Thursday, June 30, 2011

Packing for Maine

It's time to dig out the pool toys: we're heading to Maine again. This time the weather will be warmer and the pool will be heated. Or so the innkeepers promise. We don't really care what the weather is, we're always happier up there.

I began keeping packing lists for different kinds of trips years ago, and they've saved me on many occasions. I have "Packing of Paris," Packing for Home," and "Packing for Maine," among many others. I'll check what I packed for the last trip, revise it a little, and then follow it, zombie-like, until my bag is full. For Maine, I need to remember trail guides and mushroom identification books, photos of the cats for the mantel, warm socks for cold nights in the bungalow, a pile of old New Yorkers for soggy reading in the hot tub, a sharp knife because they never have any, and a respectable swimsuit cover-up because the innkeepers always find reasons to drag us straight from the pool for treks around town. Plus the usual: shorts, tees, flip flops, swimwear, and a fleece.

My freelance writing project will be packed up for Maine, although I wish it could stay here. The innkeepers removed the desk in our bungalow and replaced it with a drying rack — much more useful for the average guest, but I will have to find a spot to read the comments I've gotten on my work so far. Then I need to research the eight contemporary artists who are next.

I already miss the cats. That's the hard part of going away. We have an excellent sitter, but the cats miss us, too. We must find a way to bring them to Maine next year. I'm sure Possum would love hanging around the pool in his Foster Grants, chatting up the innkeepers. The other three would be less enthusiastic, complaining about sunblock in their fur and hiding under the bed for days.

Soon I will stop procrastinating and pack, but first I must finish the remains of the squashed bakery item my husband bought me, at a deep discount, from Shaw's last night. I'm not sure what it was supposed to be, but it had a great deal of frosting, some of it bright blue, a cupcake of sorts, and some chocolate chip cookies. Nom, nom. It took me two nights to finish; I am not complaining. But I don't think I will be packing bikinis this year, I'm sorry to say. Well, maybe one; I love relaxing in the hot tub under the stars.

Next post will be from Southwest Harbor.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Artist du Jour

Guess what fabulous (and unhappily, dead) contemporary artist we'll be writing about today? We think he was a genius.

To get in the '60's mood (and to procrastinate), I decided to play around in Photoshop since I have no spare T-shirts to tie-dye or macramé to weave. Possum suggested experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs first, so I gave him catnip. His instinctive understanding of the zeitgeist of the '60s just amazes me. Were we all trying to behave like cats in those days?

When Possum was in a more mellow, expansive mood, we Warholized Wendy.

As we worked, I told him my Warhol story. I was on a bus in Manhattan in the early '80s, staring out the window and people-watching as we moved through traffic. Suddenly, this pale, skinny guy with lots of floppy white hair came tearing out the door of one of the big office towers, as if he were being chased. He stopped in the plaza in front of the building, and wrapped his arms around himself, panting, mouth open, wild-eyed. He looked very similar to some of his fright-wig self-portraits. Then he quickly got a grip on himself and began looking around to see if anyone had noticed him. Then my bus took off. My Andy Warhol Moment.

If we keep reminiscing, goofing off, and rolling in catnip, we're never going to get our work done.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bookstore Cat

We spotted Dusty, an orange tabby, sound asleep in the window of Commonwealth Books, on Spring Lane, downtown, on Saturday night. We were on our way to stand in line outside of Regina's in the North End, but cats and books take priority over pizza. Most of the time.

The store should have been closing as we arrived, but there were lots of customers and the friendly bookseller stayed open a little later for all of us. He and I reminisced about all the bookstores that have come and gone in Boston in recent decades; it made us feel really old.

Commonwealth Books, like almost all secondhand bookstores, is an endangered species, despite being full of treasures and a wonderful place to browse. They specialize in art, history, literature, and architecture. Their stock also includes first editions, antique books, fine bindings, prints, and plenty of affordably priced novels; something for everyone. The next time you're downtown, please go in and buy something. There are too few bookstores of any kind left these days, let alone small, quirky, used bookstores. What will all those unemployed bookstore cats do?

Dusty never stirred while we were there. He doesn't seem too concerned about the future.


Snalbert always looks terribly serious, as if he's weighing and rejecting strategic measures in hopes of preventing a German invasion. Give him a cigar, and he's Winston Churchill. I took this photo yesterday and decided that sepia toning would match his gravitas.

What he's really contemplating is whether to have a nap or persuade me to add more kibble to his bowl. I am very obedient. He's 16 now, and too thin from chronic renal failure. He's still looks and acts very much like his old self, although he's stopped tearing around the house, howling, in the past year or so. Imagine Winston Churchill doing that.  He still howls his head off once in a while, but in a stationary position. I'm sure Churchill did, too.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Art Can Take You Anywhere

Possum and I have been writing about contemporary art recently. Since neither of us knew much about it (sorry, Possum, but you simply don't, being a little too contemporary yourself at only 23 months old), we have been learning a great deal about artists we'd never heard of, as well as art movements we only knew vaguely about. It's been fascinating to discover all sorts of interesting things that were happening in the contemporary art scene back in the days when I was busy reading Laura Ingalls Wilder; watching The Partridge Family and Gunsmoke; wearing "Smile" buttons and bell-bottoms, and listening to Bobby Sherman, the Monkees, and the Beatles.

But one of the best things about writing about art is where else it takes you. Artists have far-reaching interests, inspirations, influences, and causes. To understand where they're coming from, you have to know where they've been. In the past couple of weeks, Possum and I have researched quite a lot of topics besides art, artists, techniques, groups and movements, museums, and galleries from the past 50 years. Including:

1. The Russian Revolution, and Lenin
2. Capital punishment methods and history
3. London townhouses
4. Louisiana oil slicks in the 1960s
5. Fluorescent light tubes, past and present
6. How to make a mirror
7. Gone with the Wind (the book)
8. Spoof images of the Mona Lisa, featuring Cher and Captain Jack Sparrow.
9. The Triangle Trade (molasses to rum to slaves)
10. Citizen Kane
11. Raiders of the Lost Ark
12. Polyurethane compounds

And there's much more to come. We love to learn stray bits of information although we don't always remember them. (So we can happily learn the same thing again and again.) Possum maybe a total cyber-cat, but I'm old enough to still be amazed and grateful at how much information is at my fingertips, thanks to Google and Wikipedia. I can find what I need in seconds and learn what I need in minutes. I can just imagine trying to do this work in a library, using an encyclopedia. It would take forever.

And Possum wouldn't be allowed in a library. So forget it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Sleepy Kind of Day

Dreary, cool, and rainy. A grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soup kind of day. I went for a long walk in my rain boots and got soaked and blown around. My hat kept flying off my head.  I would have preferred a nap. 

Possum spent the day more sensibly: catching up on sleep. He's exhausted from helping me with my writing assignment at all hours. He says I have no affinity for contemporary art. He thinks he knows everything, just because he knows more than I do.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nice Look

Saw this online at J. Crew and it spoke to me: an easy, slouchy sweater and a wrinkly cotton-voile skirt in a classic length. In Possum-toned neutrals that look good on almost anyone (but especially Possum). This is my kind of dressy-casual, perfect for when I'm being dragged to another dinner with brilliant overachievers, or I have to look decent at a meeting.

I think I could probably pull off this whole look, although I never wear belts. The shoes would give me blisters, but I covet them anyway, especially after all the platformed, strappy monstrosities I'm seeing everywhere. Deep yellow, mid-heel pumps are surprisingly versatile and about as cool as it gets, in my opinion. It would be worth experimenting with all those sticky "comfort" inserts Dr. Scholl's makes to be able to wear these for more than two blocks with bare legs.

I ordered the skirt (also comes in purple and peach, no thanks). But the sweater (I bet it's cashmere...) and shoes aren't yet available. As I've said before, I do most of my shopping online and stick to just a few stores I like and trust, to keep it as painless as possible. J. Crew is at the top of my list these days. I'm currently living in their chino shorts and tees as my summer "uniform."

If the rest of the J. Crew fall line is going to look this good, I'm ready for the leaves to turn. Summer is all very well, I suppose, but I'm already tired of roasting, and you can still get local tomatoes into October.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Poor Possum

As I was working on my laptop last night, I heard a terrible sound behind me. Before I could turn around, Possum had knocked over one of our antique bentwood chairs and fled into the bedroom. We had no idea what had frightened him, so my husband picked up the chair and I looked for Possum.

He's a remarkable guy; he came to me when I called him even though he was afraid. We sat on the rug together in front of the bed. I talked quietly and he listened, but kept staring wide-eyed in the direction of the living room. It was as if he could see a ghost. I suppose it's possible that cats can see ghosts, so I reminded him that ghosts are usually harmless. As he relaxed, I began to pet him. He didn't seem hurt, just scared. Soon he was ready for some treats in the kitchen, fully recovered.

As I was putting dinner on the table tonight, I noticed a thick tuft of dark fur caught in one of the curlicues on the back of the bentwood chair. Poor Possum had gotten his tail stuck, and lost some fur while freeing himself. Tails are very sensitive — ouch.

I thought this apartment was cat-proof after so many years of vigilance, but there's inevitably a surprise. We love those chairs, and I hope they won't have to go. But if anything like this ever happens again....

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wendy's Other Side

Wendy loves being petted when she isn't doing her feral, "avoid-the-human" act.

Here's Wendy on the radiator next to our table. This is one of her "safe zones" where she welcomes attention. Dinners are a lot longer now because she routinely goes into "Pet Me" mode as soon as we sit down to eat. We can't resist. This is her squinting, "Come hither" look:

 My husband's chair is closest to her, so he does the honors:

See, she's a very happy, trusting cat when she's not a cringing, terrified cat.

A few minutes after this, she'll probably be on the floor, scuttling away if we try to approach her.

But for now, she's in Calico Heaven.

Not all cats like having their feet touched or their bellies rubbed. Wendy loves it all.

She makes a lot of racket when she's petted; she has the loudest purr, and she snorts adorably.

But less than a minute after this, she'll be wary of us, all over again. She's Wendy the Wonder Cat: The cat who makes you wonder.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Present for an Old Friend

We're going to a small 90th birthday party this week. It will be held at Aquitane, not a nursing home. The honoree will likely be wearing elegant Ferragamo pumps and carrying a vintage Ferragamo bag that's more chic than anything they've made in the past 20 years. And she'll be taking an evening off from work. She has too much energy to retire, so she still works nearly full time as a therapist, from home, often by phone, with patients around the country.

The conversation around the table will be mostly about politics, movies, current events, and Egyptology, but she'll try to talk about celebrities and recent Hollywood scandals that the rest of us are too out-of-it to know much about. She keeps up via TV, People, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair. She's very hip — although we haven't been able to persuade her to get on a computer yet, even when we tempt her with travel bargains, gossip sites, and eBay. But I guess she has plenty of time for that later. Maybe after she decides to retire.

She's an amazing person and a huge inspiration to me. I can talk to her pretty much the way I talk to friends my own age, or younger: no topics barred, no extra explaining necessary. And I get much better advice when I do. I hope I'm as young as she is when I'm 70. I'm counting on it.

She and her husband have been together for 40 years, and he's more than 20 years younger. Maybe that's what's kept her so young. Why don't more women think of doing that? (Hmm.... that means that I should have married an 18-year-old instead of a man my own age. Right now, I'd be married to a kid barely out of his 20s. Bleah! Never mind.)

I totally envy her. She started collecting antique European furniture, 19th-century art, and Tiffany lamps when they were all out of fashion and ridiculously cheap. She loves telling stories that run along the lines of her wandering into a Manhattan shop and deciding to empty her bank account to buy all the Tiffany lamps they had, to the tune of $400. (Now, of course, each one is worth six figures.) I like the story about the dealer in the shop across from the Pitti Palace, in Florence, who told her that it was all right if she had no money now, he'd ship his giant 17th-century chest to the U.S. for her and she could send him the money when it arrived. He trusted her even though she spoke no Italian and was dressed like a hippie in a long Marimekko sundress and sandals. I envy her for the story, the spectacular inlaid chest, the trip to Florence, and the dress.

She once called the White House and left a message for JFK, a carefully worded suggestion that may have helped him and his aides resolve the Cuban missile crisis. It would not surprise me one bit if that were true.

So, what kind of birthday present can you give a person who has had 90 years to figure out how to live a great life and who pretty much has everything?  We decided on a couple of witty little glass trays, from a shop in Oyster Bay called Ben's Garden:

This one is just the right size to hold a pair of reading glasses:

And this one sums up her philosophy so well that we couldn't resist:

I look forward to the toasts and speeches at her party. But she already knows I want to be just like her.

Cat Dream

Last night I dreamed that I was finally meeting a close relative who has been estranged from the family for about 30 years. He was drinking whiskey in a shot glass as I was led over to be introduced. When he turned to greet me, I dropped to the floor in a defensive, sideways crouch — exactly as Wendy often cringes when we're hoping she'll let us pet her.

There I was, staring up at him from the carpet, feeling rather surprised that I was so agile. I was on my side, and I believe I had round, staring amber eyes and a tail, which I was trying to figure out how to fluff up, to make myself look more formidable.

I have no idea what this dream means, but I have a bit more sympathy for Wendy now. Although, to be accurate, we are entirely harmless and well-meaning toward Wendy, whereas I hear that our relative is a cringe-inducing character.

I never dreamed I was a cat before, but I hope it happens again. I'd love to see how it feels to be Possum. I bet it feels amazing.

Wendy, fearing death at the loving hand of Evil Mommy this morning.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I'm glad we ignored everyone who advised us not to get kittens two years ago, because they'd bother our older cats and never get along with them...

Feral cats, like Wendy, instinctively respect their elders. Snalbert was often bored and restless before she arrived, howling at all hours. Now he enjoys having a pal. He seems to enjoy boxing with Possum, too. Everyone deserves a friend of their own species. Except Snicky; she doesn't like cats.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lost and Found

It's hard to lose anything sizable in an 800 square-foot apartment, but I've managed to lose this:

It's a 20-inch pillow that sits on our bed in the summer. The front is embroidery and the ball fringe is fun for cats to chew off and bat around. So we all miss it. Where the heck is it? It's been puzzling me for weeks. I'm feeling more than a little stupid over this.

I know:
It's not under the bed.
It's not in any of our three inadequate closets.
It's not in the trunk.
It's not in the crawlspace. 

That leaves... only the cabinet over the washer and dryer. I've already looked there, but there's just no other place it can be. 

Off I go for our tall ladder and another investigation...

Aha!  Last fall, I'd cleverly covered it with a green pillowcase and stuck it under a comforter, inside the spare (new, never-used) litter box, up high. No wonder iI hadn't seen it the first time. I guess I was much cleverer last fall than I am now; I must have destroyed a lot of brain cells somehow since then. Of course, I can't remember how I might have done that.... but I'm pretty sure it wasn't much fun or I'd remember....

The pillow looks very nice on the bed, as always. Possum and Snalbert are already eyeing the fringe. 

I guess there are some advantages to living in a very small apartment and having limited storage options. But don't ask me what they are.

UPDATE:  Good grief!  Check out all the other places where my pillow has been!  Thanks, D!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Possum & the Spoils of Newbury Street

Possum always likes a good cigar; I used to have to traipse all the way to Cause to Paws in Coolidge Corner to get them for him. Not anymore.

His newest one came from Fish & Bone at 217 Newbury Street, where they have a fine selection of cat toys. We have three pet supply stores in Back Bay now, plus a veterinary clinic where we can pick up prescription food. While most of these shops cater mainly to dogs, I can order Wellness food from Pawsh Dog Boutique, at 31 Gloucester Street. They are so kind as to keep a case in stock for me because they know I never remember to order it in time. And they don't want my cats to go hungry. 

That's worth the price of staying in Back Bay right there.

I also order Possum and Wendy's "Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul" kibble from Audrey's, at 296 Newbury. Life is good for Possum. (Life is also good for Wendy, but she'll never believe it.)

Possy loves a catnip stogie.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Maine in June: Rainy Day

In Southwest Harbor, yesterday was chilly, rainy, and gray all day. We didn't really mind, but were glad for every bit of warm clothing we'd packed, "just in case."   

Yesterday was also "Take Out Your Antique Car for a Soaking" Day, a Maine custom we figured out on our own, but don't understand. We saw at least six old cars on Main Street, either parked as their owners had lunch at the Quiet Side Café, or rattling along in pouring rain. Here are three that were stationary:

Since my brother refuses to remove his classic car from its garage when there's a remote chance of a raindrop, I was confused. Were the owners of these antiques careless or intrepid, or is this just another way for Mainers to prove how tough they (and their cars) are? 

I'm glad I'm not a classic car. By nightfall, we'd decided to lounge in the hot tub despite the cold rain — no worries about rusting, messing up the chrome, or ruining the finish.

Maine in June: Leaping Lupines

The best surprises we found in Maine in June were the flowers, especially the lupines. Nobody ever mentioned them when we've visited during the summer or fall, so we were amazed by their drama and profusion in fields, gardens, and along the roads. We'd never seen any lupines before, and now we've seen thousands, all north of Portland, it seems, from driving on I-95. I think there are no lupines in Massachusetts. Click on the photos to enlarge:

Lupines surround a mailbox and fill a field.

Pink lupines, and white ones, are rarer than purple.

Lupines on the edge of Southwest Harbor.

The buttercups are also profuse and beautfiul:

A field of buttercups on the road to Mount Desert Island.

We were also surprised to find tulips and lilacs still blooming up north. All of the blooming trees are finished, except for the chestnut trees. 

The flower garden at Thuya Lodge had very few blooms, but there were still some splashes of color from the many rhododendrons and azaleas at Asticou Garden. When we visit in the summer, Asticou Garden is entirely green.

Asticou Garden with some dabs of color.

Lilacs everywhere — in June!

Unidentified white flowers in Acadia National Park.

The garden at Thuya Lodge looking mostly green...

... except for this gorgeous Chinese blue poppy, worth the price
of admission all by itself.

Maine in June: On the Clark Point Road

A rhododendron only blooms for a few weeks, but this homeowner had the brilliant idea to paint the front door to match the flowers. Genius!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Maine in June: The Big Chicken Barn

In Ellsworth, the last town before Mount Desert Island, we stopped in the Big Chicken Barn. The Big Chicken Barn is Big; the first floor is crammed with affordable antiques and vintage objets, while the second floor is filled with 150,000 used books. Last August, I found a beautiful old transferware bowl, but this time I wasn't so lucky. Instead, I encountered a series of unsettling characters. Allow me to introduce them:

Here's Agatha, a pop-eyed, bleached-blonde, Colonial babe from the Uneeda Doll Company. Nobody wanted to play with Agatha when she was new, back in the '60s or '70s. Nobody wants to play with Agatha now. And nobody wanted to play with her in any of the decades in between. For good reason.

I don't know how you'll react to Soccer Dog, but he gives me shivers and simultaneously fills me with wonder: Who thought of making a figurine of a dog kicking a soccer ball? Why? And why didn't anyone intervene? Why didn't the kiln explode? And who bought this? How long was it proudly displayed in someone's house until the antique dealer came along? And why does Soccer Dog continue to survive?  There are no answers; there is only Soccer Dog. Why? Why? Why?

Are you ever in one of those dull, English-novel-type moods where you decide, "Maybe a cup of tea will cheer me up?" If so, don't reach for this teapot. This is the grumpiest, most depressing teapot I've ever seen — and that was before I noticed her cane. This pot must have been used exclusively for steeping teas of bitter herbs and rue (or the stale Salada favored by my Irish grandmother). Maybe it was only brought out to frighten away unwanted guests at the tea table. From the appalled, worried expression on the teapot's face, you might assume that she was stuck sharing a shelf with Soccer Dog for decades. And this is her happy expression.

I'm not sure what scares me more in this group: the three crazy-eyed Santas, who all look like criminals in disguise, or the anemic choirboys — especially the one who lost his eyes. What are those those weird, bright-red splatters at their necks? Are they zombie choirboys? And what's up with that jaundiced elf in the background? None of these guys will be brightening my Christmas.

After all those creepy Christmas ornaments, I was tempted to buy this tiny cat, the least threatening creature in the Big Chicken Barn. But I left him there to calm down all the frightened children.

Maine in June, 1

We made excellent time traveling up the Maine coast to Mount Desert Island. We were escaping the 100-degree day and thunderstorms predicted for Boston, but it was unusually warm and humid in Maine, too. Visiting MDI in mid June, while kids are still in school, was our innkeepers' clever suggestion. I'm glad we listened. There was very little traffic on Route 1; even the line for lobster rolls at Red's Eats in Wiscasset did not wrap around the block.

We prefer to stop for lunch at Sprague's, across there street. No line there, either:

Fortified, we continued up the coast, bracing for the eternal traffic crawl on Main Street in Camden. But there wasn't any traffic. There were loads of parking spaces. There was hardly a soul in Boynton-McKay, the old-fashioned, usually crowded restaurant and coffee shop (and former 1893 apothecary) where we stopped for cold drinks and a cookie:

Our innkeepers are usually gone for the evening by the time we arrive but, with zero traffic, we surprised them hours before we were expected. We caught up on their news and found pretty flowers in our bungalow. We unpacked, put on our swimsuits, hit the hot tub, and looked forward to spending the next few days doing just as we pleased. 

Maine really is the way life should be, especially for those of us on vacation.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Who's Hot?

I went for a stroll tonight around 8, and it was pleasantly cool, about 70. As I was heading back to the apartment, I noticed it seemed muggier. The temperature was indeed rising — after sundown. Now it's just past midnight, and it's up to 84. Since when does it get hotter at night?

I'm officially registering my disapproval of this wacky weather, even though we won't be around for tomorrow's intense heat and storm. We're heading north. (Yippee!)

Possum went into one of his sulky, artistic moods when he found me packing. I had to photograph his languishing pose:

Doesn't he look handsome when he's moody? His coat looks especially nice because we had a long grooming session today with two combs and a brush. He loves it.

He said he'll be sorry to see us go, but he's more concerned about global warming, thunder, tornadoes, and whether the cat sitter knows where we keep the treats.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


We took my mother-in-law to dinner at the Harvard Club last night. We chose it because it would be quiet — a rare quality in restaurants that's increasingly important to all three of us. She also has lots of happy memories of dining there back in the "Mad Men" era.

Since it was a summer Tuesday night, the dining room was nearly empty, and it was great to be able to talk across the table in quiet tones, instead of shouting as we have to do nearly everywhere else. My mother-in-law had forgotten her glasses, so my husband read aloud the whole menu. Imagine doing that at, say, Aquitane or Eastern Standard.

Why are restaurants so noisy? Is it because the owners fear we diners are incapable of entertaining each other? I know they want to create a "lively" atmosphere, but liveliness can take the form of the right kind of soft background music and quiet chatter. There doesn't have to be a din; interior design can provide soundproofing or it can amplify every noise. Part of the experience of eating out is having memorable conversations. Maybe restaurateurs are afraid we'll start food fights with strangers if we can overhear what's being said at other tables.

In summer, we prefer a table outside, where we only have to put up with sirens and motorcycles. I'm tired of leaving restaurants with a sore throat from yelling.

You eat at the Harvard Club for its old-fashioned elegance and because the tables are set far apart. You don't head there for outstanding cuisine, but they do a nice job nevertheless. Their menu features decades-old country club standards and more contemporary dishes. You can still find a "Statler" chicken breast, for example. My husband was pleased with his duck à l'orange. My mother-in-law was less thrilled with her crab "martini" appetizer; so much shellfish and greens were crammed into the glass that it kept leaping out as she tried to eat it.

Frequently during our meal, I noticed the host and three servers standing together, turned in our direction, watching us with beady-eyed boredom. A few other diners came in as we ate, so their attention was diverted from time to time, but there was still much more staring than I'm used to. "This is what it must be like to be famous," I thought as I fought to keep some tangled, frilly weed from escaping my fork and lips as they gazed at me. "No thanks."

I don't remember a lot about the meal because I was stressed, falling asleep (a Diet Coke would have cured that, had I been alert enough to order it), and distracted by weighing the pros and cons of the little house in Cambridge silently and aloud (see previous post). My mother-in-law told some good family stories in between the house ruminations. We shared her dessert.

As we left the restaurant, I felt sorry for the Harvard Club for not having a bustling restaurant but happy for us that they don't.

Like all good things, the Club is less than 10 minutes' walk from our apartment. How I enjoy this neighborhood.

I did some thinking and some math today after drinking a lot of Diet Coke. The Cambridge house's new price is still much too high according to my research. Whew. We can keep stalling for awhile; they won't be willing to accept a market-value offer from us yet (assuming we decide to make one). Plus, my wise readers have raised issues. For example, we have not weighed the potential horrors of two-unit condo ownership; the current neighbors sound nice, but they are elderly and they're gonna move out someday.

I also received a charming but firm order to stay in Back Bay.

Okay! I'd rather not have to change the name of this blog.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I think I lack decision-making skills. But I'm not sure.

In April, 2009, I wrote this post:

Wanted: Tiny Single-Family House

Quiet couple with too many books seeks tiny, old-fashioned, single-family cottage.

• Prefer high ceilings, tall windows, fireplace, wood floors, garden. 

• Kitchen and bathroom should be small and old. Status appliances, jacuzzis, vessel sinks frowned upon.

• Must be within easy walking distance to: Red or Green lines, library, bookstore, Trader Joe's, supermarket, bakery, farmer's market, CVS, gym, post office, good pizza. Must be within a few miles of an Anna's Taqueria. 

• If outrageous mortgage is required, should be far away from Apple Store and Anthropologie.

• Neighbors within earshot should not include trumpeters, student drummers, fighting couples, frat brothers, toddlers, motorcyclists, rave partiers, deaf opera lovers, or competitive gardeners. 

• Other desired features (optional): baby grand piano, resident Maine Coon cat, hot tub, tiny heated pool.

Apply with URL, photos, listing information, or any other particulars to the hopeful writer of this blog. Thank you.

* * * * * *
Here we are, still house-hunting more than two years later. This has been a historically low period for housing inventory, according to a broker I know. There's not much out there that interests us; nothing seems workable, let alone perfect. That's mainly because we want some private outdoor space, which often means basement or attic condos. We've seen it all, across many neighborhoods.

But there is this tiny Victorian half-house across the river, about two miles away. Two miles. To me, it might as well be in Lowell. I know that's ridiculous, but it's also an accurate description of how I feel. I love Back Bay, and I've been settled here for decades. Moving away would be traumatic. From here, I also walk to all my other favorite neighborhoods: North End, South End, Beacon Hill, Coolidge Corner. From the tiny house, none of those are in walking distance. On the other hand, I'm tired of city and neighbor noise, and I want a garden.

So let's consider this tiny house. How does it compare with the wish list? No place is perfect ,but this one is nice. It meets many of the criteria except:

• It's a two-unit condo, not a single family. There are neighbors next-door, which is better than above or below, noise-wise. But it's like a Hollywood vision of "old fashioned cottage." There are roses on a trellis over the front gate. It's as cute as an Easter basket inside, too, with some original details, wood floors, and good "bones."

• There's no fireplace worth mentioning. I'd want to add one, if possible. The windows and ceilings aren't majestic — it's a cottage. But there are deep sills for cat perching. There's a deck and a small, brick-paved garden with a grape arbor. A grape arbor. I could grow tomatoes and herbs. We could lounge outside in nice weather. Under our arbor.

• The kitchen and bath are not romantically old (too bad, I love old plumbing), just outdated. Worse, the kitchen is almost as tiny as our current, closet-sized one. I wasn't expecting that in a real house. I'd be fine with a small kitchen, but not another microscopic one.

• The house is fairly close to many destinations I listed, although Felipe's would replace Anna's. But it's far from my gym class, my library, my farmer's market, etc. Nothing is nearly as convenient as it is from this apartment. I'm less than 10 minutes from everything here. From this house, I'd need a bike to get, say, a cake from the supermarket. (Maybe I'd like being a biker. Who knows? Certainly not me.) I can't help regretting that my daily routines will be harder and longer. Is that a worthwhile tradeoff for fewer neighbors and a garden? This is the heart of my dilemma.

• The mortgage might not keep us up nights, but we'd be broke anyhow from fixing the kitchen and bathroom.

• Neighbors: lots of students in the area but they're in high-rise dorms further down the road. The people next-door might be deaf opera lovers. We'd have to ask.

• No hot tub, pool, or piano. Yet.... But a pretty cat hangs out in the garden. 

* * * * * *

So: should we go for it? We've had time to think because the house was crazily overpriced at first. We knew any reasonable offer would be rejected, so we waited. The price just dropped dramatically. We should make an offer now, IF we want to live there.

My husband admires the house but recognizes its shortcomings. It may also be hard to find room for his thousands of books, another problem we didn't expect in doubling our living space. But his top concern is making sure his wife doesn't turn into a wretched mess from missing her gorgeous old neighborhood and easy proximity to cake. So it's up to me.

I guess I'll go to bed and see how things seem the morning. Unless one of you would care to tell us the answer? I'm always interested in advice.

Monday, June 6, 2011

School's Out, Homework Time

During the crisp clear days of fall, when that energized, back-to-school, do-your-homework feeling was in the air, I had nothing much to do.

In the bleak mid-winter, when I was housebound for long stretches because of ice and snow (remember when?), I had nothing much to do. I made soup.

In the spring, when little birdies were going cheep-cheep, and buds were busting out all over, I had something to do. An interesting project; nothing too strenuous. I still had plenty of time for stealing smelling lilacs and reading a book or three.

Now it's summer. My husband's off from school, we have three trips to Maine scheduled, I'm house-hunting full-blast, I need more exercise and more naps, Possum wants extra tutoring, and I want to clear out some clutter and try a few Julia Child recipes. But I am suddenly flat-out with a work project that keeps expanding.

I'm not complaining; I need the income and I find this work challenging and ultimately fun. But perhaps the timing could have been a wee bit better?

Didn't I miss most of last summer because I was glued to my laptop? I recall spending many sweltering weeks wandering in and out of the 18th and 19th centuries in my imagination and then writing about it. In retrospect, it seems like I had a long visit in Colonial Williamsburg, but not quite. I could feel the air conditioning of 2010.

I will be spending this summer trying to figure out living artists. This will be tricky because they are all brilliantly creative, ultra hip, and intellectual — in other words, the polar opposite of me. Most of what's been written about them sails right over my little pink brain, making me wonder if English is indeed my first (and only) language. At least Possum has agreed to translate for me when it gets really hard.

Stay tuned for shorter posts, and maybe some stray musings about art. I'm so grateful I don't have to write about rare diseases anymore.

Beacon Hill Art Walk

Behind the graceful brick townhouses of Beacon Hill lie hidden gardens, winding pathways, tiny parks, and even a swimming pool. It's rare that anyone but residents can get to see and enjoy most of these secret spaces, but yesterday you could see a few more. The Beacon Hill Art Walk lets visitors wander through Putnam Avenue, Bellingham Place, Lindall Court, Sentry Hill, Rollins Place, Phillips Court, and more. Painters, photographers, printmakers, and potters displayed their work, and there was live music.

It was very nice, once we found it, which required a map.To get the map, we walked the length of Charles Street, looking everywhere for a table or booth, and asking people along the way. But it was well worth being briefly confused.

Here are a few photos my husband took with his iPhone:

An artist was working and selling paintings in this tiny garden.

It was often crowded along the narrow pathways, but everyone was gracious.

Beacon Hill gardens are often a little wild and old-fashioned.
Many feature sculptures. This mossy lion reminded me of Snalbert.

We saw some interesting work, although we didn't get to see everything. It was a perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon — until a bird pooped on my head. I know it's supposed to bring good luck, and I would like some. (I'm waiting....) So I didn't curse the skies, I just decided to go home.

Before I sign off, I want to show you that swimming pool on Beacon Hill. This garden wasn't open yesterday, but I saw it at an open house last year and will never forget it. It has a certain Old Hollywood glamour:

A roomy courtyard with a small pool, and a vine-covered pergola behind it.
The heated pool has a dolphin fountain, and is not very deep.
The pool and courtyard, taken from the pergola. City living at its best!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fourth of June?

So, here I was, spending Saturday night at home, trying to write about conceptual art. My husband was working, too. We're a fun-loving couple if fun means typing silently on a laptop.

As always, I was hoping for a distraction (having already posted here twice today, I was out of excuses). Suddenly, we heard a lot of booming, of the fireworks variety. "Are we at war?" I asked my husband. Then I turned around and saw serious fireworks over the Charles. We were treated to a long, professional show. Our building is directly across from where the City anchors the fireworks barge, so we had a great view of the upper half of the display from our bay window.

What we could see over the rooftops

How very timely and cool! Thank you, art history gods, or whoever was responsible for this surprise. I have no idea why anyone would shell out for major Boston fireworks on the 4th of June instead of July. Do you?

Surely Cambridge is not distracting its citizens from the water main break that has them all washing their hands with seltzer and flushing toilets with extra-virgin olive oil — according to tweets via Universal Hub? If anyone has the scoop on these peculiar pyrotechics, it will be Adam at Universal Hub. I'll keep checking, and let you know what I find.

Now, back to conceptual art... oh, what the heck. It's Saturday night. Time to lighten up a bit. I think I'll go to bed early and finish reading that long article about capital punishment in The New Yorker.

Update: An alert reader has commented that the fireworks were part of MIT's 150th anniversary celebration. We'd heard those were supposed to happen about a month ago, and couldn't find anything on their site when we checked back then. 

Nom, Nom, Nom

I was "reading" (i.e., lying semi-comatose) on the sofa last night when I heard a strange noise. Snalbert had sneaked onto the kitchen counter to get to a bag we'd brought home from Brookline Grooming and Pet Supplies. Inside were some trial cans and dry samples of the Natural Balance brand, and some freeze-dried raw-diet pellets by a company called Stella & Chewy's.

I had heard him knock the bag on the floor. By the time I got there, he'd already attracted an accomplice:

Snalbert: Something in here smells really good.  Possum: Mine!

The cats only eat canned Fancy Feast and Science Diet kibble reliably. People who study cat food and feline nutrition say that both of these brands are bad to mediocre in their quality of ingredients: by-products, artificial colors and flavors, corn, etc. So I keep searching for better foods my cats will eat. They often snarf up samples of better-quality foods, including Wellness and Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul. But as soon as I invest in a case, they turn up their noses at it.

We've tried Innova, Evo, California Naturals, Indigo Moon, Instinct, Halo, Triumph, and Taste of the Wild. They rejected most of those; I had to reject the rest because they are too high in calories or protein for some of the cats. So when Mindy at Brookline Grooming offered us samples of Stella & Chewy's freeze-dried, very pure raw food, I became the starry-eyed optimist once again. According to the label, this food is just ground-up, "raw, naturally raised meat, poultry, or fish. No grains, added hormones or antibiotics, artificial preservatives, sugar, salt, or colorings." I was intrigued.

So were Snalbert and Possum:

Snalbert tries to chew a hole in the bag.

Possum batted Snalbert's head. Snalbert retaliated.
And I realized I need a better camera.

Never mess with Snalbert. He may be fluffy-wuffy and beige, but he's fierce.

 I took mercy on the boys and opened a flavor called "Chick, Chick, Chicken."

Nom, nom, nom...

They ate like starving ferals off the streets who had never seen food in a bowl before. 

Possum eats with his paw.

I let all four cats try a second sample packet. They were slightly less enthusiastic, but that's probably because it was chicken mixed with salmon this time. None of us is wild about salmon.

Snalbert's technique is to stuff his face deep in his bowl; 
Possum prefers to eat off the floor or his paw.

I went online to try to see how much this stuff costs. I can't tell; it's very new. But it's probably expensive. We also need to ask our vet about it. Vets tend to dislike raw food. But I looked online, and this food uses a patented, freeze-drying process that seems advanced and safe. And they add all the nutritional supplements that are in commercial food, as well as probiotics and other healthy stuff.

On their site, I found out that you're supposed to soften the pellets with plenty of warm water to help hydrate your cat. You should only give the dry pellets as treats. Oops. I still have two more samples, so we'll see how that goes. But I think we have a [temporary?] winner. If it's insanely expensive, we can feed it to them some of the time. Maybe its purity and wholesomeness will turn them off from Fancy Feast. That never worked for me — I'll take cookies over veggies any day. But cats are wiser than us humans.

Update: Stella & Chewy's is available in a 12-ounce bag for $31.99! That provides about six meals, or not quite enough to feed four cats twice in a day. I love my cats but can't spend $1,000 a month feeding them (sorry, Possum!), so we're back to the drawing board again.