Sunday, September 30, 2012

Wendy's Gotcha Day

Wendy arrived as a nervous feral-rescue kitten three years ago today. We had plans for her to become a cloyingly affectionate lap cat, the kind we could pick up and cuddle whenever we chose. But Wendy had other ideas. We'd forgotten that calico and tortoiseshell cats have minds of their own, and Wendy is a mix of both. We are honored to receive her attention at her convenience, on her terms, and we cherish every minute. She still might decide to become a lap cat like Possum; we're not giving up hope.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Digging Around... the Cemetery

We went walking in Mount Auburn Cemetery on this gray afternoon. The leaves are just beginning to turn. Most of the colorful ones are on the ground — autumn at our feet — while the view above our heads was still as green as summer.

I spotted a trio of beautiful headstones on Lantana Path, carved in raised relief. One was bordered with pine boughs, and one with flowering vines (click to enlarge):


But the headstone between them was the most beautiful and unusual by far, showing a detailed mountain view across a body of water, framed by tall twin evergreens:                                                             


So often, I've come across a striking tombstone and wondered hopelessly about the person resting beneath it. I want the story, and the mystery of it will haunt me until I distract myself with other, less pointless thoughts. Usually, the carving reveals nothing beyond a name and two dates, and perhaps "beloved daughter" or "beloved wife." But the landscape on this tombstone told me a story: this woman loved the outdoors, and her people honored her enough to recreate a particular landscape that she loved on her stone. It seemed clear that her survivors knew that view, too, and that they had all spent time looking at the water from the shadow of those tall trees.

The stone belongs to Harriet Elizabeth Hendricks, wife of John Brooks. Mrs. Brooks was born in 1841 and died in 1915. Her husband's stone has the pine boughs, while her daughter Margaret's stone has the vines. (Her daughter's husband, Fred Norris Robinson, lies beside his wife under a plain stone.)

Those mountains reminded me of Mount Desert Island — not mountains I've seen across the water in Vermont, New Hampshire, and other parts of Maine. Was I imagining things, basing a fantasy on my own love of the island? I resolved to do some online digging to try to discover who these Brooks people were, where they lived, what they did, and, most important, where they summered. 

Tonight, I got busy on Google. Among scores of women named Harriet Brooks was a pioneering nuclear physicist who mucked up my search considerably. But while searching for the even more common "John Brooks," I hit pay dirt with an entry in a 1920's book of Harvard Class Notes. Mr. Brooks was in the class of 1856, lived in Cambridge, and was a banker and businessman "interested" in copper mining. Besides daughter Margaret, they had a son, a lawyer named Arthur. Margaret's husband was Professor Robinson of the English Department. (I later learned that he is renowned as the founding father of Celtic studies in America, and that he gave Harvard his library and endowed a professorship in Celtic Languages and Literature in honor of his late wife.)

More digging revealed that Arthur represented his mother in a 1907–08 court case involving damages for a dress that had been lost while being delivered to their house in Cambridge. Reading the proceedings was confusing because I don't know anything about torts, but I gather that they won. 

I started hunting for their Cambridge address and found it in a Blue Book of Cambridge from 1917. They lived at 5 Ash Street. On Bing, I saw the house, a massive yellow Colonial Revival off Brattle Street. But, even better, the Blue Book listed their summer address: Islesford, Maine. Islesford is on Little Cranberry Island, a 200-acre island off the coast of Mount Desert Island. 

The Brooks House on Ash Street, ©Historic New England,
the first house in Cambridge designed by Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, 
nephew of the poet.

So I was right — Harriet's tombstone shows a view of the Acadia Mountains from the northern shore of Little Cranberry. I've been there; there's a small year-round population that swells with summer residents. But it's still a place where one can get away from it all. There's a store, a museum, a library, a restaurant, and some artist studios. People get around on foot or use golf carts and bikes.

I turned up an obituary from 2008 for John and Harriet's grandson, Francis Harrington Brooks, son of Arthur. He went to Harvard, became a trust officer for State Street Bank, and is survived by three daughters. The obituary spoke eloquently of his love of nature: 
He loved the summer vacations, from childhood through his late 80's, spent at the family summer home built by his paternal grandparents on Little Cranberry Island off the coast of Mount Desert Island in Maine.  
How nice to know that Harriet's love for the island continued in her descendants. I couldn't find the address of the house, but I did find a rental listing for the "Brooks Family House" on Islesford.com. The fact that the house is still in the family makes me ridiculously pleased. Too many wonderful, turn-of-the-century Maine summer houses have been burned, torn down as antique monstrosities, or sold because the taxes were too high. But Harriet's great-grandchilden, and probably great-great-grandchildren, still enjoy her island view. 

And, finally, there were photos. The house sits close to the shore on a rocky beach — a lovely, weathered Shingle-Style with a protective stone wall. Flanked by tall pines:


The only thing missing was a view of the sea, taken between a pair of pine trees.

So I found that, too, courtesy of The Knowles Company, real estate agents. Compare the profile of these mountain's with Harriet's stone:



A tombstone can lead us to a wonderful story after all. I don't know much about Harriet, but I discovered enough to have a sense of her life and legacy: her children's children played around her evergreens, sailed the same waters, enjoyed that mountain view, and loved the island she loved. 

I'm about to go to bed, feeling as content as if I'd just finished a good novel.

PS: Little Cranberry Pilgrimage

We'll be visiting Southwest Harbor next week! I hope we'll have time and good weather to visit Little Cranberry to try to find the vantage point that inspired the carved view of Mt. Desert Island on Mrs. Brooks's tombstone. It's probably on truly "private" private property, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rx: Cats

I've been sneezing and sniffling for two days. My nose itches. Allergies. I'm sensitive to tree pollen, cockroaches, ragweed, and cats. It's been rainy, so there's not much pollen around. We don't have roaches; all the other bugs must have eaten them. So it must be cats. The weather website confirms that dust and dander levels have been "Extremely High" lately.

I've been "allergic" to cats for ages, but I usually have no symptoms. I can spend hours in a cat shelter and feel fine. According to my allergist, the monthly shots I had for more than 15 years were helpful, but I really desensitized myself by living with multiple cats. If I were to spend several months away from them, she said, I'd develop major symptoms when I came home.

So it seems that having only two cats (since we lost Snalbert and Snictoria) is affecting my sinus passages. There's only one remedy: more cats. And they should be fluffy-tailed longhairs, to add as much dander and fur to the air in here as possible. Cats are the best medicine for me.

The search begins in earnest after we return from Maine next month. Possum wants an accomplice, preferably another native Norwegian speaker. Wendy seems lonely, too. We're on the fence about getting one kitten or two, since we're not sure how playful Wendy and Possum will be with a newcomer. They like toys and chasing each other around, but a kitten may need a fellow kitten to blossom.

Here are some prospects I've turned up in my searches on PetFinder.com over the past few weeks. I foolishly look at kittens that are listed all over the country, so almost all of these are too far away to adopt, although that didn't stop me from falling in love. Longhaired kittens are uncommon in New England shelters and rescues, but there are lots of them in Michigan, for some reason. When we find the right kitten(s) for us, I think we'll know it right away. But all kittens are amazing:










Goodbye, Charley's

We're going to miss Charley's on Newbury Street, which closed without warning on Sunday, apparently because the owners couldn't negotiate a new lease with their landlord.

The only photos I have of the place are of the patio, on March 13, 2012, after diners abandoned their meals when the neighborhood's main transformer caught fire and was believed to be spewing toxic smoke into the air. I shot this about 15 minutes before the power went out across Back Bay:

It's strange to remember those days without power, but it's 
even stranger to realize that it was already warm enough in 
March for outdoor dining to seem routine. Usually, that 
doesn't happen until sometime in May, if we're lucky.

Charley's was part of the Back Bay Restaurant Group's chain, which also includes Abe & Louie's, Atlantic Fish, Joe's, and Pappa-Razzi, among others. These places are designed to appeal to the average, upscale Bostonian or tourist, with menus varied enough to give vegetarians as well as traditional meat-and-potatoes types some choice. This means they're also reliable neighborhood joints, where locals can go when they're too lazy to cook and want a meal their grandparents would recognize.

The best thing about Charley's, besides its tall, perfect wedges of Boston Creme Pie, was the brick patio facing Newbury Street. On warm spring and summer nights, one could sit under the kousa dogwoods, and their blossoms glowed in the lights strung on the trees. No matter how the food was — and it was always fine, at least, beginning with the round loaf of hot, soft bread and a pot of butter —the atmosphere was charming, with some of the best people-watching in Boston. We liked to go after 9:30, to just order dessert — that Boston Creme Pie. The crowd on the patio would have thinned by that hour and the lighted trees seemed even more romantic.

I expected to hear about another restaurant replacing Charley's, and hoped we might enjoy the patio and the dogwoods again. As long as it wasn't another sushi place, I figured we'd be able to find our way back to a table under the trees. But the rumor is that the Frye Boot Company is leasing the building to open an enormous store. This would be a terrible shame: the restaurant's interior was handsome, with two sprawling levels of dark woodwork, cozy booths, and fine antique chandeliers, plus a glass solarium with an old-fashioned tile floor. It's likely that all of this will end up in a series of dumpsters soon. I doubt they'll be permitted to remove the trees, at least.

Frye boots are beautiful, made in America. They cost around $400 a pair. They are also have stiff, slippery leather soles, requiring a longer breaking-in period than I'm willing to suffer. (I'm willing to suffer less than 2 minutes, so I buy Børn boots that let me walk for miles in them right out of the box.) Frye boots are sold at three locations in the neighborhood that I can name off the top of my head, and I'm sure there are others. We're over-saturated with Frye boots as it is. I can't think of any restaurant that serves superb Boston Creme Pie under twinkle-lit dogwoods, so I'm convinced that we need one, rather than more Frye boots. Unfortunately, I have not been designated to rule the world, or even Newbury Street.

And, yes, I know I should be grateful that Charley's isn't going to become another bank. Although, these days, you never know.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Possum Poses

Today at the Copley Square farmers' market, I saw sweet potatoes as big as my head, big enough that just one potato could feed your whole Thanksgiving table (especially if most of your guests can't stand sweet potatoes, like many of my relatives). I even photographed them. 

But then I decided that you'd rather see Possum, who was back to working on the perfect pose for his future portrait by John Singer Sargent. He knows that Sargent was particularly gifted at painting white and cream-colored things, like fabrics and fur. So he decided the new quilt would be an ideal backdrop.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Another Exciting Day

Possum is making a ruckus in the kitchen, chasing a large housefly that buzzed in here a few minutes ago. I cheer him on: killing bugs is one of the few chores I've assigned to our cats.

... minutes later:

Silence in the kitchen. I see no signs of the fly. I ask Possum if he ate it. He gives me a look and starts licking his paw, quietly suggesting that he has consumed his prey and is having a postprandial wash. I consider that modesty is yet another of Possum's sterling attributes — along with being a fierce bug hunter.

... 10 minutes later:

The fly resurfaces and starts tearing around the ceiling, out of reach of both Possum and my rolled-up Sports Illustrated. I consider that I should be using the recent Vanity Fair with Katie Holmes on the cover, since I had great success years ago in squashing a large, threatening millipede with a September InStyle with Katie on the cover. I was alone that night, my husband having abandoned me for a DittyBops concert. I took a break from screaming to throw Katie on top of the bug and she saved me. September InStyles are always as thick as phonebooks, but I piled a tall stack of magazines on top, just in case. My husband was assigned to remove the corpse.

 ... a half-hour later:

Possum follows the fly around the house until the fly takes a rest. Possum forgets about the fly. I suggest to him that he has a short attention span. He assures me he doesn't, that he can spend hours thinking about art, food, and bicycle rickshaws. I consider that I spend hours thinking about Possum.

... another half-hour later:

Wendy has emerged from under the bed, where she sleeps, and is interested in the fly, which is buzzing around over my head. I consider that a fly is better than a millipede or a clothes moth: both species inhabit our apartment, along with ladybugs with fatal illnesses, and an occasional kitchen ant family. I consider that this apartment is surprisingly bug-infested; we should move before cockroaches and tarantulas arrive. Or we could get a bat.

...  two hours later:

Possum and Wendy are more interested in their kibble than in the fly, which is still bothering me, always out of reach. I consider that a mosquito would bother me more. We've made it through the summer without any of those in the apartment, at least. They would nest in our bedroom fireplace and bite us well into November until we figured it out and sealed the flue.

... another hour later:

No sign of the fly. Possum is lounging and Wendy is snoring. I consider that the fly has apparently died of boredom — as will my readers if I don't end this now.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Few of Wendy's Grievances


1. I never get as much blog-time as Possum. Evil Mommy says he is an intellectual, whereas I am more of a small-talker. But she should be able to intuit my many shallow thoughts and write about them.

2. Evil Mommy put tennis balls in the dryer with her pillow to fluff it up and I thought I was Going to Die.

3. I do not have enough sparkle balls. I don't even have 20. Maybe just 16 or 17.

4. Evil Mommy is trying to starve us to death by feeding us no-calorie ["indoor formula" — ed.] food for breakfast.

5. Possum gets whatever he wants. 

6. Sometimes, Evil Mommy or Daddy tries to pet me while I am lying on the bed and I'm convinced I am Going to Die.

7.  Sometimes, I lie on the bed and Evil Mommy and Daddy don't try to pet me.

8.  When Evil Mommy gives Possum and me Greenies treats at night, I need ample time to sniff each one, in case it is Poison and would Cause Me to Die. But Possum knocks them out of Evil Mommy's fingers as I am inspecting them and snarfs them up.

9.  Every couple of weeks, Evil Mommy vacuums and I think I am Going to Die.

10. Evil Mommy (and Daddy) used to try to feed me Poison [salmon — ed.] made by Fancy Feast. Fancy Feast makes a million delicious flavors but they give me Poison [Savory Salmon Feast — ed.]

Friday, September 21, 2012

Last Day of Summer

click to enlarge

At the Copley Square farmer's market today, I admired this elegant display of shiitake mushrooms, green Romanesco cauliflower, baby eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, and sunflowers from Siena Farms.

Before going out I had to swap my flip flops for boots and put on a wool jacket. And I was still cold — who turned down the air-conditioning all over Boston?

Goodbye, summer. For the sake of the tomatoes, I hope we have a few more weeks before the first hard frost.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

NSFW Carrot

This turned up in my selection of multicolored carrots at the Copley Farmers' Market the other day. I present it for your consideration of its unique attributes, aesthetic merits, or whatever.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Current Craving: Wild Cherry Tomatoes


September is the best month for visiting the farmer's market. You can still find the last hurrah of summer — raspberries, peaches, plums — along with autumn's rich variety of apples and pears, plus all the best vegetables (except for peas).  And there are already pumpkins, too. 

Tomatoes are abundant and in their glory, finally, after the long wait through June, July, and early August. And my new favorites are the tiny wild cherry tomatoes. I believe this heirloom variety is called Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes. 

In the past couple of weeks, I've been reading (mostly rereading) books about Venice, beginning with No Vulgar Hotel by Judith Martin, and moving on to the first (and best) of Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series, Death at La Fenice. (We also watched The Wings of the Dove yet again; it has the most gorgeous costumes and settings of any film I know.) I was annoyed to realize that I don't have my own copy of John Berendt's City of Falling Angels, so while the Boston Public Library is digging up their copy for me, I'm rereading Marlena DiBlasi's delicious memoir-with-recipes, A Thousand Days in Venice. In her early middle age, possessed of a newly renovated house and a thriving café in St. Louis, she met a Venetian gentleman while traveling there, fell in love, uprooted herself, and moved to his dreadful apartment on the Lido within months. Yesterday morning, I read about one of her early visits to the Mercato, the centuries-old outdoor market:
As I passed by Michele's table one day, his head was bent into the work of weaving the dried stems of small silver onions into braids. Without looking up at me, he freed his hands to hold out a branch of tomatoes, each one so small it looked like a tight rosebud. I pulled at one and rolled it around in my mouth, chewed it slowly. Its savor and perfume were that of a two-pound sun-warmed tomato distilled, suspended inside the tiny ruby fruit. Still with his head bent, Michelle asked, "Hai capito? Have you understood?" Short for "Have you understood that these are the earth's most beautiful tomatoes?" He knew very well I'd understood.
Man, I wanted to understand, too. But I doubted our farmer's market would have anything quite like that. So imagine my happiness when, later the same morning at our market, I found a wooden crate sitting on a farmer's table holding hundreds of tiny tomatoes on drying stems. All perfectly round and scarlet, the size of small grapes. I sampled one, and Venice did not feel so far away. As Signora DiBlasi wrote, it held the sweet, complex flavor of a much larger, ripe tomato condensed into one bite. One can and should eat them like candy. Moving along, I found that other farmers were selling cartons of them, without their vines — along with September's usual cherry, grape, plum, field, and heirloom tomatoes, in every color from golden to purple to black. 

But I believe these tiny ruby ones are the best, and I wish you the pleasure of eating them straight from their vine.

The Mercato, in September 2009.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

NABB Street Sale

The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay held its annual Street Sale on the Dartmouth Street mall last Saturday. I found out just in the nick of time; we'd visited my family the weekend before and missed the last Brimfield Antiques Fair of the year, and I was in the mood to browse.

I got there after the early-morning downpour ended and the weather turned bright and cool. The aisles were hopping and there was plenty of stuff, but nothing we wanted. It's fun to get answers that eternal question: what are our neighbors hiding in their closets? Here are a few answers, along with some photos.

Creepy dolls. (There are always Buddha statues at these sales, too.)

Glassware and china formerly owned by parents or grandparents.

Crystals from defunct chandeliers and Depression glass.

Loads and loads of rhinestone pins and dangly earrings.

Old handbags, sequined fruit, oriental runners, ashtrays, clocks, 
paperweights, tennis racquets, lamps, framed prints, and baskets.

Slipcovers & Madeleines

Do you remember plastic slipcovers? Did you know they still exist? I was checking out a new "must-see" listing for a house in Somerville and, lo and behold:

Custom-made, too.

This photo is a Proustian madeleine for me. I hadn't thought about plastic slipcovers for years. When I was growing up, our neighbors had them on their "French Provincial" living room set. They didn't take them off for company, so we sat on them. And stuck to them. No wonder I was a socially awkward child; visiting people was frequently hell.

I believe we should live in all the rooms of our houses and enjoy our "best" things, even if that means exposing them to some wear and tear. But I also understand the Depression-era mind-set of trying to protect an expensive investment— most of my family struggled through those years. When you've experienced such hardship, the wolf never seems far from the door no matter how times change. My relatives used cotton slipcovers to protect their cut-velvet upholstery, while my more modern parents chose a tough, scratchy upholstery called "Herculon" that remains indestructible 40 years later. (Its brown-and-yellow floral pattern lost its appeal for most of us long ago).

Another madeleine (who can stop at one?): In the 1970s, the Sure-Fit Slipcover Company employed lots of people in our town. (It since moved its factory to China.) As a teenager, I worked there one summer on the inventory crew, counting stock in the huge, dusty warehouse, which was piled in open-front bins up to the ceiling. There were at least 20 of us punching the time-clock for this adventure. Working in pairs, one of us would prop an an ancient wooden ladder against the bins, climb up, root around, and call down stock numbers and quantities to our partner, who had spreadsheets and a pencil. 

The bottom edges of the ladders' rails were rounded and slippery with age, so they often slid out from underneath us and we'd crash onto the floor. The more chivalrous partners on the ground tried to hold the ladder steady, but it was hard to manage spreadsheets and do that. So our days were punctuated with frequent screams and minor injuries, until most of us abandoned the ladders and started climbing the scaffolding that held the bins, like monkeys. I'll bet we all worked harder in high school after that summer, in hopes of getting into college. I certainly did.

I guess they weren't very sweet madeleines, but I think I will raise a (sparkling cider) toast to the Sure-Fit Slipcover Company for helping me get into Swarthmore. And the next toast will be to the neighbors with the plastic slipcovers, for teaching me what not to do from a very young age.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Science Project Complete

Well, that's over, and I'm glad. The good news is that I'm fine. The bad news is that the colonoscopy team at my hospital doesn't give Demerol nowadays because it made too many people sick afterward. I entreated and implored, but they insisted upon a more boring form of sedation. It put me to sleep, but I have vague memories of saying "Ouch!" many times. I recall vague pains that came and went, and nothing else.

When I awoke I was spacey (more than usual, that is), and there were no technicolor "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" effects like last time. I ate crackers, dressed, and went home.

Possum kept me company in bed during the day, before my appointment. He began his role as furry hot water bottle early in the morning. I hadn't slept well and was finally dozing, too tired to pet him. So he bit my ring finger! It was not a gentle nip but a firm bite. I yelled in surprise, and gave him a brief lecture, but he did not apologize. He's growing spoiled, and I wonder whose fault that is. But, later, he sprawled across me as I read, purring and gazing at me with dreamy eyes before he fell asleep. He was warm and comforting, the best companion with sharp incisors I could ask for.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Science Project

Because my doctor tends to overreact, I am scheduled for a colonoscopy tomorrow. This will be my second. I remember my first one rather fondly — at least everything that happened after they gave me Demerol. I had the most delightful time until it wore off.

I remember the prep the day before less fondly. That time, I drank what seems like a quart of liquid that tasted like sea water, or bilge. Tonight, I drank 15 ounces (through a straw and with a lot of ice) of what seemed to be tangy lemon soda. I expected to hate it, but it was fine. Of course, I hadn't been allowed to have food all day, only clear liquids, so wet newspaper would taste pretty good to me right now.

Last time, seven years ago, I pep-talked my way through the unpleasant aspects of the preparation by telling myself that my body was about to become my "science experiment." Persuading myself that I was a detached observer instead of just an unwilling participant helped. But, mostly, I felt like Alice must have, after she went down the rabbit hole. "My, how curious." "How very strange."

I had foolishly decided not to drink all the beverages, broths, and Jello I was instructed to have. It seemed like a ridiculous amount for tiny me — until I woke up in the middle of the night with a raging headache and nausea from dehydration. By then, I wasn't allowed to drink anything. My husband raced to an all-night store for Tylenol because we only had Advil, which wasn't allowed, either. I was a mess, and barely made it to my appointment. But then a nurse hooked me up to an IV and soon Demerol made everything marvelously marvelous. As she put the line into my arm, she pointed out the backs of my hands, which looked strangely smooth. "When you can't see your veins, that means you're dehydrated. If you can't see them, drink!"

This time, I am drinking plenty. I wonder: who voluntarily drinks Gatorade? It's vile enough to make me glad I'm not a professional athlete, although I'm glad about that anyway.

I planned to have vegetable broth for "dinner," but it wasn't transparent when I poured it from the carton, so I'll save it for cooking. I had ginger ale as my main course instead.

I was awake during my last procedure, which I recall as being like an excellent party since I was as high as a kite and everyone was cheering me on. The doctor was also my GI specialist, a nice fellow at all times but as brilliantly witty as Oscar Wilde while I was on Demerol. He kept trying to direct my attention to the video monitor, so I could watch what they were doing. But I wasn't that drugged; I knew better than that. He told me he was taking pictures of my innards, and would give me copies. I remember saying, "Great! We can out them on our Christmas cards!" I got those photos, and threw them out unseen. I believe that there are some things we just aren't ever meant to know.

Tomorrow afternoon, I'll be seeing the same doctor again, and I hope it all goes swimmingly. Fingers crossed for more Demerol, too. (I've never taken a recreational drug in my life, but I now understand what all the fuss is about.) I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tested and Approved

Possum tried out our new Filigree Quilt from Garnet Hill and says its warm ivory color and medallion stitching set off his tawny-tiger-and-white coat to perfection. Yes, it does.

Possum likes a handsome background.

I bought one of these quilts in red last January, and was impressed with the quality. I had waited for one of Garnet Hill's 25%-off flash sales on Facebook, so it was a steal, since it was half-price to begin with. With Garnet Hill, patience pays off, as does eternal vigilance for those flash sales.

When I received a Garnet Hill gift card on my birthday, I planned to use it for a second quilt, in white or maybe ivory. And then I found that Garnet Hill had brilliantly chosen to have another Facebook 2-hour flash sale (25% off everything and free shipping) on my birthday. And then I saw that there was a special half-price promotion on the quilt, too.

I have never surrendered a gift card with such speed.

Pretty in every color.

I can't resist a bedding bargain, especially with free shipping, so I bought both colors, thinking we'd like one much better than the other. Nope: they are both beautiful and different enough, so we're keeping both. They are warm, machine-washable, and reversible. And, despite all that intricate stitching, they are half the price (or less) of a basic, thin matellassé coverlet. All three quilts together cost me just a little more than one does now at full price.

Thank you, husband (gift card!), Garnet Hill, and Facebook. We're going to be warm this winter. I can't wait.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cat People, People Cats

Possum doesn't care for souvenirs. 
He prefers his people to stay home.

Since we no longer have fragile cats who need fluids and multiple medications, we no longer need the cat-sitting services of a veterinary technician when we travel. We're back to using the regular neighborhood pet-sitting service. They take care of food, water, litter-scooping, and companionship twice a day, and cost half as much.

Although he mostly walks dogs, our sitter does a fine job with cats, too. I know he spends quality time with ours, which matters to me. Possum, at least, enjoys petting and conversation, and misses us when we're away.

Cat sitters have barely seen Wendy. She hides under the bed or sofa the whole time they're here. When they hunt for her, they see a squished calico with enlarged pupils peering out behind her massive tail. The vet tech once found her curled up in the front-loading washing machine, whereupon she vaporized and reappeared under the bed.

Our dearly departed Snictoria and Snalbert had good manners and were sociable with sitters as with all visitors. Snalbert was particularly fascinated with workmen, who'd have to stop whatever they were doing to give him attention every so often. Even power tools didn't daunt him. I doubt that Wendy will ever appear in front of strangers, let alone ask to investigate their drills and workboxes.

The cat sitters always leave us notes to tell us how everyone behaved, and it's heartening to read that Possum has been coming out to greet them and have his play time. He's head cat of the household now, which comes with social responsibilities.

When we arrived home last weekend, the note said that the service had sent a new sitter, a woman described as a "real pro" with cats, a cat person.

She reported that Possum had jumped into her lap on her first visit.

My Possum! In a stranger's lap. My first reaction was akin to shock and awe... and then I realized I was jealous. I know it's ridiculous. Why should I mind if he curled up in the lap of some "pro"? I'd be delighted if he tried it with one of our friends, while we were there. But the idea of him having a cozy private time with a stranger, well....

Dog people are used to their beloveds nuzzling, sniffing, and licking everyone they meet; with some dogs, everyone is a new best friend. Nice dogs are supposed to do that. Cats are supposed to be more challenging. They have a wide range of attitudes toward people but, with most cats, we have to earn their good will somehow.

Some otherwise domesticated cats, like Wendy, will flee from any stranger (and from their own people, sometimes) because they're convinced we want to kill them to make a delicious stew. It's not usually a reasoned reaction, but there it is. Convincing them that there are better food sources in the world than cats can keep you busy for their lifetime.

Most cats are wary to a lesser degree, and will warm up to you if you speak gently and let them approach you. Such a cat could end up in your lap if you've proven yourself not to be loud, scary, or obnoxious.

Some cats trust their instincts and cozy up to some people instantly and avoid or even attack others. My childhood cat, the fearsome Kelly, loathed one of my relatives and once chased her out of our house and into her car. He had the right idea: she was a chain smoker who ignored my dad's no-smoking rule.

A smart cat will take some time to size you up. People who can't take the pressure will often say they "don't like cats." In fact, it tends to be the other way around.

There are also "people" cats who behave like dogs, running up to anybody to loll at their feet, demanding belly rubs. They leap into any available lap. There was Tilly, a tortoiseshell tabby down the street, who was just such a feline hussy. Kindly passersby would wonder if they should take her into their homes because she adored them so desperately. We neighbors would tell them that she had a good home, she just threw herself at everyone.

I don't want Possum to be that kind of cat. I would prefer a bit of polite reserve on his part with everyone but me. And perhaps my husband. Perhaps. Wendy likes to throw herself at him when she's in a certain mood. With me, not so much. Fair's fair.

The evening after I read that note, I kept looking searchingly into Possy's big hazel eyes, watching for any hint of guilt, remorse, or shame over his weekend activities. Nothing. Instead he looked straight back at me and kept asking for more food.

I began to hope that maybe he really did just sit in her lap, rather than stretch himself out intimately for a nap, as he likes to do with me when I am lying down. I'm adept at reading almost anything with one hand because he is using the other as a pillow. I hope he didn't stare into her eyes from a few inches away, purring, as he does with me. I hope it was just a quick, polite lap sit. So, finally, I asked him.

The look he gave me. He didn't dignify my question with a reply. But I saw his answer in his eyes: "If you don't like what I do when you aren't here, stay home with me! Or take me with you."

Got it, Possum.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Adventures with Hormones

After I learned that I was developing high blood pressure last spring, I wrote that I'd be posting about my experiences going off the Pill after 15 years. I was opposed to this change, but more opposed to blood-pressure medication. It seems I've been rather quiet on the subject, so here's an update. While a Proper Bostonian might prefer not to speak of such personal things in public, I do it in the hope that it might prove useful to a woman or two going through a similar experience. And useful is what Proper Bostonians should be, rather than merely decorative.

I went off the Pill in late April and quickly rediscovered myself as a teenager. My face broke out, my moods were strong and wacky, my hair turned oily, and I rediscovered my love for rock 'n roll at high volume. I did not read Twilight or see The Hunger Games, however much I was tempted, nevertheless. Instead, I dreamed about doing my homework.

My gynecologist said she hoped I'd discover that I'd sailed through menopause while I'd been on the Pill and that it had masked the accompanying hot flashes and night sweats, etc. No such luck. I've yet to experience any of that (and you can bet that I won't suffer quietly if I do). My situation is different: a solid week of PMS, with soreness, mood swings, and painful IBS flare-ups... and then cramps. Every three weeks.

However, my blood pressure went down. I tried petting Possum while using my stupid old meter, but that didn't work because its stupid beeping noises freaked him out every time. He'd startle me by jumping away and my pressure would spike.But gazing at some of my Pinterest boards — especially one with flower photos — settled me enough to get normal readings.

In June, my blood pressure was back to normal. I began pursuing a solution to my other hormonal problems. There are two hormones in regular birth-control pills: estrogen, which can elevate blood pressure, and progesterone, which doesn't. So I began taking the progesterone-only Mini Pill. This relieves various symptoms for perimenopausal women, and it works for me. I think. I'm on my third month and I don't have PMS, bad skin, mood swings — or cycles. It's effective birth-control, too, of course. It seems to ridiculous to have to worry about that, but according to my doctors, I do. Women in their 50s do get pregnant, but tend to miscarry. My doctor warned me to avoid that drama.

All was well until, a couple of months ago, I found my hair falling out in handfuls. In the shower, I'd feel clumps of it sliding down my back and clogging the drain. I talked to my nurse practitioner, and she couldn't tell me whether this was a delayed reaction from going off the Pill or a side effect of the Mini Pill.

I planned to refrain from freaking out here about going bald until I figured out the problem. Back in the spring, I'd read that hair loss could result from stopping the Pill, so I'd been dreading it. I started taking biotin as a precaution. There's no way to know if it's helping, so I keep taking ir. There's hardly any good medical information about hormonal hair loss. I finally read somewhere that it can begin a few months after stopping hormones. That was reassuring. I finally went to a women's health practitioner at a holistic health center, who thought it was best to "not rock the boat" — to wait another month or two to see if the hair loss stopped while I continued taking the Mini Pill. I think it has, while there's still enough left for a slender ponytail. So I'm assuming it was the result of that 2-1/2 month break I took between pill prescriptions.

Aside from my hair, my only other complaint is that I've suddenly gone from feeling like a teenager to feeling like an old lady. My back, joints, and muscles are stiff and more achy these days. I have sore muscles around one hip that I never knew existed before. I never thought about my hip, let alone imagined it might bother me. I thought only ballerinas and old ladies had hip problems. I also have a permanently tight calf muscle from my daily walks. When I've been sitting awhile, I'm stiff when I get up, so I dodder like a senior citizen, although it goes away once I'm moving. This could be from a lack of estrogen... or a symptom of some ghastly disease. Or I might merely be terribly out of shape.

So, with those words, I'm heading to the gym for the first time in months. I'll do a very slow and gentle workout, following my chiropractor's advice. It would be nice to get strong and fit again, and feel like my old (but not that old) self.

Monday, September 10, 2012

For Clettering the Dishes

Fans of Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons's satire of the overly grim and sensual fiction of the early 20th century, will remember how the elderly farmer Adam Lambsbreath used a thorn twig to wash or "cletter" the dishes until his cousin Flora, our sensible, modern heroine, bought him a little mop with a handle. Adam became passionately attached to his new mop and refused to let it near the dirty dishes: "Tis prettier than apple bloom, my little mop..."

I saw these peculiar-looking mops at Shaw's today and realized they were probably the sort of thing that Flora gave to Adam, although his had a white wooden handle and a red string, not yellow.


These are supposed to be basting tools, but take a moment to consider just how unhygienic it would be to reuse this cotton mop on, say, your weekly roasted suckling piglet. Better to use a thorn twig. These little mops are definitely more suited to dish-clettering, as performed by a moony, melodramatic old farmer.

Life has been a bit grim lately for this Robert Post's Child, so I'm thinking that a reread of Cold Comfort Farm might be salutary after I finish my current book about Venice (a cheering topic, but evidently not cheering enough).


Better yet, I own, but have not yet read Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, the sequel. I've been saving it for December, but what the heck? Last fall, I received a substantial Stella Gibbons paperback collection from a dear friend who brought it all back from London. And so I have plenty of entertainment ahead.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Where Is APB?

We're in Pennsylvania for the weekend, visiting family after the death of my aunt, who had been sick for many months. Things are as fine as they can be, given the circumstances, but I probably won't be posting again until after the weekend.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

That Man

Yanking open a closet door across your bare toes (or anyone else's) is not something I recommend. I should mention that I already had a painful toe, so running over it with a door was completely unnecessary. I don't think I broke anything but I'm probably going to have some black toenails shortly even though my current polish color is Essie's Beach Bum Blue.

On top of that, I have shin splints from merely walking up and down some hills the other day. And I have a sore hip for no reason I can figure out; I never had a sore hip before, so it's taking some getting used to. These days, I'm kind of a wreck; I suppose it's hormone-related or because I'm out of shape for the first time in years. Or maybe I've got some horrible disease I've never heard of.

But I have to tell you that, painful as so many of my muscles, joints, and toes are (and did I mention my neck?)... as I listened to Bill Clinton's speech tonight at the DNC, and looked at those faces in the audience, I didn't feel a thing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wendy

With the two new balsam cats in our bedroom, it smells like a Maine forest in warm summer sun. I'm so glad we got them at that great shop in Stonington.

Wendy likes the balsam cats, too. She has been careful to befriend every cat in her house. I hope she'll be this welcoming if/when a real kitten (or two) appears on the scene. I believe she's lonesome and a little bored now that she's no longer Snalbert's accomplice and napping companion.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Annals of Stupidity: Etched

I think of vinegar as a safe, cheap, non-toxic cleaner/disinfectant that works on everything from salt-stained winter boots to chandeliers. But the other day, I decided to soak a swimsuit that smelled funny with a little vinegar in the bathroom sink, and forgot that vinegar and marble don't mix. When I removed the suit, the water splashed on the marble top and etched it with permanent marks. (The suit turned out fine, however.)

For years, I knew darn well that vinegar was forbidden around our bathroom sink and tub because we have a marble sink-top and tile surround. No vinegar hair rinses, no vinegar for soaking, no vinegar in cleaning solutions. How did I forget? Sometimes I just lose it, I guess. My little brain keeps going "whir, whir," and it seems to be doing its job. But it's only churning up stray bits of fluff instead of useful facts I know, or knew, that would save me from dumb, expensive mistakes.

What to do? Nothing apparently, based on my initial online searches. There are marble stain removers, for when you drip juice or mustard onto your counter, but etching is different. Vinegar eats into marble and destroys its polished finish, leaving rough spots, not stains. Leave marble in contact with vinegar for long enough, and it will develop little craters from that meek, ordinary salad-dressing ingredient.

I knew all this once. I knew that Vinegar + Marble = Power Tool.

So I went to Back Bay Hardware on Newbury Street and threw myself on the mercy of Eric, who knows all things. If Eric can't save you, no one can. No one can save me. Hardware stores sell marble polish, but it's far from abrasive enough to restore etched spots. He said I could call the place where I bought the marble, and they'd come out and repolish it for lots of money. He also told me to try Home Depot for a do-it-yourself product. So I called them and waited on hold while they determined that they had nothing that de-etches marble.

I also wandered into Kitchenwares, also on Newbury Street. (Apparently, I'm drawn to Newbury Street when I'm in trouble. Even if no one can solve my problem, there's retail therapy to make me feel better.) Jim at Kitchenwares told me he had done the same thing once, long ago, and managed to polish it out himself using a product he got from somewhere. Although he didn't sell any marble de-etchers, he suggested I look online.

So I went back to my laptop and found a few de-etching products sold independently by marble companies. They look a little shady, as all semi-homemade sorts of products do, despite their glowing testimonial pages, where all the writers seem to have an identical style.

But one of these sellers instructed me to run my thumbnail across the spots before purchasing their product. If marble is etched deeply enough that you can feel an edge, their product won't work and you are going to have a big fat bill from a marble-polishing buy. If the spots feel rough, you're supposed to call their company for additional discussion and tutoring. I'm going to call tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.

But I'm going on the record now to say that I am a terrible do-it-yourselfer and I foresee doom, disaster, defeat, despair, and destruction as regards to my formerly beautiful bathroom sink, where Possum still deigns to lounge, although he knows it's not the same.

Stay tuned for another "Annals of Stupidity" post in a few weeks. I can smell it coming....

My formerly pristine sink.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Possum's Wish List Lengthens

I foolishly showed Possum this vintage "woodie" Vespa on Pinterest, and now it's all he talks about. He wants me to get one and put him and Wendy in the back, so we can tear around Back Bay together, making all the dogs jealous.

This is a Vespa Ape Calessino from the 1950s, according 
to one of my favorite blogs, A Cup of Jo.

He still wants a bicycle rickshaw, too, because he says I need the exercise. (And because of those tempting streamers on the handlebars, I suspect.)

Well, he needs exercise as much as I do. We weighed him today, when he finally agreed to sit still on the scale, and we read 17.8 pounds. No wonder he makes such a strong impression (aka dents) as he walks around on me as I'm sleeping in the mornings. My efforts to monitor his diet have only succeeded in keeping his weight steady, whereas I'd been hoping he'd drop a pound or two. We'll have to work on that with a change to lower-calorie food. And if that doesn't work, he's going to have to start joining me, on a leash, for my daily 10,000 steps.

That won't go over well at all.

Dreaming of his future Vespa excursions.