Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Like Old

We both needed a break from working, so we went to an open house on our street today — a brand-spanking-new one-bedroom floor-through (do I win the most-hyphens-in-a-sentence award yet?).

It was bright and shiny, with white marble kitchen counters and walls — stuck in one corner of the all-white living room, of course. It had one of those counters that you're supposed to use as a breakfast bar. I never drink, but I know if that if I tried to balance on a stool to eat breakfast before about 10 am, I would fall off, taking my toast with me. The breakfast bar is a doomed invention; I can't believe anyone can actually sit at one and relax. I prefer a nice upholstered chair. With my feet on the floor.

The floors were light, bleached wood, the fireplace was fake (gas) and the hardware, from doorknobs to faucets, was brushed steel. If you added one speck of color or one piece of vintage furniture to that condo, you'd wreck the whole concept. The closing documents probably require the new owner to furnish it only with white carpets, curtains, linens, and upholstery, or pay penalties.

The realtor was very proud of the renovation. It was indeed high quality. She pointed out the ceiling molding — an unusual finishing touch these days. We have a lot of wide, fancy molding in our place, and it makes all the difference. Theirs was neither wide nor fancy.

The realtor said that the only things remaining from the original Victorian townhouse were the two front doors and the staircase. "This isn't a renovation, actually. It's really new construction," she said. How depressing. We politely praised the place, and left.

Why live in a Victorian townhouse if there's not an inch of original detail left? Why live in a historic neighborhood if there's no history in your building as soon as you're through the front door?

It was nice to come back home.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Let's Stay in Back Bay

Today we got up early and went for an exercise walk, up and down the steeper streets of Beacon Hill until we were sweaty and exhausted. We window-shopped along Charles Street, and stopped at Starbuck's for an iced mocha (canceling out all the calories we'd just burned). We walked home through the Public Garden, admiring the trees and the spray paint removal from the Ducklings.

We showered and went to Supercuts on Boylston, where our friend Fatima quickly got us looking presentable. Then we split up to visit our two favorite retail meccas, the Apple Store (spouse) and Anthropologie (me). We picked up our dry cleaning, went home for lunch, and I started to work on my writing project. But my computer was still misbehaving, making up numbers instead of giving accurate word counts. We made an appointment at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store, arrived there 20 minutes later, and spent an hour chatting with the Genius as he (we hope) finally solved the problem that had been stumping Microsoft's experts for the past four days.

Walking home, my husband said, "Look at everything we did today. We never needed a car. Can you imagine having to drive to Apple Store and find a parking space? How can we live anywhere else?"

He's right. This was a typical day: doing multiple errands, walking for exercise, and enjoying the best parts of our neighborhood, always on foot. As much as I want a backyard garden and the privacy and independence of a single-family house, in our price bracket it would mean relocating to a less-walkable neighborhood. And we are simply too spoiled, having Back Bay's many conveniences outside our front door for too many years.

I walk everywhere. I carry home heavy bags from Shaw's and Trader Joe's and it's usually good exercise, not torture. I don't need a driver's license just to get milk and cat food. Or to go to the gym. Or to get to the T.

I hope there's a big, shady roof deck out there with our name on it. A Beacon Hill garden might be okay, too.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Current Craving: Sleep

I don't mind the ongoing construction in the alley our bedroom faces — jackhammers and bulldozers ripping up the macadam to install new utility pipes at Gloucester Street. After the recent renovations in the building — 10 months of an electric saw (and shouting Irishmen) roaring a few feet beneath my bedroom floorboards at 7 am, five days a week — I can ignore almost any noise outside.

But last night, the bulldozers and jackhammers came back at midnight. Without the accompanying din of the two building renovations that are also keeping things lively in the alley by day, those jackhammers were deafening.

I was already very tired, but I had to read for an hour or two until exhaustion overcame the racket. I don't know when they left. But they aren't working today.

I slept until 9. Then I called the Public Works Department to find out what was going on. Of course, they had no idea. The guy I spoke to said he had to call the project's contractor to find out. "Let me know what you hear," I said, and gave him my number.

I told him that I suspected they had a couple of hours of work to finish before the long weekend and decided that coming back at midnight would let their crew get to their boats on the Cape several hours earlier. At the expense of only a few hundred sleep-deprived and annoyed Back Bay residents.

He also have me a 24-hour number to call if it happens again: 617-635-7555. The staff at that number can send an inspector 24/7 to see what's going on.

Wish I'd known that at five past midnight this morning.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Current Craving: Venice

I've been wondering why I can't stop thinking about Venice. It turns out that we were there exactly two years ago. Some deep corner of my brain keeps its own calendar that remembers where I was on a certain date even when I've completely forgotten. It gives me little flashes of that place when I least expect it. And right now, it's whispering, "Venice, Venice, we're supposed to be on a gondola right now. Let's go!"

I wish. But I have photos, and I can revisit them and dream... and you can come along.

It's the most beautiful place I've ever seen.

Photo opps everywhere you turn.

Gorgeous architecture, best viewed from the water.

I developed a new respect for pink and orange stucco.

Our hotel was in this palazzo.

Even the street cats were elegant. And plentiful.

We never got tired of scenes like this. 

Imagine needing a boat instead of a car. No Cars Allowed! Bliss.

Shop windows are works of art.

I mean Works of Art selling works of art.

Look at that light. What are we waiting for? Let's go!

Counting on Microsoft

There's nothing like a temperature drop of 30 degrees to lift my spirits. Phew, today was hard, with the windows shut against the heat and no air conditioning.  But now it's 60 degrees, and the kittens are flying around the house, chasing each other and teasing the older cats.

Tonight, I had a witness to my weird issue with Microsoft Word 2008, which kept messing with the word counts for my writing project. We sat here and watched the counts for these little 200-word essays fluctuate when we hadn't added or deleted words. All the counts I'd carefully taken yesterday were off today, by three to 50 words.

I could not believe how they rose and fell for no reason. It was like watching the stock market. I don't understand why that goes up and down, either.

I finally took some deep breaths and called Microsoft. It was surprisingly painless, even pleasant. I spoke to a mellow guy in Nova Scotia named Nick, who said he was freezing up there. He told me he'd made his own computer from very old spare parts because it was cheaper. He had never heard of my problem. I emailed my document to him and we got conflicting word counts. He led me through some steps, had me throw out some application files, and fixed it, at least for now.

He said the issue was a "corrupt preference." I like the sound of that. It's a good title for a racy movie starring Jeremy Irons.

Unfortunately, the accurate word count tool showed me that lots of my essays were too long. I've been hacking away all night.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kittens in Heat

These warm days are slowing all of us down. Here are Wendy and Possum in a typical scene from yesterday:

They have thick, fluffy coats and I feel sorry for them in this hot weather. (I feel sorry for me, too, but we're just too lazy to get our air conditioners from my mother-in-law's garage. And besides, it's supposed to cool off tomorrow.)

The kittens don't know what summer is. They were born last July; babies need to be kept very warm, so this is their first experience of too-hot. Even though they were born outdoors to wild mothers, they seem to know that air conditioning exists. And that we don't have any.

So they blame me for the temperature. I get meaningful glares from Wendy and pleading looks from Possum, who wishes I would turn down the world's thermostat. I control the universe, after all. It's interesting that they're smart enough to know that while the rest of you still don't get it.

The Turbo Star Chaser isn't getting much of a workout these days.  The toy basket, there beside Wendy, is full. Their favorite toy is a plastic spiral binding — not the rainbow-colored, super-long, real-fur ferret I bought them for $5 at Brookline Grooming. I choose toys on the basis of how cute Wendy will look carrying them in her mouth. I wonder why they love that crappy binder so much. It's "crunchy," I guess.  I should be buying their toys at Staples.

I hope things cool down, because Possum's theatrical displays of heat exhaustion are breaking my heart and worrying Wendy:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Can Count — Honest!

As all of my friends and relatives, most colleagues, several strangers, four people in my gym class, and my two regular blog readers know — I have this great freelance writing project these days.

I'm writing a series of short, snappy essays about art. Each has to be 200 words or less. I'm working in Microsoft Word 2010, on my shiny-new MacBook Pro. I added a "Word Count" button to my toolbar, to make my calculations quicker.

But something's wrong. It must be the same poltergeist or djinn that's been messing with my closet, turning size 2s into size 8s and vice versa.

I'm good at math. I can add up columns of figures in my head and for years I knew the formula to square of any two-digit number in my head, too— until I realized that it was useless for anything except impressing nerds. I made it through linear algebra in college — that's the course that comes after calculus, where you learn to solve quadratic equations in matrices, or multiples of, like, three at a time.

So I should be able to count to about 200. You'd think.

But I've counted the same few paragraphs four different times over a couple of days and gotten four wildly different numbers. Here's one of my comments on a word count for one essay — which I was not editing:
155 words. Was 218, then 175 words, and was briefly auto-counted at 193 words, then switched back up to 218 words, then back down to 155 words, at 10:33 pm on 6/25...
I am freaked out, in a mild way. I know how to use the Word Count button and I add the numbers both on a calculator and in my head. And I get the same result. It's just a different result every time. And we're talking about just a few paragraphs of simple text. Counts were routinely shooting up and down by 25 or 35 words all night.  I have no good explanation for this, and I don't find this issue listed on Microsoft problem-reporting sites. Spooky.

Like all paranormal experiences (ringworm was an alien invasion, in my opinion. ) it seems unreal to me at first but then I get used to the bizarreness of it. Because it's something weird, it's not me. Yes, it's very hot and we have no air conditioning. And I'm sleep-deprived because of the cats and late nights at the computer. Sure, I'm a little stressed because I have my annual mammogram screening tomorrow. (I had a scare once, so I'm not blasé about these anymore.) But I'm — honestly — not so messed up that I cannot count to 200!

I've put my document to bed, having added up all the essays again — there are about 45 of them, a number that does not fluctuate. I will revisit them tomorrow and see if all the word counts are incorrect. Again. And if so, I'd better go light some candles at St. Clement's and look up some Wiccan room-cleansing spells while I'm at it.

J'adore Mes Marinières

My quest for a striped sailor shirt has ended. (Well, almost...) Thank you, L.L. Bean.

I thought I had a winner from J. Crew, but their clothing always looks better in the dressing room because of their skinny mirrors.

I wish we could all have little, painless eye operations so we could always see ourselves and each other as we look in a skinny mirror. We'd be the happiest country on the planet. And the best-looking, at least in national polls. But until we have universal healthcare, I'm not even going to mention this to the Surgeon General.

Anyway, my J Crew striped tee looked more like a pajama top when I tried it on at home. It  had slouched elegantly above my matchstick jeans in the dressing room but hung down limply to the top of my legs at home. How could I have forgotten that all J. Crew tees are 3 to 4" too long on me, even though I'm a little over the average American woman's height?  Back it went.

Looks so much better in the photograph....

Yesterday, my L.L. Bean sailor shirts arrived. I opened the green bags with trepidation. Everything I've ever tried from L.L. Bean looked like it was meant for an old lady — but not me, some really plump and preppy New England dame. (I've been dressing like an old lady since I was 17, but not like that.)

These shirts surprised me. I was expecting the usual mid-weight cotton knit, but these are hefty, more like a lightweight ribbed sweater. Very substantial, pure "Peruvian" cotton. It doesn't feel soft, but that gives it a more masculine, "sailor" sttitude, too. All the French ones I looked at felt similar, but were cut too wide or too weird to look good on a normal-size woman.

Size extra-small fits me nicely. It's long and lean, even in my non-skinny mirror. I have some sympathy for all the truly extra-small and petite women out there — I'm a size 4 or 6 these days, with shoulders and long arms, so you size 00s, 0s, and 2s, are probably out of luck unless you want a tunic effect. You could try to shrink the heck out of it, I guess. This comes in women's sizes, but not petites.

The problem now is to decide on one color. The navy and cream looks graphic and sharp:

But the cream and navy seems more classic and versatile.

And I really don't need two in the same colors, even if they look this different. I tend to buy things I really like in pairs, but it's a silly, extravagant habit for a person with limited means and drawer space. Even at $29.50. At least I can take my time to make up my mind — and believe me, I will — since i'll be returning one to the Freeport store — in July. You are, of course, welcome to weigh in. Privately or publicly.

Just FYI, this shirt also comes in "girl" colors: coral, yellow, lime, turquoise. Very pretty, but not "me." And there's deep red, which strikes me as sort of gorgeous, suddenly, even though I don't usually like red.

Hmm... red.

Oh, now I really want one — I see it's out of stock until September!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Possum Goes Surfin'

Possum discovered the music of Dick Dale this morning. He enjoyed the King of the Surfer Guitar.

He's been a little confused because I can't get The Roches' Christmas Album off my iPod. He keeps wondering where the summer went and whether Santa will bring him more cigars.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Scenes from Yesterday

We went out for a stroll yesterday, up Newbury Street and then to the Haymarket and the North End. The goal was a Regina's pizza. I took a few photos (not of the pizza; it didn't last long enough).

Possum didn't want us to leave. Tried to barricade the door.

First, we dropped off a giant bag of clothing and shoes for Boomerang's at Dependable Cleaners. They accept and even clean all donations  (mine were already spotless) and we got a tax receipt. So much easier than getting in the car and driving out to JP or to the Salvation Army on Mass. Ave.

Newbury Street was crowded and festive. Lots of women were wearing long, pretty sundresses, which I think are flattering on everyone. I'm glad they are still trendy. Men were usually dressed in tacky baggy shorts, printed tees, and sneakers. We went into AllSaints Spitalfields because my husband wanted to shoot some photos of the sewing machines filling the windows. Some of them have wonderful 19th-century designs of sphinxes or lotus blossoms, like this one:

We didn't realize you weren't allowed to photograph inside the store. We were ordered to stop. I was spoken to as I was shooting this amazing dress, which was the only thing I wanted to shoot. But look at this design; it's fantastic! It's got a bustle in the front. I promise not to shoot it again....

AllSaints has interesting, edgy clothes that still seem wearable, especially if you're 25. I doubt I'll see many of these dresses heading out to dinner on Newbury Street but you never know.

The Haymarket looked wonderful yesterday. We bought mandarin oranges that tasted like honey and a perfect bunch of red grapes that should have been painted by Raphaelle Peale (sorry, I've been focused on American art history lately). Even the guy who sold them to us stopped to admire them. My hands were too full of oranges to get my camera, but we all stood respectfully for a moment as he displayed them over his head before he lowered them onto his scale. Then the Cheese Guy talked us into dill havarti and Muenster, even though we have pounds of cheese in the fridge already. I guess you can't have too much cheese; at least not according to the American Cheese Council. Or the Cheese Guy.

The pizza at Regina's was the best ever. As usual. Sometimes I wonder if it tastes so good because we've been standing in line, anticipating it, for 20 minutes. But there was no line yesterday and the pizza was still astonishingly perfect. So it's now empirically proven that its the pizza — not the long wait in the cold, rain, heat, wind, etc.

We stopped at Bova's for gingerbread men. Sometimes you just need to bite someone's head off. There were only two left, and we thanked them for saving them for us. I couldn't resist shooting the display case. I wish I could have brought home one of each.

Then we walked home with heavy bags, collapsed, and watched too much Boston sports. What a night. Sorry about the Phillies, dad, but I have to root for the home team now.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Current Craving: Boston Zest

I enjoy this local blog. It gives me news and information about what's going on in the city that I seldom find anywhere else. Nice photos of good food, too...

Reading Boston Zest today, I discovered that I'd been working (and procrastinating) so hard this week that I missed the opening of the Copley Square Farmer's Market! Horrors! It's always been one of my favorite things about living in Back Bay. Whenever I used to freelance part-time in an office downtown, I rearranged my schedule so I could go to the market on Tuesdays and Fridays. I took those afternoons off for years.

I can't wait until Tuesday. In the meantime, we're heading to the North End for Farmer's Market and an original Regina's pizza.

The Little Black Dress Gets Bigger

Strange things have been happening in my closet. I bought a Little Black Dress from Garnet Hill a couple of months ago. It was flattering and comfortable, and the price was right. I have two other LBDs, but one came back from the tailor too tight in the shoulders, and the other one has always seemed a little too short and swishy. So having found a perfect LBD, I rested easy. Here it is:

I put it on this week for the first time, to go to a meeting. Whoaa! While it was on the hanger, it had stretched. Suddenly the deep scoop neckline was way too low.  I would have been the talk of the Garden Club for six months if I'd worn it. Besides the neckline, the whole dress now looked frumpy, too.

It's funny how that works. You hang something in your closet believing it's perfect and then you take it out, put it on, and it's terrible. It has to be the closet's fault. Weird chemical reactions go on in the dark in there. It's enough to make me consider throwing my clothes on the floor, where they'll be safe and sound.

But there was more activity in my closet. I pulled out the too-short black dress and tried it on. Wow! It had stretched on the hanger, too, because it's the right length now. The pleats even seem less annoyingly swishy and perky. If there's one thing I can't stand about clothes, it's a perky attitude.

So I've got a nice Little Black Dress after all. And luckily for me, the return policy at Garnet Hill was written by someone high on Demerol and feeling intense generosity. You can return things any time, even if you've washed them. So back goes the dress, still with the tag. If I exchange it for something else, I don't even have to pay any shipping. And I could use a Little Blue Dress....

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Current Craving: The BPL

Did you know they have zillions of BOOKS in the Boston Public Library? I know that sounds embarrassingly stupid and pathetic, but I really had forgotten just how many books they have.

Years ago, I was in the stacks on the first floor, looking for a novel, and two security guards came up and nabbed a guy standing not far from me, near the end of my row. He had a knife in his hand. I saw it as they each grabbed an arm and dragged him away. While this didn't exactly traumatize me — it was a library after all, so as I remember it, the whole episode never went above a whisper — it ended my browsing career at the BPL. I hadn't been the least bit on my guard when that guy came toward me. Since then, the place has given me the creeps.

But a girl has to read. Even a girl too cheap to buy cheap used books. The BPL has an excellent online reservation system, so for years I reserved books that sounded interesting and picked them up at the front desk. I'd nearly always get in line behind several people filling out paperwork for new library cards. I passed the time wondering why the library didn't dedicate one associate to the time-consuming task of assigning cards. Or better yet, dedicate one associate to hunting for reserved books, a high-level skill that usually involved looking in at least three different places, or looking in the same place at least three times. And then disappearing into the back room for 10 minutes.

Now the BPL has a self-service system for reservations. The books are shelved just beyond the lobby and there's never more than one person in line for the checkout machine. It's quick, easy, and smart.

Although my current freelance writing assignments come with packets of research, neatly compiled by someone with a better brain than mine, I still need more. And while I've always been able to find all the medical and health information I could ever want online, this is not the case with history and art history. When I found intriguing references to books that would answer my questions last weekend, I also realized they were all at least 10 years old and I wouldn't find them at Borders. So I tried the BPL. Of course they had them all.

I needed them right away so there wasn't time to reserve them. I took a body guard (husband) and went there with my call numbers on Sunday afternoon. We went upstairs.

I had no idea how book-starved I'd been. I hadn't browsed the stacks since the guy with the knife. We roamed around and it seemed like every title was calling out to me. From the time I learned to read I loved browsing library shelves; the taller I got, the better it got. When I outgrew my hometown library, I moved on to local college libraries. The BPL will never be too small.

I love spotting some random, appealing subject with a small collection of books and exploring it. I was running my fingers along the titles. "Look! Sarah Bernhardt! Paperweights! India! The Great Depression!"

We'll be going back, as soon as I have time to read again.  In the meantime I have some cool books about 18th-century American society and 19th-century American family life. Yum.

Top 10 Things I Don't Need to Worry About...

... but why would that stop me?

1. Becoming a pregnant teenager (old habits die hard)

2. Getting fired. For that to happen, someone would have to actually hire me.

3. Bed bugs. I don't bring home furniture I see on the sidewalk, but what if a bug just wanders in?

4. Forgetting how to read.

5. Going to hell. I don't believe in hell, but 12 years of Catholic school wreaks havoc on your brain.

6. Needing bifocals. I don't need to worry about this because It's Already Too Late.

7. The flu. When was the last time you thought about H1N1? Just leave all that to me.

8. My cats learning to talk. It would be horrible to know what they think about me and all the drivel I tell them all day long. I don't really want them calling Oprah and dragging me on TV, either.

9. Bush getting re-elected.

10. Running out of stupid things to worry about so I have to start thinking about Really Scary Things to Worry About. Like my mammogram next week. Oh my god....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dear beloved friend.

Aw, it's been so long since I've gotten one of these, I have to share:
Dear beloved friend,
This is to inform you about my success in getting those funds now under the cooperation of a new partner and my pastor visioned to me that I should not fail to compensate everybody that participated in this transaction.

Presently I'm in Kuwait, for investment projects with my new partner also you should contact my secretary on the information below.

Name; Jerry Anderson
Email ( Ask him to send you the total sum of ($650,000.00) Six hundred and fifty thousand dollars in A CASHIER'S CHEQUE,

To my secretary to avoid wrong delivery.
Mr. Benni Johnson
Good to hear from you, Benni. Whoever you are.

Naturally this made me nostalgic for the 3rd Annual Nigerian Email Conference, so I had to visit that, too.

And now back to work: John Singleton Copley, a man with a plan...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Second Time Around...

I'm about to head to Newbury to the newest Second Time Around consignment shop, which is in a basement near Hereford Street, next to the Boston Architectural College.

I've got two bags of stuff. I was fearless: there are things in there that just a couple of years old. A bright-blue flowered sundress from Boden. A frumpy dirndl skirt from Anthropologie. A clingy black number from Banana Republic that's so sheer it needs a slip. Who wears a slip anymore? What was I thinking when I bought this stuff? 

When will I figure out how to choose clothes that look good on me, and that work for me, instead of just buying clothes I like? After all these years of clothes-shopping, I have to say, "Probably never."

Then there's the brown Ann Taylor suit. Unemployed freelancer writers rarely wear suits — at least this one avoids it at all costs. But I sometimes feel insecure and worry that I'll suddenly get an important job interview and I'll need a suit and I won't have one. So I agonize and buy a suit, even though I hate them. Even though I feel like I'm in costume whenever I'm wearing one. I even get a wild urge to commit petty acts of vandalism in my suit, like robbing a parking meter or spray-painting a mailbox. I'm just unsuitable. It's not because I'm too "creative" to wear a suit. I think it's because my mother was a Teamster and my dad is a 1930's socialist and member of the AFL-CIO.

Anyway, I'm about to leave.... nervously. There's nothing like having your clothing rejected by a consignment shop to knock your self-esteem into the gutter. More later.


They took a lot of my things, so I don't feel too embarrassed. But I still had a big bagful to bring home. Including the suit. They said they can't sell them. (Does everyone hate suits as much as I do?) I guess it will go to one of those non-profits that provide business clothing to women breaking into the job market.

They also rejected five iffy tops, a perfectly nice Gap safari jacket, and some old-fashioned sandals.  I can't complain. And now I can take the rest of it, and a big bag filled with rattier clothing, to the Salvation Army.

But first, I need to become an expert on John Singleton Copley's European period. That's today's writing assignment. I'm still way too slow at this writing project, but I believe I'm doing a decent job. I certainly nailed Benjamin West yesterday. I think he's as boring as oatmeal, but I somehow managed to make him seem interesting. Back to it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Photos from Brimfield

Saturday was sunny, cool, and breezy — a perfect day for walking the fields at the Brimfield Antiques Fair. It was crowded, but many dealers were already packing up their stuff early on Saturday afternoon.

Despite the lovely weather and my good mood, I bought nothing. The only thing I absolutely had to have was a $2 apple fritter. It was everything I hoped it would be.

I saw this shortly after we parked at Quaker Acres:

This is a full-size wicker "parlor casket." Try Googling it, you'll come up with next to nothing. I'd never heard of one. These were used instead of a wooden coffin to transport the recently deceased from the hospital or wherever they died to the undertaker. They were "recycled" and got a lot of use. 

The best thing about this, and I was laughing too hard to remember to photograph it, was not the pathetic little doll's hand sticking out, but the explanatory label taped to the lid. Someone with a wicked Boston accent must have told the dealer this was a "pallor casket." That's how it was spelled! Googling "wicker casket" revealed that new versions of these are actually the trendiest thing in burials these days, for dead people who want to save trees and be composted naturally. Lynn Redgrave was recently buried in a pretty woven wicker coffin. There are photos.

I noticed that lots of dealers and shoppers bring their dogs. But I have never seen a cat at Brimfield. Maybe that's because cats are smart.

The Land of Dead Musical Instruments had returned to Quaker Acres. There were heaps of broken guitars, dead drums, warped woodwinds. It was like someone had raided the band room at the High School of the Performing Arts for Hopelessly Bad and Destructive Musicians:

I liked these dolls, sunning in a lawn chair. They're friends: 

And these ventriloquist's dummies, sitting next to a display of rusty rapiers:

I felt a wave of nostalgia when I spotted these sunflower wall planters, because we had them in our kitchen when I was little:

You can find anything at Brimfield, from a lucky lion to a crazed Tin Man. 

I look forward to going back in July. For another apple fritter, at least.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Possum Looking Winsome and Neglected

I'm willing to listen to arguments to the contrary, but as far as I can imagine, Possum is the World's Handsomest Cat. Lately he's been pulling out all the stops to get my attention, coming up with adorable new poses, etc. I've been too busy with my freelance project to play with him more than a few times a day and he's feeling neglected.

If a handsomer cat actually does exist, in some faraway place, Possum is still the World's Handsomest Possum.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Current Craving: Chocolate Pudding

Specifically: Trader Joe's Belgian Chocolate Pudding.

It's everything you dreamed pudding could be. In other words, it's chocolate mousse.

Its intense, dark chocolate flavor is kind of a shock the first time you taste it. It isn't cloyingly sweet — or bland and starchy, as pudding often is. But it's not bitter, either. Just deeper, richer, and creamier than you expected. It's just sweet enough that you want another spoonful, and another.

It's too bad cats can't have chocolate. Possum and Snalbert would be really into this stuff. They are both spoon-lickers.

My local store doesn't carry it anymore because nobody bought it. They had to throw out a whole case. I didn't know my neighborhood was populated with self-denying zombies lacking tastebuds and/or joie de vivre, but I learn things all the time.

In the Brookline TJs, a couple of weeks ago, I triumphantly grabbed the last tub on the shelf. Then I noticed it was past the expiration date. Then it slipped from my hand, fell, and cracked open on the floor. No pudding for me.

Yesterday I went to Brookline again and reverently put three tubs into my cart. Then I decided to check the nutrition facts. Ah-ha: each serving has 15 grams of fat. Typical pudding, like the kind I make from a mix with skim milk, or TJ's tapioca, has about 3 grams per serving.

No wonder this pudding is at least five times better than any other I've tasted. I put back two of the tubs. Just for now. And I'm eating mine in tiny helpings with a tiny spoon, with gingersnaps on the side. It's powerfully satisfying even in small doses.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


If you were wondering why it suddenly got so cold over the weekend, it was my fault.

I took a break from my writing project to pack away our winter clothes and bring out the summer ones. It's finally May, after all, and I'd spent most of the week in shorts and a tee. We have limited closet and drawer space and, anyway, it's always good to go through our wardrobes and donate whatever we don't wear. But I've noticed that this semiannual organizing session inevitably results in an immediate cold snap (or a heat wave in October).

I was starting to shiver from the cold breeze coming through our newly opened windows even as I tucked cashmere turtlenecks into their storage bags. It's like clockwork. I should send out a frost-warning bulletin next year.

I didn't pack away our super-heavy down comforter. If I had, it might have snowed.

And I left out a couple of warm sweaters. Which we're living in.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I'm not one of those people who doesn't dare cut the tags from their mattresses and pillows, even though the tag says, "Do not remove this tag under penalty of death..." I bought the pillow; I will do as I please with it. No one will break down my door to take me away.

I'm not one of those people who refuses to share my prescription drugs with people who take the same prescription drugs and have temporarily run out. Duh.

I was not one of the people my physical therapist was telling me about: she had a couple of patients who used full-strength bleach to wash their dishes and clean during the "aquapocalypse" last week. And they took baths in bottled water. "Do they have compromised immune systems? Are they on chemo? Were they bathing a new baby?" I asked. They were not. They were merely insane.

I'm not one of those people who always has to trot back to the house to double-check, and triple-check that they really, truly remembered to lock the door.

But I do have some weird domestic fears. I know they're irrational, but they won't go away.

1. When I'm pulling a lemon rind or something out of the garbage disposal, I always worry that I'll accidentally forget my hand is down there and turn the thing on with my other hand. I actually stick my free hand in my pocket when I'm doing this. I should stop putting the wrong things down the disposal.
     I should never have read that Globe story, years ago, about members of the Whitey Bulger gang shredding some poor ex-girlfriend's hand in her disposal before they showed mercy and killed her. I've been traumatized since then. And stupid me: now you're going to be afraid of the disposal, too.

2. After I turn on our little front-loading washing machine, there's always a moment of panic: Is there a cat in there? The cats have never shown any interest in the washer. I just loaded it with clothes 20 seconds ago, punching them around just in case.
     The kittens are so big now that they could hardly fit in there. And I always do a head count before I put anything in the washer. Call this normal, paranoid-cat-owner behavior. Fine. But yesterday, I leaped out of the shower to turn off the washer  because I heard strange noises that could have been a cat in a washing machine. Instead it was the cleaners vacuuming the hallway. And that's not the first time I've done this very thing.

3.  I worry about our toaster. I read a story once in Real Simple magazine about a woman who drove her kids to school, not realizing she'd left a piece of bread in the toaster. She came back home to flames and ashes, and her family lost everything. So I don't trust my toaster, either.
     For one thing, it doesn't really toast, but that's an issue the toaster and I are discussing privately. What worries me is that it sometimes doesn't fully pop up, so after we've removed the (untoasty) toast, its pathetic little heating coils stay red until we manually pull up the bread-release knob, or whatever that's called. So we're paranoid about always unplugging the toaster as soon as we're done non-toasting the bread. If one of us forgets, the other one freaks out.
     We could get a new toaster. But they don't make 'em like they used to. Sure, they may actually toast things. But ours is exceptionally good-looking and slim enough to fit on our tiny counter. If the house burns down, I'm sure I'll change my mind.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Writing Job, Day 6: What Day Is It, Anyway?

Oh, right: It's Saturday. Admittedly, I don't have much of a life anymore. If you're bored by all this, or crave some Possum news, let me know.

Once again, I didn't leave the house today, although I feel like I just spent 12 hours in an 18th-century parlor in Portsmouth. I mean, I really feel like I was in there. Writing about this stuff may be exhausting, but it feeds the imagination so wonderfully that one seldom feels the pain. Even when it's real: my legs and back are sore from sitting for so long.

I just completed my quota for the week and will try to enjoy a blessed day off tomorrow. I'll try to do a week's worth of cleaning, exercise, and errands. It's looking like I'm going to miss the whole month of May. Please send me photos of the outdoors, so I remember what it looks like.

We're also going take my mother-in-law to her favorite Italian hole-in-the-wall for Mother's Day dinner, accompanied by my charming nephew. (I'm breaking my rule of never eating out on Sunday nights, because it's the chef's time off.) If you have a mother, I hope you are doing something similar, and if you don't, please find an old lady and be nice to her.

I miss my mother. She's been gone eight years now. But when the phone rings on Sunday mornings, I still think it's her. I hope that one of these days it is. We have a lot of catch up on. She was my best friend and she first taught me to write persuasively and clearly. And to remember to use my brain. And sit up straight. If only she'd taught me how not to miss her quite so much.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Writing Job, Day 5

Today's writing assignment was harder than I expected, but it could have been worse. It's late, but I'm done. And I took some breaks to make a pot of roasted tomato-basil soup. I'd bought all the fresh ingredients a whole week ago and didn't want them to go to waste. I might get around to eating some today.

I've been so tied up with this project that I've only been out of the house three times in the past week, and twice it was just for physical therapy appointments. I really need to get better at this, and soon. I'm developing an unhealthy pallor and my legs have grooves from the bentwood chair I use at my desk.

Still, I'm not complaining. I find this kind of writing really challenging (obviously), and interesting. I really want to get better at it. And for other reasons besides the fact that it takes me 10 hours to write a few hundred words.

Writing might go faster if I had some quiet during the day. There's been a filthy, noisy large-scale condo demolition going on right outside the bedroom windows for the past several weeks. Then there's the guy who's  been sawing some kind of metal down the street. All day long. Then there's the building renovation in progress right across the street. There are always idling trucks, hammering, drilling, and the deafening air horn of the "roach coach" that drives up twice a day to provide the guys' meals and coffee. Finally, there's some guy who spent the past two days hammering outside, a few doors down.

I can usually manage to write through all that, but I just have to laugh sometimes when it's all booming at once and I'm wondering why I can't focus on block-printing techniques. Oh, well. Life in the city.

But over the usual din, I overheard some familiar voices this afternoon. The contractor who has done some major projects in our little building that drove us crazy for months was back, with a workman. They were talking about some new job. When he's around, that means it's going to get noisy soon.

God help me. Time to crank up The Clash, so I can concentrate.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Writing Job, Day 4

I spent today writing about an 18th-century wood-paneled wall. It was much easier than yesterday's chair. Phew. It's pure fun to write about art, except when it makes you want to hit your head against a wall.

Possum and Wendy are sulky because I don't have all the time in the world to play with them. Timid little Wendy even sneaked up behind my chair and smacked me on the backside, with her claws out, as I was typing. Like any parent, I make up for my "absence" by buying them toys and treats. But I can hear Possum muttering that stupid Harry Chapin song under his breath: "The cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon...."

"I'm keeping you in tuna!" I scold. "Pipe down. Do your homework. Go kill a mouse."

Tomorrow I'll be writing about wallpaper. If I get that done before sundown, I'll move onto a whole historic parlor. It's fun. And anything is better than writing about disease. With powerful genetic tendencies for hypochondria and anxiety, I can convince myself I have any disease, including prostate cancer and rabies. But I can't convince myself I have wallpaper.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Writing Job, Day 3: I KNEW I Should Have Learned Welding

I just spent 11 hours writing a 200-word essay. About a chair. The finished product isn't very good. I can't believe it took so long.

I'm not getting paid by the hour. Thank god: I'd be embarrassed to admit it took me that long. I'd be seriously tempted to lie, saying I rattled it off in 45 minutes even though that would cost me dearly. If I had spent only 45 minutes on it, it would probably be less horrible.

But now it's time for a very late dinner. Next I'll make the bed so we can climb into it. Then I'll have a nightmare about Napoleon or silk upholstery, and lie awake until Possum comes around to be adored. Then I'll drift off until the demo crew for the building out back wakes me up.

Tomorrow I'll be writing about a paneled wall. Morning, noon, and night.

I only have about 40 more items to go....

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Writing Job, Day 2: Can't Blog — Too Much Writing to Do

The PB has somehow managed to get herself hired for a freelance writing project. She'll be writing about art, a refreshing change from writing about cancer, her last big project. The details of an 18th-century chair are much easier to understand and communicate about than the neuroendocrine system.

But this means that her generally prolific blogosity will likely diminish for the next few weeks, unless the project moves along more smoothly than she expects and she has a few words left at the end of her fingers.

At this point, she's looking at 12- to 16-hour writing days for about a month. That's another fine excuse to live on Diet Coke and takeout pizza — and just in time, now that we have clean tap water again.

Possum and Wendy send their regards. (Wendy is actually sending a blank stare, but that's still more than we expect from her.)

Time to get to it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Aquapocalypse, Day 2

So far, not having "safe" water is not a big deal. Brushing my teeth with bottled water reminds me of Paris.

Today was hot and muggy, perfect for bottled iced tea. It's not hard to follow most of the safety guidelines, but I'm not soaking our dishes in bleach. I'm washing them in hot, soapy water and giving a final rinse in safe, boiled water. So there. And anyway, we went to a picnic today and came home with spare paper plates, cups, and plastic flatware.

The cats miss their daily access to wet bathtubs and running faucets. Snicky loves to drink from the bathroom sink. Possum asks to play in running water every morning; he's disappointed in me for not accommodating his every wish. I explained about protozoa in simple terms that a scientifically minded kitten like himself should understand. But I find we've spoiled him. He thinks only of his pleasure in the moment. (How I envy that.)

We went to just one real-estate open house today, in a remote, rural area known as Winter Hill, Somerville. (Yes, that's a joke. But it's also how the area really seems to this inner-city girl). We visited a rambling, Greek Revival Victorian single-family, with a deep front yard, on a quiet side street. The front porch had a fluted white columns, rocking chairs, and a sky-blue ceiling. Inside, we admired the double parlors with original details and floors, the dining room with glass-fronted pantry cabinets, and the cozy kitchen. There were four pretty bedrooms upstairs. The two-and-a-half baths were recently redone in classic white tile and period-style Waterworks fixtures. Pretty darn perfect overall, at least in style and historic detail.

But — and it seems there's always a But:

It's a ridiculously large house for two people. We'd be rattling around in so many rooms (it's three times the size of our current place, not including the full basement, attic, double garage, and yard). We'd be forced to adopt a half-dozen cats just to have a glimpse of one once in awhile. We'd also need to bring home a big percentage of the inventory of the Brimfield Antiques Fair to furnish the place. Housekeeping would be a full-time job for me: I'm slow, incompetent, and easily distracted when I clean.

Also, it would only be a matter of time before we were compelled to take in a few elderly relatives; with all those spare rooms, we'd have no excuse not to. Unfortunately, we only have batty, curmudgeonly elderly relatives — no one as charming as, say, Grandpa Munster or Grandmama Addams.

The biggest downside: it's about a mile to the nearest Red Line stop, Porter Square, for access to Boston, grocery shopping, a bookstore, and gym — and that's still on the outskirts of what we downtown snobs view as "civilization." As a non-driver accustomed to walking everywhere in my decades of living in Back Bay (where I feel like the best of Boston is practically on my doorstep) it would be a depressing commute to everywhere.

I'm a spoiled brat, I know. I'm feeling depressed and guilty about it, but there it is.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Never Cared for the Stuff

A ‘catastrophic’ rupture hits region’s water system

Nearly 2 million residents of Greater Boston lost their supply of clean drinking water when a huge pipe abruptly burst yesterday, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency and to impose a sweeping order for homeowners and businesses to boil the untreated water now flowing from their taps. 
Local officials across the region were scrambling to warn residents about the potential for contamination. In Boston and other communities, police were driving up and down streets in cruisers, using bullhorns to blare boil-water warnings. At Massachusetts General Hospital, staff put up signs warning “Don’t drink the water.’’  (
Finally, an excuse to live on Diet Coke and bottled tea instead of that flat, tasteless stuff in the Brita pitcher. I think I'm going to enjoy this. We picked up a few gallons of the clear stuff because cats can't drink soda. But I can!