Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

And it darn well better BE happy!

If you've been wondering where I've been this week, I've spent the last three days obsessed with completing a challenging 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, a gift from a "friend" who'd enjoyed working on it herself.

Here's a tip: Friends don't give tricky 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles to friends with five cats and only one table.

Here's why:

That's what the puzzle looked like in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. It's a high-quality Japanese puzzle showing a lady wearing an elaborate kimono and headdress. She is standing in front of another elaborately patterned kimono, so the design is a riot of gorgeous patterns on a large background of metallic gold with maddeningly subtle variations. The colors are vibrant and there are many metallic inks. It was a pleasure to handle the pieces, which are thin, silky smooth, and confusingly similar. I love doing jigsaw puzzles, but I rarely do one at home since we have no room. But I was really in the mood for this one. I have a lot on my mind (more about that soon) and I wanted a soothing, meditative occupation.

On Tuesday I'd spent hours on it, completing the frame, which was mostly gold, and getting started on some of the easier sections. Before I went to bed, I carefully (or so I thought) covered the areas I'd worked on with papers and boxes in case of nighttime visitors. 

Usually, we turn on a little machine that makes soothing fan sounds to help us sleep, but it's been on the fritz lately, and I was too tired to fuss with it. So a few hours later, I as I was lying awake I could hear the distinctive sound of puzzle pieces hitting the floor.

It was 3 am. Someone (Harris, no doubt, but he may have had helpers) had pushed about a third of the areas I'd completed onto the floor and rearranged them to his liking. The pieces were everywhere. Some were behind the wooden radiator cover. I used my usual high-tech equipment to fish them out (in this case a spatula and some of the plastic drinking straws that Lion carries off from the kitchen counter). I had to move the radiator cover and I confess that I never dust the coils of the flaking, rusting old radiators underneath those covers. But my [iPhone] flashlight couldn't penetrate through all that dirt and dust, and I was horrified and not thinking clearly enough to not clean at 3 am. So I got out my long, flexible radiator brush (yes, I have one but I never use it... just owning it ought to count) and I excavated all the crevices and then swept the mess into a heap. I think I found some Sabine family-era dirt, which gave me pause and got me thinking about them.... I also found many cat toys I hadn't seen in years. I also found all of the puzzle pieces except one. I had had to count the number of pieces in the frame because it was so tricky to assemble, and it's a good thing I did. But I should have known... there's always one missing piece; it's a law of nature.

So I cleaned some more. I crawled around and hunted under all the furniture, lifted the edge of the rug, inspected the tree skirt, interrogated Harris and Lion, and inspected the dining chair cushions. It was getting to be 4 am. Then I remembered and prayed to Saint Anthony. And as I was taking the filthy radiator brush to the kitchen to clean it, I stepped on the puzzle piece, which had migrated into the kitchen. Then I reassembled the frame, which was just as hard the second time around. 

Before I went back to bed, I covered the puzzle with sheets of aluminum foil, which our cats hate, and stacked books on top of it. I awoke to the first snow of the winter and this:

I complained and he went away. I realized I needed to finish the puzzle ASAP, not only to protect it from the local wildlife but so we could use our dining table for meals again. So I dedicated myself to making progress, and tried to enlist my husband. He's quite decent at jigsaw puzzles but he has a limited attention span. He kept drifting away because he'd rather write grants and do email. Fortunately, I am pretty speedy at solving puzzles. My theory is that we Highly Sensitive People have unusually strong powers of discrimination, so the tiny differences among jigsaw puzzle pieces are easy for us to see and absorb.

Here's the puzzle after dinner last night:

By 2 am, I'd finished all of the patterned areas, leaving just the gold background for today. Lion helped:

After the late-night catastrophe, my husband brought me a big piece of particle board from work to use a cover for the puzzle. I weighted it with books just in case. 

I finished the puzzle this morning and, boy, I am glad. Sitting and leaning forward for so long made my back ache, and I had a headache for most of yesterday, too. But it's a beautiful puzzle and I'm glad I rose to the challenge.

If you look closely, you'll see that there are two missing pieces. We don't have them. I'll swear to that. But the person who gave me the puzzle has TEN cats. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Stockings

Wendy and Lion disappeared on Christmas morning, being shy, introverted types. (Lion is still a little afraid of the Christmas tree.) Harris volunteered to investigate all the stockings by himself, urging Toffee and Possum to keep a safe distance and watch out for possible explosions.

Toffee didn't stand a chance.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Recent Adorableness

This was taken on Christmas Eve close to midnight, when the legend says that the animals will speak to us. I asked our cats if they'd speak to me and, as usual, only Possum replied. In one of those rare Christmas moments of peace and harmony, as when warring troops cease trying to kill each other and raise their heads out of the trenches to sing carols instead, Possum allowed me to take this portrait in a Santa hat. He even told me that he feels okay about not getting a bicycle rickshaw this year due to budget constraints. 

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

This garden on Marlborough Street is planted with flowering white hellebores and white-topped ornamental cabbages. An all-white garden illuminated by all those fairy lights would seem magical any time, but especially this un-wintry December, as we enjoyed in unusually balmy temperatures. I wore sandals on Christmas Eve day!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year! We finished wrapping, went for a walk, spent time with friends and family, and played cat games. Now it's time to turn out the lights and sit by the light of the Christmas tree... thinking of the past. I'll be thinking of the Sabine family, and especially of Ruth, who wrote the following essay in 1918 or '19, probably imagining our living room, which was her family's parlor, too:

Christmas Eve

There stands the tree tall and majestic, with its sweeping boughs covered with drums to be filled with candy, and small figures of Santa Claus and gilded angels and other amusing dolls, attached to unseen electric wires that tomorrow will make them glow and glisten with the light within them. And there from branch to branch draping the tree and twining in and out, are long, many colored chains of huge, glass beads, and long garlands of silver and gold tinsel that shimmer and shine like fairy spun sugar; and at the very top of the tree is a beautiful star. At the foot of the tree, a pile of square, oblong and other queer shaped bundles tied with red will be placed tomorrow. There is none in the silent happy family around the tree who is not thinking of the possibilities tomorrow may bring forth. The parents are thinking of the many bundles piled up in the closet behind that locked door yonder in the gloom of the corner.

The younger members of the family also cast furtive glances toward that wonderful store of treasures wishing only that they possessed the “open Sesame” to make it divulge its secrets.

The juvenile “kid brother” of the family, luxuriously cuddled in the long warm fur of the hearth rug, is vaguely dreaming of a sleigh piled so high with imaginary wonders, that the unfortunate, but merry driver of the eight prancing reindeer has a hard time to find room for his corpulent person. The warm, dancing fire is also reflecting beautiful pictures in the loving eyes of the older folks.

What a mystical fire it is with its bright, dreamland of rich color and happy pictures!

… Now the solemn rite is performed, the stockings are hung, the fire put out — “In case that St. Nicholas soon would be there, —“ and the children sent off bed leaving the parents to perform with many happy smiles their mysterious schemes.

Ruth Sabine (1906–1922)
written at 13 years of age

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Here We Are.... Waiting

It's nearly Christmas Eve, and the decorating, baking, cards, and shopping are done, the presents are wrapped and under the tree, and... oh, wait! One package hasn't arrived although UPS said it would, and I waited at home all day. (For some reason, UPS delivers almost all of our packages between 6 and 8 pm although, if we go out for as little as a half hour during the day, that's when they'll show up.)

Darn that Amazon Prime; orders reliably arrive in two days all year long, lulling us into a false sense of security until it's the eve of Christmas Eve... and then they leave us in the lurch when it counts.  It happens with at least one package every year.

If we're lucky we'll find our box on the porch tomorrow night... since we will be out all afternoon and evening.

Aside from my shipping tirade, I have few to no complaints! Merry Christmas! I'm going to eat Christmas cookies and watch the rest of the mesmerizing and baffling second season of Transparent. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Holiday Light Show at the BPL

We bundled up on Saturday night to see the light show on the McKim Building of the Boston Public Library, created by a company called luminARTZ and artist Anthony Bastic. We had planned to go to the Christmas concert at Trinity Church that afternoon and had it on our calendars but then we got carried away with shopping and errands and 4 o'clock came and went. 

But we loved the light show. You can read more about it here. I took some video but it just won't load here. I'll keep trying.

While we were in Copley Square, we checked out the leaning Christmas tree, which looked less tipsy dressed in lights:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Last Night.... continued

The crime scene. 

We suddenly had a cat trapped in our only bathroom — and no access to its facilities for the other six of us. The litter box is in there, too.

With the bathroom door closed, the louvered closet door can swing open and wedge itself against a metal towel rack on the back of the bathroom door, making a strong barricade.

I tried force. My husband tried force. Smashing and kicking against the bathroom door did nothing except make a lot of racket. (It also did something to my neck.) As we exerted ourselves, we didn't hear a peep from Possum on the other side.

When we gave up on that, I tried tools. Smart people always keep a set of tools for emergencies and repairs. We needed something that would fit into the tiny crack under the door that could also manipulate the closet door out of the way.

Our tool kit for this emergency included a long, flexible spatula from the kitchen, a wooden yardstick, and a flat, bent strip of metal we borrowed from an old-fashioned guitar stand. I toured the apartment and that was all I could find. I never said we were smart. The yardstick was too thick to the useful. The spatula wasn't bent enough to manipulate the closet door. The metal strip went under the door with effort but still couldn't budge the closet door.

I wished I could take a bathroom break to contemplate the situation, but no.

By sitting on the floor beside me and wedging himself hard against the door, my husband was able to force open it about 3/4 of an inch. With that much of an opening, I could just peer inside to see that the solid cherry wooden closet door was stuck just as I thought it was, braced hard against the solid wood bathroom door, at such an angle that we could never hope to bash it in ourselves.

We needed help. From inside. "Possum," I said, "Please close the closet door. You opened it, and now you have to close it. Don't you want to come out? Close the door, please. Come on, you can do it."

Possum heard me but was not persuaded.

Time was passing. Six of us had no bathroom. "Should we call the fire department?" my husband asked. That was a reasonable suggestion, since firemen have tools to do things like unlock car doors and so on. But we didn't need the full contingent that appears for every 911 call: at least two fire trucks, sirens and flashing lights, and a crew of burly, handsome, amused, sarcastic firemen filling our apartment, scaring the cats, and laughing at us.

"Go to the station," I said to my husband, "And see if you can get a fireman to come here by himself with tools." He went. There's a station about three blocks from us.

Possum and I were left to ourselves. I could hear that Possum was close by on the other side of the door. He was feeling chatty. He didn't meow, but made short, sharp, little comments. He wanted to come out. "Why don't you just close that door?" I said. "Push it with your big nose. You can do it."

The big nose under discussion.

I found that I could force the door open about a half an inch myself. I considered the problem again. It was stupid. It was embarrassing and silly. But it was also extremely problematic since we all need that bathroom... and I needed it soon. If a fireman came, he'd probably end up bashing the door down and it would be expensive and tricky to replace. And we'd probably have no bathroom door for weeks or months, given how hard it is to get a handyman these days. Ugh. I kept thinking.

I was confronted with a large, immovable object that wasn't responding to force. When force doesn't work, I thought, what does? Persuasion. Bribery. Luck.

I went into the kitchen for our smelliest cat treats. By forcing the door open, I could shoot them in to Possum, but on the wrong side of the closet door. If I did it correctly, he would have to push the closet door closed to get them.

He would certainly smell them, but would he be too lazy to work to get them?

The first two treats overshot their mark because they were large and I needed too much force to get them past the crack. I heard Possum chewing. I broke another treat in half and gently tossed it in and shut the door. I heard sniffing. I sat quietly, waiting. I heard faint movements inside and then, as I hoped, Possum munching. Nom, nom.

He had closed the closet door. So I could open the bathroom door. Inside I found splinters and paint flakes dusting the floor, and a cat that was happy to stay put if it meant more treats. Harris quickly joined him. Harris can't stand not being the center of attention. He wanted to be locked in the bathroom next. He had to have treats, too.

I called my husband and heard male voices in the background. "I got the door open! Come home." I said. He was stunned: "Wow, you did? How did you do it?" I explained. "That was brilliant, you're a genius." He said. "Let me tell the guys they don't need to come."

When he got home, he told me he had interrupted a fireman outside the station who was talking to a woman in a very short blue dress and high heels, with extremely good legs. I gather that both fireman and husband were reluctant to leave the scene. They were just beginning to make some progress on that when I called. I'm glad we weren't on fire.

Lesson: There will be no more bathroom timeouts in this apartment unless one of us chaperones the overwrought feline.

No worse for wear.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Last Night...

I've been wrapping presents at our dining room table (our only table), which has been covered with stuff and difficult to use for meals for about a week now. Both of our families decided independently to spend less on gifts this year, a godsend. But somehow it didn't translate into fewer things to wrap.

Last night I was wrapping away, with Toffee near me on the table.  I was having one of those moments where you realize you've cut the paper too small to reach around the present (it was a book) and mentally kick yourself for wasting paper again. But then I turned the book on the diagonal and realized it could be fully covered that way. Using less paper. Then I figured out how to fold the tricky corners with a few strategic creases, and wound up with a beautifully wrapped gift where all the edges were smoothly covered and all the tape (less tape, too!) was all concealed on the bottom.

I suspect that whole nations, somewhere (perhaps Japan), have been wrapping stuff this way forever. But for me, having had the chore of wrapping all her family's presents since about the age of 8, it was a game-changing breakthrough, a Eureka! moment. It's a great feeling to figure out how to do something more easily and elegantly after doing it the same old, annoying way for nearly half a century.*

Before I could report my discovery via texts and photos to interested relatives, all hell broke loose next to me at the table.

Thus began one of those domestic-crisis episodes in our lives that play out something like comedies on TV — you're the unwitting lead, struggling to cope as one bizarre, unexpected thing happens after another, each more ludicrous, confusing, embarrassing and scary than the last. If you were watching it instead of living it, it might be funny. However, the truth quickly hits you that art is truly better than life: comedies generally have a script, a laugh track, a set running time, commercial breaks, and a decent ending. A domestic crisis is more like an improv exercise, unfolding moment to moment, and it's impossible to predict if it will end well — or end at all. And what a difference that makes.

Toffee helped me wrap presents last year, too.

On the table, I had a small shopping bag holding toys and treats for my family's cats and dogs. Toffee stuck his head in it when I wasn't looking. His head went through the handle and he got himself caught, so the whole bag was attached to him. When this happens, the cat goes wild, dashing madly around the house in an often-futile attempt to free itself from its new appendage. Time stands still as you watch; it's a riveting, rare, and weird sight to see such tremendous energy and chaos in your previously tranquil home.

As video, it might look hilarious to some, since it's pure madness and rarely does any actual damage to the cat... unless it dies of heart failure from its exertions. If you've ever seen it happen to one of your cats, it's not remotely funny; it's heartbreaking and scary because your cat is terrified. I have seen it happen just a few times in my life despite taking pains to keep shopping bags away from my cats unless I've cut the handles first.

As Toffee tore around the living room, my husband tried to trap him in a corner to free him. He had his hand gouged and scratched for his trouble. This was not Toffee's fault; we knew, since he was beyond courtesy at the moment. We sometimes learn to leave a crazed cat alone the hard way. But we had to help him. So we coached him as he raced around, telling him he'd be all right. I doubt he heard, but it gave us something to do since we were helpless.

Parts of the bag ripped off him as he ran under furniture and behind the Christmas tree. He finally wedged himself behind the back of our bed, a tight spot where I could reach in and quickly remove the bag's handle and remnants from his neck. He settled down. I sat near him, talking quietly... and noticed he smelled bad. Had he been peeing in terror? I looked around and didn't see any wetness. It was a funky smell, and I remembered that cats sometimes release their anal glands under duress.

Oh, well. Nature's Miracle spray and his own bathing would take care of any mess, I thought. Toffee came out from the bed. Possum, who was sitting nearby, promptly jumped him.

All hell broke loose again. It was a vicious attack, or at least it sounded like one. Possum sometimes takes his responsibilities as Top Cat too seriously, we think. Cats recognize each other by smell, not looks, and Toffee smelled like a stranger, so Possum decided to subdue the intruder. Toffee doesn't like to fight so he screamed and protested, and we yelled and protested, and finally Possum let go.

Cat altercations are uncommon around here and they freak us out. There's plenty of noise and the fur flies, but no one has ever had any wounds upon inspection. We trim claws when we brush the boys' teeth a few times a week, and that helps. Possum still looked riled — his nose seems to grow longer into a more "possumy" snout (I swear!) when he's annoyed at someone, so whenever I see that, I urge him to settle down. He wouldn't. He kept strutting about in a Tony Soprano–esque way, rubbing his face along furniture, which means he's agitated and looking for trouble.

So I picked him up. He's heavy and awkward when he's wriggling. As he struggled, I tossed him, more emphatically than I would have wished, into the bathroom and shut the door. Time for a timeout. It was quiet. Toffee went to his favorite chair and settled down, and Harris came in cautiously to investigate. After several minutes, I was ready to let Possum out. But I couldn't open the bathroom door. He had barricaded himself in there. There is a heavy, solid-cherry bi-fold door at 90 degrees to the bathroom door. It swings open and closed lightly and easily, usually. But Possum must have opened it and wedged it firmly against the bathroom door. It would not budge. He was locked in and the six of us were locked out.

And, naturally, I'd been about to use the bathroom before any of this happened.

To be continued

*The wrapping discovery follows my recent realization that flossing before you brush is way more sensible than flossing after you brush. Since flossing is the last step in a professional dental cleaning, I'd been doing it at the end, too. But then I thought about it. And, duh: never again.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Recent Adorableness: Toffeepot

Toffee kept me company while I decorated our tree. There was a Patriots' game on, and I don't trust anyone with my ornaments anyway. (I broke three all by myself.) But I thought there'd be a few more cats looking for trouble. I think the other four were in a secret meeting to divide responsibilities for future tree wreckage amongst themselves. Toffee's assignment is apparently surveillance.

He took a supervisory role, watching quietly as I shrieked over broken glass.. He didn't chew lights or wires, pull items off the tree, or climb it — as he has did during his previous two Christmases. In other words, he was rather a let-down. Our crazy kitten may be all grown up. 

But the next day, I found that a tiny, expensive jointed teddy bear and a bird ornament lying on the floor at some distance from the tree. So all is well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Wreath of Character

I spotted this romantic wreath on Charles Street in Beacon Hill last week, as we walked to the taqueria for burritos. It was an unseasonably balmy December evening, which felt more like September (although September often feels as warm as July nowadays). 

I like wreaths that aren't made from materials other than the usual fir branches. One exception: I saw some all-holly wreaths at Wilson Farm that made my fingers curl protectively in sympathy — gorgeous, but too reminiscent of suffering.

This wreath is made of cedar, the floppiest of all the holiday greens, which gave it loads of character. It was droopy, asymmetrical, and delightfully old-fashioned. I wonder if it was homemade:

And since it was hanging on the door of a realtor, it was decorated with keys:

My hands recovered quickly from wreath week... but on Monday, I cut myself with my pruners while trimming balsam branches for one of our mantels. There's a deep, half-inch slice into the heel of my left hand, and I can't explain how it happened. I just know it hurt like hell and bled like mad. Fortunately, the timing was good, as I was almost finished decorating: the tree and wreaths were finished, the empty boxes were all put away, and I was just about done with the mantels. I'd even polished the silver. So I slapped on a bandage and tried to take it easy. But I still had to vacuum and that made it hurt and bleed again. So I have a new excuse to avoid my least-favorite chore. There's always a silver lining if you look hard enough.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Wreath Decorating 2015: Day 4

The last day of wreath-decorating was often frantic when we had lots of orders to finish in time for the last deliveries. Besides decorators, organizers and general helpers, many members of the Garden Club also deliver wreaths around Boston in pairs. I've always wanted to try it but I'm not allowed.

Last year, we stopped fully decorating giant wreaths (bows only) and only do the 12" ones (and no more matching triples or quadruple — just singles and pairs). That helped make wreath-decorating fun again. We've been able to complete our orders at a comfortable pace. 

In fact, I only had to decorate three wreaths on the last day, and I was able to take my time and still participate in the clean-up and knock-down that happens afterward.

My first customer wanted a cream bow and "designer's choice accents." I'd hoarded loads of little scrub pinecones, either in picturesque clusters or attached to branches with lichens, so I sprayed the best ones,, and some lotus pods with silver glitter. I covered the wreath liberally with both. Then I added pretty, glittery sprigs that were an unusual shade, somewhere between pale gold and silver. I also had a huge pile of rose hips so they went onto the wreath, too. And that was enough:

Even with just four materials it was a lively wreath:


When a wreath is finished, it gets approved, photographed, checked for quality (shaken, checked for protruding wires or the sharp ends of picks), and checked off as done in the book. Then we take them upstairs to the church's courtyard where they're organized for delivery or pickup. If we're efficient we pick out a wreath or two for our next order while we're up there shivering without a coat. 

Finished wreaths usually look much better up there, out of the fluorescent light:

Have I mentioned that I'm kind of a slob when I work? 

I try to clean up as I go but I fail. Since I use the same items on many wreaths, I hoard piles of my favorite greens, berries, and pinecones. I hate running low on picks and wire so I stockpile those, too. I try to be good about returning other materials to the general supplies after I'm finished with them. But this year my table was covered messy piles that didn't get sorted until we were closing doqn. Other decorators behave similarly, but I admire those who start each wreath from scratch with an empty table, a brand-new theme, and a fresh collection of different materials. While I stick to my favorites, there are decorators who rarely using the same materials twice in a row.

My last pair of wreaths were to have gold bows and all-natural materials. Wreath pairs have to be matched, meaning that if you add a pinecone in a certain spot on one wreath, you have to add one in the same spot on the other wreath — you can choose to make them mirror images or both "identical." I always make mirror images. When you're working with natural materials, which vary in size and shape, this can be challenging. 

These were outdoor wreaths, I was able to use up the last my variegated holly, which dries out too quickly indoors. I also used much of my stockpiled rose hips and giant pinecones, so I felt rather virtuous. Deep in my roasting pan full of greens, I discovered pale eucalyptus sprigs with tiny berries and some long-needled Japanese pine, which I'd snagged on Monday. I made little corsages of rose hips and eucalyptus (no two identical but it didn't matter), which filled up the wreaths in no time.

I sprayed the pinecones with glitter, along with some peony stems (I think), which someone gave me. I usually break dried flowers, grasses, and pods, but these were hard and strong, with tops that look like four-petaled flowers. I was going to add some small magnolia leaves (their velvety brown backs contrast nicely with green and gold) but I realized the wreaths were loaded and finished:

And that was another week of wreaths. Click here to see amazing wreaths created by my fellow decorators, who never fail to impress me. I have so much to learn! The Wreath of the Day feature runs on the Garden Club's website until Epiphany.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Wreath Decorating 2015: Day 3

Walking to the church on Wednesday morning for another 10-hour day of fun, I noticed glitter sparkling on my boots. I still love being out in the alley with a can of spray paint, even if I'm only "tagging" pinecones and lotus pods with gold. We do all of our spraying in the church parking lot, usually under a low tent in case it rains. We use aluminum roasting pans to transport our materials. This keeps everyone working in the basement from being overcome by fumes. 

Whenever I see the roasting pan throughout the year, I smell spray paint.

By Wednesday morning, there's quite a show on the grill enclosing the church's courtyard:

I noticed that the peacock wreaths looked better in daylight. Still not my style at all, but I could see how someone with different tastes might enjoy them:

My first assignment was an outdoor wreath for a farm in New Hampshire. The customer, one of our senior members, told me it's a lovely place with lots of wildlife around, including a bear. She had picked the perfect bow, a gingham ribbon covered with moose (meese?):

I got busy wiring the scrub-pinecones with branches and lichens, after dusting them lightly with silver glitter spray. They often grow in clusters of three, four, or even five on a branch, so they have a lot of impact on a wreath. Without glitter, they can look dark and grubby. Even a tiny bit of glitter gives them some old-fashioned Christmas charm.

I filled out the wreath with cedar that had yellow buds to match the bow. I happily stabbed myself wiring little "corsages" of thorny rose hips and springs of variegated holly (yellow and green, like the bow). Then my customer came by and handed me several tiny, ivory birds that looked like they are made of sugar. On they went, and she was pleased with the result.

Here's a detail:

My next assignment was three wreaths for a South End home. This customer was known to be very particular, so I knew I had to be careful. Somebody on the wreath team will usually know something about almost every customer's tastes; I found my source through the grapevine. The winning formula was determined to be preppy and traditional, with bright red plaid bows and gold accents.

Ralph Lauren, in other words. I did two matching, symmetrical wreaths for the house's double doors, and a wreath with a bow at the 10 o'clock position for another door. I made them lush with holly, red berries, pinecones, and gold balls. Entirely unobjectionable, but pretty and Christmasy.

The bows above are anchored with giant pinecones as long as my hand. Someone brought a box of these beautiful brown giants. While the professional designers can incorporate large materials all over their wreaths with ease, I stuck with tucking them around bows.

I heard later that she was pleased.

Wednesday's lunch is always from Pizzeria Regina, and we all look forward to it. I ate three pieces with ricotta and sausage. Heaven. I usually stuff my face during wreath week, as I'm working. In the morning there are mini cinnamon rolls, coffee cake, and muffins. We'll have big sandwiches or pizza for lunch, and then cookies and pound cake in the afternoon. Soda, seltzer, coffee, and tea are always available, and lunch leftovers turn into supper since we often work until at least 7. 

This year, my work table had a perfect view of the buffet table. I restrained myself pretty well, considering that I used to begin each wreath in previous years by eating a cinnamon bun, an atrocious habit that grew over time. This year, I only ate two. I didn't think they were all that wonderful when I paid closer attention to them. But the pumpkin-nut muffins and the lemon-iced poundcake were another story....

Stoked with sugar, my next assignment was for the pastor of the church where we work; he'd picked a bright velvet bow trimmed with gold beading. 

I found four pieces of sparkly gold fruit and decided to try using it. I poked holes in each with an awl and wired them easily to the wreath. For once, I used just two pinecones (both huge), sprayed gold, around the bow. The lotus pods were leftovers from someone else who had sprayed them with gold glitter. I added magnolia leaves, sprigs of cedar, red and gold glass balls, glittery gold spikes, and a pair of flocked cardinals, and called it done. I think this was my favorite wreath this year because it decorated itself, simply but elegantly — and using mostly odds and ends.

I walked home with more sparkles on my boots and my face.