Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Putting the Footsie in Football

Possum and I were talking about football the other day and, for once, we were in agreement.

Now, neither of us knows much about football, and we each have a few eccentric ideas. Possum says it would be a much more exciting game if they let rats loose during plays and the offense had to catch one before scoring. I suppose he has a point.

I think the uniforms are uniformly awful except for the Saints, who are practically Parisian in slimming black, gold, and fleurs-de-lis. I think it would be a more interesting game if everyone wore basic black, making it a challenge to figure out who was on each team. If the players couldn't easily tell who was an opponent and who was a teammate, football would be a lot more like life. For Possum and me, life is more interesting than football, which is why we want to turn off the Superbowl and watch Downton Abbey at 9, no matter what the score is. Unfortunately, my husband disagrees. To him, football is better than life.

Both Possum and I are conspiracy theorists and we're betting that Rob Gronkowski doesn't have a high ankle sprain, and that he'll play quite well on Sunday. Bill Belichick is no fool; it's much better to have the other team think you're short on weapons, limping tentatively into the big game. We're surprised he didn't put a walking boot or a temporary cast on everybody. Or send in a fleet of wheelchairs. As Possum notes, Belichick is very good at playing possum during press conferences, looking like a failed embalming experiment and giving canned answers that my husband correctly predicts most of the time. Belichick is as clever as a possum; takes one to know one.

In fact, Possum and I are such conspiracy theorists that we believe Belichick has been keeping Ochocinco under wraps for the whole season so he can suddenly transform from the season's biggest disappointment into Randy Moss. Like I said, Possum and I may not know much about football, but we have good imaginations.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Laundry Day

Monday is Laundry Day for this Proper Bostonian, who follows the Victorian tradition even if she doesn't have a washboard, tub, and drying room as her ancestors did.

I keep our apartment-sized machines busy, often with three loads. The color load was unusually heavy today. More than 17 pounds heavier than normal:

 Should you launder fur? I guess not.

Possum doesn't usually burrow under things, so I was as surprised as I was charmed to find him hiding as I gathered everything for the washer.

I have been hinting for weeks that he needs a bath, but I don't think that was his motivation. He's been unusually taciturn on that subject. This was just a warm cozy place to nap.

I remembered this post from two years ago, when I worried that our kittens would sneak into the front-loading machine behind my back. I still double-check every load, even though barely any laundry could fit if Possum or Wendy were in there, too.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pottery Barn... and Malls of Yesteryear

I miss the Pottery Barn store formerly on Newbury Street; it was a fun place to browse, and I'm partial to their baskets, paisley fabrics, and bath towels. I bought everything from a complete set of bathroom hardware to bags of seashells.

Someone keeps giving me Williams-Sonoma gift cards for Christmas and, since my kitchen can't hold even an extra drinking glass, I decided to see if I could spend some of that moolah at Pottery Barn instead. So we drove to the Atrium Mall in Chestnut Hill yesterday. With Pottery Barn, it's safer to see items in person to judge their quality. Often you're fine, especially with tableware and bedding. But baskets and accessories in "silver" can be disappointing.

We knew the Atrium had fallen on hard times but we weren't expecting a ghost town on a Saturday afternoon. I remember when it was the prestigious place to shop, putting Copley Place to shame via chic cafés and live classical music or jazz. How the mighty have fallen. I could count the shoppers in the whole place on my fingers and toes. Almost half of the storefronts are vacant. The only place doing brisk business was Second Time Around, a consignment shop having a 50%-off sale. Anthropologie was so sparsely stocked and empty of customers that they could hold ballroom dance classes on its expansive wooden floor. (Plenty of good sale stuff is still around towards the back, though.)

At Pottery Barn, I found the filing cabinet I had my eye on. I think I've reached an age (actually, I reached it decades ago) where I deserve my own filing cabinet. But, nice as it looked, it was clearly too big to sit next to my desk or to fit anywhere else in our apartment. Plan B was a large wicker basket with a lid. That also turned out to be too big. Plan C is to continue to keep my papers in little ivory Anthropologie shopping bags and a couple of wooden boxes. Economical and trés Shabby Chic, non? Or how about Just Pathetic?

To console myself, I bought this silver-plated, book-shaped frame on clearance:

And then we got the heck out of there, perhaps never to return — I hear that Pottery Barn is scouting for a new location in Boston, and I hope they return to Back Bay. After all, we're getting another Restoration Hardware store, even though almost all the furniture they sell is McMansion-sized and too large for average Back Bay apartments. Pottery Barn sells apartment-sized furniture and would do well again here, I think.

I've been admiring that frame here at my desk. It weighs a ton. I'm a sucker for hefty, silvery, luxurious things. Like antique trays, and like Possum. The frame holds two photos — perhaps I'll use portraits of Possum and his almost-as-handsome twin, Rufus Sewell.

Possum is on the left while Rufus is on the right.
No, they're reversed... I think. Oh, who can tell?

I seldom visit suburban malls. I burned out in my early 30s, when I had an acting gig visiting malls all over eastern Massachusetts dressed as Clara from The Nutcracker. I was part of a promotional troupe for the Boston Ballet's annual production. We acted out a short radio-style play and then posed for photos with kids. 

I was kind of old to be playing a 12-year-old; I got the job because I could fit into a tulle and lace costume that once belonged to prima ballerina Laura Young. I was grateful I didn't have to wear one of the ancient, smelly, full-body mouse costumes instead — except during bitterly cold outdoor tree-lighting ceremonies, where I'd sometimes arrive with Santa in a sleigh, my arms blue with cold as we sat through the carols and speeches. I nearly froze to death while the mice complained they were overheated. Since I was in the role of a child, I was permitted the occasional tantrum; it was a good way to warm up.
If you have (or were) a child born in the late '80s and you went to Macy's or Filene's to be photographed with Santa around 1992, you may also have had a photo taken with smiling me and a tall, morose actor wearing a heavy nutcracker head. We spent so much time cooling our heels in malls between photo sessions, trading recipes to kill the armpit smells of our costumes (What works? Vodka!) and bemoaning our lackluster theatrical careers, that it was years before I'd agree to get into a car to head to a mall again. And I think I'm pretty much done for at least another two years after this Atrium visit. 

Malls: Ugh. Pass the vodka.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Scenes Around the Sofa

Wendy received a very large, pale green snake in the mail yesterday, a gift from her aunt. She doesn't know what to make of a toy this large, as you can see from her wide-eyed expression. I hope she warms up to it. I would love to see her carrying this serpent around, singing her head off, as she does with her little green fuzzy snake. I often choose toys based on how ridiculous they would look as Wendy's victims.

We know Wendy's favorite color is green because she loves her old green snake and her new metallic green mouse more than any of the dozens of other toys that we're always stepping on. She carries her green toys all over the house; we find them in new places every day, including the water dish. Wendy also loves green sparkly pompoms more than any other color — they are always the first to get lost under the bookcase. Usually all three of them disappear under there on the same day I fished them out. Then the other colors, beginning with pink, get stuck under a different bookcase; they are a lower priority.

While Wendy was on the sofa discovering her scary new snake, Possum couldn't be bothered.

We could all take lessons from Possum 
on how to relax and enjoy January.

He investigated the snake later and declared it "Gorey-esque," which I thought was astute of him. 

Possum considers the snake with an art-historical eye.

He tried to eat its yarn tail, gave up, and abandoned it for the sofa again.

Snalbert has been spending time on the leather chair, scheming about things computer-related. 

He's been smug since he almost managed to place an order on the Garnet Hill website. I think he's got more trouble up his fuzzy sleeve.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Springtime on Comm. Ave.

I couldn't believe my eyes as I walked along the sunny side of Commonwealth Avenue this cold, gray afternoon:

Last year, I first spotted snowdrops on March 9, and here they are already — springtime in January. The rhododendrons are budding, too. 

Do the flowers know something we don't? Will Bostonians have warm spring weather in March for a change, instead of having to wait until May or thereabouts? I guess we'll have to be a bit more patient than these flowers.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Flash Sale at Garnet Hill

I'm a Facebook friend of Garnet Hill — and we're even "friends with benefits" because they occasionally have special offers, including flash sales, that are only advertised on Facebook.

Garnet Hill is one of a handful of sites and stores where I shop regularly and happily. Their quality, aesthetics, and pricing meet my fussy standards. I also like the fact that they are based in New England. And when they sell Børn and Ugg boots (no, not those ubiquitous ugly flat ones, but leather ones with heels that look nothing like Uggs) at good sale prices, I can't resist.

This morning, they advertised a 2-hour flash sale with 20% off everything on the site, including sale items — plus free shipping. This is an excellent deal, especially since their fall clearance items are temptingly marked down already. They offered a couple of flash sales like this before Christmas, which helped me with presents and taught me to pay more attention to Facebook.

Since the after-Christmas sales began, I've had my eye on some of their quilts and coverlets; I keep adding layers to our bed because the room is chilly and drafty, and I get "cold flashes." I have no idea why, but when I get into bed I often turn so cold I can't sleep, even under layers of cashmere and flannel and coverlets, an extra-warm comforter, and a husband who lets me thaw my icy feet on him. A good friend gave me a fancy European hot water bottle to put inside my furry cover; it's my heaviest artillery, and I'm about to start using that, too, to spare my husband.

Anyway, during the flash sale this morning, I considered the options and decided on this heavy cotton chenille oversized coverlet by Nicola's Homes, marked down from $228 to $99, plus an extra 20% off.

I've been strangely drawn to this since I first saw it months ago, even though it's kind of "Colonial" for my taste.  I finally figured out why. As a teenager, I was allowed to redecorate my tiny bedroom, which had previously been my brother's. We removed his ghastly, bleached-mahogany boy's furniture and his hunting rifles and ammo. Instead of going mod — it was the 1970s and we lived in a split-level, after all — I choose walnut Hitchcock furniture, including a low four-poster and a Windsor chair. Each piece was subtly hand-stenciled with fruit and flowers. I spent a long, rainy Saturday in a decorating shop poring over wallpaper patterns. I chose a reproduction 18th-century arabesque design in crisp juniper-green on white. That Christmas, my mother made me an old-fashioned quilt with appliquéd hearts. I finished the room with a pewter candlestick, glass inkwells, framed dried-flower arrangements, a dulcimer, and a pie-crust table I found in the attic. I guess this juniper-and-white coverlet will be my Valentine to those days, and to that somewhat odd teenager, who knew how to card wool, use a spinning wheel and a loom, and dip candles.

I also realized today that I can stop feeling aesthetically inferior to people who prefer the Colonial Revival style for architecture and decorating. I am firmly mired in the Victorian era, or the Edwardian when I'm in a really modern mood. I thought I was supposed to evolve to Colonial Revival next, but I never get there — and that's because I'm already been-there-done-that over it. That was high school for me.

So I bought the coverlet, which will look great on our Victorian brass and iron bed. I was also thinking about a few other options, which I left in my shopping cart before I went away to take a shower and get ready for an appointment. When I returned to my desk, the sale was over. I checked my shopping cart. Empty. How odd. I went to the "Order History" page and discovered that two orders were placed this afternoon. Dear old Snalbert had bought me a wine-colored quilt and matching shams. How thoughtful! However, he had ungenerously used my credit card, which appears automatically at checkout. (He was probably on my desk looking for his food dish, not to shop, but he can't resist a practical joke. He's also jealous that Snicky got a whole post to herself yesterday.)

I called Garnet Hill and said that I thought my cat had placed an order. After we were done laughing, the associate looked up the order and noted that Bertie had not entered the security code on the back of the card, so the sale did not go through. Phew. He can type, sort of, but he can't get into my wallet. Yet.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


We seldom photograph Snicky because she hasn't been her former, ultra-glamorous self for a long time, perhaps three years. In recent months, she's been looking worse than ever — she's lost weight to the point of being skeletal, and a visit to the groomer in the fall left her with large bald patches in her faded tortoiseshell fur. That was not the groomer's fault, but ours, since we've never figured out how to groom her ourselves without risking deep puncture wounds.

But this is a recent photo and a good likeness; she's like a tiny space creature with an oversized head and cloudy orange eyes. The vet thinks she is slowly wasting from some gastrointestinal malignancy; doing the proper diagnostic tests would probably finish her off because she's so frail. But whatever is making her skinny and weak seems to be in a holding pattern. In late October, we began watching her closely for signs that it was "Time." We've yet to see those. We kept our fingers crossed that she'd make it to Thanksgiving, and here we are heading into February. She's even gained some weight and strength since her autumn decline, and recovered from a urinary tract infection after Christmas, too.  

Her weight and strength gains are due to steroid pills, probably. They reduce inflammation and give her an appetite. She eats twice a day with the other cats and she can have extra kibble at bowl I place by my feet (to keep Possum out of it, which doesn't always work) any time she requests it. If I ignore her fixed gaze at me, she'll mutter and swear in her growly little voice. If I'm still not fast enough with the bowl, she gets up on her hind legs and whacks me. I feed her many times between morning and midnight.

She gets pills twice a day: big potassium tablets for chronic renal failure, chicken-flavored amlodipine "treats" for high blood pressure, a tiny bit of Cerenia in case she has nausea (she clicked her teeth and licked her lips a lot before we tried this), and prednisolone for inflammatory bowel disease and her undiagnosed ailment. I wrap all that into a pill pocket and push it down her gullet with fear and respect, using every ounce of strength in my right hand to keep her jaw propped open and spare myself puncture wounds. It's as if all of her strength is concentrated in her jaw. She's as terrifying as ever!

But nowadays she can jump onto the sofa or the velvet armchair, or curl up with my husband when he's in the leather chair. She has a special, two-step footstool with grippy treads so she can climb up and down from our bed. There, she naps or watches football games with us and the other cats. She lies like a tiny sphinx on my husband's chest every night, staring into his face as he sleeps. Then she'll sleep at my feet. She seems to have no pain unless she takes a tumble off the footstool or a chair. Then she'll sit up and utter a protest cry, painful to hear, and stump away on heavy, shaky legs. The other cats treat her politely most of the time, and she'll swat at anyone who doesn't. And she will still play with toys on occasion. 

That's my report, which will be useful to have here for reference as weeks and months (I hope) go by. Here's to the status quo. Let this continue, please, so she'll turn 18 on April 1. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

House-Hunting Continues

Last night, I realized that there weren't any open houses that I was even half-hearted about seeing today, and fell into a bit of a funk. That's always my cue to broaden my online search well beyond Boston. I imagine us with a horse farm in Concord, or running a bed-and-breakfast in some sprawling, decrepit mansion in Salem. I fantasize until I remember that I love Boston best and fall back into my depression.

But sometimes there are discoveries that send me to bed chuckling. Behind a prim, gray-shingled façade somewhere north of Boston is this orchid and chartreuse living room:

Wire chairs are an excellent way to deter visitors. 
I count four of them in this room.

It gets better. Check out the lime-green and lavender kitchen. Those colors might be fine together in a bedroom if you're an optimist by nature and you have the right quilt. But if you mix them with granite, a red floor, and some mismatched chairs, you have all the ingredients for a nightmare. 

That's a hot tub out on the deck, but I still despair....

It's important to remember childhood wisdom even after you've grown up. For example, we all survived to adulthood because we figured out that things like Bazooka Bubblegum and Gulden's Yellow Mustard should never be mixed. Not in your mouth. Not in your sitting room: 

Note the torsos in hats, having tea. 
And I think I spot a stuffed blowfish.

And if you think the solution is to reverse the wall and trim colors because they'd be magically more appealing that way, you'd be wrong.

Is it my imagination, or are these Queen Anne chairs cowering in shame?

I'll spare you further details, but every upstairs room in this house is equally colorful. No doubt this house belongs to an artistic family who feel completely at home with these colors and have even more dramatic plans for their next abode. No doubt the rest of us simply haven't evolved to this level of color tolerance. It's very possible. Or maybe this whole family is color blind...

I'm usually the one complaining in shrewish, Maggie Smith–like tones whenever every surface in a house has been painted white to "neutralize" it, so it will supposedly sell faster. I can't begin to imagine myself living in a bright white box; I need color to bring a room to life — Manchester Tan, Shaker Beige, Revere Pewter, Green Tea... it may not be my wall color of choice, but if it warms up the room and highlights the trim, I'll begin to feel more at home. 

But in the case of this house, slapping any one of Benjamin Moore's "Favorite White Paint Colors" across its rooms would have been an act of mercy. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bricks, Ice, and Stories

Thursday night's snowfall was enough to make walking dangerous yesterday morning. I was hanging around in my bathrobe yesterday morning, drinking tea and looking out the window, when I saw an older man with a cane struggling on our brick sidewalk. He was stuck, unable to move in any direction. Doomed. As I watched in horror, he began rapidly shuffling backwards — out of control on a slippery patch — and then his feet flew up and he fell.

I realized for the umpteenth time that it's not smart to spend half the day in bare feet and a bathrobe. I watched uselessly while my husband raced outside, helped him up, found his eyeglasses, made sure he was okay, and escorted him back to his door. From now on (or at least until the sidewalks are dry) I'm getting dressed as soon as I'm up.

I love Boston's brick sidewalks unless we have snow. It doesn't matter how well they are shoveled because, as nearby snow piles thaw and refreeze, the bricks are recovered with a thin layer of ice that you can barely see and weren't expecting. Whoever shoveled our sidewalk yesterday also scattered ice-melt, but it takes a ton of it to really do the job. So when there's snow on the ground, I usually walk in the street, or on the Comm. Ave. Mall's asphalt, or any street with long stretches of concrete pavement. I avoid Charles Street. If Marlborough Street is bad, Beacon Hill is a nightmare.

One of the first stories I heard about Back Bay, when I moved here shortly after the Civil War, explained why some townhouses on Marlborough Street have brick sidewalks instead of cement. I was told that, when the city decided to replace the old brick sidewalks, certain Back Bay matrons "chained themselves to their fences" in the manner of the Suffragettes, to keep their bricks from being torn up. I never heard exactly when this was supposed to have happened, but if the Suffragettes were still in the collective memory, I imagine it had to be no later than the early 1930s. since women got the vote in 1920.

Anyway, according to this story, brick-replacement happened piecemeal, with cement going in wherever there were rooming houses, apartment buildings, and oblivious homeowners. And now we can easily tell which houses once had plucky, brick-loving, preservationist occupants.

I have no idea if it's true, but it's a wonderful story even if it's apocryphal. I thought I might have read about it in Bainbridge Bunting or The Proper Bostonians (my Bible, of course). But it doesn't appear in either place.

There's slippery brick under that snow and that cute bicycle.

It's been snowing all day, and as I write this the sidewalks are covered in white — along with everything else — and it's beautiful. For the moment at least.... Stay vertical!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Possum Pontificates

When I told Possum about my experience at the library (see previous post), he asked me why I didn't just put my ears back and hiss if someone was coming too close for comfort. "That's what I always do," he said. "Hissing may be a nonviolent deterrent but it always means business. Be sure to show off your teeth. If that doesn't work, you should growl, but that's most effective if you have a tail you can fluff up at the same time. And then if that fails, you can either flee or bite, scratch, and kick."

I agreed that he had a point, although humans look stupid putting their ears back because it takes both hands. But hissing probably would have done the job yesterday, although it would have freaked out everyone standing in line with me, too. When I said this to Possum, he shook his head. "They should have hissed with you in solidarity," he said. "I guess humans aren't as evolved as cats are."

No, we're not. Have you ever seen a cat with an overdue library book?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

City Life

Yesterday I went to the Boston Public Library, main branch, to return an overdue book. Remind me never to get in this situation again.

I joined the line as two employees worked behind the counter. To my right, a tall, broad-shouldered man with obvious mental health issues was striding around the lobby and the area where we stood in line. He was agitated, talking to himself in a paranoid, possibly threatening, manner. He would jump around a bit between pacing and circling, frequently coming near the line I was in. He kept coming nearer; I found it menacing. Most of what he said made no sense but I heard him muttering about how "white women hate that." Yeah, we do. So knock it off.

I stared at the two people working at the counter, trying to make eye contact so they'd summon security. When I worked in a very genteel public space, our booth had a hidden "panic" button; surely they have them at the BPL. I got no reaction, even though this guy was striding around in their area, scaring their customers and and making a racket. They both chatted away with their current customers. Much too longwindedly, if you ask me. There were also at least two people working in the main lobby who also ignored Paranoid Guy when he went back in there.

I inched up until I was practically next to the man in front of me, a short, roundish fellow, eccentrically dressed and sporting an unusual beard — portions of it stuck straight out from his face, mohawk-style. I'd never seen anything like it, and had no desire to study it further. Normally I'd keep my distance from him, too, but he made a decent barricade.

No one was visibly panicking about Paranoid Guy, who kept talking angrily and circling closer and closer. Everyone in line looked at him and looked away. And looked again and shuffled slightly closer together and away from him.

A redheaded woman and a high-school boy joined me at the end of the line.

Of course, the whole time, one part of my brain was insisting, in my mother's voice: "Flee! It's not safe here. It's not worth it. Leave NOW!" Another area of my brain, the blasé, city-dwelling, T-riding part, was countering with, "The line is moving, the guy isn't focused on you, nobody else is paying attention, and you've got a heavy book to get rid of before you go food-shopping...."

Okay, Okay. Be cool. I stayed. But I stayed on High Alert. He was coming too close for comfort. He was impossible to ignore.

I admit I'm usually paranoid myself in the BPL, although I keep it to myself. It's a haven for the homeless and mentally ill with nowhere else to go. I was in the fiction stacks, years ago, when two security guards sneaked up behind a guy who was walking toward me with a large knife in his hand. They grabbed him by each arm and hauled him away, backwards. I reserve all of my books online now. I pick them up quickly, and I leave. I seldom do research or browse the stacks. Mostly, I keep alert and book it out of there as fast as I can, as the saying is.

Minutes passed. We had all inched up to stand as close to the counter as possible. I huddled next to Beard Man; Redhead huddled next to me. High-School Boy left.

When it was finally my turn at the counter, I leaned over and quietly said, "Do you want to call security about that guy over there?" The clerk looked at me blankly, not understanding. I guess one gets used to everything if one works around it long enough. I was now out of Paranoid Guy's direct path. I wanted to pay my fine and get the hell out. After all, some people carry knives. In the library.

I owed $1.10. I had no small bills, so I handed the clerk a twenty and a dime. He sighed. He riffled through his wallet. He said, "I don't have change. Can you come back another time?"

I said, "I risked my life to pay this fine. I'm not standing in this line again."

He took my money and went away to get change. I waited, ears pricked to whatever might be going on a few feet behind me. He returned with my $19. Timing my exit to avoid Paranoid Guy's perambulations, I left. Never to return. I have learned my lesson. It may only cost you a dime a day, but an overdue library book can be a dangerous thing.

Then I walked over to Whole Foods, avoiding the guy who was peeing against one of the columns of the Hynes as I walked under the arcade, as well as a drunken panhandling duo on Mass. Ave. City life...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Early Sign of Spring

Pretty "Wainscott" d'Orsay pumps from Anthropologie, in two fabrics: peacock feathers or a butterfly garden scene. With patent leather bows that remind me of the birthday presents of my childhood.

They are probably ridiculously painful, and they are ridiculously expensive for sure. But who cares? Just the fact of their existence cheers me up. They're little works of art for our feet. (Not my feet, they're too rebellious, but I'd like to see someone wearing these. Maybe Kate Middleton at a garden party....)

Monday, January 16, 2012


I just looked out the window and saw a light blanket of white. "Snow is general all over Boston," I thought, remembering the final lines of James Joyce's The Dead.
Yes, the news­pa­pers were right: snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, fur­ther west­wards, softly falling into the dark muti­nous Shan­non waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely church­yard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and head­stones, on the spears of the lit­tle gate, on the bar­ren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the uni­verse and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the liv­ing and the dead.
Heading back to the window to watch it fall. Snow! It's about time!


I can't watch TV without reading, web-surfing, or doing something. I spent the Giants-Packers game sorting through more than a year's worth of papers that had accumulated around my desk — in teetering piles or stuffed into little shopping bags, a file box, and the laughably small metal organizer that was supposed to hold everything. Once again, my desk was taking its inspiration from Hoarder Barbie's Dreamhouse, I must admit.

I filled a brown Trader Joe's bag with trash, which felt great! But I still have to deal with a couple of big tubs of ancient papers under the bed, there will be plenty of filing and shredding before I'm done.

This is the beginning of my winter decluttering project. I'm slowly filling a large shopping bag with random, respectable stuff that's lying around, which can go to Boomerangs Thrift. I plan to be ruthless in the bathroom, where I have enough travel sizes of this and that to stock a small hotel. I need some drama in kitchen, too, since I can't put away these longed-for Anthropologie bowls that my sister gave me for Christmas:

I figure that, once I get this tiny place feeling a little more spare and roomy, we'll find somewhere to live that's two or three times bigger. But that's okay; I don't want to move with anything we don't need or want. I don't plan to fill up a bigger space with anything much except some extra pieces of furniture, more books and bookcases, and maybe a few more cats. Oh — and a nice old piano. I'd like there to plenty of room to roller-skate, if you know what I mean.

Among my papers, I found lots of things I'd forgotten I had, including scraps ripped from magazines with various things I always want to remember. Rather than lose them again in some file, I'll share them here:
Once I'm Dead
Once I'm dead, I won't mind being dead.
Why worry? I don't want to say goodbye
To everything, to me — the voice that said
"Once I'm dead, I won't mind being dead",
The words are comforting. But I still dread
The day that we must part, myself and I.
The voice may still be heard when I am dead
But not by me. I will have said goodbye.
                                            — Wendy Cope
Cheerful, no? I love poems about death. This one reminds me of another favorite, by Sara Teasdale. If I had to teach an impromptu high school English class, we would compare and contrast:
I Shall Not Care
When I am dead and over me bright April
   Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Though you should lean above me broken-hearted,
   I shall not care
I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
   When rain bends down the bough;
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
   Than you are now.
I also kept this quote from T.S. Eliot, which gives us the essence of families, which we all know, deep down, but rarely think about or express:
        There's no vocabulary
For love within a family, loved that's lived in
But not looked at, love within the light of which
All else is seen, the love within which
All other love finds speech.
This love is silent.
Then there's this photo torn from the pages of a Tufts alumni magazine, showing their veterinary clinic and one of the most fantastic kittens I've ever seen. Look at this face:

He was adopted by the time the magazine arrived and I spotted him and called. But I never forgot him, and he was actually the inspiration that led us to our splendid Possum. I keep his photo to remember that there are other soulful little tigers out there who need homes. 

I hope Possum won't mind having a young companion or two someday, when we've moved. He's gotten awfully lazy these days, which is not helping his girth:

Wendy, having a more "feral" nature compared to Possum (I'd describe him as more of a dandy), likes other cats, so I'll bet she won't mind more furry friends. And Snicky and Snalbert will likely just throw up their paws and roll their eyes, as they did when those two arrived two years ago.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Kitten

I went to a condo open house deep in the South End today. Man, it was cold walking over there. I could feel my Philosophy sunblock freezing into crystals on my face. I have no idea how I managed to get my 10,000+ daily steps throughout last year's frosty, icy winter. It's already proving to be a challenge this year. (I spend many evenings jogging in place indoors, in my socks, with a book...)

I wasn't interested in the condo. It was lacking in original detail and private space outside, and it was too far from what I consider civilization (Trader Joe's). But I was extremely taken with the very young, resident kitten, who started purring madly as soon as she spotted me. I had her all to myself; it was marvelous. She loved being petted and held; she's going to grow up to be a friendly, beautiful cat. I couldn't resist taking a few photos to remember her by, and to show my husband what he's missing when he doesn't accompany me on these otherwise fruitless quests.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Current Craving: A Spoonful of Sugar

Or a coat like Julie Andrews wore as she flew around with her talking umbrella and carpetbag in Mary Poppins.
I confess I've seen that movie more than any other (not counting all the Godfathers). I saw it seven times in theaters, having gotten a head start when I was five. I still proudly play the soundtrack on my iPod, and I know every word. (Thanks to Dick Van Dyke's dreadful Cockney accent, which I could easily imitate, I got the lead in our school play when I was 13.)

My first role model

Anyway, the coat is from a British shop called Cabbages and Roses, and they don't ship to the USA. So no coat for me, but I will definitely visit on my first-ever trip to London... whenever that is.

Take a look around their site; they have "homeware" in the Shabby Chic vein, too, which has less appeal for me because I can get all the faded, flowered bedding I could ever want from my 97-year-old dad's house. But many of their clothing designs have interesting cuts and vaguely Edwardian styling, suggesting Laura Ashley collaborating with Alexander McQueen.

You seldom see anything like it around here unless you venture into AllSaints Spitalfields, which seems to specialize in clothing for very tall, thin, rich art students and musicians who are over being Goth but not entirely. But it seems that the clothes from Cabbages and Roses are not so over-the-top as to be costumey, which is a deal-breaker for Proper Bostonians. We know there's a fine line between what's considered drop-dead-fabulous vintage and what's considered ridiculous. As I see it, we Bostonians can successfully wear vintage or pseudo-vintage (which is often more desirable, being less moth-eaten and smelly) if one  —usually just one — item we're wearing looks like we rescued it from our grandmother's garret. But it should never look like it disappeared from the A.R.T's costume room after they finished a Chekhov production.

Nothing beats a spectacular coat or some extravagant-looking cold-weather accessories (and, geez, I have a black Mongolian lamb scarf I never wear) to make winter more fun for you — and for all of us who get to look at you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Best Moment of the Week

... happened during Sunday night's episode of Downton Abbey, the Masterpiece series properly adored by all Proper Bostonians.

I doubt that anything that might happen tomorrow — or until the next episode of Downton — will top this line by Maggie Smith:

Edith! You're a lady, not Toad of Toad Hall.

It put me in the mood to reread Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, one of my all-time favorite children's books. It's great reading for adults, too. But I'm still only a third of the way through David McCullough's The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris — and it's five days overdue at the library. This is the furthest I've ever made it through a McCullough book. It's entertaining enough; it's more of a slow-acting sleeping pill compared to his other books, which knock me out right away.

Toad of Toad Hall. Now there's an amphibian that could give Possum ideas. I'd better not let him find the book or he, too, may become obsessed with motor cars. After all, he already has a Harris Tweed suit.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Killer Breath

I try to keep things positive on this blog, but I have to say it: Snalbert's breath could kill someone elderly, frail, or with a compromised immune system. He has the worst breath of any cat I've ever known. If he's on the floor near my chair and opens his mouth to yawn or talk to me, I practically keel over. When I give him his blood-pressure pill at night, it's almost enough to make my hair stand on end. I have to hold my own breath until he's swallowed and the air has cleared a bit.

I'm lazy and I don't brush the cats' teeth. I'd planned to get Wendy and Possum used to it when they were kittens, but we were too overwhelmed with nursing everyone through ringworm, several intestinal parasites and infections, and virulent calici virus (not to forget Snicky's inflammatory bowel disease and chronic renal failure) to deal with teeth. My, those were the days.

But I've never brushed any cat's teeth and I've never been confronted with such killer breath. Greenies, those crunchy treats that are supposed to clean cats' teeth and sweeten their breath, have zero impact on Snabby's awesome stench. I asked the vet about it. She bravely sniffed and said it was just "typical old-man cat breath," not caused by gingivitis or any other disease.

Typical old-man cat breath. Wow. If we could harness that powerful elixir, we could probably take over the world. Not that I'd want to... although I'd like to see us all have world peace, universal health care and education, the end of poverty, the end of sports talk radio, and cures for cancer and dementia.... Snalbert would probably just want universal cheese and free laptops and wireless for all cats.

But until we figure out how to bottle the stuff, I'd settle for a remedy for his grody old-man cat breath. Eew.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Last year, after I thought I'd put away all the Christmas decorations, I kept finding odds and ends I'd neglected to pack. I always leave one balsam wreath up for an extra month or two because it's so loaded with pinecones that you can't tell it's dead, and it still smells like Maine. But in the days after I thought I was done undecorating, I found the antique postcards I'd arranged on a bookshelf, and a stray roll of wrapping paper in the bedroom. I'd left the red candles in the candelabra, and there was a sparkly spray of hydrangeas in a silver pot on the bedroom mantel.

This went on for about a week. I'd find myself staring into space — and my eyes would come to rest on a little carved Santa that never made it into its box. And then there were all the late-arriving Christmas cards piled on my desk that had never made it into the display on the back of our front door.

I began suspecting I wasn't too bright.  I mean, I began suspecting I was even less bright than I'd previously thought.

This year, I had a plan. I was determined to get everything packed away in one fell swoop, all on the same day — this past Sunday. I decided I'd start with all the little stray bits I'd missed the year before, and not begin on the tree until everything else was gone. I worked systematically, starting in the bathroom and kitchen, which hardly get any holiday tarting-up anyway.

I got rid of all the holiday cards next, and then packed up all the stuff on mantels and bookshelves and tables and... I realized I do far too much decorating. It's ridiculous; I need to cut back next year. I started on the tree long after sundown. We dragged it into the alley (and said our farewells and thanks) just after Downton Abbey (Season 2 premiere, poor Lady Mary...) ended. We left all the bags and boxes to put away the next morning.

A number of bows escaped from an open bag in the middle of the night. What a racket. It's lucky we have bow-herding cats to protect us.

On Monday, all the stuff went up into the crawlspace. It barely fit. That just left the tree stand, which we store in a relative's basement. Goodbye, Christmas 2011, or so I thought.  I found a bird ornament buried in the mess on my desk within hours. I also found a stray stack of our own unused Christmas cards. Yesterday, I found the same stupid sparkly hydrangea that was left behind last year. This afternoon, my husband presented me with a metallic plastic acorn ornament that he'd had to mend after Wendy pulled it off the tree and broke it.

And then I found a string of Christmas lights in the bedroom. "No way!" I thought. But then I remembered that they're broken, even though they look new. We got frustrated with them as we were putting up the tree and tossed them in a basket to deal with later.

About an hour ago, I turned on my iPod, which is attached to the stereo, and was confronted with "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album," which my husband adores. And which is the bane of my holiday. I have hundreds of tunes on my Christmas playlist but cranky old Ian Anderson turns up for just about every third song because the shuffle algorithm must have been created by a Tull-Head. I created a new "At Home" playlist with about 1,000 songs, updated the iPod, set back in its dock... and promptly got "Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light" from The Roches' "We Three Kings" album." It had gotten mixed in with all the other Roches music I'd chosen.

So I can't win. I'm only 80% convinced that everything is really, really gone now. At least I'm listening to Bob Dylan, whose Christmas tunes are not in my collection.

Oh, and here's the Christmas card that arrived today. Some of my friends are even more behind the times than I.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Snalbert Strikes Again

I went to my laptop this morning and found this:

Someone had been using my mail program, but instead of sending messages, he'd opened about 100 note documents. And he didn't know how to hide the evidence.

By now, I don't need proof to know the perpetrator. Snalbert. 

Snictoria and Wendy have no interest in communicating with the outside world. They know you can't email a mouse to come over for a slumber party on the carpet, or a bird to fly down the chimney to entertain them. "So why bother?" they say. And Possum's large, distinguished nose is usually in some edifying book.

But Snalbert is more enterprising and he has more-or-less figured out how to type and open programs on my laptop. I have also just discovered that, in the past week, he was secretly corresponding with a French lady-cat who lives with someone who follows this blog. They struck up an acquaintanceship (and I must say that Snalbert has very good taste; the lady-cat attached a photo). He proposed marriage; she agreed to elope with him. They were making plans to honeymoon behind the cheese shop at the Haymarket and figuring out where to live (both have annoying roommates) when I found their emails. 

The thing is: Snalbert is a coward, not a gallant cat-about-town. If he sneaks out the front door, he panics and starts howling to come back inside within seconds. He'd never be able to get across town to his ladyfriend without being packed into a carrier and transported there — howling all the way — by his people. And he knows it, which makes him a complete cad, to use the old-fashioned term.

I gave him a stern warning not to break any more hearts, and told him to buy a laptop of his own, rather than sneaking onto mine for his nefarious purposes.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Occupy Christmas

A pair of unlikely allies joined forces to protest the removal of the Christmas tree in our apartment yesterday. They occupied the boxes so I couldn't put away the decorations.

I can sympathize with their plight: it's hard to be a Furry Woodland Creature or a Wily Hunter of the Forest when you don't have even one lousy tree to hide under. But the tree was dropping needles by the bucket-load and it had to go. Today is the last day the City is collecting trees for recycling in our neighborhood.

Eventually both political protesters felt that they had made their points so they ceased their occupation and departed peacefully to pursue other goals, including dinner and howling.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Current Craving: Sweet, Salty, Chocolaty Nuts

I feel mildly guilty telling you about these... Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almonds with Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar. I'm not wild about nuts; I like them well enough. But add chocolate, sugar, and sea salt, and watch out. These little devils are terribly, terribly addictive. Be warned: I hope you have more self-control than I do.

One of my husband's former students gave him a tub of these as a thank-you gift; he is opposed to dark chocolate, which I consider ridiculous, so it fell to me to try them. Whoa! I'm still processing the experience; it was mildly life-changing — not up there with having a religious conversion or whatever; more like discovering that you can bend into some intense yoga posture you never thought possible. Or that the bearded man at the next table in the breakfast room in Milan was the wonderful art teacher who told your 10th-grade class to be sure you all made it to Venice before you died (this happened to us, en route from Venice). 

Anyway, these nuts are part of the fabric of my life now. It's a chocolate-stained and fur-covered fabric, as you can imagine.

I like to fit into my clothes. But I also crave these nuts. I didn't eat the entire tub at one sitting; I went mad briefly, but then recovered and stretched it out over more than a week. But it required tremendous self-control and leaving the house or sleeping much of the time. And eating cookies. Now I'm on my second tub, and I see the writing on the wall...

I find myself thinking about them too much of the time. That's bad news for my skinny jeans.

Here's a photo I took last night. There are fewer in there now. 

They are not all that appealing visually, as you can see. In fact, they remind me of something I might find in the cat box... but I really don't care. You won't care, either, I promise. It's not the least bit of a deterrent.

The addictive element is the sea salt. Salt and chocolate were made for each other; chocolate recipes without a whiff of salt are inevitably bland and disappointing. Salt gives more complexity to chocolate's flavors while tempering its sweetness — so you can easily keep eating more, and more, and more. To, me the almond is merely a nutritious and therefore semi-guilt-free vehicle for the chocolate, the sea salt, and that dusting of crunchy turbinado sugar that is the icing on the cake, so to speak. 

Salt is why peanut butter and chocolate make such a divine combination. That student also gave my husband a tub of Trader Joe's tiny peanut-butter cups. Eating those along with these nuts is a mind-blowing experience for any chocoholic. (I believe that student is destined for greatness, but I can't help wishing she had gotten accepted to culinary school instead of law school.) 

These are ranked at #16 on the customer-voted TJ's 2011 Most Favored Favorite Products List. I predict they'll be heading to the top of the list in 2012 — if my experience is any indicator. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

House-Hunting Continues

We're feeling positive that this will be the year we move. New listings are finally coming on the market after the long dry spell that began before Thanksgiving. We've been looking for almost two years; we alternate between wary optimism and despair after all this time.

This living room, spotted in a current listing, cheered me right up:
 I can just imagine the realtor having her typical chat with the seller:

Realtor:  I think it would be a good idea to remove some of the, uh, extra stuff from this room. Buyers will want to imagine themselves living here, with their own furniture. So it needs to feel neutral — kind of under-furnished and impersonal, if you know what I mean. 

Seller:  Oh, I know exactly what you mean! That's why I've totally cleared it out. It feels almost too empty now. Minimalist, I guess. Don't you think?

Broker:  Sure! But it's still impossible to move around without knocking over furniture.

Seller:  Look, I really did a lot in here. I moved all of my life-size fashion dolls, my jukeboxes, and my taxidermy collection to the dining room. And my vintage motorcycle is in the master bedroom now...

Broker: Well, maybe we can rent a storage— OH, MY GOD! THERE'S A SNAKE IN HERE!

Seller:  That's Maurice. He keeps the rodents down. I like to keep a snake in every room where I don't have bats. Let me show you the kitchen. That's where I moved my pinball machine.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

One Last Little Bargain

Without (almost) any prompting, I was lucky to receive four Anthropologie gift cards for Christmas from various family members. How did they ever guess?

The cards are made of thick cardboard, which makes my wallet bulge. To spare its poor zipper, I felt I had to spend at least one card right away.

There was one item I loved but didn't buy at the amazing pre-Christmas sale, when sale items were marked down another 50 percent — this black skirt by Leifsdottir:

The photo doesn't do it justice; it's beautiful in person. Most of the fabric is lightweight, sand-washed silk. There are several soft pleats, which are inset with lace panels. The waistband is covered in lace, and the vintage-style zipper is rose gold. There are panels of sheer silk chiffon around the hem and the silk lining is several inches shorter than the skirt, to show off their sheerness and the lace.

It's swishy and elegant, and just Goth enough to conjure a whiff of Harry Potter's Beatrix Lestrang and her sister Narcissa Malfoy, evil witches but classy dressers. 

I was taken with the design and material, but not the price. It was originally $348, marked down to a still-staggering $199.95. It was still $100 during the half-price sale, when everything else I found was $35 or less. So I kept watch over it in the online sale section. Last week, it was marked down to $99.95. And today, it went down to $49.95 and I pounced. With a fitted black tee, it will give me the equivalent of a unique Little Black Dress. And I can zip my wallet more easily, too.

It sold out quickly online, but the store on Newbury Street has it in most sizes because they are still marked $199.95. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It's Hoarder Barbie!

For your amusement and horror: sculptor/photographer Carrie M. Becker's series, Barbie Trashes Her Dreamhouse. I'm amazed by the creepy authenticity of her doll-sized scenes, much of which Ms. Becker makes by hand and then photographs. I think she is ingenious and terrifically gifted to have imagined and created such exquisite miniature trash and assembled these frighteningly realistic scenes:

Photo and Sculpture by Carrie M. Becker

I'd be surprised if my Barbie turned from fashion addict to hoarder — my brunette twist-and-turn Barbie was always fastidious, even if we did store all of her tiny shoes in an old cotton sack that once held chewing-gum. She kept her wardrobe on hangers and her fur stoles and crystal-pleated palazzo pants neatly stored in cardboard drawers. Even her extra head and wigs were kept under wraps, too. Maybe your Barbie was more of a slob?

On the other hand, I had my doubts about Midge. In my opinion, this is her house.

Looking at these photographs is adding more fuel to my fire to declutter our apartment with a vengeance as soon as the tree comes down and the decorations are packed away this weekend. (As if I needed any more inspiration after last month's three-dumpster cleanup project.) I've already started tossing some of the obvious candidates.

See more work by Ms. Becker at www.carriembecker.me

Monday, January 2, 2012

Winter for a Day or Two

In preparation for the upcoming cold snap, our heavy German flannel sheets (rather than the everyday Portuguese flannel sheets) are on the bed, under the extra-heavy down comforter and two coverlets. Our bedroom is drafty, and I can't putty the windows with Mortite as I've done every winter with my injured (but slowly recovering) hand.

It is complicated to make the bed when there's a massive Possum rolling around on it, demanding petting and attention and trying to get himself trapped under the fitted sheet. I petted, cajoled, and eventually prevailed.

This habit of Possum's always reminds me that he had to get himself humanely trapped twice before the rescue people figured out that he was adoptable. Obviously they didn't notice all the bistro takeout menus and classical CDs he'd squirreled away in the wilds of Shrewsbury, where he and his siblings were found. How lucky those kittens were that a small community of people cared about them, and how fortunate we are to have our splendid, magnificently upholstered, Possum as a result. (He is going to slim down some this year, but please don't tell him.)

Chicken stock from the remains of tonight's roast chicken is simmering on the stove. Tomorrow there will be chicken noodle soup, an ideal late lunch on a frosty day.

I know it's going to warm up again later this week, so I'm taking advantage of the only Weather we've had so far this season. I go out every day to walk a few miles, so I'm not really missing the snow we should have had by now. Like any sane person, I prefer to walk confidently on a dry sidewalk instead of mincing fearfully along an icy path. But all the same, I can't help thinking that the neighborhood would look so much prettier and, well, seasonal in a decent layer of snow. In the meantime I'll settle for strong winds and some bitter wind chills; I'll just make do.

Remember last January?

Sunday, January 1, 2012


We came in a few minutes ago from our first Anna's Taqueria burritos of 2012. (What took us so long? The Patriots game.) I found that Snalbert had been working at my computer yet again. He loves technology and has been known to open programs, type his own commentary in my Word documents, and send the occasional email. He also once installed a FireFox update successfully on my laptop using his back feet.

Tonight, he'd opened iTunes and was playing a Big Band tune from my Christmas playlist — this is something I never do, since I have my iPod connected to the stereo. He must have hit the mute button when he heard us coming in, or we'd have had heart attacks in the hallway, thinking we had intruders. I guess he missed the Christmas music on the stereo because we hadn't turned it on today. Good old Snalbert, still "In the Christmas Moo-ood."

My husband reports he discovered him attempting to reprogram our cordless phone this afternoon while I was reading napping. Snalbert had jumped up on his desk, which is forbidden, and had the phone out of the cradle and was pressing buttons. My husband heard the recorded voice prompting Snalbert for information, and put a stop to it before Snalbert could record his own greeting and add his friends to speed-dial. Since we no longer remember how to do these things ourselves, I'm glad he nipped these antics in the bud. Because Snalbert isn't telling.

Play with your own toys, Snalbert! You don't catch us chewing on your catnip mousies.