Saturday, December 8, 2018

Wreath Week 2018: Day 1

Another Garden Club "Wreath Week" has come and gone. I believe that a good time was had by all of us decorators and our "management team," and I'll bet the drivers and their partners who deliver many of the wreaths had fun, too, since they often get all the credit for the wreaths.

As for me, I ate far too many chocolate-covered Belgian cookies, slices of lemon pound cake, and tiny chocolate-chip muffins. I did manage to curtail my mini cinnamon bun consumption, which is something, since I used to eat one before beginning each wreath, to fuel my endeavors. Keep in mind that I used to make a LOT more wreaths each day than I do now, back when I didn't have joint issues.

I wasn't enthusiastic about how my first wreaths turned out this year, but as I look at them now, they don't seem so bad.

The first wreath always takes forever. For one thing, materials need to be gathered, and there are lots to choose from, and everything is fresh and wonderful. Then the bow has to be made, and there's no point in trying to decorate a wreath without a bow, so one often uses that time to catch up with everyone and maybe have a little piece of coffee cake or Danish or lemon poundcake or, if the bows take long enough, all three. Then one realizes, too late, that one should spray the pinecones with gold or with glitter, and that takes a while. And while they dry, there's more conversation, often at the buffet table.

I like the bow on that wreath — a no-nonsense Christmas plaid. We ran low on red ribbon this year, which was too bad, because red bows and plaid bows are popular requests. This customer got lucky.

As you can see, we had fresh holly with bright, perfect red berries, and umbrella pine sprays on the first day. Umbrella pine is that light green stuff that projects from the surface of the wreath and looks a bit like fireworks if you're in a fanciful frame of mind.

Almost all of the wreath orders I get are for outdoor display and all-natural materials, unlike others people who specialize in "glamorous glitz." I am best left to pinecones and other indestructible materials that rarely clash. Give me too much freedom with the fake stuff and things will get out of control. It's harder to ruin a pinecone-based wreath although I manage to do it from time to time.

I also used white pine, cedar with yellow buds, pinecones I collected locally in the summer, and some little, hard flower-shaped pods that I sprayed gold.

I had a new can of spray paint and it misbehaved, dripping gold all over one of my boots. At that moment, I realized they were not the old ones I meant to wear, but my (formerly) nice new ones. But, fortunately, as I pointed this out to some friends, I spoke within earshot of the woman in charge of graffiti removal for the neighborhood association. She told me to try Goof Off on a Q-tip, which would not have occurred to me — and it worked perfectly. The garden club and the neighborhood association are filled with smart and talented people and it is great to know them.

The next wreath was for a friend with a dark red door, and she chose the bow. I forgot to photograph this one on my easel, but you can get a sense of it here.

This wreath uses a lot of the same materials as the previous wreath, substituting rose hips for holly. Her entryway is a little dark, so I used bigger, lighter pinecones that would be more visible from the sidewalk. And this wreath didn't have to be all natural so I added sparkly "crystal" branches ("ice"), tiny red glass balls, and a snowy owl named Hedwig.

On the next "all-natural" wreath I used yucca pods, which are flower-shaped and hard, but still easy for me to break and ruin. I sprayed them with glitter. By this time, we were already low on umbrella pine and holly, so I began using magnolia leaves and fake berries, which are allowed for color on all-natural wreaths. This wreath also has slender twigs with buds, also sprayed with glitter. 

It's important that you understand that I am surrounded by incredibly talented decorators when I'm making my feeble efforts. For example, the woman at the table next to me quietly and swiftly made these indoor wreaths for some lucky household.

Among other materials, she used dried roses, hydrangea, and babies' breath, in colors that perfectly complement the champagne metallic bows. If I tried to use any of those fragile flowers, I'd end up writhing on the floor in a pile of crushed petals and stems. I have so much respect for all the other wreath decorators. After many years, I know my capabilities, and that I'm surrounded by inspiring companions way beyond my league.

I'm better off handling a few sturdy sticks:

I can wire sticks onto wreaths without destroying anything. These sticks are dotted with pinecones, and I like the effect, plus it saves me having to wire more pinecones, too.

I cover the tips of my thumbs and index fingers with surgical tape so I don't get as many wounds from pine needles, holly leaves, and the nasty little thorns that hide on the stems of the rose hips. By the end of the day, I'd made four wreaths and my hands were not too filthy, but they were covered with tiny, invisible cuts. I should wear gloves, but they make me clumsy.

I went home determined to be faster, more productive, and more creative the next day. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Art, Books & Toffee

Oh, lordy, as Mr. James Comey would say, it's already December! Stay tuned for wreaths, starting on Monday. Our Advent Calendars are in place, and we're already arguing about how big our Christmas tree should be this year. 

Before we get ahead of ourselves, I want to show you a few scenes from November. We always go to the Fenway Art Studios open house, and every year I forget how powerful their radiators are. I bundle up to walk over there and then my husband wants to start by visiting the studios on the 4th floor and working our way down. The studios have HIGH ceilings and so the stairwell seems to stretch on forever. By the time we get to the top I'm a winded, sodden mess, carrying my coat, gloves, scarf, hat, and however many sweaters I layered underneath. So I didn't take a lot of photos this year.

But here's one of the more atmospheric studios, where the artists collects marionettes and carpentry tools, among other things.

This perfectly curated, monochromatic studio is always a favorite:

It's always interesting to see (and smell) a work in progress:

We also went to the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, where one can buy everything from signed, recent bestsellers to illuminated manuscripts:

I love  looking at the tooled leather bindings. The books at the fair are invariably expensive, so no decorators are buying "books by the yard" to fill rich people's "libraries":

A friend was interested in Wodehouse early editions and there were many — at a price:

Bromer Bookseller in Boston always brings this display of tiny books. Each of these is no taller than my finger:

One seller had a couple of children's books with amazing, fold-out tableaux. Imagine how the children (and adults) of a century ago must have reacted to the whimsy and imagination of this artist. I could pore over these for hours. Every creature has a distinct personality:

To finish, I must report that I missed Toffee's seventh Gotcha Day on Wednesday. Since I just wrote a post about him recently, I won't do another. But he was curled up in a narrow spot between my husband and me on the sofa just now, and I have to say again that he is simply the quintessential cat: intelligent, playful, sociable, gentle, mildly silly, a good friend to the other cats, and exceedingly handsome.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Chilly Scenes of Back Bay (and Beacon Hill)

Here are a few photos I took around the neighborhood in recent weeks. This Harris-like cat was sitting in a Beacon Hill window after Halloween, which explains the boney friend. 

Green, white, yellow, and blue pumpkins and squashes displayed on a Marlborough Street staircase:

We didn't have much autumn color on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall until well into November, this year, and even then it was muted. Shortly after I took this, a storm blew down most of the leaves:

Lest you think that Back Bay is beautiful everywhere, consider this commercial alley between Boylston and Newbury Streets:

Gtim, huh? It looks like a Soviet painter's interpretation of drabness and the only redeeming feature was the variety of savory cooking aromas that wafted from one restaurant exhaust fan after another as I walked from block to block.

I walked the length of that alley a couple of weeks ago, looking for trees. I'm on our Garden Club's Tree Committee, so worrying about local trees is my business now. (If we had a Back Bay Cat Committee, I'd be on that, too.) Aside from a couple of new Ailanthus saplings/weeds, I found just five mature trees in the whole alley: a red-bud and a crabapple planted in a tiny garden behind the UPS store, and three Ailanthus "volunteers," which means they grew wild. Those three are all in the same block. 

One of those Ailanthus, below, will be removed soon, to make way for a new addition; it's also destroying a wall. It isn't in good shape, as you can see from its lack of leaves. But it's still sad that it has to go. The owner of that building is a remarkably reasonable and plans to plant two replacement trees.

I made another discovery in that alley. There's a little grove of six crabapples in a fenced pocket garden that probably belongs to the MBTA (Mass. Bay Transportation Authority). I let myself in through a wedged-open gate: 

The garden is overgrown and the trees are neglected, but there wasn't much trash or any signs that anyone was camping there. It was hard to photograph, but it was kind of magical, especially since the trees were covered in fruit. I brought our neighborhood's top tree advocate to see it and she was surprised.

It will probably disappear soon to make way for a high-rise.

On November 8, there was an evening rally on Boston Common in support of the Robert Mueller investigation and protesting Matthew Whitaker. It was one of hundreds of rallies that were rapidly organized around the country by Indivisible. I joined a couple thousand other people, and most of us had flashlights:

Crabapples glowing in darkness in the Public Garden on the way home from the rally:

And then it snowed! I was pretty thrilled, although there's a hole in my snow boots and I can't find replacements.

Last week was the last farmer's market in Copley until spring. The last one is always depressing, not because the options are mainly root vegetables, cabbage, apples, and squash, but because I will really miss the Iggy's bread stand.

I need to start roasting root vegetables for dinner, since we can't eat salad due to the recall, The lettuce display at the Star Market is filled with nothing but bags of shredded kale at the moment. Trader Joe's just has spinach. Spinach is okay. Kale is for guinea pigs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Cat News 6: Toffee

This post concludes my series of cat updates, but stay tuned for new developments because it's been a couple of weeks or so since any of them tried anything stupid. We're overdue.

About Toffee: You don't hear a lot about him here but he's an all-around great guy — and gorgeous, too. He doesn't steal the spotlight like Harris and Possum, who seem to have an instinctive understanding of how to grab attention at home and on social media. They both know how to hold a pose in front of the camera, which is why they appear in many more photos than the others. Harris even gives me different angles and expressions, like a model.

But enough about Harris. Toffee is more modest and gentlemanly, and just as photogenic.

Call his name and he'll come: he just did it now, and sat on the back of my chair and purred for a while before joining my husband on his chair, where there's more room to settle in.

He doesn't demand affection with head-butting, smacking, and meowing as Possum and Lion do. As a result, for years, he didn't get as much attention as he probably wanted. But we began to realize that he loves attention. Not all cats do. And while some figure out how to ask for it, others just wait patiently and politely. After we finally figured him out, Toffee was a happier cat. We seek him out and he always welcomes us, purring.

While dogs have been bred for eons to interact well with humans, cats learn communication skills from living with us. Each cat has his or her own style, for better or worse. A well-fostered kitten will usually be more confident and outgoing than one raised outside. Toffee arrived at the Animal Rescue League after being found on the street, but he was tame and friendly from the start. He sat calmly in my lap when I took him from his cage and fell asleep.

In the past year or so, he's learned a few charming ways to invite us to fuss over him. His methods range from curling up beside us to jumping in our laps. (Harris's current trick is throwing pinecones off the high bookcase.) Sometimes Toffee gently bites my forearm if I pretend to ignore him, and I love his boldness. He visits me in bed almost every morning, around sunrise, and then curls up beside me on the sofa as I drink my morning tea.

He doesn't have a lot of bad habits, unlike a few other cats I won't name. He is getting braver when we have guests, so most actually see him, and a few even get to pet him. Before this year, most visitors said it appeared that we were a two-cat household.

He gets along well with all the other cats, but will stand up for himself if Possum or Harris have an argument with him. Possum doted on him when he was a kitten but gets annoyed with him from time to time for reasons I don't understand. But the two of them are usually curled up near each other and Wendy when we turn out the lights and go to bed.

Toffee is extremely decorative, of course, with the fluffiest tail of all the cats I've ever had. It's nearly as wide as he is.

He spends a lot of his afternoons sleeping on his back on the sofa, which tells me he feels safe and content with us. And even though you may not read much about it here, we are thrilled to have him.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Cat News 5: Lion

I don't usually have many photo opportunities with Lion since he hides himself away for much of every day. He joins me in bed in the morning, meowing to wake me to pet him, and then he purrs, gives kisses, and makes biscuits. 

When he is around, he is very decorative, and I've been lucky to get a few photos of him in recent days:

He is more interested in trying our food than any of the other cats, and enjoys many vegetables and fancy French cheeses, unlike the others. But he is sometimes too nervous to eat his own supper. If we are out and dinner is an hour or two late, he won't join the others to eat. I assume that he'd been so worried about us that he lost his appetite.

If he's at his bowl and hears a strange noise — someone entering the building or, God forbid, the doorbell — he disappears. We try to persuade him to eat later on and he's usually hungry and eager. But not always. The other night at supper, I accidentally stepped, lightly, on Possum's foot. He yelped and fled, but he did it on all four legs, at high speed, so I suspected he was okay. It seemed very different from Harris and his broken toes. There wasn't a hint of a limp and his foot seemed fine later, when I checked it. But Possum became wary; he wouldn't come near me at suppertime the next day, or the day after that. He stopped his nightly habit of whacking my leg with his paw and yelling at me because I never serve the bowls fast enough. I had to put his bowl safely away from me — outside the kitchen — before he'd eat.

The next night, I had my husband serve supper. After that little break, Possum returned to the kitchen to supervise and berate me as usual. I had really missed being criticized and smacked.

Possum's drama seemed to be too much for Lion. He ran away the first night and then refused to come for supper at all. My husband reported that he would eat in the morning, so I chalked it up to nerves. Possibly a hairball. He seemed fine otherwise so I decided not to freak out about his lack of appetite for another day.

And then, that afternoon, he threw up. I went to clean it up and got the shock of the season: he had eaten about 8 inches of the pale peach ribbons I've been using to tie back my living room curtains for the past 20 years, since we moved here. As you can see from what's left, below, the ribbons are double-faced satin, an inch and a half wide, and a little less than a yard long.

I never dreamed a cat would or could swallow such a thing, but Lion is talented.

Had we known that he ate all that ribbon, we'd have rushed him to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital for an endoscopy. As usual. But he kept quiet about it until it materialized. You may remember his last feat, around midnight on Christmas Eve. We really do try to make this place cat-safe, and I think we have done a job that's good enough for every cat except Lion. He is impossible. I have reached the point where I have surrendered. I can only do so much to protect a cat who wants to eat crazy inedible things. I'll keep trying to do better, but it's kind of comforting to remember that fighting nature, or natural selection, is generally a losing battle.

We got off easy this time. There will be a next time, I know. (Let's hope it's not Christmas Eve again.) Until I find something truly inedible to tie back the curtains, I have hidden the ends of the ribbons behind the curtains, tucked within their folds, where they should be out of sight, out of mind. Right?