Friday, February 24, 2017

Because Lion

Yesterday, we rushed Lion to Angell Memorial after he ate about 14" of the string from Harris's beloved Growly pole toy. I had just written about my concern that he might do this a few days ago. 

Lion had silently taken possession of the toy after Harris had finished playing with it and helped himself to the string, which to him is the most attractive part of any toy. The anonymous person who had been playing with Harris had wedged the pole beside the seat of an armchair and had let go of it for "a short time." I need to emphasize that the anonymous person feels horrible about this. The anonymous person and I next spotted Lion running with the Growly dangling oddly from his mouth. We failed to catch him before he bit off the string that held it. The toy dropped, and he swallowed the rest of the string.

Lion has done this before. The last time, he managed to jump onto a high bookshelf where I stored spare Neko Flies toys, with their long strings, because I'd considered them safely out of reach since even I needed to reach to get them. The last time, we had been away when it happened, and didn't know which cat had done it. We had to take three suspects to the vet. This time, at least, only Lion had to be wrestled into a carrier and hurried to the hospital.

I called ahead, and then threw a phone charger, water, snacks and some editing work into my bag. I also packed the remains of the string, since vets like to see what they're hunting for inside your cat.  

We were lucky this time that the emergency staff wasn't too busy. The vet in charge of his case was an intern who looked about as old as a recent high school grad. The first thing vets give to cats who've recently swallowed foreign objects a dose of a powerful horse tranquilizer, which makes some cats throw up. Yes, many cats throw up all the time, but when you want a cat to do it, good luck. This failed for Lion, they told us, because he was apparently too upset to throw up. So they sent us home and he stayed behind to have an endoscopy.  

The operating team called us during the procedure to tell us they had pulled out about a foot of string. They texted a photo. I pulled out another Neko Flies toy and compared measurements again, and determined that another two to three inches of string was probably still inside Lion's stomach. They went back to work. Unfortunately Lion still a stomach full of  breakfast, so they couldn't locate the rest. 

Afterward, the young vet called to say that the short length of missing string would probably pass without causing any problems, especially if we fed him more fiber to bulk up his stool. She recommended one of their "prescription" foods, Science Diet W/D, and I said, "No, No, No. We do not feed our cats such poor-quality and questionable products." She was nice about it, and said she would ask around about other prescription foods. And I told her we also don't feed any of their other "prescription" food. She asked if Lion liked pumpkin I said he might, because he loves sweet potatoes. And broccoli. We settled on broccoli for his fiber, which she thought was hilarious and I thought was fine.

She called again in the later afternoon to tell us that Lion had freaked out while recovering from the anesthesia but that he was fine now. I found out later that he escaped from his cage, or wherever he was being kept, and two vet techs attempted to catch him. He bit one hard enough to break the skin while the other one somehow hit her head. Knowing Lion and his panics, I can imagine how it went down. I won't say I'm proud of his destructive behavior because that would be mean, but I do think it was rather impressive, if rude.

The bite was not terrible, they told us, but it was bad enough that official state paperwork had to be filed and his vaccine records were verified. I hate it that our cats get unnecessary vaccines (rabies shots are good for years but are required annually in Massachusetts) but in this case, it may have saved Lion from quarantine. So, once again: please take your cats to the vet at least once a year, have their teeth checked, and get the damned shots.

We brought Lion home a little before 9 o'clock. We'd spent most of the afternoon out of the house, because it's not pleasant to be there without all five cats. Even though Lion hides all afternoon, it still felt empty. We went to Quincy and looked at huge houses we didn't buy year ago, and congratulated ourselves. Then we went to Hingham, because we'd never been there. Then we went to Doyle's pub in  Jamaica Plain and ate mediocre burgers because it was near the hospital and we weren't supposed to be there before 7 and we couldn't bear to go home. We got to Angell at 7, and waited until long past 8 before they paid any attention to us. Lion's bill came to $1,400. (Perhaps that figure will put the fear of God into you around pole toys; it sure doesn't seem to work around here. Because this is at least our third experience with swallowed string from pole toys. I think we might be getting a repeat-customer discount.) We went home with two medications to soothe his esophagus and prevent any side-effects from the procedure, so we are dosing him five times a day.

Personally, I do think it's simpler, less expensive, and puts less wear-and-tear on both cats and humans to keep a close watch on a pole toy and to get up and put it away in a safe place when the cats are done playing with it. But that is an opinion. 

You might think it's simpler, less expensive, and puts less wear-and-tear on everyone to not have pole toys in the house at all. This is our second endoscopy episode courtesy of Neko Flies in particular. But you have never seen Harris with his "Growly," or Toffee leaping high in the air after a Neko Flies bug, or Lion dragging me to another room with their Kittenator in his mouth. Pole toys give our cats their best, most satisfying exercise — as long as they are strictly supervised. 

It's possible that it's simpler, less expensive, and puts less wear-and-tear on everyone if I'm the only one  allowed to handle the pole toys around our cats. You might very well think that. But I couldn't possibly comment.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Looking in at the Boston Public Library

The McKim Building of the Boston Public Library is one of the most beautiful public spaces in Boston. I took a few quick photos earlier this month, on my way to look at the Sargent Murals on the third floor.

The staircase is decorated with a set of neoclassical murals by Puvis de Chavannes:

Yellow Sienese marble gives the staircase and the arcade above a golden glow on even the grayest winter day:

And there are cats:

John Singer Sargent's Triumph of Religion murals, installed in 1919, are perhaps his grandest, most imaginative and visionary works. That said, I prefer his dashed-off watercolors and many of his quieter portraits and landscapes to this tour de force. But on a cold winter afternoon, this much beauty, color, and gold does act like a tonic.

Here you've got an Egyptian pharaoh and his weird, winged god battling an Assyrian king and his gods, with a bunch of young, naked guys directly in the line of fire. Meanwhile, downstairs, Moses is trying to present his Commandments despite the racket, but no one can hear a thing:

The mural cycle is unfinished; some say Sargent abandoned it because he was grieving over the death of his beloved niece and model Rose Marie, who had died at 24 the previous spring, in Paris, when the church where she was attending a Good Friday concert was hit by a German missile. Rose Marie appears in the mural as a medieval woman symbolizing The Church. I didn't get a good photo; the murals are dimly lit so it's hard to shoot many of them. Read more about Rose Marie and her portrait in the mural here.

Thinking of Rose Marie always breaks my heart, but we were in an unusually buoyant mood that day: the Patriots had just won the Super Bowl against all odds, tying the game at the last minute, and then winning in unprecedented overtime. So when I saw this group, I thought they could be subtitled SB LI: The Fourth Quarter. The battle had been epic. Watching it felt like this:

I am not sure who this goddess is supposed to be, but I'm pretty sure those are gold 3D pinecones shooting out of the background. And I'm all for it.

You can read more about the murals on the BPL's website.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Signs of Christmas?

Presidents' Day is over but lots of our neighbors still have their outdoor Christmas decorations up, in varying states of dryness, brownness, disarray, and death. Some of my Garden Club wreaths are still on doors as we head into Month Three.

Some of us (don't look at me!) still have indoor lights up, too. I think I actually spotted a lit tree last week on Commonwealth Avenue.

I love Christmas but enough is enough. So I recently inspected the apartment for leftover holiday stuff and, I have to say, I don't have a perfect score but I've done pretty well. At least I can justify make good excuses for what I have.

Our last balsam wreath, the one that always gets totally obscured by pinecones, was laid to rest more than a week ago, decently before Valentine's Day. No Christmas cards linger on my desk, not even the one with my cute baby great-nephew, which didn't arrive until late January.

I spotted one hydrangea spray with glitter that I hadn't bothered to put away, but it was up high in a vase, mostly out of sight, and not terribly Christmasy.

There are glittery pinecones mixed into the bowls of plain ones I keep around all year. I consider the glittered ones to be "wintry" rather than "holiday." So there.

I don't count Christmas-themed cat toys, since they don't belong to me.

I also refuse to count all the Christmas music we're still listening to because all of my MP3s are jumbled into one huge, unsortable playlist on my husband's ancient iPod. We need to update our sound system. So a typical playlist is a Chopin waltz, the Clash, a big-band version of "O Holy Night," the Beatles, Gregorian chant, Joan Baez, Arcade Fire, "Silent Night" and Nick Drake. It's not my fault. I try to click through the carols when they turn up but I forget, especially when I'm staring at my glittery pinecones.

Then there's the Christmas candy. We are making a valiant effort to finish it off as quickly as possible, although I wisely (or foolishly) skipped all the post-Valentine's chocolate sales. When it's gone, it will be easier for us to try to eliminate everything with added sugar from our diets for a month, something we initially planned to be doing now, since this is the shortest one. We got side-tracked, mostly by cookies. But it will happen: we both have to shed all the pounds we've gained since Thanksgiving so we do well at our annual check-ups. And because Easter candy is coming.

There's one last item and it isn't going anywhere. It's an ornament I got at Anthropologie last December and didn't have the heart to pack away:

He sits on the bedroom mantel. He looked great hanging him from a doorknob but I had to move him to higher ground because Harris.

On the night of the Super Bowl, around half-time, my husband was in despair. I took the creature from the mantel and pranced it around in his direction. "This is the Flying Jackalope of Good Fortune," I said. "If you make a wish, maybe you'll get it." The rest is history, and the kid stays in the picture.

What about you? Is your tree gone? What about the wreaths, garlands, dead poinsettias, fruitcake, cookies, and cards? Do you still have wrapped presents sitting around, waiting for people to show up because you are too lazy to mail them? (Me, too, but they're decently hidden in a drawer.)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Signs of Spring

We've had a few days of spring-like weather that's melted most of the foot of snow we were shoveling at this time last week. We spotted these hellebores on Saturday on the sunny side of Commonwealth Avenue, the first flowers we've seen:

On that same walk (North End Pizzeria Regina) I saw the witch hazel that's been blooming in the Public Garden for a while now. This is a terrible photo because I had to plunge through slippery, melting snow to get close to it and my boots weren't up to it.

It's weird to see flowers in February; my first impression of snowdrops and hellebores is never "Oooh, flowers!" but "Uh-oh — strange, alien growths oozing from the earth!" I sometimes felt a similar disconnect when I saw kids walking home from school back in the '80s and '90s, when there weren't so many young families in Back Bay. When I'd see children from my window on Commonwealth Avenue, my brain didn't register them as "school children in uniforms" but as "remarkably tiny yuppies in preppy outfits." A split second later I could correct myself; my next thought was usually that I needed to get out of Back Bay more often because it was too homogeneous.

These days, it's the magnolias and rhododendrons that are weird — they have had their buds since late summer. I'm not sure what they are going to look like when they finally bloom, which could be any time now if this warming pattern continues. Will they look wrinkly and tired? Will they still be wearing their Hillary buttons? Or will they just decide not to bloom at all as a protest because people will still have their Christmas wreaths up?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lion Is Nervous

In this photo, Lion looks relaxed on his pillow but he actually is on the verge of taking off and disappearing. His pointy little ears are back, which is the warning sign.

He is nervous for one of two reasons:

1. I am bothering him. When I took this, he was having a rest after a pitched battle with me over whether he should chase the [disgusting] furry rodent attached to the pole or chew on the string, which is he thinks is his mission in life. He will chase the toy like a rambunctious kitten to please me and distract me, but the second I turn away — and I try hard to keep an eye on him but there are other cats who want attention, too — he attacks the string. It is fraying in several places. I remind him that he swallowed two feet of it once and it was no fun at all. He ignores me. I wish I understood him. The closest I can come is my own relationship with dental floss. I don't love flossing my teeth but can't imagine not doing it every day. Did he learn from watching us that "chewing" on string is hygienic and necessary? If I ask, all I get is his innocent, round-eyed gaze. And then he takes off to hide.

2. Lion is worried about our government. Possum follows the news and updates the others. I'm not sure what he tells them; so far, at least, no one's appetite has been seriously affected. But I've noticed that, when we are reading and working in the living room after dinner, four of them gather on the bed, leaving one, usually Harris or Toffee, to keep us "company" (it feels more like surveillance). If I walk into the bedroom while they are there, they stare at me, trying hard to look innocent and sleepy. I am not fooled. Then, every night when we go to bed, all five regroup in the living room. I can't remember when I last had a cat for company at bedtime — probably around Christmas. All we get is four patches of vestigial warmth. It makes us wonder if we should get more cats: five feels a lot like zero these days.  If I get up in the middle of the night (I have insomnia and looking out the window passes the time) I find them all curled up on the living room chairs, facing each other. Having a meeting.
    I can only assume they are planning some covert operation to disrupt/save the government, and they don't want to get us in trouble if it fails and they get arrested. They all lack any proof of citizenship. We know Harris was born in Newtown, Connecticut, but that's it. Possum allegedly came from Norway, and Lion is said to be some type of foreigner. They are brave.
    I'm pleased that they are organized; like many others, our little family is learning the hard way that we need to participate in government if we want it to work for us and for all people. I'm also glad that Wendy is part of the group, since she tends to hold rigid conservative beliefs aligning with the Tea Party, according to Possum. But he says she becomes more open-minded once she's been bitten enough. I hope they don't do anything dangerous or embarrassing. I'm praying it's something harmless, like speed-dialing Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan's offices when we aren't home and leaving incoherent messages, or donating their toys to Elizabeth Warren's reelection campaign.  If I figure it out, I will let you know.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

You Want These. But You Can't Have Them

When seasoned travelers from Europe and elsewhere visit us, or just my husband at the university, they usually bring presents. My husband wisely hands the good stuff — anything that isn't the visitor's latest scholarly tome — over to me. 

The best presents are chocolate, of course. Sometimes French and Italian visitors bring a good bottle of wine, which was a nuisance for them to transport. Since I can't drink and my husband only likes an occasional sherry or Bailey's, it means we have a good gift the next time we are asked to dinner. 

Our Paris friends sometimes remember that our favorite Mariage Frères tea is butterscotch. We really miss our Paris friends these days.

A Belgian visitor brings chocolate, so a Belgian visitor is always more than welcome. A recent one handed over a little cube that was surprisingly heavy, being packed tightly with half a kilo of little chocolate pyramids, filled with vanilla cream. Then she sent us another tiny box, this time packed with cats and Santas filled with hazelnut cream. She'd better come back soon.

Egyptian chocolate can be excellent. In December, we got a box of gold-foil-wrapped dark chocolates from Cairo, with a crunchy, sort-of praline center. I was initially skeptical, but Egyptians know from chocolate; I knew that they had pastry all figured out — and candy, too. The praline things were so addictive that we ate them all without saving a wrapper, and now we don't know how to get more.

The best thing about dark chocolate is that my husband thinks he doesn't like it and usually leaves it alone. Mine, mine, mine.

German, Austrian, and Swiss visitors wisely bring chocolate. The more diabolical among them bring us Lindt chocolate in varieties that we can't get here, a welcome gift that is also a form of torture. A package appears, full of something wonderful, and we (or I should say, I) snarf it down and realize I must, must, must have more. Now! So I race over to the Lindt store . . . and they've never heard of it.

Let me draw your attention to two such items, just in case this happens to you, or if you are going to travel to Switzerland and want to bring us a present:

These are roasted almonds covered in milk chocolate and dusted in sugar spiced with cinnamon and coriander:

They are amazingly good. They run rings around the deeply addictive chocolate-covered almonds with sea salt and Turbinado sugar from Trader Joe's. I ate most of a bag the other day, during a screening of La La Land, and it was by far the most enjoyable part of the experience. (Musical romantic comedies have Happy Endings — it should go without saying. So what was that?)  

Anyway, I'm trying to learn how to pronounce Weihnachts-Mandeln nicely so I can tell Santa I want many bags of them next winter. They are, obviously (if you have any German; I do not), a holiday item. But that didn't register with me until I had only about four left in the bag. This means that nobody can get them now unless there's a Teutonic candy shop somewhere with a curse on it. 

I will never understand why all the wonderful holiday things are only available at holiday time.* For example, peppermint bark tastes just as good in April as it does in December. But unless it's occurred to you to hoard the stuff (and I have) you'll just have to trust me on that. 

After all, in A Christmas Carol Mr. Dickens advised us to keep Christmas in our hearts all year round, and it would be a hell of a lot easier if we could keep it in our stomachs, too. 

I may actually try to make some Weihnachts-Mandeln soon. I'll let you know how that goes. 

My other long-lost foreign-only item is Lindt's Milk Chocolate Orange Thins (see above). They look like nothing — thin little rectangles of plain chocolate. Big deal, you say. I know, I thought so, too. Loads of them come packed in a shallow box about the size of two decks of cards. But there's something lovely and satisfying about their very thinness and smooth flavor — and I'm hardly a chocolate minimalist. They melt in your mouth perfectly. And you really only need a few at a time but, as I said, there are loads of them, which is lovely, too. 

In the US, you can get them in milk or dark chocolate. What you can't get is the orange-flavored milk chocolate and those are the ones you want. The ones you must have when you finish them out and trot over to the Lindt store for a crushing disappointment. (I can also tell you that they don't have them in the Heathrow Duty-Frees because I pestered a friend to hunt for them last week.)

If you are heading to Zurich, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, or similar soon, please let me know.

*  I get the point of not leaving Christmas decorations up much past January, and waiting until after Thanksgiving to put them up.** I'm not sure how I feel about the people who leave their electric candles in the windows year-round. This is common in the my hometown, Bethlehem, PA (the Christmas City of the USA). If I lived there, I might be tempted to do it, too, but I also think it makes the candles less special when they are always lit, heating up August nights and competing with the lightning bugs and humidity there.

** Which reminds me. It's the day after Valentine's Day. Are your Christmas decorations, etc., GONE YET? More on that subject later. I'm keeping Christmas in my heart AND here and there, I guess.