Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hot Toffee, Just for You

Wendy's rescuer, in southeastern Massachusetts, sent me this photo of a young Maine Coon in Dartmouth. Remind you of anyone?

He needs a home! He's about 2 years old, neutered, and looks as sweet as pie. Maine Coons are marvelous cats. I've already got one, but if you want one, let me know! I'm pretty sure transportation can be arranged; there's an "underground railroad" of kind-hearted cat people who help facilitate shelter adoptions far and wide.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mystery Solved

It took me two and a half days to find the tiny bottle of prescription eyedrops that wandered off my desk in the wee hours of Friday morning. In short: I was fully outsmarted by a 10-ml. bottle and two kittens.

I spent an embarrassing amount of Friday hunting for that bottle. I vacuumed, using my handy-dandy Miele crevice tool under our Mission-style bookcases. It picks up scads of toys each time I use it, so it should have easily picked up the bottle. I'd already looked under those bookcases three times with a flashlight, on my hands and knees. I'd also poked around in the fireplaces, closets, under my husband's desk (where there's a viper's nest of cables), under all the furniture and the cushions, and in every other logical and illogical place. I ransacked my desk and even checked the medicine cabinet in case I'd forgotten I'd put it away. My husband took our many rolling bins out from under the bed, which is a pain, with no results.

I called our vet, who assured me that the bottle was too big for a cat to swallow. It seemed crazy to even ask, but with Toffee all things are possible.

The pharmacist told me my insurance wouldn't cover a replacement, and I couldn't get a refill for 10 days. I didn't want to pay full price when that bottle had to be Somewhere. I kept looking and thinking.

Tonight, I performed an experiment. When Harris visited my desk, he found a similar bottle of artificial tears. He knocked it to the floor with a practiced paw as I watched. Toffee, down below, was pleased to see the bottle. I did some discreet documentation as I pretended to fuss with my phone:

Harris joined him, and they took turns rolling the bottle around and biting it:

Eventually, I was spotted, but I'd already solved the crime:

The jig is up, Mr. McBeastie.

As I watched them, I realized that the kittens are getting lazier, being nearly a year old. From the looks of them, they wouldn't have rolled that bottle very far. This discovery sent me to the nearest place for that bottle to get lost: the bookcases. Again. With my brightest flashlight, I got down on my side this time, so I could peer under them from every angle and — gasp!— there it was, deep in a corner. It had eluded three prior searches and my handy-dandy crevice suction tool. 

I fished it out with a wooden spoon, gave myself a dose, and put it in the medicine cabinet, which Toffee doesn't know how to open. yet. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Don't Try This at Home: Color Crazy

Color me appalled at the paint choices in this otherwise charming Victorian house, which recently went on the market. While I don't like the popular staging technique of painting every room stark white, I feel this goes a little too far in the opposite direction.

Khaki walls, mustard trim, turquoise fireplace? And what is that lime-green fence thing on the left? At least they didn't attack their ceilings or floors. *

Red, yellow, orange, and white kitchen... with acid green accent wall. Is that crooked masking tape or paint under those shelves and crooked pictures?

I thought I loved every pantry on earth, but not this one.

What happened to those poor steps? And, just in general, what the hell happened here? 
Note the mustard-yellow baseboard below that coral wall....

My theories:

1. Family is color-blind.

2. Family doesn't really want to sell; hopes to scare buyers without actually wrecking anything.

3. Family previously lived in pure-white-walled house. Misinterpreted real-estate agent's advice to "Add a little color to make the detailing pop."

4. Family gets great deals on returned paint at local Benjamin Moore dealer.

5. Family includes permissive parents who let their children roam free with paint rollers and brushes on dull weekends.

Please feel free to add your own thoughts.... 

* Photos via Redfin.com, the best online real-estate search tool, in my opinion.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Another One of those Days

The hallway renovations are proceeding and the place is surprisingly navigable today. I'm so looking forward to having it finished. It desperately needed redecorating when we moved in 15 years ago and it only got worse since then. It's going to look great when it's done. (I confess that I chose the lighting, paint, and carpeting.)

I will soon head outside, which I look forward to, since it's cool and breezy again today.

I'm going to pick up a prescription for some eyedrops. I picked up the same prescription yesterday. And then I left the bottle on my desk, where I'd remember to use it this morning. I remembered — but the bottle was gone. I was on my hands and knees all morning, hunting with a flashlight. I asked Harris what he did with it; he was not forthcoming. He curls up and sleeps between us in the mornings now, which I suppose he considers full atonement for any crimes he commits beforehand.

It's hard to get replacement prescriptions: insurance doesn't cover them unless the pharmacist calls and pleads idiocy on your behalf. I won't know if she succeeded, or if my eye drops will cost $7 or $25, until I get there.

But I'm sure the missing bottle will turn up as soon as I get home.

But before I go out. I must  vacuum. If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I always have to vacuum. I hate it. But I'm not just overdue — I was making my lunch and dropped a glass, which shattered into a million tiny bits all over the kitchen. I have no idea how it happened; it was over in about two seconds. At least I remembered to be very calm and quiet as I herded three cats into the bedroom, away from the mess, and shooed Wendy under the sofa. She doesn't let us pick her up without a struggle.

I swept it all up and I'll vacuum for extra insurance. I should wash the kitchen floor — after I got a second glass, I reached into the fridge for my nice, full pitcher of iced tea, and poured it all over the floor and my foot.

I can't wait to see what happens next. And I will try not to kill myself while vacuuming, or get run on the way to CVS and the farmer's market. And Williams-Sonoma for a replacement glass or two...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Exploding Cats and Other Troubles

This was one more thing I didn't need today; Toffee has forgotten his stove adventure.

Yes, it was that kind of day.

It started at breakfast. The cats each had a raw medallion of lamb (Nature's Variety Instinct Frozen). We were starting a new bag of a new flavor. Minutes after finishing, Harris threw up everything. The sound woke me up and got me out of bed. My husband cleaned it up while I checked on Harris. He seemed a little stunned but otherwise okay. It's probably a fluke, I decided. Then Possum threw up his breakfast, in three locations, including the fringe of a Persian rug. I cleaned that up. 

With two sick cats, I was scared. This never happens around here. We used to have a cat who threw up every day, but that was when we were blithely feeding her crappy, "vet-approved" kibble from Hill's. 

The new food must be bad. I checked the bag; it looked fine. No ice, no discoloration, no signs of thawing. But something had to be wrong with it. I kept an eye on everyone for a couple of hours; they seemed fine. I went off to be tortured at physical therapy. It was excruciating. Then I did errands and came home to discover our that the inside of our building looked like Dresden after the bombing.

We are redecorating the lobby: installing recessed lights, repairing terrible cracks, painting, and replacing the carpet. When the electrician was installing the lights a couple of weeks ago, he discovered that the ceiling on my floor is falling apart. So workmen came today to remove ceilings. When I got home, they were both outside, taking a breathing break. One escorted me in, through a cloud of white dust, and helped me pass under huge sheets of plastic. We picked our way through rubble until I got to my apartment. I was covered in dust. 

I brushed myself off, sealed our door with painter's tape and spent the afternoon inside, listening to mayhem and gasping in the hall. I get asthma when conditions are bad enough, so I located my inhaler and discovered it had expired 18 months ago. Oh, well. I couldn't very well go out for a new one so I took a shower. 

The cats had lunch, from a can. Harris and Possum were extra hungry. Harris likes to rub his head adorably against my leg as he waits for his dish to make it to the floor; the other boys swarm at my feet, crying. I must have been taking too long because Harris decided to nip my backside. 

When I stopped laughing, I lectured him. I'm sure he knew what I was getting at.

The folks at the pet store were stumped about the vomiting and apologized, although it wasn't necessary. They'll credit me for the bag against a big order of canned food I placed. I'll still be feeding raw, but sticking to poultry flavors. Everyone loves them.

The workmen are gone, as is the ceiling. They'll return tomorrow for more of same; we expect at least a week of mess. When the dust settles a little more, I'll unseal the door and get up my new inhaler. 

At least we have deliciously cool, cloudy weather, so much better than a heat wave. And we appear to have four healthy cats and a roof over our heads, if not a ceiling.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Remove Bloom from Hunter Boots & KEEP THEM THAT WAY

It's a rainy day, finally. I have another writing deadline so the timing is perfect. But I still have time to tell you about my latest solution to removing the bloom on my Hunter boots.

Hunter boots are completely waterproof and fairly comfortable for slogging around in puddles and mud. They were intended for English people who spend time farming, riding, hunting, fishing, and gardening. They've been chic in the US for a few years now, appearing in various colors ands styles on at least half the women on Newbury Street on any rainy day. While they may be a passing trend in the rest of the country, New Englanders will probably always stick with them because we have such lousy weather.

The problem with Hunters is that their rubber exteriors "bloom," leaving a waxy, white residue that's unsightly and tricky to remove. This may be due to temperature changes, but it happens as my boots sit in the closet. It's just a characteristic of rubber, if you ask me, and some boots have more of it than others. Hunter sells products to remove bloom, but it never occurs to me to look for them when I'm passing a shoe store. As years have gone by and I've kept forgetting, I've focused on other, homemade solutions.

When we last left my boots, they were in the kitchen, absorbing yet another coating of olive oil. Here they are (Hunter's Cece style) before and after that application of oil:

Oil fixes the problem but it's temporary — the bloom will return in a couple of days, with a vengeance, whether the boots are worn or not. 

My boots have a matte finish, which I thought would be less susceptible to bloom, but I was wrong. My boots love to bloom. I was going through a lot of olive oil. I read online that products for cleaning car interiors were also useful for Hunters. And then I forgot about it.

I wore my blooming boots quite a bit when we were in rainy Maine last month, and finally remembered to visit the hardware store in Southwest Harbor to see what they had. I came out with this:

I hesitated to use it, but when I got tired of my boots looking horrible, I polished them with a couple of Armoral wipes. VoilĂ :

No more bloom — and that was more than a week ago. A new issue, which you might have spotted, is that my boots have a shinier finish now. It's less evident in person, and they aren't as screaming-shiny as the high-gloss Hunter styles, at least. I preferred the more subtle, matte finish but I can settle for some shine in exchange for no more ugly bloom.

You can get Armoral wipes practically anywhere that sells car care products, or so they tell me. If you try them, please let me know how they worked for you.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

She Sells Seashells

Last week, in Newport, we were heading to our car for the drive home when we were stopped in our tracks by a couple of seashell wreaths in a shop window. We're not usually spur-of-the-moment spenders and we are out of wall space in this little apartment. But we went in and soon came out with a wreath. As the shopkeeper (The Sea Star Collection) wrapped it for us, she told us the wreaths had arrived just the day before and were flying out of her store. She was in a happy mood and kept us laughing as we chose our wreath and paid for it. It was the perfect souvenir of a lovely day by the sea, and we will always remember how much fun we had buying it.

I'm fussy about wreaths. I spend part of week every December decorating the heck out of a dozen or more balsam wreaths to raise funds for the Back Bay Garden Club. The Club style is to incorporate a wide variety of natural (mostly) materials plus a big bow, so that's what I do. But after all that, I like my own wreaths to be simple. I put a woolly red-and-green bow on the fat little balsam wreath I hang over our bed, and call it a day. I cover the wreath for the living room with pinecones, and maybe add tiny glass balls or red berries. Never a bow. A wreath made entirely out of seashells felt right to me, especially for summer.

The wreath sat in its shopping bag for more than a week, until I finished the first draft of my John Singer Sargent script-writing project. Hanging it this weekend was my reward.

But first it had to pass inspection:

Harris tests the cord while Toffee inspects the construction techniques.

Harris takes quality control so seriously.

It was his closest encounter with seafood to date. Crunchy.

The wreath is small but heavy, maybe 10 pounds. If it ever falls in the night, we'll be shell-shocked. 

I love the mix of natural colors. 

Toffee loves the bag.

If you'd like a wreath of your own — there were a couple of styles along with some spectacular seashell garlands — just call or email the store, above. They'll ship anything anywhere. 

(Even to Pennsylvania; you know who you are....)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Brimfield, Last Weekend

We went to Brimfield last Saturday, before the heat wave made it too awful to go out. Since our apartment is already full of stuff, I didn't buy anything except several replacement crystals for the sad chandelier in our lobby. I enjoy Brimfield for walking around, browsing, and having an apple fritter. Many dealers oblige people like me by making eye-catching, often surreal displays in front of their tents.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The gas masks are a nice touch.

 That is a monkey wrapped around whatever the heck that is on the front fender.
I have no idea what this is... a camouflage outfit for hunting abominable snowmen?

So I guess this would be the ensemble for hunting abominable snowmen in tropical climates.

If you needed a few dozen very iffy lifesavers, you'd be all set.

How often do you find a photo of the owner of a vintage dress tucked in with the dress? Wonderful.

One dealer scored a big haul of what must be musty-dusty Masons' outfits and so on...

I kind of wanted one but couldn't imagine putting it on my head. 

I saw this both coming in and going out of the parking lot at Quaker Acres, so it had to be a deliberate tableau.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Off for the Weekend

I made my deadline for my museum writing project. Those were some long nights and days. And my boss already told me she really liked my draft, hooray. Now I await its return from the other reviews (covered with comments and rewrites, but I can turn off my ego in these situations).

It's not due to arrive until late Monday, so I have a three-day weekend free to.... stay indoors, out of the heat wave, messing around on my laptop — exactly what I'd be doing if I were working. I hate going out when it's in the 90s. I've abandoned my longstanding, 10,000-steps-a-day routine this week. I'll make up those missing steps with walks to the North End in the fall, when it's cool and I'm unemployed again.

But I shouldn't waste this weekend sitting at this desk. I need to catch up on a few things, and then I'm going to figure out how to get outside and enjoy the way New England has turned into an oven. Maybe I'll play under the garden hose. I need to drag my husband out, too. He's more chained to his laptop than I am. But even if we stay in, there are a few summery things I plan to do:

I have a fluffy "summer novel" from the library, so I'll read it in bed, under the ceiling fan, in hopes that Harris and Possum will curl up next to me, as they sometimes do.

I also have a little basket of peaches I'm looking forward to, once they're ripe. They'll taste like July.

I'll give myself a pedicure and paint my toes swimming-pool blue.

And my husband bought me a terrific present in Newport last week. I've been waiting to unwrap and hang it until I finished my project, so now I can. I'll post a photo soon.

I also need to show you what I saw at the Brimfield Antiques Fair last weekend.

In the meantime, I leave you with this thought:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Possum Turns 4

Today is Possum's 4th birthday. We congratulated him and he congratulated us back, telling us how lucky we were to have him. What could we do but agree? He is a magnificent cat in every way. I always tell him that he is the greatest thing since the sliced banana.

He is nervous tonight because he has been convinced for some time that Princess Kate was waiting for his birthday to have the Royal Baby.

"But, Possum," I said, "Whatever gave you that idea?"

"Princess Kate is very intelligent," he replied. "She would want her baby to be born on a fortuitous day, and so what could be better than my birthday? You've seen my fortune in the Birthday Book, haven't you?"

Possum was referring to a little book I'd bought long ago, which gives a fortune for each day of the year. They are strangely accurate. That, and the fact that there's no author or publisher listed, have convinced Possum that the book came straight from God.

Judge for yourself. Here's Possum's fortune:
You are self-reliant, resourceful, and very understanding. You spend much time and thought in making your home artistic and attractive. You enjoy entertaining and are an interesting and brilliant conversationalist. By your kindly manner, you will create a happy and pleasant home life.
Well, that's a perfect description of Possum. He spends some of his time getting whatever he wants. He spends another portion of his day talking my ear off, and he usually is pretty entertaining, especially considering what passes for most cat conversation. He has many intriguing ideas about art. But he spends most of his time lying around in artistic and attractive poses. He's also so kind to us and the kittens (and to Wendy, when he isn't biting her to try to improve her) that he has made our home life very happy and pleasant indeed.

Possum's favorite baby photo, before calicivirus sores and ringworm ruined his nose.

Not all the fortunes are so lucky. Some of them are so bad that I can't read them aloud to new parents. Here's Wendy's fortune:
You are positive and almost stubborn. Your very definite ideas of right and wrong are emphatic and you can't tolerate the slightest deviation from them in others. In your passion for correctness, you endeavor to have your friends follow your own ideas.
Wow. Wendy sounds like a total pain. And she isn't. She's definitely stubborn and judgmental, though. She disapproves of me quite a lot. I'm going to have to think about this, because I have always believed that Wendy was just nervous when she'd run away from me or refuse to let me pet her. But maybe she really thinks I'm horribly wrong and incorrect.

I will have to talk to Possum about this. But he's too upset right now over Princess Kate.

"She'd better get busy," he just told me. "Because if she doesn't hurry up and have that baby, she's going to have to wait a whole year!"

Little Bug Eyes, so sincere.

Wendy used to encourage Possum's scholarship since he did all her homework for her.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Wendy is 4 Today

It's Wendy's birthday today. I was going to celebrate by posting a new list of her Grievances, but a big writing deadline just got moved to tomorrow, so that will have to wait. (Which is not to suggest that I accomplished anything today.)

I took this photo of Wendy chilling in front of the roaring air conditioner this evening. (Toffee is wondering where her birthday cake is. I suspect he's planning on arson by jumping through the candles.)

We were having dinner as she was lying there, so we had a little talk with her. 

Me: Happy birthday, Wendy! You're 4 years old now! Don't you think it's time for you to relax and feel safe here?

Wendy: .

Husband: Yeah, Wendy, do you think it might be time to start settling in? 

Wendy: .

Husband: Will you please think about unpacking?

Wendy: .

Wendy was the "project kitten" we adopted after we lost our plump and loving lap cat, Bunnelina. Bunny had needed a lot of nursing and hand-feeding, and I was left aching, with a lot of time and energy to devote to nurturing another cat. Wendy was feral and we hoped to socialize her and make her comfortable around people. Little did we know she came with ringworm. (And, boy, did I get a "project.") We were warned not to handle her very much during the months it took to treat her and the other three cats. We caved and handled her and little Possum anyway, but it wasn't enough for her. By the time she was cured, she was too old to change her skittish ways. She wasn't used to meeting strangers because our apartment had been under quarantine, so hardly anyone besides us and the cat hospital staff has ever seen her.

Even so, she blossomed in her way, and I think she enjoys her time here when she's not Afraid She Is About To Die. She loves to be petted at certain times, in certain places, mostly by my husband. When she's in the right mood, you can stroke her belly and play with her feet, and her purr is the loudest of all the cats. A few seconds later, with no warning, she'll dash away with a fearful look as if she's never seen a human before. That's Wendy, conflicted and anxious, and a lesson to us all. We adore her. We will always be patient and reassuring with her. And maybe someday, she'll relax.

Happy birthday, kid. Maybe you'll let your guard down when you're 5.

Baby photos:

Wendy takes a nap while holding her favorite toy, a leopard-print mouse with a feather tail. (Such a weird toy.) This was taken during the Ringworm Plague, when we were forced to adopt a grad-student, Indian-bedspread, bare-floors, no-pillows, no-curtains decorating scheme throughout the apartment.

What a little beauty she was. Now she's a big beauty.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Scattered Postcards from Newport

Along Ocean Drive, near Brenton Point 

This is a banner year for hydrangeas, and they are everywhere inNewport. Many of my Back Bay neighbors don't water theirs enough, so we have a lot of sad-looking specimens around here. 

Can't get enough blue hydrangeas. 

Newport has loads of restaurants but we usually end up at the Clarke Cook House. We had lunch at a table for two with its own little view of the harbor.

It wouldn't be a trip to Newport without a visit to at least one house museum. This is Marble House. 
The Breakers is our favorite because of its bathrooms and back porches overlooking the sea. But Marble House has its points...

A hydrangea hedge leads lines the paths to the portico with its reflecting pool. 

The Chinese tea house was set up as a very simple café a couple of years ago, after sitting empty for years. It's a great idea and there are ocean views:

How can you not love Newport?

Postcards from Newport: Trees

While Newport's turn-of-the-century socialites were busy overdecorating their mansions, their landscape architects and gardeners were planting expensive trees. Newport has an amazing collection of big, old trees, especially "specimen" varieties, like the beautiful weeping and copper beeches below:

This isn't a very healthy tree but its roots are amazing:

Here's what happens when you plant the right tree too close to an iron fence:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Postcards from Newport: Great Houses

We spent Friday in Newport, Rhode Island, one of my favorite New England towns. We walked from downtown to Marble House along Bellevue Avenue, a National Historic Landmark since 1976. We enjoyed admiring turn-of-the-century properties built by families in the Social Register (or climbers thereto). They are not all the summer residences of One Percenters these days; several of them have been converted to condominiums.. There were a number of for-sale signs, in case you are house-hunting.

A charming Shingle-style with English Tudor touches and a sprawling lawn (with a lace-cap hydrangea).

"The Castle." There's a condo for sale and it's swell, and it's $889,900.

I have noticed that many rich people have great taste in houses and horrible taste in sculpture.

An Italianate villa with a lovely porch and a cupola. I like all those little boxwoods lining the path.

This was "Mrs. Astor's Beechwood," a house museum that wasn't operated by the Newport Preservation Society, with costumed guides impersonating Mrs. Astor. Larry Ellison (CEO of Oracle) bought it a few years ago and is reconstructing it to house his 19th-century art collection. The scaffolding on the roof is keeping the house from falling apart while it's being gutted. We'll see....

This is Sunny Lea, and you can buy a penthouse condominium, i.e., former servant's quarters, for $342,0000.

Some houses on Bellevue can't be seen from the street. I wonder where this gated driveway leads to....

Not all Newport architecture is grand, of course, but quite a lot of it is wonderful. We passed this little house on our long hike back to the car. The summery, patriotic paint scheme suited it perfectly, and it has the same (enviable) lace-cap hydrangeas as the big mansions. I'll take it!