Sunday, November 30, 2014

Wreath Decorating Starts Tomorrow

Tomorrow, dozens of members of the Garden Club of the Back Bay will gather in a church basement on Marlborough Street for four 11-hour days of decorating wreaths. We'll decorate a few hundred, which will appear on front doors and in homes all over the area. The proceeds from the sale will fund tree-related projects in Back Bay and other parts of Boston. 

I've been a volunteer since about 2006, and I look forward to it every year. It's a zoo, but a fun and friendly one. Last year, a group of Chinese visitors were given a tour of the church basement while we were working. Later, we learned that they said we seemed remarkably cheerful, clean, educated, and well-fed... for sweatshop workers.

I'm definitely not among the more talented wreath decorators, but I work fast, so I'm considered useful. For years I worried about making ugly wreaths, so the Monday of wreath-decorating week meant clammy hands and butterflies in my stomach. But I believe I'm over that now that I'm approaching my 9th year. At least my stomach doesn't have butterflies at the moment; I guess I'll see how I feel tomorrow. 

I will post photos of my wreaths here again this year, for your amusement or tedium. If I don't take those photos, I can't remember what any of my wreaths looked like within minutes of finishing them. I guess that's because I'm in my creative "zone." Or I'm spacey.

Harris helped me assemble my tools today: apron, Felco pruners, needle-nose pliers, garden gloves, hand cream, ratty latex gloves for spray painting, and surgical tape to protect my fingers from holly and thorns. He will miss me while I'm gone but he will enjoy stealing my gloves when I bring them home. He's already taken them twice. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Gotcha Day, Toffee!

Two years ago, I spent several hours at the Animal Rescue League dithering and debating about adopting "Adirondack" a charming, gorgeous kitten who kept falling asleep in my lap. He was popular, since his photo had appeared on the ARL's Facebook page. A group of fraternity brothers were interested in him and I knew I wasn't going to let THAT happen to him. A woman with a strange ponytail right on top of her head (like in "I Dream of Jeannie") also wanted him. No way, I thought, but I still couldn't take the plunge.

I still I have no idea why I hesitated so long, and as a result I no longer trust myself to make sensible decisions. We both might still be there, hanging around that cage two years later, if my husband hadn't showed up and made the decision.

You may not hear as much about Toffee as the other cats on this blog but that isn't because he's not integral to our lives and essential to our happiness. He is. It's simply that he's settled down after his crazy kitten days and stopped jumping on hot stoves and eating string toys. We haven't made an emergency room visit because of him in a very long time. (The last really stupid thing he did was chew five bulbs off the Christmas lights last year, when they were lit. I'm still trying to figure out how to talk him out of doing that next month.)

Toffee is smart, sweet, and affectionate, but he's not as needy as Harris or as demanding as Lion and Possum can be. He's much more of a cat than the others, if you know what I mean. He's a prince. He hangs out and bides his time. He knows he's important enough that we'll pay attention to him without his having to knock things onto the floor or walk all over us when we're sleeping. But I have woken up with a strange, crushing feeling, to find him settled in meatloaf position on my chest, his little tiger face a few inches away. Just waiting. That's Toffee.

Here are a couple of kitten photos, taken about a month after he arrived. He's always been something of a contortionist:

As a kitten, he looked more like a tiny mature cat than a baby. Harris still looks like a baby. Toffee is way cooler than that. But his tiny white butterfly-shaped "milk mustache" adds a silly element to his wild markings, as do his big white sneakers. Toffee is magnificent and goofy-looking at the same time. A perfect combination for a cat.

All the other cats love him. He is a cat's cat. Possum adopted him at first sight. Harris found the perfect playmate; they still curl up together after they groom each other. Wendy tolerates his chasing her, and sometimes chases him back. And Toffee adopted Lion last winter, while everyone else turned up their little noses for weeks after he arrived. Toffee made Lion welcome and they are still best friends.

So Happy Gotcha Day, Toffee. It should have been November 27, not 28, but that's my silly fault, not yours. Thank you for showing me that my instincts and decision-making skills need major work and can't quite be trusted. Thank you for not eating the tree lights this year... okay???

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sparklers from Boden

Some of my Boden jeweled shoes have arrived while others are still "wending their way from across the Pond," or whatever — as they so picturesquely say in their shipping emails. I ordered five pairs and I now have three — in two sizes and three colors.

They are lovely, and fun... but I've been too busy working on a deadline to do more than try them on for half a minute! I'm not sure when that situation will improve, so here they are:

The gold ones are prettier than the black because those giant clear gems on the toes 
would have raised an eyebrow on Liberace.

Harris liked them, though.

The gold ones are "like a fairy," as an Italian friend commented when
I posted this on Facebook.

The navy ones arrived yesterday and they are a little less blingy, and very pretty. But I don't have time to show them right now! Bye! 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Readying for His Closeup

Possum has been grouchy lately. He's annoyed because it will be Lion's first Christmas with us and so he'll probably be the star of our Christmas card, an honor that usually falls to the newest members of the family. (But not always: Possum was the star again last year since his competition unanimously refused to wear spectacles.)

Every year the cats try to find original poses and ideas. (Not Wendy.) Harris is excellent at modeling. He's on his third Christmas, however, and has already grown bored with the operation. He's waiting for the holiday decorations to appear before he invests any energy.

We're all dying to know if Toffee is going to try to eat all the decorations again this year. Last year, he chewed at least five plastic light bulbs off our tree. While it was lit.  (I have no idea how we're going to work around his proclivities this year; this keeps me awake at night. Please send suggestions.)

Possum cares deeply about being our Cover Cat. He's has been practicing dramatic poses, knowing his fluffy torse is irresistible. He also knows that Lion never lies on his back (for reasons unknown). So he has this look all to himself. I can imagine a row of sparkly bows marching down that vast expanse of belly. Now there's an idea...

Monday, November 24, 2014

Big & Sparkly

We found ourselves at the Home for Oversize Ornaments the other day, aka the Prudential Center:

They reminded me more of fancy beetle shells — or small, rococco VW Beetles — than Christmas ornaments.

Naturally, I wanted one.

Who makes stuff like this? These are gorgeous, beautifully crafted, and surely very expensive. Maybe the same companies that make Broadway and Hollywood stage sets do this on the side for all the malls and department stores. Or maybe there's an Acme Giant Xmas Ball Corp. out there. It has to be a seasonal business: malls don't go overboard with decorations at any time but Christmas.

And then the malls have to store all this stuff for most of the year. It's impractical. If I had a mall, I'd rent live reindeer and elves to wander around. It would be much simpler. Maybe I'd get some inflatable Santas, too. And there'd be a giant gingerbread house, which everyone could eat on January 2.

The more you look at these, the creepier they seem. They are disconcertingly big. Is this what happens when a box of Shiny-Brites takes steroids or non-human growth hormone?

Here they look like they've gotten organized, and are about to roll down the corridor to take over the streets of Back Bay:

I still want one.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Late Postcards from Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum

The Royal Ontario Museum was across the street from our hotel. It's Canada's largest museum, dedicated to both human civilization and the natural world. In 2007, it acquired this glass-and-aluminum addition courtesy of Daniel Libeskind. To me, it protrudes like a faceted tumor from the face of the original early-20th-century building, a stately structure in pale brick.

The Canadians held a little surprise parade for us the afternoon we left. So thoughtful.

At night there's a light show, in the colors you see here, and gray:

Inside there's still some Beaux-Art embellishment:

But mostly there are things like bats:

This was a simple bat display, but you can also go for a walk in a dark and creepy cave full of fake bats stirring about and making bat racket. I was unmoved, having been in real places like that for extremely short periods in the past. But, on Sunday mornings, the ROM is packed with families, and the little kids around me were not so blasé.

A happy little stuffed bat on a fake tropical flower, possibly carnivorous.

There are also dinosaur skeletons and fossils, exhibitions about biodiversity and exploring Space, art and artifacts from many world cultures past and present, including ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia, Canada's Native Americans, and so on. 

I was mostly in the mood for the taxidermy aspect of natural history during my visit:

Eventually, I came across far too many insects for my taste, too:

It's quite a collection, taken all together, and a superb educational resource. If I ever go back to Toronto, I will visit the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, across the street, and the Art Gallery of Ontario. But first I will need to be fortified with fish & chips. More on that later.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Last Days of the Farmer's Market

Yesterday was the last Friday farmer's market at Copley, and the last one for the year will be on Tuesday. Everyone is bundled up now, but feeling cold anyway. It gets dark early, so they set up lights so shoppers can see what's for sale. It's mostly about apples, root vegetables, and squash by late November, but no one is slacking.

Someone created an artistic arrangement of cranberries and Brussels sprouts:

I plan to get a lot on Tuesday: leeks, fancy potatoes, sprouts, and maybe some yellow carrots for roasting. There are greenhouse tomatoes but they don't attract me. (Someone had a few pints of yellow cherry tomatoes but they looked woebegone.) Iggy's focaccia freezes well, as do their raisin-walnut loaves, if there's room in our breadbox-sized freezer.

It's also time to try some of the baked goods I have virtuously avoided since the spring. I will skip the whoopie pies (in exotic flavors) in favor of pumpkin cake squares with cream-cheese frosting.

And maybe a fudge brownie or two. This will have to last us until May, which seems very far away.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pinterest Goes to Pot

I continue to waste a ridiculous amount of time on Pinterest. I consider it a form of visual therapy. I also think of it as a scrapbook for people who shouldn't be allowed to have scissors or glue sticks. It's relaxing and fun, and I discover beautiful, interesting, or funny things every time I visit.

My main Pinterest page usually looks like this:

I have more than 16,000 pins (and that's not an outrageous number), neatly organized onto 52 labeled "boards" or categories — because there just isn't any way to do it sloppily. You have to put everything somewhere; you can't just make a big, messy pile and leave it lying around.... 

Actually, you can. You can add a million haphazard things to your "Likes" page. But those aren't really "pins," they're just "likes." You didn't commit to anything. And every single on of them is still going to be perfectly aligned in a grid, as the page above.

So imagine my consternation when I visited my Pinterest page tonight, and got this:

It looked like Pinterest had switched to using my own favorite organization technique: pile everything in a big stack and, when it starts tipping over a lot, transfer it to an attractive shopping bag you can put on the floor, or hide. This is the virtual version of a messy heap of stuff on my desk.

Pinterest reverted to its previous method a few minutes later. I'm also sticking with mine.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rest for the Wicked

I went out for a couple of hours yesterday and came home to find Possum, Harris, and Toffee in the kitchen, walking around in tea leaves. Harris — I know it was him, I know his habits, and I am beginning to be able to read his mind — had knocked a metal Teavana tin off the counter and somehow pulled the stopper out of it. The stopper is metal, too, and tight, requiring some effort to remove. I have no idea how he did it. Maybe it opened on impact but I doubt it.

Fortunately, the tea was rooibos, which I know is herbal and caffeine-free. Caffeine is toxic for cats, so we store our loose tea in a cabinet. But I was planning to make iced tea yesterday. I still panicked; who knew what other toxins might be in the stuff? Shooing the cats out of the kitchen wasn't easy; they were really interested in the tea and it was also suppertime. The vacuum cleaner finally did the trick, and made Lion almost miss his supper.

I called our vet after I finished cleaning up the mess, just to make sure. The receptionist tried to make me call Animal Poison Control ($65/call) but I persisted. As I suspected, my vet knew all about the tea and said it was safe.

And, indeed, all was well. I didn't want to drink that stuff anyway.

Meanwhile, our little vandal looks more innocent than ever, napping in a kittenish pose that shows off his foot fluff and pink and black paw pads. All of his toe pads are pink and all of his foot pads are black. With Harris, it's all about the details, and he doesn't miss a one. He doesn't like foreign bodies on his counters and so he sends them over the edge.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Current Craving: Sparkly Shoes

Check out these Jewelled Flats from Boden's holiday line. Some women say they are the prettiest flats they've ever seen. The rhinestones and crystals are said to look much better in person. Very ornate, dressy shoes inevitably come with towering heels, so these are actually remarkable for their practicality. Strange as that seems.

When I first saw them, I thought they were way over the top, but they've been growing on me, after seeing reviews and photos on other blogs. In other photos and on real feet, they look less gaudy and just, well, fabulous.

Don't all little girls fantasize about having shoes like these when they grow up? I certainly did. And here they finally are.

I think I'd like the gold ones best, especially since they look more subdued and less "gold" in person.

The black ones might be more versatile, although I can't exactly call them a "basic" flat. You could wear either pair with a cashmere sweater and the right pair of dark jeans or black pants for an elegant — but effortless — look. (Making dressing well look easy is a good goal to shoot for. Just look at French women, who keep things simple and never appear like they're trying too hard.)

The navy flats are also gorgeous, but who wears navy when they're dressing up? These might only work with jeans for many women. 

I should have ordered some when Boden was having its recent promotion with 25 percent off and free shipping and returns. They're $198, so a big purchase for me, especially as I have absolutely nowhere to wear them and probably never will. (They might also hurt like hell; reviews are mixed on that. Many women need to size up in these.)

I blew my chance. It would have been fun to play Cinderella in my living room for an hour. If Boden has another promotion with free back-and-forth, and if my size is still in stock, I will take the plunge... and then take photos and report. 

Meanwhile, let me know what you think. Shoes as art? Could they sit on a shelf?

UPDATE: I found a coupon for 25 percent off and free forth-and-back, so I ordered three pairs, two gold (in two sizes) and one black. "Life is short — buy the shoes," as they say. If you want some of your own, here's the code: HG83541G

SECOND UPDATE: I went nuts and bought the navy ones, too. My husband predict they will all be "torture devices" since I have fussy feet and he's probably right. My bank account hopes so.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Recent Whatever

I don't often see our cats (or any cats) in this position. It looks weird, precarious, and uncomfortable. But that's Toffee. He's not like other cats. He eats Christmas lights when they're plugged in.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Postcards from Toronto: The Distillery District

One of my favorite discoveries — worth the miles of damp, chilly walking it took me to get there — was Toronto's Distillery District — "the largest and best-preserved collection of Victorian industrial architecture in North America." After a long history of whiskey making, and then a long stint as the second-largest film location outside of Hollywood, the area is now a very hip, destination with about 80 galleries, shops, restaurants, performance spaces, and studios. There are no cars (just some Segways) so it was ideal for a long, interesting ramble.

It's a huge complex but it must be crowded with visitors in warm weather.

I could see why it was so popular as a movie set. 

Those are locks. Lovers in Toronto are so much more orderly than lovers in Paris.

This was a beautiful little tea and jam shop. 

A chocolate factory and restaurant. You can watch them grinding the cacao nibs.

 Toronto has attractive dogs as well as black squirrels. This one was hostile and yappy, though.

This 12-year-old mixed-breed was adorable and her owner was very nice 
about letting her pose for photos.

Sculpture in a gallery.

I was drawn to this artist's huge portrait's of children.

I saw three wedding parties taking photos in spite of the cold and the rain. 
This one is posing in front of the huge, unlit Christmas tree.

Yes, she's wearing a fur stole — and rocking it. 

These bridesmaids are all wearing the same dress, just wrapped different ways. 
They were having quite a good time — not minding the cold at all.

A beautiful French bakery and brasserie. 
Yes, I definitely would go back to the Distillery District.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Not One Flake

The forecasters were wrong about snow yesterday, which was not much of a surprise. Instead we had a traditional New England false alarm, the first of the season. The sun was shining by the time I headed out around 9 am. I'd been dreading slip-sliding through slush but it was perfectly dry — just  nippier than usual.

I was going to the orthopedist because my knee has been bothering me for more than a year. There's nothing much wrong with it but it hurts when I bend it or kneel. I've been doing physical therapy for several weeks to strengthen that leg, and this was a follow-up appointment.

I like my orthopedist. Within the first few minutes of my first appointment with him, last year, I realized he was one of the funniest, sharpest guys I've ever met. He's also very cute, if not downright handsome, with a mop of curly, graying hair. At that first appointment I showed him the bizarre-looking (but very harmless) ganglion cyst on my knee, sticking up like half a pingpong ball. After he explained what it was, we moved on to talking about amputating my leg. "But only one!" he said firmly — and I knew I'd met my match. He sent me for an MRI, and on my way home afterward, the cyst finally popped. When I reported this, he took full credit for it.

So I was looking forward to seeing him again.

As I waited for him, I watched his previous patient being wheeled from his office. She filled only about half of the seat of her wheelchair — a tiny old lady, shrunken and frail, bent with weakness. Her skin was translucent; her hair was barely there, wispy and gray. She looked far older than any of the old people in my life, including my dad, who is 100 and still taking care of himself at home, or my uncle, who turns 90 this year and drives his Lincoln to the casino twice a week to play the slots.

So when I bounced into the doctor's office, my first question was about the lady. "I couldn't help noticing your last patient," I said. "She seemed ancient... even older than my dad, and he's 100. Is she in her 90s?"

He shook his head. "She's 73." And then, both of us being people of a certain age, we stared at each other in horror, wide-eyed and speechless. Then he told me he has patients in their 90s who look like they're in their 60s, and patients like that lady, who are in ruins in their 60s and 70s.*

"So what's going on?" I asked him. "How do we make sure we're not the ones who are going to fall apart? We need to figure this OUT! Is it genetics, or exercise, or what?"

He told me he had no idea, but if we could figure it out, we'd be going into business together. I told him about my dad's good health, and our family's genetically low cholesterol, which allows us to eat terrible diets without cardiac repercussions, at least. "Lucky you. When my dad hit 65, he was the first man in our family to make it to that age. Everybody gets heart disease. I eat a lot of vegetables." Then he looked at my knee. "How's it going?"

I told him it was much better but I still couldn't balance on one leg — either leg — with my eyes closed. I had failed his 30-second balance test miserably on my last visit, tipping over in a couple of seconds. "I woke up this morning remembering that you were going to ask me to do that again, and I'd completely forgotten until that moment. So I've had no time to practice. You must have put some kind of spell on me to make me forget that. I'm doomed."

He has a big, hearty laugh. He said he wouldn't make me do it. He examined my legs, prodding and bending. I still have a little cyst under the skin, but it's nothing. When he finished, he said, "Now stand on that leg and lift your other one. Now close your eyes." I tipped right over.

He said I have to keep doing my exercises and getting stronger. "It bothered you enough to come here, and it bothered you enough so that you did your exercises. Now it's better but you have to remember that it's going to bother you again if you get lazy. So don't get lazy."

I walked home briskly, enjoying the crisp day, outpacing everyone else along the way. I'm not planning to be curled over in a wheelchair when I'm 73. I plan to be moving just as fast as I am now. I'm ready to start working out at the gym again. My physical therapy is winding down. But Boston will soon be a slippery mess and, if I fall and hurt myself, at least I know I'll get some laughs out of it.

* For the record, Raquel Welch is 73 and she still looks like this. (Sorry that's from Fox News but it does seem to be true.)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Souvenir from Toronto: Fleece Leggings

Wander the shopping areas of Toronto, and you'll quickly realize that Canadians know a thing or two about keeping warm. I went into Hudson's Bay Company, a vast department store that is the oldest continually operating company in North America. You've probably seen their iconic wool blankets with multicolored stripes. (If only we didn't have moths....) The Bay sells everything from coats and scarves to dog collars and infant onesies emblazoned with those stripes. The women's boot department was overwhelming, and pleasantly so. The vast majority of styles were equestrian, with low heels and decent soles for winter weather. Canadians don't fool around. (We did spot one young Asian woman on the street wearing ridiculously high-heeled, white shoes, but she was surely a tourist — other passersby were nodding in her direction and giggling.)

I  also visited Roots, a Canadian chain that carries quality casual clothing, shoes, and leather goods for men and women. Everything I saw was designed with warmth and rugged,  outdoorsy charm in mind. I bought these black, red, and white fleece-lined leggings:

They're soft and substantial, and I plan to only wear them around the house, unless I hide them under a skirt and tall boots when the Arctic cold fronts come in January. Their leggings seem to run one size small in case you're interested. The two slender saleswomen I consulted reported that they had as much trouble getting into their proper size as I did. They also said they're durable and extremely warm, so I couldn't resist. I can't wait to wear them... but if the temperature decides to moderate again into, say, the 50s, I'd be up for that, too.

Snow Tomorrow?

Lion and Wendy are practicing keeping warm together on the radiator, as snow is predicted tomorrow morning. It seems a little hard to believe, since yesterday was almost spring-like and today has been sunny and seasonable. But if winter arrives tomorrow, they'll be prepared while I'm scrambling to find my snow boots. I have to go out in the morning so I will photograph whatever snow I come across, I promise.