Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Cat at Charles Street Supply

We Back Bay residents are lucky to have Back Bay Hardware on Newbury Street. They recently relocated into a smaller space much too soon after finishing a complicated renovation/expansion of their long-time, very crowded store. They lost their lease about a year later. But they moved down the street and we all breathed a sigh of relief knowing we'd be lost without them.

The folks in Beacon Hill are equally lucky to have Charles Street Supply, which has been in the same spot for more than 60 years and is run by the son of one of the original partners. It is old-school and crammed to the rafters, too. Both stores have almost anything you'd need in the way of cleaning supplies, tools, hardware, light bulbs, gardening equipment, seasonal items, and so on. Both stores also have all those things you don't need immediately but know you will need eventually, so strolling the aisles is instructive and strangely reassuring.

Both stores have seasoned, helpful staff who can talk you through just about almost anything you're contemplating doing. They might even come over and do it for you (if they like you or fear for your safety). Or they might give you the number of a good handyman.

But Charles Street has a slight edge because they have a shop cat:

I can never remember her name, but she has been around a very long time. She's sweet and friendly. Lately she's been looking a bit scruffy from age but but she's still beautiful to us. And she's a total retail professional, greeting customers in queenly fashion and showing off out front:

Long may that tail of hers wave.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Don't Try This at Home ... Or Do: Backyards in Charlestown

A new listing for a single-family house (asking $1.45 million) in Charlestown describes this backyard as a "stone patio":

 Photo: Coldwell Banker Real Estate, Charlestown, MA

You may disagree, but gravel is not my idea of a "stone patio." I hate walking on it in sandals, and it's torture for bare feet. When I saw this fenced-in yard and all that beige matter, I thought it looked like a human-scale litter box... with furniture that's ideal for scratching. Gravel is okay for parked cars, not outdoor living. And that black umbrella looks so summery and cheerful, doesn't it? Perfect for attracting heat on a sweltering day.

  Photo: Coldwell Banker Real Estate, Charlestown, MA

Notice how there isn't a single flower in this "garden," just a few, strictly pruned topiaries with some trailing vines. Green is the only non-neutral color. Flowers are not hip anymore. Cacti might be more suitable here than those topiaries, but cacti can't be tortured into pure geometric shapes.

Notice that those furniture cushions are GRAY. Why? Why? I guess colors aren't hip anymore., either.

In the 1980s, The Insiders Guide to Colleges said that part of my hometown looked like "a Soviet painter's interpretation of drabness." I'd say that fits here, don't you?

I like to do research. Here's how this backyard looked when the house sold in 2012 for $930,000:

  Photo: Hammond Residential Real Estate, Charlestown, MA

It had old bricks and stone pavers, and nice curbed areas for shrubs and ground cover. It's a nice urban yard. I'll take it! But it's gone; the new owners like gravel and gray. And if you did your math, you know that it's now for sale for a whopping $520,000 more, just three years later. (They updated mucked up the interior in a few predictably awful ways, too — painted the original walnut newel post and stair railing black, etc. But no actual renovations, just paint. Don't get me started.)

Here's another garden behind a similar Charlestown house, just to show you what can be done with the same space — with some imagination and planning, some carefully spent money... and some basic humanity:

Photo: Hammond Residential Real Estate, Charlestown

It's one of the very nicest city gardens I've seen. The house itself was beautifully redesigned, preserved, and decorated by its owners, who appear to be a pair of aesthetic geniuses. We loved their house so much that we thought hard about buying it even though it was in an inconvenient, slightly sketchy part of Charlestown and had a few other serious drawbacks for us. But, oh, the garden.... it has birch trees and planting areas, but the tiered deck really blew me away. Right outside the back door, there's a little bench under a pergola:

That level also has a grill and some seating on the far side of the yard and planters full of colorful flowers and plants. Then you go down those easy, interestingly angled steps to a real stone patio with a dining set, chaise, lush plantings, and a water feature — a bubbling fountain in a narrow stone trough with a rustic mirror over it:

I think I counted 18 urns and planters along with the trees, flowers, ferns, other shrubs, and flourishing vines along the fence:

Talk about an oasis in the city! I'd be out there even in the rain — and I was, in bare feet!

Or would you prefer cat litter and scratching posts?

Update: Somebody does... that house with the gravel yard went off the market after just a couple of days. These days, that indicates that someone made an offer that was much higher than the asking price and possibly an all-cash deal. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Supper Time

Once a day, I'm the center of attention of an adoring, clamoring audience: 

But not for long:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bits & Pieces from the Web

I haven't done one of these in a long time, so here are some online favorites and finds:

1. Where I go to remember that, outside of the Boston area, there are still heaps of wonderful old houses for sale: Old House Dreams. Wandering around inside some of these beauties can be fun and instructive; you'll see regional styles and details that may surprise you. And many of the houses cost less than Bostonians shell out for a parking spot. I've written about this site before, but it's worth repeating. Check out the craftsmanship in this Tudor in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, selling for a whopping $245,000:

2. Are you like this? 19 Things Only Women with a Low Maintenance Fashion Sense Understand. I was surprised at how well this list described me. Yes, my idea of "styling" my hair is parting it, and it only goes up, down, or in a ponytail. But I'm a bit higher-maintenance: I wear jewelry every day, and often scarves and lipstick (if Burt's Bees Lip Shimmer counts). It seems to me that many French women fit this description, too. One can live in tees and jeans but be quite particular about how they look. (Via Connie of those fabulous foster kittens).

3.  Summer sale at Garnet Hill. Even sale items are on sale right now. Looking ahead (joyfully) to winter, I ordered a hefty cashmere turtleneck to replace a J. Crew wool-blend disaster that pilled itself to death last winter. For about the same price. I like Garnet Hill swimsuits, too, especially at $28 or $34. I don't usually wear bright prints but this one was too pretty to pass up:

4.  I'm going to get around to reading this article on fixing one of my chronic problems. Eventually.

5.  Best weather website I've found (despite its silly name): Weather Underground. Choose and bookmark the station closest to you for a very local forecast. We use one by Fenway Park. My favorite thing is that it tells you how today's temperature compares to yesterday's. New Englanders always need to know this. If you've ever gone out in boots and a coat only to wish you were in sandals and shorts, this is the weather site for you.

6. Before my recent multi-day housecleaning adventure, I picked up some good tips from 11 Cleaning Secrets to Steal from Hotel Maids. Microfiber cloths really are the best, and an old toothbrush can indeed make a difference. (Just remember that you can't use vinegar on marble.)

7. J. Crew has been getting a lot wrong lately but they still do something right: shorts. I've been living in their Harbor shorts this summer. At my age, it feels wrong to wear mid-thigh-length in the city; they're still fine for hiking in Maine. But I'd feel even worse in long, old-lady Bermudas. Harbor shorts are slightly longer but still flattering, with a narrower leg so they're sleeker than most chinos. Baggy shorts add width where no one wants it, so my husband is wearing J. Crew's 9" Stanton shorts these days, which have a slightly slimmer cut, too.
8. I still love Pinterest, even if they are now showing me irrelevant and often tasteless ads, along with various pins they've "picked for me," which I invariably dislike. (I quickly delete them and mark each one as "offensive," since random junk offends me, and things simmer down for a while.) That said, I still find a wealth of beautiful and interesting things on Pinterest, since I get my pins from a carefully edited group of kindred souls, including designers and craftspeople who share my tastes. And then there are the recipes... lately I've rediscovered Crazy Cake, which aligns so well with my "I Can't Be Bothered School of Cooking" that I may have to bake one soon (via

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Still Life with Roses and a Nose

I've been having good luck with the roses from Trader Joe's lately. They are $4.99 for eight, and if you choose wisely,* they will open slowly and last for a week or even two.

Harris likes roses and joined the clutter on our mantel, tucking himself neatly between the knight and the little framed snow scene to radiate charm, contentment, and innocence:

That lasted a few minutes and then he became less innocent and more conniving:

 And the roses went back to a safer spot in the bedroom, out of his reach.

* How I choose long-lasting roses: First, choose buds with petals that look tight, fresh, and dewy. Avoid petals that seem withered or have fading or browning along the edges. (Even if they are a gorgeous color, you won't be happy when they're finished in a couple of days.) Then press a few buds very, very gently between your thumb and forefinger. The best roses feel tight and firm between your fingers. If they seem soft or floppy, pass on those. You'll quickly learn to spot — or feel — the winners. At home, trim off all the lower leaves, cut the stems on a sharp angle with pruners, and immediately put them in water (room temperature is fine) mixed with with a packet of florists' preservative. Keep them away from Harris and Toffee.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Flowers? What Flowers?

I recently did a lot of long-postponed housecleaning and, to celebrate, I bought flowers. Because of the cats, I usually just buy sunflowers and roses, since some of the cats like to eat eat flowers, and those two varieties are non-toxic favorites of mine. (I'd buy lilacs, hydrangeas, and mixed bouquets of garden flowers, too, if I could. But never lilies. They give me the creeps since they are deadly they are to cats.)

Harris went up on the mantel and pretended not to notice the flowers.

Toffee joined him on the mantel and, together, they studiously avoided noticing the flowers.

"What's all this business about flowers? What flowers?" (And why does Harris have Airplane Ears?)

"Not that we care... we are little angels, straight from heaven."

This was later:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Quick Stop in Kennebunkport

On our way home from visiting Connie's kittens, we stopped in Kennebunkport. We'd never been there before. It's a busy summer resort town, preppier and more crowded than most of the ones we know further up the Maine coast. But it's still Maine, so it's charming and historic — what's not to love? It was very hot that day, so we didn't linger. We'll go back and spend more time exploring when it's not in the 90s.

The harbor view from the bridge:

 Bright flowers were everywhere:

Day lilies overtaking an old rosebush:

We admired this old house in the center of town:

We'd spend a lot of time on that porch if it were ours:

Another stately 19th-century house:

We had lunch in a general store, wandered a bit, and got cold drinks for the road in a French pastry shop. (Why didn't we sample their fine display of French and American baked goods? I have no idea. We tend to resolve to be healthy at just the wrong times, and sometimes we actually stick to it for some reason. And my husband had already gotten some ice cream, now that I think of it. But it was poor timing for me.)

On the way home we drove past the often-photographed Wedding Cake House (aka George W. Bourne House), which I'd always wanted to see. It's a Federal house that was "frosted" with Carpenter Gothic details by the original owner, a shipbuilder.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Visitor

Beautiful things seldom turn up on our front porch these days, so this butterfly was most welcome.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Visitor... Or — Harris, True to Form

Lion's foster mom Connie came to visit last week. I had given her a standing invitation to see Lion's food dish and to play with his toys, including his beloved little red rat, which she'd given him when we took him home in 2014. Lion is reclusive during the day; we rarely see him unless the other cats are playing with me or getting treats, and then he'll emerge from his hiding place. So I knew there was a good chance Connie wouldn't see him if she came.

He refused to come out for her. (He's shy around everyone but us, and is most sociable in the morning and after supper.) We tried to make him come out, first with treats and then with more hands-on "persuasion," which backfired badly. He hid harder than ever and almost missed his supper, hours after Connie left.

It's too bad, because Connie would have lavished him with praise and affection. And she'd brought a wonderful gift bag loaded with catnip, all kinds of toys, and treats. At least she got to hang out with Possum and Harris, who are self-appointed Good Will Ambassadors, especially when treats are possible. Toffee also made an appearance. She said they were all more beautiful in person than in my photos, and that is true.

After Connie left, Harris was true to form and stole Lion's gift bag:

Lion tried to share it but decided it was hopeless since Harris wouldn't part with anything:

The gift tag on the handle was Harris's favorite thing for a while. I can spot a couple of springy-toys in his mouth at the same time. Harris has a big mouth for a little cat.

He pulled out all the toys and played with everything, including this wooly sparkle ball.

The other cats got the leftovers. And Lion got a gentle talking-to, since Connie had driven a long way to see him and was disappointed. We reminded him that Connie had saved him and taught him how to be the great, ferocious Lion he is. I hope he'll try to do better next time.

We didn't mention that Connie reminded us that she had originally named him Cowardly Lion for a reason... And, as usual, she knew what was going on in his little mind better than we did. "He's afraid I've come to take him back, and he really wants to stay here," she said, gracefully excusing his rude behavior.

We couldn't argue with that.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Connie's Kittens: Mimi at Last

This concludes my series on our friend Connie's fabulous five foster kittens in Maine.

The final kitten is Salome, called Mimi, one of the two tuxedo kittens. She is shyer than the others, and kept her distance from us. I was so distracted by the others that I only took one good photo of her:

She had taken over a box and was defending it against invaders. 

Knowing Connie, Mimi will get all the attention she needs to help her become a friendly and confident kitten. Since I can't leave you with just one shot, I am borrowing one from Connie's blog, with her permission, to show you just how lovely Mimi is:

 You can see more of the kittens at the seashore at Tails from the Foster Kittens, Connie's blog.

I can't be sure, but this might be Mimi murdering Angelo below. I hope it's her but it could be Romeow. Mimi has a cute black "cuff bracelet" on her right front leg, but this kitten's legs are busy throttling Angelo:

Well, that was a fun visit. Sigh:

Connie's Kittens: Fabulous Frasier

Yes, I have even more photos from our visit with Connie, foster mom extraordinaire at blogger at Tails from the Foster Kittens. This little guy with black polka dots on his nose is Frasier:

Frasier is my favorite of the five... I think. (Angelo is a strong contender; I go back and forth... NOT that we're adopting anybody, oh noooo.) To me, Frasier is a perfect kitten. He's can be a crazy baby for sure, but I can tell he's going to be a very loving and personable cat with a lot of character. He reminds me a little of Possum in that way. It will be interesting to see what he's like when he's a few weeks older. 

He is soft and fluffy and should grow up to have medium-length coat and a fluffy tail. He also has intriguing markings, like this white stripe down his back:

I took a lot of photos of him; he commands attention, Look at the "airplane ears":

Ready for take-off:

But, like Possum, Frasier seems to have an introspective side:

And he loves attention:

Here he is settling down for a bath and a nap:

It really doesn't get any better than this.