I will list my reasons some other time because there are so many. (I'll probably be forced to take a Nile cruise someday, but it won't be "luxurious." It will be the kind where they submerge the boat shortly before the passengers board to drown the rats. The only "entertainment" will likely be me jumping overboard when I've reached my limit. Can't swim.)

But I digress.

We had first heard Possum's tales of his aristocratic Norwegian family background last summer and fall. I'd been eagerly awaiting another installment, mainly because the more he said, the more ways I might find to poke holes in his story. I thought it was ridiculous. Could there be a Norwegian mafia? Was there really a transatlantic crossing that landed his family in Shrewsbury?

I googled "Norwegian mafia" and was amazed by what I found. Tea Party congressmen making half-decent jokes about "sleeping with the lutefisk." There's even a game:


Even so, I didn't find any mention of cats in any of the pages my search turned up. But cats have always had their ways of keeping themselves out of the press. (For example, you never read about how certain politically astute cats exercised their influence on Churchill and Roosevelt, which had a strong, positive effect on the course of World War II. I'm still waiting for that book.)

I knew I wouldn't find out anything about the Norwegian Witness Protection Program on Google, but if there's a mafia, there's got to be a WPP, too. According to Possum, his parents are either in it, or dead.

I also determined via web-sleuthing that Possum's family could indeed have come here via one of the occasional transatlantic crossings of the Norwegian Dawn, which typically sails the New England coast in the fall, the season he arrived.

Trying to look imperious and aristocratic. Failing.

So it was natural to believe Possum when he announced that he'd recently received tidings of the deaths of some relatives in Norway, including his esteemed Uncle Podmere, the head of the family, and Podmere's two sons and heirs, Poultis and Osmenius. I don't know how Possum receives these communications; he won't tell, he just glares at me. I hate it when he does that.

My theories are that news either travels telepathically between related cats, or they use a network of tiny flying insects, or they've found a way to glom onto our fiberoptic cabling. If you have any other ideas, let me know.

At this point, the last episode of Downton started running again, and we all wanted to see it. Possum said we would talk more afterward. I'll end this here and tell you the rest later.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Downton Tabby

Ah, the stars finally aligned. Season 2 of Downton Abbey has ended with Matthew finally proposing to Lady Mary and then twirling her around joyfully in the snow. Mr. Bates isn't going to be hanged, Thomas didn't kill the dog, Matthew punched Sir Richard, Daisy is probably getting promoted, and Sybil is married and on the nest in Dublin. It looks like there might even be hope for Edith and her old flame, Lord Deer-in-the-Headlights.

After all those lose ends tied themselves in pretty bows, Possum interrupted the post-show with a stunning aristocratic revelation of his own.

But I want to watch the last episode again, so stay tuned....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Suburban Abbey

Dilemma.

The Victorian house we saw today in Quincy is incredible. We fell in love. It has original, natural woodwork and flooring in every room — all of its original moldings, windows, doors, and built-ins. There are elaborate fireplaces and elegant period light fixtures and wallpapers, plus a pantry and three original slate laundry sinks. The old push-button light switches were replaced with new push-button reproductions. The owners have filled its many rooms with oriental carpets and Gothic-Revival antiques, icons, religious paintings, and stained-glass windows. It appears that their hobby is robbing churches. It could be the set for an Anglican vicarage on Downton Abbey. Outside, there's a large back garden and two century-old copper beeches.

The kitchen has its original call bells. My imaginary servants would love that! It has been updated, but not much. The cabinetry is all original. The upstairs bathroom has its original marble-topped sink and wainscoting. The downstairs half-bath does, too. No pull-chain toilets, but that's easily fixed....

It's a museum-quality house. It ought to be lived in as such, not adapted to modern tastes. With so many authentic details, any 21st-century piece of furniture — even an English-country sofa — would look out of place. It would be folly to furnish this house in an eclectic style or bring in anything much past the Edwardian era. It also needs a certain amount of clutter to complement all those fancy finishes. (That's probably why the owners have yet to receive a single offer after months on the market.)

I never saw a phone or computer anywhere, although there was a huge TV in a corner in the basement (which also has original wainscoting and a splendid fireplace.)

I'm suddenly not sure if we have the desire, energy, or funds to furnish and live in a museum piece, although we love the idea of it.  We don't mind surrounding ourselves with antiques; that's mostly what we have. But I draw the line at upholstery. No hard, horsehair sofas for me: I like to sprawl on shlumpy down cushions, not perch on tufted settees. It would be a problem.

Another problem is that the house is four-and-a-half times bigger than our apartment. It's at least twice as much house as we need and that doesn't include the attic rooms, which we'd just ignore. It would need vast amounts of furniture, carpets, pictures, lace and velvet curtains, lamps, and frou-frou to look right. Although I love all those things, I've never wanted to own that much stuff.

I know it sounds like I've already talked myself out of this house, but I haven't. We loved it; we kept discovering new rooms and saying, "Oh, my god!" in amazement. It's wild to think that we can easily afford it, although we don't know what the heating bill says. It's the kind of house we've fantasized about, a once-in-a-lifetime house. We can't easily walk away from a house like this without giving up a long-held dream.

We could have sooo many cats. And a little swimming pool, away from the beeches....

I say all this knowing that I would also have to resign myself to a dramatically different lifestyle. Instead of being a delightful, ten-minute stroll from everything I want or need, I'd be taking very long, dull hikes to get to a gym, the library, some bananas, or a single interesting store. Since I'm used to going out on such errands every day, my entire existence would change. People in that neighborhood drive everywhere, although they are close to the Red Line for commuting into town (it's about 50 minutes to Back Bay).

Until I learn to drive — and it's about time, I know — I could get a bike. But it would be a nuisance to ride in a corset and bustle... huh? Hmm, you know, I'm not sure we ourselves are historically accurate enough to suit this house.

The more I think about it, this house is a lot like Downton Abbey. Remember last season, when Lord Grantham told Matthew that Downton was his life, his work, and his legacy? Do I want all that responsibility, in a yellow Queen Anne in Quincy? Without Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Patmore?

Why is life so complicated? Why are we always driving ourselves crazy over problematic real estate?  Still, we know it's a very nice dilemma to have.

Time to sleep on it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

House Hunting Continues

Today we checked out a stunning Arts and Crafts–style house in Dorchester. How could we resist?

It's a lovely house, with high-ceilinged, quirky rooms and lots of space for books. The kitchen and bath are very old and need replacing, which I like. There are many fireplaces, and a huge copper beech on the front lawn. But there's no "village" nearby. Everyone drives to get practically anything: a loaf of good bread, a bag of groceries, a library book, a gym workout. I'm willing to walk a few miles a day but I don't drive, and I won't want to bike in hot, cold, or wet weather. And I don't really want to go miles just for an Iggy's loaf... I've been spoiled by living in a neighborhood that's a "Walker's Paradise" according to  Walkscore.com

So, we're reluctantly passing over the vast, affordable Victorians of the Ashmont neighborhood of Dorchester. But the quiet, privacy, and spaciousness of a house is SO appealing to us these days. Call us crazy, but tomorrow we have a date with a broker in Quincy.  This house is probably even more remote from a decent loaf of bread or a Trader Joe's, but it still deserves serious consideration:

A house this amazing might turn me into a happy recluse. I could have everything delivered. I'd spend my days admiring the woodwork, playing the grand piano I'd finally have room for, and hanging out with about 20 cats. Possum and I could turn it into a cat B&B or rest home, or we could foster kittens. It's huge.

Closer to home, I am currently very taken by the, uh, shabby chic qualities of a little Victorian French mansard in Jamaica Plain, photos below. I get excited about almost any bathroom that doesn't have a Home Depot vanity, a vessel sink, or a jacuzzi tub. I am equally turned off by open kitchens with Ikea cabinets, stainless appliances, islands with bar stools, and granite the color of bad meat. Why, why are 9 out of 10 kitchens redone that way?  I'd much rather face this:
If a stylist brought in a few Victorian sofas and beds, some rickety wooden furniture, and couple of bad oil paintings to lean against the walls, these spaces would be perfect for an Anthropologie catalog shoot. 

Oh, heck! I forgot all about Anthropologie! Is there an Anthropologie anywhere near Quincy? ...  No? In that case, I don't see how we can live there. Guess we'll have to take this wreck in JP. Sorry, Possum.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

South End Wandering

A friend and I went walking in the South End at the spur of the moment today.

After coveting it for about a year, I finally broke down and bought a tiny Pillivuyt "Brasserie" pitcher at Michelle Willey. It matches my beloved "Brasserie oval casserole dish:
It will look so much better holding warm maple syrup than the Pyrex measuring cup we currently use.

We both liked Hudson's handsome new space on Union Park Street. They turned three deep window openings at the back of the shop into dramatic, efficient book storage.


Can one try this at home, I wondered? I think so, as long as you think of books as your window on the world and you won't be stuck reading in the dark.  If you keep a window with a deep frame covered by curtains because you hate the view or want privacy, here's your next project.


I think the trick is to always have a few stray books lying around, so you can replace any book you remove with another to keep the arrangement from collapsing.

Incense filled the air at Old Japan, also on Union Park Street. We admired their display of Lucky Cats, usually a calico, and always with one paw in the air. Wendelina Pantherina, our resident calico, occasionally raises one paw in a similar fashion; it's kind of unnerving. To read the legend of Lucky Cats, go to this page of the Old Japan website.

Our next stop was the Wholy Grain Bakery, where I bought a Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin. I used to buy the originals from the department store's gingham-lined baskets on the way to work, back in the day. I'm sorry I couldn't keep the muffin intact long enough to photograph it — it was so good. Huge, sugar-dusted, bursting with berries, and just like old times.

I picked up vinegar and Armenian string cheese at the Syrian Grocery at 270 Shawmut. When I walk into the store, the strong scent of spices reminds me powerfully of Egyptian souks, where spices, dried herbs, and natural dyes are sold from heaping, aromatic barrels. You can get all sorts of Middle Eastern delicacies at the Syrian Grocery, from apricot paste to za'atar, along with European gourmet items, fresh figs, inlaid backgammon boards, shisha pipes, and tagines. It's a unique and very friendly place to shop. If they don't have what you're looking for, South End Formaggio, next door, might — especially if it's cheese, fresh bread, or some pricey gourmet product you're after.

South End Formaggio also sells cookies from Lakota Bakery in Arlington — among the best cookies I've ever eaten and certainly the most outstanding bakery cookies you will find. I am not a true foodie; I have low tastes — but even I can taste the purity and freshness of each ingredient, especially sweet butter, in Lakota cookies. And how nice that we city folk don't have to go all the way to Arlington Heights to get them. We have so much that's good and even great — right here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Downton Abbey

I could write volumes about Downton Abbey and bore you all to death, but there's no need when bloggers Tom and Lorenzo do such a splendid job. I may not agree with everything they say, but they are sharp-eyed, amusing, and venerate Lady Violet as she deserves.

Burying Lavinia with a light heart and (almost) a straight face

I was in tears when William died in Episode 6, of course, but I nevertheless wanted to snatch the gorgeously embroidered pillow from beneath his bloodied head. It looked like an uncomfortable pillow to die upon, but my motives were not pure. It must have made ridges on the back of his head, but I didn't care — that was Daisy's job. I wanted that pillow:

The desperately desired pillow

Whenever I covet something old, I go directly to eBay and amuse myself over hours, days, or weeks trying to find it at the right price. I often succeed but I'm stumped this time because I don't know the name of this type of embroidery and I suspect it's sought-after and expensive. If anyone can tell me more about it, I'd be grateful. The closest I've come is Mountmellick, a type of Irish white-on-white embroidery that's similarly intricate. I've already lost a couple of eBay auctions for rare pairs of Mountmellick layover shams from an old estate collection.

(Layover shams have no backs. Often lavishly decorated, they are meant to lie on top of the pillow, just for show. Your maid would lift it off and whisk it away at bedtime so you could sleep on the plainer, more comfortable pillowcase underneath. Since I can never find my maid when I want her, I'd sew my layover sham to the front of a sturdy cotton European-sized sham and remove the whole pillow from the bed myself, as I do every night when I get tired of waiting for my maid to come and take care of me. It's so hard to get good help, even imaginary help....)

There are just two more auctions coming up and then there likely won't be any more antique Mountmellick shams to be had for a long time. So, in the spirit of Lady Violet, I will have to muster all of my powers to prevail.

Last Sunday this TV hater watched five hours of Downton; we like to watch each new episode twice and I wanted to see last week's episode beforehand, too (and not just to revisit the pillow sham). It took me three viewings to figure out that the burn-victim, Major Gordon, all but confessed to Edith (although she didn't understand) that he was impersonating Patrick Crawley; he was undone by her trust and kindness and couldn't keep up his lie.

In this week's two-hour episode, there were too many eye-rolling plot twists, but they were never absurd enough to ruin my enjoyment. Between the fine acting and gorgeous visuals, I don't suffer much when the story lines get a bit goofy. So much was accomplished in record time: Matthew's recovery was as efficient as it was implausible, and I was thrilled to see the Spanish Flu take Lavinia in the course of a few minutes. I'd known for weeks that an "upstairs" female character was going to be killed off and I was afraid it would be Cora. Cora hasn't been any fun lately, but we still need her around. Otherwise, the newest heir would probably arrive via Jane, the creepy-crawly parlormaid. Unbearable. And besides, Lavinia was a bore and, as the universe knows, Matthew belongs with Lady Mary, the most riveting character of all.

The biggest tragedy of the series is that we have only one more episode to savor and much of it appears taken up with Christmas decorating and unwrapping gifts. They'd better pack in plenty more action and tie up some of the wackier plots because Season 3 feels like it's almost a century away.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cleaning My Desk, a Nightmare

You may recall that last week, the Jane Eyre portion of my conscience exhorted me to clean up my desk in exchange for a pair of tall brown boots I'd been eyeing at Lord & Taylor.

Reader, I tried.  I'm still trying.

In December, I had great zeal for decluttering, prompted by the massive clean-out we did of a relative's house. I couldn't wait to attack our apartment. I'm still weirdly attracted to dumpsters but, somewhere in January, I lost my energy for tossing and organizing. A sticky, sludge-like malaise descended upon me, where I really, truly don't want all this stuff but I'm incapable of the movements required to get rid of it. I suppose this is normal: most of us have too much stuff, messy desks, and overflowing closets, and we're lazy. But when you live in less than 800 square feet and you stop being vigilant, things can reach crisis proportions almost as quickly as a few days' worth of mail piles up.

My desk was (and is) a disaster. I couldn't find a safe place to put down a glass; I balanced my breakfast toast on a tilting pile of stuff aiming for my keyboard. My desk is a poor design choice for anyone but the strictest Minimalist as it has no drawers or shelves; it's merely a marble slab on metal legs. I have a small metal caddy for papers and bills, an antique tin box that acts as a drawer, and some tiny Japanese baskets to hold odd bits like keys and my cell phone. A little rattan trunk holds files on the floor. I keep a larger file box under the bed. (Wendy sleeps on it, and if you reach under the bedskirt and pet her, she will purr, even though she is cornered.)

My two file boxes were so overloaded that I couldn't add anything without first going through them and weeding and tossing.

I procrastinated mightily over that, but finally spent part of the weekend on it, and then I filed most of the paper covering my desk. It was mentally exhausting; I diverted myself by napping, polishing silver, shining boots, and doing any other chore that didn't require so much decision-making. My papers are now under control, organized in folders instead of stuffed randomly into a shopping bag or drifting in tall piles. Two grocery bags full of papers went out for recycling; a third one held papers to be shredded.

Shredding is time-consuming, boring, and noisy, so I do it too quickly, adding more paper than our $3 Target shredder can handle at one time. That jams or breaks the shredder, which adds to my loathing of the whole affair.

I felt there had to be a better way — and I think I found it. Staples will shred your papers for 79 cents a pound. They weigh them, you pay them, and you leave it all behind.

I just called our Back Bay Staples and they not only shred, they are having a shredding promotion this month. Your first five pounds of papers are free, and you only pay for the rest. I'm going there shortly.

But my desk is still a wreck. There was plenty of stuff hiding under the papers so I have to deal with that now. I see six tubes of hand cream. Cat toys, sunglasses, eyeglasses, little floral sacks that once held Anthropologie receipts and are too cute to easily toss. Tiny, empty Kusmi tea tins, also too nice to toss without some thought about repurposing them. Cables and stray bits from my laptop and camera that should be kept safe. Cough drops, contact lens cases, cleaning cloths, business cards, small tools, pots of lip balm, dried horse chestnuts (?), coupons. Before I can find homes for some of this, I will have to make room inside my antique tin box and certain packed drawers in the bedroom.

I'll have a fabulously clean desk eventually, I promise. I'll take a photo. But there will be no further reward for all that suffering — those Joan & David boots are too big. I brought them home, admired them, and took them back. They gap hugely at the top. You shouldn't be able to tuck six Snickers bars, a paperback, or a small kitten into the top of a boot. The salesman thought I was nuts to return them because they were such a deal. But I know I will shortly be cleaning out our two overfilled clothes closets.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Snow Much?

Saturday's non-snowstorm was disappointing in terms of picturesque whiteness. Boston always looks its grungiest at this time of year. Still, I'm happy to pound our brick sidewalks without wiping out on ice, while keeping up my usual "Boston" pace (brisk, with sudden stops for windows displaying cats or antique jewelry).

I suppose it's a decent tradeoff. But I'd still like to see a little snow, just for a change. Just to test my new snow boots, which haven't seen any action yet. Just to go out with my husband, on a lamp-lit, snowy evening, to some romantic little restaurant where we'll eat too much cheese.

 This... garden figure stopped me in my tracks on Saturday:


What would you call this? A twigwoman? I have no idea. When I saw it, I was speechless for other reasons, too. It's impressively tall, standing on that garden urn pedestal. It's elaborate. Its torso is stuffed with plastic fruit. Its lips are like cherries. In fact, they are plastic cherries. Somebody spent a long time spraying its gold pinecone base. (I'm envious; I love pinecones and spray paint, especially together.)

While I might not choose this Object for my Back Bay garden,  I find it has humor, charm, and audacity. And I can only conclude that there is a frustrated sculptor on Gloucester Street who needs a big snowstorm far more than I do. I can't wait to see what he or she will achieve if/when it finally snows.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Just Like Old Times

Two years ago, when Possum and Wendy were kittens, they'd often curl up together on the bed for naps:


Sometimes they still do:


(And that's a bit of Snalbert on the left.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Car Candy: The Gucci Fiat 500

Last month, I spotted this Gucci Fiat as I was walking in Copley Place on a bitter day.


I've never had the slightest desire to own anything from Gucci, and I prefer the Mini Cooper to the Fiat, although I like both for their distinctive designs and tiny size. But when you put Gucci and Fiat together, well... that's Italian!  With interlocking "GG" logos on the hubcabs and the famous stripes inside and out, there are just enough Gucci touches to get the point across without going overboard. And you can order your car with matching luggage — how classy and chic is that?

I was surprised to see one parked on Fairfield Street the other day:


I thought to myself, "Who'd leave a Gucci out on the street? It should be safely tucked away in a box in the closet." But then I learned that these cars start at $23,500, not nearly what you'd expect for a designer-edition Italian car. It's a bargain when you consider that, for that amount, you could also buy a few (very few) Gucci bags.

For example, $23,500 would be exactly enough to get yourself five Gucci Python Stirrup Medium Top Handle Bags. They are $4,700 each, at Saks. But you wouldn't have one penny left to put inside one of them (and I'm not bothering with sales tax).


Which would you choose: one eye-catching car or five reptilian handbags?

I don't need two seconds to make up my mind. But I'd rather dream of a Liberty London edition of the Mini Cooper, with peacock-feather printed upholstery and more peacock feathers swirling across the roof and rearview mirrors:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Possum's Reptile

I discovered that same online shop that provided Wendy with a giant catnip-filled serpent also sells her original green snake. I ordered two as back-ups for when hers is in tatters from being carried in her mouth. I also requested one in a different color, just to see if it's the greenness or the snaky shape that attracts Wendy most.

The result of the experiment is that Wendy wants nothing to do with a pink snake or a new green snake. She loves only her old green snake, which had been slithering around the apartment unloved for a year or two before she arrived. I guess we'll never know why it alone has the magic to inspire Wendy to sing arias as she carries it all over the place.

Possum, however, took a liking to the pink snake, probably because it was fresh from the plastic bag where it had been "marinating" in high-class catnip:






Being both lazy and cool, Possum would not be caught dead walking around with a toy in his mouth. He  takes more of an "armchair" approach to exercise. I have never seen Splash, but my husband tells me that there's a scene where John Candy plays squash while smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. I'm afraid that would be Possum's style, if only he could.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Yesterday's Adorableness

I think a large, well-shaped nose shows strength of character, don't you?


Monday, February 6, 2012

Current Craving: (Still More) Boots

A little-reported hazard of the 10,000-step daily walking routine is that blustery, bone-chilling weather finds you nipping into stores, where you're tempted by merchandise you'd otherwise never have seen. Sometimes you walk out of a store much heavier than when you went in.

These Joan and David boots are deeply on sale at Lord & Taylor and sold out everywhere else. They're the last pair. They are a half-size bigger than I wear and excessively tall, but they seem comfortable. And since I seem to choose much of my wardrobe* by how well it would look on horseback, I think they're perfect:


I resisted buying them on Friday. I resisted buying them today. I torture myself with a sort of Russian roulette game.... if they're still there the third time, maybe it's fate.  Or maybe the fourth time.... And I get a zillion extra steps from visiting them so much.

I also interrogate myself, rather like Jane Eyre used to do when she needed to control her wilder impulses:

Do you need another pair of boots? 

I need boots like I need... another cat.

Didn't you already get three new pairs this winter?

Um, yeah... but I'm wearing one pair all the time, and another pair is just for snow. Remember snow?

Don't change the subject. Can your closet even hold another pair of boots?

No. I'm already keeping my rubber rain boots out in the hall because boots explode from my closet whenever I dare to open the door. I keep boots by my desk, boots by the fireplace.... 

Actually, these would look great by the fireplace... so Ralph Lauren-y. I could get some wooden boot trees, the kind with shiny brass knobs on top.... boots as objets d'art.

How can you possibly justify this frivolous, unnecessary, not-insignificant purchase?

Must you be so mean and Puritanical? As you know, I only have one measly pair of brown boots. All the rest are black! And these are "chocolate," whereas mine are closer to "pecan." Plus, these look just like my field boots from my horseback-riding days. With the brilliant addition of a zipper. Those boots were talismans of perfect happiness. Maybe these are, too.

Really? Even though one of those precious boots always got caught in your stirrup each time you were thrown? Do you fondly remember your knee brace, your crutches, your cane, the months of limping and physical therapy?

Oh, stop! I get your point. Leave my nostalgia alone. I'm under a lot of stress these days.

If I let you alone, you're going to surrender and buy these, aren't you? 

Yeah. It seems that cap toes and ankle laces are my destiny.

Well, if you insist... but you must make them a reward for completing a difficult task. You have to clean off your desk, which means filing all your papers and shredding what you don't need to keep any longer.

Oh my god.... I think I have enough boots.



* It seems I've chosen the remainder on the basis of how well I'd blend in at a convent retreat house (black turtlenecks and long, severe skirts) or summering on Mount Desert Island (faded shorts, striped tees, flip flops, fleece).

Sunday, February 5, 2012

That Garnet Hill Coverlet

My new coverlet, purchased during Garnet Hill's recent flash sale, arrived. It's a thing of beauty — huge, heavy, velvety to the touch, and all cotton.

When I began to unfold the coverlet on our bed to see how it would look, Possum got into the act by lying on it and rolling around, his long back feet waving in the air. Rolling around is not his style, since it expends calories and could be considered a form of exercise. But this coverlet has wonderful texture and he knew it instantly. I had to relocate him three times before I could position it properly. As you can see, he still couldn't resist a little frolic. It has an old-fashioned, Colonial look and he loves all things 18th century. He said the pattern set off his coat beautifully.


We both thought it looked great but as we examined the weave, it became obvious that it was too fragile for this four-cat household. It has a reversible design, with the other side showing the opposite colors, as you can see up by the pillows. The green areas are woven of chenille yarn, and Possum was quick to point out that the chenille would soon develop pulls, given the number of little cat feet that would walk and run across it. He offered to demonstrate but, before he could produce a single pull from his needle-sharp claws, I removed him one last time and quickly folded it up. Something this lovely needs to stay lovely; even a few pulls would be depressing.

Back it will go. I guess I should have chosen the sturdier, wine-colored voile quilt that Snalbert tried to order for me. Voile seems fragile but I've had good luck with it, and it's one of those rare cotton fabrics that releases cat fur easily when you brush it. But I think the best coverlets for cat households are made of matelassé, preferably from Portugal. This cotton fabric is not exactly cozy — it's a little on the thin side — but it's rugged. And you can throw it in the wash without a second thought.

The six of us will be watching the Patriots tonight (and then fighting over switching to Downton Abbey around the fourth quarter) on a double layer of good old matelassé.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Curling Up with a Book

It's one of my favorite pastimes, but I've never tried it Snalbert's way:



Still, I get the same results he does. After a few pages, zzzzz....

Friday, February 3, 2012

Simplex Kettles Back in Business

I've been enjoying my Simplex kettle for a little more than a year now, after a tough search to find one of the last ones for sale in the United States. The venerable British company closed its factory without warning in the summer of 2010, after more than a century of manufacturing kettles. Last summer, I reported that a metalsmithing company had purchased the factory and planned to restart production soon.

An alert reader from Oxford, England, asked me to post the news again that Simplex is indeed back in business and plans to ship kettles to the USA beginning this month. Apparently my blogged struggles come up high in the Google results when Brits search online for "Simplex."  Sorry, ducks, I have no way to fix that. (Do Brits still call each other "ducks"? I only read historical fiction so I have no idea, but I hope so.)

My Simplex

To buy yourself a handsome, well-designed, problem-free kettle that will seriously last you a lifetime, click here. They are not cheap, but if you're the type who keeps buying and replacing crappy kettles, keep in mind that you will save money over the decades that you have this. It seems that they are only making the large-size, Edwardian-style kettle (would look perfect on Mrs. Patmore's stove in the Downton Abbey kitchen). It seems they are not yet making the more "Machine Age" beehive style.

But you'll still get your choice of copper or chrome, and gas or electric models. If you want one like Harry William and Kate have, get copper.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Local Rodent Sees Shadow, Is Cranky

One may be a Proper Bostonian now, but one was a Proper Pennsylvanian then.  It's hard to break old habits, so this morning I grabbed my groundhog — or my closest, most reasonable facsimile of a rodent, this being Boston. (You never see groundhogs in Boston; they prefer Pennsylvania for reasons unknown, and they are a dime a dozen down there.)

I placed my rodent facsimile in natural light and asked him if he saw his shadow:

Possum tries to avoid seeing his shadow.

He wasn't fully awake and said he couldn't see much of anything, and how dare I photograph him before his morning grooming session, and between first and second breakfast. He said a few more crabby things I won't repeat, and went into a temper and smacked Snalbert, who smacked him back. 

They are not shaking hands.

Bad morning disposition aside, I can see Possum's shadow in the large photo, and you can, too. I'm sure he saw it as well but was just being contentious. So that means we can expect six more weeks of winter, or whatever you call this non-season we're having. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Current Craving: Roxy's Winter Classic

I'm not a fan of food trucks. I prefer restaurants — they don't keep traipsing around the city to different,  obscure locations (except for Geoffrey's). If I'm hungry for something from a particular place, I want to go there and eat it directly. I do not want to have to consult calendars, websites, and Google maps. I do not want to play "Who Moved My Cheese Sandwich?" I want to eat.

Possum disagrees. He says hunting down one's food is thrilling and, once you've caught it, it's tastier and more satisfying. However, he made this declaration while lying in this position, which is about as athletic and predatory as he gets these days.


And he said that right after having his (very small) second breakfast this morning, of Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul kibble, which he chased down in the kitchen where it was sitting in a bowl, motionless and in plain sight, right where he was expecting to find it. Possum never hunts; he doesn't even order takeout. He never has to play "Who Moved My Fancy Feast?" and I know he'd resent it if he ever did.

Anyway, I've just discovered that Stumbling Across Your Food can be quite as good as Hunting It Down, or Knowing Where It Is. I was walking home from the MFA yesterday, and found the Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese Food Truck along my route. I often see the truck, with its intriguing, cheese-laden menu, outside the Boston Public Library when I am not hungry. I never see it there when I am hungry.

So yesterday's sighting was finally the perfect confluence of me feeling starved for a grilled cheese sandwich and the Roxy's truck being in proximity to me.

And best of all, I had the truck all to myself. There's always a huge line when the truck is at the library so, even though I'm always tempted to sample a few truffle fries, I'd have to wait forever.

I had a nice chat with the fellow at the window and ordered the Winter Classic ($6).  Two more customers showed up as my sandwich cooked on the grill.

The sandwich was well worth waiting for, and even worth hunting down. Even worth walking pretty far out of one's way. It's made with wholesome bread and just enough cheddar cheese to taste rich and unwholesome — or gooey, which is my standard of excellence in grilled-cheese cuisine. The "Winter" elements of the sandwich are roasted eggplant and white bean ragoût, and some artichoke purée. These add creaminess, saltiness, messiness, and more goo — along with the righteous feeling that comes from eating three vegetables in your grilled cheese.

How can you not love all that? I loved it, even though I had to eat it walking down Hemenway Street, enduring the stares of envious Northeastern students.

After making a scientific determination that tomorrow is Thursday, I went to the trouble to look up the Roxy's website and list of locations. On Friday, the truck will be at the BPL between 11:30 and 3. I will be there, savoring both the goo and the thrill of the hunt. (I would rather have the sandwich for lunch tomorrow, but they will have Moved My Cheese too far away.)