Saturday, November 30, 2013

Last Postcards from Vermont

We went for around walk in Woodstock at sunset, but it was the moonrise that caught our attention:

We'd taken a road past Billings' Farm Museum, thinking we'd end up not far from the other side of town and our inn. Luckily, we asked a passing jogger about that, and he told us we were headed to Taftsville instead. We turned around, and took more photos of the rising moon.

On Sunday, we visited the Kedron Valley Inn Stable in South Woodstock. I learned to ride here back in my 20s, and hadn't been back since my 30s. I learned to canter and jump in nearby fields, and I took many trail rides and lessons in all kinds of weather, even snow. I spent many happy, nervous hours here. I was never a confident rider; I was frequently told by teachers that I looked much more skilled than I actually was. This wasn't deliberate. I knew you can never fool a horse, and you can only fool a good teacher for so long. I wasn't trying to fool anyone: I just sat up straight and my arms, legs, and head fell into their correct positions by themselves. My nerve never caught up with my good posture despite years of lessons, there and in Ipswich. I knew my teacher had moved on, but I now learned that the owners had died, their son had inherited the place, and he no longer kept many horses or offered trail rides (liability issues).  Nowadays he and his crew just give lessons and board horses for locals.

I found out where my teacher is now, her married name, and that she's still teaching, although she specializes in carriage and sleigh driving now. The next time we're in Vermont, I plan to look her up and maybe try a driving lesson.

Postcards from Vermont: Woodstock

I didn't take as many photos as I did the last time we were in Woodstock and I skipped shooting most of my favorite houses entirely. So here are just a few pictures from town:

This sign makes me happy: Route 12, Bethel, and White River Junction, 
all stuck together in the center of Woodstock.

I think this is a B&B with a passion for pumpkins.

One of my favorite houses. For decades it was all white, with predictable, dark green or black shutters. Then someone transformed it with this colorful makeover (pale aqua, sage, rust), and it's altogether splendid now.

The main intersection, facing Bentleys, one of my favorite restaurants.

We had a surprisingly warm, gorgeous day, for mid November.

An autumn gathering on the back porch of a shop.

Our inn was intensely Victorian, and not to everyone's taste with its
layered wallpapers and mix of genuine and repro furnishings and fixtures. 

Our room had five wallpapers and an antique bed. It was fun to spend a few nights here, but even this lover of all things Victorian felt a bit claustrophobic from all those patterns. I seem to be evolving toward a more modern style — Edwardian style, that is. Painted walls. Simple curtains. Deep cushions and upholstery.

The living room at the inn matches the rest of the decor. I'm not fond of that repro Rococo Revival furniture. It's clichéd, it always looks new and fake, and it isn't comfortable. I always feel like I'm on a stage set when I sit on that stuff. Someday, I'll tell you how I really feel about it.

Late Postcards from Vermont: Montpelier (+ Burlington)

Gee, they took two weeks to get here. We stopped for lunch in Montpelier on our way to do a quick errand in Burlington. We'd never been to Montpelier (the state capital) before, and we were taken by it's  old-fashioned charm. We spotted three independent bookstores in the center of town and we weren't even trying hard. There's a lot of beautiful 19th-century architecture, too:
One of several handsome churches (if only they'd bury the power lines...)

The library. I popped in; it's just as nice inside, and busy.

Second Empire houses across from the library. Let's move here.

One of the bookstores, and some obligatory roadwork. 

Buckwheat crêpe with local ham, cheddar, and apples. I'm still amazed we managed to land in the only two "Skinny Pancake" crêpe restaurants in Vermont without trying. We enjoyed our lunch in Montpelier, and wondered if there were branches (since we were too full for dessert). Then we parked in Burlington, feeling peckish, and found ourselves right in front of the door to the Skinny Pancake. I've been obsessed with crêpes lately and my radar is really working. These very-locavore restaurants were started by some Middlebury graduates. Let's hope they open one in Boston.

We went to only one antique shop since I'm still burned out on junk after overdosing in the summer. This jackalope ashtray made me eager to leave.

Besides crêpes, Burlington has this lake, which is also impressive.
That's New York State in the distance. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

It's Toffee's Gotcha Day

Toffee (or more formally, Toffee von Raughtenpaught) came home with us from the Animal Rescue League one year ago today. We'll open a tin of sardines and have a little party for him tomorrow, when we're back home.

Finally I can stop worrying that whoever had him in Dorchester will change his/her mind and take him back — on his adoption agreement, it says his original owner has the right to reclaim him for a full year. They told us this almost never happens with stray kittens, but I still worried.* After all, who in their right mind would give up Toffeepot?

So he's a little... destructive. So he was expensive in terms of emergency vet services for a while there. So what? If you stroke his back for two seconds, his huge, heavy tail pops straight up because you've made him happy. If you keep petting him, he'll flop around in such bliss that he'll roll right off the bookcase or table if you aren't careful. He's such a catty sort of cat. And he's gorgeous, too.

Here's a photo from the night we got him from the shelter, as he napped in my husband's lap. We thought he was a quiet little angel. The shelter staff said he was, in fact, a "little devil" but we saw no supporting evidence:

Toffee looking winsome at the shelter

We found out the truth soon enough, but by then it was too late. We were in love. Speaking of little devils, do any of you have ideas about how to decorate a Christmas tree so it's indestructible? I have hundreds of glass ornaments that will probably not see active duty this year unless I wrap our tree in barbed wire after it's decorated, as one helpful friend suggested.

This is what I'm up against:

They were small and inexperienced last year. 
This year, they are bigger, smarter, and fearless.

Oh, well. I'll figure out something. In the meantime, more baby photos:

* Our vet tried to ease my fears early on, telling me she'd disguise him with magic markers if this ever happened. I appreciated the offer but continued to worry.

Happy Thanksgiving

We are celebrating Thanksgiving in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where I grew up and where most of my family lives.

We drove here yesterday, and it took the whole day between the rainy weather, the traffic, a quick stop at Rein's  Traditional Jewish Deli in Connecticut, and a great drop-in visit to our friends Robin and Sam of Kitten Associates. We saw all 22 of their cats, including 12 adorable kittens available for adoption. Her six little orange tiger "Clementine" kittens were a riot, and will also be available for adoption soon. They are such lookalikes that I asked her if they'd been cloned in Photoshop. You can read about them here. I held Biscotti, a tuxedo kitten who was rescued after someone threw him into a hot metal dumpster last summer. His face and paws were burned, but not anymore. He's a quiet kitten, but he's the one I'd choose. You can see him here.

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." — Robert Frost

Home is also the place where, when you go there, you discover all sorts of odd tastes, beliefs, and customs that bind you to those people exclusively. In my family, for instance, we are not pie people. Everyone else in America has spent the last few days discussing pies, ordering pies, picking up pies, baking pies, and getting ice cream for the side. Today they will be eating pie, all across this country. In my family, we are cake people. We will be having these for dessert today, from Crumbs Bakery:

I got enough so there should be a few extras, but because this is my family, there won't be.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your pie.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Oh. Boy! Paul Is Coming to Boston!

Soon the Proper Bostonian and her compatriots won't have to go to Paris or London to have a warm tarte au sucre or a tartine for breakfast, a perfect sandwich mixte for lunch, and some hearty peasant bread to take home — and don't forget a tarte au chocolat for a snack. This summer, the first of seven Paul bakeries is coming to the Boston area, at One Boston Place in Downtown Crossing. Thank you, Mayor Menino, for this parting gift of 6,000 square feet of carb-lovers' paradise.

Will everything taste as good here as it does in Europe? Only extensive sampling over many weeks will tell.

A few previous, satisfactory encounters with Paul:

Oh, my! How did I forget their eclairs?

It's Cold and Sally Today

According the Weather Underground forecast, Boston will be a sally 32 degrees today.

Will it be this kind of sally day?

Or this kind?

Or this kind?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Moths 4, Humans -4

Last month, I spent several hours switching our seasonal clothing. This is more work than I'd like because we have too many clothes. But we also have moths, and they help with that.

Switching the clothes was more complicated last month because we were hit with a plumbing leak in our bedroom, right smack in the middle of the process. Our "big" closet was sealed shut for days during the repairs and the bedroom was a crowded mess for weeks. We store most of our stuff in two closets, two chests, an antique trunk, and one of the eight big Sterilite tubs that live under the bed.

My technique, twice a year, is to gather the out-of-season clothing, throw it on the bed, and then fill the vacant spaces with the current clothing I'd packed away the year before. Then the out-of-season clothing fills the newly emptied spots. Last May, I'd squirreled away our warm sweaters, coats, scarves, corduroys, and other winter things. A lot of sorting, organizing, stock-taking, trying on, refolding, de-pilling, and de-wrinkling goes on, of course. Cats turn up, here and there, under piles and in drawers. A bag of donations goes to Boomerang's.

Because we have moths, we store all of our wool sweaters, suits, and so on in good, canvas-and-plastic zippered bags, year-round. Getting dressed usually means rooting around among bags and squinting at the big, handwritten labels I stick inside, which are never clear enough. Our drawers and closets are full of bags — yet full of moths. Our moths are unbelievably stupid. They settle in cooking pots, tissue paper, clean towels, books. They are so stupid that they haven't realized that we have wool Persian rugs (but then I was stupid enough to buy rugs, knowing we had moths, so the score is even). It's not like we have a big infestation, but we do see one or two every week or so, which is enough.

So we have loads of zippered storage bags, and they usually do the job. But last month, when I pulled all the sweater bags out of our trunk, I saw a moth INSIDE one. A very fat, happy moth. And, of course, it was the bag with my all-time favorite, ratty, gray turtleneck, plus a black cashmere turtleneck. Sure enough, both sweaters were covered with cocoons, moth dirt, and holes. Disgusting. I would love to know how a moth got into a bag that is constantly zippered except for a few moments every few days. But I also don't want to think about it.

The dear departed, when it was new.

It's true that both of these sweaters had seen better days. By the end of its first winter, 2010–11, that gray sweater was a specimen that even Goodwill would have rejected, had I been willing to part with it. I'd worn it almost every single day for months. It had enjoyed a lot of long walks, condo-hunting, cat activity, napping, and soup-making that year. And we — the sweater and I — had reached an understanding where I'd put it in the washer, even though it was a merino-alpaca blend, and it would not shrink. The winters of 2011–12 and 2012–13 had also found me wearing that sweater far more than anyone who knows me would have liked. That sweater and I were one. Every so often, I'd pull off the most egregious pills, which looked like little caterpillars, and the sweater would begin generating replacements.

If Carson Kressley (or one of the makeover experts more recently on TV, whose names I don't know), had to choose two sweaters to eliminate from my wardrobe, he would have chosen the ones the moths picked. This tells us that moths are as intelligent as TV makeover experts, right? The black cashmere sweater was torn along its edges and a pilly mess, too. (J. Crew cashmere is not what it once was.)

I threw out the sweaters and the bag. Moving along, I found that my husband was also a victim. His two black merino turtlenecks had been invaded. So strange; have moths evolved to open zippers or crawl through tight canvas? More items for the trash. In the middle of the night. I got up, went out to the hallway, opened the trash bag and rescued my ratty gray sweater. Yes, it was gross and I didn't want to touch it. But we'd had a long relationship and I wasn't ready to part with it. I wrapped it in a plastic bag let it live in the recycling bin out there for a decent interval before we parted forever.

No one in America makes a long, soft, slim, fuzzy-warm charcoal gray turtleneck sweater that's affordable. Trust me, I've looked. I am a shopping maven; it it's out there, I find it. I confess that there is a J Crew "Shadow" Turtleneck just like mine on eBay right now, for $36 — which is about what I paid for mine. But it's used, and knowing how hard I used mine, I hesitate. Plus, who in their right mind would sell that sweater if it wasn't a mess? Any sensible person wouldn't part with that sweater unless it had been cursed or something. I didn't like the vibes from the eBay listing.

In a shop in Woodstock, Vermont last weekend (postcards coming), I found this:

It's Irish, made of merino with a touch of cashmere, thick, soft, warm, and fitted. A fabulous upgrade. But it cost more than five times the price of my charcoal sweater, and it was not charcoal. It's a versatile color, oatmeal, but it left me covered head to toe in oatmeal fluff when I tried it on. I went through three lint-roller sheets, courtesy of the shop, before I could leave. The solution would be to air-fluff the hell out of the sweater in the dryer, I'm sure. But it was still the wrong color, and expensive, given its likelihood of becoming moth food. The shop said it was a bestseller but they never get other colors.

Smart and devious shopper that I am, I noted the label for web-sleuthing when we got home. I found the maker online, and discovered that the sweater also comes in ecru and three shades of gray, Including charcoal. But the company doesn't have an online retail operation, they just export, mostly in Europe, to shops that also don't offer international, online sales. So I sent them an email asking how to get a sweater. 


They wrote back, telling me I should just tell them what I want, and they'll accept a credit card or PayPal. The cost, including international shipping is roughly 3.5 times what I paid for my ratty sweater. I can handle that. And yet I hesitate. It seems that my husband is still burned-out from seeing me in a charcoal turtleneck. (I really wore it a lot.) He much prefers the oatmeal. So I am carefully giving him his due consideration before I pick the color. But you know, and I know, how this is going to end.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Living with a Teenager

When Toffee arrived as a kitten about a year ago, he looked like a tiny, full-grown cat. He even acted like an adult part of the time — sleeping in our arms for hours, lounging on pillows with a jaded air — when he wasn't wrestling with Harris or trying to wreck the apartment. 

Harris arrived looking and behaving like the kitten he was, and at 16 months he seems like a big kitten — not a cat. He still has a little head and big feet. We're living with a teenager. And, like a teen, he can morph in seconds from serious to silly. I don't know how much longer he'll be like this, but we'll  enjoy it as long as it lasts.



Wednesday, November 20, 2013


"Floating Bars" Amish wool quilt, made by Menno Peachy, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, around 1940. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

These days, I'm busy writing lots of short scripts about vintage and antique quilts for an upcoming (April) exhibition at the MFA. They will introduce the quilts on the multimedia tour (an iPod Touch with headphones). The show focuses on color and quilts — how some 19th- and early 20th-century quiltmakers, often Amish and Mennonite women, seemed to have had the same ideas about color theory and aesthetics that inspired Abstract Expressionists and Op Art painters later in the 20th century. The quilts are from a superb private collection and many really do resemble 1960s abstract art. although they were made decades (or even a century) earlier. The collectors, who were both trained as artists, were among the very first to see the connection, acquiring more than 1,500 quilts.

Several quilts in the show come from my neck of the woods. I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, not far from Amish and Mennonite communities. My mother made quilts. She made me one for Christmas, when I was in high school, with blocks of floral fabric scraps from dresses she'd sewn for us. She appliquéd a contrasting print heart on each one and hand-quilted them. And it was a surprise! How did she manage to make a big quilt in our little house without my discovering it? I will never know, but that will always be my favorite quilt and one of my all-time best presents.

I remember going to houses where there was a quilt in progress, stretched on a frame in the living room, waiting for women to get together to stitch it. I went to some of the big summer quilt shows in Lancaster where an overwhelming variety and quantity of prize-worthy quilts filled a huge barn.

One summer during college, I taught a quilting class to teenagers at the historical museum where I worked. Considering that I've never had any skill at sewing, knitting, crocheting, tatting, quilting, embroidering, or needlepoint (my mom did it all so beautifully, why should I even try, I thought... stupidly), I'm amazed by this fact now. I have no idea what I taught; what I remember is that a couple of those teenage boys really enjoyed making and sewing their blocks. They were some of the most insightful, interesting, and funny kids I've ever met. There's a type of teenager who absorbs information like a sponge, is game for anything, and will then tell you all about it with such eagerness that it all sounds exciting and fresh. I suppose this is why some of us go into teaching. I know I've missed having kids with such flexible, creative minds around.

I'd thought Possum would be interested in helping me with the quilt scripts, because he'd hinted that he knew a lot about quilts. It turns out his knowledge is mostly about how soft they are, and the various ways a cat can sleep on one. Unfortunately cats don't absorb quilt knowledge osmotically, the way they learn information inside books — by lying upon them, or upon a person reading. So he's been useless to me, except as a purring, chattering distraction, occasionally requiring my attention and frequently demanding food.

I don't own any pieced or appliquéd quilts — just a few solid-color ones covered with fancy stitching from India. I find this odd, considering how much I like them. I think the abundance of cheap, appliquéd quilts from China and India, sold at all the big stores, has changed our attitude about quilts, making them seem tacky and "downscale" instead of the feats of creativity and needlework that homemade, one-of-a-kind ones often are. There's something hokey and dated about the mass-produced ones, and those are the ones we constantly see, so I believe they've tainted our ideas about quilts.

I can promise you that there is nothing remotely hokey or dated about the sixty quilts in the upcoming exhibition. All of them are interesting, and some are mind-blowing, with colors and designs that you probably never connected with quilts. Even the traditional Log Cabins are a breath of fresh air because of their strange and wonderful fabrics.

Plan to see the show, and you'll see what I mean.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cat Naps

Possum  and Harris snuggle together on a recent chilly afternoon, while Wendy keeps her distance.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Urban Wildlife: Bobby the Pig in Vermont

Bobby, Boston's best-known (and possibly only) teacup (?) pig surprised us in front of Bentley's Restaurant in Woodstock tonight. I occasionally see him making the scene on Newbury Street and recognized him instantly from down the street, in the dark. 

He attracts admiring attention everywhere he goes. Tonight he was grunting away and showing off his immaculate porcine physique to several new fans. I have the feeling he knows he is a celebrity and is politely tolerating us paparazzi. His (equally elegant) person persuaded him to turn and give me this dashing profile shot.

I am now overcome with guilt for having had local maple-cured bacon for breakfast at the inn this morning and Vermont smoked ham in my crêpe yesterday. We're about to go to dinner at the Skunk Hollow Tavern in Brownsville, and there'd better be something vegetarian on the menu. And it will be granola for breakfast tomorrow. So sorry, guy.

In Vermont

We're spending the weekend in Vermont where I'm happy to report that there are crêperies everywhere we go — or at least in Montpelier and Burlington, where indulged ourselves (local ham, cheddar and apples in Montpelier; Nutella in Burlington) yesterday. We spotted the Skinny Pancake in Montpelier as we drove through town but weren't expecting a sister café in Burlington until we parked the car, got out, and saw we were right next to the side door.

Today we are in Woodstock, in an ornate and formal Victorian Inn. Our room has five different Bradbury & Bradbury wallpapers, including three on the ceiling. It's gorgeous but it takes getting used to. Waking up, I felt like I was inside a gorgeously wrapped Christmas box. Like Acadia National Park in Maine, the town and surrounding countryside have been dusted with gold from Rockefeller family philanthropy. And that's always a great thing.

Where there are Rockefellers, there are carriage roads, so we're off for a walk.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Every day, I reach under the bed to pet Wendy on the wooden box where she likes to hide and sleep. I stroke her, rubbing my scent onto her fur, until she purrs. Every night, I hope she'll warm up to me and let me pet her when she isn't cornered under the bed. I'm not having much luck. But she did let me take a decent photo the other day.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Three Things to Remember

Besides the Aerolatte debacle I hinted at yesterday, I'd like to share a few tips we just learned the hard way. 

Possum enjoys a laugh at my expense. He is not usually rude, 
but he was annoyed that he didn't get even one bite of chicken.

1. Remember the Giblets. So, people really do forget to remove that plastic bag of giblets hidden inside the bird before it goes into the oven: I just did it myself. So much for that chicken, since the plastic was in sad shape by the time I realized what I'd done, 20 minutes into roasting. You must not eat a plastic-infused bird no matter how nice it looks. It was a relatively cheap chicken and I'd planned to use it mainly for soup, so I had taken a minimal approach to prepping it. What a rookie mistake.

2. Dress Down in the Kitchen. While my husband was disposing of my ruined chicken, he lost his grip and splattered chicken fat on his nice wool work pants. He later said that, as he was about to pick up the bird, he asked himself if something like this might happen. But he'd told himself, "No."  The correct answer to such questions is always, "Yes."

3. Wool Isn't Cotton. I took the chicken-splashed pants to the bathroom sink, where I keep a small arsenal of various Carbona stain removers handy. (I need to get their cocoa stain remover.) Accidents like this happen a lot around here. But we usually spill things when we're wearing cotton, not Brooks Brothers wool. I forgot. Deploying my little bottle, I made the pants worse. They looked like they'd played paintball by the time I rinsed them. Goodness, that chicken was turning out to be expensive after all. (Happily, the dry cleaner rescued the pants.)

4.  Don't Eat and Type. That is, don't eat toast dripping with butter and jelly as you type. Especially if you're me, typing this. I must stop typing and clean the keyboard since my fingers are sticking to the keys. If you don't hear from me soon, you'll know how I wrecked my laptop.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Early New Year's Resolution

Boston had its first snow flurries of the season today, not that they amounted to anything. They were very tentative — almost conceptual, in fact, given that they disappeared even before they hit the ground.

It's cold outside and chilly within. I'm drinking cocoa after trying and failing to get our last storm window to go down. (I will soon be driven to get busy with a box of Mor-Tite putty on our drafty old windows.)

So here's my plan: 2014 will be the year that I finally learn to turn the Aerolatte drink mixer OFF before I remove it from the cocoa.
This will be the year... because I certainly haven't mastered the technique as of today.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Last Postcards: Aix-en-Provence

On my only full day in Marseille, I ditched it for Aix-en-Provence. Guided by Google Maps, I managed the long, hilly walk to the railway station, where I heard there were buses leaving every few minutes for Aix. I found them right away, and got on one just before it closed its doors. I asked for a roundtrip ticket (in English) but the head-shaking mutterings of the bus driver implied that I was going one way only. But it was easy, even though I tend to get lost in new cities and I always feel my lack of French with extra chagrin and despair whenever we are outside Paris.

Three years of high school French left me with only a bit of vocabulary, a terrible accent, and no memory of verb forms, gender agreements, or much of anything else. It was my hardest subject, even worse than math. My French teacher was a native Italian speaker, and I wasn't convinced his accent was a good example for us, although I realize now that his accent was still a thousand times better than mine. So even my prompt, "Bonjour, Madame!" upon entering a store will earn me a "Hello, can I help you?" But at least I know that you must greet shopkeepers and also say goodbye whenever you enter a shop. Many Americans don't, and it's one reason why they consider us rude. I don't let the shopkeeper get around to it first because, if they say anything much beyond a greeting, I usually have no idea how to respond, so I'll have to either mumble, "Pardonnez-moi, madame, je ne parle pas Français." or lapse into English, depending on how rattled I am.

So if a store seems particularly intimidating, they'll get a "Bonjour, Madame, hello!" Then they know all bets are off. They also know that I know that my French sucks. At least I have few problems reading signs, menus, or Metro maps. If I speak a second language (although I feel I'm still learning English), it's "Food." I can usually find and order whatever I want in every place I've visited, including Prague and Egypt.

Without further ado, here are photos of Aix. It was a moody day; the typical, strong Provençal sunshine was absent. I didn't care. I'd bought lavender sachets at the street market in the Cours Mirabeau (main drag) that were so strong that I suspect they put me into an alternate state of consciousness. I was perfectly content with everything in Aix. (Or maybe it was that dark-chocolate tart.)

Green trees and outdoor tables in late October

The Cours Mirabeau in drizzle.

I photographed the ancient fountain in this private garden, which I couldn't actually see, 
by sticking my camera arm through an iron gate and bending my elbow. 
I'd seen photos of it and was surprised to find it so easily. 

With its beautiful stone buildings, Aix is truly a golden city.

 St. Jean de Malte, a 13th-century church

Red doors, windowboxes, golden stone. I'll take it!

A French dog. They say, "Wiff" instead of "Woof."

The Place de l'Hotel de Ville.

I can imagine how lively this place must be when the weather cooperates, as it usually does.

One of the doors of the Hotel de Ville 

Aix is full of fountains. I had a great afternoon wandering around. I hope to go back.