Saturday, August 31, 2013

Possum's Apartment

All the boys (and Wendy on rare occasions) love hanging out in Possum's apartment. Possum is generous about sharing his space and sublets it to all of his pals.

While we were in Maine, we put Possum's apartment in the living room and got a second apartment for the bedroom. Harris claimed that one:

Old apartments like Possum's sometimes collapse, and the padded floorboards that keep them rigid have a tendency to leave the premises for short walks. Sometimes an apartment will even rotate sideways. Fortunately, we have a professional management company that provides repairs and maintenance. 

Apartments are perfect spots to sleep, think, listen to music, wash up, and play with friends. If you have a sympathetic landlord and a good professional management company, you can even trash or flatten your apartment periodically. 

However, you should never chew on your apartment. If you're caught, you will be evicted and your apartment will be off limits to everyone — locked away in the closet. 

And good luck to you if this happens on August 31, because all the other apartments have just been rented for a whole year. We're sorry, Possum, but you won't have access to your bachelor pad again until your next vet appointment. The blame is on Harris and Toffee, who can't keep their teeth to themselves. 

(By the way, although there's a new law that requires Boston landlords to register their apartments and pay a fee of $25 each for the privilege, City Hall will make an exception if the apartment is under 3 square feet.)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fabulous Presents with iPhoto

Since we go to Maine each August around my birthday, my husband has a tradition of giving me a present for each day we're there, in addition to presents on my birthday. (I do know I'm extremely spoiled.) Last year we were there for five days before my birthday, so I got six little plush microbes, among other things:

Center: erythrocyte or red blood cell. Clockwise from top: nerve cell, penicillin, 
leukocyte, brain cell, stem cell. Missing: West Nile Virus, which he kept for himself.

This year was even better. My husband made me a series of five large, softcover photography books of our cats, using images from the iPhoto libraries on both of our Macs. He gave me one book each day. There's a book of portraits for each cat, and the fifth has group shots:

I can't imagine a more thoughtful, perfect gift since we both have a lot of great cat photos that we never print. It was especially nice to get these albums in Maine since we miss the cats so much up there.  

The books are simple to make in iPhoto (although they still take time). Apple provides customizable templates for the covers and each page. All you do is choose the formats you want and the photos, and plug the pictures in where you want them. You can add text, too, if you want. Then you send your file to Apple electronically. They print it and mail you the book. 

I wish I'd thought of doing this for my husband's birthday last spring. But there's always next year, and there will be many more good photos to choose from by then.

Toffee wonders why The Book of Harris is so much thicker than all the others. Think, Toffee.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Old Summer Houses

I found Possum reading the paperback I'd taken to Maine to reread, and still haven't finished. I can't blame him — The Big House is a perfect August (or anytime) book. Written by George Howe Colt, it's the story of a vast, Shingle-style summer house on the Cape that welcomed five generations of his family — the happy place of many childhoods and the most cherished spot of lifetimes. The Big House was for sale when Colt began writing the book; like so many huge, ancestral summer houses, its ownership was shared among a number of relatives who found it too expensive to maintain.

Colt had a lifelong love affair with that house and it permeates every page. If you love old houses, too, it's the best kind of book — he makes the house and all of its stories come to life.

The best of New England's old, coastal summer houses are large, rustic, unheated, and full of windows. They are often oriented toward the water instead of the road, with a huge porch or "piazza"overlooking the sea, where everyone gathers to read, talk, and have drinks in creaky heirloom wicker. It's the most civilized way I can think of to enjoy the end of a summer afternoon. 

On our recent trip to Mount Desert Island, we visited an old New England family who has preserved just such a rambling, Shingle-style house, time-sharing it with more than a dozen other families descended from the original owner. The house is called "Coffeepot." We'd driven past the small wooden sign announcing it for years, always amused and wondering what the story was. 

We even became so fond of the name that Toffee's full name is Toffeepot, to remind us of happy times driving around the island. 

By serendipity, my husband met a member of the family, made the MDI connection, and learned she stayed in the house. We received an invitation to meet the family on our next trip north. I love how life turns out. Sometimes.

We came for drinks on the porch. The house, porch, ocean view, family, and visit were all memorable. Wonderful, in fact. The rooms and furnishings look almost exactly as they did when the house was new, around 1917. We saw photos to prove it. The bathrooms have their original fixtures, including clawfoot tubs. The kitchen has some updated appliances but I wouldn't call them recent. The dining room cabinets are filled with 19th-century dishes and silver, still in use. And all of the walls and ceilings are still unfinished lumber — no plaster anywhere — with the patina of time. The family told us they'd just replaced the original horsehair mattresses in the last year or so. No TV and no Internet, of course. Just wifi. Just perfect, if you ask me.

So, how did the house get its name? I'll just say that the family keeps a framed, black-and-white photo of a rather fancy silver object on the mantel. To read the story, go here.

In the main room of the house, I spotted a copy of The Big House sitting on a table. Our hostess told us she was looking forward to reading it. I can't imagine a more perfect setting for the experience, but I encourage you to read it, too, wherever you happen to be — in summer, or in fall.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Last Postcards from Maine

On our way to Mount Desert Island, we stopped at the Stonewall Kitchen Company Store, just off the highway in York, Maine. They sell every SK product, of course, and you are welcome to sample dozens of jams and jellies, fruit butters, mustards, chutneys, dessert sauces, and more. They also sell kitchen and garden products, including a selection of blue-and-white Burleigh china from England, which is hard to find in the US. There's also a café in case you didn't get full on the free samples. We always do.

How's this for tempting advertising?

The real thing. Try them all.

Here are a few more pictures... and then I'll resume my usual droning about cats and such, I promise.

Bass Harbor sunsets are different from the pink ones in Southwest Harbor. This was taken on the
 patio at the Seafood Ketch, where I had their excellent casserole with lobster, crab, and scallops.
Just bring your bug spray. (Bug spray was helpful just about everywhere on this trip.)

This proves we actually made it to Bar Harbor. Once.

Beach roses along Bar Harbor's Shore Path.

And now it's time for reality. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Bubblegum Fairy

We spotted this dress in the window of Truffles, the candy store by the escalator in the Prudential Center. The sash made of candy dots was a nice touch. 

Postcards from Maine: Little Cranberry Island

Last Wednesday, we took the Cranberry Cove ferry to Islesford, aka Little Cranberry Island. There were two other passengers on board so, of course, we got to know each other. They were an outdoorsy-looking, white-haired couple in their 60s. After they told us how to find a house to rent in Venice for my husband's upcoming sabbatical, they told us they were going skinny-dipping on one of the beaches at Great Cranberry Island. 

Cars can travel at 15 mph on the island roads; many people prefer to bike or use golf carts. We went for a walk. We expected to find the post office. We'd visited it before; it was housed in a general store that sold good sandwiches and cookies. Alas, we discovered that both the post office and store are gone. But there are other attractions on the island.

Lots of lobstermen around on Islesford, with a variety of trap styles in different states of repair or decay.

More traps sprouting amid the wildflowers.

Miniature golf was set up on the big front lawn of a house.

It was a rather ramshackle affair, but with unmistakable enthusiasm and creativity.

For miniature golf, it was heavy on puns and light on water features.

The puns continued into the garden.

Cute scarecrow.

A pebbly public beach.

The Congregational Church. 

If I ever get my own garden, I want one of these.

One of the beautiful old oceanfront houses on the island.

A distant view of Acadia's mountains.

The island is small but it has pretty much everything you need, 
especially if you need to get rid of snakes.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Postcards from Maine: Cadillac Mountain & Jordan Pond

We took a drive through the park one evening to see the sunset from the top of Cadillac Mountain. It's often cold and windy up there even in August, but for once it was a mild evening. We enjoyed the panoramic water views in every direction.

Looking towards Bar Harbor and the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay. 

Lichen-covered rocks and ledges form a pathway around the top of the mountain.

The parking lot wasn't full, but there were plenty of people there to see the sunset. 
Some brought picnics, others had cameras on tripods.

After the sunset, we drove to the Jordan Pond House for dinner. 

A full moon was rising over the lawn and restaurant. We ate inside, away from the mosquitoes. And we were delighted to learn that we could have unlimited popovers with our dinner — a different policy from lunch or tea time where you have to pay for extras. Now we can't wait to go back. We  ate so many popovers with our chicken and mashed potatoes that we had to split dessert: another popover with two scoops of homemade ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Postcards from Maine: Southwest Harbor Sunsets

The public dock just below our bungalow is my favorite spot for watching Southwest Harbor sunsets. They are not always colorful; sometimes I think it's all over because the water's gone dark, so I head back home, only to turn around to discover that sky just turned into a fire opal.

Generally, the sunsets start out peach-colored.

Sometimes peach is all there is, and then the sky and the water darken to blue as twilight comes. But on other nights, there will be wonderful pink and lavender effects:

I love watching the water turn pink and orange:

And I never get tired of photographing that ever-changing row of dinghies:

This is what I mean by "fire opal":

Postcards from Maine: Long Pond

We dragged ourselves away from the inn's hot tub pool a couple of times to visit Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. We've been there, done that, so many times. We've concluded that hiking is overrated compared to reading in a lounge chair on a warm summer day. But we took an obligatory walk along Long Pond, which is on the "quiet side" of Mount Desert Island. The Bar Harbor side of Acadia is so crowded in August that the parking lots for the nicest and most popular trails are often full.

Long Pond is much less busy, but not so different from our traditional walk around Jordan Pond.  (Except that there were no popovers and tea afterward.) We didn't walk all the way around it but just went far enough to enjoy some views, find some mushrooms, and start missing our lounge chairs.

Long Pond is indeed long.

A clear little stream feeds into the pond.

Are these Fly Agaric mushrooms, or amanita muscaria v. guessowii?  I always enjoy finding toxic mushrooms on our walks.

Another, more mature, toxic mushroom, growing on a tree.

Deadly Nightshade, the perfect accompaniment to poisonous mushrooms.

The rocky, shady path along the pond.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Home Again

We had a wonderful time in Maine, and I'll be posting about it soon. We missed the cats as much as we anticipated, but their sitter emailed almost daily with updates and photos, which helped. Everyone came out to see us (and be fed) as soon as we came in the door. They also seemed rather shy at first, sizing us up and keeping a safe distance before asking to be petted or twining themselves around our legs. I suppose that, like me, they need a little time to adjust whenever a resident human disappears and then returns.

Cats are cool. They may be thrilled that we're home, but they never go all to pieces — there's no vulgar display of, say, barking, licking, jumping, sniffing, and drooling. We're treated to a quieter, more civilized welcome; you can read it in their eyes.

 Now that I think about it, cats behave like New Englanders. Dogs are from parts of New Jersey.

As soon as we return from a trip, my husband rushes to unpack his suitcase and put everything away. Otherwise, I'd be inclined to postpone all that depressing effort for a day or two, or maybe a week or two, but he sets such a good example that I have to follow suit. So we unpacked, sorted the mail, listened to the answering machine (two actual voicemails, 12 hangups and robocalls), and even did laundry and grocery shopping within a couple of hours of our return — all the while fussing over the cats and cleaning up torn tissue paper, dead shopping bags, and other evidence of their adventures.

Harris curled up and slept in a ball between us last night, according to my husband. I was sound asleep and missed it. But Possum also came visiting two or three times toward dawn, walking around on me and head-butting my hand so I'd awaken and pet him. It's always great to see him, and I told him so.

Maine is glorious, and we love spending every minute we can outdoors... but it's nice to be back.

Swimsuits drying on our porch overlooking Southwest Harbor.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

In Maine

It's great to be back in our familiar "poolside bungalow" at the inn in Southwest Harbor. The pool is comfortable, the hot tub is perfect, and our friends here are wonderful. We've already visited with six of them. We've also met a couple of interesting guests. That's more socializing than we normally do in a week, and it's only our first night.

We began missing the cats before we finished packing the car this morning. But I feel better about leaving them since I arranged for the sitter to give them special treats each day. This morning, I left out two of their carriers — "Possum's apartment" is in its usual spot by the door, and the other one is in the bedroom. They will enjoy lounging and wrestling in them for hours every day. They'll also get their favorite, freeze-dried chicken breast treats, which transform all four of them into hysterical beggars. They'll get an extra can of food on some days, and a catnip party on others. They'll also get an empty box and a pile of long strips of kraft paper for more good times.

The sitter told us to leave some freshly worn clothing lying around, because our scent would reassure the cats that we'll return. We left a couple of tees on the bed and, sure enough, Possy and Harris curled up on them.

But the most reassuring thing is knowing that they have each other for company and really enjoy being together. Same-species companionship must be even more important than human company — I feel sorry for "only cats," even when their owners tell me the cat prefers it that way. I believe that any cat would be happy to meet the right pal, protégé, or accomplice. Possum, Harris, and Toffee get along just beautifully, and they are nice to Wendy whenever she wants anything to do with them.

The cat sitter reported that she PETTED Wendy in her hiding spot under the bed today. Perhaps she is a Cat Whisperer. Perhaps Wendy will decide she likes her more than us. Whoa.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Not Packing for Maine

We're heading to Maine tomorrow morning. It's 10 pm, so it's High Time I started packing. I can't get motivated because I can't bear to leave the cats for such a long time. I told Possum we'd be away for quite a while. This was his reaction:

He looks philosophical but he's seething; I got quite a lecture about how this will have a negative impact upon his mental health. He requires a lot of attention and conversation from us, especially at 5 in the morning, an hour when he feels particularly lonesome and insecure. That's when he walks around on me and head-butts my arm until I pet him and tell him how magnificent he is. 

He's also annoyed because he doesn't want to be in charge of the kittens for such a long time. I had to bribe him with extra food, promises of even more attention, and a possible trip to see the "Sargent Watercolors" show at the MFA when when we return.

Wendy doesn't like it when we're away. She doesn't like it when we're here, either, but at least she gets regular meals without Having To Risk Her Life. When we have a cat sitter, she hides the whole time because she thinks she is Going To Be Killed. And then she gets very hungry... unless the sitter is wily enough to find her and quietly place her bowl nearby. Then it's just a question of whether Wendy or one of the boys gets to her food first.

We are trying a new sitter who only cares for cats (no dogs) in a few city neighborhoods. This is her new, second career after a long time in the business world. Maybe she'll become successful enough to need a partner....

Anyway, Wendy needed to be reassured that we will not take her Star Chaser Turbo Scratcher toy with us to Maine. It's one of her favorite resting spots when she's brave enough to be out in the open.

Harris and Toffee hate it when we go away. They are used to having me at their service, and they will miss the loads of attention and playtime they get as long as I'm awake. So they've decided to get jobs, so they can afford to go away on their own vacation whenever we do. After some vocational counseling from Possum, they decided to train to be a pair of lion statues. They figure they can sit in front of a fancy hotel or condo building and make a small fortune. They are quite serious about this; here they are practicing:

I'm not sure how much I'll be posting from Maine. I may decide to take a break from my laptop, or not. The real question is whether I'll be able to tear myself away from gazing at cat photos on my phone to enjoy the lovely Maine surroundings, the hot tub and pool, the carriage road trails, and the popovers. 

It's going to be a long vacation.