Sunday, August 31, 2014

Recent Adorableness: A Happy Nap

Harris and Possum curled up together for an afternoon snooze the other day, demonstrating yet again how important it is for cats to have buddies — if only because they make wonderful pillows.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Postcards from Maine: The Rockefeller Frogs

I'm flying to San Francisco for a wedding today, so you may not hear much from me until late next week (except for some Maine postcard stragglers, perhaps).

One of our favorite things about the Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor (see previous post) is the frog pond. Visitors gaze at it for a while, searching the lily pads for a frog and getting excited when they find one. Then, if they're observant, they'll see more and more. It becomes a game for both adults and kids to find them all.

One this visit, finding the first one was easy. Eventually, we counted eight.

Three frogs in plain sight.

You can also play the game. We found EIGHT frogs on this visit. Can you find them all in the photos below? (Click on one to enlarge it.)

I can only find seven in these photos, including one with its head peeping through the leaves by the top of the first photo. Look for three more along the outer leaves from the bottom center of that photo to the lower right. Three more frogs form a diagonal straight line across the leaves towards the top of that  photo. Number Eight might be hidden mostly leaves.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Postcards from Maine: Harbor Scenes

So many harbors and scenic views...

Camden Harbor, on our way up the coast. Someday, we'll take a 3- or 4-day 
Windjammer Cruise from here — their smallest antique sailboat sleeps six plus the crew. 
That's my idea of a "cruise."

 Still as glass. Southwest Harbor, from the dock where the Cranberry Island Ferry (mail boat) departs.

We have an artsy "French" dinghy starring in the inevitable SWH dinghy photo this year.

Northeast Harbor from the hillside path to Thuya Lodge, a house and garden open to the public.

 Bar Harbor at sunset, with Bar Island in the background. 

The Mary Todd begins dropping its sails as it comes into Bar Harbor for the evening.

Postcards from Maine: The Rockefeller Garden

I made our August 21 reservation to visit the Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor back in May and felt strange doing it online for the first time. Over the past 20 years, I've always had to spend about an hour inside our little bungalow in Southwest Harbor one afternoon, resigned to making a dozen or more phone calls. (One of the first perks of having a cell phone was getting to do this outside.)

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller's old-fashioned flower garden is on the family's private property, up an unmarked road. It has public viewings only at 11 am and 1 pm on Thursdays during the season. For decades, it has been one of the most closely guarded secrets on Mount Desert Island. Until recently, everyone booked their reservations by making repeated calls to a telephone number that hardly anyone ever gave out. Even so, the line was continuously busy during the three-hour window you were permitted to call, only on the Tuesday or Wednesday of the week you wished to visit.

We were given that precious number 20 years ago, after my husband charmed a lady innkeeper with the story of how he and his brother ran around chasing butterflies (and wrecking plants) with their nets in the garden when they were little and his family summered in Bar Harbor. Since we've had the number, we've given it out to others maybe... twice. Whenever rebels tried to post the number online, the Rockefeller family requested that it be taken down.

I want to point out that there was no screening process once you had the number. I never had a problem, anyway. I presume that as long as you behaved yourself with the nice lady on the other end of the line, they'd let you in no matter who you were and where you went, or did go, to school. People who want to visit such a garden tend to be pretty much the same kind of people. Flower people — but not the Haight Ashbury kind.

But the jig is up — you can now book your reservations online and well before the date you wish to visit. Notice, however, that I'm not giving you the link, or the precious phone number, which is still operative if you want the old-school reservation experience. You can find it by Googling, but I'm sorry to tell you that the garden is fully booked for the rest of the season, which ends next Thursday. But keep it in mind for next summer.

Click any photo to enlarge:

You enter the garden through mossy, well-groomed woods.

The garden is protected by a Chinese wall.

One path is lined with about a dozen large Chinese statues.

So many familiar flowers — petunias, geraniums, phlox, ageratum, and many more —
 identified with tags so you can learn the exact variety.

The plants are in beds around a central rectangle of grass.

The vase gate and ferns.

The beds are planted for steady blooming, and interesting color and height contrasts.

Even though the garden was fully booked, it didn't feel crowded. 

A buddha sculpture in a wooded area.

Another Buddha visible through the Moon Gate.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Postcards from Maine: Bugs

I meet a lot of bugs when we hang around the pool at our inn in Maine. The pool is close to the harbor, but there are many trees on the inn property as well as a shade garden. We see seagulls, crows, and other birds, an occasional shy cat, bats, and zillions of bugs. I rescue those that I find drowning in the pool, except for mosquitoes and spiders. We kill as many mosquitoes as we can, often while they're biting us. My husband has to deal with the spiders himself. I can't share a swimming pool with a spider.

The most beautiful bug I've seen up there was this flashy, ladybug-sized critter, whose metallic gold body had tortoise-like markings and transparent, colorless edges:

 I've since identified it as a Mottled Tortoise Beetle. Think of it as jewelry that crawls.

I learned that there's also a similar, all-gold insect, the Golden Tortoise Beetle, that I hope to see someday.

As we sat around reading, in or out of the hot tub, yellow leaves drifted down and landed near us, rather deliberately, it seemed to me. It was like receiving little messages from Mother Nature, announcing, "Summer's ending! Put those toys away! Don't you have some homework?"

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In the Key of C

Possum entertained us with an impromptu performance of "Memory" from the musical Cats last night. I have to say that anything is better than his Lord Grantham imitation, since he is best at giving us Grantham's short fuse, pomposity, and poor self-control in Season 3, when he kissed that dreadful maid.

I have no idea where Possum learned to sing "Memory;" maybe all cats are born knowing how. That would explain why he sang it in his native Norwegian rather than English. I used to sing it myself when I took voice lessons during the Pleistocene Era. But I performed with utter sincerity, whereas Possum's rendition seemed more ironic. None of us was sure afterward if he was channeling Barbra Streisand or Bob Dylan. Maybe both?

The impressive thing was how he sang it while lying on his back — he's a great one for showing off. It's never easy to hit the high notes of "Memory," and it's very hard in that position. You try it.

Lion thought the song was hilarious:

Afterward, he belted out his own interpretation, to everyone's chagrin:

I suppose that Possum got the idea from the unfortunate baritone next door. Once or twice a week, he spends a few hours playing the piano and belting show tunes at the top of his lungs for the whole block to hear, since his front and back windows are open. We are all trying to be patient about this because his biggest, loudest notes and slam-bang finishes are always as off-key as they are punishingly loud. I suspect he has forgotten whatever he was taught about diaphragmatic breathing and I worry he is ruining his vocal chords... along with the peace of at least 100 of his neighbors around the dinner hour.  

Possum's interpretation was far more nuanced, at least, if not always precisely on key. He may have been singing in Norwegian but we could still picture the withered leaves collecting at his feet as the wind began to moan and every streetlight seemed to beat a fatalistic warning while someone muttered and a particular streetlamp guttered as another day was DAAAAWNing. 

Lion sounded more like the guy next door.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

We're Back

Our week-and-a-day in Maine was wonderful — not that we saw a whole lot beyond the pool area of our inn. There were a few brief forays to a couple of gardens and that state park thing they have up there, where they serve popovers. We drove to Bar Harbor a couple of times, mainly for the food ice cream.

We each gained two pounds, horrors! Blame it on big inn breakfasts and irresistible cake slices from Gott's, a great little grocery store we just discovered on a road to nowhere. Time to get back on the healthy-eating wagon.... snore.

We also checked some lobster traps, did a little shopping, and introduced a Serbian friend to s'mores. A good time all around.

But it was nice to come home to this:

It seems the cats watched all the Downton Abbey reruns while we were gone. Possum must have decided that Lion needed to see all four seasons, since he was just a baby last winter and needed to catch up. As you can see, Possum is back to doing his Lord Grantham imitation, while Wendy seems to be modeling herself on the Dowager at his suggestion. She'd rather be a character who hides a lot.

I guess that Lion's favorite character would be whoever spends the most time being around food... so Mrs. Patmore. It's a nice stretch for him, but it's also kind of a waste since he's the only one of the cats who knows how to wear gentlemen's evening attire. Now we will have to find him an apron.

He is sitting on my desk beside me as I type, purring away and batting at my shirt and my face so I will pet him get up and feed him.

Yes, m'lord.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Report from Southwest Harbor

Today's weather: mixed clouds and sunshine, breezy, with highs in the low 70s
High tide: 10:18 am, 10:31 pm
Low tide: 3:42 am, 3:55 pm
Sunrise: 5:45 am
Sunset: 7:26 pm

Today's swimming pool temperature: 86–88º F
Hot tub temperature: 102–104º F
Number of bathing suits currently drying: three
Number of hours spent poolside or submerged: nine
Number of New Yorkers read: four (May, June)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

City Scenes: Esplanade Sunset

We're in Southwest Harbor, Maine, where the sunsets often turn the water and sky pink, but that doesn't mean we're not missing the blue and orange ones along the Charles:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

City Scenes: That Other Species

These little spaniels sleeping together in Cardullo's Gourmet Shoppe in Harvard Square reminded me of Harris and Toffee:

I think our animals need a best friend (or four) for companionship and good mental health as much as we humans do. These dogs appear inseparable, and they probably have many other dog friends that they visit and play with on their walks. Indoor cats don't have any opportunities to bond with their own kind if we don't adopt a companion (or four) for them. I watched Wendy and Harris take turns chasing each other the other morning, while Lion wrestled with Possum, and life was good.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

City Scenes: Some New Folks in Town

While we're in Maine, I thought I'd post a few discoveries I made around the city. I'll have some postcards from Mount Desert Island after I return.

We met this nice fellow at the bus stop the other day. I admired his rats, which were beautifully behaved, and asked him if  I could take some photos. He agreed, and thanked me for asking. "I just got here from New York," he said, "and people are always getting mad at me there because I get mad at them for taking my picture without asking me first." 

He said he was homeless and was hoping the driver would let him on the bus to Harvard Square. I told him that there are sometimes interesting animals on the T, like that boa constrictor that went missing on a train for a while, but I didn't know about the buses. And we gave him some money. 

The bus driver was aghast when he tried to board, and refused to let him on, exclaiming at such a ridiculous idea. He shrugged philosophically and smiled when we apologized as we boarded. I hope he and his pals are made it to the Square and are doing well wherever they roam.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Harris Poses

Harris declared himself our "Most Important Cat" months ago and no one batted an eye. If anyone disputes it, they're keeping it quiet. Nobody can deny that Harris is our best photographic subject. He's our only graduate from Miss Robin's School of Modeling, a subsidiary of the Kitten Associates shelter where he lived before he decided to go home with us.

These photos show Harris's typical routine when we come over to talk to him. We're heading to Maine today, so I need to post these photos to remember him by while we're gone:

He often looks a little sleepy and sulky when we awaken him from a light nap:

The next thing we know, he's rolling over and purring, in case we need to pet his belly:

He's knows he's temptingly soft and cuddly:

And his feet are pink and white and black and fluffy:

In fact, he's so adorable he can hardly stand himself:

By showing off his kittenish good looks and charm, he's also proving beyond a doubt that he deserves to be the Most Important Cat. You show 'em, Harris.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Piece of Toffee

It was hardly my finest hour as a photographer — my subject was neither in focus nor entirely in the frame — but the result made me laugh:

It's a silly photo of a silly cat. Toffee may be handsome and wild-looking, but he's a goofball at heart. Any cat with a butterfly-shaped milk mustache would have to be. When we pet him, he flops and rolls around so much that he'll tumble to the floor if we don't stop him. He gives himself coughing spells from purring too hard, too. He was a crazy kitten but he's mellowing a little with maturity. He used to leap madly into the air after his toys but he's lazier now, or perhaps more efficient.  These days, he tries to coax his toys (and flying insects) to come to him by warbling at them. Sometimes it works.

Morning Glory Envy and Maine

The other morning, I went past this elegant house (owned by a construction mogul) at the corner of Dartmouth and Marlborough Streets. I was staggered by this luxurious morning glory crop, which you don't often find around here:

I tried to grow morning glories several years ago, when I was an urban gardener — on the same, shady side of the street — but my record was only 26 blooms at the same time. So I'm jealous: I didn't have such a sunny and spacious corner lot; I had to grow mine in pots on the porch. And I didn't have a professional landscaping team making regular visits to coddle my plants, either. I only had me.

Until I can have a garden of my own again, I feel lucky to be able to enjoy (or envy) the wonderful little gardens my neighbors keep, especially now, when summer is at its height.

We're heading to Maine tomorrow morning, but if you check in here, you might find something or other while we're away. Postcards might arrive later than usual, however, as I have another trip planned over Labor Day. I hope you're making the most of the end of August and vacation season, too! 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Little Jeffersons

After I finished reading John Adams, and visiting the various Adams sites in Quincy, it seemed like a good idea to watch the excellent PBS adaptation of the book again, partly to enjoy the fine performances by Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as our second First Couple, but mostly to savor Stephane Dillane's portrayal of the future POTUS #3.

Possum had seen the series when it first came out so he knew what to expect. He settled right in next to me and kept quiet through the episodes. Harris and Toffee, sitting nearby, heard me sighing and cooing every time Jefferson appeared, and they were puzzled, since they've only ever heard me make that kind of fuss over a cat.

We all paid particular attention to the scene where Jefferson sits looking pensive, if not morose, as Adams and Franklin pick over his draft of the Declaration of Independence:

Harris and Toffee realized that they could be just as devastatingly pensive, deep, and/or morose. So they got down to it:

I think Toffee has the strongest physical resemblance to Stephen Dillane of anyone in the family (sorry, Possum). But Harris excels at looking morose and awkward in a chair.

Unfortunately for them, I am not about to stop cooing over Thomas Jefferson despite their best efforts.