Friday, April 29, 2011

The Dress

I had no trouble waking at 6 today, just in time to see Kate Middleton driving to Westminster with her dad. It looked like a perfect wedding, and an interesting contrast to the last wedding I bothered to wake up early for: Diana and Charles's, in July, 1981. Now here was a happy couple, and not simply because they got to play dress-up and ride in a coach.

Wendy joined me on the bed for a half-hour of wedding coverage, letting me pet her to our hearts' content. This was astounding. Is it possible that her skittishness is just natural British reserve? It seems that this wedding suddenly thawed her. We'll have to watch the BBC to see if she keeps coming around.

Maybe it's just that no one can resist a bride, not even Wendy. Snicky also paid close attention to the goings-on, while the men in the household mostly ignored it.

We three girls all thought that Kate's dress was exquisite. Alexander McQueen... it doesn't get any better. The silhouette was timeless and romantic; the cut of that full skirt was an achievement. The lace and embroidery added just the right amount of embellishment. It was hard to see the details, but there were many: scores of covered buttons down the back, elegantly shaped lace cuffs, and that wonderful tiara.

No complaints from this fussy critic! And Wendy agreed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

If It's Summer Now, How Long 'til Labor Day?

What happened to April?

What happened to May?

Why is it suddenly shorts-and-sandals weather?

Why does it feel like it's practically the 4th of July when we're still weeks away from Memorial Day? Humidity in April?

I don't like it. I don't know what to wear. I hate being hot and sweaty. I hate being over- or under-dressed for the temperature or the occasion. I'm not wearing shorts in April, although I want to.

It's amusing to see how my fellow Bostonians deal with it — badly, for the most part, so I don't feel so alone. Yesterday, I saw everything from white short-shorts and halters to woolen coats and tall boots. I saw a lot of leggings and skinny jeans, and I'd made that mistake, too. Even with a light shirt on top, you swelter in those things. They belong under boots and coats. I also saw a woman with a shearling trooper's hat sheltering her like a hood. And there I was, sweating under my baseball cap, cowering in the shadow of a tree trunk. It seems unfair that it's this hot and sunny but there are no leaves yet, so not much shade.

It's time for me to unpack our warm-weather clothes, although I usually do it in mid June. I've already replaced my boots with flip flops, because there is nothing else that works for my troublesome feet. There is not an attractive sandal, ballet flat, clog, or other shoe in the world that lets me walk a few miles a day without socks and without blisters. (I only wear sneakers at the gym.)  I dare you to suggest one!

I will waste hours shoe-shopping, as I do every spring, but I can rule out 99.9% of so-called "comfort"brands without trying them on, because they have silly embossed designs or raised stitching on the insoles (Børn, Munroe, Clarks, Sofft, etc.), or little brand tags sewn right where my heel hits (Ecco, etc.), all of which tear up my soles when I walk. Or they are ugly (I mean you, Naot, Earth Shoes, and Uggs). I also need flexible soles and as few straps as possible to rub against the top of my feet. (Even those sleek rubber Havaniana flip flops bother me.)

So my ancient grosgrain Reef flip flops are already getting more mileage. My only consolation: if it's summer in April, can fall be just around the corner? Geez, we barely have any leaves and I'm already waiting for them to start falling!

Remembering Cairo

I've been remembering a busy day in November 2006, when I was wandering around Cairo. I saw and experienced many things that surprised and delighted me, and changed my thinking. That's why we travel, isn't it?

I visited this palace museum and discovered my ideal decorating style: Shabby Sultan. This is why it's so hard for me to find a condo in Boston with enough detail to satisfy me:

I've been collecting inlaid coffee tables ever since I saw this.

This parlor's walls are covered in Islamic tiles; a time-consuming, expensive (but stunning) alternative to wallpaper. What would it be like to live in a room like this?

I love the way those big rugs are layered on top of each other.

On Rhoda Island, I looked for Umm Kulthum's museum—she is Egypt's most beloved vocalist. I never found it, but I found a lot of feral cats:

These cats looked unusually healthy and well-fed for Cairo.

Some gentlemen offered to catch this beauty for me, but she was too quick for them:

Look at that face! Surely ancient Egyptian cats looked like this.

The Gayer Anderson house is a lovely little museum in medieval Cairo. Here's a bedroom, less spectacular than the palace museum, but also romantic and evocative of centuries past:

Curtains and carved mashrabiya screens keep out the hot afternoon sun.

I also visited mosques. They are not only beautiful and historic, they feel deeply holy. So much concentrated prayer over the centuries seems to seep into their stones and the carpets. The old mosques of Cairo are also a peaceful respite from the chaos of the streets:

After visiting house museums and mosques, I went shopping. A friend took me to a five-story department store in the souk, which sold nothing but belly-dancing attire. I piled a box full of scarves, veils, headdresses, and jewelry for a friend:

At a small store called Nomad, I discovered my ideal deck. It was a simple balcony off an ordinary, multi-story concrete building. But the shopkeepers had added rugs, a canopy, a daybed, tables, pillows, latticework, lanterns, and potted plants. I settled in with a glass of hot mint tea. 

In my neighborhood, many people furnish their decks 
with cheap white plastic chairs...

Our favorite hotel, the Mena House, is a former royal hunting lodge. It's very grand, yet unpretentious and welcoming. The lobby is a sea of glistening marble and its low ceiling is a coffered masterpiece of gilding and mirrors. It's like walking into a jewel box, yet I always feel like I've come "home" because everyone nods and greets you. One of the great things about Egypt is that its people have long memories. I could sail into this lobby tomorrow and someone at the desk would probably remember my husband's visit in January, and my last visit, five years ago. 

Believe it or not, it's cozy.

Here's the lounge, where you can hear music and have a drink as you wait for archaeologists to show up from the Pyramids, always clearly visible because they are right next door.

It feels like ages since I've sat in one of those hot-pink velvet chairs. And so many great changes in Egypt since then, and many more to come. Time for another trip—someday. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Don't Have to Live Like a Refugee

At first I was delighted that Possum appreciates Tom Petty's music as much as I do. But we've discovered that he likes to sing my favorite song, "Refugee," to taunt Wendy. Here he is, at it again:

Possy gets into the yelping part toward the end of the song.

He has selected "Refugee" as Wendy's theme song, because she still won't believe that her life is any better than it was when she was a tiny kitten, living in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant near Swansea, Massachusetts. (It was not a Wendy's.) She's always cringing, scurrying away from us, and staring with round, nervous eyes as we coo at her. When she finally surrenders, she melts into raucous purrs and begs us to stroke her belly... but in the meantime, it's all:

Somewhere, somehow, 
Somebody must have kicked you around some.
Who knows? maybe you were kidnapped
Tied up, taken away and held for ransom...

As a matter of fact, Wendy was kidnapped (she wandered into a humane trap), taken away, and put up for adoption. But Possum is also a refugee, from Shrewsbury. He thought it was so much fun that he got himself trapped twice. Whereas Wendy has psychological scars. 

So he sings to her:

It don't make no difference to me, baby,
Everybody's had to fight to be free,
You see you don't have to live like a refugee.

He puts extra emphasis on "baby" because that's what we call often her.

So, yes, it was clever of him to choose such an appropriate song, but I'd rather he had picked something more optimistic, perhaps The Beatles' "She Loves You." He says Wendy wouldn't pick up on the irony of that. It's true: she's such a literal cat. Until she settles into her luxurious "new" life ("It's only been a year and half, give me a break!" she squeaks), we're going to be hearing,

It don't really matter to me, BABY,
You believe what you want to believe,
You don't have to live like a refugee.

Unfortunately, Possum doesn't sound anything like Tom Petty. (Not everyone loves Tom's voice, but you can't sing like a refugee if you sound like Frank Sinatra.) Possum is an effortless high tenor — maybe even a counter tenor. Too high-pitched and "boy choir" sweet for a rock star, although falsetto will probably come naturally to him. That's what happens when a guy gets neutered before he's 8 weeks old. (We don't use the words "castrato" or "boy soprano" around here.) 

When he used to sing "Mustang Sally," it was pretty awful. Don't tell him I said that. He sounds best singing Gregorian chant.

The music of Frankie Valli, the Beach Boys or  even Freddie Mercury — I can imagine Possy singing "Bohemian Rhapsody"— would better suit his abilities, but I won't say anything yet, since he's having such a good time.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Carpe Magnolia

Now's the time:

The magnolias on the sunny side of Back Bay's streets are blooming full blast, and plenty of other trees are blooming as well. You'll find a cloud of pink wherever you look. The first fuzzy green leaves are appearing everywhere, and there are tulips, azaleas, hyacinths, crocuses, daffodils, and pansies. You can smell a spring bouquet in the air. I recommend that you take a slow stroll to take it all in now, before all those pretty pink petals fall, turning into the equivalent of banana peels on our sidewalks.

Of course, if you're busy, you can wait a couple of weeks until the shady side of our streets catch up and start to bloom. As far as those trees are concerned, it's still March. And after the magnolias finish, we'll still have flowering crabs and dogwoods with their own special beauty.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter

We don't make a fuss over Easter the way my family did. When I was a little girl, I always got to pick out a new outfit, including a spring coat (remember those?) and a matching dress, purse, and shiny shoes. We put out Easter decorations, mostly my mother's hand-painted ceramics; we dyed eggs. On Easter morning, I'd get presents as if it were Christmas all over again, along with nearly a dozen candy-filled baskets from my mom, grandmother, and aunts. There'd be an extra-fancy ham dinner at my grandmother's house that evening. Easter was fun.

In recent years, my observance of the holiday has been reduced to buying a couple of bags of Dove chocolate eggs for half price on Easter Monday. Pathetic. Depressing. So we went to Wilson Farm today and got the tiniest, most adorable ham and some other fixings for a classic Easter dinner, à deux. I may never freeze again in a flimsy spring coat and ruffly ankle socks, or sit around my grandmother's table with a dozen loved ones (most of them arguing), but at least I can have ham and pineapple.

With its glorious array of fresh produce, baked goods, plants and flowers, Wilson Farm is always a happy place to shop, but it's most festive before any holiday. Just going there can put you in the spirit. I may even get it together to dye some eggs tomorrow.

On the way there, we stopped for doughnuts at Ohlin's Bakery in Belmont for fortification. This old-fashioned bakery in Cushing Square has it all, including dozens of colorful Easter egg cakes iced in pink, white, chocolate, or a sort of Windex blue, with frosting flowers not found in nature. I resisted these; I was there for doughnuts. (That was stupid, those cakes looked good; they're open until noon tomorrow.) Of the three doughnut flavors we tried, the glazed chocolate cake ones were outstanding. We'll be back.

There were masses of potted spring flowers at Wilson. I especially admired these Easter lilies — lovely to look at but so deadly to cats that they make me shudder even as I enjoy their trumpety, art nouveau elegance:

On the way home, we stopped at Play Time in Arlington. This 50-year-old store has an overwhelming inventory of art and craft materials, party supplies, ribbons, yarn, buttons, florist supplies, toys, model kits, books, and stationery. I hadn't been there in years. I can't wait to go back.

Sewing notions and ribbons to rival Windsor Button's. 
And everything else under the sun for the crafty person.

Wide-eyed and dazed by all the possibilities on the ground floor, we stumbled upon their basement. And there I found treasure: bags of Wendy's favorite pompoms:

She's been playing with a few of these for months, swatting them, carrying them around, and losing them all meticulously beneath the same piece of furniture. I eventually fish them out with a flashlight and a long wooden spoon under her supervision. She shows not a flicker of gratitude, just intense interest, and quickly gets busy losing them again. I'm considering giving her all 40 at once, just to see how she reacts. But I wonder if she'd get wigged out from the strain of having to stuff them all under the same bookcase. We'll see. It might be like watching an Easter egg hunt in reverse.

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Royal Whatever

I take a strength-training class twice a week at a gym on Newbury Street. It's taught by a charming, energetic, sadistic gentleman who puts us through the ringer. There are strong, fit regulars in the class — people who run marathons and take class the next day, people who can lift a 35-pound barbell hundreds of times. But our instructor finds ways to challenge everyone, every time. Sometimes I am reduced to lying prone on the mat at the end, barely able to move. Instead of sympathy, he chuckles and ask if anyone has yellow tape because I'm "a crime scene."

The class draws a mix of people: men in their 60s and 70s, students, professionals on their lunch hour, a Celtics cheerleader, the gym manager. We regulars are on a first-name basis after a couple of years, which is nice. It's also an incentive to show up, since we'll get grief from each other if we don't.

I'm so used telling time backwards, from watching the studio clock (on the wall behind us) via the front mirror, that I have a hard time telling time the normal way now. I distract myself from lifting, lunges, pushups, planks, and kettle-bell moves by mentally calculating how much time has passed, as in, "We are 12 percent through with this class now...." If the instructor catches me turning my head to double-check the clock, he makes a pointed comment; sometimes he makes us all do another set of whatever torture he's forced on us at the moment.

He delivers a brisk monologue through the class, giving orders, counting sets, and endlessly criticizing our form. He also fills the time by joking around, complaining that we're slacking, warning us about swimsuit season's imminent arrival, and speculating about all the Easter, Christmas, Valentine's or Halloween candy we've been consuming, depending on the season. He also likes to point out what an excellent bargain we're getting, since he's cramming a two-hour workout into one.

Naturally, I wouldn't miss this class for the world. It feels too good when it's over.

As I'm stretching and catching my breath on the mat after our Thursday class, with Lady Gaga belting through the speakers, I am very happy. It's beyond an endorphin rush:  It's The Weekend. I don't have to face gym class again until Tuesday. Bliss. Those four days between sessions seem an eternal, golden stretch of hours, far removed from a 20-pound barbell.

I'll still have souvenirs, of course: sore, stiff muscles in various spots from neck to toe. But I also can see muscles I didn't know I had. If I could lose about 10 pounds of flab, I'd have fabulously toned abs, arms, and legs like never before. Since I don't have flabby shoulders, they look much better than they did in my 20s.

We were performing this exercise yesterday where we do a side lunge with a biceps curl, holding barbells, and then we "curtsey" — a backwards lunge where one leg crosses the other — with another biceps curl. We were alternating these two moves for a minute or two on each leg, moving quickly to the music. I had 8-pound dumbbells, and I was tired. The instructor likes to chatter about how prepared we'd be to attend the Royal Wedding during this exercise, since we're curtseying a million times on each leg. (I always want to point out to him that most of us are Americans, so we needn't curtsey to Brits, but I am too busy trying to stay upright.)

Various things he said led me to believe the Royal Wedding was today. I haven't paid it much attention but I do want to see it. (I remember Diana's wedding, lovely but doomed. It will be good to see an actual happy couple marrying this time.) Last night, I read some article online detailing the fancy menu some woman is preparing for a Royal Wedding party in front of her TV, and I also thought it meant today. So I had my husband wake me up at 6, and I channel-surfed for half an hour, watching crappy morning news and wondering what was going on... until I realized that it's Good Friday and nobody gets married on Good Friday.

So I went back to sleep and had guacamole for breakfast. I'll look forward to catching the wedding next Friday, and may there be tea and scones for the occasion. In the meantime, I will tell my instructor about my mistake, which I believe was his mistake. He'll probably sentence me to an extra minute of pushups for my trouble.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Current Craving: Guacamole

The scene chez APB was unusually colorful this afternoon. 

I love guacamole. Is there any better food that isn't primarily chocolate or cheese? Is there any fruit more luxurious? I've been craving it for days but had to wait for my avocados to ripen. I made a batch yesterday, ate half for lunch, and found myself licking the bowl and spoon after reluctantly putting the rest in the fridge for today.

An avocado has about 14 grams of fat, mostly the heart-healthy, monounsaturated kind. I don't care.

My guacamole isn't exciting, just avocados, tomatoes, lime juice, and sea salt. An avocado on its own is kind of tasteless although its texture compensates. Silky. Creamy. Buttery. I think of it as a luxury vehicle for lime juice and salt. If you ask me, the tomatoes are filler, too, unless it's high summer and they ripened on a local vine. I never bother with garlic, onion, hot peppers, sour cream, or cilantro (might as well add a jigger of dish soap).

Just give me guacamole that's as pure and simple as can be. And give me lots of it, and watch it all disappear.

Instead of tortilla chips, I scoop it up with Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Pita Chips with Sea Salt. They have a satisfying, salty crunch despite being low fat. They are small and sturdy — that's important for scooping up tons of guacamole. For me, the chip is mere transportation for the green stuff. 

I wouldn't mind eating it like pudding with a spoon, actually. Now there's an idea... but, in fact, you need the chips because they slow you down. Concentrating on piling the maximum amount of guacamole on each chip prevents you from inhaling the stuff and lets you savor each mouthful.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sofa Mystery

Wendelina Pantherina found a dark cave that magically appeared on the sofa.

Scoping out the entrance to the new cave.

"Wow, a new geological formation! I am a bold explorer," says Wendy. "I'll go in and investigate. There could be snakes in there. I love snakes."

Prudent Wendy has second thoughts.

"Wait, there might be something bad inside. Something even scarier than my humans. Something that likes to bite pretty calicos. But I must be fierce brave or Possum will steal my discovery. Deep breath. Here we go..."

Wendy confronts the unknown. 

As she entered, green headlights flashed from deep within.

Possum, lurking roguishly.

 The wily Possum had indeed gotten there first! Wendy retreated in haste, trying to appear blasé. "Oh, well. Never mind," says Wendy, suddenly quite interested in the coffee table.

Possum revels in his private hideout.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Marathon Day

Possum was shocked to see many skinny, wobbly strangers walking down his street, wrapped in tinfoil and wearing — according to him — smug expressions reminiscent of his sister Wendy.

"It's the Boston Marathon, Possum," I explained. "You should be proud that it ends in Back Bay and pleased that thousands of runners from around the world have finished a great race and are enjoying your lovely neighborhood."

Possum didn't agree. "Some of them look like they want to be sick. And are you saying that they ran all those miles for no reason? Surely not!" he replied.

"For most runners, the goal is to complete the race and to beat their own personal record," I said.

"Oh, so that's the point?" said he. "Just to finish what you started, whether or not it was a sensible idea to begin with?  That's silly. You're supposed to run to chase food, catch food, attack enemies, and flee from predators. It would be much better if there were some sort of threat at the starting line, like rabid gorillas. Then there'd be some sense to it. Otherwise, why not stay in Hopkinton and help the locals with their gardening? There are probably lots of voles and rabbits worth chasing."

Possum ponders the Marathon.

I tried to reason with him but he suddenly fell asleep. He is worn out because we had a late night, watching "Upstairs Downstairs" (PBS) in between episodes of "Downton Abbey" (instant Netflix). Too many debutantes flirting with radical chauffeurs, and all those sulking valets and interfering dowagers were hard for him to keep straight.

It seems he will be spending the remainder of Marathon Monday on his velvet chair, having one of his marathon naps.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cutting Ties

My husband likes to dress up for work. He wore a jacket and tie in prep school; some habits get ingrained, I guess. Nowadays his colleagues at the university and the museum wear suits and ties, so it's a good thing that he enjoys looking professional. It's something I can't manage at all, myself, which is strange because I've had no trouble building his wardrobe and maintaining it. It's lucky I work at home, where the dress code allows bare feet and bathrobes.

My husband likes beautiful ties and he has dozens, but he always welcomes new ones. I went in search of one for his birthday this past week. I was looking for a slimmer style, because he prefers them these days. If they aren't too skinny in a hipster way, slimmer ties look elegant in a "Mad Men" way. But most slender ties are boring: dull solid colors or preppy plaids or stripes. We both like intricacy: paisleys, medallion prints, and foulards, in silk.

Remember the giant wall of ties in the downtown Basement? That was my hunting ground for decades. There were thousands of ties of every description; you could kill an hour searching for a perfect one — and you would inevitably find if you were persistent. Every man in my family got great ties as presents in those days. I'd see them trotted out at weddings, holidays, and funerals.

I finally found a handsome, affordable tie at the Basement on Newbury Street last week. As every Bostonian knows, that store is but a pale ghost of the late Grand Dame. But I was desperate; I had already looked unsuccessfully in several stores. And, much as I admire the Charvet ties at Neiman Marcus, I would never pay anything close to three figures for a delicate item that can be ruined in seconds by its unsuspecting wearer. I usually find myself at the Basement sooner or later, sighing for the old days.

The tie I bought is a medallion pattern in an subdued gray-blues, golds, and red. My husband was pleased and planned to wear it the day after he unwrapped it. After cutting off the tags (rendering it nonreturnable) and putting it around his neck, he noticed it seemed very short. Turns out it was eight inches too short. He tried to wear it anyway, but I forbid it.

Since when do they make petite ties?

When I reported this to my personal men's fashion expert, Some Assembly Required, he suggested that it was a boy's tie. But it's too sophisticated a pattern for a kid. I see it as a Pee Wee Herman or Danny DeVito tie, although it's too sophisticated for them, too. Maybe it's a hobbit tie. I'm going to try to return it, even though the tags are off.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Slow Magnolias

It's been so cold (not that I'm complaining) that the magnolias still haven't reached full bloom. It seems they've had second thoughts about opening up now that winter has made a return appearance to Back Bay.  The star magnolias and a pure-white variety are behaving appropriately; it's all the pink ones — the  showstoppers — that are acting shy. It does seem a little strange to see trees in bloom when I'm shivering in a wooly coat, hat, and gloves.

Here are some quick snapshots taken today on a walk through the neighborhood. You will not see any marathoners or their entourages in these photos, so feel free to click to enlarge.

White magnolias against the sky, reminiscent of a Japanese painting.

Along Commonwealth Avenue... not quite ready for prime time.

There is fragrance in the air, but I want more.

I passed a woman telling her husband, in an authoritative tone, 
that this was a dogwood — and that's why it was blooming so early. 
I couldn't resist correcting her botany lesson.

Birdhouse with flowers for company

Spring seems to come earlier to houses with magnolias and tulips. 
Are the residents happier or more fortunate in general in the houses
with pretty gardens, on the sunny side of the street? I wonder. 
You'd  think it would be so.

The willows in the Public Garden are dressed in shocking green.

The Swan Boats are awaiting their first customers.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

First Magnolias, Pink and Gray...

These photos were taken on Commonwealth Avenue on Tuesday, before yesterday's rain. It was a gray, dreary morning, but our famous magnolia trees brightened the street all the same. The trees were mostly still in bud, just beginning to bloom at the top. The smaller star magnolia trees were in full bloom and wonderfully fragrant:

We'll have tulips blooming under these trees before we know it. I'll take more photos soon; perhaps we'll get a sunny day soon but, somehow, gray skies and pink trees seem awfully sophisticated.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Eat at Saus

Have you noticed I've been posting more often lately? I have a freelance deadline, so doing anything other than actual work is impossibly alluring right now. Perhaps I should start writing a novel....

At the recommendation of our savvy friends at Boston Zest, we went to check out Saus on Friday night. We had a good, chilly evening walk over to Union Street, by the Union Oyster House. Saus is small, friendly and fast-food casual, and they offer just Belgian fries and waffles. Both are accompanied by your choices from a creative list of sauces. There's homemade ketchup, sea salt, and vinegar, too.
Here's the menu, spread across a large chalkboard above the frying and waffle prep area. Click to enlarge:

We split an order of reasonably good pommes frites with parmesan-bacon sauce for our main course — and made sure to leave room for dessert. I had a warm, crispy waffle with homemade nutella; my husband ordered his with salted caramel.

Here's what mine looked like after I forced myself to pause, put down my fork, and take a photo:

Delicious. And yet not outrageously rich, mostly because the waffle is not huge and they don't go overboard with the sauce. This is not to suggest that you'll get a skimpy serving, either — it's just right. We were able to walk home at a reasonable pace, without feeling bloated, ill, or excessively guilty.  Just somewhat guilty. Next time, we'll skip the frites.

I'm sure we'll be back, because I need to try a waffle with salted caramel sauce. I couldn't photograph my husband's because it had disappeared so quickly. (The same thing happened to Boston Zest.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cats in Windows

The "star" magnolias. with their slender white petals, have been blooming on the sunny side of Back Bay streets since last week. The classic pink magnolias are starting to appear in force now, too. Commonwealth Avenue should be looking spectacular in just a couple of days. I'll try to post photos.

It was warm enough today (it was too warm, if you ask me) to open a window. Possum and Wendy took turns sitting on the sill — and sometimes they shared it. They like watching the world go by and sniffing intriguing outdoor smells through the screen.

Most of the time, Wendy and Possum get along perfectly.

Possum recalled a Swinburne poem about spring I recited to him once.

Wendelina on the alert — in case Evil Mommy finally decides to attack, I suppose...

We looked at a lovely, sprawling apartment in a historic Brookline building recently. But we had to pass on it: its large French windows couldn't accommodate screens, so cats could fall five stories down. A deal breaker, since we prefer fresh air to air conditioning most of the time. I wonder how people with pets and toddlers manage there. In a way, those windows were a blessing; even though the apartment felt like Paris, that part of Brookline feels like Ohio — too far from Back Bay, where our hearts lie.

The Pick-Up

Some old friends were visiting the other day, and Possum was hospitable toward them. He and Wendy could not be fully socialized as feral kittens because they had ringworm, so it was nice to see Possum feeling comfortable about meeting new people and letting them pet and admire him. Wendy, of course, vanished as soon as she could and wasn't seen until hours after our friends left.

Possum and our friend were getting along so well that our cat-loving friend decided to try to haul him up into his lap. But Possum objected to this, and struggled, squirmed, and begged to be let go. Across the room I was squirming, too, and urging our friend to put Possum down, which he did. Possum looked a bit rattled, but agreed to more petting by our friend, which I felt was very civil of him.

This experience made me realize that my husband and I seldom pick up or hold the younger cats. I first thought that our reluctance probably dated to the time when they were infectious and we weren't supposed to handle them. But, of course, we did handle them all the time. We had to carry them to the kitchen for their various medicines and put them in their carriers for weekly trips to the groomer and our vet. Possum had to lie on his back in my lap so I could put saline drops in his nose. Wendy needed all sorts of pills and topical creams as a kitten. They both must have quickly learned that holding and carrying seldom led to a good time. It's natural that they don't care for it now.

When Wendy needs her claws trimmed, we have to slowly stalk her around the room until she surrenders and curls up in a cringing little ball. We can then pick up this fluffy ball and rotate it to find its paws. It doesn't struggle or complain but it is a deeply unhappy fluffy ball.

Possum weighs too much to be carried easily but he will allow me to do it, up to a point. He's 15 pounds and solid, like a big ham. He doesn't drape gracefully across our arms as the Persians do. Being of show-cat extraction, they never minded being picked up or carried unless they thought they were going to the vet. We carry Snicky to her food dish, and bring Snalbert to the kitchen for his daily hydration procedure, which he usually purrs through. But the younger cats don't like being confined in any way.

As I think about it, if I were a cat, I wouldn't like being carried or held, either. It would be hard enough to be living in close quarters with people who were the size equivalent of King Kong compared to furry little me. Cats like to stand on their own four feet, able to flee whenever they feel the need. I think they're right. So I always welcome Possum when he decides to curl up on me or with me, but I never make him do it. And it's like a small miracle whenever Wendy comes near us and lets us pet her for a bit.

I suppose I should go the training route, to get the youngsters accustomed to being picked up gently and politely, by doing it often and rewarding them with treats. There will likely come a day when they need regular holding for medication — many years from now, I hope. But I think that, for the moment, it's all right to let them be. Being held and carried will probably never be much fun for these two feral cats, no matter how much they trust their humans.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Today's Scene by My Desk

Wendy and Possum had one of their arguments today, conveniently near my desk. I believe Wendy said she'd like to join the Tea Party because it sounds so civilized and British, and because they probably cared a lot about cupcakes and scones.

Possum was provoked by her statement and assumed his "possum" expression: his nose becomes longer and pointier, his eyes turn into little slits, and his head seems to flatten. He transforms into a ferocious arboreal marsupial; no one would mistake him for Javier Bardem (as happens all the time when he's in a better mood).

Smacking him in the head when he's in a state is seldom a good idea.

Wendy found this out the hard way.

I was sorry to discover that neither of my youngsters is a Quaker by nature. They have no principles of tolerance, non-violence, pacificism, or reaching agreement by consensus. 

They believe in trying to bite each other's head off.

It's hard for Wendy to look like intimidating when she's got polka-dots on her feet and that Vegas-showgirl tail.

How can you frighten your enemy if you're beating him with dainty little paws?

Still, she puts up a good fight. But Possum despairs of her political ignorance.

I keep telling him we must excuse her lack of judgment because she's not even 2 years old. Thomas Jefferson wasn't built in a day. And he wasn't covered in adorable little splotches.