Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween?

How very strange it was that, as soon as the tiny witch's hats came out this morning, three of the cats disappeared. That left Possum and Harris to try on the hats. Possum refused to have anything to do with them. He claimed he is still recovering from being our Designated Rodent Facsimile last winter (aka The Groundhog).

As for Harris, you can judge for yourself how happy he may be about Halloween:

I will post more photos if I can anything worth showing you. Don't hold your breath. But I would love to see Lion in a hat.

Last year, Toffee impersonated a fiery-eyed Pilgrim, so I'd like to give him another chance to express himself, too:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Digging Around: More on the Sabines

I keep coming up with questions about the Sabine family —  and sometimes I find answers. I'm routinely amazed by what I can find about them online. Considering that they lived rather quietly a century ago, it's incredible what I can dig up. And I haven't even visited the Harvard archives yet.

On Tuesday, I wrote my post about Ruth and then I decided to add a few more details to last Friday's post about Janet. As I looked at her wedding announcement from a newspaper in September 1929, I read again that it had been a "quiet celebration" owing to an illness in the bride's family. When I found that months ago, I didn't know much about her family's timeline. Now I know that Janet had lost her father, sister, and her grandparents by 1929, leaving only her mother, an aunt and uncle who lived in the Midwest, and an uncle in California who may have been somewhat of a recluse.

So, I wondered: had her mother Jane, the busy doctor, been ill at the time of the wedding? I went to bed that night thinking about it. Jane was about 65 in 1929. Before her husband Wallace died at age 50, he had seriously overworked himself, neglected his health, and suffered life-threatening illnesses. His biography mentions a few times across the years when he fainted on the street from pain or exhaustion. On more than one occasion, Jane had to race to his side to save his life. But Jane seemed quite the opposite; I'd never read about her being anything but strong. Physical education for girls was one of her research interests, and she seemed to be in robust health herself. She gave birth to her daughters at 40 and 43, and managed her household, medical practice, and various other obligations very smoothly, without fuss. She did this at a time when it was rare for a Back Bay (and Mayflower) matron to work at all, let alone have a demanding professional career.

Yesterday morning I did a little Googling as soon as I got up, and almost immediately found the answer — in Smith College's alumnae news. Jane was a member of the class of 1888:

I really didn't expect to have it spelled out for me so factually, so quickly.

Poor Janet; family illness and death had a way of coinciding with what should have been her joyful milestones. I hope she didn't have her heart set on a big society wedding. I doubt she minded her tiny one since she must have been terribly worried about her mother. Without her father to walk her down the aisle or her sister to be her maid of honor, it was bound to be a bittersweet occasion anyway.

Her mother was true to form in going abroad to recover. The newspaper and customs archives are full of records of the Sabine family's transatlantic crossings. After Ruth died in 1922, Jane and Janet boarded the White Star Line's Arabic less than six weeks later, headed for Gibralter, the Azores, Naples, and Genoa.

It's said the cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea. I know which I'd choose.

Next I began wondering what illness Jane had... and when she retired from her career. Her obituary says that she continued to practice at Children's Hospital and New England hospitals until about 1932, so that is part of the answer.

But I also found a curious letter Jane wrote in 1931, which is in the Harvard online archives for the Blackwell family. And now I have even more questions, mainly about this house, where Jane was living at the time... or was she?

More to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

It's Harris's Gotcha Day

Harris is our self-declared Most Important Cat (MIC). Now that he's made this clear to us, we see his point every day. No other cat is as snuggly as he is, leaning into us adoringly as he sits on our laps. No other cat settles down on our shoulders and rubs our head with his while we read in an armchair. No other cat takes off in such businesslike fashion the minute he's through with us — he's snuggly until he isn't, and then we don't exist. (He is such an Important Cat that he can't waste his time with silly us.)

No one else curls up between our heads at night, or wakes us by nursing on our earlobes and purring directly into our ear canals. No one else races madly from one end of the apartment to the other, chirping and chortling like a little weirdo. No one else steals treats and toys from the other cats and runs away with them to enjoy them all by himself. No one else plays with toys so hard that he alarms me with his furious panting. Just Harris.

In honor of the MIC's third Gotcha Day, a few baby photos:


He's hardly changed a bit, hasn't he? He may be a little bigger (although he's still a Small Cat and is proud of his neat and elegant size), but he's still The Baby of the Family in spite of Lion, who is younger but bigger (and less... infantile).

For more than a year, I kept the voicemail from my now-friend Robin at Kitten Associates, informing me that we had been chosen out of many applications to adopt "Charley." (I'd still have that voicemail except that Someone sat on the answering machine and erased it. I'm not sure who that was; it's clear the other cats are not all in agreement about Harris's Importance. Except for Possum: Harris has always been his protégé.) Anyway, that October day when we got the news was a joyful day, and Harris has brought us nothing but joy in all of his days with us since.

Thank you, Harris. We will continue to do our best to try to deserve you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ruth Sabine

I can't resist showing you Ruth Sabine's passport photo, since I showed you her big sister Janet's on Friday. Ruth was 10 when this was taken in 1916. She was a fine artist (trained by her very skilled father) and such an accomplished needlewoman that her parents were surprised by her talent and let her mend their best things. She planned to be a writer when she grew up. Unfortunately she only reached 16. 

Here's one of my favorite poems from her posthumous book, Fugitive Papers, a slender volume gathered and published by her mother as a gift for Ruth's Winsor School classmates at their graduation in 1924.

Rules for Church

On Sunday when you go to church,
You have to stand quite tall,
On this side you hold daddy's hand, and over there
Walks solemn-looking Aunty Claire.

Right side of you, with lorgnette high,
And wearing his tall Sunday hat,
The minister comes passing by
And stops to have a chat.

When once at church he leaves us,
And we must enter in;
At church you cannot talk or fuss,
I think it's called a sin.

The minister may sing a psalm,
And during that you keep quite calm,
You mustn't even catch a fly,
It's rude to watch the passers-by.

And when the minister's preached some time,
Old Bunny comes to get your dime,
It's not worth while to earn your money,
If you must give it all to Bunny.
 (written at nine years of age)

Ruth's parents were not religious in any traditional, church-going sense — another characteristic of them that seems more akin to our century than theirs. But her father Wallace was said to be deeply spiritual in his own way. "No one can be an investigator in Science," he once said, "without believing in God; but no preacher can rightly interpret God through sermons which contradict scientific facts." One colleague said of him, "He held aloof silently and absolutely from all public professions of religious creed, and took small part in religious observances." Some thought he was agnostic. But according to his biographer, he walked his daughters to Sunday school himself. (I think they went to Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Newbury Street, since Janet was married there in 1929.) 

And no doubt Wallace made sure that his little girls had dimes in their pocketbooks to give to Old Bunny.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Janet Sabine

What I know about this remarkable young woman I pieced together from online newspaper and document research and her father's biography. It's amazing how much you can find if you keep digging.

Janet Sabine was born in Boston on October 23, 1903. Her parents were Wallace Clement Sabine, professor of physics at Harvard, and Jane Downes Kelly Sabine, a doctor. They moved into the townhouse where I live now (just on the second floor) when Janet was six. You can read more about her family, including her little sister Ruth, here. The photo above is from a passport application I found online from 1916, when Janet was 13. She looks bright and charming in her schoolgirl pinafore, doesn't she? She was everything a little girl should be in those days, and now — smart, sweet, accomplished, disciplined, brave, and kind. 

She and Ruth were carefully educated both at home and in school, and both excelled in drawing, needlework, and athletics. They figure-skated in charity shows, and they could swim, sail, ski, and dance. They were also fine equestrians and took music lessons. 

The rooms where I live now were once filled with the voices of their parents reading aloud for hours as the girls drew or sewed — from Tales of the Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe, and other classics in several languages. There was also a phonograph, so the girls could listen to opera (following along with the libretti) and classical music. Music was important — their father was the also the father of the science of acoustics. Wallace Clement Sabine was the genius responsible for Boston Symphony Hall, the first building ever designed according acoustic formulas and principles, which he'd worked out painstakingly at Harvard over several years, often laboring in his soundproofed, sub-basement lab between midnight and 5 am (before a full day of teaching), since he needed absolute quiet to do his tests and take his measurements. 

Both Professor and Dr. Sabine made significant voluntary contributions to the Great War, holding important advisory positions throughout Europe, sometimes risking their lives, working on a variety of medical and military projects. They left their daughters in Paris, where they attended a French school and lived with a local governess for about 18 months. By that time, Janet and Ruth were fluent in French and German, having had foreign governesses at home from early childhood. They were also seasoned travelers; their mother took them to Europe nearly every summer. (She visited medical clinics and attended conferences in France and Switzerland while the girls played, made friends, and practiced their languages.) But during the war, their time in Paris was lonely and stressful. They worried about and longed for their parents and were grateful when they were all reunited and sailed home together in 1918. Theirs was a close, mutually adoring family, and the girls doted on their parents as much as they were doted upon themselves.

In January 1919, Wallace died of kidney cancer at age 50. He had ignored his failing health for years, throwing himself into war work (for the U.S., Britain, France and Italy) with a zeal that was obsessive. He had stood on battlefields and seen the carnage, and I believe it made him think he should be willing to sacrifice his life for the cause as well. From what I've read, I believe he knew he wouldn't survive his illness, so he refused to give into pain and weakness until his war work ended, and it became impossible to him to stand. Then he finally agreed to an operation (after surviving the deadly Spanish influenza epidemic, which everyone, including the servants, survived in his household, nursed by his wife). But it was too late. He died days later. Janet was 15 and Ruth 12.

Both girls attended the exclusive Winsor School in Brookline. I think Janet graduated in 1921, and I believe she is the in back row of the graduation class photo below, sixth from the left (between the tallest girl and a girl in glasses), with a halo of crimped dark hair. 

On Janet's 19th birthday in 1922, her sister Ruth died at age 16. I've read that Ruth never recovered from the death of her father and had been unwell for some weeks before her death. Ruth wanted to grow up to be a writer. (The sisters probably shared one of the two large third-floor rooms above my apartment. One has a charming, built-in dressing table with a mirror between the two tall windows.)

I can't imagine what birthdays must have been like for Janet after 1922. 

Below is her graduation photo from the Radcliffe yearbook. She graduated cum laude in three and a half years, in the class of 1927. Between the Winsor School and Radcliffe, she distinguished herself at the Sorbonne, taking the annual exams and earning a degree there, too. She also studied botany at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, near Cape Cod. 

I am guessing that Janet began developing her distinctive "chic" style during her long stay in Paris during the war and also during her time there after Bryn Mawr.

Janet was descended from a Mayflower ancestor on her mother's side, which meant a great deal in Boston society in the early 20th century. She made her social debut at a small tea party on October 27, 1921, hosted by her mother in what is now my living room. Her friend Mary Chute, who lived next door, made her debut at the same time. The next day a dance was held for them at the Somerset Club. 

Along with her studies, Janet did what Boston society girls did in those days: she volunteered for the Junior League and the Vincent Club. She starred in the French play that Harvard's Cercle Français put on in 1924, an exclusive event attended by the Francophile cream of society. She also went to countless parties, dances, dinners, weddings, and charity events with her fellow debs. I found her name throughout the Boston social pages along with descriptions of her evening dresses, which were often severely styled in black chiffon or velvet. (I wonder if she sewed them herself since she was handy with a needle. I also wonder if her family continued to be financially comfortable after her father died.)

Below is what must be Janet's engagement photo in 1929, in one of those black dresses she favored. She married a Frederick Ley, a wealthy and socially prominent civil engineer and building contractor who worked for his father, a developer. They built many of the finest apartment buildings in Manhattan. Their wedding was described as a "quiet" celebration, owing to an illness in the bride's family. At that point, Janet had few close relatives left, only her mother and an aunt and uncle who lived out of state.) The Leys lived in Manhattan and had a daughter, Janet Wallace Ley. 

Janet was divorced a few years later. She worked in retail, specializing in women's and girls' fashions. She worked for Hattie Carnegie, and was also a buyer in department stores. She may have had her own business or shop for a while, too. At some point, she worked as a fashion editor for Glamour magazine. I believe she divided her time between New York and Boston, where her mother lived alone in the family house. Below, inexplicably, is a photo of Janet modeling a lace gown in 1940, which ran in papers around the country via the Associated Press.

That's my last glimpse of her. In February 1945, she got married again, to Francis Hathaway Cummings, a Harvard lawyer with a good Boston pedigree. Her mother gave her away in marriage. And less than a year later, Janet died suddenly, in January 1946. She was 42. She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery. Her stone gives only her name and dates, with plenty of space above for another inscription. But her husband is buried elsewhere. 

I can't help but wonder if she might rather have joined her parents, sister, and grandfather in the family niche in Mt. Auburn's Bigelow Chapel. 

Happy birthday, Janet. Your story is not forgotten in the house where you were once a happy, beloved child.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Christmastime Is Here

Okay, so it's only Christmastime at Crate & Barrel, and Marshall's, and just about every retailer that sends me catalogs. 

I know we're all supposed to keep Christmas in our hearts all year long, like the good characters in A Christmas Carol, but I don't think this is what Dickens had in mind. No one wants a goose and a mince pie every day, and no one wants Christmas ornaments in the third week of October. Not even me, and I love them.

But this was the scene at Crate & Barrel earlier this week:

I will confess I was please to see that a few of their ornaments from last year are back, including their cute hand-knitted Booby Birds. I got one for my sister last year — the last one they had — and Somebody attacked it before I had a chance to wrap it. I found it on the floor, soggy and too unraveled to give her:

She'll get her Booby Bird this year. But I'm certainly not buying it in October.

This year, you can start a new tradition with the Crate & Barrel Holiday Octopus:

We will need to make up a Christmas legend for the Holiday Octopus. Maybe something about how it was going to be used for the Feast of a Thousand Fishes in an Italian household, but then a flock of Booby Birds rescued it and flew it to the North Pole, where its many tentacles made it a star of speed and efficiency doing order fulfillment in Santa's warehouse. I mean workshop. (In my family, Santa and Amazon have become inextricably linked.)

Whatever. Let me know if you come up with something better.

For us cat people, there is this wrapping paper covered in holiday mice — or rats,  judging from the size of the whiskers and the body type. Now we can wrap our cats' presents more attractively:

In my younger days, I did not imagine that rats, octopi, or booby birds would be a part of my holiday scene. But I didn't imagine that the holidays would start in mid-October, either. My head was threatening to explode so, before I could explore any further, I left the store.

I'll go back in November... or whenever the free samples of holiday candy appear.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Possum and Lion

It's nice to see how everyone is getting along. Harris has been nursing on our ears at night and Lion joins us every evening to purr and "make biscuits," kneading us and heabutting until he gets the petting he wants. Toffee curls up with us, too. Possum vastly prefers my husband these days but he sometimes remembers to give me a little token affection. (Keep in mind, Possum: He didn't want you because of your ear and he really wanted you to be a girl.)

Now, if only someone would buy our new apartment... we paid a bundle to have the place staged last week, and it looks a thousand times better, even if it's modern, with lots of gray and beige, and not our taste at all. It still looks really nice. We had new photos taken and we located a rental parking space to go with it, since no one ever wants to hunt for a spot. We put plants and a pumpkin on the front porch and lilies in the lobby. We had good attendance at the open house on Sunday, but still no offer. Sigh.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lion Turns Two

Lion posed for his birthday portrait the other day, looking wise and stately as he settled on the velvet chair cushion instead of perching on top of the pillow in back, as he has done ever since he arrived as a skinny, scruffy kitten:

Don't imagine for a moment that he is always dignified or decorative. This happened last night:

After attacking Possum's paw, Lion bolted away and disappeared. Possum was unperturbed.

Our vet says that cats aged two to three often go through a tricky "adolescence" as they work out their exact position in the local feline hierarchy. Sometimes young cats will become more aggressive as they try to move upward, while others will be mellow and satisfied with their lot. Possum is our Top Cat, while Wendy has placed herself at the bottom of the totem pole. Where Harris, Toffee, and Lion are positioned is hard for me to say, but they all get along almost always and hang out comfortably with everyone else.

I don't think Lion was attempting to become Top Cat last night. If he was, he needs to get over himself and give it up as a lost cause.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Happy Belated 6th Gotcha Day, Possum

Six years ago, we adopted "Passamaquoddy" from a rescue organization in Marlborough, Massachusetts, and he sang in his carrier all the way home. (My phone calendar said it his Gotcha Day was today, but I just checked my 2009 blog posts, and I see it was actually the 15th. I'll get it right next year.)

In early October, I'd fallen in love with photos of him and his two siblings on Here he is with his sister Abenaki and his brother Ossippee, who looks a bit like Toffee.

As a tiny feral kitten, he'd been trapped, neutered, ear-tipped (I assume it was a brand-new vet student since he or she lopped off HALF of it), and released back onto the streets of Shrewsbury. Then he got himself trapped again, and the rescuers decided he was friendly, and so they caught his siblings, too, and put everyone up for adoption. 

The rescue people thought he was a girl, and my husband had been insisting that we only adopt females for unsound reasons of his own. (I prefer males, and they get along better in groups.) So we settled on "Passy" together, although my husband had reservations about that poor little ear, which I vociferously overrode. 

When his foster mother took our kitten for the pre-adoption vet visit, she learned he was a male. When I got the news in a late-night email, I remember shouting gleefully to my sleeping husband, "He's a little boy! We're getting a little boy!"

Since Possum arrived, he's been my soul-cat; we understand each other even when we disagree. I can look in his eyes and know what he's thinking, and he can usually second-guess me, too. He helped me through a terrible time of mourning for my beloved Bunnelina, who'd died several weeks before he arrived. Wendy couldn't, but Possum did.

We had a couple of weeks of pure enjoyment of our two kittens and accommodating older cats — well, not quite "pure." The kittens had parasites and digestive troubles, and we had also learned that my husband's salary at his previous school was about to be cut in half. And I was unemployed and seemingly unemployable at my age. We were also in an anxious period of waiting, since my husband was one of two candidates for a senior, tenured teaching position at his alma mater. It took them a couple of years to complete and international search, narrow down the candidates, and settle on two,  and fall 2009 was the home stretch.

Anyway, we had fun for a couple of weeks. We never expected that by the end of that October we'd be hit with both ringworm and raging calici virus, requiring many hours of daily cat nursing, worry, and extreme housecleaning through the winter. As I look at my blog posts from that  time, it all comes back to me and it seems surreal. We are in a bad time now that's nothing like that bad time, and it's good to remember we did what we had to do and got through it.

Everyone made a full recovery. My husband got the job. Joy returned. The apartment went back to being normal and messy again. I found some freelance work. Not enough, but something. We'll probably make it through our current bad time, too, although I doubt I'll ever want to revisit these blog posts with nostalgia....

Here's Possum, in 2009 before the big ugly ringworm spot appeared on his nose:

Possum, this past week. 

Here are two more of his baby photos. After the ringworm spot appeared, the photos I took of him seemed too sad, so I cherish these:

Thank you, Possum. When I rescued you, you rescued me.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Today I was very pleased to find that my new favorite thing, Maple Bacon Aioli from The Stonewall Kitchen, is available at Shaw's Supermarkets:

This means two things:

1. Local campers don't have to trek to a Stonewall Kitchen store or pay shipping to try some.

2. I can stop skimping and start eating it straight from the jar with a spoon, since I can get a refill the minute I need it.

Recent Adorableness: Possum Perplexed

Possum knows we've been distracted and troubled for the past few weeks. Since we haven't told him what's going on, I gather that he concluded that we've been worried about running out of food. He and the others were excited when 180 cans of cat food were delivered this morning by our friends at Fish & Bone. He and Toffee supervised us as we unpacked and restocked the cabinets, knocking over some of the tall stacks of cans and sending them rolling around the kitchen. 

Now he's agitating onc again for me to get him a bicycle rickshaw, telling me that if I would drive him around, his excellent pink nose would find me all sorts of delicacies in the dumpsters behind restaurants. As usual, I told him I needed to think about it because money is tight. Money is a difficult concept for cats to understand, so I'm going to be in for a lot of quizzical stares and swiveling ears.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The View from My Chair

This cheering sight greeted me as I looked up from one of several Barbara Pym novels this weekend. The Columbus Day holiday weekend turned out to be beautiful — and maybe that's why we had only a few visitors at the two open houses for the new condo. It is still on the market, with only a peep of interest here and there. But that's still something, so we're clinging to those hopes. 

Reading Prudence and Jane, An Academic Question, Quartet in Autumn, and now A Few Green Leaves helped to distract me, especially in the wee hours when sleep is impossible and worry is constant. And Possum and his pals also helped.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Little Things

The new place has been listed for sale. We like and trust the agent we picked. Now I'm holding my breath, hoping that someone will fall in love with it, as we once did... and that we can extricate ourselves from this muddle soon.

If not... well... I'm going to try not to think about that.

But whatever happens, I'm beginning to see that it won't be the end of the world. I have heard and read too many true stories lately about friends, acquaintances, and strangers near and far, who are going through far worse troubles. Death, serious illness, crime, accidents, loss of homes to fires and floods... all tragic, devastating, and unexpected. And not self-inflicted.

We got ourselves into our housing muddle. We should be able to use our brains to get ourselves out, without losing everything, I hope. We continue to have each other, our friends, our health, and a lot of nice felines.

I am going to stop here, on this positive note, which is practically the first I've felt in a few weeks, in case pessimism returns.

But first I have to advise you to hurry up and get some of this:

We found ourselves driving north aimlessly on Sunday. We missed the New Hampshire exits and wound up at the Stonewall Kitchen Company Store in York, Maine. Unlike their other stores, this is their huge HQ, a foodie destination with a café, cooking classes, and the full range of their products along with all kinds of kitchen supplies, tableware, and "seasonal" stuff. And, of course, the kicker: loads of free samples. You can taste dozens of their 50 or so varieties of jam, jelly, and marmalade if you're in the mood. My husband happens to be crazy about pretzels, including the cheap little sticks they provide for sampling sauces, so he is often willing to go there for "tasticles" as he calls them, although he doesn't always put anything on the pretzels.

Everyone must love pretzels as much as he does; the place was packed, as always. Not everything for sale is wonderful: they had little glass jars of same-old candy corn for $10.95, which would net you many pounds of that tricolored, waxen, solidified corn-syrup at CVS. But their own products are generally very good in addition to being prettily packaged.

I'm not a fan of pretzels, maple, or aioli, but I tried it... and nearly finished the bowl. I kept walking away to put distance between me and it, and getting drawn back magnetically. I think I returned to "try" it four times, preferring it to all of their jams and dessert sauces.

It's rich. It's creamy. It's high in fat. It tastes more like maple-smoked bacon than real maple-smoked bacon sometimes does. It is not bacon-flavored aioli with maple syrup added for sweetness. It's maple-smoked bacon in a jar. Spread a small amount on a ham or turkey sandwich, or a cracker, or your finger.

Little things make life a lot better sometimes. This is one.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Good News in Cat Food

Liz Eastman of The Natural Cat Care Blog has just updated her list of Best Cat foods. This is great news because feeding your cats the best-quality food you can find (and afford) is the key to keeping them healthy and happy. It should also mean lower vet bills and less heartbreak for you down the road, because poor nutrition is the cause of many common health problems from renal disease to obesity.

Read about Liz's thinking here. I find that her priorities match mine in choosing the safest, healthiest, low-carb foods. I choose our cat food using the same criteria she does but when I tried to do the research myself, I found it so frustrating and difficult that I finally gave up. My thanks for Liz for doing that hard work.

See the new, expanded list of foods here. Note that these are all raw and canned foods. Liz doesn't bother with dry food, and neither should you. You can read her thinking on this here.

The other online source for the best cat (and dog) food is Susan Thixton of Truth About Pet Food. Susan is a passionate advocate for honesty and quality in pet food and she works hard to persuade the food industry, lawmakers, and government organizations to pay more attention to honesty, safety, transparency, and quality — it's shockingly obvious that none of these takes priority over profit for anyone involved in the business.

If you are new to Susan's work, read about it here.

Susan publishes an online database of pet food information for paid subscribers ($17.95 annually), called  the Petsumer Report. She also publishes an annual list of a relatively small number of brands that she'd feed her own animals. She charges a small fee for this list, and it doesn't seem to be available on the site right now, perhaps because she's updating it. (I've found it confirms some of Liz Eastman's research but it primarily features dog foods, since there are many more good ones out there than there are for cats. Her cat food list is small — mostly raw foods, and often local brands.) You can also subscribe to her free newsletter to stay informed about pet food recalls, her battles and successes as a pet food advocate, and other news.

Possum is excited to know that we will probably expanding his food choices but I don't think he understands that we are still planning to feed him the same amount twice a day.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Recent Adorableness: The Nervous One

We all do stupid things sometimes. Some of us do, anyway. I'm sure many of you readers have never achieved my level of "What the Hell Was I Thinking?"  

I have spent most of my life trying not to do stupid things. I was in my thirties (and married twice) before I felt I could relax and stop worrying about becoming a Teenage Unwed Mother. But despite my best efforts, I still manage the occasional doozy. The current real-estate mess is a case in point.

After we screw up, some of us feel horrible and guilty, and torture ourselves about it for ages, while the rest of us keep a stiff upper lip, learn from the mistake quickly, and move on. (And some of us deny everything. I've found that Harris is like that. He believes he's the perfect cat, so it's impossible that he would, say, roll my husband's expensive Josh Simpson paperweight off the mantel and onto the floor. Harris would say that didn't happen. But it did.)

Anyway, guess which of those categories I fall into: tortured, stiff-lipped, or denying? And then guess about Lion and Possum. Here are some photos I took of them the other night:

Possum hasn't had anything to be embarrassed about since about the middle of April, when he shocked my husband at breakfast one morning. Come to think of it, that was probably the first embarrassing thing he ever did. He is so self-assured that he manages to look dignified even when he accidentally rolls off the sofa in his sleep.

Lion, on the other hand, is my kind of guy. He hasn't been caught doing Anything Really Stupid since that  rather expensive blunder on May 10, 2014, but I swear he's still processing that ordeal. He's definitely the worrier of our bunch. (Wendy worries, too, but only about me killing her. She is a good reminder that some people manage to be somewhat stupid all the time.)

But Lion is the anxious type, like me. He feels the weight of the world on his plush shoulders. Just look at him:

I don't know if the cats have figured out that they might be moving, or that their supply of pricy cat food might be in some jeopardy in coming months, but I'm pretty sure they sense that we are under unusual stress these days. When I look at Lion's face, it's easy to imagine that there's something heavy on his mind, just as there is on mine.

But then he comes to purr and snuggle with me after I go to bed, and that's a wonderful distraction. It's important to take comfort when it's offered — from friends, cats, and soft cushions.

Thank you, everyone, for being there for me.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

An Intriguing Boston Craigslist "Missed Connection"

Yesterday, Universal Hub posted about "The Most Amazing Boston Missed Connection Ever" from about a craigslist post from several days ago. It sparked comments, research, speculation, and nostalgia from several readers. If you click on the UHub link above and go through the comments, you'll see that the essay inspired Adam Gaffin and his readers to investigate what was going on here and abroad in December 1972. They explored bombing raids in Vietnam, society events in local newspapers, Boston's Blue Laws, details of long-gone downtown lunch counters, and the day's bad weather.

Based on what everyone found, the Missed Connection is probably fiction. [Update: It was just debunked (and seriously dissed) by another blogger, and that link was posted on UHub, too.] But it's an evocative piece of writing that will probably disappear soon, since craigslist posts are of short duration. So I decided to copy it here to give it a longer life. It would be fun to know who wrote it, and why.

I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972 - m4w (Old State House)

I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972, the same day I resolved to kill myself.

One week prior, at the behest of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, I'd flown four B-52 sorties over Hanoi. I dropped forty-eight bombs. How many homes I destroyed, how many lives I ended, I'll never know. But in the eyes of my superiors, I had served my country honorably, and I was thusly discharged with such distinction.

And so on the morning of that New Year's Eve, I found myself in a barren studio apartment on Beacon and Hereford with a fifth of Tennessee rye and the pang of shame permeating the recesses of my soul. When the bottle was empty, I made for the door and vowed, upon returning, that I would retrieve the Smith & Wesson Model 15 from the closet and give myself the discharge I deserved.

I walked for hours. I looped around the Fenway before snaking back past Symphony Hall and up to Trinity Church. Then I roamed through the Common, scaled the hill with its golden dome, and meandered into that charming labyrinth divided by Hanover Street. By the time I reached the waterfront, a charcoal sky had opened and a drizzle became a shower. That shower soon gave way to a deluge. While the other pedestrians darted for awnings and lobbies, I trudged into the rain. I suppose I thought, or rather hoped, that it might wash away the patina of guilt that had coagulated around my heart. It didn't, of course, so I started back to the apartment.

And then I saw you.

You'd taken shelter under the balcony of the Old State House. You were wearing a teal ball gown, which appeared to me both regal and ridiculous. Your brown hair was matted to the right side of your face, and a galaxy of freckles dusted your shoulders. I'd never seen anything so beautiful.

When I joined you under the balcony, you looked at me with your big green eyes, and I could tell that you'd been crying. I asked if you were okay. You said you'd been better. I asked if you'd like to have a cup of coffee. You said only if I would join you. Before I could smile, you snatched my hand and led me on a dash through Downtown Crossing and into Neisner's.

We sat at the counter of that five and dime and talked like old friends. We laughed as easily as we lamented, and you confessed over pecan pie that you were engaged to a man you didn't love, a banker from some line of Boston nobility. A Cabot, or maybe a Chaffee. Either way, his parents were hosting a soirée to ring in the New Year, hence the dress.

For my part, I shared more of myself than I could have imagined possible at that time. I didn't mention Vietnam, but I got the sense that you could see there was a war waging inside me. Still, your eyes offered no pity, and I loved you for it.

After an hour or so, I excused myself to use the restroom. I remember consulting my reflection in the mirror. Wondering if I should kiss you, if I should tell you what I'd done from the cockpit of that bomber a week before, if I should return to the Smith & Wesson that waited for me. I decided, ultimately, that I was unworthy of the resuscitation this stranger in the teal ball gown had given me, and to turn my back on such sweet serendipity would be the real disgrace.

On the way back to the counter, my heart thumped in my chest like an angry judge's gavel, and a future -- our future -- flickered in my mind. But when I reached the stools, you were gone. No phone number. No note. Nothing.

As strangely as our union had begun, so too had it ended. I was devastated. I went back to Neisner's every day for a year, but I never saw you again. Ironically, the torture of your abandonment seemed to swallow my self-loathing, and the prospect of suicide was suddenly less appealing than the prospect of discovering what had happened in that restaurant. The truth is I never really stopped wondering.

I'm an old man now, and only recently did I recount this story to someone for the first time, a friend from the VFW. He suggested I look for you on Facebook. I told him I didn't know anything about Facebook, and all I knew about you was your first name and that you had lived in Boston once. And even if by some miracle I happened upon your profile, I'm not sure I would recognize you. Time is cruel that way.

This same friend has a particularly sentimental daughter. She's the one who led me here to Craigslist and these Missed Connections. But as I cast this virtual coin into the wishing well of the cosmos, it occurs to me, after a million what-ifs and a lifetime of lost sleep, that our connection wasn't missed at all.

You see, in these intervening forty-two years I've lived a good life. I've loved a good woman. I've raised a good man. I've seen the world. And I've forgiven myself. And you were the source of all of it. You breathed your spirit into my lungs one rainy afternoon, and you can't possibly imagine my gratitude.

I have hard days, too. My wife passed four years ago. My son, the year after. I cry a lot. Sometimes from the loneliness, sometimes I don't know why. Sometimes I can still smell the smoke over Hanoi. And then, a few dozen times a year, I'll receive a gift. The sky will glower, and the clouds will hide the sun, and the rain will begin to fall. And I'll remember.

So wherever you've been, wherever you are, and wherever you're going, know this: you're with me still.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Happy October, everyone! It's usually my favorite month although right now I can't wait for it to be over. Still, I'm doing my best to enjoy the pleasantly cool, cloudy weather, which I've been waiting for since about May. It felt good to put on jeans and my old motorcycle boots this morning, and to dig out a cardigan, jacket, and scarf. I've lost a few pounds from all the real-estate angst, so the jeans fit more comfortably than they did last spring.

My anxiety waxes and wanes, and always returns with a vengeance sometime between 2 and 4 am. I wake in a panic as reality hits again: "What have we done?" I worry in the dark until I can't stand it anymore, turn on the light and disturb my poor husband, and try to distract myself with a book.

All day long, we are gathering information and talking over the choices. We're talking to agents, friends, bankers, and contractors as we try to figure out what to do with both apartments.

An agent we met with today recommended that we sell them both. Right now. We'd lose maybe six figures on the new one, he thought, but we'd make a decent amount on the old one. "And then would we move into a van down by the river?" I asked. (If you've been following our house-hunting saga, you know it took us six years to successfully buy a place we now don't want!)

The agent said we should use all the proceeds to buy this cool place he'd soon be listing — a totally modern, recently renovated penthouse, which will cost at least a half-million dollars more than we paid for our current, exorbitant penthouse. When we stopped snorting, we brought him down to earth and explained that we want much less condo and expense in future. And reminded him that we vastly prefer old-fashioned places with the high-ceilinged, Victorian detail that penthouses sadly lack. (What were we thinking?)

Then I asked him, "If you were us, what would you do?" He thought, and his answer was honest: "I'd move in and make the best of it. I'd move past the fear of everything you feel is wrong with it. I'd make small improvements to make it livable. And if I still wasn't happy living there, I'd put it on the market in the spring, or in a year. And hope to break even or do better then. I'd look at it as an investment, and another step along the way to the right place."

Move past the fear. I know what he meant, but I have too much of it. Fear (and remorse) dominate my life now. I hate it. But I can't see our situation from any other perspective. It never changes for me, although I have heard many other points of view. I'm not brave enough to deal everything that comes along with the place: the possible/likely secondhand smoke, the expense, the inability to renovate it enough for our comfort. My husband is willing to give it a try, but I can't get back to my optimistic frame of mind of a month ago, when I thought living there was a great idea. The blinders are off. I can't put 'em on again. I know too much.

In the meantime, the rooms are being painted in matte, off-white shades, a great improvement over shiny purplish-gray. We had picked out real colors for a few rooms, but when our thoughts turned to selling, we had to play it safe. My husband sees the fresh paint and likes it. I just hope it helps us sell.

We will probably list it next week and see how things go. If no one makes a reasonable offer in a week or two, we'll probably move in and list our old place. I will be sad and sorry. But we can't hold on to both places for much longer. We need the equity in the old place to help pay for the new one. We can't rent it.

Change is good. Right?

The odd thing about the new place is that it offers almost too much flexibility in its room arrangements. There are three rooms that could function more-or-less as our bedroom. There's the real one, which is so narrow I'd have to inch sideways to get around our bed. The other options are the two living rooms. Either one could have a door added at no huge expense and become a much nicer bedroom with a fireplace and two sunny windows. And people are telling us to turn the foyer into a little dining room, and the skinny bedroom into a dressing room or TV room... The mind boggles; I have never been able to figure out where any of our furniture belongs in the new place because we've never settled on which room should be used for what. And then my thoughts turn to multiple monthly mortgage payments, assessments, taxes, and secondhand smoke.

Oh, there's that familiar sick feeling in the pit of my stomach again. Time to get back to my seventh Barbara Pym novel in a row. They are the literary equivalent of tranquilizers and the only medicine I will take to alleviate the stress. They are always set in London, Oxford, or a charming English village in the 1940s to '70s. The plots revolve about church ladies, vicars, curates, and spinsters, plus an occasional anthropologist. Nothing much happens from beginning to end. I love that. I can't wait until my life is like that again.