Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happy Gotcha Day #6, Wendy!

We adopted Wendy six years ago today. On that day, unbeknownst to me, I became Evil Mommy. (And let's not forget that other surprise she brought with her: ringworm. Compared to what we're going through now, that little nightmare was a walk in the park. But those were some crazy months.)

Here she is, giving me the stink eye when I congratulated her this afternoon:

She's a beautiful, silky-furred girl but I can't usually get near her. If I corner her on a windowsill I can pet her for a little while as she tenses up as she Is Trapped and Facing Death; otherwise she dashes away. I do a lot of "air petting" above a vanishing Wendy.

Look at her fuzzy little feet. They have polka dots on the bottoms, too. My husband gets to pet her every day. He can play with her feet, and rub her belly, and stroke her chin...but only at designated "safe" times when he's either in bed or sitting in his leather chair. He pulls over a bentwood chair and she settles in and purrs raucously as he strokes her. If I get too close or even if I say anything, she's gone.

In the past year I have been given the privilege of being able to rotate her food dish as she eats her supper, to make it easier for her to get every morsel. If I try to touch her with so much as a finger after doing this, she flies.

Sigh. I still love you, Wendybird.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Another Update

The unit. Big, lovely improvements could be made to its layout. One could knock down a wall to eliminate a skinny bedroom, incorporating it into a handsome, wide living room with three windows overlooking Marlborough Street. Then one could convert the back living room into a spacious master bedroom with a fireplace pretty simply — add a wall with a door and build a closet. Ideally, one would reconfigure the nearby bathroom and laundry closet to make it "en-suite," as they say.

But this would be too costly and difficult for us to undertake while living there, especially with cats who fear noise, strangers, and disruption. We can't stay in our current place for the many months it would take to plan, schedule, and do that work before moving We can't carry so many mortgages for so long, especially on top of construction costs.

These were ideas we believed we'd plan for over a couple of years, after we were more settled financially and knew exactly what we wanted. But we are realizing we can't face the chaos, dirt, and expensive surprises that come with major renovations. Even simpler changes, like bathroom remodeling, are not always simple given the added costs and hassle of doing work in a 4th-floor walk-up.

Live and learn. We renovated our current bathroom and a kitchen, so we're not completely ignorant about what is involved, but we did not think hard enough about all the issues before we bought this place. I think we were just too eager to finally take the plunge after looking for far too long. We thought it would work for us, and it still might. If we can't sell it without taking a hit. We have to move in. Which raises Issue #2:

The secondhand smoke. The smoker is a kind, thoughtful person. She said she's been smoking a lot more lately and she promised to quit, saying our problem might be the "kick in the pants" she needed.

That proves that we've got an unusually considerate neighbor with the best intentions. We love her for it and we're grateful. But can we count on her to quit? And what right do we have to interfere with her choices and activities at home? I realize that quitting can be life-saving, and I strongly encourage everyone to do it. But ultimately, it's not my business and I can't help anyone much on that extremely difficult road. It's up to her, and it's one of the hardest habits to break. I know more people who struggle and fail than those who quit. So while we appreciate her intentions we're not sure we can rely on them. The stakes are too high to take that risk, we fear. If we move in there and the smoke starts again, we're stuck.

So we are going to try to sell the new place. There must be buyers with the time and resources to renovate it to their taste into a great property. And cigarette smoke doesn't seem to bother most people. In that eight-unit building, we were the first to have a problem with it, before we even moved in. So I doubt there's a chance of getting the unanimous vote that is often needed to add a no-smoking policy to the rules.

Between my asthma and our shared distaste for smoke, we now realize that any future condo of ours has to be in a smoke-free building. But such buildings also tend to have restrictive pet policies. so we're probably doomed if we want to stay in the city. (Let me just say that three brokers and a banker visited our place recently, separately. Each told me he didn't smell the cats at all. And they only saw Harris and Possum since the others hid. As far as the agents were concerned, our cats are not an issue for a condo association except in theory. Confirming what I always knew.)

Anyway, it seems we will need to think yet again about leaving our beloved Back Bay for a little house somewhere. Someday. Not as far as Newton. We looked at many tiny houses and rejected them all for their location or lack of walls to hold my husband's library. He may finally decide to jettison many of his books or put them in storage, so we have better options going forward.

But let's jump off that bridge when we manage to stop teetering on the edge of this one.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Little Update

Things with the new place are no better but we are gathering information and trying to decide whether to move or not, to re-sell (and take a huge loss) or not, to renovate (huge expenses and months of chaos for an uncertain return) or not. It's all nerve-wracking and confusing.

Secondhand smoke coming into the unit has become a "burning issue" in recent days, strongly influencing these decisions. (And yes, we asked about smoking beforehand. Apparently the situation changed since we asked.)

What a mess. We thought we'd be so happy to finally buy a place and move. Oh, well.

At least we saw a good sunset over the Charles the other night:

Monday, September 21, 2015

More Postcards from Brimfield

Ah, it's good to distract myself with something other than real estate and my ongoing worries and woes. I skipped my traditional apple fritter this time and lived — although I wonder if it spoiled my luck since we didn't find anything we could or should buy. (We also passed on some whoopie pies that were the size of personal pizzas and selling two-for-one. They were made using the original Drake's Devil Dog recipe from 1950s; we tried a sample and it was clear.)

Back to the fields.

Someone had to be talked out of buying one of these shiny lifesize sarcophagi. And it wasn't me.

Once in a great while, I find a tent full of great stuff that's been perfectly arranged, and it's rare and attractive that I feel I want to buy everything. This toy and doll shop had that effect on me:

The shopkeeper had wonderful inventory and knew how to show it off:

Display skills can make almost anything more attractive. Almost anything:

I don't normally crave a bear, but I briefly wanted one of her bears, because they had so much character. Several of them looked like Sebastian Flyte's Aloysius.

What we really wanted was this rare Victorian burlwood rolltop desk with Japanese influences, glass medallions, and a $9,500 price tag. We had never seen such an amazing desk and it was surprising to find it sitting in the grass at Brimfield. Inside was a decorating magazine from 1961 that featured the desk and the house it once belonged to. We were tempted to splurge and it's a very good thing that we figured out that it's as tall as our tallest ceiling. (Our next place will have high ceilings, I swear.)

It seems I've come round to worrying again, so I'll sign off before it gets boring.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Postcards from September Brimfield: A Distraction

We went to Brimfield a week ago Thursday, shortly before all hell broke loose on the real-estate front (that night we saw the new apartment empty, and in the dark, and I have not been the same since). Remembering that fun afternoon is a nice distraction right now. A heavy downpour was expected all afternoon, and it let loose about 20 minutes after left, so perfect timing. 

It's always fun to wander around the acres of fields, but this time we realized that we finally had room for a new item of furniture or two. We hunted for a desk, a fireplace screen, and a small table. We didn't have any success, but it was refreshing to actually need things for a change.

As usual, there were bizarre assemblages and weird items everywhere. Sometimes I think that about a third of Brimfield's dealers are frustrated Surrealists.

As soon as we left the field where we parked, there was this:

Nearby was a pert amputee in bloomers. Note the moody guy behind her:

A close-up. I wouldn't want to share a room with anyone so... emotional. Maybe he's stewing about those creepy dolls beneath him.

I didn't know what this very blue gateway was in its previous life — an entrance to a small amusement park ride? I just know I want nothing to do with it:

Classic Brimfield Surrealism: mannequins in combat gear embellishing a homemade garden sculpture  made from rusty metal scrap and possibly car parts.

Then there was this skeleton on the roof of a tent that held perfectly ordinary stuff.

Someone went to the trouble to pose those bones just so, for maximum effect:

Finally this collection of men's heads (one looks to be a drag queen), all with extremely fey expressions. I'll bet the juxtaposition of the sign was intentionally ironic:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Buyer's Remorse: A Pain

Maybe talking this out will help me. I'm not sure if it will entertain you, so feel free to skip it and come back for more cat posts when I'm feeling more light-hearted.

Here goes...

For the past week, before and after buying a condo up the street, I've had an intense case of "buyer's remorse," a form of cognitive dissonance that causes anxiety relating to purchases (the fun includes nausea, night sweats, insomnia, clammy hands, and a lots of unpleasant thinking, fears, regrets, etc.).

According to Wikipedia, cognitive dissonance is:
the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
For about six years, I've wanted very badly to move.* It's lucky because we had to move when my husband got a nice relocation package with his new teaching job. Oddly enough, I've wanted all along to move to the place we bought. We saw it when it was for sale at the very beginning of our search, in 2009–10. We knew it met many of our needs and wants, and we got that "This Is It" feeling that happens when you find a good place. But by the time we were in a position to make an offer, it had been sold to investors who rented it out on two-year leases. Even though it was a 4th-floor walk-up (53 stairs), I had our agent ask the owners if they wanted to sell each time the tenants' lease was expiring. Finally they agreed. Since there were tenants, we made our first two offers without even seeing it again. Then, before we made our final, scary-high offer, we were taken to see it.

It was painted badly and messy, but it still had the features that had drawn us in the first place. These include: a great location on our favorite street, much more space, a private roof deck, two living rooms with fireplaces (one works), central air, a cat-friendly owners' association (very rare if you have more than one or two cats), hardwood floors, no upstairs neighbors, and several long walls without radiators that can hold bookcases (also rare). We still admired it and we were sick of house-hunting. So we bid high and bought it.

Only after we signed the purchase-and-sale agreement did I start focusing on its drawbacks, which turned out to be numerous (who knew?). I've been obsessing about its low ceilings, since it's a top-floor. Our current place has 10' ceilings almost everywhere and I have always loved and valued high ceilings. So, what was I thinking buying the new place? Its ceiling range from 7.5' high in the foyer to 9.5" in one living room and bedroom. It's hardly like living in a basement, but you'd think so from the amount of time I'm spending fretting over those ceilings. I hope I get used to them.

Add to the list of drawbacks that runs constantly through my brain, and especially from 2 to 5 am: skimpy moldings, smaller windows, shiny walls in ugly colors, two very skinny bedrooms, two tiny and cheap bathrooms, much less storage than we have now (due to lower ceilings and tiny baths), and a tired kitchen.

Then there's the frat house across the alley. It's an MIT frat, which makes a difference — they are more considerate of their neighbors and less rowdy than other frats. And their lounge is on the other side of the building. But still...

The buyer's remorse began when the closing was a few days away. Those drawbacks that had been previously unknown, ignored, or seemed unimportant suddenly they popped to the foreground and refused to move.

How can I reconcile our decision to buy, which took place over many weeks, with apparent deliberation and many steps in the process, with the regret, revulsion. and fear I'm experiencing now?

Don't ask me.

I know my distress is intensified by several factors:
  • We spent years trying to buy a place, which increased the pressure and raised the stakes for "perfection" enormously. No place is perfect but I can't help feeling we made a poor choice because we rejected so many other, possibly better choices. Hundreds of them.
  • We have just wiped out most of our savings, and I'm not convinced the price (beyond my comfort zone but my husband and our banker persuaded me) was justified. I'm a careful spender and saver... a bit of a miser. The amount we spent upsets me. I don't believe anyone else would have paid so much (At some level I do realize that it could be worth our paying that much because it met our very unique set of needs. But its high price still rankles and makes me feel like a loser.)
  • We need to sell our current place and it needs work, painting, and staging. I'm not convinced it will sell for a good price because it has a tiny, enclosed kitchen, an "unusual" bathroom, and other issues beyond our control. People tell me I'm crazy to worry in this market. But some local properties don't sell for months and go through price reductions. And until it's sold we have three mortgages and two sets of condo expenses, taxes, and possible assessments. That terrifies me. 
  • Historically, I don't handle home-buying well. My husband reminds me that I loathed our current place before we painted it and moved in, too. It helps to know that but it was a long time ago and I don't remember much. 
  • In the past, I've enjoyed the chaos of packing, unpacking, and then organizing and decorating the new place. But I'll still miss and mourn my current home. (It seems I only wanted to move to a very similar place.) It's been home for 17 years. It's "me" and has the high ceilings, graceful proportions, and Victorian detail I love. It will take a lot of effort, time, and money to make the new place feel like home. Wish me luck.
People come to terms with cognitive dissonance in different ways, working through the problem until they find a way to reconcile their actions with their values or beliefs, persuading themselves that their choice does make sense. So I could:
  1. Talk myself into getting a grip and liking the new place again (this rarely works for me)
  2. Ignore the whole problem (I'm no good at that, either)
  3. Give myself an escape: we could fix it up to sell in two years, hopefully breaking even or making a tiny profit (this all depends on the RE market staying strong... and it would cost lots of money)
  4. Find new ways to view the situation ("It's a challenge: let's see just how good I can make it look.")
  5. Take deep breaths and every small, affordable step I can to make the place seem better, in hopes I'll eventually succeed in feeling happy again — and at home.
I'll try them all.Your thoughts, insights, lectures, pep talks, and stories continue to be more than welcome! Thanks for all you've said so far. You've been very helpful.

* You could say I am moving "very badly" indeed. Hey, at least I finally managed to joke a little.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thanks, Friends

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments these past few days. I'm still suffering from a bad case of buyer's remorse and it really helps to read your encouraging and sympathetic words, and to hear your own stories.

Please don't hesitate to keep sharing your thoughts on the subject! This is the weirdest psychological experience I've ever had and I'm really struggling to understand it and come to terms with it. It really helps to know that I'm not alone.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Homeowners x 2

We did it. We bought the new condo today. When we went to Fidelity early this morning to wipe out our savings and order the wire transfer for the closing, there was a big bowl of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on the counter. I bent over it, inhaled, and stayed there for a while. Then I had a couple. That helped.

I managed to stay fairly well calm and well-behaved later, at the walk-through and signing of not one but two sets of mortgage papers at the lawyer's office.

And in the afternoon we went to look at the condo again. Ugh! I either seriously lack imagination these days, or I'm mentally unhinged, or I just really, really don't handle change well. Or I bought a place that's a disaster. Right now, I simply don't want to live there. I'm hoping this feeling, which feels real and intense, is just temporary, a stress reaction to a big change, that will pass as I get more used to the place. I hope this more for my poor husband's sake than for my one. He's trying to be excited about this big, long-anticipated purchase and I keep popping his balloons.

To me, it's tired and not really my taste. ("SO WHY DID YOU BUY IT?" you ask. Good question. "YOU LOOKED FOR SIX YEARS AND BOUGHT SOMETHING YOU DIDN'T LIKE???" you ask. I know! Go figure!)

My poor husband. He has put up with a lot in recent years and these last few weeks have been tough on both of us. But I'm the one making it tough on him. We should be celebrating. I am hoping this state I'm in dissipates. Soon.

But, seriously... it needs paint and repairs to a lot of wear and tear. It lacks charm and elegance, although my husband says I can create that. (We'll see.) It really needs new bathrooms. Lots of awkward details, shoddy materials and workmanship, and cheap finishes. No rich deep moldings, high ceilings, and big sunny windows as we have now.

What does it have? A great Back Bay address. It's on our favorite block of our favorite street. It has a nice private roof deck. It has friendly, responsible, quiet neighbors and lots of rules and regulations to keep it that way. It has lots of space — two living rooms and lots of long walls for bookcases.

If only I liked it! I'm working on it, I promise.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Someone Doesn't Care

Someone is already getting comfortable with the new place's layout.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Back In, for Now

So, no, it probably wasn't the best idea to visit the new condo at night, especially now that it's empty, and especially without our agent along to say everything would be all right. God, it looked terrible — dark, shabby, and harshly lit wherever there was any light. Its light fixtures range from vile ceiling fan to ugly glass box containing a single bulb.

At least we were able to determine that the floors don't need to be refinished, just cleaned and made shinier. But there is nothing to be done about the bathrooms except to pay people to take sledgehammers to everything and redo them. Someday.

The whole place is also badly painted. Someone decided to put a shiny finish on the walls and a flat one on the trim, instead of the other way around. Given that the paint-picker flunked Finishes 101, the colors are predictably scary, too, despite being "neutral."

We took photos but they are so awful as to be hilarious. I hesitate to post them in case you all start urging me not to buy the place. I don't need your encouragement! Maybe I'll post some pictures in a few months, after we attempt a few "Before and After" improvements.

We went back yesterday (with agent) to get an estimate from a painting contractor. We were relieved that it looked better in daylight but, oh, the colors. The "dining room," as we call it, is my favorite room, but it is one of the worst colors I've ever seen. It's trying to be gray but it's pinkish purple, reminiscent of unhealthy lungs (not that I've seen many, I'm convinced). The rest of the rooms are either cool, dingy white or bleak taupe.

I've made my share of color mistakes, from thinking I liked peach walls when I meant apricot to trying a tricky dragging technique on pale blue-green living room walls that made me feel I was living in an empty swimming pool. Whatever I try this time may not be ideal, but will look better than anything there now.

The rooms will have matte, soft color, the lights will be replaced, the kitchen will get some (dramatic, I hope) updates, and the bathrooms will eventually be transformed into bright, elegant spaces that we would willingly spend time in. (Right now, they are cramped and plasticky, and their fans are so loud that I feel like I'm in the world's only crappy private plane.) While all this is in slow progress, we'll hang the art, shelve the books, and carefully accumulate more rugs and furniture since we're almost doubling our space. (Plus there's a roof deck.)

Because we are moving.

And you're coming along for the ride, if you're up for it.

Although I still feel pretty rotten most of the time and have plenty of misgivings, I am trusting that my original instincts about the place were correct and that it will turn out all right. And I am pretty adaptable, believe it or not. Put me anywhere half decent for two or three nights, and I feel at home to the point where I can barely remember where I live. We often joke about it when we're traveling. "Home? Where's that? I've lived here all my life." I unpack all my stuff, rearrange the hotel furniture, hide all the decor I don't like, and generally make the place mine. I'd do well to remember this while I'm feeling so rotten about leaving here.

But all of this is assuming the new building doesn't blow up. Every time we've gone inside, we've smelled gas. The dozen or so people who live there apparently don't smell it, just us... and our agent, the seller's agent, our home inspector, and yesterday's contractor. We've been in and out about four times now, and it's hit us every time we're through the front doors. The contractor remarked on it as soon as he went in yesterday, We'd brought it up during and after the home inspection and assumed the trustees would look into it but they didn't. Today we wrote again, and asked them to call the gas company or fire department ASAP. It could be that there's a leak in the ancient boiler, or the main line into the house. I don't think anyone has gas appliances.

I hope they get to work on it; gas leaks cause catastrophic explosions and should never be ignored (For the record, I believe the trustees are experienced and conscientious about managing the building; they are just accustomed to the smell or have no sense of smell, I guess.)

But I don't particularly want to close on Wednesday until we know.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Gearing Up to Move (?)

I've learned from experience that I don't handle big life changes well. And here we go.......

Actually, it depends on what the change is. I didn't have a second of doubt before marrying my husband; that decision was as easy as pie. I'm usually pretty good about adopting cats and kittens, too, although Toffee and Lion were hard for reasons that had nothing to do with their superb feline qualities. I was worried that Toffee, being so marvelous, was actually a lost kitten and not a stray. And the rescue where we adopted him has a rule that previous owners can claim lost pets who were put up for adoption up to one year after the adoption happened. So I was very nervous about getting too attached to him for those first few months. (My vet tried to calm me by telling me she would use Sharpie markers to alter his tabby stripes. I hope she was kidding but one never knows with her.)

Long-time readers will remember (and possibly roll their eyes) over my agonizing indecision over whether to keep Lion. We knew he was fabulous; it was more a question of whether we could or should have five cats. That turned out happily although I am still astounded by the sight of our five eating dinner side-by-side. I feel that way almost every day. Having five cats feels kind of crazy to me, I guess, but I made the leap.

That might because I am, in fact, crazy. My realtor thinks so, because I am going bananas, suddenly, over this move despite six years of being eager, if not desperate, for a move to happen.

In a nutshell, I'm feeling overwhelmed and having cold feet because of the huge expense — and the realization that it will take a lot more money that we don't have to fix certain problems that seem insurmountable at the moment. Like the fact that both bedrooms are just a little more than 8 feet wide and configured so that our full-size bed doesn't seem to fit well anywhere. What were we thinking? We were thinking it would work out somehow... until we finally saw the place empty, last night, and could get out our measuring tapes and discover that it won't.

Then there's the frat, with more than 40 MIT brothers, just behind the building. I discovered this right after we signed the Purchase & Sale Agreement. So I did my diligence: I called the police to find out about noise complaints... just three this past year. I asked another neighbor in our new building... they don't mind them. I asked the neighborhood association if they've gotten complaints... they cooed about how the frat helps them clean up the alleys every spring. So I calmed down and told myself it would be okay.

It's not. When we were measuring in the living room last night, I could hear a big group of guys,  talking and chanting loud and clear, even with our windows closed. It looked like they were having a study break or gathering in their dining room with their windows opens. I'm unusually sensitive to that kind of noise. I know this, and I know there's nothing I can do to tolerate it better. aside from growing deaf. For the past year or more, I've spent a great deal of time running a loud white-noise machine that masks similar racket, or playing music when it can't handle the job. I was so looking forward to experiencing real, restful quiet rather than the manufactured kind. So the frat will be a problem for me. (I also hear they are working to get a city permit to allow up to 20 people on their roof deck, which will definitely create lots more noise for us, especially on our roof deck. The city had closed all the fraternities' roof decks after too many students fell from them during parties or just stressful times.)

I'm waiting to hear from our lawyer as to whether it's possible to walk away from this deal unscathed, but it's just a formality at this point: our agent and our banker are certain it's not, and that we might not just lose our hefty deposit, we could be sued for breach of promise, or something [Update: we can't be sued.] So we're stuck. Best to make the most of it and remember that we won't have to live there forever if we're unhappy. Just two years to avoid capital gains taxes and however long it takes to save a small fortune and sink it into improvements to make it attractive to another buyer.

I keep reminding myself that I hated our current place when we first moved in. I find it lovely now, but in the beginning it didn't feel anywhere near as nice as our rented apartment, which had two huge, fireplaced rooms covered in walnut wainscoting and 12 or 14-foot ceilings (they grow ever higher in my memories). My husband and I both remember my words during the walk-through before the closing in 1998: "I think I'm going to throw up." (Empty apartments often look awful; at least ours always do.) At the closing, the lawyer for the seller stopped the proceedings, looked me in the eye and asked sternly if I were signing under coercion because I looked so ashen and reluctant.

Back then, it took me two weeks of painting the place, with plenty of help from my husband, to feel somewhat reconciled to moving in. I have no memory now of why I objected so powerfully... well, it did have an outdated and ugly kitchen and bathroom in addition to its graceful, high-ceilinged living room and bedroom. We renovated the kitchen within a year and have loved it ever since. It took us years to save up for the bathroom, however. Still, we put up with a pretty bad one for several years without angst or misery.

One does get used to things. Sometimes.

I keep reminding myself that my feelings were unfounded then — and similar to how I feel now. I tell myself to snap out of it, or chalk it up to my inability to handle big changes well. To remember that no place will ever be perfect and that every new home needs to be retro-fitted and filled with one's possessions and cats to become "home." I keep trying to dwell on the positives: there's a roof deck for god's sake, a lot more space, two pretty fireplaces, two living rooms (one of which might someday deserve the name of "master bedroom" instead) and lots of walls to hold our library.

My husband has planned a great office for himself in one of the two long, skinny bedrooms. He chose all the furniture with great care, and found reinforced bookcases to make a book wall 16 feet long and 8 feet high. He is psyched for that, at least, and I'm glad for him. You'd think I should be able to arrange our four pieces of bedroom furniture in some kind of reasonable adult fashion in the other, similar bedroom. Not so far. (I wonder if I could have my shoulders and hips surgically narrowed to help me squeeze around the bed.)

I tell myself the ugly, shiny off-white paint will go, along with two hideous ceiling fixtures, and the rusty medicine cabinets, and things will be better. I distract myself with novels, and long walks, and three Milano cookies every night. I take a break from getting rid of stuff when it becomes too painful. I'm doing whatever I can to get through this and hopefully out the other side.

It helped to discover recently that I am a Highly Sensitive Person. (Are you? Take the quick test here.). I discovered only recently that this innate personality trait has been quantified, researched, and written about extensively. I was surprised and comforted to learn about it — it explains so much about me, including my current issues. (Moving is hell for HSPs.) I told my therapist about my discovery at our last meeting a couple of weeks ago (she just retired) and she was stunned. It had been completely obvious to her from the beginning, years ago. She said she had brought it up as a known fact at one of our first meetings — assuming I knew what she meant, and that I'd agreed with her. I vaguely remembered that... but I hadn't known she was referring to sensitivity as a Thing. I'd just thought she was saying it along the lines of "Well, you are terribly fussy..." — as I've heard all my life.

Anyway, I'm trying my best to get myself through, or out of, or around this apparent mess I've made of our lives, home, and finances. If you don't hear from me awhile, know that I'm working on it. I'll get back to you as soon as I can do it from a better place. Maybe that will even be the place up the street. I just don't know.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


It was time to show Lion when he's not lounging on that chair pillow. He looks decorative wherever he is, of course. He has a noble, serious expression and an impressive ruff:

But he often reminds me a little of a cartoon character with his expressive eyes and mouth:

To me, this photo on the mantel says, "I'm not going anywhere! I'm staying right here." If only, Lion! I'm going to miss that mantel, too....

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ten Things

1. Moving is hard even when you really want to move. It's even harder when you're leaving rooms you've loved and made your own while the new ones still look shabby, low-ceilinged, and blah.

2. I am so fortunate to have such problems. I have zero problems compared to much of this world.

3. If you are embarking on some enormous, complicated task that requires all of your time, you can be sure that every book you reserved from the library over the past year will suddenly be ready for pickup. I got five last week, including Go Set a Watchman, which I wasn't expecting until December. And I haven't started any of them.

4.  It really pays to let the avocado ripen.

5. Watching one cat wash another's head can be very soothing.

6. The reruns of Sherlock on Masterpiece: Mystery are just as confusing and annoying as they were the first time around. But they're still well worth watching for the Cumberbatch.

7. Heatwaves in September are more of an indignity than those in July and August, but not as bad as those in May and June, the most demoralizing of all. At least in September you can laugh at the returning students who insist on wearing their new fall outfits of wool and leather when it's 92.

8. Lion just disproved that popular theory that adult cats never meow to communicate with each other but save their meowing for humans. He meows at Possum. Maybe Possum told him he is a human.

8. Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes (tiny — slightly bigger than currants). Corn on the cob. Watermelon. Summer in a bite.

9.  Never use your imagination to choose wall colors. Paint the color on a board. Move the board around the walls at different times, in different lights. Or don't bother painting at all.

10. You tell me.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Toffee & the Gang

Was there ever a handsomer gentleman cat, from the tip of his milk-mustachioed nose to the end of his excessively bushy tail?

Harris, Lion, and Possum may disagree, but we think Toffee is the cattiest of our cats, the quintessential feline, the one who'd be illustrated under "C" in the children's alphabet book. (I was going to say "encyclopedia" but that would date me, correctly, to the Pleistocene Era.)

Here he's doing a yoga stretch while mentally solving physics problems.

If only he would tell us who has been leaving all the Free Gifts with Purchase (don't ask) around the apartment. We've had four in one week. I'm sure they were accidental, judging from the locations, which are random.

The first one turned up last Friday, while our agent was here to look at the condo and tell us the whole place had to be painted pale gray so it will sell quickly to people half our age. My husband spotted it and surreptitiously manipulated it into a hiding spot until he could sneak into the kitchen to get a paper towel and dispose it.

Our agent is afraid of cats, by the way. She was been bitten by a nasty cat when she was little, so she is courageous to visit us. She tried to be brave as Harris began flinging himself around her legs and Possum came over to say hello. We picked up Harris to get him away  from her and to demonstrate his innocence... but then our agent got a glimpse of his protruding fangs and that was that. (We refer to Harris's oddly oversized canines as "fangoes" and now he's conceited about them.)

But her worst moment was later, when we were all in my husband's little office debating about various pallid, dingy indistinguishable paint shades. She was next to Possum's corrugated cardboard scratching pad, taped to a filing cabinet. Possum was hanging out with us and decided to show off his skills. So all of a sudden this large, dangerous animal had reared up beside her on his hind legs to fiercely hone his weaponry. (Possum is surprisingly tall when he stands up like that, and he is always wide.) We began praising him for doing the right thing, not realizing that our agent had turned a color that matched her paint swatches. "Ohh, so THAT's what that's for..." she said weakly, after we explained.

But I digress.

The second Free Gift turned up the next morning morning under my husband's freshly showered and bare foot (this is the standard method of discovery). The third one turned up on Thursday, mere moments before the home stagers arrived to scope out our condo, This morning Toffee himself discovered one next to my bed and woke me up with his energetic imaginary-dirt burial technique.

The home stagers plan to paint this whole place the color of an ancient bra, because they know what sells. Boring, timid, colorless gray is what sells. But, according to our little scientist Toffee, they will be unable to erase every traces of "character" that mark this place not matter how busy we get with Nature's Miracle Enzymatic Cleaner and paper towel. We don't smell anything and even our agent says she doesn't. (And I doubt she's just being nice.)

But if any buyers bring their cat along to the open house, that cat will know all.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Today's Adorableness: Possy

I went to clean the bathroom this morning (a team of home stagers were coming to see the place), but there was this:

I  bet he knows that something's up. He hasn't been in the sink for ages, although it used to be one of his favorite lounging spots. He probably overheard me complaining about our new, tiny, windowless bathrooms with their tiny, plasticky sinks and tiny, grungy tubs. He may not know what "moving" is all about, but he wants me to know that only a fancy cherry and marble bathroom is worthy of him, and that he deserves a sink he can turn around in.

Too bad, Possum. You will just have to make do, at least for a while, like your parents. And maybe someday they'll be able to stop eating ramen noodles and renovate those tacky baths. But the good news is that you'll all be getting your own rooms, sort of. If you count the foyer.

When he left, I cleaned the bathroom. The whole place has been looking amazingly neat these days since brokers and other involved in selling it keep coming by, and I have to keep it looking nice. I keep moving things off surfaces and forgetting where I hid them... like the cats' food bowls.

I really wish a handyman and a painter would drop by, though. I really need both, soon, I can't find any who are free to do my long list of projects in a couple of weeks.

In other news, Harris was, predictably, all over the stagers, flinging himself at their black pant legs and lying on their paint decks. Then, when they left him to look at the apartment, he went wild  — or bunaruru, which is Harris's loud and flashy style of crazy.  He came flying into the bedroom howling and muttering, fur puffed up and "airplane" eared. Then he quickly spun around in a circle, which wasn't easy on the slippery floor, and flew back into the living room. Then he repeated the whole maneuver in case any of us had missed the finer points of his performance the first time. The stagers had never seen anything like it.

Then we heard him knock over a water glass in the living room. How he hates being ignored. I can't wait to see him tearing around the new place. It's bigger, so he'll have extra room to bunaruru up a storm.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Recent Adorableness: Harris

It's hard to take a photo of Harris where he isn't partly upside-down, with a paw reaching toward us. As soon as he knows he's getting attention, he'll roll on his back (or as close as he can get in tight quarters) to maximize our adoration and show off his white belly fluff. If I put my hand near him, he'll grab it and hang on to keep me close. No wonder we can't get enough of him: he's needy, self-important, and demanding in the best possible way.

A narcissistic cat is vastly better than a narcissistic human.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


I fell asleep on the sofa the other afternoon, during the cats' dinner hour. My husband was sitting nearby. He told me he'd watched Lion come over and look at me. And then he said Lion meowed at me very softly, so as not to startle me awake. Such a polite cat, that one. Then Possum jumped on the sofa and walked on me and that was that.

I always enjoy September, even though it never feels as much like fall as I would like. The best thing about September is that it isn't sweaty old August and the second best thing is that October arrives next. October is my favorite month, although December has a few things going for it, too. And September is pretty darn good — cooler nights for better sleep, loads of ripe tomatoes in the farmer's stalls, and a much quieter, emptier Cape Cod on weekends. It's pleasant to look at cozy fall clothes in the shop windows when you're still in shorts and a tee. September also brings the first signs of pumpkin this and pumpkin that in Trader Joe's.

This September will be a milestone for us — we are supposed to close on our new condo on the 16th. We will need to do some repairs, install some lighting, paint, and perhaps refinish the floors before we can move. Before we can do any of that, we need to locate and schedule the people to do the work. That's been keeping me occupied these days. No one is available. My handyman is booked for six months!

Then we need to fix up this place pronto, have it staged, and then put it on the market. (Unpacking will happen in there somewhere, too.) Until we sell this condo and our cherished parking space, we will have mortgage debt that rivals the debt of several smaller nations. 

The cats don't know about any of this; we haven't told them because we don't want them to worry. But they are all going to have get jobs if things don't work out according to plan. Me, too.

So if you know anyone looking for an old-fashioned condo in Back Bay with a built-in litter box, two fireplaces, and some very nice ghosts,  please let me know.