Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Visit to the Vet, Part 2

Possum is heading to the vet soon, for dentistry, including at least two extractions. He'll be coming home tonight, probably not in very good shape. I will keep you posted on his condition. In the meantime, here's the end of my toothbrushing saga.

So now I've got to clean up my act and start caring for everyone's teeth. 

While I know very well that dry food does no more to clean cats' teeth than a diet of dry cereal and crunchy candy will clean our teeth, I was not going down without a bit of a struggle. I told our vet that I had thought that canned food, being was 95% animal protein and fat, with no starch or grain, would also prevent tartar. But no. My vet says she sees tartar buildup and bad teeth on cats fed every sort of diet. 

I've read that some feline nutritionists find regular feeding of raw, meaty bones to be helpful. Cats have to chew hard on those tough sinews, and that supposedly keeps their teeth healthy in the wild. But raw, meaty bones — such as chicken parts — are messy. Cats tend to drag them off like prey, leaving bloody trails around the house. 

The finely ground bone in commercial frozen raw food is also supposed to have a gentler scraping action against teeth, but even I'm not convinced about the truth of that.

We promised our vet that we'd start brushing everyone's teeth at night. beginning with Toffee, Harris and Lion for now. Wendy and Possum may have painful teeth, so we won't start brushing until they are all healed after their dentistry. 

 Look at those bright, shiny, happy smiles. Or not.

With fear and trembling, we began our new routine. My husband put on a fleece jacket to protect against kicking toenails; his job is to corral and hold each cat while I brushed. I armed myself with sample toothpaste, a tiny cat toothbrush, a big plastic "finger toothbrush" similar to a thimble, and a piece of gauze. I tried one method on each cat and I wouldn't say any of them were a success.

I went to my local pet shop where I threw myself on the mercy of a new salesperson, who turned out to be very knowledgable, having cared for animals in all kinds of situations — and having brushed her share of cat teeth, too. I was delighted to meet her. She recommended Earthbath Tooth and Gum Wipes. One wipe is big enough to use on many cats. It is a completely natural — perhaps too natural — product that is mostly peppermint oil and baking soda. I'm not sure it does the best job. There are enzyme products that are supposed to loosen and dissolve tartar and I like the sound of that.

My husband picks up a cat and holds him in his arms (Toffee and Lion squirm; Harris goes limp, waiting to be adored). I've got the wipe wrapped around my finger and rub it carefully against the upper and then lower teeth. It takes less than a minute per cat... once we catch one. It is only a matter of time before they all learn to disappear at bedtime. The tough part is that we can't feed them treats as rewards once their teeth are clean. 

Now that I'm getting better at finding their teeth under their lips, and reaching the back ones, I think I can switch to the tiny cat toothbrushes with enzyme toothpaste. I was told that just getting that toothpaste near the teeth is helpful. The enzymes mix with saliva to loosen tartar all over the mouth. Sounds good to me. I'll keep you posted on how all this is going.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Visit to the Vet, Part 1

Possum and Wendy had their annual checkups the week before last. We brought Lion along to experience a road trip and to be weighed.

Lion was unhappy in the car. He cried loudly, peed a bit, and abraded his nose trying to escape through the mesh fabric of his carrier. With our vet, he was polite but nervous. He weighs 11 pounds, a healthy amount. Our vet admired his eyeliner and silky fur, and said he was striking and "almost Goth." She found a long, thin cut on his belly that was healing nicely... and I cringed in horror.  I'd cut off his very first mat a few days earlier and it was a doozy: huge, hard as a rock, and in a sensitive spot between his belly and thigh. I had no idea I'd cut him; he'd never reacted. "No cutting!" my vet lectured me. "Get clippers instead." We have clippers, but I've been terrified to use it. I may have to practice on my husband.

More surprises were in store with Wendy, who was so paralyzed with terror that she let me pet her continuously as she sat in her open carrier, waiting for the vet to pick her up. I had a great time; I can only pet her when she is curled up on a tall box under the bed, so I can never see her and pet her at the same time.

We learned that she is also a healthy weight but her teeth need cleaning; no extractions, we hope. I've never brushed my cats' teeth and I realize I've been remiss. It's time to aim for a higher plateau of cat care. Our vet went over her technique: She uses a tiny brush and cat toothpaste, aiming to get many strokes across the back upper teeth in particular. She told us that she's brushed her own teeth with cat toothpaste more than once, when she was not paying attention, and that it doesn't taste like chicken, as advertised. It also doesn't taste like toothpaste, she reported. It's sweet, gritty, and not minty-fresh at all.

Possum in a typically athletic pose.

Possum was last. He had gained back some of the weight he'd lost two years ago, and needs to drop about one pound again. He is a little over 15 pounds, much better than his all-time high of 17.5. Given how little exercise he gets — when he's not eating, all he does is move slowly from one lounging spot to another — it was not surprising.

The real shocker was inside his mouth. Our vet found two broken teeth that need to come out. He has  a disorder called "feline odontoclastic resorption lesions." Apparently it's very common but I'd never heard of it... and it sounded scary. You can read about it here. It seems it is probably not caused by lack of brushing but tartar can be a trigger. Some vets think it is an autoimmune disease since it is often found in cats who have had calicivirus or other viruses. Possum had calicivirus as a kitten. Some vets think it may be caused by excess Vitamin D in cat food. At any rate, cats have had it for many hundreds of years.

And now Possum has it. He may have been in pain for months, from exposed nerves, without telling us. Or not. His dental problem doesn't seem to have affected his enthusiasm for meals.

Possum and I needed to have a serious talk.

"So Possum," I said, "Why didn't you tell me you had broken teeth? I would have done everything possible to help you. Weren't you in pain?"

Possum appeared bored. "Whatever," he said. "You know about it now. And I suppose I'll put up with anything you plan to do to me. But I hope you won't bring this up again. You know very well that cats don't complain when they have health troubles. We work very hard to be Spartan and Stoic. We aren't known for being whining sissies. So I'm certainly not about to betray my kind. Not even with you."

"But Possum," I said. "Why put up with pointless suffering? I know you feel it gives you solidarity with your species, but it will never make sense to me. I could help you. And I feel just awful that you may have been suffering for months with painful teeth and I didn't know. Is that why you are always lying around napping? I thought you were just being lazy."

Possum assured me that he is not lazy. He is always thinking complicated and interesting thoughts as he lies around with his eyes closed. He apologized for worrying me but but said our talk was over.

I will post more tomorrow about our adventures in toothbrushing. In the meantime, please send positive thoughts to Possum, who has no idea what he will be going through tomorrow. He will need about a week to recover, and antibiotics and pain medication. I'm not sure how well he'll be able to eat; the vet won't know how much more work she needs to do until he's sedated. I will be a wreck tomorrow; we've never left at the vet by himself before and I feel so sorry for him. He'll be there for about 12 hours. I must think up some ways to make this up to him....

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Still Available

If you are feeling bereft of hope after George Clooney's marriage, Possum has asked me to remind you that he is still eligible.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Late Postcards from San Francisco: Painted Ladies 2

Here are a few more Painted Ladies because I love them so. I bought a book about them when I was traveling and then came home to find an even better book I'd bought a couple of decades ago, after my previous trip. (I'm not waiting that long to go back again.)

These four nearly identical houses have been given distinct personalities via their color schemes. Which do you like best?

I choose the gray one with that crisp, delineated white trim with red accents. TThere may be some tiny touches of gold on it, too. I love seeing the shimmer of metallic paint on these houses but I gather it's controversial, not considered by everyone to be period-appropriate. But who cares? It was the Gilded Age, after all....

The light tan one looks timid in comparison with the others, doesn't it?

This block of amazing Queen Anne houses is painted entirely in shades of rose, blue, purple, gray, and tan, with metallic gold highlights. It's the most spectacular block that I found in the city, and around the corner from my B&B on Steiner Street:

Here's a detail. The painters picked out a lot of the wood detailing in many colors, for an effect that I find lively and rich without being over the top:

Here's another row of very similar houses with different paint schemes. It would be really fun to take a comparative look at these side by side, but the trees are in the way:

Here's a detail of one of those houses. As you can see, choosing a color scheme requires a lot of tricky decisions. The permutations are practically endless, and you need to be careful to highlight enough details to do justice to the decoration without going overboard. I think this house is successful:

I liked the saturated coral-orange paint on this house:

A closer look reveals tan, blue, and navy detailing. and just enough to make a statement:

After seeing a house like that, an all-white one seems like a blank canvas waiting too long for an artist. This house's architecture is more restrained that a lot of the others we've been looking at but an experienced color expert could choose a subtle scheme to turn it into a knockout. At least we can't complain about that brilliant bougainvillea:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Late Postcards from San Francisco: Painted Ladies I

It's more fun to look at postcards of the wonderful houses of San Francisco than it is to tell you what's wrong with Possum's teeth. So we'll save that tale for another time.

I had trouble photographing many of the Painted Ladies because they are obscured by mid-sized trees. The house below is just stunning from the front — at least what can be seen of it is. What a shame that it's impossible to see anything of the second floor:

During the first wave of the Painted Lady revival, in the 1970s and '80s, the houses often had bright, multicolored paint schemes that were a little closer to psychedelic than historically accurate. Then tastes settled down. The houses with more recent color schemes are have a softer, more harmonious look. A lot of homeowners choose pastels or neutrals (gray, tan) for the primary color, with a more limited number of accent colors. 

As a New Englander, I'm thrilled to see almost any house that isn't painted white with green or black shutters. I'm happy with neutrals or crazy colors, as long as they were thoughtfully chosen and suit the character of the house. I'd say this pink house below falls somewhere in between the two trends:

And I really enjoyed looking at it.

Another problem with photographing Painted Ladies: many have had their ground level converted to less-than-stellar garages, as you'll see in several examples here. All of the "action" begins up on the parlor level, beyond a steep flight of stairs. I'd have to sneak up the stairs to get my shot, or do some neck-bending. Occasionally I felt safe standing in the street, but not often.

Here's a row of houses that required serious neck-bending:

 I don't know how often San Francisco skies are that blue, but I had unusually sunny, warm weather for much of my trip.

Here's the house next door to the Chateau Tivoli. I got to look out at it from my third-floor turret room, and admire the etched-glass windows and the fancy shingles. That fuchsia bougainvillea looked wonderful against the purple walls:

Another problem with my house photographs: straightening them! I'm quite incapable of taking a level photo so I'm always rotating my pictures in Photoshop by an astonishing number of degrees. But even when I took level shots in San Francisco, they look crooked because the streets are so steep. Take this photo, for example: It's straight!

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Eighth Wonder

Last winter, when I was trying to persuade my husband to agree to adopt Lion, one of my creative selling points was that Lion has a spot on the back of his neck that looks like the three main Pyramids at Giza. I thought this was awfully clever of me: Giza is extremely important to my husband and he did perk up when he saw what I was talking about. But it still took weeks before he gave in. (Lion ultimately worked his own powerful magic on him.)

Do you see the similarity? I can fiddle with Lion's fur to make his pyramids pointier, but then he'll turn around and look at me, ruining my shot.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Don't Try This at Home: A Heartrending House in Newton

I've been house-hunting for more than four years. Every day, I see just about everything that goes on the market within our price range. (I look at properties that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars above and below our budget, too, just because). Several times a day, I look at the new listings across Boston and Charlestown, west to Brookline and Newton, north to Medford and Arlington, and south to Quincy.

I've seen many thousands of listings — and I don't think I've ever seen one as poignant or as "real" as this little house selling for $679,000 today in Newton Highlands. It's 1,688 square feet, with two bedrooms and one bath. It's listed by Century 21 Commonwealth, and they deserve the credit for these photos:

Is there anything sadder than an empty in-ground pool? This was once a very happy, and probably envied, backyard.

Well, here's something sadder than an empty pool: a living room with a wheelchair and a walker:

The dining room is hung with the kids' pictures and the vinyl tablecloth is still there from who knows how many Christmases ago.This is what many houses end up looking like when they've been lived in for a lifetime. All of my elderly relatives' houses looked something like this before the end. I have no idea why the broker and the seller didn't bother to clear out this place, tear up the carpet, and scrub the place down. There are professional teams who can do it all in a day or two.

Leaving it as it is was a bold decision. To me, it feels like conceptual art. You couldn't make a house look as storied and layered as this if you were a set designer and you really tried. It truly takes a lifetime.

A nice closeup of the wheelchair. This is gutsy:

A girl's room. Do you wonder where she is now, and how she thinks of her childhood home and all that happened there?

The "master suite" as brokers like to call it.  I hope no one is still under that quilt.

The knotty-pine basement with bar and toboggan. This was once a cozy place for this family and their friends and neighbors to hang out. Now Sam Shepard could set a play in here.

What moves me most about this house is its honesty. Instead of "neutralizing" and "depersonalizing" our homes so no traces of the owners remain to distract the starry-eyed buyers, this house is a testament to how houses are really used and how lives are really lived. And here's where the story ends, more or less. As much as I hate to admit it, there are never happy endings. They are always messy and sad. This house tells it like it is. And to me that's incredibly, bravely beautiful, in a way, but also depressing as hell.

Ultimately, though, it's not the house that matters — not how it looks, or what happens to it. All that counts is the people who lived inside. I hope this family wore themselves out with happy times, love, feasting, and laughter. I hope it was a good ride for a long time, if not right up to the end.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Harris Steals Again

Harris is back to his thieving ways. The other day, we got out three of the cat carriers because Possum and Wendy were heading to the vet for checkups and Lion was going along to be weighed. (More on that subject later.)  Lion's little fleece blanket came out of the closet with the carriers; his foster mother had packed it for him with his favorite red mouse when he came here. It is his.

That is, until Harris stole it. Again. This is the second or third time he has made off with Lion's blanket, and it's not an easy feat. This time he had to drag it off the dining room table. It's hard for a cat to carry something that large without tripping. As a result, it's fun to watch.

Usually, Harris brings all of his stolen items to the middle of the bedroom carpet, for reasons only he can understand. This time he was accosted along the route:

He did his best to intimidate Lion. As you can see put his ears back. (Airplane Ears are supposed to be really scary but, if you ask me... not so much.) He also hissed and growled like a little maniac and whipped his tail around in a threatening fashion.

It's difficult to hiss and growl with a mouthful of fleece blanket. You try it some time, and you'll instantly see what I mean.  Lion circled cautiously, but it was clear he wouldn't be getting his blanket back:

So Lion gave up. And at that same moment, Harris acquired some self-awareness and realized he was crouching on the floor and making a weird, muffled racket with a flowered blanket in his mouth. And that this was not cool. 

So, shortly after this photo, he walked away, abandoning the blanket and trying to look nonchalant. But later I caught him with his jaw clamped on Lion's carrier. Good luck with that, Harris.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Postcards from San Francisco: Rooms at the Chateau

Finding an interesting, convenient, reasonably priced place to stay in San Francisco was a challenge. Every slick high-rise hotel chain is represented, of course. They don't appeal to me for all the reasons others flock to them — plus they are expensive. Famous historic gems like the Fairmont were also beyond my budget. Other options range from elegant boutique hotels to sleazy dives, motels on the city outskirts, hippie hangouts, and fake "French" inns. Almost anything attractive and in a central neighborhood will be much more than $200 a night, and often more closer to $300. There were also less-inexpensive Airbnb options. I decided I wanted an established B&B.

I was so lucky to find rooms at the Chateau Tivoli. It has only four suites and five rooms, and it's popular, so my room choices were very limited. Each room is named in honor of a 19th-century celebrity, including Mark Twain and Lily Langtry, who visited the Chateau when it was a private home. The place is exuberantly Victorian and funky, and so am I, it seems. We were a perfect match. 

For my first three nights, I had the Jack London Room, which is a steal for San Francisco:  $115 to $135 per night (weekends and holidays are higher). 

I expected icicles and a wolf, given the theme, but it was charming and cozy. Up two long flights, it shared a hallway bathroom with the room next door. I should have photographed that quirky, period bathroom with its clawfoot tub, oak wainscoting, and handheld (telephone-style) brass shower head. It's challenging to shower and wash hair with one hand, but I managed. I don't mind sharing a bath with one or two other guests, and it worked out fine. There was even a door separating my room and the bathroom from the rest of the hallway, so I could come and go in privacy. 

My room's walls were sponged in shades of off-white for a wintry effect. The painted floor was scattered with old Persian rugs, and all the furniture and fixtures were antique except for the mattress. I felt quite at home. (I gave my family a tour of the place and showed them my room. Some were charmed; others were horrified. It seems that sharing a bathroom and a breakfast table are too much sharing for some travelers.)

The windows in "my" turret were open, with the curtains blowing in the breeze. I kept those windows open through my stay. They overlooked a neighboring house painted in shades of lavender that I'll show you later. That turret was a fine place to read or do email.

The only unsettling thing about the room was the closet. It had a lock on the front and opened to reveal a door to the adjoining room. I knew the rooms could be connected to form a suite, but I wasn't sure if that meant I was sharing the closet! I had to run down to the kitchen to ask. The answer was no, so I hung up my clothes and helped myself to a bathrobe.

The only problem with the rooms I stayed in were that both had doors to adjoining rooms so I could hear the people next door. That's when my trusty LectroFan white-noise machine came to the rescue. I believe in packing light but that machine is worth more than its weight in gold. I heard nothing but a familiar "fan" sound whenever it was on, and slept really well.

For my last night. I slept in one of the ornate, high-Victorian rooms on the second floor, named for Enrico Caruso. I think it was $175; hardly a splurge for San Francisco accommodations. When I unlocked the door and turned on the light, it felt like Christmas. Its high ceiling is elaborately decorated with stenciling, gilding, faux-malachite paint, and a wallpaper border:

By the time I was able to back to the B&B that last night, it was late and I was exhausted from a long day, a bad head cold, and chills. But the room restored me. I couldn't sleep for a few hours because I was so busy enjoying my surroundings. (Luckily there was a box of tissues.)


The four-poster bed with its silky comforter was so high that I need a little footstool to climb onto it. I loved that; I never need to get up in the night. But I'll bet other guests had been in for a rude awakening when their feet didn't hit the floor as expected.

The bathroom was a lovely surprise, with three coordinating seashell wallpapers, a period sink and light fixtures, and a leaded glass window. Instead of sharing a bathtub, I now had double shower (for two) all to myself.

I could have slept happily in that comfy bed and lounged in those velvet armchairs for months, but I had to check out the next morning. I will simply have to go back sometime... keeping in mind that the Chateau has other rooms that might be even prettier.

The Chateau Tivoli required massive restoration before it opened as a B&B in 1989. If you click on From the Chateau Tivoli's Past on their site, you'll find an album of historic photos, "before" pictures, and many images of the work in progress.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Postcards from San Francisco: The Chateau Tivoli, Alamo Square

Lots of postcards just arrived. I hope this doesn't take forever to load for you...

Surrounded by gorgeous Victorian architecture, I was in hog heaven during my visit to San Francisco earlier this month. I was lucky to stay in two different rooms in one of the grandest of the city's "Painted Ladies," a B&B called The Chateau Tivoli.

Just unlocking that gate and climbing those steps was magic. I had my own keys!

Since I was traveling solo, which I never do, I kept thinking of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, and Mary Ann Singleton, (played by a young Laura Linney in the TV adaptation). A Midwestern innocent, Mary Ann takes a trip to San Francisco in the late '70s, and decides to stay. She scores a lovely apartment on "Barbary Lane" and an eccentric landlady, Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis).

The Chateau Tivoli didn't have a Mrs. Madrigal (or I might never have left) but it was still satisfyingly eccentric and cozy. The staff and several guests were warm and friendly, as were many of the people I encountered in the city. (Everyone is friendlier there. People chatter to strangers and make loud, witty announcements on the buses. Old guys standing on the street will tip their hat as you pass by. In a car.)

One of my favorite things about the Chateau was how the interior matched the exterior — something we rarely find around my neighborhood in Boston, where the stately Victorians have mostly been gutted, sheet-rocked, and renovated beyond recognition. But look at the public rooms on the main floor:

I'd sit here after breakfast, or read and chat over a drink later in the day.

The hallway and staircase up to the rooms.

All the natural woodwork had been painted white at some point, and had to be restored.
The house was originally a private mansion and then became a home for Jewish girls, 
a Jewish cultural center, a rooming house, and finally a center for New Age weirdness 
before being completely restored inside and out as a B&B.

We guests made our own toast and tea for breakfast together in the dining room.

An ornament in the parlor.

I will have some postcards of the two rooms I stayed in and a few other details of the house later on.

The B&B was only a couple of blocks from Alamo Square Park, in a neighborhood famous for its many Painted Ladies. You've probably seen photos of these iconic houses bordering the park, high on a hill, overlooking the city:

I took a tight shot and cropped out more of the houses to the right because the fifth Painted Lady is currently covered in scaffolding and brown netting:

Seeing that house was like coming across a stylish Parisienne in her bathrobe, curlers, and facial mask. Shocking. And if you think scaffolding ruins a photo, just look at what's further along the park:

The park was full of loungers, picnickers, walkers, dogs, kids, artists, musicians, redwoods, and tourists. I felt at home. I might have bumped into Mrs. Madrigal or Mary Ann at any turn.

And I kept asking myself: Why don't we live in San Francisco? I'm still trying to find the answer.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shopping... for Body Parts

Someone has spent far too long in the Chestnut Hill Pottery Barn: 

I interpreted this as a warning and kept my visit to well under an hour yesterday. I can happily waste lots of time in Pottery Barn and it's probably good that we lost the store in my neighborhood despite my frequent patronage. I'm a sucker for their paisley duvets and pillows along with their towels, boxes, serving pieces, and seasonal items — our apartment is filled with PB purchases. But I was in Chestnut Hill for a doctor's appointment and couldn't resist dropping in to see what was what. 

It's wise to shop at PB stores instead of online because items are often a very different size than you imagine from photos. (I'm pretty good with intrepreting measurements and using a tape measure, but clearly not good enough....) I'm a retail optimist, imagining that things will be exactly the size I want, but reality usually brings a surprise. 

We need new bedside lamps and PB had a metal style I liked. (I've never owned a traditional table lamp with some kind of decorative base and a fabric or paper shade. I've lived with clumsy, playful, and/or passive-aggressive cats since college and I know better than to buy lamps that will break when — not if — they are knocked over. I stick with metal.) We drove to a store to see the lamp in question and it was too big to fit on either bedside table. It was like a floor lamp for toddlers. So we're keeping our old lamps until we move. The scale issue is true for lots of things: serving pieces that appear neat and modest in scale online turn out to be better for catering banquets. Paisley prints that seem striking in an image are mind-blowing on a shower curtain or bed. Yesterday I looked for what I imagined to be a little brass tray in the shape of a maple leaf maybe as big as my hand; it's actually the size of a charger. 

While I'm not buying much these days, I'm unable to resist certain seasonal items. I suggest that you check out the Halloween selection at PB online or in person. They've gone bananas this year, offering everything from that life-size skeleton (on sale for $79) to skull-shaped decanters to little glass votives on spider legs. I spent my visit yesterday carrying this skull candle around (knowing I would never, ever light it):

I felt like Hamlet. It has a satisfying weight although it's more kid-size than Yorick-size. (I thought it would be bigger, but at least it looks much better in person). It was also on sale — a bargain compared to Damian Hurst's platinum-and-diamond skull, which I vastly prefer, but it last sold for $100 million.

So bring on the pumpkins; I'm ready for October. Afterward, this will live in a dark corner on a bookcase, showing off its gleaming teeth until I can afford the platinum version.