Tuesday, July 31, 2012

No Cat, No Mouse

It's raining on my mouse.

I still regret setting it free in the wild garden across the street. My husband tolerates me when I go over there, scratching around in the weeds and calling, "Mouse! Oh, Mousie!"

The mouse hasn't forgiven me. The mouse is probably enjoying my suffering.

Clearly, I'm in sad shape, mentally unbalanced. That is, more than usual... I suppose that pining for the mouse is easier than pining for Bertie, because the mouse is probably very much alive. So I have a chance in million of getting him back, which is more than can be said for our cat. Bertie is irreplaceable. I even miss his horrible old-man cat breath, which made me feel queasy and faint as he'd sit by my desk, complaining at me about this and that. It's dull without him.

I've heard that, where there's one mouse, there are usually more. I'm waiting....

Monday, July 30, 2012

Boston Real Estate: Some Kind of Mess

Most of the country may be still be in a housing slump, but the market in prime Boston and Cambridge neighborhoods is going bananas. Inventory is at "historically low levels" and prices are climbing. Sellers are getting multiple offers, and accepting bids that are tens of thousands of dollars higher than their asking prices. Buyers are waiving their usual safety contingencies, including home inspections and financing approval. A third of all buyers are paying entirely in cash.

This can only mean one thing: I'm in the market as a buyer. Yes, indeed....

I've been watching the market like a hawk for more than two years, and I'm noticing that home staging, curb appeal, and decent marketing materials are starting to go by the wayside. More houses are being listed as "drive-by shootings" — with only photos of the outside. And sellers know that buyers are so desperate they won't raise an eyebrow at the teepee in the master bedroom, or any mess they leave for the photographer:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mouse Patrol

Possum was playing with what seemed to be an unusually lively toy when we came home from our walk last night. I thought it was a scary-big bug at first — which, of course, he would never eat, despite always feeling peckish. But then we saw that he was chasing a very cute, very small brown mouse. It was our first mouse in ten years, and Possum's first-ever mouse. (Wendy was nowhere to be found.)

He gave up on it quickly after it hid under a chair, and started batting some of his toy mice around. I figure his parents were pacifists. (I'm okay with that, as long as bugs are excluded.) We caught the little guy under a colander and released him in a neighboring garden. Some photos:

We trapped a couple of other toys while we were at it.
The live mouse is in front.

Possum inspects during break from playing with catnip mouse.

Mouse with mice.

Mouse before being released outside. 
It was adorable, no bigger than my little finger.

Fierce, wily hunter.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Now Hiring: Cheese Patrol

I don't expect my cats to do a lot of chores. I'm sure many people expect their cats to make their beds, do the dishes, provide investing advice, and so on, but we're more laid back. Until we had Snalbert, I only expected my cats to fulfill only two obligations: to eat bugs and to pose contentedly by the fireplace whenever we lit a fire (which we haven't done in years). Of course, our cats have helped out with other things on a voluntary basis: herding Christmas bows, subduing errant Dunkin Munchkins, art history research (Possum), etc.

It was Snalbert who initiated the Cheese Patrol, persuaded me of its importance, and gave our cats the choice of assuming or shirking their fromagical responsibility. He was always in the kitchen at cheese time, at all hours, in all kinds of weather, to sample the fromage du jour and approve it for human consumption. Snicky and Chloe had no interest in cheese, but when we brought Bunnelina home in 1998, Snalbert recognized her potential and appointed her as his Deputy. And, until she left us in 2009, she never met a cheese she wouldn't try.

The Head of the Cheese Patrol determines that pumpkins are not cheese.

Snalbert and I hoped that Wendy and Possum would show enough talent to earn them Junior Deputy status, but we were quickly disappointed. The first test of a Cheese Patrol candidate is "Recognizes that Cheese Is Food." Both cats have failed this test on dozens of attempts, even as they watched Bertie snarf up the bits of cheddar, American, Gruyère, fontina, or Gouda, that they'd rejected.

They definitely have Fireside Cat potential but are hopeless with cheese.

I haven't completely given up on them, but I have a feeling that Cheese Patrollers are born, not made. I have no faith that either one can assume Snalbert's role with any enthusiasm even if they do manage to swallow a piece of cheese someday. I had no idea it was so hard; Snalbert's absence is felt in so many ways around here. We can try to recruit new members, of course, but I have no idea how to identify talent. Should I sneak some little cubes of Laughing Cow into the cages at shelters? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Blue Charles

We went for another walk along the Charles tonight, as the Boston Landmarks Orchestra began their concert with "The Blue Danube." We saw two women in a double kayak paddling gracefully in perfect time to the music.

Suddenly everyone seemed to be doing everything in time to the music: walking, running, roller-blading, kids dancing around, ducks floating by.

It was magic.

My husband snapped this with his iPhone.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wendy Keeps Busy; I Don't

I won't say how often I usually vacuum, but I will say [boast, brag] that I vacuumed recently on a Friday, and then a week later, on a Saturday.

There are reasons why I avoid vacuuming, despite living with four, three, two longhaired tumbleweed factories and a man:

1. Vacuuming is horrible, as are all forms of housekeeping that don't involve arranging flowers or making pretty displays of objects on surfaces.

2. I burned out on vacuuming when Wendy arrived as a kitten with ringworm in 2009. For weeks, I vacuumed every day. And not only did I vacuum floors, I vacuumed walls, ceilings, windows, doors, glass-covered works of art, upholstered furniture, and the undersides of the box spring and the living room furniture. I filled my lifetime quota of vacuuming. I still recoil at the sight of my Miele, even though it's a decent machine and its HEPA filtration system literally saved our skins, sucking up the ringworm spores so well that no humans or Persians contracted ringworm. Only Possum's little nose took the bait.

3. Wendy's toys. Before commencing the nasty business of vacuuming, I had the equally disgusting chore of crawling around on my hands and knees with a flashlight and a long wooden spoon, and fishing Wendy's toys out from under bookcases, radiators, and dressers, where she apparently enjoys losing them. Everything goes into the cats' overflowing toy basket on the floor, where they help themselves to whatever they want.

I recently realized that I could gather Wendy's toys using my Miele's handy-dandy crevice tool, which I use to clean those areas anyway. It's designed so that small items don't get sucked into it, they stay on the tip. So I keep off my knees now, and amuse myself by guessing which toys Wendy hid where. She tends to lose them by color: all her green sparkly balls under the radiator, while the pink ones are under the bookcase. Here's my latest haul of toys that Wendy lost in about a week:

27 toys, mostly Wendy's, and mostly found under the furniture.

As you can see, Wendy is an extremely playful cat, or she's obsessive-compulsive, or she's a Type A worker bee when it comes to her toy deployment. I only know she's driven to lose ridiculous quantities of them for benign or neurotic reasons we'll probably never understand. There are many things about Wendy that we have yet to figure out. But we love a mystery, and we love Wendy.

I do know that having one less reason to hate vacuuming still isn't motivating me to do it as often as I should.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Socializing & Shopping

I know it's old-hat now, but I continue to enjoy Facebook as an easy way to keep in touch with people I like, who would otherwise disappear out of my life for months or years at a time. I'm one of those people who hates to pick up the phone, and there's only much email I can handle. So, instead of just exchanging Christmas cards, I spend a few minutes a day keeping in touch and reading about the thoughts and experiences of a small group of friends all over the world. I don't do any networking on Facebook and the vast majority of my friends are only interested in casual socializing, rather than shameless self-promotion, too. So I have an online "village" offering chit-chat, news, and moral support to keep me feeling connected and amused. I'm lucky that my friends tend to be witty and interesting.

I also like Facebook for mercenary reasons — special, "private" deals and other news from favorite retailers, including Garnet Hill, Cuddledown, KitchenWares, and Anthropologie. For example, Cuddledown tells me they're having a big "yard  sale" in Freeport this weekend. If we were heading to Maine, I'd drop by. I'd rather learn this via Facebook than through weekly or daily marketing emails; I avoid those like the phone.

Garnet Hill is still having their clearance sale, and Facebook pals get free shipping on everything through the weekend. I don't "need" anything from them right now, but it's fun to be tempted.... Their featherbeds are on sale. I tried a featherbed for the first time last month in Pennsylvania and, truly, I'll never be the same again. And my favorite three-season skirt is on sale for $29, so I might go for one in another color. They also have many of their best tees marked down to $20 or less.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Night Sunset

Water views are comforting. We forget all about about walking along the Charles for months and months, especially in winter. (If we had a dog, I suppose it would be different.) Then we rediscover the Esplanade, and feel so lucky that it's just a couple of blocks from our apartment. We walked along the river on four evenings this week. We like to head home via Panificio on Charles, where we split one of their excellent eclairs. They're as nice to us as if we'd ordered an expensive dinner.

Tonight we saw a spectacular sunset:

If we went out together and left our windows open, Bertie would sit in one and start yelling his head off as soon as he saw us coming back up the street. We miss that. We're finding more things to miss about him every day. I miss nursing him. I imagine him trying to eat his sympathy bouquet; he would have loved it. We miss Snicky, too, but she had been quiet and withdrawn for a long time before she died. Bertie seemed like his usual self until a couple of weeks ago, and he had an oversized personality for the old guy he was. I miss him waking me up at night: he figured out how to rattle our closet door so it sounded like thunder, making us jump out of our skins. I'd love to hear that one more time.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Before he got sick, Snalbert was a fabulous companion, joining us at the dinner table, on the sofa, or wherever we were.  He had loads of personality, a loud voice, handsome looks, a love of people food, and a penchant for helping himself to carbohydrates and my laptop in the middle of the night. We miss him terribly.

We found out at the vet on Tuesday that he was severely anemic in addition to his worsening heart failure and kidney disease. There's a drug we could have tried, but our vet told us that she thought it would take too long to make a difference, and that he simply had too many problems to treat successfully all at once. With anemia that severe, cat can have convulsions, and we didn't want that for Bertie. And we also knew he wasn't really enjoying life anymore. So we had to act before his discomfort got any worse. The horrible decision was made more horrible by the way Bertie was purring at the time. 

We were too upset to be there for the last moments. I was such an emotional mess that I knew I'd alarm him so I left to pace on the sidewalk. I'd already said my goodbyes at home. One of the assistants brought me an envelope holding a clipping of his wonderful Persian fur. My husband said his goodbyes, kissed him, and stroked him. And then our vet took over. 

She sent us flowers today, a beautiful little bouquet with a sympathy note.* When we called to thank her, she told us that Bertie had been purring and alert with her, nuzzling her to be petted. She said it was almost like he was helping her. She wanted to give him a sedative before the final injection, to relax him. She was able to inject the sedative into his front leg without anyone to hold him, the first time she's ever be able to do that to a cat without assistance. He didn't flinch. She said he slipped away easily, and that she was sure it was the right time. She said she was grateful she could give him this final gift. We thanked her for being such a marvelous vet.

We're so lucky we had Bertie for almost 17 years. We're so lucky we have Wendy and Possum now; they are a great comfort, as we always knew they would be at this sad time. We're lucky to have understanding friends and a terrific cat hospital team, and I'm grateful to my readers for their sympathetic messages and good advice. Thank you!

* She told us that, after she ordered the flowers, she called the florist back and told them to make sure there were NO lilies in the arrangement. She said she could just imagine... a bouquet of toxic flowers arriving into a house that's just lost a cat. She doesn't know that I went to the arrangement after we spoke, took a closer look, pulled out four miniature calla lilies, and took them outside. Wendy and Possum don't care for flowers, and I had this arrangement out of reach, on the mantel. Even so... Snalbert loved chomping on flowers and Christmas trees, and I could almost feel his spirit eyeing the arrangement hungrily.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Farewell, Bertie

August 1, 1995–July 17, 2012

May there be laptops and cheese wherever you are.

Now They Are 3

Yikes, we've been so wrapped up with Bertie that we forgot that Wendy's 3rd birthday was yesterday and Possum's is today. Fortunately, we have nitrate-free turkey breast in the fridge for a feast tonight.

That's assuming we're in the mood to celebrate. This birthday party may be postponed; I can't tell.


We are worried. Bertie is gaining weight and it's fluid, not fat. He's scheduled to go to the vet this afternoon for another round of blood tests and, as usual, I wonder if it's his last trip. 

When my husband returned from Paris, he was relieved to see Bertie looking about the same, but he also said, "I wondered if he's checked out already." I knew what he meant. Bertie used to be our companion, hanging out with us at the table, on the sofa, always nearby. But he's spent the past two weeks sleeping and lying quietly in the same spot on the floor at a distance from us. He'll purr when we pet him, listen when talk to him, and he tolerates his food syringes, fluids, and pills like a gentleman. He looks pretty good, too, just skinny, with wobbly back legs. But he doesn't move except to drink water and use his box. I haven't even seen him in the bathtub recently.

Is he giving us a message? Probably, but it's not 100% clear. Our vet was hoping he'd bounce back for a while once he got the right balance of fluids and diuretics to make him feel better. He's not bouncing. But the only sign of pain or discomfort is his withdrawal. Is that enough? I don't know.

I've heard many cat people say, "They always tell you when it's time." I don't believe that at all. I've never experienced that clarity; I've never gotten one of those memos.  It's always a messy, uncertain, miserable business, weighing an old friend's quality of life, deciding about death. It's never clean and neat, and even when it is, it's usually obvious only in hindsight. In the moment, I always feel like I'm making a horrible decision. Because it is a horrible decision, even when you're making it correctly. I've never known certainty as I've made it, it's more like bowing to the inevitable; I've seldom felt at peace about it. It's easier to just avoid the decision... as I suppose we've been doing. Bertie's patient attitude has been helping that along. Is that unfair to him? Maybe, probably, I don't know. Maybe we'll figure it out at the vet this afternoon. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Light on the Lagoon

These days, I like to get most of my daily five miles of walking in the evening, when the air is cooler and the city seems quieter. Evening walks are more meditative than running around doing errands during the day. I notice more: the sky, the trees, people passing by.

There have been some colorful sunsets recently, although I'm usually not the right place to get the full effect. But here's an iPhone shot of the Public Garden Lagoon the other night. The sky was fiery red beyond the treetops. And one streetlamp flared greenish across the water, like a tiny UFO.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Broom Candy

Some of us don't need resident parking stickers. Some of us have found a simpler way.

I saw this baby parked in front of a townhouse on Commonwealth Avenue last night.

It's not exactly a Nimbus 2001, which is closer to what I'd expect from a witch or wizard in this zip code. On the other hand, not everyone is interested in status symbols around here, and thank heavens for that.

It was a good idea to tape the handle for extra comfort and an easier grip. Nothing beats steady, reliable transportation. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Little Good News

Bertie and I took an air-conditioned taxi to the vet today and he enjoyed it so much that he howled louder than I've heard for some time. Nothing can shock a Boston cab driver, it seems, but I tried and failed to shush him all the same.

At the vet, we both sit around waiting for test results. I bring a book; they put him in a cage in the back because they figured out that it amuses him to watch other cats having painful medical procedures. Snicky loved to watch that, too. I hope it's not only my cats who are sadistic.

The good news: Bertie's creatinine level is back to where it was before he developed fluid overload and breathing trouble last week. (Gee, was it only a week ago? Feels like forever.) This means we're succeeding in getting him stabilized with just the right amounts of fluids and diuretics. At least for now. The next time he gets fluid overload, that's it, I guess. I didn't ask the question like that, but the vet was hinting pretty strongly about it.

I wish this improvement translated into a little more activity from old Fluff Daddy. He's far from being his old computer-hacking, carb-snatching, companionable self. He spends about 23 hours a day lying around in his new spot on the floor. During the other hour, he wobbles to the litter box on weak legs, or gets his food and medicine from me, or hangs out in the bathtub. I have yet to figure out the appeal of the tub. It's not cool, it's hot, and it's not wet. It's just a bath tub. But Bertie was always weird.

The other good news is that we theoretically don't have to show up at the vet again until Wednesday. She doesn't think there will be a crisis in the meantime. Fingers remain crossed.

In other news, the latest concept in Possum's ever-evolving money-making scheme is Baron von Possum's New Improved All-Organic (Green!) Norwegian Fish Sausages. I have plenty of my own work to do, so I am staying out of this, but he asked me to put it out there in case anyone wants to beat a path to his door to get some. He doesn't have any, of course. But that won't stop him from taking your cash.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Car Candy: The Tesla Reappears

Possum can have his bicycle rickshaw. I'm saving up for this Tesla. As I've written before, it's a very rare, very quiet, all-electric sportscar for people who like to go sneaking around at high speeds without being heard.

I saw it parked on Charles Street last night and I risked getting run over to snap that second photo on my iPhone. It's a quiet car, but I could hear it whispering to me. It said, "First, get a driver's license."

Bertie had another quiet day and returns to the vet tomorrow. Fingers crossed, as usual.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bertie Again

Bertie and I went to the vet this afternoon so she could check his heart and breathing and do some kidney tests.

He howled his head off in the cab, coming and going, with an energy I didn't think he still possessed. He was hoarse and quiet en route to the vet last week, when he was quite sick. So I suppose I should have rejoiced at his renewed caterwauling. But I just felt embarrassed, as ever.

He is still jumping in and out of our bathtub when I'm not watching. That takes energy and muscles, so it's encouraging. But most of the time he hangs out in his new spot unless I carry him into the kitchen to pump him with food or fluid.

The vet says his creatine level is up; not good news, but to be expected because of the combination of a diuretic and reduced fluids taxing his kidneys while helping his heart. I'm supposed to stop the diuretic and increase his fluids slightly. Then we'll test him again on Thursday to see if he's finally in zone where he's getting enough fluid in his system to help his kidneys without hurting his heart.

I stayed up until 4 last night, watching The Godfather (Coppola Restoration, stunning) on my iPad in the chair next to him. Whenever I'd reach down to pet him, he'd purr. Hang in there Bertie.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bertie Update

Mr. Bertie is resting quietly in his new favorite spot most of the time, waking up and purring when I come over to pet him. I haven't mastered syringe-feeding. Food gets splattered everywhere because I still can't figure out when I'm doing it right. But if feeding him continues, I'll get better. And he's very accommodating to both food and fluids; its the pills that are tougher.

My vet is off today but I'll to call her tomorrow to see if I should bring him in. The vet working today told me that she may want to evaluate whether the current treatment plan is helping him enough. I'd rather not have to take him in... he's very weak and he has a heart condition now, so I'd rather not stress him. And, of course, I'm also wondering if we might decide that it's better to end his life before his illness gets even worse.

On the other hand, I found him in sitting the bathtub again this morning. It's a deep tub, and so he's stronger than he looks.

I really have no idea what might happen tomorrow. I'll try not to worry about it until tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I'm Not in Paris...

... but I can still have an eclair for dinner:

Real Estate Bits and Pieces

Let's be grateful for Boston's preserved and legally protected historic neighborhoods. We'd better advocate for more neighborhoods to get such protection. Otherwise we'll be upset after seeing more abominations like The Saddest House in New York City. Warning: this is painful, especially since the house formerly belonged to a dedicated and admired preservationist.

I found that story on an excellent blog, Hooked on Houses, which has an extensive collection of celebrity houses, movie and TV houses, and — best of all — bad MLS photos. I've included a few bad photos I've found recently at the end of this post.

Here are the three most expensive properties for sale in Back Bay and Beacon Hill. Notice how all of them are dripping with detail. The most expensive houses and condos in these neighborhoods usually are well preserned. When are contractors and developers for more affordable properties going to learn that people who love the preserved streetscapes of these neighborhoods would like to see some of that period charm continue inside?  I think the answer is: "Not until every shred of original detail is gone — because then they can make more money from a discerning clientele with their feeble efforts to put some back."

I used to work in 306 Dartmouth Street when I first moved here after college. I had a key to the back door, and sometimes had the whole place to myself on a Sunday. If that's not enough to turn a kid into a preservationist, nothing is. Here's the staircase:
This 15,000 square-foot house at 211 Commonwealth Avenue was bought in the 1980s ago, when preservation was more popular and far fewer properties had been gut-renovated. Those may have been the first bad days of exposed brick and recessed lighting, but lots of gorgeous old houses still remained intact. I heard that this house had been purchased and kept pristine as a family investment rather than a house to be lived in. A very intelligent and far-sighted idea. I hope they have stipulations that whoever plunks down $17,900,000 for it can't rip out all this woodwork and open this room to the kitchen, adding a breakfast bar:

The townhouse below, at 74 Beacon Street, has been on the market since the beginning of recorded time (that's 2008 in real-estate history). I can't understand why, since it's been luxury-renovated enough to make it seem new and shiny, earning its $13,950,000 price tag. And it's got a heated, infinity-edge pool on the roof. Maybe nine bathrooms is the sticking point. That makes me laugh, anyway. Well, it's perfect for a family that likes to primp or has serious digestive issues:
It always amuses me to see what kinds of photos realtors think will help sell houses. I've seen enough photos of toilets, Home Depot light fixtures, and expanses of wall-to-wall and sheetrock to fill an infinity-edge lap pool. I'm talking about houses in a more reasonable price range, of course. Take this irresistible patch of sod. Or don't:

This is not a restaurant and
someone has a drinking problem.

This guy had better stay put if I buy this place.
This is RE marketing targeted to cats, or at least I hope so.

Magnificent gardening! This was the only outdoor photo.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Possum Busy

Bertie continues to lie around quietly, sleeping most of the time. Wendy and Possum leave him in peace. Wendy gives him intent looks whenever he passes her on his newly wobbly legs. She has always liked him and shows it by rubbing flirtatiously against him, joining him for naps, and waving her tail in his face. I'm not sure how Possum feels about Bertie but they coexist politely.

Possum is pleased that I'm not going to Paris. He is cooking up a scheme to earn money for his bicycle rickshaw because he knows it will have to be a custom-made contraption now that Anthropologie is sold out of his dream model from Christmas.

He is developing a product idea:

Possum's Norwegian Fish Sausages 
No Guts. All Glory. 
(Or maybe a few guts.)

Doesn't that sound yummy?

His idea doesn't appeal to me and I say so. He points out that I'm not passionate about fish (although I do like other kinds of sausages). He's very passionate about fish. He says he will try to sell his concept to a company; he's not wild about going into the fish-sausage business himself. All he wants is a lot of money and his photo on the front of the package.

I said, "If you are on the package, people might think it's cat food. Or they might think pussycats are one of the ingredients. And with that name, people might get the idea that there is rodent in the recipe.*"

He said, "You will not be in charge of marketing. I'm gorgeous, according to you, so my face should sell millions of sausages. Cats may not give a damn about looks but you humans are ridiculously susceptible to handsome faces. I don't mind using mine to sell fish sausages. People will flock to them like zombies. And if they don't, I'll reposition them as gourmet cat food... which might be even more lucrative, now that I think about it."

Gorgeous and opinionated.

I told him he's on his own; I have no time for fish sausages. I need to decipher a patch of John Singer Sargent's messy handwriting as part of today's assignment. I can do this — I once worked for a team of architects, and they all had the worst handwriting imaginable. Possum has been too distracted to help me lately. He might pitch in on this, though; he admires Sargent and still hopes to be painted by him someday. But he was useless yesterday; the topic was Medusa, and she is nothing like a fish sausage.

* I have suggested to him several times that having a RECIPE might prove helpful to his new venture.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bertie at Home

Bertie came home last night. He is mostly keeping to himself and sleeping. I can tell things aren't right with him because he's sleeping on the floor in my husband's office; he'd normally pick a cooler, more comfortable spot closer to the action.

We're still giving him a diuretic so it may be another day before he feels its full effects. If it works. The vet took him off of all blood-pressure medications so he may not be feeling well because of that.

But he's purring again (not as loudly or furiously) and slowly walking around. He's still very patient as we syringe-feed him and give him fluids. We are giving him half as much fluid now. This morning, he sat expectably afterward, wondering why it happened so fast. 

He's definitely a bit better than he was.  That's something.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


We saw the fireworks from our living room last night. We thought we'd go see them at midnight, which is when we'd heard they'd been rescheduled after the storm delay. But we heard enough booming over the racket of the air conditioner to look up from our laptops at colored sparks. We could see quite a bit from our windows, over the roof decks across the street. We saw enough to make us happy, anyway.

Snalbert has us worried. He's been on the highest dose of a powerful blood pressure medication since late last week; the usual pills haven't been working. His hypertension is the result of the subcutaneous fluids he needs twice a day for chronic renal failure. Too much liquid strains the system. He also has either lost his appetite or decided to it's boring to eat from bowls in recent months, so he is now entirely syringe-fed by my husband. He's very skilled at it, thank god.

When we came home from Pennsylvania on Monday, Bertie wasn't waiting to greet us at the door as he usually is. He was lying down. I wondered if the new blood-pressure pills were causing problems as I watched him lie around for hours, and then noticed yesterday that he was breathing a little too hard. We took him to the vet first thing this morning. His blood pressure was still much too high despite the risky pills and a chest X-ray showed fluid in his lungs.

Our vet says we're between a rock and a hard place. If we stop his fluids, his renal values will worsen, but if we don't, he'll have congestive heart failure. The vet is keeping him today to monitor his breathing and give diuretics. We're discussing a middle path — giving him half as much fluid twice daily, and seeing how he does. I have no idea how much time this might buy him, if it works. But we're talking weeks, not months, according to the vet.

I haven't mentioned it here, but we are scheduled to go to Paris for a week on Saturday on an all-expenses-paid business trip. I've been curiously unenthusiastic about this; I've had an uneasy feeling since I heard about this trip a few weeks ago. I love Paris, I miss Paris, but I did not want to go to Paris and couldn't explain why. I'm worried about ill, elderly relatives, but that's not it. I have work deadlines but I could have managed. Snalbert was relatively stable until recently. My husband has been kept aware of my continuing reluctance but assumed it was just my general nuttiness — a reasonable assumption. He figured I'd be fine as soon as I set foot in a patisserie over there. 

But as we sat in the vet's exam room, it all became clear. I finally said it out loud: "I'm not going to Paris." Phew. What a relief it is to follow your instincts. And our vet said it was a good plan because Bertie shouldn't be alone all night. They can't board him there in his condition because they don't have overnight staff.

I just called to check on him: they said he's looking better, more alert, and breathing a little easier. He still hasn't peed, however, so he'll be getting more diuretic and we'll pick him up tonight.

So, starting Saturday, it will be me and my two fluffy guys, with occasional appearances from Wendy. I expect to be able to get a lot of writing done. We'll take things one day at a time. Fingers crossed that Bertie hangs in there.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Feels Like Home

In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, as in Boston, there's a serious obsession with baseball. And, as in Boston, there's near-universal disgust with the team. The Phillies are in last place, 12 games behind first in their National League division — in other words, sucking even worse than the Red Sox are. At the moment. So the mood is eerily familiar, as are the commentary and epithets hurled at the screen.

Still, it was refreshing to watch a different team lose spectacularly for a change. My father is particularly annoyed with management for various reasons — for example, keeping pitchers in after they've proven disastrous. "Why don't they just take him out and shoot him?" he suggested at one point, about one of his least-favorite pitchers. I know exactly how he feels, so perhaps I'm a chip off the old steel ingot after all.

When the Phillies become too hard to bear, as they are now, everyone is thrilled to tune in to their own Lehigh Valley IronPigs,* the local Triple-A affliliate of the Phillies. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Phillies stars, are currently rehabbing with the Pigs. And they're in first place, so it's a relief to watch players who have a clue about what they're doing and seem genuinely passionate about the game. Everyone loves the Pigs' manager and hopes he'll become the next Phillies GM after the current one spontaneously combusts, or whatever. It's also easy to go to a Pigs game; their fancy new Coca Cola stadium is just one town over. The Pigs are very cool.

When we were visiting, they were playing the Pawtucket Red Sox, and we were treated to the spectacle of Daniel Bard screwing up once again. Go Pigs!

* "IronPigs" refers to pig iron, a crappy kind of metal that is nevertheless an ingredient in making certain kinds of steel. (You would know this if you grew up in Bethlehem.) Hot iron was** poured into rounded molds, or "pigs," and the  ingots were called "pig iron." I asked my steelworker father, "Why are they called 'pigs'?" He said, "You got a bunch of guys working there, who speak all kinds of different languages, and they gotta call them something. I guess the molds sorta look like pigs." You can satisfy all of your pig-iron curiosity here. 

** The Bethlehem Steel Company is no longer active in Bethlehem and the mills and machine shops were converted to a Sands Casino complex, of all things.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Postcard from Pennsylvania: Houses

I grew up in Bethlehem, a small city filled with elegant houses spanning the 19th century and featuring every major architectural style, along with a few that local builders appear to have invented. In the heart of the city, there are also stellar 18th-century stone buildings in the Moravian style: 

Although we lived in a 1950s split-level outside of the historic area, my childhood goal was to live in a wonderful old house downtown someday. 

The more I see these old neighborhoods nowadays, the more gorgeous they seem. Most exteriors are unmarred by renovations, the gardens are lush, the trees are old. No wonder I'm not having any luck house-hunting: All of my favorite houses are in Pennsylvania and I've been ruined for anything else. And worse, they often sell for ridiculously affordable prices compared to the scene in Boston.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Postcard from Pennsylvania: Herbert's

We seldom venture to the West Side of Bethlehem when we visit, so we were surprised to find Herbert's, a real, live typewriter shop, on West Broad Street:

This description from the Bethlehem Patch says it all:
Since 1928, Herbert's Typewriters in Bethlehem has been offering hometown, friendly typewriter and electronic office supply products and repair services at an honest price. Herbert's Typewriters offers a warm, welcoming selection of vintage and new age typewriters and electronic calculators as well as typewriters that date back an entire century. Make your visit to Herbert's and you might even get a history lesson or two from Mr. Burrell on typewriters.
And if that's not enough to make us go back, there's a cheese-steak and hoagie shop next door.