Thursday, March 31, 2011

TurboTax Time

We started our taxes tonight, armed with a laptop, slices of layer cake, and piles of files. I am chagrined to report that we are as stupid and confused as ever. Another March finds us increased in age but not in grace or wisdom. TurboTax managed to baffle us every few minutes and we quickly resorted to our old trick of clicking "no" whenever a question made no sense to us.

Wendy sat at our feet during most of the debacle, keeping her golden eyes on us. She has to be the most fiscally responsible feral cat ever. The other three kept their distance.

At least there was no yelling tonight; we haven't yet reached the peak of frustration. TurboTax is saving that for tomorrow night, when we aim to finish up the federal forms (and the cake) and deal with both the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania forms. For you locals, PA tax forms are just as annoying as ours.

If we're lucky, we won't have to spend the better part of the weekend clicking through every page of the program to figure out where to put my self-employment tax payments. But we didn't manage to put them in so far, and I think we're past that part. Dammit.

The good news is that we appear to be getting a refund. I'm always filled with dread that we'll owe the IRS a small fortune, but unless we made horrible mistakes — and we certainly could have — it seems to be all right. The other nice observation is that we gave quite a bit more to charity last year, thanks to one of us finally having a steady job. That's continuing this year. Those findings and the cake were the only bright spots in an otherwise wretched evening.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I couldn't make the bed until 5 pm; all four cats had commandeered it. I don't hesitate to relocate Snicky, Snalbert, and/or Possum when they're in my way — because they don't mind. They jump right back up as soon as I'm done.

But Wendy joined the others today. She usually hides under the bed for most of the day, so this was a nice change. She didn't cringe or dash away when I stroked her, either. So, for her, I waited.

Wendelina Pantherina, sleeping hard.

The Emperor's New Condo?

As I was browsing the recent Boston real estate listings yesterday, I came upon one, in Philippe Starck's Parris Landing condo development in Charlestown, that made me sit up and do a double-take.

Not in the sense of, "Hey, this one seems to be old-fashioned, unrenovated, and cheap enough for us."

But more along the lines of, "OMG!?? WTF???" Excuse my French, but this unit offers a rather startling concept in "contemporary living."

Here are a couple of photos: find the surprise:

Whenever I see exposed brick, I think, "A chance to learn how to plaster!"
But this is not my only problem with this condo.

Here's the living room from another angle... ahem.

Did you see what I'm talking about? That's a glass-walled bathroom. You can see all of its fixtures from what appears to be the living room. And, yes, there's a white curtain you can pull around to "conceal" it. But it looks filmy and sheer. It looks like an afterthought — for emergency use in case your hick relatives are visiting, rather than your hipster friends. The curtain looks like you aren't supposed to use it.

The living area is even furnished with a few styles of transparent acrylic chairs — so as not to obstruct the view?

Call me "old-fashioned" or just call me "old: for $699,000, I expect opaque bathroom walls and doors. I don't even like the idea of double sinks in a bathroom, because I like brushing and flossing in privacy, too. (The only advantage of two sinks, in our situation, is that Possum could nap in one and we wouldn't have to evict him to wash our hands.)

In case you were wondering how a realtor would finesse this issue in the listing, I will quote:
Exquisitely modern.... marvelous bathrooms.... This is a truly unique home for the creative person who wants something very special. A true masterpiece! There is also a private deck with wonderful harbor views.
"Very special" indeed!  At least the deck is private, although it wouldn't surprise me if, under the right conditions, a person on a boat in the harbor with a telescope could see through the glass wall and into that bathroom, too.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Taxing Time

The cats know we're about to begin doing our income taxes. Three cats, that is; Snicky is oblivious. As a tortoiseshell, she lives in a world of her own, ignoring taxes and all of life's unpleasantness.

At this time of year, my Sicilian father always reminds his children and his shadier relatives: "You have to pay your taxes. It's how they got to Al Capone."

Wendy takes this very seriously. She's the primmest, most Puritanical cat I've ever had. She sits on the table beside our growing pile of tax files, staring at us pointedly.

Wendy urges us to do our civic duty.

But Snalbert and Possum remember our adventures with TurboTax last year, and all the tension, yelling, confusion, and despair. They've seen the pile of tax material, too. They remember getting in big trouble when they knocked sorted piles of files onto the floor. They've been trying to find a way to run away from home until April 15. I believe they are plotting to ship each other to a Key West cat colony for a couple of weeks.

Finding the boxes was easy. Figuring out how
 to ship each other is proving complicated.

It's not that we mind paying taxes. We're happy to pay our share. It's just that it's so darn hard to figure out how much that is. TurboTax is supposed to be simpler than filling out forms by hand; I wonder. At least we're not likely to stab ourselves and each other — accidentally! — with pencils. We feel like morons after a few hours of tussling with the same baffling questions it asks us every year. But because TurboTax keeps all of our information from the previous year, we don't dare switch to different software. Our taxes are not that complicated; we must just be very stupid because we have no idea what we are doing most of the time. So when we get a question that stumps us, we just check off "no," figuring that, if we don't understand the question, it must not apply to us.

On top of that, every year we get to the end of the program and realize that I never entered my self-employment tax payments. So we go back to the beginning and click through every single page a few times, killing an hour or two. We never find the right box. Eventually we give up and put the correct amount in the least illogical box. We surely miss deductions, because we don't understand the questions or we can't bear to do any more calculations.

Last year, we got a layer cake from Lyndell's Bakery to give us the strength to get through this annual nightmare. We completed our taxes in record time (confusion and agony were intensified in direct proportion to the shorter time period). It must have been all that sugar energizing our brains.

It will therefore be necessary to get a cake from Lyndell's this year.

So, although we've been saying for several days that we would definitely start our taxes tonight, there's no cake, so it's not happening. Maybe tomorrow night. The boys could use a little extra time to work on their flight plan, too.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Manhattan for a Day

Some Assembly Required and I made a little jaunt by bus to Manhattan yesterday, just for fun. For a Bostonian, SAR knows his way around quite well. We had lunch in a classic sandwich shop, Eisenberg's, "raising New York's cholesterol since 1929." They start you off with a bowlful of powerful and excellent pickles, which affected the taste of the chicken soup and grilled cheese on rye that followed. But they were worth it.

Then we went to the Chelsea Hotel to check out Doughnut Plant, on SAR's list of recommended shops. It was hard to choose between flavors and I was too full for more than one. After ruling out Valrhona chocolate and crème brulée, I settled on a big, square, vanilla-glazed beauty with blackberry jam:

I wanted to photograph the entire doughnut, but unfortunately it was impossible.

After that, we settled down for some serious shopping, or rather browsing, as I was not in a buying mood. I always visit ABC Home when I'm in Manhattan, but my new favorite store is Evolution, on Spring Street.

Front window display with stuffed monkey and two-headed baby.

It's a bit like visiting a small version of the Peabody Museum of Natural History where everything has price tags. It's packed with fossils, skulls and skeletons (repro and real), seashells, animal hides, butterflies and insects, freeze-dried rodents and other taxidermy, gems, and plenty more.

I was very taken by this little guy with antlers:

And they claim that jackalopes never existed.

I told SAR that I would fill my house with stuff like this if I could (and if my husband could tolerate it, which he can't). SAR told me it was very cool but that he'd prefer to meet me outside. Some people are creeped out by taxidermy and bones, but I grew up surrounded by relatives' hunting trophies. If anything, the sight of dead mammals gives me an appetite for Italian cooking.

But I walked out without so much as a freeze-dried guinea pig for Possum.

As we wandered around Washington Mews and University Place, SAR remembered that the Triangle Shirtwaist building was nearby, and sure enough, we'd been looking at it. We went over in time to catch the tail-end of the memorial service — yesterday marked the centennial of the terrible fire. We had missed the large gathering that had booed Mayor Bloomberg for opposing unions earlier in the day, but there was still a lively crowd, ringing bells of all kinds, chanting, and calling out the names of the victims. It was strange to think that scores of bodies had landed in the area where we were all standing; doomed factory workers had jumped from the 9th floor to escape the inferno.
We left as this costumed bell-ringer made a dramatic entrance.

On that sobering note, we resumed shopping, visited St. Patrick's Old Cathedral to light candles, and grabbed some dinner for the bus ride home. A long, fun day, but I'd missed the cats. (The one, and perhaps only, advantage of dogs over cats is that you can take them out with you.) And, upon reflection, I hadn't had nearly enough doughnuts. Must remedy that next time.

Battling the Bottle

Having survived the struggle to locate my favorite variety of Ocean Spray juice amid the mind-boggling welter of flavors and competing varieties on the supermarket shelves, I can report that I nearly did myself in anyway, — trying to remove the cap from the bottle.

The darn thing is just a piece of plastic, and it's supposed to just twist off, but it wouldn't. I'm fairly strong for my size from working out, and I can open all kinds of jars and bottles without thinking twice. This one refused.

I wrapped the lid in a towel and tried some more. No luck. I whacked the top of the bottle on our granite counter top. Nope. Then I took a deep breath and tried very hard, one more time, to twist it.  My hand was already sore from previous attempts; this time, I felt pain up my arm and into my neck and shoulder.  Only moderate but steady cramping and pain, which went away after several hours. But it was not worth a glass of juice.

I resorted to weaponry. A serrated knife sawed apart the perforated base of the cap, and I tried to stick the knifepoint under the cap. I forcefully shoved the knife here and there, wondering the whole time about what sort of knife wound I was about to inflict upon myself. For once, nothing happened. And the cap still refused to budge.

At this point, I had to take a breather and ask myself: What the Heck? Was I was crazy, or weaker, than I thought? Were the Ocean Spray bottlers a bunch of burly he-men? Did they hate their customers? How did they expect kids, or fragile and elderly people to open these bottles if healthy weight-lifters can't manage it?  Were juice-drinkers all around the country hurting themselves?

I got my wrench, a feminine design with an all-over floral print; I like the irony of girly steel tools. (I have the matching scissors, screwdriver, measuring tape, and box cutter.) It was too small to fully grip the cap.

I went under the bed and dug out our tool box for our large, adjustable pliers. I got the bottle open on my second or third try. And then I recovered a bit, stretching and massaging my shoulder and neck.

Bottle in question, with weapon of choice.

Sipping my juice, which I dilute without 8 parts of water to cut the sweetness, I called Ocean Spray. While I was on hold, a recording of a folksy-farmer-sounding guy extolled the virtues of their latest product: carbonated juice. Oh, boy, still more flavors to crowded store shelves. Already they can't stock enough of the basic flavors we all want because they are obligated to make room for "New! Cran-Sweet-Potato" and "New! Cran-Avocado." Honestly, the feverish marketing team at Ocean Spray will come up with those flavors soon, if they haven't already.

The customer-service rep was very friendly. I read her the identifying information stamped on the bottle and she told me my bottle came from their plant in Bordentown, New Jersey, where the capping machinery is sometimes wound up too tightly, causing customers to complain "Unfortunately," she said, "Bordentown is the supplier for the entire Northeast region. We will get this information to them right away and have them adjust their machines."

My sympathies to juice drinkers throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic in the meantime.

She said that, the next time I encounter a resistant bottle — and undoubtedly I will, as will thousands of us juice drinkers — the trick is to run the cap under very hot water for a couple of minutes. This is an old trick I've used for metal caps on glass bottles, because these materials expand at different rates when heated. But it didn't make sense to me that it would work with plastic on plastic. However, it did occur to me that boiling the bottle might eventually melt the cap, while wrecking the juice with cancer-causing plastic by-products.

She sent me a couple of coupons for free bottles, so I can try it for myself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Weather Witch

I have carefully cleaned the salt from my winter boots and put them away, deep in the closet. This should guarantee that it will snow soon. In fact, the bright sunshine disappeared as I was writing that. It's looking ominous. I know they're predicting a dusting. I don't want a dusting; I want the real thing.

If I want a cold spell, all I have to do is put away my winter clothes for the season. Even if I do it in late June, we'll get a few "unseasonably cool" days that will have me wishing for warm sweaters.

If I want a hot spell, I just pack away our shorts and swimsuits for the season. Indian summer will arrive soon afterward.

I'm aware that, just because I can sort of influence the weather doesn't mean I should sort of influence the weather. But I can't resist practicing once in a while, just to see if I've still got this strange ability.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother had this old-fashioned barometer with two little figures standing in the doorway of a hut. When sunny weather was ahead, the little farmer with a pitchfork would come out of his doorway. When it was going to rain, an ugly witch with a broom would come out. Being a kid, I figured that if I pulled out the witch, it would rain, and if I made the farmer come out, it would stop. I guess I've never gotten over this false sense of power.

I used to make use of it when I was younger and in charge of public events. Being a control freak, I took it upon myself to control the local precipitation to ensure the success of my programs. (This was after I accidentally conjured up a hailstorm, and scared myself.) Once, a singer complained to me because I had scheduled his Sunday afternoon concert during the Head of the Charles; he was worried no one would come. "I'll make sure it rains," I said. "No worries." They canceled the races that year because of bad weather. It was 1996. The auditorium was full for the performance.

One summer, I ran a popular outdoor concert series. The night of the first concert, I went onstage and announced to at least 600 people that it would not rain on a single Wednesday evening during our series, to encourage them to buy advance tickets. My staff thought I was insane, but I was confident. It's weird, i know, but that's how it is. And it never rained — for the first time in the decade-plus history of that concert series. We didn't have to keep running outside to check the sky, and we didn't have to call meteorologists at Logan or local TV stations for their latest radar analysis. We didn't have emergency meetings to decide whether the sound system should be set up indoors or out. We could relax. We were quite successful that year, and everyone had fun. In all the years after that, when I was out of the concert business, it has often rained on concert nights.

Apologies if you don't like snow. But I bet we're in for some.

Update: Or not so much.... perhaps this magical ability weakens with age?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Let's Eat All the Catbirds

My goal is to provide all of our cats with a well-rounded education, but Possumus Passamaquoddy is the only one with a keen interest in scientific subjects. When Possum and I have scientific discussions, he likes to be addressed as "Mr. Maquoddy" because it sounds like the name of a high school science teacher. Possum admires teachers. He really prefers to be addressed as "Dr. Maquoddy," but I keep telling him that it's ridiculous to pretend to have a doctorate when you aren't even 2 years old.

But I digress. Yesterday, we were discussing this article in the March 21 New York Times: "Tweety Was Right: Cats Are a Bird's No. 1 Enemy."

The article cites a recent study in The Journal of Ornithology that claims that cats, and not wind turbines (as previously hypothesized) were by far the No. 1 killer of baby gray catbirds in a suburb of Washington, D.C.  Here is a portion of the story:

“Cats are way up there in terms of threats to birds — they are a formidable force in driving out native species,” said Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, one of the authors of the study.
The American Bird Conservancy estimates that up to 500 million birds are killed each year by cats — about half by pets and half by feral felines. “I hope we can now stop minimizing and trivializing the impacts that outdoor cats have on the environment and start addressing the serious problem of cat predation,” said Darin Schroeder, the group’s vice president for conservation advocacy.

When Possum heard this, he was smug. "That many killed? Excellent work. And who wants catbirds?" he said. "They're obnoxious, they make dreadful racket, and they aren't even that tasty. You never eat them, I've noticed. But the babies taste better than the adults." Cats are doing their job, according to him. "Cat predation? Excuse me? If we didn't keep the bird population down — which is hard work, you know — the world would be covered in guano and all you'd ever hear was their deafening chirping," he said. "They'd decimate the bug and worm populations, too, but no one ever thinks of them. It's racist."

I said, "But, Possum, killing birds, especially babies, isn't universally considered a good thing." And I read him more of the article:

Yet wind turbines often provoke greater outrage than cats do, said Gavin Shire, vice president of the Bird Conservancy. “The idea of a man-made machine chopping a bird in half creates a visceral reaction,” he said, “while the idea of a predator with its prey in its mouth — well we’ve seen that on the Nature Channel. People’s reaction is that it is normal for cats to kill birds.”
Household cats were introduced in North America by European colonists; they are regarded as an invasive species and have few natural enemies to check their numbers. “They are like gypsy moths and kudzu — they cause major ecological disruption,” Dr. Marra said.
Possum is extra-sensitive to such remarks because he was born feral; he is a first-generation house cat. His fluffy tail began thrashing back and forth

"Gypsy moths? Kudzu? Check your lousy sources!" he meowed. "Look who's behind this so-called information. The American Bird Conservancy. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. No secret agendas there, huh? And guess who publishes this one-sided 'research'? The Journal of Ornithology.  It's all blatantly and outrageously pro-bird and anti-cat. Whatever happened to unbiased, objective research and reporting? And tell that Dr. Marra that Dr. Maquoddy wishes a plague of mice upon his house! He ought to remember that he's an invasive species, too!"

Possum pontificated on catbird research.

Possum convinced me that the article should be taken with a grain of salt. He reminded me of another article we'd read together, in The New Yorker: "The Truth Wears Off" (December 13), which describes the very human follies and foibles of most scientific research done in just about every field, from social psychology to gravity physics. It seems that, no matter how hard we try to experiment objectively, we unconsciously tend to skew and interpret research findings towards the results we want. And even if scientists manage not to, journal boards inevitably choose to publish research that reinforces, rather than disputes, the more popular and established theories. This is why so many new medical findings are disproven over time. One month you read that XYZ causes cancer, and later on, you roll your eyes as you read that it doesn't.

I told Possum he was clever to remember that. "The same issues could certainly apply to this catbird research." he said. "No mention was made of dogs in the study, for example. But while dogs may not be evolved enough to enjoy the taste of baby birds, they delight in fetching them and rolling around on top of them. And what about owls and hawks? No mention of them at all," said Possum.

And then he looked me in the eye. "And can we please keep in mind one central fact? They're called 'catbirds' for a reason. We're supposed to catch them. They're ours!" said Possum.

When I reminded him that we will have to begin paying for full access to The New York Times next week, he was aghast. Given this shoddy, anti-feline reporting, he doesn't think we should help bail them out. The Times is in serious decline, according to him. He recommended putting that monthly sum toward increased nutrition, in the form of Fancy Feast's "Fish & Shrimp Feast," to fuel four developing feline brains in this household.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Snow

I'm probably the only New Englander who welcomed today's snowstorm. Those giant flakes were pretty. I don't know why everyone was grumbling — it's not like they had to shovel, or find a broken chair to protect their parking space.

These sunny-side Marlborough Street crocuses can survive today's snow.

I was the one complaining when the temperatures hit 70 on Friday — the only one. I wasn't prepared to abandon my beloved turtleneck sweater and boots. Flip flops are my only alternative to boots for long walks, and they require some gradual muscle conditioning before I can walk in them all day. But on Friday, I put 'em on and walked 4 miles; it was hot. I still feel it in my lower calves.

I also got a sunburned head; I had packed my baseball cap and straw hats away with our summer clothes. The weather has no business being that warm until there are leaves on the trees to shelter us from strong sunlight.

It's obvious that I'm still in recovery from last summer's terrible, too-long heatwave, and the thought of sweating in sunshine any time soon makes me grouchy. My husband recently pointed out that I would want to retire somewhere chilly, like Maine, while he would want to retire somewhere warm, like Florida.

Florida? The horror! It's a good thing neither of us will ever retire (assuming I find a job to retire from.) I won't be able to afford to retire, and he loves his work too much to ever give it up.

On a brisk day, I look forward to walking a few miles, and then I like coming home, roasting a chicken, and simmering a pot of soup. I can't do that during the long, hot summers. In August, I just sit around, reading listlessly, drinking iced tea, eating cookies. Heck, I can do that in any weather. That sounds like a good idea right about now, even with soup on the stove. Bring on the cookies and iced tea.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Feeling Better

I'm happy to report that I'm feeling much better. Since yesterday afternoon, I've managed to eat a third of a Regina's pizza, a big slice of Chocolate Decadence cake, some rich muffins, and a Parisian hot dog (en baguette, avec melted fromage) from Petit Robert. There were French fries, salad, and a banana along the way, too.

In other words, I'm doing everything I can to make myself ill again.

I generally eat a (slightly) healthier diet than this, but I felt it was necessary to do some drastic experiments this weekend, to make sure I'm really well. And Possum encouraged me to be adventurous. He would love such a varied diet himself, with rodents, fish, and a few bugs mixed in. He would adore a Parisian hot dog. But he is not allowed to sample any people food except roast chicken.

Possum, relaxing in his usual spot, was sorry we didn't bring him leftovers.

Speaking of food, Possum regrets that he pretended to enjoy the Wellness brand of canned chicken and herring. I had presented it among a variety of other "premium" foods I bought as experiments to wean everyone from Fancy Feast, which our vet calls "kitty crack." All four cats licked their bowls clean; they were never so enthusiastic about any other better-quality food — certainly not chicken and lobster, which sounded tempting to me. So I bought a case of 24 cans and discovered that they were just being polite. They'd rather have nasty old Fancy Feast with all its by-products, filler, and additives.

Too bad, kids. You're stuck with Wellness: it's good for you, it's expensive, there's lots of it, and I can buy it in bulk just three blocks from here. You're all on healthy diets from now on. Eating badly will be my job.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Current Craving: Recovery

The PB was felled by a stomach bug, an IBS attack, or something, yesterday evening. I'd had a bad headache all morning, so it was almost a pleasant distraction to have different symptoms for a change.

The dancing Cossacks hadn't visited my interior since July, and they have just been practicing in a haphazard way — random kicks and stomping in there, more welcome than a headache for sure.

I had to miss a dinner party last night. I sent my regrets along with my husband and my favorite cake. But I was one-upped by another sick guest with more spectacular excuses. He reported via email that he had "barely made it home alive" and had done a terrible thing on the tracks of a T station. There's nothing worse than being sick when you're away from home. I hope he's feeling better.

The cats have been good company, sharing the bed with me. Possum keeps walking around on top of me, and he's as heavy as he is irresistible. But lately he's learning to curl up next to me, where he'll spoon, purr, and nap. It's very sweet.  Wendy keeps an eye on me from a safe distance.

Current cravings:

1. Mint tea. Quiets down those Cossacks quickly and well. Black tea with caffeine helps a headache, but mint tea soothes like nothing else.

2. Toast and butter. The Pain d'Avignon sourdough boule from Whole Foods makes perfect toast. And the label reminds me of my short trip to Avignon last fall.

3. Bananas. Also part of the bland, "BRAT" digestive diet: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast. Luckily.

4. Massive amounts of chocolate. As in, the leftover "Chocolate Decadence" cake my husband brought home from the dinner party. We'd picked it up from Party Favors between my illnesses. I get cravings for rich, unhelpful foods when I'm sick. I've so far avoided the cake because I know it would be disastrous. When I was a sick little kid, I begged for for purple grape juice and chocolate and drove my mother crazy. Last night, I caved and ate chocolate-covered raisins. Some things don't change, but she's no longer here to save me from myself.

Back to bed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Current Craving: Numbats

Baby numbat, 6 months old. Photo: Perth Zoo, via ZooBorns. com

I didn't know what a numbat was until I saw this video on — but now I desperately want some. Or at least some direct contact with one. As a friend said, "If they didn't exist, you would have to invent them. A pocket-sized anteater."

Numbats are an endangered species in western Australia. They are marsupials, and live on termites. They are also known as banded anteaters and have that long, sticky, creepy, anteater tongue. But I don't care. I want one. If it's a baby, I'll happily feed it mashed-termites and milk all day long.

I love their long, bushy tails and cartoonish stripes. They look like classier, daintier squirrels, sort of.

Photo: Wikipedia


At least some of our cats would enjoy having a charming Aussie marsupial for a playmate, I'm sure. And we'd never have to worry about termites.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yesterday's Adorableness

My husband spotted this fellow in Cambridge yesterday and got the photo with his iPhone camera:

I wonder: did his people add the porthole to their fence for his entertainment, or because he makes such a convincing hunting trophy with his head sticking out?

I'm guessing he's a West Highland Terrier; let me know how wrong I am. When I was a kid, I memorized all the dog breeds in the big color illustration in our 1960 World Book Encyclopedia. There weren't that many breeds in those days, but this accomplishment has convinced my husband that I know everything about dog breeds. So he's always asking me to identify the good-looking canines we pass. Often I do recognize the breed thank you, WBE). But because he's gullible, and uninformed about dogs, I can get away with murder, too. "That's a Swedish Laphund" is my stock answer when I have no idea.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I keep reading the stories, watching the videos, and poring over the photographs, especially the satellite images that show before-and-after views of areas devastated by the tsunami.

But I still can't wrap my mind around so much death, destruction, and loss. It's impossible to imagine how vast the ruined areas are, or how many people are homeless, injured, or dead. I read every ominous update about nuclear radiation threat and try to think about what that could mean. It's overwhelming. So I distract myself with reading old New Yorkers or hanging out with the cats. But I'm always feeling the weight of everything we take for granted daily — more than usual. Because, you know, we take so much for granted. Even when we remember to be grateful for our homes, health, peace, friends, family, pets, and all the good things in our lives, we still take certain basics for granted: the ground our city is built upon. That the ocean will stay where the ocean belongs.

It's surreal to look away from Japan to see life unfolding as usual in Boston: a sunny day, parents pushing strollers, people on lunch break, dog walkers, students between classes. Just as everybody went about their business in Japan until their world washed away on Friday.

I've known for a long time that a substantial earthquake would be devastating here. Back Bay is built on "pudding," according to geologists, and the area would be shaken back to what it once was, a sea of muck. I can't comprehend all the ramifications of that, either, and I suppose I'm better off.

According to the Consulate-General of Japan in Boston, we should donate to the Red Cross. Done. And I'll try harder to appreciate the solid earth beneath my feet and all the other, countless, wonders that can vanish in a minute.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Back Bay at Sunset

Sometimes Boston looks as magical as it always did at the end of an Ally McBeal episode, as Ally walked home in a thoughtful mood from her law firm, Cage & Fish.

Undernourished, underdressed, neurotic, and lovelorn, our heroine rambled down lamplit streets suggesting Beacon Hill or Back Bay. Every night without fail, they glistened from a recent shower. My husband pointed out this cinematographer's trick, or it might have flown right past me, season after season.

One can almost hear Vonda Shepard crooning in the background.

Those Hollywood sets never captured the romance of a real Boston sunset.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

In Search of a Dish

I found a long crack in the bottom of my favorite oval baking dish, one of those Polish Bunzlauer sponge-painted numbers. That 12" dish had been a workhorse for years, used constantly for veggies au gratin, macaroni and cheese, casseroles, and roasted chicken. I'm convinced that anything tastes better when it's served in a pretty oval dish, so losing mine would instantly downgrade my cooking skill. I needed a replacement, pronto.

I rejected the current crop of Bunzlauers that I found online as too gaudy:

The best of the lot but still a little too dotty for me.

I went to Williams-Sonoma and toyed with the idea of a cast-iron Le Creuset open baker; they are practically indestructible, so it would be a lifetime investment. My round Dutch oven is a wonderful soup pot. But not only are their baking dishes a whopping $150, they are the wrong size, either too big or too small for my needs. I already have a big, beautiful oval copper gratin, which I use when I'm cooking for guests, or I'm upset, or both — when I'm distracted, I tend to make far too much food.
"Too big, or too small," says the Goldilocks of gratins.

I went to Kitchen Wares, and they didn't have an oval baking dish for me, nor could they order one any time soon. I went to Williams-Sonoma, where they had this Emile Henry dish:
Too feminine and giddy.

I like the color combination, but that ruffle bothers me. It's a baking dish, not a throw pillow. W-S also had Le Creuset stoneware gratins, also the wrong size. And I realize that I want a bright-white dish this time, not one with a drab ecru interior:
I went to Marshall's, where you can often get a bargain on decent cookware. They had a white Portuguese pottery dish that I liked, but it was too big and felt like it might chip if I looked at it too hard. It was only $9.99, but I suspected it was worth it.

Online, I saw that a French company, Pillivuyt (pronounced Pee-yi-vweet, I think), makes several attractive porcelain oval bakers in the size I want. I decided to buy one in Boston. While I tend to be a price-conscious online shopper, it's important to patronize local stores, and I particularly want to support our independent shops selling books, cookware, and antiques.  

There were three styles I liked:
Option A: Classic and simple.

Option B: Classic, but a bit more elegant.

Option C: A charming "brasserie menu" design.

Of course, I could not make up my mind. I wanted to see them in person.

When I discovered that the usual suspects — Kitchen Wares, Williams-Sonoma, Lekker — don't carry the brand, I walked to Thayer Street in the South End, gritted my teeth, and entered the dreaded Tour de France. This shop is the attractive lair of a Frenchman notorious for offending customers, including me. Two or three years ago, my husband and I went there and admired a set of art-deco dining chairs. We wanted them badly, but he was so rude that we gave up. Yesterday, I was not surprised to see that those chairs are still unsold. 

Well, I had another hair-raising encounter — he had no oval dishes among his white porcelain stock and took out his frustration on me. He finally turned on his heel and pretended I no longer existed. C'est normal. At least I learned that he only sells the Revol brand, and I believe Kitchen Wares does, too. You will be treated humanely there.

I staggered into Mohr & McPherson, where they noticed I was a bit stunned. They told me I was hardly the first customer to arrive wounded from Thayer Street. How I enjoy wandering in M&M, a treasure trove of international items you won't find anywhere else in New England, at prices that make sense. I always fall in love with some unique, beautiful thing that won't fit in our apartment. It's too bad they don't sell French porcelain.

On Union Park Street, I decided to take a chance on Michelle Willey, a small shop that has always struck me as one of those precious, Manhattan-style boutiques with a slim selection of expensive things offered with excessive hauteur. I had never gone inside; such shops make me too uncomfortable. But at that point, I felt ready to suffer even the second-meanest shopkeeper in Boston in pursuit of an oval dish.

Boy, was I mistaken. I have got to learn to keep an open mind. It's a lovely store with a cheery, relaxed atmosphere. It may seem minimalist-chic if you're just peering in the window, but you'll find a good selection of merchandise, carefully edited but neither overpriced nor overwrought. The shopkeeper was friendly and helpful. And they have Pillivuyt! While they didn't have oval dishes, I could see other pieces in all three patterns.

As I was making up my mind and he was looking up prices, I tried on a some shirts in a Liberty-style print. These were less than half the price of a similar J. Crew shirt I've been coveting. Before I could mention this, he told me that customers kept coming in to buy the shirt after seeing it in the window and making the very same comparison. I kept sensing that we were on the exact-same retail wavelength...

With his advice and approval, I chose the "Brasserie" design, realizing that I want a dish that's simple but amusing, that I'll enjoy using often. It cost $62, the price I'd seen online. I hope it lasts at least a decade, as my Polish one did. It will arrive in the next couple of weeks; I look forward to picking it up and seeing what's new at the store. And I will always remember the pleasant experience of choosing it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Annals of Stupidity: Kitchen Edition

As I was putting away groceries tonight, I reached up into a high cabinet to move a bag of teeny-tiny seashell pasta, which I use for chicken soup.

The bag had been opened, but it has one of those adhesive stickers to reseal it. But I reckon those don't  always work so well.

When I lifted the bag, I squeezed it in the middle. It popped open and a noisy torrent of tiny seashells rained down upon me and the kitchen. I stood there, frozen in disbelief. It was like being in a cartoon; it seemed to go on for way too long, probably because loads of them landed on top of my head and shoulders, and when I started laughing, I dislodged them.

Those shells are very bouncy. They went everywhere: behind the cookbooks, in the cats' dishes, all over the floor, countertops, and groceries. Down the back of my turtleneck. I even found some in the living room, under my desk, as we swept them up. At least they weren't chocolate chips; that would have been a shame.

I put a sturdy metal clip on the bag because I am smart enough to know that I am dumb enough to do the exact same thing again.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Sweater

If you saw me any time in the past three months, I was undoubtedly wearing black leggings, low-heeled boots, and a very fuzzy charcoal turtleneck. I figure that this ensemble is good for at least five more weeks of constant wear before I'll have to replace it with something less wintry. I'm already pondering what that might be, without enthusiasm.

Here's the sweater, bought deeply on sale in early December at J. Crew:

It's a merino-alpaca blend, with a soft, bouclé-like (and slightly hairy) texture. Its fluffiness means it pills like mad, especially with daily wear. I occasionally rake it into submission with a de-pilling comb, but it can always use an hour of meticulous de-pilling by hand. I never bother, except to pull off any that resemble caterpillars.

You may be relieved to hear that I throw it in the wash even though it's supposed to be dry-cleaned. It comes out fine, and for a few days it doesn't smell like chicken soup or whatever I've been cooking.

I've never worn anything continuously like this since I spent 12 years in school uniforms. I claimed to hate them, but saw uniforms as a creative challenge in those days. I learned to bend the nuns' rules without breaking them. In high school, I wore my brown serge jumper with billowy-sleeved crèpe-de-Chine blouses, cuff links, sheer nylons, and high heels while other girls wore button-downs, knee socks, and loafers. I must have burned up my lifetime sartorial candle from both ends back then because I have never looked so consistently chic or unique since. On the other hand, I spent my weekends in things like overalls and Earth shoes. Uniforms can be a salvation for people like me.

I have this idea that I am going to wear this sweater until its physical demise, that it will disintegrate into a pill of woolly shreds one day, or spontaneously combust, leaving a few chicken-scented ashes. I believe that it's absorbed both my DNA and personality to the point where we're related now. I could be cloned from this sweater, but it would be far nicer to clone Possum instead. He has left lots of DNA and fur on it because he loves to lie on me/it for petting sessions and naps, stretched out from neck to hem.

I am finally getting a bit tired of its charcoal drabness, but it still strikes me as perfect. It's just long and fitted enough to look slimming. I never have to tug it down. It's warm; I can pull the sleeves over my hands. The turtleneck is floppy enough that I can pull it up to cover my ears and nose when I'm freezing. But it's not hot. I have heavier turtlenecks that roast me on all but the bitterest days.

As I've said before, I could never be one of those women who blogs about wearing the same dress for a year, changing it with creative accessories and shoes each day. I don't accessorize well; the result would be a boring blog about happily wearing the exact same thing every day... imagine that. I do occasionally tie on a wool scarf if I'm going out.

I love beautiful clothes and observing the whims of fashion, but I have never dipped more than a toe in the sea of designer labels. Practicality, price, and comfort matter to me at least as much. So I guess a "uniform" makes a lot of sense in my case, despite years of rebelling against the concept. I don't know what my spring look will be, but it will certainly include flip flops and exclude charcoal gray.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring Blooms

Spotted yesterday in a garden on Beacon Street, near Coolidge Corner:

The yellow flowers are winter aconite; the white ones are snowdrops. 

I believe it's officially Time to take down your Christmas wreaths if you've been procrastinating.

I'm pleased to report that I haven't killed my begonia yet, although Snalbert chewed the leaves, so it looks better from a distance. I've had it for about 10 days now:

I only water it weekly but I am not hopeful.

I asked for care instructions, and I paid attention, but it seldom does me any good. I'm fine with many outdoor plants (but not nasturtiums), but only rosemary and geraniums grow well for me indoors. Everything else perishes in a matter of weeks. Mostly I overwater; I once reduced a beautiful white cyclamen to jelly in a matter of days. If I can curb myself from that, I tend to forget to water at all. This is partly from absent-mindedness and partly because I need to hide plants from Snalbert. He will eat anything and then spit it back up, including the Christmas tree. But plants need light, so I'll barricade them on a windowsill, hidden behind curtains — and then we both forget they exist.

Last year, I petrified a rosemary tree I'd loved for years using this method.

This little begonia is the first plant I've dared to get since then, except for a stunning button fern I bought last fall. After a month of pulling off too many dead leaves and watching it languish in darkness on top of our tallest furniture — Snalbert was ruthless in pursuit whenever I tried to give it more light — I felt so sorry for it that I gave it to a friend.

I didn't get a single White Flower Farm catalog this year. I suppose they've figured out that I'm a menace to their hard work.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

10 Semi-Positive Things About March

1. March is not February. It just looks, acts, feels, and smells like February. Daylight Savings Time arrives in March nowadays, to mess us up further — the days seem longer, so it should be getting warmer, right? But it isn't. And it won't.

2. Your chance of getting a mosquito bite is just about zero.

3. Fug Madness. Vote for your favorite worst-dressed celebrities of 2010 in an elimination-based tournament (sounds a bit disgusting, but it's how the Fug Girls describe it). Fug Madness is concurrent with March Madness but is more entertaining. I know I'm in the minority, but the only sport more boring than televised basketball is golf. Which is a game, not a sport.

Last year's winner was Amber Rose. 
It was tricky to find a photo of her wearing clothing.

4. Lent. Give up something for 40 days. It will be good for you. I'm giving up basketball.

5. Airy spring clothes and sandals fill the stores, although you won't be able to wear them for months without freezing yourself into a head cold. But you'll still be tempted to do it.

From Anthropologie (of course). 
Under wool tights and an Irish fisherman's turtleneck, perhaps?

6. Kitten season begins. Not necessarily a good time for shelters, but you can help them and yourself by adopting a few and giving them a good home. Kittens are happiest in pairs, trios or quartets. Might as well adopt their mom, too... Got too many cats already? Consider a donation to your favorite shelter.

7. Flower shops are full of spring tulips, hyacinths, primroses, primulas, crocuses, daffodils, Easter lilies... but please note that these are all toxic to animals. Console yourself with a begonia or some herbs.

8. Easter isn't until April 24, but you can decorate your Easter tree now, per Martha Stewart:

If this doesn't make your day, remember: Easter candy is already in stores.

9. Lucky people take beach vacations in March. The rest of us should feel happy for them. I hope the thought of friends and colleagues getting sunburned and wrinkly will cheer you up if you're stuck here.

10. In March, the IRS filing deadline is always at least two weeks away.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wendy's Talents

Wendelina took over my husband's textbook as he was preparing an exam yesterday. Here she is, looking like she knows all the answers. Snalbert looks skeptical, as he usually does.

Wendy seems to be fairly intelligent — not that brains are an essential quality in a house cat. Very smart cats become easily bored and frustrated, so they keep exploring new ways to destroy things and get themselves into trouble, and sometimes danger. We don't have this problem with our four. At the other end of the spectrum, I once knew a Himalayan who was so stupid that she forgot where her food bowl was from one day to the next. If she got hungry, she chewed on woolen socks or sweaters, the carpeting, or whatever was around. She may not have been as stupid as she appeared: after all, she trained her owner to carry her into the kitchen twice a day.

Wendy has never been savvy enough to realize how safe she is here with us, but she's making progress. I believe that her socialization is less a matter of intelligence than overcoming her feral instincts and the training she received from her wild mother. (Wendy was born in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. When we got her, I had to teach her how to play with toys.)

She learned how to talk to us, which surprised us. When we ask her questions, she'll politely squeak a response.  She also figured out how to befriend all three cats, which was not easy; the Persians have never been fond of any other cats, including each other. Wendy is also the first singing cat we've had. She carries her green furry snake around, crying and chirping at the top of her lungs. It's a hilarious and puzzling but definitely melodic sound. But her finest accomplishment is her ability to corral, or lose, all of her many sparkly toys under the same piece of furniture. I always find several of them lined up neatly in a row under a bookcase or a chest of drawers. As soon as I retrieve them for her, she begins all over again. I have no idea why she's so methodical. But if cats could play bocce, Wendy would be a champ.

She is still very young, so we are eager to see what other talents she develops.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Oops, I Bid It Again

The American Decorative Arts auction at the Skinner Galleries is in progress right now, and I decided to sign up to see what the two cat paintings I like will sell for.

Getting there wasn't easy; the site said I was registered but didn't recognize any of the passwords I normally use, so I had to re-register with a different email address. But the new registration had to be personally approved by someone before it was valid. That happened a little while ago, while I was in the shower. All of a sudden, I can watch live bidding — and I can bid.

During the bidding for some old duck decoy, I hit the bright green "BID NOW!" button as an experiment, to see how many screens I'd have to get through to actually place a bid. I'm used to bidding on eBay, so I figured that there were a few steps required to place an actual bid.  I wanted to see what the process was like on the very, very, slim, teeny-tiny chance that no one is interested in the Possum Ancestral portrait and I could pick it up at its reserve price....

WRONG. I had bid several hundred dollars on the decoy. Luckily, someone else wanted it or I'd have been stuck with it.

Dopey duck decoy #19: not my kind of thing, but almost mine

Avoiding that green "BID NOW!" is taking up all my emotional energy this afternoon, even though I'm not the slightest bit interested in anything else I saw at the auction preview. It's so commanding, exclamatory, and green:

Don't you want to press this? Are you sure?

I'm dangerous at auctions, which is why I never go. In my 30s, I went to a few, got caught up in the excitement, waved my paddle a lot, and won vintage clothes and hats, and even old sewing basket — and I had no idea why. For some, alcohol, gambling, and/or drugs are a fatal weakness; for me it's auctions. I resolved to go cold turkey and stay out of auction halls forever. And I have.

But I obviously need to stay away from this kind of online auction, too, which is different from the thoughtful, measured approach I take on eBay, where I'm a cagey, 12-year veteran. I figure out my best price and use eSnipe so I can't panic at the last minute and bid at a higher amount.

For those of you who were wondering, as I was, whether auction previews are a good place to meet someone for a potential romance, I can report that the pickings were disappointing on the afternoon I went. My fellow browsers were elderly collectors with eyes for only Chinese export porcelain or prints, a younger couple bickering over furniture, and a nervous, middle-aged guy who who gave me what I thought was a suspicious glare. But it turned out that this was his customary expression. On the other hand, Skinner's bevy of attendants, stationed around the items, all seemed like charming young women. There were no men in the group.

From the selling prices of today's auction, people are going nuts, rabidly bidding thousands of dollars over the estimates on all kinds of ordinary-looking porcelain, furniture, paintings, and dopey duck decoys. It's clear that I'm way out of the running on the cat portrait unless the whole crowd wears itself out over the previous 347 lots and runs out of money.

That's okay; I think I'll go for a walk and skip watching the rest of the action; the cat paintings won't come up until late afternoon at this rate. I can check out the winning bids later. Besides, my own four cats are all far more wonderful than any painting.

Update: As I sat on my hands, the "Possum ancestral" painting sold for triple the $800–$1,200 estimate: $3,250, not including the 18.5% buyer's premium. The painting of the orange cat sold for $3,000. What have we gleaned from this experience? Someone with a gallery specializing in fine cat paintings could make a little fortune.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I came upon Possum sulking in the sink yesterday:

When I asked him why he was in such a melancholy mood, he denied it.

He said he'd been thinking about art history (I'd lectured Wendy and him on the essentials when they were kittens), specifically Jacques-Louis David's painting of the Death of Marat (1793, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels). He said he was trying to capture the mood, if not the pose, and proceeded to show me:

I think he does capture a certain, well, je ne sais quois from the original, but his big white feet sticking up wreck the mood. Admittedly, he has a hard time holding paper and pens, he refuses to wear a turban, and he's too big for his "bathtub." I don't think Marat would have looked nearly so pathetic if he'd committed suicide in a sink. But Possum's attempt is original, and his lack of success is probably more due to my inability to teach art history to kittens than to his dramatic skills.

I'm not sure how much art history Wendy absorbed, since she refuses to talk to me about it. She is much less flamboyant than Possum, posing like a ladylike cat instead of a French Revolutionary War hero:

But I'd never say she is not artistic. Her crazy-quilt fur is a tribute to Jackson Pollock: an "explosion in a cat factory."

Friday, March 4, 2011

CocoHaze! vs. Nutella

I was lurking in the cheese department at Whole Foods the other day, trying and failing to justify paying $6 for a tiny wedge of Fromager d'Affinois (soft and creamy like Brie, but a bit tangier). That's a sale price at Whole Foods, but Harry's Cheese, at the Haymarket, often has fat wedges for $3, or two for $5.

Hmm, I am overdue for a shopping trip to the North End, and I owe the bartender at Regina's $2, too.

Anyway.... next to the cheese at Whole Foods was a prominent display of glass bottles of something called CocoaHaze! It looks just like Nutella, so I was instantly alert.

I love Nutella, as all rational human beings do. My current dessert craving is Bertucci's Chocolate Hazelnut Crostata ($4.99), which consists of a satisfyingly large dollop of Nutella filling inside a rustic tart crust, served hot from their wood oven:

Crostatas. (Or crostati?) as shown on Bertucci's menu.
They make a fruit version, too. Don't ask me why.

But I try to be broadminded about food — or chocolate, at least — so I feel obligated to explore other varieties of chocolate-hazelnut spread. I'm still mourning the demise of Trader Joe's Cocoa Hazelnut Spread a few years ago. It had a richer, dark-chocolate taste than Nutella. Somehow, even though it had more fat, as I recall, it seemed more wholesome that Nutella. So one could slather it on top of toast and peanut butter with greater abandon.

I asked the guy behind the cheese counter if he'd tried CocoaHaze! (the exclamation point is part of the name; I'm trying to be tolerant about it).  I couldn't hear what he said, so I stood there feeling stupid for a little while, wondering if he'd say anything else. Instead, he handed me a sample on a piece of bread.

Voilà! Strongly reminiscent of Trader Joe's Cocoa Hazelnut Spread. I said so to the guy, and he nodded knowingly. And it's from Belgium, just like TJ's spread. My jar of Nutella comes from Canada, although I am going to see if there are any glass jars from Europe in the North End today.

CocoaHaze! comes in a glass jar, as did TJ's spread (their jar was octagonal and pretty; I kept one as a relic). Nutella generally comes in plastic. I prefer glass to plastic because it seems to me that Nutella gets hard and weird over time, especially in a plastic jar. Oils and plastic can react to each other. While this should inspire me to finish a jar of Nutella within a couple of days of opening it, there are simply too many other kinds of chocolate in the world to make that feasible. Most of the time.

The ingredients of CocoaHaze! and Nutella are roughly similar, beginning with sugar and including things like soy lecithin. Neither is anything you should be proud of eating. But who cares?

CocoaHaze! is Fair Trade, and more expensive. It has less saturated fat but more total fat per serving. Taste-wise, it's less sugary-sweet and more chocolatey than Nutella, which I approve. The hazelnut aspect is secondary to me; both spreads have enough hazelnut taste without distracting me from the point, which is chocolate.

In professional copywriter's parlance, CocoaHaze! is less goopy than Nutella, a little drier and less drippy-spreadable. I'm tempted to say it's more "adult" or "refined" but that's pushing it. It's still essentially kid stuff, and thank goodness.

I'm willing to bet that, like the TJs spread, the consistency of CocoaHaze! will stay consistent as we slowly use up the jar, without hardening as Nutella does.

I left the cheese department very pleased, with chocolate on my face and a $5.99 jar of CocoaHaze! in my basket. But this will not stop me from getting a glass jar of Nutella if I can find on in the North End. I want to make one of those crostatas myself, and I think it needs to be goopy.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Snow-Proof Flowering Plant?

I spotted this plant on the sunny side of Commonwealth Avenue yesterday. It must have been buried under snow until recently, but it's been blooming. Much of it is flattened and sad-looking, but parts of it are in much better shape. And the whole plant has plenty of white and pale yellow blooms and buds.

If you can identify it for me, please do! It was almost unnerving to see it at this time of year, when other gardens are still piled with snow. This garden also has a budding rhododendron. Spring is in the preparation stages, anyhow.

Update:  Christmas rose, also known as hellebore! Thanks, Teri and CK for enlightening me!  It must have survived and kept blooming through all the snow, amazing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cat Portraits at Skinner Auctioneers

Skinner Auctioneers sends me email when they are having auctions so I can browse their items online, fall in love, covet, crave, get depressed over lack of funds, return to my senses, chastise myself for being avaricious, count my blessings, and forget the whole thing. Looking at one of their auction catalogues is an exhausting way to kill part of an hour but it's often more cathartic than going to the movies.

There's an auction of American furniture and decorative arts auction at their Boston location this Sunday, March 6, at 11 am. I'm interested in antiques and like to learn about them, so I've decided to go to one of the many previews this week.

If I happened to be single and looking for a partner, I believe I'd go to auction previews all the time. They strike me as good places to meet someone interesting, as opposed to, say, going to bars. But this is purely theoretical. It's been so many years since I went to an auction preview that I have no idea who actually goes to them. I like to imagine they are full of rich, bored people, looking for things to fill their empty mansions and lonely lives. But for all I know, only broke, bored people like me go because it's free and gets us off the streets. I will do reconnaissance, and report for anyone who is curious.

I'm especially interested in this auction because there are two cat portraits up for bids. Old, good paintings of cats are rare. The last Skinner preview I went to, ages ago, featured someone's large collection of cat art. It was an event not to be missed; nowadays, even two cat paintings are sufficient to make my ears perk up. They are both estimated to sell for between $800 and $1,200.

I plan to study them intensely and walk swiftly away. Here they are:

This portrait of a gray tiger reminds me of Possum. Yes, I realize that practically everything reminds me of Possum. But I see similarities in the wise expression and that elegant left paw, as well as the tabby coat, mittens, and ruff. The frame's graceful arched opening enhances the dignity and depth of this 19th-century portrait. Someone really loved this cat.

Lot 348 
Henry Collins Bispham (ac. Pennsylvania, 1841-1882)
Portrait of a Gray Tiger Cat Seated on a Chair. Signed and dated "H.C. Bispham 1878 N.Y." l.r. 
Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in., in a period gilt gesso frame. Condition: Retouch to paws and background. 

Estimate $800-1,200 
Retouch to both paws and background area left of paws.

Possum, of course, would cross his paws for a formal portrait. I don't know where he learned his elegant ways, but it wasn't from me:

Here's the second cat painting at Skinner, this one by a woman artist, Alice Spooner:

Lot 321 
Alice Spooner (Michigan, ac. Late 19th Century) 

Orange Cat Seated on a Chair. Signed l.l. Oil on canvas, 15 x 19 1/2 in., 
in a period molded giltwood frame. Condition: Retouch to figure and background. 
Estimate $800-1,200 
Retouch to cat's face, decoration on seat back., scattered small areas to cat and background

I love this guy's sleepy, thoughtful expression and "cantilevered" paws, as my husband describes this particular cat pose. The chair is also charming with its gleaming curves and tapestry upholstery. This has a "folk art" style, but it reveals much more sophistication as you spend time with it.

I look forward to seeing these paintings at the gallery. It gives me a nice thrill to see evidence that people have passionately loved their cats — just as we do — across the centuries.