Sunday, May 31, 2015

Recent Adorableness

Possum and Harris are such good friends. We love to see our cats enjoying each other's company.

Friday, May 29, 2015

It's a Boy

Robin Olson from Kitten Associates just sent us this baby photo of Harris, which she said we hadn't seen before. It was taken when he was 12 days old, as the vet checked him out and declared him a boy. Harris is still pretty much the same pouting, adorable baby even though he'll be turning 3 soon. But he can no longer be mistaken for a hamster.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Hot Hot Hot

We are much too warm in this apartment, and it's only in the mid 80s.

I close our windows as soon as the air is warmer outside than inside, not that it helps much. I'll open them sometime after sunset and beg the breeze to come in. We have a ceiling fan going slowly in the bedroom, which the cats like more than I do. I don't like air blowing on me. But our noisy, awful, inefficient air conditioners are still in storage. How I loathe them. I'm not sure what's worse: roasting or listening to them roar and struggle to cool things down a bit. But for the sake of the cats, we'll go get one of them soon.

Possum was in this expressive pose when I came home this afternoon.

We have two units, but we only used one last year, having learned the hard way that it's impossible to sleep with one going in the bedroom. I'd rather melt into a coma and be able to open the window. These units are a famous brand (I can't remember what or I'd tell you) and are just two or three years old. They had high ratings from Consumer Reports, and I carefully used those online calculators to choose the right size for our rooms. And they are garbage.

New air conditioners are just horrible compared to old ones. I am going to start hunting for ancient Panasonics with freon, like the ones we got rid of. But first I will have to summon the energy to search. The cats and I are all reduced to lying about exhausted and languid, like Possum.

Things should be looking up by October.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

And Then There Was This

This shot is more "painterly" and "atmospheric" than I'd like, but it captures Possum in a relaxed moment during one of his lectures. I can't remember if this one was about Sargent's murals in the Boston Public Library, why we should buy a set of Thomas Hardy paperbacks (so he can sit on them and "read" them in the manner of cats), or the nutritional importance of popcorns (as he says) for feline development. It could have been all three; some of his lectures are interminable and cover a wide range of topics.

He is joining me as I'm slowly reading Wallace Clement Sabine: A Study in Achievement, and he seems to know and like the guy. Since I've always believed that cats can see more than we can, I asked him if we have ghosts (I don't think we do, but when ghosts are polite, you often don't know). He ignored me. I should probably interpret that a "yes."

Monday, May 25, 2015

Where Are They Now?

Genealogy websites are often useful for figuring out when people died, but rarely how.... or where they are now. However, there's a site called that is very helpful for the latter.

It's where I found that the Sabines are all interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery, one of my husband's and my favorite haunts, so to speak. They were not a religious family, which was somewhat unusual in those days, although according to his biography, Professor Sabine walked his two little girls to Sunday school every week himself. (I'm assuming that they realized that Sunday school was important for their daughters' social prospects. Their little girls were expected to be debutantes, being Mayflower descendants.)

At any rate, I did some hunting and found their location number in the Bigelow Chapel Columbarium, for they were all cremated. Everyone is in the same niche, except their oldest daughter Janet, who is buried alone on Thistle Path, not far from Harvard president Charles Eliot, who was her father's great mentor and supporter. We've been visiting his grave for years.

Looking around on Mount Auburn's website, I learned that Bigelow Chapel was going to be open on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend for an open house — it's only open to the public on three Sunday afternoons a year. The rest of the time it's used for services, including weddings.

Perfect timing. Yesterday we went walking in Mount Auburn on a hot, sunny afternoon:

Remember how far away all this greenness and warmth seemed in January, February, and March? I was dreading the heat even then.

Bigelow Chapel is beautiful, but I think it looks even better in snow:

I hadn't been inside in years. We once went to an outdoor dinner party in the cemetery, to celebrate some major anniversary. It was an unseasonably cold June night and everyone was freezing. At our table, we passed a votive candle around so everyone could thaw their hands. We also left between courses to huddle in the chapel for warmth.

Anyway, the chapel is a beautiful Gothic Revival space, smaller and more intimate than you'd expect given its soaring ceiling. The Sabines' funeral services were held here.

There are small niches on the ground floor and larger ones up flights of stairs on each side of the chapel. I needed the flashlight on my phone to hunt for them. The Sabine niche wasn't easy to find. It is at the bottom corner of this wall, next to the window.

Here lies the professor and his wife, his daughter Ruth, and his father, Hylas, who has a grave marker in Ohio but was buried here. The whole family was remarkable and interesting, including Wallace's sister Annie, an artist. I may eventually do a post on each to tell you why.

The ashes of Janet, the Sabines' older daughter, are buried under a yew, next some early 19th-century gravestones. She died fairly young, at 42, less than a year after her second marriage. I imagine her husband planned to be buried there but changed his mind. He survived her by many years.

We'll be back to visit again.

House Facts and Mysteries

By searching online newspaper archives, I learned that the Back Bay townhouse where we own a condo was valued at $20,300 when Wallace Clement Sabine* and his wife, Jane Kelly Sabine** bought it from its first owners, the Heath family. I also found that Dr. Jane Sabine's estate received only $9,500 from the sale of this house after she died in 1950.

Back Bay's cachet went downhill during her years here, as its well-to-do families moved to the suburbs and their former homes were converted to apartments, schools, dormitories, rooming houses, and medical offices. Many Victorian showpieces were torn down or "updated" catastrophically before the Back Bay Architectural Commission came into being (in 1966) and acquired the power to stop all that nonsense. We have preservation rules and guidelines now. The whole neighborhood is landmarked and no one can mess with any of its historic exterior elements.

I believe that our neighborhood's state of preservation is one of the reasons that the Sabines' house is worth about $4 million today.

After this house was sold in 1950, it was used as an apartment building or rooming house with shared baths and "kitchenettes." The new owners, Harry (a teletype operator) and Harriet Thorson, lived in one apartment and rented out the rest. Ads for "furnished rooms" and for the 4th-floor apartment with "terrace" appear frequently in the Boston Herald classifieds during the 1950s

We know that the house had "12 rooms and 3 bathrooms" at the time of that sale, but we can't figure out where they were located, or even how many floors the house had at the time. It started out with three stories (or was it three and a half?). It mysteriously acquired a fourth story at some point (there are no building permits on record). Either Dr. Sabine or the Thorsons must have added it.

The top-story addition looks newer than that, both inside and out. It's covered with ugly sheet-metal and has narrow casement windows that seem more mid-century. When the Sabines bought the house in 1909, it was described as a 3-1/2 story house, and that's confusing, too. The half story may mean the basement, since it's below-grade in the front and fully above ground in the back. Or it has something to do with the top floor. We are struggling over that one. Deed research is on the docket.

I keep saying "we" because I have a partner in my new obsession. She lives in California, but she used to live in my living room when she was an undergrad studying theater at BU in the early 1960s. Several years ago, she was revisiting her old haunts on a trip here and rang our bell, but we weren't home. So she wrote a letter... and we became friends. She loved living here and remembers many details about her old rooming house, which also housed an architectural firm on the parlor and basement levels. She visited Boston again a few years ago and we met and went touring as many of her old apartments as we could charm our way into.

When I emailed her with some Sabine-related questions, she got interested — she's a theater professional and loves old houses and house history. And Professor Sabine was the first person to study and master acoustic engineering in theaters and concert halls, so she loves that connection. While she's waiting for her copy of his biography to arrive, we're trading bits of research and grousing about facts we can't find.

* Harvard physics professor, dean of the Graduate School of Applied Science, inventor, founder of the science of modern architectural acoustics, and aeronautics expert.
** Doctor and surgeon at New England Women and Children's Hospital.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


I really can't hold it against you if you get tired of seeing photos of Possum's belly, but I obviously never do. Even though I get to see it for hours almost every day. I don't usually see him with three of his feet crossed, however, just two. So that's my excuse for posting this shot.

I promise to write about something more substantive tomorrow. For example, I have more things to tell about my Sabine family research, including attracting a research partner on the West Coast. I'm still reading Professor Sabine's biography... and reading aloud all the many choice bits to my husband. More about that, too.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Lion... and Possum

Lion still loves that cushion on the armchair. He is often the first cat to visit me in the morning, waking me with loud purring (a lovely sound at any hour... no complaints). He's also usually the first cat to curl up with me in bed at night, where I'm still reading Wallace Clement Sabine: A Study in Achievement, about the man who lived in this house a century ago.

All of our cats have a lot of nicknames, which are mostly too silly to discuss here. But Lion's latest is "Nino," which comes from my calling him variations on Lion, including "Lionino." It suits him, and he already comes when I use it to call him. It reminds me of some handsome, spoiled Italian playboy wearing a tuxedo in a Fellini movie.

* * *

In other news, Possum is no longer limping but he still stumps around audibly, which is unusual for a cat. Only very big, fat cats make noise when they walk around, and Possum is not that big or fat. We had a different vet for his appointment last week and she didn't think he was so very heavy. She pointed out that he had a "waist" and that he didn't have a lot of fat along his back or a very saggy belly. But I dared her to try to locate any of his ribs and she surrendered.

I keep telling him to try to be more of a twinkle-toes to save wear on his joints. He just stares right through me, as he does whenever I suggest tiny ways that he might improve. "Just because you're perfect doesn't mean you can't be even more perfect," I tell him, but to no avail.

The Choppy Charles

We went for a sunset walk along the Esplanade tonight in an unexpectedly strong wind. The water was choppy and only two sailboats were out. My hair flew and my ears froze as the wind blew straight through my fleece. But it was beautiful, as always.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Miss Wendy

I took this photo of Wendy tonight, as she gazed at me with disdain and expectation since it was almost  time for the cats' dinner and I have the evening shift in the kitchen. I can easily read the two thoughts circling around and around in her calico brain: "... I hate Mommy! When is she going to give me food in a bowl? ... Mommy is the worst! Where is my supper, lady? ..."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Spring on the Lagoon

We've started taking sunset walks along the Esplanade again. I'm finally back to walking at least 10,000 steps a day after a months-long break, and it feels good, mentally and physically. (But my feet and joints appreciated the long rest after four solid years of meeting my target, even if it meant jogging in place barefoot on a hard wooden floor. No more of that... well, maybe just a little!) 

Since the weather has cooled down to spring-like temperatures I'm a lot less cranky about being outside nowadays. The flowering trees have been spectacular, but there's a different pleasure in seeing their petals dusting the grass like pink confetti. The baby ducks have arrived, too.

Esplanade walks after dinner are one of the many reasons why I love my Back Bay neighborhood and would have trouble moving too far away. We've had NO second thoughts about the big, pretty house we didn't buy in Newton, and we've stopping looking so far from the city. We're beginning to realize that the old chestnut, "location, location, location" isn't just about real-estate value. For us, it's about making the best choice for everyday happiness. Yes, we could get to the Esplanade by T or bus from almost anywhere. But we wouldn't. One of us is too busy ("overworked," I'd call it) and the other one is lazy. And while we still dream of a roof deck or a small city garden, there's a lot to be said for having the Esplanade and the Public Garden in one's backyard.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Very Last Postcards from Brimfield

This is it, I promise. 

This was one of the most elegant juxtapositions I've ever seen at Brimfield. And I did nothing to adjust the color; the lighting in the tent provided those mellow tones. As you can tell, there were old picture frames and bits of furniture stacked and piled around it, but it was still striking.

What a sweet teddybear. How could anyone part with him? The more I look at him, the sorrier I am that I left him there. If it's meant to be, we'll run into each other again....

As usual, I was tempted by very little there that I could afford. I got this nice old cigarette tin for $10. These are pretty easy to find on eBay, but it was there, and it was in good condition. The only things I'm actively collecting these days are old graphic tins (mostly Schrafft's chocolate boxes) and walking sandals that hurt my feet. 

I like the graphics on the inside, too:

My husband collects Egyptian postcards so he spends most of his time at Brimfield in a barn dedicated to postcards. He picked out some old Christmas ones for me (25 cents each). I plan to use them for a project but I haven't decided what it's going to be yet.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lions in the Public Garden

The four lions around the base of the Ether Monument in the Public Garden seemed to be laughing last night:

Even More Postcards from Brimfield

There should only be one Brimfield more post after this and then I'm finished for 2015... unless we get to another show this year (July 14–19 and September 8–13). July is usually too hot and September is usually to hectic for my hard-working and overworked academic husband.

Bald ladies with attitude, makeup, and jewelry:


Another creepy Santa. Finding creepy Santas is getting to be like shooting fish in a barrel:

There was an entire tent filled with scented candles that looked like food. The fruit tray was kind of okay, but check out the pancakes with syrup and butter, and the Jello cups. There were waffles and ice cream parfaits, and much more. The aroma inside the tent was overpoweringly sweet, so I didn't linger.

Keys, keys, keys, rusty and otherwise. If you ever lost one, it might have ended up here:

Curtain tiebacks, in all your favorite flavors:

Oh, dear, Aunt Jemina, what is that thing you're holding that's pouring blood?

A box of bald ladies, but not from the same tent as the other bald ladies:

I liked this sign, since I treat my liver nicely and never drink, but it still gives me bad enzyme test results:

I didn't know that phrenology was getting popular again:

I shot this from the car as we leaving — or trying to, since traffic was heavy. What's better than the Blues Brothers, the Statue of Liberty and Bruce Lee, together at last?

Answer: The Blues Brothers, the Statue of Liberty, Bruce Lee, and a  life-size pig.

More Postcards from Brimfield

So then there was this... click on any photo to enlarge it:


I may be giving you the wrong idea: not every dealer at Brimfield specializes in surreal displays of kitsch. There are many expensive tents filled with antique jewelry, silver, furniture, art pottery, and so on. There are others who sell their own lines of new merchandise, from handbags to handmade soaps. And there are many tasteful displays:

I told the proprietor of this tent that it looked like it had been flown in from Madison Avenue in comparison with everything else and she was delighted. She told me she'd been thinking about how her dad had paid for six years of tuition so she could study biology, but maybe things would turn out okay after all.

Then she told me she thought her shop was looking very empty because so much had sold. I thought it looked great:

I rarely see this much old Phoenix Bird china these days, but I don't need any more:

Oh, look! A cat.

And another cat:

She's the first cat we've ever seen at Brimfield (there are dogs everywhere). Her owners told us that they've brought her before, and that once there were five dealers with cats in their field (Brimfield is huge and organized by field, as in farmers' fields. The fields have names, like Quaker Acres, May's, and Heart-o-the Mart.) She was quite a pretty cat but she had a look in her eye so I didn't touch her. As we talked, she began biting her owner pretty hard.

More weirdness:

This bunny is about 5 feet tall:

And, finally, here's Green Girl (related to the Wicked Witch of the West?). I wonder if she'd like to meet the Red, White, and Blue Guys from my previous post:

Postcards from Brimfield

Brace yourself, I sent a lot of them this time. Click in any photo to enlarge it. I'm posting them a little smaller than usual so they load faster.

Everyone at the Brimfield Antique and Collectibles Show seemed to be having a good time. The weather was perfect: slightly cool, slightly overcast, and totally dry. I've been there in rain and mud, and I've roasted and frozen, too. This was good. And the dealers were all saying that business was very good, too.

I think these are all liquor decanters. While it appears that lots of people came to their senses and decided to get rid of these, this could also be one person's prized collection. And now it's some dealer's prized collection. God help him or her.

I've always wanted one of these. But I can't remember why:

Brimfield is more than an antiques show. It's a celebration of dealer display creativity. In other words, it's a Festival of the Bizarre, Insane, and Surreal. Especially when someone's lucky enough to have a colorful set of mannequins.

The painting below is a Festival of the Bizarre and Insane all by itself. That's St. Thérèse, the Little Flower of Jesus, getting ecstatic over a crucifix. Cherubs are racing down from heaven to crown her with roses... but wait — some other winged babe is sneaking up behind her to drop a crown of thorns on her very distracted head. But don't worry, I happen to know that a nun's wimple (the wrappings under the veil) is usually tough enough to withstand attacks from garden trimmings, including that nasty surprise from Pinky.

Do you think this is a real stuffed alligator? Do you think anyone will ever want it, or that ragdoll?

I always enjoy the Creepy Santa genre at Brimfield. This one apparently likes to bother penguins:

I grew up in a family of hunters. My grandmother's dining room wall feature 22 racks of antlers along with several heads of various species. So I felt nostalgic over this display, although I'm not sure why someone went to all that trouble to create a barnyard setting for them — unless this is supposed to be a petting zoo.

In a similar vein, this is an orchestra of stuffed bullfrogs. You may not want to enlarge this one, so I will make it just big enough so you get the picture:

Rust is a dominant theme at Brimfield in all seasons. We always wonder who buys and sells all the rusted tools, parts, and other objects that have seen better days. I've never known anyone who loved rusty junk but there must be countless buyers out there, judging from the extent of the rusty merch at Brimfield. Here's some classic rust, accented by a crate of useless, rusting round things:

It wouldn't be Brimfield without at least one hideous sweater and a mannequin in a gas mask. Some dealer took care of both necessities, and threw in some toy tanks for effect:

Stay tuned for more.