Sunday, April 29, 2012

Anything Is Possumble

I wanted to share this, in case you haven't seen it in your travels on the web:

It turned up on Pinterest, where I've been having a visual feast lately, spending too many hours adding to my virtual "pin boards" (like online scrapbooks) with pictures from the web and from other pinners. It's a simple way to share beautiful or intriguing things with kindred spirits around the world. And it's much easier than using scissors and glue, or bookmarking images you might want to revisit on the Internet someday.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Sartorialist in Boston?? Sadly, No...

I keep several blogs bookmarked and I visit them most mornings over breakfast. I find it inspiring to follow creative, well-written, elegantly illustrated blogs, a refreshing change of pace from my own. Too bad they're not rubbing off on me.

One of my daily reads is The Sartorialist, Scott Schuman's renowned street-fashion blog; I also read Garance Doré, his wife's gorgeously illustrated fashion blog. Together, they inevitably make me feel sartorially hopeless, but that's just a dose of reality. At least I'm wearing a perfectly good bathrobe as I read them. My robe, a pricey cranberry cotton velour wrapper with 1940s lapels, could indeed be Sartorialist-worthy on some other woman — someone very tall and thin, with a striking face and a trendy haircut. She might layer my robe over a metallic tank, a worn leather mini, boots with sky-high heels, a pork-pie hat, and a half-dozen necklaces. Maybe some morning, I'll open the Sartorialist and see my robe  there, on a Manhattanista with a serious expression and a sidelong glance for Mr. Schuman.

Anyway, when I saw this morning's Sartorialist post, I practically dropped my toast with the peanut butter side down.

It was this stunning photo:

Naturally, I thought he had somehow discovered Possum. Those eyes, those scruffy whiskers, that fluffy ruff, that attitude.... who else could it be? I quickly scanned the page and found out that, no, it's actually a New York fashion designer, Yigal Azrouël. He's not Norwegian, but he still looks remarkably like Possum. 

I should have known; The Sartorialist never hangs out in Boston. I suspect he's afraid he'd be overwhelmed by so many of our fashion-forward photo prospects that it would give him hives or a nervous breakdown. So he spends his time in less abundant locations like Manhattan and Paris.

Anyway, it's an astonishing resemblance, don't you think? (Possum is on the right.)

Snalbert Keeping Me Busy

Our furry little volcano, Snalbert, has found a new way to erupt. He's been sneezing, snuffling, and breathing loudly for the past couple of days. He's working his way through each chapter of that classic feline handbook, How to Worry Your Person.

Let me put it this way: the vets are now calling me to see what's new with him.

He asks me for food about 15 times a day — no exaggeration; if anything, I'm understating his demands. But he usually just sits there looking at it and at me, because he can't smell it. Even though it's the same old kibble or Fancy Feast in the same old bowl he's been enjoying for a couple of years, if he can't smell it, it's suspect. So we're also syringe-feeding him. I also put a few very stinky, trashy treats on top of his food. He'll eat those and often get a few accidental nibbles of real food while he's at it.

I started giving him nose drops in retaliation to try to help his congestion. I make a warm saline solution, pull a wildly wigglng Bertie onto his back on my lap and aim a dropper at his nostrils. If I'm successful, he rewards me with powerful sneezes and he breathes comfortably for awhile.

Snalbert ponders the ambiguous nature of kibble. And,
yes, my kitchen is a disaster area; I'll explain in a later post.

The vet thinks Bertie might carry the herpes virus, which can be dormant until a cat's immune system is compromised by illness or stress. Then it causes upper respiratory symptoms: congestion, runny eyes. It's a good theory; our beautiful Bunnelina had herpes, and could have passed it on.  So, it's off to the General Nutrition Center for lysine, which can help cats get over an episode. Lysine comes in big tablets, which we crush and mix with his food.

Perfect timing, Snalbert. Three days ago, I threw out a pill bottle loaded with lysine that I'd carefully crushed two years ago, just after the kittens arrived and Bertie and Possum came down with the calici virus. Lysine isn't proven to help that, but they were both so ill that we were trying anything and everything. Three days ago, I thought to myself, "Why do I need to keep this? Only Bunny had herpes."

Good work, Snalbert — keeping me on my toes like the Top Cat you are.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hidden Garden

It's good to walk Back Bay's alleys instead of its streets occasionally, in broad daylight. You never know what you might find, even when it isn't a trash pick-up day. (And on trash days you can score furniture, books, really bad art, and more.)

Today I discovered this gem of a garden with tulips and wisteria in full bloom, hidden behind an old wooden fence with round cut-outs. 

I took this picture with my iPhone, so apologies for the blurry fence:

This is the kind of space my husband and I dream of finding, attached to a condo that hasn't been renovated to generic blandness, Home-Depot cheapness, or outright ugliness. It seems to be a rule that the best outdoor spaces (in our price range) are attached to the worst condos. If we could camp outside year round, we'd be fine.

If we had a garden like this, we'd fill it with potted flowers, tomatoes, and herbs. We'd train vines and morning glories (if we have sun) on the walls, test-drive lounge chairs, and fight over wind chimes (him: pro; me: against). We'd spend every minute we could out there, reading, napping, eating meals, and working. Possum would be allowed out to sun himself and chase bugs if we carefully sealed the fence so he couldn't sneak out to the Capital Grille. I think Wendy is too wild, and Snalbert too nervous to appreciate the outdoors, but if they were interested, we could put them in harnesses and see what happened next.

I continue to hope there will be a garden or a deck in our future. May we find it soon so we can put that house in Quincy out of our minds for good

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ups and Downs

I had a check-up yesterday; I was overdue. My doctor says my blood pressure is still too high. At the beginning of my appointment, her assistant checked it twice on each arm with their cuff, and then she tried it with my own battery-operated cuff a couple of times. I'd dutifully bought one last month, at my doctor's suggestion, and brought it in so we could check its accuracy even though I'm too freaked out by it to use it at home. Each time she took a reading, it was higher than the previous time; we both thought this was hilarious. Laughing probably raises blood pressure. Or it's just more proof that blood pressure cuffs raise my blood pressure.

When my doctor appeared, she took more readings, even trying a couple of sneaky maneuvers to distract me. But she got similarly alarming results. The upshot is that I either have to stop taking birth control pills for a six weeks to see if they're the problem, or start taking a couple of antihypertensive drugs.

I opted for the former with deep misgivings. The Pill cured my migraines, acne, agonizing cramps, wildly irregular periods, and mood swings. I'm not looking forward to welcoming those old pals back into my life after a blissful 17-year absence.

Nor am I looking forward to hot flashes, night sweats, hair loss, and whatever other horrors synthetic hormones have been protecting me against in recent years.

Nor am I enthusiastic about barrier methods of birth control. God, they are still so primitive. When I consider our options, I feel like my life has been catapulted back to the 1950s. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich would be in their element there, but I am not.

On the other hand, it will be interesting to see just who I am when I'm off the Pill. I'm convinced it affected my personality for the better. It certainly made life more pleasant — clear skin, fewer bouts of excruciating pain, and never having to worry about pregnancy can account for that, of course, but I loved the way it stabilized my moods. I believe we are often at the mercy of our hormones for they can strongly influence our emotional states. When I took a different formulation of the Pill back in the 1990s, I predictably became paranoid and suicidal on the third Tuesday of every month. On Wednesday, I would resume my cheerful, untroubled life, already in progress. When I reported this to my doctor, she switched brands, and I never experienced that again.

Maybe there's a crazy, brilliant artist lurking inside me, who will assert herself now that the hormones percolating within me will be mine, not some pharma company's. Maybe I'll start writing poetry again. (Don't worry, I promise I won't post any here.)

But I won't be able to help writing about my experiences off the Pill. Fasten your seat belts, I bet it's going to be a bumpy ride. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Snalbert Update

Snalbert was still sick yesterday, so the vet decided to start him on an antibiotic. He's on five medications now, plus syringe-feeding and subcutaneous hydration. We're lucky that he's easy to pill, unlike Snicky. I still have a tiny purple wound under my fingernail from her, her last souvenir. We just open Bertie's mouth and aim the pill at the very back of his throat. Then we tickle his nose until he swallows.

Today there's good news: either the antibiotic is working or Bertie's illness has run its course — I didn't have to clean him up or clean up after him all day, and he's nibbling food on his own again. And he's hanging out with us and purring, in his usual Snalbert way. I missed that.

I didn't miss living surrounded by Indian bedspreads, which we originally draped over all the furniture during the ringworm epidemic because they could be quickly washed every day or two. I took them out to protect the furniture from Snalbert, and I realize I can't stand them. Too many bad memories, and they're uglier than I'd remembered. I put plastic shower curtains underneath them, so seating is unusually slippery around here right now. I'm looking forward to packing them away until the next crisis, but I need to wait a decent interval to make sure Snalbert is really okay.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Snalbert is still "erupting." We've taken out the plastic tarps and Indian bedspreads in self defense. It's much easier for four hands to deal with a stinky cat rather than two, so I'm grateful my husband has been home to help with foot baths and strategic clipping and washing. I'm also doing laundry and scrubbing suspicious spots on floors and window sills, and then doing it again.

The patient is not feeling well. Sometimes sick cats still run around, purr, and seem fine; cats are very skilled at masking pain and discomfort, which is why it often takes almost a second sense to know when they are sick. But Bertie's behavior is different: he's quiet, not meowing and howling in his chatty way. And he won't eat. The vet has me dosing him with Pepcid and an anti-nausea pill left over from Snicky's drug stash. But when I ask Bertie if he is a nice pussycat, he doesn't purr loudly in response, as he always, always does.

A little too skinny these days.

It's okay for a cat not to eat for a solid day, which can help them recover from whatever bug is messing up their system. But if it goes on any longer, we need to worry. And Bertie needs to fatten up; he lost a pound since December, which is a lot for a cat. He's bony under that fluffy double coat. He is 16, and has chronic renal failure, so he gets regular tests and weight monitoring. He gets an appetite stimulant pill and plenty of food whenever he wants any. Possum and Wendy are so jealous.

Rats. He just sniffed his brimming bowl of kibble and walked away. Possum watched in disbelief.

Sometimes when cats don't eat for a while, they can feel queasy from hunger and need syringe-feeding to get them back on track. Fortunately, Snalbert loves to be syringe-fed. When he was very ill with a strain of the calici virus, which arrived with Possum as a kitten, we did it for weeks, and my husband got very good at it. So good that when Snalbert was recovering, he would refuse his bowl and stare at my husband whenever he was hungry.

We'll try that tomorrow if he still won't eat, and call the vet, and have tests, and all the usual stuff. I am not ready to lose another cat so soon after Snicky. I'm just not. So this story had better have a happy ending, at least for now.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dilemma Continues

I was going to begin this by saying that my husband and I are still on the fence about a house we saw in February in Quincy. If you know me, you won't be surprised at such indecisiveness. But we're not on "the fence" at all — we're on one of those giant swings, veering wildly back and forth. We're both usually in the same mood of "for" or "against" or, if not, each of us can change the other's point of view in just a few minutes. It's exhausting being up in the air like this; we're getting dizzy. We'd like to be on solid ground again.

Officially, the house is about 3,400 square feet, with five bedrooms and one and a half baths. But there's much more usable space in the basement, attic, and enclosed porch, so it's really about 6,500 square feet. I just figured this out from the property assessment records, and I'm staggered. We live in 786 feet. Buying a house this big for two people and some cats has to be insane.

But just look at how unusual it is. It's loaded with authentic, preserved late-Victorian detail, which we love more than anything:

Front hall, with fireplace

Parlor with large bow window

Dining room with beamed ceiling

Library with fireplace and Gothic bookcase

Our financial advisor (free advice is a perq from my husband's employer) emphatically told me that buying this house would be "a financial no-brainer." But there's more to it than money, of course. There are many other questions to consider. And it seems they are all multiple-choice questions, and we keep picking different answers each time. Because we're only guessing; we have no facts:

Do we want to leave Boston?
Do we want to live in a giant house?
Do we want to live in such a gorgeous house if it means living in Quincy?
Can we handle the commute: taking 93 or the Red Line to Boston and Cambridge?
Can we live without thrice-weekly Anna's burritos?
Would I miss my gym?
Would I pine for everything in Back Bay and Boston?
Would we ever see Wendy in a house that big?
Do we want to acquire roomfuls of furniture at this point in our lives?
Would we be able to make friends in Quincy?
Would I find nice walking routes since I walk 5 or 6 miles every day?
Would I feel isolated or bored out there (no bookstore, even)?
Is taking care of a giant old house more of a pain than we realize? (Yes)
Would friends ever come to visit us?
Could I learn to drive out there — and learn to like it, too?

If we could find a handsome Victorian condo or small house with some private outdoor space in our price range in Back Bay or nearby (including Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville), this dilemma might vanish in a moment. Or not. The house has a grip on us. 

We've gone to Quincy to walk and drive around and we're never persuaded that it would work for us. Our lives would be radically different and there's be some hard adjustments for sure. But the house itself is a dream come true. I guess we need to visit Quincy some more. Between you and me, it's kind of depressing once you get beyond the nicer part of Wollaston.

If we decide to buy it, it's risky, but it's also risky if we don't — we might be kicking ourselves for months or years if someone else decides to buy it first. It's a lot to think about. So we keep talking to people and getting advice. Sooner or later, someone will give us an insight, or some new wisdom will finally percolate in one of our brains, or the answer will somehow arrive out of the blue. And we'll know what to do. We're more than ready.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Erupting Cats

Three of them!

Since Monday night, everyone's been having digestive problems at one or both ends. It began with Possum, who reacted badly — or so I thought — to a new brand of food, AvoDerm. My vet recommended it because her fussy cat likes it and it's a high-end, "healthier" brand. So I bought a few cans without a second thought, even though it sounds more like a skincare product than cat food.  No one liked it, and I think Possum was the only to try it instead of taking one sniff and walking away.

 After he began having problems, I investigated and learned that AvoDerm contains avocado oil, which is toxic to cats and dogs. The company has some explanation for why their avocado oil is not toxic; all I know is that Possum was unwell for days, and is still throwing up occasionally, although he's much better. On Monday night, he sat in a corner in a stiff crouch with a sad look on his face that showed how miserable he was. Now he's back to his affectionate, hungry, sprawling self.

AvoDerm doesn't explain Wendy and Snalbert's problems, though. Theirs are mostly from the back end, and being longhaired, fluffy cats... well, you can imagine. Bertie had a half bath a couple of days ago, after an unspeakable disaster in the middle of the night, which was only discovered in the morning. And Wendy needs a bath this morning, but my husband isn't here to help. I had a battle with her just now over cleaning her up. I stalked her all over the apartment as she stayed several feet ahead of me, complaining in her pitiful little voice. Then she raced into the litter box, a favorite hiding place. It's built in to our bathroom cabinets and covered, so it's some work for us to pry anyone out. I sat on the floor at a distance and talked to her for several minutes; she eventually emerged, but ran back in as soon as I tried to touch her.

Wendy is having a day, and she's also having an iPad.

I needed a better scissors; as I opened the bathroom door to get one, she made a desperate escape under the sofa. I blocked up the litter box entrance, and peeled Wendy out; her claws digging deeply into the carpet. She never attacks, she passively resists, and it's effective. When we finally can hold her, we get the "Ball of Wendy" phenomenon, where she tucks herself into a sphere like a hedgehog or furry medicine ball. I got us both back to the bathroom, put my ball on the floor, and petted it until it began to purr and unroll. I think she was purring to comfort herself, not because she was having a nice time. As she purred away, I kept petting, and slowly she let me gently trim some mess from her legs. I didn't make as much progress as I'd have liked, but I still consider this a triumph. 

Five days of this is enough. I'm cleaning a lot, finding little "gifts" everywhere in various colors and degrees of stench. There was a notable dark green pool under my husband's desk yesterday... let's change the subject.

I wonder if they plotted this as a way of distracting us from thinking about Snicky? They're keeping us busy, and it's working well.

I'm so glad I have a big box of wet Swiffer cloths left over from the Ringworm Epidemic. These days are starting to feel like those days, although there is no comparison: this ailment will not force me to vacuum walls and ceilings on a regular basis, and the cats won't need weekly dips in a solution that smells like gunpowder and turns them yellow. We will not have to live like refugees without comforters, curtains, and carpets. Those were the days. I haven't even dug out the Indian bedspread collection to protect the furniture, although I probably should.

I called the vet for Possum on Tuesday, and got their usual advice: feed him all-meat baby food. No one will touch that stuff. I've been sticking to our usual brands of canned food, thinking they need all the familiarity and moisture they can get. But today's call to the vet provided different advice: stick to dry food and try a little of Snicky's leftover anti-nausea medication on anyone who seems to need it (except me). Since everyone's sick, they say this must be bacterial or viral, although bad food could have triggered it first in Possum, who spread it. If everyone isn't well by tomorrow, I'll need to start giving antibiotics and possibly hydration.

Pilling Wendy? I can't imagine. I'll worry about that tomorrow, if I have to.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Can't Believe I'm Doing This

I know that some of you are feeling deprived or downright jealous, and I don't blame you. Why should the Proper Bostonian have all the delights and excitement of belonging to a sweet, gorgeous, affectionate, fluffy, brown-and-white tabby, name beginning with "P," who loves to rub against his person's legs and cuddle lovingly in her arms?

So I'm making you a very generous offer. Yes, you can have him, The Cat of a Lifetime. I'm passing on treasure in a spirit of Buddha-esque selflessness and Christian renunciation.

He's everything you ever dreamed of in a cat, and more. He's brilliant, curious, intrepid, regal, enjoys belly rubs, makes adorable conversation, and loves to be around other cats. And he's about 3 years old, a perfect age.

Yes, I am bravely giving up Mr. Pppp....

Pickles. That's him, above — Mr. Pickles. Look into those smoldering, all-knowing eyes and tell me you aren't smitten. Yeah, he's got both of his ears; you can't have everything.

Mr. Pickles (no relation to Mr. Possum that we know of, although they seem to use the same tailor) is waiting for you to adopt him at the Animal Rescue League of Boston. And you'd better hurry up before I lose my religion and beat you to it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Birding with the Pros

Possum tells me that this is a great time for birdwatching — or birding, as more serious devotees refer to themselves. Songbirds and migrating birds are in the area, filling the air with chirping. 

Many of these birds like to sit and chatter on tree branches, temptingly near local pussycats lounging on sunny windowsills. 

Possum and Wendy never give up hope. While the birds rudely tease them, they both sit patiently, waiting for some plump little dinner entrée to magically fly through the window screen. They ignore the taunting, thinking only of the pleasures of a mouthful of feathers and crunchy pieces of leg.

Possum on the alert, hoping a bird will be beguiled by
his tremendous beauty and puncture the screen.

Wendy is also a dedicated birder.

Snalbert? Not so much. He's content with roasted chicken.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lilacs in April. Whatever.

The lilacs are blooming now instead of in May, which is when lilacs always, always bloom. I'm happy to see and smell them whenever they appear, but I think we'll feel let down when the blooming season ends early this year and we settle in for a long, dull, hot summer. 

From a wonderful old bush on Marlborough Street, today.

I'm trying to readjust my seasonal expectations. I had been looking forward to a "long and lustrous winter," as Bill Murray famously said in Groundhog Day. Instead we had a pathetically brief, half-hearted winter and a quick but emphatic early spring. I think we're unofficially into summer now. Tube tops, short-shorts, and blasting car stereos are out in force, air conditioners are cranking. I am sweating and crabby. Where's the farmer's market? They should be opening weeks early, too....

I'm notorious for hating hot weather but I'm trying to change my attitude and become more tolerant. This year, I'll find ways to deal with it. After all, I shouldn't have to do so for long, given the accelerated schedule we're on. By my calculations, the leaves will start turning in July and we might have a little snow by September. Fine with me.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Things Are Looking Up...

.... or you should be, anyway. There are many newly blooming trees to admire:

From A Room with A View (Merchant Ivory Productions, 1985):
George Emerson: My father says there is only one perfect view, and that's the view of the sky over our heads. 
Cecil Vyse: I expect your father has been reading Dante. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tax Time One More Time

Last month, I posted about how we tried to do our taxes and hit an unexpected snag: my husband's W-2, the key piece of information, had gone missing. When tax documents arrive in the mail through the winter, I give them to my husband and he sticks them in a folder in his desk. In March, we open all the envelopes and organize everything on the same night we fire up TurboTax on the laptop and start our taxes.

I assumed my husband had absent-mindedly misfiled the precious W-2. Between us, we searched every folder in his overstuffed file drawer three or four times. Then we looked all over the place. We concluded that either it never arrived or, more likely, he'd thrown it out. So we requested a replacement and moved on.

Two days ago, a small manilla envelope appeared in our mail slot. It held an apology from one of our neighbors, along with my husband's missing W-2 and a refund statement from Massachusetts. She had accidentally taken two pieces of our mail, stuck it in her folder, and had only discovered it after visiting her accountant.

Innocent mistake. I apologized to my husband for accusing him of carelessness. He said he was relieved that he isn't losing his mind; he was convinced he'd never seen that W-2, although that didn't make any sense. ("So why didn't you do anything about that?" I said, accusing him of carelessness all over again. Tax matters get us het up.)

And then it hit me: had we included our state refund in our taxable income? I had no memory of doing that and was worried we'd have to amend our return. We record everything that's piled in our folder, and if it wasn't there, we'd certainly forgotten it. Damn. I'd wanted our tax hassles to be over for the year.

We pulled out our printed copy of our TurboTax return and looked over it together. Well, well: TurboTax had remembered the amount of our 2010 state refund; after all, it had calculated it at tax time last year. And it had entered the correct amount in our 2011 income all by itself.

I've done plenty of complaining about TurboTax but I think I'll shut up now. For a while, anyway. Until next March, at least.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cambridge Is Over There

Lots of people conflate Boston and Cambridge. On trips abroad, fellow travelers have told me they're "from Boston" when they live in Newton, Norwood, or even further away. But Cambridge is not Boston; it's not even Jamaica Plain. The two cities are like apples and oranges. Or apples and organic, fair trade, sustainable breadfruit.

My husband wouldn't mind moving to Cambridge, but I don't feel I belong there. He'd like to settle somewhere between Porter and Central Squares, so he'd have an easy commute. But it seems to me those neighborhoods belong to students, hipsters, artists, poets, old-school communists and hippies, academics (from starving lecturers to Brattle Street royalty), scientists, and entrepreneurs. I like Cambridge's diversity, which makes my own neighborhood feel staid and homogeneous. (Until I consider that drunk frat boys and buggy-wielding bottle collectors wake me at all hours via the alley. It's not all tea and scones here.)

I do like the idea of living among some (not all) of those Cambridge groups, but I doubt the feeling would be mutual. I'm not sufficiently aware, politically, socially, or environmentally. For example, I'm sure I'll get in trouble for stereotyping from the first Cambridge resident who reads this.

I believe you have to do yoga, folk-dancing, meditation, or something similar to fit in in Cambridge. It seems there's a yoga or bodywork studio on every other block. So many women of all ages appear to be heading to or from a class in their leggings, baggy pants, or flowing skirts with flat shoes. But I could be wrong. I don't understand Cambridge and I know it. And I don't like yoga; it makes me too nervous.

There are little things about Cambridge that bother me. Number 1 on my list: the interfaith/nonfaith holiday decorations, which often feature lights in the form of stick figures dancing. They are pretty, but they don't put me in a holiday mood. Instead they give me fantasies of civic meeting rooms, where countless thoughtful discussions must have gone on until city officials decided that lighted skeletons were the safest, most neutral choice, reflecting no particular holiday at all. I'll bet it took a while; consider how long it takes them to choose a mayor.

And I bet it won't be long until those colorful stick figures will all switch over to those energy-conserving, lavender-gray light strings that you see around, casting the dreariest, most minimal glow. (I hate those; I think they were originally targeted to former Soviet-bloc vampire-aesthetes who couldn't tolerate color and were severely depressed... and wanted to keep it that way. I could be wrong; maybe those lights are for people who decorate their places entirely in black, white, and gray. I see listings for such places from time to time. I can't imagine why anyone would choose to live that way. What happens when they buy bananas or tomatoes? I guess they have to hide them. And do they watch only black-and-white TV shows and movies?)

But I digress.

The other day, walking through Central Square, I noticed that the traffic signals make drumming noises instead of the bird chirps one hears elsewhere. Seriously, Cambridge? You have to have vegan traffic signals?  Why?  I don't think ASCAP or BMI rules cover birdsong. Are you protecting birds, who might get the wrong idea and think that one of their own is being held prisoner in the traffic light? Or is it that you don't want to give the impression that you exploit animals, employing them without their consent? Could you not reach consensus on the most politically acceptable bird?

Cambridge is just a little beyond me. I'd rather we stay on this side of the river.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Is the Point of Existence?

For an answer, we turn to a black and white cat with a debatable French accent, Henri:

I am not going to share this with Possum; he is too easily depressed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Yesterday was a tough day, although the staff at our cat hospital were comforting. We had already said our goodbyes to Snicky at home; we felt that we didn't want to linger at the hospital. But I had a hard time just getting in the door of the place. It took me three tries before I could get a grip on myself and stop sobbing enough to join Snicky and my husband in the examining room that had been prepared for us. He was signing the paperwork as I came in.

I had brought a box of Kleenex. I've done this before.

Our vet quickly examined Snicky, who was limp and exhausted. She emphatically told us it was "time," and then did the job in seconds.  This time, unlike last time, I wasn't wracked with uncertainty. This time, I had gotten a clear message, along the lines of what I've heard many cat people say: "You'll know: they always tell you when they're ready to go."

Well, my vet and I disagree that there's anything consistent or universal about these situations. End-of-life decisions are always terrible; I believe we wouldn't be human, we wouldn't have hearts, if we ever had an easy time deciding to end a beloved friend's life. We have to expect confusion, uncertainty, guilt, horror, pain, and grief — as the burden that tempers our great power to end suffering.

At least this time was fast. Our vet knew exactly how to handle Snicky and us.

A few hours afterward, my husband said something like, "Well, at least we have back-up." Yes: three cats still at home to distract us, including two youngsters. When we adopted Wendy and Possum back in 2009, it was partly with this day in mind.

There's still an emptiness in the house, a hole in our hearts. Snicky was with us through our entire relationship. Although she was never an extroverted or noisy cat, she had considerable presence, and we feel her loss everywhere. But the sound of the kids chasing each other, and the weight of Snalbert and Possum on the bed last night were comforting. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Our thoughts are all for Snicky today, as we wait to take her for her last vet appointment. She's having great trouble walking, and stopped eating and drinking.  "It's time" — that message began coming loud and clear, beginning yesterday morning as she crouched in her heated cat bed with her head down. We tried fluids and a little syringe-feeding, but it made no difference. So, as soon as our vet arrives at the hospital this afternoon, we'll be bringing her in.

Man, these are the hardest times for cats and their people. I know they are so difficult for some people that they never recover from their loss, and they forego ever having another cat because they can't face the end again. I'm not there yet; I will keep taking the leap and accepting the bad with the good — especially when the good works out to equal 18 years of companionship, fascination, and fun. I wouldn't have missed out on Snicky for the world.

Last night, Possum and Wendy settled in together a respectful distance from her bed, as if they were keeping watch. Snalbert checks in with her occasionally, but it's clear she prefers to be left alone.

Snicky was the first, and very best birthday present my husband ever gave me. We have been so lucky to have this beautiful, tempestuous, affectionate, unfathomable, tiny, graceful beast with us for 18 years.  She used to fly through air and climb to the tops of our bookshelves when she was young and crazy. Lately, she was content to curl up near my husband for hours, keeping warm. She became Top Cat of the household after our eldest, Chloe, died several years ago, and only retired from her position when she grew frail and Snalbert took over after waging a biting campaign on everyone (including us) after the kittens arrived. But aside from that — and her much-hated pills — everything in Snicky's life has been on Snicky's terms. This afternoon, we're going to give in one more time, and do her bidding.

We'll miss her at our feet tonight. And for a long time to come.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pairs Slacking Break

Wendy and Possum hit a rough patch in their pairs slacking training this week. As you may recall, they were having a lot of issues in February. They were becoming increasingly frustrated, and it was showing in Wendy's face and Possum's ear-and-a-half. No matter how relaxed Wendy's body appeared, she always had a wild expression and dilated pupils, as though she were contemplating biting someone. 

Now, Wendy is the gentlest cat we've ever had. She has never bitten anyone who wasn't also biting her at the same moment, so we thought we could work out this problem pretty easily... but no. The mental stress and physical strain of looking perfectly at ease during her daily training sessions had proven overwhelming. She frequently looked as if she were about to spring into the air and flee — the antithesis of the Slacking Aesthetic.

Meanwhile, Possum was having an inordinately difficult time keeping his right ear from looking as if it were about to take off. An alert, active ear is also a big no-no in pairs slacking. When he'd focus on relaxing it, his tail would go out of control, waving itself irritably or flopping off the table, both of which would be a significant point deduction in competition.

We were getting nowhere. We decided they needed a break, and then a return to practicing some fundamental slacking concepts, where all beginners start. So, after a few days off, they are back to Square One, or just about, working on their Sprawling Rest Positions, Sleepy Expressions, and Heaviness (appearing to made of lead or cast iron). 

Below, you'll see Wendy is demonstrating the Tucked Sprawl, while Possum is in Reverse C. We're not going to attempt mirrored, perfectly symmetrical positions again until they have mastered more of the basics of the sport independently.

Here you can see they are working on Crossed Paws: 

This may not look difficult to you, but judges want it to look unselfconscious, which is pretty tough for most cats to pull off. Possum is actually a natural at this; he does it so often and so well that it was one of the things that made us realize we had Pairs Slacking potential in this couple. Wendy is getting better, but still looks like she is posing or trying too hard.

Below, Snalbert has joined the kids for some coaching. As you can see, they're working on the bed these days instead of our round table; beds are easier places to practice, with less chance of part of them falling off the edge (although it happens on the bed, too). Here Snalbert is helping them work on Sleepy Expressions:

Although Snalbert never competed as a slacker, he's fully informed on the rules and has acquired an impressive arsenal of coaching techniques. For example, his old-man-cat breath is so bad that all he has to do is silently open his mouth and the kids experience a wave of punishing stench, which works in behaviorist fashion to train them out of whatever they were doing wrong. They'll work hard to keep Snalbert satisfied. We all do.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Yellow Magnolias

For years, I was intrigued by the idea of yellow magnolias and disappointed that I never saw any in Boston. I discovered them in garden catalogues; they seemed like such a necessary invention. Trees covered with plump, sunny yellow flowers struck me as a refreshing change from the sea of pink and white we have all over Back Bay.

Last year, some Garden Club friends told me I could find yellow magnolias on the Rose Kennedy Greenway by the North End. They also warned me not to get my hopes up. So I went, and finally saw — and they were a let-down. They were a later-blooming variety, so they were in leaf when they blossomed, unlike most of our pink or white trees, where the flowers bloom on bare branches. The greenish-yellow flowers blended right into the young, yellowish-green leaves. The overall effect was a dreary chartreuse. Sallow. Jaundiced. So much for that.

So, imagine my surprise today, when I spotted two mature, pretty, yellow magnolias of a different variety outside 37 Beacon Street, across from the Common. They were the trees of my fantasies, with full, lemony flowers and no distracting leaves:

I was delighted to see them at first, but I have to confess: they seemed weird to me the longer I studied them. They seemed... um... "yellowed." I think our white and pink trees look more appealing and "springy" after all. These seem unnatural. A bit stale.

Maybe I just need more time to get used to them. 

What's your impression? Do these magnolias look lovely and different or do they remind you of old ivory piano keys or something that could use a good bleaching?

If you're heading that way, you'll also see a pair of exceptional window boxes just a few doors away. They look like Easter baskets packed with spring bulbs and pussywillow:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Going Hollywood

Possum has been scheming about moving to Hollywood to become a movie star. I guess that little dog in The Artist inspired him. He needs a cheap place to stay, and he's having more than a little difficulty working out his transportation. Right now, he can only afford Parcel Post, which can take weeks.

Even Priority Mail is too luxurious for Possum's budget.

I don't approve of his plans; I've been trying to block him and argue at every turn. I think he'd run into problems out there, and not just because of his, uh, let's call it "imperialist" attitude and lack of funds. I'm betting that agents and producers will tell him to lose a few pounds and get a prosthesis for his missing ear tip. He'll also need expensive voice lessons to lower his range from boy-soprano to baritone — more appropriate for his masculine appearance and girth. (I think that would be a shame; he has a lovely singing voice, but Hollywood doesn't embrace such uniqueness.) 

I had to tell him that The Artist was unusual in being a contemporary silent film. 

"No, you're wrong, there are lots of silent films! Check IMDb, check Wikipedia, check Google!" said Possum. (Snalbert has been giving him search-engine tips. Snalbert wouldn't mind one bit if Possum went to Hollywood and never came home again.)

"Yes, you're right, but they are all very OLD. Talkies have been fashionable for quite some time," I replied. 

Possum has no sense of history, no matter how he tries, and despite being extremely intelligent and decently educated in such subjects as classical music and art history. Any timeline is just a blur to him.  It has something to do with being a cat and believing that the world didn't really begin until he was born, at least not in any interesting way. I know there are people with this problem, too, including many politicians.

I keep telling Possum that — once he lowers his vocal range, fixes his ear, and slims down — if he's lucky, he'll get featured in a couple of cat food commercials and maybe get a few walk-ons in sit-coms, and that will be it. He doesn't believe me when I tell him that there will be no Ocean's 14, so he has no hope of costarring in it with his older, craggier lookalike, George Clooney. I keep saying that there is no way that Mr. Clooney will want to star with him in a father-and-son road movie: Possum has been working on a pitch for such a story, where the two take off across America in a bicycle rickshaw instead of on Harleys.

The only way I can distract him from his project is to tell him how terribly I'd miss him, how miserable I'd be, how I get lonesome for his company even when I'm stuck in the line at Trader Joe's for too long. Then he purrs and tells me that he won't go anywhere without me. And would I please find out the dimensions of the largest box that can ship via Parcel Post?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bucket of Beauty

Anemone bouquets at the Brattle Square Florist, Harvard Square

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


It's much easier to get your 10,000 steps a day when you know that about 5,000 of them will land you at the door to a bakery. I don't consider this a foolish negation of the benefits of daily exercise; I consider it the ideal motivation. I've come to realize that it's my genetic destiny to eat dessert (a small one — and only one — these days), so it's only to the good if I have to walk five or six miles to get it.

Let me digress for a moment by recommending this excellent article on why vigorous exercise probably won't help you lose weight.  It seems that people don't lose weight when they wear ourselves out on cardio machines because it just makes them hungrier. A few periods of vigorous exercise every week is good for the heart, brain, and spirit, but not for the waistline, it seems. For weight loss, it's better to eat sensibly and be moderately active as much as possible. Sitting around and eating cupcakes for the rest of the day after you wrecked yourself on the elliptical machine is a typical behavior: We tend to overeat to compensate for exhausting exercise. But it appears that slow and steady exercise — and lots of it — helps keep weight off even if it won't make you skinny. Only the right diet can do that. So, it seems to me that walking a long distance to get a cupcake is a decent tradeoff. Especially if you're gonna eat that thing anyway. And stop at one.

In my eternal quest for steps and delicious cake and frosting, last week I walked to Crumbs Bake Shop, over by South Station. (I got lost in the business district's winding streets, which meant hundreds of extra steps. Even getting lost gets a positive spin when you carry a pedometer.)

Crumbs is owned by Mia and Jason Bauer, who seem quite nice from everything I read on their website. They are both alums of local colleges (Brandeis, BU), although they live in Manhattan and opened their first store there. They now have a large chain of cupcake stores on both coasts. More power to them.

But as you know, I wouldn't care if the store was owned by serial killers as long as the cupcakes were tasty and they weren't baking them along the lines of Mrs. Lovett's meat pies in Sweeney Todd.  What a disgusting film that was... but I digress again.

In the photo below, you can see some of the flavors; they had an impressive variety, even at the end of the day: Red Velvet, Carrot Cake, Chocolate or Vanilla with Coconut Frosting, Coffee Toffee, Caramel Apple, M&M, the Imitation Hostess® Squiggle, etc. They also sell all kinds of coffee drinks as well as a few layer cakes.

All the special flavors are $3.95 each. Their basic or "signature" cupcake is $2.95 – chocolate or vanilla cake with your choice of contrasting or matching frosting, plus a border of rainbow sprinkles. I was most interested in those. They were out of the chocolate-cake ones, so I contented myself with vanilla and was not disappointed:

Before you take a bite, the cupcake appears to have a big, exciting mound of frosting on top. But in reality, the cake rises up so you aren't getting nearly as much frosting as you expected. What you do get is very good overall — strongly reminiscent of the best of the classic birthday cupcakes that mothers would bake from scratch when you were in grade school. So often, cupcakes from local shops (I mean you, KickA**) taste dry and bland, like plain muffins or biscuits tarted up with frosting. These are cake: moist, sweet, and dense. The chocolate frosting is sweet without being greasy, gritty, or too rich and cloying. (Vanilla frosting should be almost painfully sweet; I just prefer milk chocolate. My husband loved his vanilla.)

I don't find "Crumbs" an appealing name, since it sounds like their cupcakes might be so dry that they fall apart and make a crumby mess.* They do not. They were equally tasty the next day.... I ordered four, you see. They gave them to me in a protective, clear-plastic six-pack box and I may have gotten a volume discount, too (money was no object at the time, so I never checked my credit-card receipt). I carried them home in a big, shiny plastic shopping bag with such a prominent logo that I felt like a walking ad for the place. But it was worth it. I'll certainly be doing it again.

*I have the same problem with names like "The Water Café." All they serve is water? Who's hungry for that?  "Flour Bakery" also sounds very dry and dusty to me, too. I'd rather go to the "Butter" or "Sugar" bakery.  And what about "Clear Flour"? See-through bread? Seriously? With even more holes than my Iggy's Francese? 

Monday, April 2, 2012

White Magic

The magnolia trees on the sunny side of Commonwealth Avenue still look "toasted" after last week's cold spell, with their brown petals still hanging on:

But the Bradford pear trees all over the city have been doing their best to compensate. Although they don't have a wonderful fragrance like the magnolias, they are intoxicating in their own way. I went for a walk in the South End last week and found the fluffy white blossoms everywhere:

Straight, airy trees border a playground:

Rutland Square's trees form a gorgeous arch at the corner of Tremont Street:

Imagine what it must be like to live in a second-floor apartment on the street below — a glorious white, tree-sized bouquet is probably all you'd see from your windows these days. It's as if the neighborhood's guerilla knitters decided to cover whole blocks of trees in macramé lace instead:

The arching trees on Harcourt Street are a delight to walk beneath. You can't help feeling uplifted, even if you're just heading to the market for groceries:

I hope you'll find the time to take a stroll before it's too late to enjoy this brief, magical moment of spring in Boston.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fun

I'm not one for practical jokes on April 1st or any day, but I do like to share things I see that make me smile. This brightened my day when I spotted it, not too long ago:

I love the juxtaposition of 4th of July (or was it Memorial Day?) bunting with Christmas wreaths and flowering trees. I've always liked that bunting; I'm glad they never take it down. But add in the Christmas wreaths and the undeniable signs of early spring, and it all became amusing to me. 

All it needs is that Cinderella pumpkin I threw out last week when I sprained my ankle. I should have donated it to the cause. It was still in mint condition, at least on the outside, at least until it crashed down the steps with me. So imagine this sitting on those charming front steps:

Le Poisson d'Avril

Possum thought today was "Possum d'Avril," a holiday centered on him. Specifically, he feels this holiday entitles him to elevenses, brunch, lunch, tea, and an evening snack in addition to his standard breakfast and dinner. Rather than argue, I directed him to the appropriate Wikipedia entry about the French holiday; I am learning. He scanned it and  stalked away silently, on a huff.

This was after he posed for this photo with Wendy:

As you can see, Possy is not being starved.

Wendy is, as usual, sitting on my Pennsylvania tax forms, which I have yet to complete. She's eager to have me finish them because she worries we'll be homeless if I don't. I won't procrastinate much longer; In the meantime, they're getting covered with her silky fur. I hope whoever processes them isn't allergic.

Today is also Snictoria's 18th birthday, which I never thought she'd celebrate since she's been ill for almost four years. She's taking four daily medications. But she is still stumping around on her shaky legs, seeking extra food, warmth, and soft sleeping spots. She sleeps at our feet at night and curls up next to us in armchairs every chance she gets. 

Snicky sleeping, yesterday.

Life has become increasingly narrow and difficult for her, as it does for all who are frail, old, and ill, but she still does pretty much as she pleases. She's also still strong enough to put up a nasty fight when it's her evening pill time, which is my job. She bit me right through my fingernail the other night, which made me scream. I'm sure she enjoyed that. I wish you another year of sleeping in the sun, Snicky.

I don't want to leave Snalbert out of the news roundup although all I have to report about him is that he opened up my iTunes account last night while I was out. He doesn't know my password (even I can't remember it) so he didn't get far. I think he is interested in Madonna's new album, although he denies it.

Who, me?