Friday, February 28, 2014

Recent Adorableness: Back on the Pillow

Lion claimed this pillow for his own and sleeps on it every day. We watch him there almost every night as we're watching TV (via laptop) on the sofa. Our show is Season 2 of House of Cards, and it's  often riveting, but sometimes the show on the velvet chair is even better.

Last night he washed Harris's face for awhile and then wrestled with him; my husband filmed some of it and I'll see if I can post it here. Their relationship is developing nicely, since Lion is wise enough to know that Harris likes being treated as if he's the baby. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014


It's hard to lie awake worrying at night when a purring kitten arrives to knead the pillow and curl up under your chin.

Who's rescuing whom around here?

He looks more like a panda than a lion these days (focus on regrowing your mane, guy!), so we are naming him Pandelion. We call him Lion, too — he is as fierce as one when there's a toy in his mouth. He will collect many other names, like all of our cats, of course. 

He's developing into a nice conversationalist, although I'm never sure what he's saying. When I talk to him, he considers my words, and then he looks me in the eye and responds with a tiny pink meow, sometimes a silent one. It's charming. I just asked him if he was a prince, and his answer sounded like "Yes."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Being Proper for a Change

The Proper Bostonian occasionally does proper Boston things, just to keep her hand in. Yesterday she met two old friends for a committee meeting over tea and cookies at the Chilton Club, a gracious, exclusive social club for Brahmin ladies on Commonwealth Avenue. It was founded more than a century ago and named to honor Mary Chilton, the first woman to march down the gangplank from the Mayflower. Men are legally allowed to join, but they know better.

You'll be relieved to know that I dressed like a grown-up. I was not covered in car hair, for a change. And I behaved. For example, I didn't bring any papers; papers are forbidden at the Chilton Club since they are indicative of doing business (crass!) rather than socializing. So I jotted a brief note or two on my iPhone (ringer turned off) while another friend pretended to consult her "journal."

Yes, we were technically having a "business" meeting so we should have been kicked out, or at least shushed and reprimanded, since I doubt they do any kicking at the Chilton Club. But, fortunately, we three were incapable of anything but chattering and enjoying ourselves for the first three-quarters of our time together. As usual, no one could have accused us of accomplishing anything. We squeezed some of that into our last 15 minutes or so.

Strong Earl Grey tea at the Chilton Club is served from a flowered china pot on its own little silver tray, by a nice woman in an old-fashioned uniform with a white apron. Another aproned staff member brought a bigger tray with a plate of cookies (three apiece), flowered cups and saucers, silver spoons, glass pitchers of milk and cream, a plate of lemon slices, packets of sugar, and little paper napkins — remember, Proper Bostonians may be elegant, but they can't help being practical and frugal, too. New Englanders, after all. I wouldn't have expected anything else.

We had the front parlor — apricot walls, American antiques, clusters of comfortable, flowery chairs and settees, and a broad view of the Mall — all to ourselves. That was a good thing, because my two otherwise-proper friends, including the one who is a member, tend to get rather sharp when they disagree, as they often do. I find them both smart, funny, and endearing. And then I try to change the subject. Also, certain four-letter words were said — not by me — that are not proper even in the alley behind the Chilton Club.

Aside from that, it was cozy, gracious, and pleasant all around. I wouldn't mind spending more time — especially teatime — in the luxurious, mostly bygone world of Brahmin Boston, although it is hardly my natural habitat. (But after more than 30 year of living in Back Bay, I seem to be adapting.)

We all loved the cookies. There was a plain shortbread, a nice meringue, and the most wonderful oatmeal raisin cookie I've ever had. It was crispy outside and soft inside, and I could taste butter... and coconut.

I would like to have that recipe. I would really like to have it; I need it, in fact. How can I get it? I think I may have to ask my housekeeper, Wendelina, to call the Club and speak to the kitchen. Would Wendy do that for me, do you think? She spends most of her time sulking under the bed or lolling on a chair giving me surly looks. (It's so hard to find decent help in this century, same as the last one.) But perhaps I can bribe her with a sardine.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Business as Usual

So much for Harris's recent delusions of holiness. A Little Angel doesn't throw up his second breakfast while sitting near the Denon mini stereo, with a dead aim into its little ventilation openings on top. I'll say no more... except that quite a bit of it landed on the CD inside, featuring Gregorian chant by cloistered nuns.

Way to go, Harris. Talk about blowing it.

A Budding Saint would also never push a delicious layer cake belonging to his people off the kitchen counter, turning it into Chocolate Upside-Down Cake.

We know it was him.

So it's back to business as usual around here, even sooner than I predicted. I now predict a return to a life of thievery, attention-seeking, and acting spoiled. But he'll be photogenic, no matter what he's up to:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Five Things I Liked About February

I guess it hasn't been so bad. And it's not over yet:

1. Twilight scenes like this from our windows. February might as well look like February:

2. Lounging in snowy weather in these Thermal Lodge Leggings from the sale rack at Anthropologie. With that crazy-fuzzy cardigan for more warmth.

3. This charming book by foodie Elizabeth Bard about how she made a new life in Paris after falling in love with a Frenchman. She begins (... and she was not that kind of girl...):
"I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date. I say halfway, because we had finished lunch but not yet ordered coffee." 

4.  The Lindt Crème Brûlée chocolate bar, with caramelized sugar bits in the filling:

5. Olympic skating. I finally regret not having cable, because we missed Johnny Weir and Tara Lapinski's commentary during the day, and only saw their interviews at night. I did a lot of out-screeching Scott Hamilton during jumps over the terrible costumes — especially those with clear-plastic "bra" straps across an open back, and the relentless use of "fleshtone" stretch fabric, the "fleshtone" boot covers that turn skates into Frankenstein feet, and "fleshtone" tights that were several shades darker than the rest of the skater.

Are those jellybeans on her torso? Photo: AP

Ashley Wagner should have won the Tonya Harding Brass Medal for trashiest showgirl costumes. And I will be even more unpatriotic and give Meryl Davis the Aluminum Foil Medal for her Chiclet-purple Scheherazade monstrosity. This gorgeous skater deserves a better costume designer. For a good recap of the Women's Gold Medal Controversy, go here. If you'd rather just diss some costumes, go here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Recent Adorableness

It's all about the velvet armchair and its pillow:

Harris has a protégé? 

Harris has been acting strange lately. I think he's trying to become our Household Saint or Angel Pussycat, or similar. He has a pious expression a lot of the time. He is patient and forbearing with Lion, and feeling contrite about stealing all the little dude's stuff. Since Harris doesn't talk to us, he asked Possum to tell us that, although we can't see them, there are tiny angel wings hidden under Harris's fur, and he has a wee halo that humans can't see. Whatever. Saints are a pain to have around the house if you ask me, so he'd better get over this phase quickly. And he will: Harris is very bright and always on to the Next Thing.

Studying greatness.

Unfortunately, His Greatness looks more like one of those floppy beanbag toys in this shot than his usual magnificent self. For Possum these days, life consists of moving occasionally from one sleeping spot to another, with breaks for meals. He is on spring break until spring breaks, he says. No reading, no deep thoughts — only hibernation. He is careful to visit me for a few minutes of petting and conversation each day, unless he falls asleep and misses our appointment.

Showing off.

Ooh, another character. Just what we needed around here. The dangling foot is a nice touch, isn't it? I predict we'll see Harris trying that pose next.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Doubtful Guest... or Whatever

Guess who's looking a lot like a permanent resident? My husband hasn't made Lion's adoption official yet but I've stopped worrying about his uncharacteristic inability to commit. He's been dragging this out for too long, and enjoying it a little too much, and I'm tired of it. He says he "loves" the little Lion, and that's all I need to know.

He knew it all along.

He has the wisest golden-brown eyes....

The Lion (who needs a better name) was even spotted wrestling with Harris — yes, Harris, our jealous, thieving, last little holdout. Harris was being a patient big brother, playing the fake-biting game  that Possum played with him when he was a baby, where the big cat opens his mouth very wide to show off his scary fangs and pretends to use them on the little cat.

I realize that I am officially a Crazy Cat Person now. I surrender: Five certainly sounds crazy to me. Much crazier than four, for some reason. But that's how it is.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Where Real Estate Meets Genealogy... and Personal History

I hit too many roadblocks as I researched our family tree on and gave up. But it's all right; we've already got my mother's side mapped out, with a big boxful of records at my dad's house. Decades ago, my mom worked with genealogists in the U.K. to trace her family backward from Pennsylvania through Australia (a convict, naturally; he'd stolen his neighbor's bullock) and then to Ireland and Cornwall. She learned we are descended from this fellow, the last man in Britain to be publicly beheaded. I'm not sure she kept going beyond him, since Lord Lovat's appalling life story and unique distinction were just about the most disheartening discoveries she could imagine finding.

My short-lived obsession with family genealogy may be over, but I just discovered a website that is sure to keep me similarly entertained for a long time, since it feeds my ongoing obsession with Back Bay properties. It's called Back Bay Houses. You choose a street and a number, and then you'll find a page detailing the history of that house and its occupants, along with exterior photos.

While Back Bay has many more residents now, with multiple condo or rental units in buildings that were built for one family and their servants, I now understand that these houses were changing hands frequently even a century or more ago. I'm finding that Back Bay has always been a rather "transient" neighborhood, and it wouldn't surprise me if a lot renovating and updating went on even back then. So perhaps reinventing these wonderful old buildings is a long-standing tradition, much as it upsets me these days.

If you're patient, you'll find some interesting tidbits in the buildings' stories. For example, I discovered that the first building I lived in once housed the offices of Daughters of the American Revolution while another former residence of mine had held the offices of the Junior League. So, without even trying, I managed to "crash" two hallowed WASP institutions that would never have welcomed me. And here's another riddle solved: now I know why this place had long rows of grow-lights and seedlings sprouting all over its basement back in the '80s and '90s. Reading that story, I remembered running out of my apartment in boots and a nightgown, late at night on February 16, 1994, to watch the firemen battle the flames in the adjoining building as I stood freezing on the snowy Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

And Now for a Little RE Porn...

We've been in the market for a new place to live for four years. I've been intensely checking out properties from Amesbury to Quincy, with my sharpest focus on downtown Boston. So take it from one who knows: Boston's real-estate scene is more depressing than ever. There's very little inventory in the better neighborhoods, and it's selling for record prices. After any half-decent property has been on the market for a day or two, multiple buyers will submit bids above the asking price, waiving contingencies designed to protect them (a satisfactory inspection, securing a mortgage, etc.). A third of all sales are all-cash deals, often by foreign investors who turn the units into luxury rentals.

Lately I've been seeing properties that sold for top prices in our range two to four years ago that are back on the market — sometimes with the same photos as last time. But now they are priced a few hundred thousand dollars higher. It's demoralizing. And keep in mind that even parking spaces in Boston sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even parking spaces in a rat-infested Back Bay alley.

And, sadly, most of these condos are boring. They don't have any authentic "Boston" charm; they could be in apartment buildings in Taunton... or New Jersey. If you love period detail and finishes, as we do, Boston real estate is a perpetual disappointment — except in the multimillion-dollar range, where a lot of beauty has been preserved or restored. In our range, not so much. Condos often get "spiffed" up before they go on the market, so any surviving original mantels, plaster moldings, and top-nailed or parquet floors go into the dumpster. "Updated" mantels, sheetrock, and cheap flooring and hardware go in — often along with an extra bathroom or two. We've seen so many small apartments with two or more bathrooms, which are now desperately in need of a closet and a less-crazy layout. In many places, almost everything looks like it came from the bargain sections of Home Depot.

Occasionally a condo appears that needs renovation. There's a fifth-floor walk-up on the first block of Commonwealth Avenue. It's on the market for $998,000 ($738/square foot). After you walk up all those stairs, you'll find this cheerful kitchen:
And here's the master bedroom, complete with vestigial fireplace:
Photos:, via Gibson Sotheby's International Realty.

This is why I take unholy pleasure in surfing the historic real estate in Newport, Rhode Island. I can't do it often or I'd go bananas. Once or twice a year is all I can handle; it's that amazing and disorienting. Newport is packed with gorgeously preserved 18th-century houses and ginormous 19th-century Beaux-Arts mansions — often with ocean views and access. You can fantasize about a whole house, or be "practical" and look at estates that were converted to condominiums (often quite tastefully, unlike what happens around here). They put anything in Boston at a comparable price to laughing-out-loud shame.

Then, of course, there are inevitably a few killer, museum-quality, DREAM properties selling for the price of some sheet-rocked three-bedroom duplex in my neighborhood. Click to view the details of this architectural jewel and you'll see what I mean:

It's by Stanford White, for heaven's sake! It's unbelievably preserved. Must buy lottery tickets ASAP.
The price is $2.5 million but that gets you more than 6,300 square feet of historic beauty.
Plus the grounds are 3/4 of an acre, with 100 feet of ocean frontage. (All photos: Gustave White Sotheby's International Realty.)

We love original woodwork more than anything. In Boston, someone would likely have 
"updated" this woodwork by now with white paint.

Gasp, gasp. Did I mention that this house is selling for a mere $394/square foot?

Phew, get me out of here! I'm feeling dizzy. Fancy built-ins have that effect on me.

Snow Critter

Yesterday, I visited with this vertically challenged snow creature on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. I think his eyes and nose are green mandarins:

Friday, February 14, 2014

View from the Bay Windows

We had a snowy day yesterday like most of the East Coast. Here's what it looked like from our windows as we stayed in and I baked cookies:

In other news, I've just discovered I found a photo of my great-grandfather, and now I'm hooked, so see you later.... It's the perfect pastime as we watch the Olympics.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Doubtful Guest Lingers

The Doubtful Guest's "guest" status is becoming increasingly "doubtful" with each day as he delicately insinuates himself into our household.

The shaved fur on his back and tail (because of burrs) is growing in gray and white, not black, so he looks a bit odd. He also has a tiny scratch on his nose, which is healing slowly. But he's still a knockout, we think. He sleeps tucked under my chin at night.

He also likes broccoli:

Monday, February 10, 2014


For the record, I do leave the apartment sometimes. I'm still on hiatus from my 10,000-steps-daily pedometer habit, because my knees hurt (and one heel) and I think they want a decent rest. But I don't spend my days lying around in fuzzy sweaters and pajamas, trying to figure out how many cats we have. Well, actually, I do. But only in the mornings and evenings.

In the afternoon, I go out. I walk. For one thing, I go to That Darned Patisserie on Newbury Street to buy fantastic, four-dollar baguettes almost every day. Their sign just says "Patisserie" but, the shop shall be known here as TDP henceforth. They exert an ungodly hold on you after you try their bread, cookies, and pastries. They also have a little table set up with irresistible samples of cheese, crackers, jam, bread, and an addictive white truffle oil. Do yourself a favor and stay out of there. I'm not just saying that because I often get their last baguette, and I want to keep it that way. But that's mostly why I'm saying it. That lone baguette is mine.

Don't ask me why I go anywhere but TDP when my favorite landscapes have been transformed into grim Siberian tundra:

 The Public Garden Lagoon, facing Beacon Street. Bleah.

The Public Garden Lagoon, facing Boylston Street. Bleah.

 Attention, yarn bombers and guerrilla knitters: the kid in the fountain needs a cardigan.

Normally, I'd wax poetic about the subtle colors of winter: the golden willows, the varied shades of brown and gray in the trees, the yellow snow, the gray snow, the black snow, yadda yadda yadda. My heart's not in it this February.

I will say, though, that neighbors who take the trouble to fill their window boxes and urns in winter deserve our special gratitude because they give us what little color and beauty we have. I love the icicles on this windowbox. And check out the feathers:

Today I walked to the MFA and the Athenaeum and TDP (and got the last baguette), and logged more than 13,000 steps. I froze, I slipped on ice patches, and I didn't see much besides that window box to feel cheery about. I also worried about the people on Beacon Street who still have a live tree in their window. Should we call for a well-being check?

And now I'm going to put on my fuzzy sweater and try to figure out how many cats we have.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Recent Adorableness and Continuing Doubts

Decision Day approaches. We are supposed to meet our friend Robin in Sturbridge tomorrow with the Lion, for a "trial separation. She will take him to stay with the many kittens at her shelter while we discover how we feel about Life Without Lion. 

I'm not sure if this is a good idea at all. But, in case you couldn't tell, I have trouble making decisions and knowing my own mind. As I get older, I'm getting worse. This morning, during yet another Lion discussion, I pointed out to my husband that I can't even choose between two kinds of oatmeal at the store. And I don't eat oatmeal; I just bake cookies with it. And I know that both kinds work fine. So asking me about a fifth cat is like asking me what I'll be having for lunch on June 23, 2019. No clue. 

People sometimes advise to "follow my heart." But I am an anatomical anomaly: I have several hearts, which is better than having none at all. But mine are all giving different directions at once. While some speak in codes and languages I don't understand, others speak English, shouting contradictory opinions together.

I have to give the Lion credit for doing everything in his power for worm his way into this apartment. For example, he somehow borrowed a longhaired coat for his original photos up in Maine, which stole my heart. This is what looked like then: 

Who IS this guy? This is not our Lion. Nice job, fella, teaching us not to judge a kitten by his coat.

We spotted Possum and Lion — a shorthaired kitten nowadays — together the other day:

Lion has also managed to fit in seamlessly in our household. Everyone tolerates him, and Toffee considers him a sidekick, or wildlife-observation project, or something.

Later that night, we found all four permanent members of the household curled up together on the bed. Harris had turned on his fog lights, while Toffee was using his low beams. Lion likes to curl up on us, and we love that.

Decisions, decisions. I don't like being kept in suspense, and I don't mean to do that to you, but that's where we are. Still.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sneezing and Snow

Damn. I woke up having an allergy attack and I've been sneezing, sniffling, and itching all day. I often forget that I'm allergic to cats... and to certain trees and ragweed, too. I figured I couldn't get rid of the trees and ragweed pollen in Boston, so there was no point in getting rid of my cats, either. Especially since trees and ragweed pollen are much harder on me. So I went to a series of nice allergy nurses (Mabel, Sheila, Deb...) and got shots for 15 years, and still tested positive for all three allergens despite all those hundreds of injections. But I almost never get symptoms from cats. I can spend hours in a shelter, or have a cat sleep on my head, and feel perfectly fine.

The last time this was a problem was when we were down to two cats, after Snicky and Snalbert died. I've been told I'm desensitized to cats from being around so many all the time. So I clearly needed to increase the density of the dander in the apartment for for my health. So we got Harris and Toffee and I stopped sneezing.

Is it possible that Lion is tipping the balance in the other direction? I have no idea. And I'd prefer not to think about it while I'm so busy blowing my nose.

I'd been holding off on vacuuming because I knew it would freak out the Lion, and, boy, it did. But it was Long Overdue when I finally got down to it today. I turned up a couple dozen toys that had disappeared under furniture, so Lion can have fun times with his favorite red mouse again. If he ever reappears from wherever he is.

I hope vacuuming, dusting down the walls, and lint-brushing the curtains and upholstery will do the trick, along with an Allegra pill. And, oh, yes... steroid nasal spray. I always forget about that stuff until I'm really miserable. Time for that, too.

We still do not know what to do about Lion but he's slowly making friends with the locals. Common sense says we shouldn't keep him. You should see the look on the real-estate agents' faces when we tell them we have four. Common sense isn't everything, as my enabling friends and family tell me.

In other news, it snowed all day yesterday:

I have not left the house since Tuesday. The other day, I pulled a muscle in my back while making the bed — a dangerous activity that should be approached with caution — and I don't relish the idea of walking on slippery sidewalks when a muscle I never knew I had is already complaining about almost everything I do. It doesn't mind if I lie on the sofa and read, thank goodness.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Harris, Possum & the Doubtful Guest

Such an expressive face. Harris finds there's trouble in his perfect little world....

Just when I thought the Lion didn't have anything left for Harris to steal, I found that the little fleece mat I'd given him to sleep on had been dragged from the office to the bedroom while we slept. Harris continues to make it clear that he wants to be the Baby of the family. I wonder if he'll find a way to push the armchair in that room into the bedroom next.

We are doing our best to give Harris all the reassurance, attention, and love that cats like him crave and deserve. But his criminal activities suggest that we have spoiled him, so having another Baby in the house might turn out to be good for his character development.

We need to make our decision about the Lion soon. Robin at Kitten Associates is suggesting that she come up to get him this Sunday or Monday. My husband and I have discussed a long list of reasons why this is a good idea. But I'm still not sure we can part with him. Lion spent much of last night sleeping on me or cuddling under my chin. (He spent the previous night biting my husband's toes through the Siberian-weight comforter; I had to tell him the next morning that this was not a way to win my husband's heart. He is a quick learner.)

The Lion likes to play with Toffee. They chase each other and gallop around the apartment. I caught Lion lying on top of Toffee last night, with his paws wrapped around his neck, biting him in hopes of dominating him, as cats do. If Toffee could have rolled his eyes at me, he would have. But he allowed Lion to have his way. Toffee is a good sport.

I had a talk with Possum about Lion today. He didn't have much to say and I did not mention this conversation we'd had on the subject in December:

I pointed out to him that he has a wonderful life. He has good food, friends, shelter, adoring people, lots of toys, and windows, and cozy sleeping spots. I reminded him that there are many cats and kittens in far worse situations, living as strays outside, being abused or neglected, or waiting on death row in "shelters" that don't deserve that name. 
"That's true, and very important to remember," he replied. "And since I'm 'only' a cat, there's nothing I can do to help them. But what's your excuse? We have plenty here to share. We're loaded, as you just said. We'd love to save a life and make a new friend. Go and bring home somebody that really needs us, and we boys will take care of all the rest. Including Wendy. Please." 
"But, Possum," I said (although I was very moved), "Everyone tells me that four cats is our limit in this little apartment. They warn me that you'll all start behaving badly... fighting, and not using the litter box, and so on. Everybody says five is one too many, and that Wendy will become more nervous than ever."  
Possum did not reply. He just gave me a disgusted look and stalked off, as if I had insulted his honor and his family. And I suppose I had. 
Whom to believe? My vet, my instincts, and all of my cat-expert friends — or the cat who talks to me?

While I didn't repeat any of this, I think Possum must have remembered, because he finally gave the Lion a couple of tiny, indifferent licks on his ear as I sat with them. I wonder if he is not warming up to Lion as I'd hoped because he's so cute and adoptable. Maybe Possum wanted us to bring home a harder case: special-needs cat, a sick cat, or a senior who would have a tough time getting adopted. Food for thought. But some rescuers point out that every cat who gets a home creates an opening at a shelter or foster home for another cat to be saved. And every cat deserves a good home, including ones that look like crazy little pandas.

It will be interesting to see what Possum says about that. And my husband, too.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Local Rodent Facsimile Refuses to See Shadow

It was a disappointing morning for this transplanted Pennsylvanian when her carefully handpicked Groundhog Substitute refused to even think about looking for his shadow — even as "The Pennsylvania Polka" played on in the background.

No, all Possum did was give out dirty looks (he never likes to polka with me) and catch up on some grooming:

As I begged him to look for his shadow, his accomplices Harris and Toffee arrived as if on cue, effectively blocking Possum's potential shadow and soliciting baths for themselves:

So I don't know if we'll have an early spring or not. I guess we should have cast the Little Lion as the groundhog after all. That little guy's been awfully accommodating lately, since he knows he's still only got Foster Kitten status and has only about another week to totally win our hearts.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Things to Love about February

Beats me. Got any ideas?

It's all down hill after Groundhog Day, if you ask me.

The Little Lion doesn't know what February is. Lucky fellow.

Forget Valentine's Day. It never did much for me, although we did get engaged over burgers in a bar 17 years ago. My husband figured he had the best chance of surprising me that night, since neither of us liked the holiday, and we were just having burgers in a bar. He surprised me so much that I didn't give him an answer. He had to ask me again the next day.

Anyway, Valentine's Day is not a reason to like February.

Neither is Presidents' Day. Boring! Now, if part of the national celebration involved everyone ordering large layer cakes with "Happy Birthday, George & Abe & Etc." in red and blue icing, I would certainly revise my opinion of this poor excuse for White Sales. In fact, that's not a bad idea at all.

You can only get so much enjoyment from spotting Christmas trees in houses by February. The merriment is overshadowed by worrying about whether anyone's still breathing in there.

The Winter Olympics are a welcome way to waste time in February. We went to the National Figure Skating Championships, which were held in Boston a couple of weeks ago, and saw the free programs in the Pairs and the Ice Dancing competitions. It was great fun, but competitions can be confusing when Dick Button or Scott Hamilton isn't providing the play-by-play. I've seen a lot of skating in my life, but I still can't tell a Lutz from a toe loop, a flip, or a Salchow. (Axels are easier.)

But I do know a few things after absorbing scores of Button/Hamilton discourses since the 1968 Olympics. So I was surprised to see couples whom I considered weak from a technical or creative standpoint, who fell or landed jumps poorly, or who were clearly lacking in energy, or were behind their music, or who skated to themes from Les Miserables (there were about five of those) get better scores than others who looked much stronger to me. But that doesn't mean I won't root for our winners at Sochi. I'll watch all the other sports, too, except hockey. Olympic snow and ice is always a vast improvement over the stuff on local sidewalks and roads. Olympic snow is the way all snow should be: there's lots of it, it stays sparkly and pure, and there is absolutely no way you'll have to shovel it.

February. It's the shortest month but it feels like it drags on until May. I don't hate winter the way many people do. I prefer bundling up in sweaters and a coat to sweating and burning in summer. I'm fine as long as it's not so ridiculously Arctic that my face freezes. But February is just... boorrrrinnnggg.

And March is worse!