Monday, March 31, 2014

Tax Day

We spent the afternoon doing our federal and Massachusetts tax returns online. We are battered and bruised but expect to recover... in time to file the Pennsylvania return, the one I fill out by hand, which might just do me in. This year, Pennsylvania never sent me any forms, which I interpret to mean that I can make one up as I go along, one a lined notepad with a crayon.

Or maybe they no longer expect me to file a return. Yes, I'm sure that's the case.

TurboTax always makes us feel like complete idiots, and this year we felt stupider than ever, going around in endless loops because we couldn't understand the questions and were equally stumped by the answers. We also managed to misplace three essential tax records we don't remember receiving in the mail.

Every year, our reward for making it through hell had been a nice, fat refund from the IRS and a payment for about $50 to the state. Not this year: we had to make unpleasantly fat payments to both. We refinanced our mortgage last year, so we're not deducting nearly as much interest, so that's part of the reason. I also sold some investments so we'd have an imaginary down payment on an imaginary condo or house, so we had capital gains to pay. And we may have jumped into a higher tax bracket.

I can't complain about any of that. We're doing fine and we are happy to pay what we owe. Taxes are indeed, "the price we pay for civilized society," as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote. By the way, he and his family once lived next door to 298 Beacon Street, which burned so fiercely last week. (Their beautiful brick townhouse was replaced by the current monstrosity in 1951.)

I'd feel even happier paying my taxes if my civilized society would fix some of the sinkhole-sized potholes around here.

And that's all I have to say about that. We are wiped out.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Recent Adorableness

Lion loves to play, and he will occasionally pause to pose for me. He may not have Harris's or Possum's professional modeling expertise but he's still photogenic:

Lion is an elegant kitten but he still has crazy-cat moments. He most entertaining when he's attacking nothing — leaping wildly in all directions in a tizzy with his ears back and silky little tail fluffed out. He's also pretty bendy:

I don't have enough good photos of him although I keep trying. I'll never be able to photograph him when he's lying in my arms purring and kneading away, sometimes reaching up to lick my nose. He's at his sweetest then, and it's probably the best thing ever.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Possum Poses

Possum wanted to prove he's still capable of looking dignified and is not always napping belly-up, as he appears in so many of my photos:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Empty Shell

It's a very sad scene. There's probably nothing to salvage inside, they don't yet know if it's structurally sound, and there's a deep pool of water in the basement.

The building is similar in size and style to ours, and so it's not hard to imagine something like this happening much closer to home. People have been asking me if we keep our carriers ready for the cats in case of emergency, and I realize we need to get a fifth one for Lion. Pronto.

We had a little fire in our building one winter morning, years ago, when I was home alone, eating toast in my bathrobe. A vacuum cleaner belonging to the team who cleaned our building's common areas started to burn, and the carpet began to smolder. Instead of alerting anyone who was inside and calling 911, they just pitched the vacuum cleaner outside and left, leaving the burning carpet. I smelled smoke and then saw it wafting into our bedroom.  I called 911, threw on clothes, and started to evacuate. In those days, we stored our cat carriers up in our crawlspace, so I needed to get the ladder and climb... and I soon realized what a bad plan that was. Even so, adrenalin works wonders. I had stuffed three of  our four cats into carriers and gotten them outside, past the smoke, by the time the firemen came. It all took just a few minutes. (I couldn't rescue Snicky, our tortoiseshell Persian. She was only about 7 lbs. but was much too wild for one person to handle. Wendy is like her; we know she will be the last cat we'll catch and zip into a carrier in an emergency.)

That was a tiny little fire. The firemen came roaring in from three blocks away on Boylston Street — the same guys who fought yesterday's fire, the same guys who raced into the smoke and chaos of the bombings three blocks away last April 15, the same guys we say hello to whenever they're out in front of the firehouse. They put out our baby fire with extinguishers; they didn't need hatchets or hoses. They cut the power (and the heat) to the building, opened every door and window in the place to clear the smoke (I had keys or hatchets would have been used). Eventually let me back inside with the cats.

That turned into a long, cold, but extremely lucky day. I spent it guarding the front doors, which were wide open, ushering in more firemen, police, and electrical inspectors, and keeping our cats from escaping into the hall or the great beyond. That night, I found my plate of cold toast. And realized I was still wearing boots without socks and clothes without underwear.

We fired the cleaning company and hired a responsible one. We bought fire extinguishers for our apartment and for the hallway. We moved the cat carriers to a closet where we can grab them if we need them in a hurry. And we keep our fingers crossed that nothing worse ever happens because rounding up five cats (or four, or three, or even two) when you're already in a panic is a god-awful situation.

Having been through that tiny taste of fire, I hate to imagine what the people in 298 Beacon Street have been going through. I can imagine it, but I can't bear it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fire in My Neighborhood

About three blocks away from us, a four-story brick townhouse on Beacon Street went up in flames this afternoon. The fire went to ten alarms as winds up to 45 miles per hour whipped the flames. Two firemen from our local firehouse were killed; they'd been searching for people inside the building. At least 13 other firefighters were hospitalized. This is devastating news in a city that's already had a terrible year. The Boston Police Department declared the site a "crime scene," which suggests arson as a possibility. A sickening, infuriating possibility.

We hear plenty of sirens in this neighborhood but I heard more than usual this afternoon, and then I saw the billowing, dark clouds from our bay windows. I checked the news and went out. I was reminded of April 15, 2014 again — the streets were free of cars and strangely quiet, except for the sirens, and the sidewalks were filled with neighbors and newspeople, much like last April. The smoke was heavy across the neighborhood and it was hard to breathe a block away from the fire.

I always get my local news from Universal Hub, and you can read the story and see photos here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Signs of Spring

Here's a true-or-false test to see if you're alert to signs of spring:

1. Snowdrops on Commonwealth Avenue are a sure sign that winter is over.

2. Snowdrops are a sure sign that more snow is coming.

3. When squirrels want to hang out with you, it means even animals are sick of winter, so it's over.

4. When squirrels want to hang out with you, it means they're squirrels.

5. When the Proper Bostonian orders 11 pairs of sandals and walking shoes from Zappos and Shoebuy, it can only mean that boot season is ending and spring is imminent.

6. When the PB returns 11 pairs of sandals and walking shoes to Zappos and Shoebuy, sighs, and dusts off her trusty Reef flip flops once again, it's a definite sign of spring.

7. When your "longhaired" kitten turns shorthaired, it means he is acting as a sort of seasonal "catometer" by shedding his long fur coat for more casual, warm-weather attire:

Courtesy of Connie of Tails from the Foster Kittens

8. When your "longhaired" kitten turns shorthaired, it just means you've got the Toffee Mystery all over again, Mother Nature's way to punish you for adopting only "longhaired" cats.

9. When you develop an intense craving for chocolate Easter eggs, it's a sign of spring — or Easter, which is essentially the same thing.

10. When you develop an intense craving for chocolate Easter eggs, it means you're alive.

Answer key: All of these statements are true some of the time, but probably not all of the time. So all of these statements are probably false at least part of the time. So give yourself 10 points for either answer. If you answered any or all of these questions with, "Well, it depends...." give yourself 100 points for each of those. And consider starting your own blog: you understand that life is complicated, and that truth is relative, so you are probably an interesting person. At least some of the time.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fleeced Again

We heard a strange sound last night, and caught Harris in the act of stealing Lion's fleece blanket. Again. He was growling as he struggled to drag it from the office to the bedroom rug, where he likes to leave his stolen goods. Getting it across the living room took some doing. Here he is, taking a break:

Lion seems to accept Harris's need to take all of his stuff and doesn't mind a bit.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Current Craving: Avocado

Those of you who've been reading this blog for a long time know that I graduated with honors from the ICBB School of Cooking.*

The rest of you have probably figured out that I am exceedingly lazy.

The thing is, I just haven't been in the mood to cook for the past few years. I'm hoping that, when we move, this will change. We have been house-hunting and simply aching to move for so long that I no longer remember feeling at home in my home. Or in my kitchen. I just want out. I subsist, doing as little as it takes to produce a minimal degree of order and comfort because my heart isn't in it. (My motto since college has been "You Don't Have to Live Like a Refugee." However, sometimes, it seems I do.)

But we still need to eat, so I continue to throw a few things together in the vicinity of meal times. And occasionally I try something new. I've been craving guacamole lately, but guacamole is impossible, of course. I make mine simply, following my training at the ICBB School, but it still requires lovely, ripe local tomatoes.

So when I saw a friend's Facebook post of an avocado-chicken salad recipe, I perked up. It called for blending the following in a food processor:  a large avocado,** 1/2 cup of basil leaves, 2 tbsp of olive oil, a tsp of salt, and an insane amount 1/8 tsp of pepper (you can also add a 1/2 tsp garlic if you have no friends). Then you mix it with a half-pound of shredded chicken breast and call it done.

Now, one of the first things we learned at the ICBB School of Cooking is that recipes (like Egyptian traffic signs) are merely suggestions. Only cowards and those lacking in creativity or intelligence adhere slavishly to recipes (and Egyptian stop signs). The rest of us walk on the wild side.

So I made my own version. I mixed my ripe avocado with a drizzle of olive oil, a huge pinch of dried basil,*** a sprinkling of pepper and 3/4 tsp of salt. Without all that fresh basil, you will get a silky mixture, like this:

Then you can spoon it into a cobalt-blue bowl and admire the effect:

Since there's no basil to add bulk, it's a good idea to add something besides the chicken at this point, or you will have a very salty salad. I would have liked to add celery, but celery and I have a troubled relationship. I buy it and forget to use it, so it sits in my fridge turning brown and mushy. Dealing with that is enough to turn me off celery for a few months until I recover. 

So I added lots of finely shredded carrots instead. (And, no, I didn't shred them myself. You know me better than that; I bought a bag. )

And, because of my training, I used a package of roasted chicken breast slices from Trader Joe's, which is always delicious and ready the minute you want it. A half-pound will give you a decadent avocado experience, but you can add much more chicken and still have plenty of avocado to go around. 

But don't listen to me; by all means do it your way. 

We eat ours with toast, or by itself, but it would make a nice wrap. The leftovers are supposed to keep from turning brown for a couple of days if covered closely with plastic wrap but we've never made it that far. 

I'll bet some of you are surprised/thrilled that I have written so many words without mentioning cats even once. So, with apologies — cats love Trader Joe's chicken breast, and they think they love this salad. But avocado is toxic to cats, so you should never leave any sitting around unsupervised. You don't want this.

* The I Can't Be Bothered School of Cooking. 

** Note: I am not so lazy that I didn't remove the skin or the pit. 

*** I love basil but my husband refers to all fresh herbs as "weeds." As in, "Ugh, there are weeds under the skin of the roast chicken!" And: "Why is there a weed in my iced tea?" After a while, one gives up.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Recent Adorableness

This was going to be my day to write about my favorite theories of semiotic analysis and deconstruction in French literature, but Lion has been too cute lately, so I had to post these instead:

I love the eyeliner all around both eyes, reminiscent of Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow.

For once, Lion climbed down off his cushion to curl up with Possum.

What will we do when he outgrows that cushion? Must start looking for a bigger cushion now.

Here's Harris, clearly enjoying the luxurious comforts of the basket.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

More Stuff in a Basket

The basket saw a lot of action today. Toffee demonstrated how to stuff too much Cat into it:

I finally managed to get some photos of Lion in action:  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Basket of the Wrong Thing

As I said the other day, it's a good idea to take photos of your kitten posing in cute little containers while the kitten is still cute and little, too.

So I presented this kitten-sized basket. Lion politely feigned interest before Harris stormed in and claimed it for his own.

Harris's tail is bigger than that basket:

But doesn't he look comfortable?

Later on, there was this:

All he needs is some Easter grass, a few jelly beans, a marshmallow chick or two, and a lot of that pastel cellophane, neatly gathered up with a bow.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Pick Your Perp

The crime scene, in my husband's office:

A wayward pile of paper gone wrong, you say? Not a chance. There are paw prints all over this mess. My husband claims that paper path, previously perched precariously upon the paisley print, had once been "organized" into some semblance of "order."

Choose your suspect from this lineup:

Possum, alias "Bug-Eyes Maquoddy." Don't let that wide-eyed, "Holy Card" expression fool you.

Toffee "But I'm the DETECTIVE!" von Rottenpot. Note the suspiciously "innocent" gaze.

Wendelina "The Tail" Pantherina. She's usually invisible, and she never leaves a mark. 

Lionardo "But I'm Only a BABY!" Pandelion. 
He may be a baby but he's definitely got the brains, and probably the muscle.

Harris "Boss Tweed" McBeastie. Hmm....

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Possum Is FAT.... Again

We've been eyeing his belly with suspicion for some time, so I hauled Possum into my arms and weighed him today. Sure enough, he's 15.2 pounds — having gained more than a pound since he was at the vet in September. Then he was a lean (well, still flabby, to be honest) 13.9 pounds, and was verging on too thin. At least he's not close to his all-time high of 17.5 pounds, but an extra pound is a lot on a cat, "big-boned" though he may be.

Possum has a bad metabolism, probably from being neutered as a tiny baby, and he doesn't get much exercise beyond agitating for his meals — swatting me, meowing, and stretching to put his paws on the counter to speed me along. Aside from that, he's a slug. Someone might chase him for a few seconds. He wrestled with Toffee last night, but it was brief. He only plays with toys if we dangle one right over him, so he can bat at it lying down, rolling a bit from side to side.

Meanwhile, Harris feels too thin and so does Lion (but he gets extra food, since he's a baby). Toffee and Wendy seem about right. As our vet used to note in the old days, when we took all four of our previous crop of cats together for check-ups, their "biomass remains constant." One cat might get heavier while another got thinner, but the total weights of all four always added up to something like 46 pounds of cat.

So we need to put weight on Harris while removing it from Possum. We know Possum can lose weight with proper feeding, and that it's up to us, not him, to get it right.

All the food we buy is high-protein, with no grains or starches, so the problem is quantity, not quality. I'm going to talk to our vet first, but I imagine that, from now on, we'll be putting a little more food in Harris's bowl and correspondingly less in Possum's — and keep the little porker from sampling other cats' bowls when he's done with his. This will take vigilance and herding, because bowl-switching is a popular game. Possum also likes to "wash" all the dishes, after everyone leaves. No more of that.

Poor Possum. He loves his food, but we need to keep him healthy and good-looking. Who knows when Hollywood might come calling?

Dinner for five.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring Break...

Possum is permanently in hibernation mode, or as he prefers to phrase it, "on spring break." He says he wants to be an inspiration to those who never take time to stop and eat the roses. When the end comes, says Possum, he is not going to have any regrets that he didn't nap more.

Scene on the Leather Chair

The other night, I spotted Lion and Harris sharing this chair.
Is it me, or does Harris seem a bit peevish about it?

Harris does seem a bit crabby. He has such an expressive face.
Lion looks shocked at Harris's display of temper.

Then the situation began to deteriorate.

They are not embracing affectionately.

Harris often chooses to act like a martyr, to score points with us. 
Wendy looks on, hoping one brother will murder the other,
thus reducing our cat population. (She doesn't like cats.)

Harris can only be saintly for a few seconds before he's had enough.

Harris has prevailed, keeping Lion at leg's length.
Look at his long-suffering exhaustion.
He's also making sure we notice his tail — about six times bigger than Lion's.

Do NOT touch my tail, dude.